Ben Lowry: A grant for one of Belfast’s finest church choirs, which steers clear of happy clappy

The choir of St George's Anglican church in Belfast after it was awarded a grant from the Friends of Cathedral Music during choral evenson on Sunday October 1 2017
The choir of St George's Anglican church in Belfast after it was awarded a grant from the Friends of Cathedral Music during choral evenson on Sunday October 1 2017

One of the best church choirs in Northern Ireland has been awarded a much deserved £20,000 grant.

St George’s Church on High Street in Belfast, which was founded in 1816, was given the Friends of Cathedral Music grant last week (pictured above) at choral evensong.

St George’s has what I am told is the most ‘high’ Anglican service in the Province. This concurs with my experience of Church of Irelands north of the border, where there is often a happy clappy feel gnawing at the edges of a supposedly traditional service, even if the horror of actual drum kits is kept at bay.

St George’s is not the only exception to this – St John’s Malone is among the others. But in my experience most such churches that still sing only the great old hymns have dwindling congregations.

This seems to me to be the sad decline of a great cultural tradition. Even modern hymns written in the 20th century that try to mimic in style the tunes of the 1700s and 1800s almost invariably fail.

Like millions of people, I learned those old hymns at school. It is some of the finest music ever written. My favourites include Thine Be The Glory (set to music by Handel), O Praise Ye The Lord (Parry), Praise My Soul The King of Heaven (Goss ).

In contrast, modern tunes that mimic pop such as ‘Shine Jesus Shine’ and ‘The Splendour of the King’ fail even by their own contemporary standards. But if churches have to play that to resonate with younger people, then fair enough.

I am just grateful that there are still churches like St George’s that are uncompromising in their music, including magical Latin anthems sung by the choir alone.

• Ben Lowry (@BenLowry2) is News Letter deputy editor

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