How music is one of Norwich Cathedral’s greatest treasures
PUBLISHED: 14:34 18 April 2018 | UPDATED: 11:19 19 April 2018
Copyright: Archant 2018
Norwich Cathedral is one of the city’s finest landmarks and one of its greatest treasures is its music. On the day BBC Radio 3 visits to broadcast Evensong live from Norwich, arts correspondent Emma Knights speaks to Norwich Cathedral’s master of music Ashley Grote.
Every day the inspiring surrounds of Norwich Cathedral are filled with song, and Ashley Grote is the man with the all important task of overseeing the beautiful music being performed.
Since 2012 he has been master of music, and he described it as a great privilege to be at the helm of a tradition going back centuries.
“Music has been part of the cathedral’s history and heritage right since the time it was founded,” said Mr Grote.
“The choral tradition in English cathedrals traces its roots right back to those early monastic foundations which would have been centred around the singing of the daily offices, by monks originally, but when you come to the time of the Reformation that’s when boy choristers were introduced into choirs like this, so it’s a very historic tradition.
“But it’s also something that’s really relevant and alive and developing today, and that’s the really important message to get across, that for people coming into this amazing building, the music really helps the building to come alive. The stones here have resonated with the sound of choral and sacred music right since they were built and so the combination of the music and the building and the liturgy is a very special one.”
At the heart of the cathedral’s music are its organ and its choirs, and 35-year-old Mr Grote’s own career first began as a chorister for King’s College in Cambridge.
He joined the choir aged eight, and by 12 was also learning to play the organ. He returned to King’s College to study a degree in music and as an organ scholar, before spending three years as assistant organist at Westminster Abbey and then becoming assistant director of music at Gloucester Cathedral in 2008. From here he moved to Norwich Cathedral in 2012.
“My favourite aspect of the job is every day starts and finishes with music,” said Mr Grote.
“I begin every day working with the boy choristers who are such an energetic, talented and enthusiastic bunch of children. The satisfaction I get from working with them and seeing them achieve their potential and learn so much about music so quickly is immensely rewarding, and then at the other end of the day we finish with a service of choral Evensong.”
The boy choristers, who receive scholarships and are educated at Norwich School, are joined in the cathedral’s music-making family by girl choristers drawn from schools across the city and adult singers, and Mr Grote enjoys directing them all alongside overseeing the cathedral’s entire musical calendar with the help of organist David Dunnett and an organ scholar.
Mr Grote said: “We have 20 boy choristers, 24 girl choristers and then 12 adults – six choral scholars and six lay clerks - and between them the cathedral choirs sing a choral service of Evensong every day of the week Monday to Friday at 5.30pm and then of course the services on a Sunday, and really that’s just the starting point.
“There is so much that happens in the cathedral throughout the year, the special services for county and civic occasions, the many festivals, Easter and Christmas obviously, and then lots of concerts, and on top of that the cathedral choir are also involved in recording and broadcasting, and touring and singing across the diocese.”
Today at 3.30pm BBC Radio 3 is visiting to do a live broadcast of evensong – a testament to the high regard in which the cathedral’s music is held. People can listen to a repeat of the broadcast at 3pm on Sunday on BBC Radio Three.
Another highlight coming up is a Three Cathedral Choirs concert on May 24 for Norfolk and Norwich Festival, and this will see the Norwich choir perform alongside the choirs of Ely and Peterborough’s cathedrals.
The Norwich Cathedral Chamber Choir – a concert choir of 50 adult amateur singers - is also part of the cathedral’s mix of music and will be performing a summer concert of Handel’s Dixit Dominus and Dettingen Te Deum with Norwich Baroque on June 16.
With such a packed programme of services and concerts, does Mr Grote have favourite events or works he especially enjoys seeing performed?
“So much of it is about the context, certain things in certain contexts are really thrilling,” he said.
“When we perform a Bach Passion just before Easter that’s always special because the music is such a powerful portrayal of the whole story of the crucifixion. That’s always a special occasion where the combination of the music and the building and the time of the year lends it a lot of significance.
“I always love our Handel’s Messiah performance because there is nothing quite like that just before Christmas when the cathedral is really packed and people are so excited to hear that wonderful music.”
But he said it was not just the big occasions that provide memorable moments.
“The great thing about music in cathedrals is that it does have the ability to transport people out of the mundane of day-to-day life to something more special, and on a quiet Friday Evensong there could be a simple piece of music that’s done really well which, in that moment, transports everyone to a higher place and that’s really special as well.”
For more about Norwich Cathedral’s services and music events, visit www.cathedral.org.uk
A £2.5m fundraising appeal is under way to ensure music continues to be enjoyed at Norwich Cathedral long into the future.
To date about £700,000 has been raised for the Music Appeal which has the Earl of Wessex as patron.
“The music appeal is about taking the tradition that we have and ensuring its future and developing it in a way that is the most relevant to the 21st century and to the needs of the cathedral and the community today,” said Mr Grote. “There are three main aspects, the first is the restoration of the cathedral’s magnificent organ which was last restored in 1942. The other two aspects are focussed on our cathedral choirs, specifically providing better provision for our girl choristers, we want to raise money for them to have proper music tuition throughout the year as a token of thanks for the huge amount of work they put in, and likewise we want to ensure the tradition of the boys choir and so we are trying to raise money for the future financial security of that, so that we know that our choirs and our organ are going to carry on serving the building for years to come.”
For more about how you can help the appeal, email email@example.com or visit www.cathedral.org.uk
Norwich Cathedral’s master of music will be swapping his cassock for a bear suit and running shoes as he prepares to pound the capital’s streets in the London Marathon this SundayApril 22.
It will be Ashley Grote’s fourth London Marathon raising funds for the Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity, and for the first time he will be running as the charity’s mascot, Bernard the Bear.
He hopes to raise more than £15,000 this year for the charity which is a cause close to his heart because of the help the hospital has given to his daughter Emily after she was diagnosed with a rare brain tumour in June 2014 aged just three. Emily, who is now seven and doing well, will be in London to cheer her dad on in the marathon.
Mr Grote said: “Emily’s still under the care of Great Ormond Street Hospital now but she’s really well. We owe them a great deal.”
To sponsor Mr Grote, visit www.justgiving.com/fundraising/bernardthebear or send cheques made payable to GOSHCC (Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity) to 53A The Close, Norwich, NR14EG.