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RSCM Membership Conference

Mick Perrier has been Director of Music at St. Mary’s Church, Moseley, Birmingham for 42 years. He studied in London before doing a postgraduate year at Birmingham University and stayed in the city. He is Birmingham RSCM Area Chairman and Diocesan Music Adviser to the Birmingham Diocese. As a career teacher he was Deputy Head of St. Faith’s School, Alcester for 16 years. He changed careers in 2006, becoming an Estate Planning Practitioner until 2018. He has served three terms as President of the Birmingham Organists’ Association and two terms on the RSCM Council. He is still a member of its Voluntary Forum and is in demand as a long-standing RSCM examiner.

The RSCM is to be commended for the ambition in holding their very first Membership Conference in Derby on Saturday March 7th. There had been national and regional conferences before but those tended to be business and strategy meetings for Area and national Committee members. This was different: this was for all those involved in delivering music in their churches week by week either as singers, organist / choirpersons, instrumentalists and the like – even interested congregants. Many had brought members of their clergy with them. It was thus a real melting pot of traditions, styles, abilities, enthusiasms, ages, allowing each to suffuse the other with what they had to offer.

There was a wide choice of workshops covering such topics as taking music from the church to the community, arranging music for instrumentalists, effective tips for vocal training, how to use music to inspire worship, advice for those finding themselves having to lead a choir, helping congregations with limited resources and much more. This all alongside opportunities for individual coaching on organ playing and choir conducting from the lowliest level to the highest.

One inspiring hallmark of the day was the wide range of speakers and trainers involved. Of course, one would expect the seasoned leaders from RSCM “home team” to be involved: Hugh Morris, Rosemary Field, Adrian Lucas, Tim Ruffer, Miles Quick, Rev Helen Bent et al. However, these were joined by the likes of Rev Dr. Sam Wells (Vicar of St. Martin’s in the Field), Dr. Andrew Earis (Director of Music at St. Martin’s but also a BBC contributor and producer), Noel Tredinnick (at All Soul’s Langham Place until 2019), Andy Bodkin (CEO of Out of the Ark Music), Andrew Morgan (member of national singing groups and seasoned church music Director) together with members of St. Martin’s Voices and the All Souls Orchestra. Rev Dr John Hall, former Dean of Westminster and now RSCM Council Chairman, was also prominent in leading acts of worship.

All this was complemented by a well-stocked “shop” of RSCM publications covering the whole gamut of church music needs and a stall by Church Music World showcasing their organs and sheet music. They, incidentally, had provided digital organs for individual tuition and for leading the acts of worship.

So, what sessions did I attend? How did they help me in my church music endeavours?

Well, Andy Bodkin’s session titled “The Transforming Power of Music” was a good place to start. Subtitled “A fun and practical seminar of how to rework songs and to take music from the Church into the Community”, this resonated as it mirrors some of what I try to do in my own work. It sought to enable church musicians to connect more widely with their local schools and community. Alongside Andy was Ally Ross, Portsmouth Cathedral’s outreach musician tasked with setting up a new church plant at St. James, Milton based on reaching out to local schools. He enthuses children about singing and provides a platform for them in church, bringing their families with them. It is an inspirational concept. Andy’s “Out of the Ark Music” and its offshoot “Same Boat Music” seeks to resource such projects and to enable other churches to do the same. The group attending this seminar were on board with the message!

Noel Tredinnick’s session “Let’s Make an Arrangement” was next for me. Noel knows how to ‘work a room’! This was no dry seminar on composition – members of All Souls Orchestra were present and demonstrated how instruments can be used to illuminate the text and to highlight messages in the poetry of hymns. With a tweak of harmony here, with a descant line there, with a prominent horn solo elsewhere the colours of the instruments were used to energise the singing congregation, which we became. Noel’s vast experience in providing an extensive repertoire of hymn arrangements was obvious. These arrangements are now available to purchase from All Souls Music. However, Noel’s prime focus was to open up his arranger’s toolkit and to enthuse those assembled to have a go themselves. 

I also visited Tim Ruffer’s overview on the training and support materials available from the RSCM as part of the Voice for Life programme. This really is a comprehensive resource for those leading choirs of whatever ages. The workbooks for choristers, the resource manuals for directors all ensure that the groundwork is laid early for future success. If time is taken in upskilling our singers early in their careers, then our work in choir training down the line is so much easier – the singers can assimilate new music with relative ease and produce an effective sound instinctively with less intervention from us!

Andrew Morgan’s session “Pathways to Growth” also caught my eye. In some ways this complemented Andy Bodkin’s and Ally Ross’s earlier session. Andrew focussed on his work at Frenchay Parish Church where he grew the musical offering from a small group of predominantly retired singers to a junior and senior chorister programme of 25 young people and 25 adults. His focus on harnessing music for church growth led his church to evaluate their pattern of services and develop a vision for their future in which music was a central plank. 

Finally, and inspirationally, Rev Dr Sam Wells explored the story and meaning of music from our classical heritage with music performed by St. Martin’s Voices directed by Andrew Earis. This took us on a wide journey from Gjeilo’s “Ubi Caritas” to “Somewhere, Over The Rainbow” taking in the USA and South Africa on the way. It opened our eyes, our ears and our understanding, enabling us to appreciate the beauty and meaning of what we encounter.

St. Martin’s Voices further provided the music for the final act of worship at St. Peter’s, Littleover, the local Parish Church. A contemporary service of Evening Prayer, this brought together much of what we had shared together during the day. 

This was an ambitious day with a mix of focussed seminars, plenary sessions, worship and training, individual and group endeavour all seeking to energise and upskill participants, encourage dialogue, share resources and to air thoughts. It was an excellent showcase for what the RSCM has to offer to everyone involved in church music, from the lowliest chorister to the professional cathedral practitioner. Did it succeed? In my opinion, heartily yes. I look forward with enthusiasm to Membership Conference 2021.

If you have taken part in an event and would like to share your experience with others, drop The Organ Manual a line, we’d love to hear from you!

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