St Mary's Choir wins national award for musical excellence

First published on: 6th December 2022

A mixed choir of robed children, young people, and grown-ups stand beneath a stained glass window in the the church and smile.

Photo shows: St Mary’s Choir, Scholars and Treblemakers with Richard Hammond-Hall, Director of Music (far left of photo), Gavin Ralston (next left), and the Very Rev John Hall (far right of photo)

St Mary’s Church in West Malling is celebrating after the Cathedral Music Trust and Royal School of Church Music named them as one of six recipients of the inaugural Church Choir Award for 2022. 

Launched earlier this year, The Church Choir Award seeks to celebrate church choirs who have shown exceptional dedication to musical excellence within their parish. The Award also aims to develop that excellence by funding imaginative new projects and activities.

St Mary's Church has been particularly recognised for its commitment to investing in children and young people through its Choral and Organ Scholarship schemes.

Choral tradition revived

Coming out of Covid and lockdowns, St Mary’s Choir had fallen to a low ebb with just two regular members.

Determined to get the music-making back on its feet, the vicar, the Rev David Green, the Director of Music, Richard Hammond-Hall, and the Parochial Church Council (PCC), developed the idea for a scholarship scheme to appoint four Choral Scholars and an Organ Scholar.

Thanks to generous fundraising among the congregation, and with a supporting grant from the Diocese of Rochester's Children and Young People Fund, the St Mary's Choral and Organ Scholars programme was established.

As a result, the choir has grown to around 30 members (adults, young people and children). New adult members have been willing to give it a go because of the presence of the scholars. The scholars have also had an impact on the Treblemakers Junior Choir as role models. In addition, a new feeder scheme with Valley Invicta schools is also part of the project.

The first year of scholars have now taken their musical skills on into university and the current Organ Scholar, Ben Nolan, has recently won an organ scholarship to Girton College, Cambridge.

The Rev David Green said:

“St Mary’s has a long history of music making and choral music in particular. Not only has our scholar project been good for our worship, but it’s been a wonderful tool for mission and ministry as well.

We’re very thankful for everyone’s faith in us, expressed through their financial support, and delighted to receive this award as a recognition for some good work done.”

Award will ensure ongoing musical excellence

The Church Choir award from the Cathedral Music Trust comes with a cheque for £2,500 to support the ongoing musical efforts. 

Gavin Ralston, a Trustee with the Cathedral Music Trust, and the Very Rev John Hall, formerly Dean of Westminster Abbey and now Chair of the Royal School of Church Music, joined St Mary’s for their main Sunday service on the feast of Christ the King to present the award.

Reflecting on the Cathedral Music Trust and Royal School of Church Music award, the Director of Music at St Mary's, Richard Hammond-Hall said:

“We're so excited that all this hard work has been recognised nationally and want to thank all our congregation members who donated to help establish the scheme and to the Diocese for their support.

The finances are always a challenge but we hope everyone agrees that the quality of the singing and music making is really making it all worthwhile.”

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