The Choir of St Thomas’ has gone on tour, either in the UK or overseas, most years since 1994. Tours provide an opportunity to sing to new audiences in a variety of interesting locations, often in fine historic settings. They offer the chance to visit places of interest in the region. And of course they are great fun – as well as hard work!
Since 2008, a combined choir of 40 or more Gentlemen, Boys and Girls has taken part in the tour, singing in various combinations. Parents and siblings have also accompanied the choirs on tour, providing assistance and support.
There are lots more photos of our tours in the Photo Gallery.
This was the highlight of the year. The choir made its first ever visit to Venice, with a musical programme comprising Sung Mass at one of Venice’s huge Gothic churches (Sta Maria Gloriosa dei Frari), an open air concert in the Campo San Polo nearby, High Mass at St Mark’s Basilica in Venice, and Sung Mass at the Basilica di Sant’Antonio in Padua, one of Italy’s most important pilgrimage churches. There was limited time to rehearse beforehand at any of these venues, though an open-air rehearsal outside St Mark’s attracted considerable interest from the crowds of visitors. Despite this, and aided by a full day’s rehearsal at St Thomas’ before departure, the choir performed at its best every time. Robert Lewis, Director of Music, said: “I have taken choirs to Venice before and sung in St Mark’s, but never before at the main Saturday Mass, before a large congregation. There are few greater honours that a choir can aspire to!”
At each church, the choir was given a very warm welcome, and at St Antony’s the clergy even presented the choir with items from their own music library. The choir also very much appreciated the presence in the congregation of both chorister parents and members of St Thomas’ congregation, who had travelled independently to provide support. The tour wasn’t all hard work, of course – there have also been reports of sight-seeing, pizza, ice creams, beaches and a theme park ..... The tour could not have taken place without an enormous amount of hard work by Jeremy Mardel and Jon Edwards, as well as Robert Lewis. Read on for an account of the tour by two choristers...
William and Bella's account
The annual choir tour is never what you expect. For all who have been on a tour with St Thomas’ will know that it is not just a trip full of singing and rehearsals. No, the choir tour is so much more!
Day 1 Practice makes Perfect (hopefully)
This was the start of the tour, a day of practising and perfecting. We arrived at St Thomas’ at 10am, excited about the tour ahead, to rehearse all the spectacular music Rob had selected for us to perform. After a tiring day of rehearsal, we were kindly invited by Father John and Gillian Morris to the vicarage for a barbecue, a great way to end the day with plenty of food, drinks, cake and ice cream galore.
Day 2 We’re on our way
It’s an early wakeup call, arriving at church by 8am. There is a buzz of excitement and apprehension as the final checks are made of passports and music. We wave goodbye to our families and off we go, ready for a fabulous tour. The flight passes quickly, and as we land we catch a glimpse of Venice below us. Bags and children collected and counted, we head off on the coach to our hotel, further along the coast. We quickly unpack, before racing down to the pool - we had been waiting all day for this - and then dinner.
Day 3 Our First Foray into Venice
After breakfast, a quick rehearsal on the terrace, and then free time for the hotel pool or the beach nearby. Half of us decided to explore the beach, while the rest chose the pool. A quick lunch, then we piled onto the coach and set off for our first adventure in the city. There was a lot of walking through the maze of alleyways, taking in the sights as we went, including the spectacular Rialto Bridge, and with time for a fabulous ice-cream. Then on to the stunning church of Santa Maria dei Frari to sing at evening Mass. Afterwards we sat on the steps outside and ate our packed teas, before making our way to Campo San Polo for a short outdoor concert. In the darkness the Girls’ Quartet sang their beautiful rendition of ‘Steal Away’ to the gathered crowd, while people watched from windows above, with thunder and lightning in the background. By the end of the day we were all exhausted, and when we returned to the hotel I crashed onto my bed straightaway.
Day 4 St Mark’s Basilica
After breakfast and a short rehearsal, some of us went to the beach, some to the pool. Then a coach ride, and a journey into Venice by boat, gliding towards the beautiful St Mark’s Square. After walking round St Mark’s Square and ice-creams, we rehearsed in a corner of the square, just outside the Basilica. A large crowd soon gathered and the police were about to move us on, until Rob explained why we were there. After changing quickly in the crypt, we sang to a packed congregation, including many familiar faces from St Thomas’. It was an amazing privilege. Afterwards, we headed to a pizza restaurant, where we had great fun playing cards and games or talking amongst ourselves.
