For the past eight years, the Nash family have made Portsmouth their home. Music and the Portsmouth Cathedral Choir have been a part of the rhythm of life for brothers, and choristers, Oliver and Ben who are both pupils at The Portsmouth Grammar School. This past Christmas, Oliver Nash completed his tenure as Head Chorister with the Portsmouth Cathedral Choir, and reflected on over seven years of his life as a chorister. His father Phil, a Commander in the Royal Navy based in Portsmouth, also wrote about watching his sons growing up and what the Portsmouth Cathedral Choir has meant to their family.
“Seven years I had been a chorister. Hundreds of morning rehearsals, services – evensongs and eucharists – weddings, funerals and tours had I all attended. The dying years of my chorister experience had gone by so quickly, and it seemed I would have to drag both my soul and spirit out of choir if I were to ever move on from it.
The Portsmouth Cathedral Choir had been half my life, literally, and it seemed sad to bring so many experiences to a close. I guess it didn’t seem too much out of the ordinary then that my last days as Head Chorister were spent singing in the Alps and skiing in robes (a completely unsuitable attire for such a sport, in my opinion) down the slopes of Alpe d’Huez.
I had sung at St Paul’s, Westminster Abbey, Menin Gate and many other locations in my life, but singing carols in my now-not-so-angelic-voice in the snow and attached to skis will remain one of my fondest memories of my time in choir, if not my life.
The opportunities and knowledge earned from everything I had been presented with will remain priceless to me, and I will miss the disappearance of this nearly inbuilt routine to me. Again, not surprising that the solitary climb of over 1000 metres up the mountain by bike the day after my leaving did not help to alleviate the pain coming from within me.” – Oliver Nash
“Children aren’t colouring books. You don’t get to fill them in with your favourite colours.” Those words, written by Khaled Hosseini and repeated by my wife, have often come back to me in the years since my eldest son, then aged seven, declared that he was going to be a chorister in Portsmouth Cathedral Choir. During those daydream moments that we all have in which we plan out our children’s entire lives I had not counted life as a chorister amongst the options. But now on Christmas Day, nearly eight years later, and having just watched that same boy finishing his spell as Head Chorister and therefore leaving the choir forever, I could not have imagined a more fulfilling way for my boys to spend their time.
Over those past eight years family life in our home has been punctuated for both of our boys by a rhythm of daily choir practice, weekly services and annual peaks of music and singing at Easter and Christmas. There is no doubt that the commitment is considerable, but then very often so are the rewards. As much as choristers may look angelic when performing, the reality is that behind the scenes they are like any other group of similarly aged boys and benefit from the interaction that this brings; noise, football and winding each other up all compete for centre stage. But singing is what they are there for and the music is really quite something, whether in Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s, or the cathedrals of Antwerp, Sweden (where exactly?), Berlin or even on the ski slopes of Alpe d’Huez. The unexpected pleasure for me in this is seeing and hearing something done to an exceptionally high standard, and being recognised as such; it’s about excellence. And then there is the emotional side in hearing your little darling belting out a Christmas favourite like ‘Once in Royal David’s City’, on his own and by candle light in front of hundreds in a packed cathedral. Really very special indeed.
Getting some sort of balance into our family life throughout all of this has been challenging but nevertheless, for the boys rugby and cricket has been played, homework done and time spent ‘melting brains’ plugged into an xBox minimised. In fact, we find it difficult now to imagine a life without the choir. My retired Head Chorister is getting to grips with life after the choir and whilst the commitment has gone, the legacy is musicality, whether expressed through formal piano lessons or when trying to decipher an Ed Sheeran song from YouTube and repeating it on a guitar. I think a return to some sort of choir, this time with voice broken, is also on the cards before very long. So, this chorister chapter of our lives has given us much more than we had anticipated. Indeed, whilst I was deployed overseas with the Armed Forces last year I found myself sat in a café in the sunshine, dialled into WiFi in order to listen to my Head Chorister not only sing but also read a speech on Radio 4 as part of the national service to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day. So there is no doubt in my mind, it’s a good thing we parents don’t get to choose the colours.” – Phil Nash