A letter from Director of Music Daniel Webb
Updated: Nov 23
I’m responsible for everything related to determinate pitch and rhythm within the liturgy. All sorts of musical things happen at St Clement’s throughout the week, and I rejoice in all of them and help with some of them. But the essence of my job is to prepare for and carry out the musical elements of our Sunday services. I am unashamed in my aim that these musical elements are as good as they possibly can be.
Well… perhaps sometimes a little ashamed because, of course, we are here for everybody. The church has no business being elitist and if music is an end in itself, it is an idol. Access to grace does not depend on the quality of the music within a church service. All the same, within our vast and varied church family, some institutions are known for their music and offer especially good music to God’s glory. Some, within one meaning of this week’s Gospel reading, are places where five musical talents are invested and double their value. I hope that we are known as such a place. If we are, it is thanks to the support and encouragement of our congregations – and to those whose tireless service has promoted excellence in music over many decades, most notably my predecessor Tom Fitches.
The best thing about incomprehensibility is that it never loses its freshness. Don’t ask me to explain exactly how and why our 9.30 music is so good because I don’t really understand it myself. I just know that I’m immensely proud of it. Joseph, Jillian, Peter, Daev and Sam pluck impeccable performances of new songs out of thin air, making them sound like they were specifically written for the eccentric instrumental combinations we assemble. After the sparsest communication and rehearsal, they frame our services with infectious preludes and postludes. If you have taken the time to chat with them you will also realize that they are the nicest people.
It is worth recalling that our 11am choir is a three-quarters amateur ensemble. Membership is open to anyone able to commit to most rehearsals and who can sing in tune and blend with others. At the blistering rate we work, fluency in reading from notation is extremely helpful.
Sometimes, we put together exceptionally complicated pieces of music (such as the masterpieces by William Byrd you’ve been hearing as we mark his quadricentennial) in only one or two rehearsals. With the help of an absolutely stellar team of section leads – Ineza, Monica, Maureen, Rob, Kai and Owen - and three excellent choral scholars – Olivia, Lily and Gigi - we delve into five hundred years of choral music, singing works from every era (including brand new pieces) and in innumerable languages (including, in my time, Norwegian, Welsh and Ukrainian – with Yoruba and Hebrew coming soon). It is my aim – because I think our choristers want it and God supports it, and you all appreciate it – to make our performances as good as they can be: as colourful, polished, sincere and relevant as possible. This undoubtedly makes for exhausting rehearsals, and sometimes for stressful performances, but we also forgive ourselves for any imperfections – after all, grace still happens in spite of us!
Thank you all for your support for the Music Ministry at St Clement’s.