Saturday, May 2, 2009

Will Your Anchor Hold? - Ely Cathedral Choir, 1999

I saw this cd mentioned somewhere on the internet and thought that it looked interesting so I ordered it. At first I wasn’t sure that I liked it very much but when I realized what they were doing I understood and began to look at it in a different way. Now I can’t get some of the tunes out of my head.

This is an album of old hymns from the mid-1800’s and the choir sings them as they were meant to be sung, in an old fashioned way, like a church congregation where everyone mostly sings in unison. They sing the same words but at different pitches. It’s harmonious and pretty but more simple than what I’ve come to expect from a cathedral choir. Listening to this I can imagine a large church in a coastal town where the hardworking families gather on Sunday’s and all join in singing the traditional hymns, hoping to invoke some protection for their seamen.

The boy’s voices here are sweet and the songs are interesting. These are old hymns like Let the Lower Lights Be Burning, He Leadeth Me and Nearer My God to Thee. If you’ve ever seen the movie A Night To Remember, the early film about the sinking of the Titanic, you may remember the scene were the men were bravely standing on the deck, having sent the women and children off in the few lifeboats, and the band played Nearer My God to Thee as they went under. I still get misty.

Anyway, this cd was made to celebrate the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI). This is an organization that is dedicated to rescuing people from drowning so all of the songs have to do with the sea, lighthouses, storms, harbors, lifeboats and so forth.
The front cover shows a sepia photograph of a bearded fisherman in his work clothes.

One thing that is really interesting here is the music. I couldn’t tell what instruments were being played until I read the liner notes. Rebecca Hall plays the Baroque recorders, flutes and tin whistles. Rodney Hall plays guitars, mandolin, autoharp, double bass and keyboards. The recorders, mandolin and autoharp are an especially fun combination that’s pretty unusual for a choir.

I don’t know if this is the style that Ely normally sings in but I will be getting more of their cd’s so I can find out.


  1. There is a 2d CD (via iTunes) called They That Go Down to the Sea that apparently goes along with the one discussed above. It seems to be tilted more mainstream classical...some of this feels very Vaughn-Williamsy:

    A CD spotlighting just the trebles of the Ely choir:

  2. Note not related to above.

    The French Government recently passed new child labor laws. The way the law reads, any concert that there is an admission fee, the youth must be paid wages. This pretty well ends any boy choir concerts in France. The Les Petits Chanteurs a la Croix de Bois are spearheading an attempt to get an exemption.

  3. Wow...WOW.

    I can appreciate the motivation, but a monolithic regulation like that must have a thousand necessary exceptions waiting to be pressed.


  4. That is bad news. It'll be interesting to see what happens next. I wonder if there was a reason for such a law?

  5. From what I understand, it is mostly one of those politically correct laws. Makes the politicians look good and gains votes at election time. Let's face it, sweat shops went out of style along time ago in most civilized parts of the world. It is do good politicians going to the extreme and saying "Look, I am protecting your children".