Day 5 Padua Awaits
We had an early start and boarded the coach for Padua, where we went straight to the Basilica of St Antony to get ready to sing at the morning service. After the mass, we were allowed to perform by the tomb of St Anthony, one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Italy. Lunch in an attractive park by the Basilica was followed by an ice cream parlour. We returned to the hotel, and had our final dinner in a local restaurant, where we sang to the staff and other diners. And then it was time for speeches on the beach, as the sun set over the Adriatic, and we said thank you to the chaperones, Rob and everyone who helped organise the tour, and farewell to Molly, Izzy, Joe and Ollie who would be leaving the choir after the tour. There were tears, followed by an eventful dip in the sea, with a few hundred jellyfish.
Day 6 Aqualandia!
This was the day that we had all been waiting for! We all excitedly jumped into the bus for the fifteen-minute drive to the waterpark, and spent the day getting soaked and thrilling ourselves on the most daring rides I had ever seen. All too soon it was time to return to the hotel, pick up our bags, say our final farewells to the hotel staff and leave for the airport.
This was probably my favourite tour so far, as I developed my independence and had lots of fun in the process. St Thomas’ choir is not just a place to sing: you can socialise, grow with others, and generally become a better person.
William and Bella
There are lots more photos of this trip to Venice in the photo gallery
This year the choir returned to Belgium for its summer tour, from Friday 25 August to Wednesday 30 August. Rob Lewis, the Director of Music, led a party of 16 boy choristers, 4 senior girl choristers and 11 men, together with Julian Cooper (organist), Andrew Harrap (organ scholar), and 5 chaperones (who had the toughest job of all!). The choir sang at Mass in Brussels Cathedral, and concerts in the cathedrals of Brussels, Bruges and Ghent. Musically, the tour was a great success. The following account by Head Choristers Izzy and Joe gives their perspective.
Friday We arrived at St. T’s at 8:30 prompt. After an hour of the usual madness, meetings and missing items, we set off by coach for the ferry. On arrival at Dover the sleeping masses awoke and were let loose in the terminal shopping centre. After each chorister had been checked, escorted and carefully stowed back on the coach, we drove onto the ferry. Starting through France on the coach again, there were more naps and songs from the boy choristers – to the thoroughly well-disguised joy of the gents. After checking in to our smart hostel near the centre of Antwerp, we went straight to dinner, then bedtime for us choristers.
Saturday After breakfast, we rehearsed at the hostel, ready for our day in Ghent. On arrival there, we walked through the pretty streets to the impressive Gravensteen Castle, and climbed to the top for excellent views of the city. Then we had time to eat our packed lunches and ice cream, and explore the picturesque canals and squares before the rehearsal at St. Baaf’s Cathedral. After a very good first concert, we headed back to the hostel for dinner and a film for the choristers before bed.
Sunday An early start, leaving Antwerp at 7:50 for Brussels. On arrival at the Cathedral, we rehearsed for Mass; the distances between Rob, choir and organ were a challenge, but everyone pulled together and at the end of the service the clergy led the large congregation in generous applause. Then we walked to a nearby park for a picnic and a game of Frisbee, followed by ice creams and a walk into the Grande Place in the centre of Brussels. We returned to the cathedral for a further rehearsal and the concert, which was a great success. Back in Antwerp, we walked into the centre to the pizzeria Da Giovanni. After delicious meals, the choristers went to get more ice cream before bed.
Monday We started with a rehearsal at the hostel after breakfast. Then choristers and a few (lucky) adults headed off to Oceade waterpark, whilst most of the (even luckier) gents spent the day exploring Antwerp. We all had a really enjoyable day; plenty of action for some of us, a little peace for the others! We all met up again in the evening for more lovely Italian food. Afterwards the choristers headed to the hostel, stopping of course for our daily ice cream intake, whilst the gents found a nice spot on the square to serenade their neighbours with an informal vocal recital.
