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Baker's Dozen

Mercurial Rev: Richard Coles' Favourite Music
Alex Burrows , April 14th, 2021 08:57

Vicar, musician, broadcaster and ex-Communard, The Reverend Richard Coles tells Alex Burrows how music is still important to belief and why parish choirs are the new punk. Portrait by Tim Anderson.


Herbert Howells – ‘All My Hope on God is Founded’
It’s one of my favourite hymns and again, one of the hymns I first sang when I was a little boy and I sing it all the time now. The music is by Herbert Howells who was one of the great composers of English choral music and the tune is called ‘Michael’. It was in memory of his son who died of polio when he was a little boy. It’s a lovely, lovely tune and could only have been composed by Howells and it could have only been composed for an English church choir. I’ve always loved it, it’s just a great tune. It’s like a hit record – some hymns you think, that’s a hit! Herbert Howells was such an interesting person, a great English composer, and not a believer, interestingly. Most of his music is for choirs and for settings of religious texts, but he was not a believer.

Do I mind the singing of a congregation? No, I kind of like it. My parish before I came to this one was a very posh parish in central London, and we had a professional choir. Then I came to a parish where we have great enthusiastic music-making and a lot of talented musicians, but not professional. At first I thought, ‘God, what’s this going to be like?’ after being used to such a rich diet. But actually, I’ve just come to really appreciate that people bring their best. It’s a bit like punk; you listen to a punk record and you think no-one’s going to win a prize for musicianship here, but that’s not the point. What you hear is something that’s raw and genuine and real. And you also get that with a parish choir. There is something ironically quite punk about parish choirs. You come to cherish people for who they are and what they are. It’s what they bring and the sincerity of their offering that’s the important thing. It’s sung with such genuine love and commitment.