Music at St Helen's
St Helen's Church Choir
Music in the main services at St. Helen's is led by the choir. The choir is a mixed choir of adults, children and young people. The age range is fully representative of the St. Helen's congregation, from (almost) the very youngest to the oldest. It is affiliated to the Royal School of Church Music, and sings a wide range of anthems, psalms and service settings, as well as leading congregational hymn singing.
Choir members rehearse once a week on Friday evenings: juniors starting at 5.30, adults starting at 6.00, and ending together at 7.00 (although younger children often stop at 6.30). The choir also meets for a further short rehearsal immediately before services.
The choir sings at the 10.30 Eucharist every Sunday, normally meeting at 10.00 am. At this service the choir sings an anthem, sometimes an introit, and a psalm, and leads the congregation in singing hymns and a musical setting of the liturgy. On the third Sunday of each month, the choir also normally sings Choral Evensong, following the traditional form from the Book of Common Prayer. This involves a musical setting of the responses and canticles, a psalm and an anthem. There are a number of extra services around Christmas and Easter, and the choir is occasionally also asked to sing at weddings in St. Helen's.
Younger members of the choir use the RSCM Voice for Life training scheme to help develop their knowledge and skills as choral singers. This involves working towards a series of different 'levels', each of which builds on the previous one. Members of the choir also regularly attend RSCM courses and events, including the annual RSCM Regional Festival, for which St. Helen's is one of the rotating host venues.
Joining the Choir
The choir is always very happy to welcome new members. If you are interested in joining, or if you are a parent and your child is interested in joining, in the first instance please contact the Director of Music, Peter Foster, to discuss this. Peter can be contacted through the Parish Office, St Helen's Court, Abingdon, OX14 5BS or by music email
To help you decide whether it is the right thing for you, here are a few common questions:
Q. What is the right age for my child to join?
A. This depends on the enthusiasm and independence of the child. The 'official' lower age limit is Year 3, but this is not necessarily right for every child. Children should be able to read reasonably fluently before they join the choir. They do not need to be able to read Music - they will learn this as part of their training. They need to show a level of interest in music, and ideally should be able to pitch notes reasonably accurately when they are singing. Most children enjoy singing and can do so naturally as part of their normal development.
Q. Do I/does my child have to pass an audition to join the choir?
A. No. Willingness to work at improving your singing is the main requirement; we do not do voice tests before joining.
Q. (For adult singers). What standard of singer do I need to be in order to join the choir?
A. We are an inclusive choir, and have a range of members from experienced and highly skilled musicians, to others who have only started singing recently. We welcome new members from both ends of this spectrum, and we are all still learning! The repertoire we sing includes music that is sufficiently challenging and interesting to be enjoyed by experienced singers, but beginners will also find most of the music accessible. If you can read music (at least to some extent) you will find it easier to learn new pieces quickly, but if not, you can learn as you go along.
Q. (As a parent) What will my child get out of belonging to the choir?
A. Skills which will enable him/her to keep participating in choirs for the rest of his/her life; the chance to pass RSCM qualifications; the chance to get to know a repertoire of treasured and life-enhancing music; fun, friendships, and a sense of belonging to a group; challenges to their independence, organisation and self-sufficiency while singing in the choir (which has also been shown to be beneficial to children's intellectual and academic progress); and some pocket money. (Choristers are paid a small amount per service and per practice they attend).
Q. (As an adult) What will I get out of belonging to the choir?
A. The joy of singing some wonderful music (and the appreciation of the St. Helen's congregation, whose worship is enhanced by this), in a beautiful setting, surrounded by entertaining company; the long-term benefits to mental health and general well-being that come from music making; the opportunity to contribute to the wider community of St. Helen's; opportunities (occasionally at least) to be challenged to try something new and unfamiliar - even for the most experienced musicians.
Q. I'm very busy/I travel a lot/I have other commitments on Sundays, and can't sing every week. What level of commitment is expected?
A. We expect choir members to commit to attending services and practices whenever they can. Most members of the choir are extremely dedicated, and this is greatly appreciated. However, no one is able to sing at every service or every practice, and most choir members fit their obligations to the choir around commitments which may take them away from Abingdon sometimes, or require them to do other things either within or outside the church on some Sundays. There is an online sign-up sheet which is used to notify absences in advance to the Director of Music.
The Organ at St Helen's
The organ is a fine three-manual Harrison and Harrison instrument, which was completely restored in 2005.
A comprehensive history of the organ, written by David Wickens a former Director of Music at St Helen's, was published in the early 2000s and is available from the Parish Office.