Choir school celebrates 60 years of singing

Choristers wait to begin the procession

Choristers wait to begin the procession into Christ Church Cathedral July 9 for the Choral Evensong.    ~McKnight photos

By Gisele McKnight

It’s been 60 years of success for Diocesan Choir School, but what’s the secret?

It could be the fun, the singing, the much-anticipated t-shirt colour for the year, the family-like atmosphere or something as yet indescribable, but whatever it is, if you go once, you’re probably going to return for a good many years.

Spencer Belyea has been going off and on for more than 40 years — as both a child chorister and now, as one of its music directors.

Administrative director Rev. Chris Hayes has just finished his 18th year. And counsellor-in-training Jocelyn Donnelly, a mere 17 years old, is in her 8th year.

One family that attended each year moved to Ontario, but came back for several summers, even bringing friends with them. And two choristers still attend though they now live in Ireland.

“The Rev. Peter Campion and his daughter, Cressida, have been singing with us for a number of years,” said adult chorister Michael Briggs. “Peter’s father was the chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood many years back. My wife has a photo of him at choir school from 1960 when she attended as a teenager. Peter is now the chaplain at Kings Hospital Secondary in Dublin.”

Lunch at Rothesay Netherwood

Lunch at Rothesay Netherwood in Rothesay during the week.


Choir school is a mixture of children from eight to teen, counsellors, musicians, chaplains, a nurse, other leaders, and towards the end of the week, many adults who come back each year to join the choir and the fun.

All in all, they number about 100. It is truly an intergenerational ministry, and for the final concert, all of them are choristers. This year choir school was held July 2-9 at Rothesay Netherwood School.

It was in 1957 that a group of Saint Johners decided to gather people who had a love of singing, and the next summer the first Diocesan Choir School was held. In the intervening decades, choir music has somewhat waned in popularity, and that is showing in the numbers this year, with two dozen children attending, down from 30-35.


Rehearsal before the Thursday night concert.

“There’s less of an awareness in the diocese, and it’s very much related to less choirs and training in the parishes,” said Chris, adding there is less music training in schools as well. “Almost all of the kids will not go back to a choir in their church.

“Parents and parishes might ask why send a child when there’s no choir in their church,” he said. “We say choir school is Christian formation and expressing the worship of God. It creates relationships with kids growing up in similar institutions.”

There are no choir schools east of Montreal to Chris’s knowledge, and few across the country. But for children, and adults, who love to sing choir music, this is the place to be.

The music staff take a group of kids, some of whom cannot even read music, train them over a week, and by the final day, turn them into a choir that draws — and wows — a full house at Christ Church Cathedral.

The final concert, a Choral Evensong, was held in Fredericton July 9 this year to mark the 60th anniversary, though usually it’s held at Trinity Anglican in Saint John. There’s also a children-only concert on the Thursday before.

Choral Evensong

Choral Evensong at Christ Church Cathedral July 9.

But choir school isn’t only about singing. There’s also crafts, lessons in Christian culture and Christian education, not to mention silly songs, movies and “punishment” for being caught with your elbows on the dinner table.

The Rev. Albert Snelgrove and his wife, Archdeacon Wandlyn Snelgrove are in their third year as chaplains.

“We were here as choristers,” said Albert. “The singing is just exquisite. The kids are exceptional. They want to learn. Where else do you find a group of children and adults who come to Morning Prayer before breakfast?”

Spencer is a retired music teacher and the music director at Trinity in Saint John. He and his wife are heavily involved in choir school, and this year, their eight-year-old granddaughter attended for the first time.

“It’s a summer church family,” he said. “We meet once a year and pick up where we left off. It’s hugs and kisses on the first day and tears at the end.”

He is grateful for the support that allows children to attend.

“There are a lot of bursaries for kids,” he said, adding finances need not be a barrier to attending.

Each year, the planning team of about a dozen seeks out funding for the school. This year, they are grateful for support from the Diocese of Fredericton; the ACW (diocese and parish chapters); the Wiggins Home; the Crake Foundation; the Segelberg Foundation; the New Brunswick Children’s Foundation; the Hall Bursary Fund; St. Paul’s Rothesay Endowment Fund; parishes and churches represented by choristers and staff; and the Fulford Trust of the Anglican Foundation.

Spencer’s co-director this year was Kevin Parks from the Diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. The adult clinician was David Buley and the accompanist was Nhat-Viet “Toto” Phi.

Sebastian Vanicek

Sebastian Vanicek leads the procession into the cathedral on July 9.

• • •

To celebrate the 60 year anniversary, Diocesan Choir School is holding a hymn-writing competition. Here are the guidelines:

“We are looking for an original hymn text and melody that is suited for a blend of child and adult choristers, performing in a festal worship service in the Anglican Church in the Diocese of Fredericton.

“Submissions should include a musical score, with biographical information on the composer(s), and information on the liturgical significance of the hymn. The successful composer(s) will be awarded a prize of $1,500. The deadline is Dec. 31 and the winner will be announced March 1, 2018.

“For more details, visit the Diocesan Choir School website: .”

The procession

The procession into the cathedral.


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