Tuesday After another great breakfast at the hostel we boarded the coach for Bruges. Once we arrived, we walked through part of the old city and took a canal trip: it was really interesting to see this beautiful old city from the water. Then we walked through the main square and had even more ice cream, before arriving at St. Salvatore’s cathedral to rehearse. Outside we sang “Locus iste” to promote the concert, and attracted much interest. Here too, the distance between the organ and choir gave us a challenge but, as always, we pulled together and our last concert of the tour went very well. It was followed by dinner at a burger restaurant, with the traditional tour speeches and thank-yous. Tired, we all got on the coach back to the hostel for the last time.
Wednesday brought mixed emotions for everybody – happy, but sad that choir tour was nearly over. We got on the coach for the final time, and set off for Ypres, where we split into two groups: while the gents and girls explored Ypres, the boys had a great time at Bellawaerde theme park. We arrived back into Dover very tired, and all slept most of the rest of the way back home. Waking up at St. Thomas’, having dreamt of all the fun we’d had, we realised that the tour was over all too quickly. We said our goodbyes and headed home - ready for another fantastic tour next year!
Friday: It all began bright and early one sunny August morning, when a pack of excited choristers gathered at St. Thomas’ with varied suitcases and backpacks. After folding our robes, we rehearsed thoroughly for our first service, which was to be the very next day. But our “chief”, Rob, wasn’t there - he had terrible back pain and we were afraid he couldn’t make it. However, thankfully, he pulled through and came during the rehearsal, which earned him a big cheer and more than a few sighs of relief. After the rehearsal, we had a picnic and were off to the airport. In no time we had boarded the plane, fighting over the window seats, and were on our way to Cologne. Just under an hour later we left the plane and were hit by a wall of heat - it was 35 degrees! We took a coach to our hostel, where we rushed to dinner. After checking into our rooms and getting ready for bed, I collapsed on the comfortable bed and fell asleep. What a day!
Saturday: I realised that organising a choir of our size was like a military operation. After breakfast we had our first rehearsal in the conference room which was extremely hot. We collected a picnic lunch before getting on the coach to a small village outside Cologne. We had our picnic in the grounds of the Altenberg Dom and ate delicious ice creams. Altenburg Dom is a stunning building both inside and out. However, when we arrived, there was a wedding taking place, so rehearsal commenced outside in the sunshine with Rob, who was still suffering, perched on his shooting stick. We eventually got inside, donned our robes and the mass began. The acoustics were quite spectacular, and the sound we made was truly amazing! After a lovely meal out, we returned to the hostel.
Sunday: It was an early wake-up, and I felt a bit groggy at first, but everyone was determined to get through the hectic day ahead. We took a packed lunch from the hotel, and walked to St. Aposteln, which was amazing on the inside. We sang at mass from up on the organ gallery, and our voices echoed, and filled this spectacular building. After that, we walked to Cologne Cathedral, the largest cathedral in Northern Europe, its twin Gothic spires blackened by time rising majestically into the cloudless sky. Here we caught the Noddy Train, then took a cable-car over the Rhine (passing a nudist spa on the way - very German). After a picnic in the Rhinepark, we sang at mass at St. Pantaleon church, another beautiful church.
Monday: This was our day off. As a treat we were taken to AQUALAND! We had a fantastic time swimming and riding the waterslide, some of us even getting stuck in the slides. In the evening we went to a Pizza restaurant, where we serenaded a customer with “Happy Birthday” and sang ‘Ubi Caritas’ to the chefs, earning us a 20% discount – a great night!
Tuesday: This was the big day. The highlight of the tour was definitely singing in the cathedral. A quick rehearsal outside attracted a large crowd. Walking in, I felt insignificant against the magnitude and beauty of the cathedral.
For midday prayers, all our pieces were unaccompanied. The acoustics were beautiful, and it was a real honour to sing there. In the afternoon, we returned to St. Aposteln, where we sang our final concert. The soloists were AMAZING! They blew us away, and reduced some to tears. After that, we returned to the hostel for speeches from head choristers, senior choristers, and Rob, we said our thank yous to Rob and Jeremy for all they had done for the tour and also to the chaperones for looking after us so well, and we said a farewell to Karen. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Wednesday: After breakfast, we packed and went on our way to Linz and boarded a river cruise to Bonn. Beautiful scenery, sunny weather and a picnic on board. But the best was yet to come: in Bonn we visited the Haribo shop! Tubes of Haribos as tall as some of the boys, with flavours not seen at home. We then left for the airport and boarded our flight home. Thankfully Rob seemed better, so didn’t spend so much of the journey lying on the floor to realign his back.
This has been my (William’s) favourite (and last) tour, and I loved it. Everyone did such a good job! Being in this parish choir, and participating in all these fantastic opportunities is wonderful, and reminds us all how lucky we are. It is an experience that no chorister will forget.
There are lots more photos of this trip to Cologne in the photo gallery.
One chilly Thursday morning in August, a bleary eyed choir plus chaperones arrived at St Thomas’ to begin the great choir exodus to the Czech Republic. After a sleepy farewell to parents, the choir tour was on the way! Once on the plane we found our seats, and then all scrambled to swap seats so we could talk to our friends. Our next destination after landing at Prague airport was the hotel, where we settled into our rooms, had a rehearsal, our evening meal and then to bed as it had been a long day.
The second day marked our first concert, and our first journey into the city on the metro with station names we couldn’t pronounce! We arrived and congregated in the square outside St Nicholas’ to get orientated; inside the church we saw the beautiful interior, including a massive crystal chandelier. Unfortunately, lovely though it was, it caused a problem. The chandelier meant that Julian, up in the organ loft, couldn’t see Rob conducting down below, and the monitor wasn’t working either. The solution was for Andrew to go back and forth trying to repeat Rob’s beat for Julian. The church was full and the concert was well received. That night we had a lovely meal in town in a pizzeria.
The third day was one of FUN: the first item on the agenda was a pedalo trip on the River Vltava which ended up as “Adults sit in the back and watch the choristers pedal them around.” It was fun, although I could only just walk afterwards. Then, after a rehearsal, we went to a bobsleigh track, which everyone thought was amazing fun. William Lardner showed his enjoyment at being driven by speed demon Alex Thow, by screaming all the way down. Even some of the Gentlemen choir went down and got a bit competitive about their speeds!
The fourth day was the busiest, with two sung masses. The first was in St Clement’s, a lovely Anglican church where we sang in the organ loft, giving us a stunning view of the church. They put on refreshments for us after the service, including Czech wafer biscuits which were lovely. That evening we also sang mass in the church of St Salvator, which quite literally took my breath away. It was spectacularly decorated, you could hardly move for fantastic statues, paintings, frescos or carvings. There was even a statue on the stairs up to the organ loft which scared some of us. Singing there was an experience that I shall never forget. We were up in the organ loft again, and so yet again we had one of the best views. We were rewarded for our singing with a standing ovation, which was a great honour, since we had sung a mass, rather than a concert!
On our penultimate day we were back at St Salvator, only this time we were singing a concert. The concert was standing room only, and it was a very moving experience as everyone sang so well. As we made our way back to our hotel we stopped to see the Astronomical Clock in the Square; there is also a regular clock on the side of the tower, because I don’t imagine many people can read the Astronomical Clock, which has around seven hands. Back at the hotel, our dinner was followed by speeches, but the best were those by the two head choristers - even if I do say so myself!
The final day was rather sad as we were all having such a great time, and for some of us it was our last outing with the choir. We had a fun day out in Prague Zoo - the biggest in Europe. I have to say it was a little scary in the jungle enclosure, as they had a room where the bats flew free around your head. The flight back was much the same as the way out: there was a reshuffle of seats, and we were back in England before we knew it. When we got back to the church, I said good bye to everyone. I absolutely loved the choir tour and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I will definitely go back to Prague! Max Healey (Head Chorister)
There are lots more photos of this trip to Prague in the photo gallery
2013 London & Oxford (non-residential) tour
It was a great experience. On Saturday 24th August we started with a trip to London. and a ferry trip along the Thames to the fabled London Eye! It was rather unnerving being in a glass ball 135 metres in the air looking down to see Big Ben no bigger than a child’s toy. After that we walked a little along the Thames and saw someone playing the steel drums; he invited us to try to play a scale, and all who attempted succeeded - with some prompting from the professional.
Soon we arrived at Westminster Cathedral and it took my breath away it was so beautiful! The mosaics were so intricate you expected them to come to life. We then rehearsed in the Apse, took a break, and then sang in the 6 o’clock Mass. The cathedral was packed! After eating at MacDonald’s we all got on the coach back to Farnham.
The next day we rehearsed at All Saints’ Tilford for our recording. Our hard work was rewarded by a barbeque afterwards, which involved a massive football match between the boys and the girls, with the men making up numbers.
On Monday we rehearsed some more and did a sound check for the recording, which basically involved singing “Bethlehem Down” 20 times! It was weird singing carols in the summer sunshine. Tuesday 27th was the dreaded day of recording, lots of concentration, trying to stand still and keeping quiet when we weren’t singing, not easy for some. But somehow we managed it, and we recorded a total of 9 carols to Rob’s satisfaction. In the evening we had a lovely dinner at Brasserie Blanc in Farnham, which included speeches and an impromptu rendition of “Happy Birthday” for another table in the restaurant.
On Wednesday, the last day of choir tour, we drove up to Oxford and proceeded to the river for a bit of rowing. We all rowed except for Ian Bysh who, as a former undergraduate of the place, had to take a punt out on the water! We then regrouped, surprisingly dry, and ate lunch in the company of geese in the Christ Church meadows.
There are lots more photos of this tour in the photo gallery
2012 Choir Tour to Normandy
In August 2012, the choir visited Normandy, singing an informal concert in Rouen Cathedral, Mass at Fécamp Abbey, and a concert at Étretat, which received much acclaim in the local press.
This was the first tour under the baton of our new choral director Robert Lewis, and was enjoyed by everyone who took part.
2011 Choir Tour to Belgium
In August 2011, over 40 boys, girls and gentlemen travelled to Belgium for a four-day tour, staying in Ypres. The first singing event was a Saturday lunchtime concert in Ghent cathedral, followed by singing the morning service at Ypres cathedral on the Sunday, and then a lunchtime concert in Poperinghe the following day.
The final singing occasion was at the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres, which was extremely moving and was also Philip Viveash’s final appearance conducting the choirs of St Thomas-on-The Bourne. Although the tour was hard work, there was plenty of time for relaxation and sightseeing, which included a tour of the First World War battlefields and cemeteries.
2010 Choir Tour to Hereford Cathedral
In August 2010, some 40 boys, girls and men sang six services over four days in Hereford Cathedral, while the cathedral choir was on holiday. The services began with the men singing Evensong on the Thursday, followed by men and boys on Friday, and men and girls on Saturday. On Sunday morning, men and boys sang Eucharist, followed by men and girls singing Matins. On Sunday afternoon, the combined choir of men, boys and girls joined to sing evensong and were made particularly welcome by the clergy.
While there was plenty of hard work, there was also time to relax. This included bowling, swimming and shopping, and an excursion to Ludlow for the men. The highlight was a 8.5 mile canoe trip on the River Wye – though for some this also counted as hard work!
2009 Choir Tour to Christchurch, Dorset
Over 40 men, boys and girls, accompanied by some 20 parents, spent three days of the August bank holiday weekend in Bournemouth, singing services in the magnificent priory church at nearby Christchurch. The tour was the first with Philip Viveash as Director of Music. The choir worked hard, singing five services over three days, as well as rehearsing thoroughly beforehand. The music spanned five centuries, from Tallis to Rutter. All the hard work paid off in the quality of performance, especially on the Sunday when all 43 voices sang at the Eucharist and Evensong to a full congregation.
As well as hard work, there was time to fit into the packed weekend a mixture of swimming, skittles, mini-golf, a boat trip, visit to the Oceanarium, and some shopping.
2008 Choir Tour to Southwell, Notts
At the end of August, the men’s, boys’ and girls’ choirs visited Southwell Minster for five days, singing Evensong from Monday to Friday. Duties were shared – men and boys sang on Monday and Tuesday, the men and girls on Thursday and Friday, and all sang together on Wednesday. As well as a busy programme of services and rehearsals, there was time for bowling, swimming and shopping, and a visit to the caves under the centre of Nottingham. The accommodation in part of Nottingham Trent University was particularly appreciated by the children.
2007 Men and Girls Tour to Hereford Cathedral
In late August, the men’s and girls’ choirs sang evensong on three days in Hereford Cathedral. Swimming, shopping and a visit to the cinema provided additional entertainment. Accommodation at the National College for the Blind proved very suitable – but a bit of a walk from the cathedral!
2006 Parish Choir Tour to Romsey Abbey
On 30 July, the men and boys visited Romsey Abbey in Hampshire to sing Sunday Eucharist and Evensong. They sang at the main morning Eucharist at 10.00 a.m. and at Choral Evensong at 6.30 p.m. During the day they enjoyed a picnic and there was also time for cricket, football and swimming in between.
2006 Men and Girls Tour to Hereford Cathedral
Team leader Ellie Powell wrote this piece for the parish magazine: "When we first saw the cathedral we all thought, WOW! Are we really singing in this huge building? It was beautiful! We had a great laugh. When we sang it echoed round the cathedral, it was wonderful. We stayed in a pretty little Youth Hostel in Leominster (near Hereford). It had comfortable rooms, and a TV room, where we were A LOT! The food was great and we were happy."
2005 Beverley Minster
At the end of July 2005 the Parish Choir made a successful trip to Beverley, singing the services at the Minster on 24 July and singing a concert at Holy Trinity, Hull (the largest parish church in England!) the night before. We stayed at the excellent Beverley Arms Hotel and made trips to Flamingoland, The Deep, The National Railway Museum, and spent some time on the beach in Bridlington.
2004 Tewkesbury Abbey
2004 saw a trip by the Parish Choir to sing at Tewkesbury Abbey, singing the services on the Sunday and staying at the Royal Hop Pole Hotel. Although a relatively short trip, we managed to fit in a tour of the Abbey, swimming, a trip on the Gloucestershire and Warwickshire Railway, and a visit to the Cotswold Falconry Centre.
The choir enjoyed a wonderful tour to Salzburg. We stayed in a pretty chalet-style hotel in Hüttau, and sang concerts in the Lutheran church at Berchtesgaden (Germany) and Pfarrkirche St Michael, Mondsee (used for the wedding scene in the film "The Sound Of Music"). Following the concert in St Michael we sang during the Mass and then again in Salzburg Cathedral on the Sunday morning. We were very warmly welcomed and enthusiastically applauded at both services. When not singing we visited the absolutely excellent Berchtesgaden Salt Mines, took the ferry across the Wolfgangsee lake, visited Salzburg and relaxed!
2001 Christchurch Priory
We stayed in the UK for summer 2001 and sang the 3 services on Sunday 29th July at Christchurch Priory, Dorset. We took a long weekend break from the Friday to the Monday and the boys were able to go on trips to nearby beaches and the New Forest.
2000 Northern France
As with the 1999 tour, a relaxing week was spent in Northern France where we sang concerts in Coutances Cathedral, Villedieu-les-Poêles and in the 10th century church at St Jean-le-Thomas in the town where we were staying and the townspeople of St Jean-le-Thomas filled the small church and were hugely enthusiastic in their support. There was also time for the beach, shopping, a trip to the very busy Mont St Michel and for some of the gentlemen, golfing or a day trip to Jersey.
1999 Northern France
A week in Northern France with concerts in Coutances Cathedral, the Abbaye de La Lucerne and Villedieu-les-Poêles. Recreational visits were made to Mont St Michel, the Normandy invasion beaches and to the world-famous Bayeux Tapestry.
A week in Wales with concerts in Machynlleth and Aberystwyth and as part of the Aberystwyth Festival
1997 USA and Bermuda
This was our most exotic tour yet! The USA leg of the tour included services and concerts in St Bartholomew's church and St Patrick's (Roman Catholic) Cathedral in New York city, concerts in Princeton University Chapel and the Old South Church in Boston. Whilst in Bermuda we sang services at the cathedral in Hamilton (the capital) of which Matins was broadcast live on the radio, and also a concert at St Mark's Church in Smiths Parish.
1996 - Exeter Cathedral
We enjoyed a week of singing the services at Exeter Cathedral.
1995 Central France
A week in Central France including well-attended and enthusiatically received concerts at Preuilly sur Claise, the medieval Collégiale St Ours in Loches and at the Abbey de Fleury in St-Benoît-sur-Loire (near Orléans). We were honoured to be allowed to sing an anthem during the service of Vespers given by the monks of the Abbey de Fleury.
1994 Ripon Cathedral
A week of singing the services at Ripon Cathedral. We also enjoyed tours of the nearby ruins of Fountains Abbey and Rievaulx Abbey.