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Delivering December’s seasonal music

Advent and Christmas is a busy time for the York Minster choristers and wider music team.

Throughout the year the 20 boys and 20 girls, who range in age from seven to 13, spend an hour rehearsing before school and then alternate singing at four Evensong and four weekend services at the cathedral.

But add in two sell-out Carol Concerts, an orchestral performance of Handel’s Messiah, two hugely popular carol services and two choral performances on Christmas Day, and December becomes an exceptionally demanding time for the whole team.

Leading the seasonal programme is Robert Sharpe, who has been Director of Music at York Minster since 2008.

“It’s undoubtedly hard work, but the choristers seem to thrive on the challenge and the atmosphere in the cathedral during this amazing season,” he explained.

For Robert, bringing the whole musical programme for Advent and Christmas together is one of the highlights of the year.

“Evensong is always a highlight in its own right, particularly at this time of year when we’re doing some really interesting music.

“The performance of Handel’s Messiah is a very special occasion – it’s a great opportunity for the choristers to sing with an orchestra and internationally renowned soloists in the cathedral’s Nave with its wonderful acoustic. And the Christmas Carol Concerts with their focus on popular, seasonal music is always great fun for the choir to take part in.

“The really special occasion for me is when we get to Christmas Eve and the building is as full as we ever have it in the year for the Nine Lessons and Carols Service. The service opens with a solo chorister singing the first verse of Once in Royal David’s City – the chorister doesn’t know who they are until the moment just before when I point at them. It’s always quite a nerve-racking moment for me and for them but the idea behind it is that they don’t have time to get worried about it – it’s just “it’s you and off you go” – that’s quite a special moment.

“At the end of the service we process down the building and, with the place absolutely full, it’s a magical moment before the services of Christmas Day itself.”

All York Minster Advent and Christmas services are open to all to attend, with no booking required, but please arrive early as the main services are very popular. For full details visit our What’s On section.

The performance of Handel’s Messiah takes place on Saturday 7 December at 7pm and tickets are available online here, via 01904 557256 or on the door.

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Dismantling the Grand Organ

Take a look behind the scenes as specialists remove one of the largest cathedral organs in the country for the first time in more than 100 years.

Since 1903, York Minster’s Grand Organ has been at the heart of daily worship at the cathedral. But this constant use combined with the heavy footfall in the Minster which throws up dirt and dust, and the building’s temperature changes and humidity, mean it is now in need of a major refurbishment to ensure its reliability into the next century.

The first stage in this two year, £2m project is to completely dismantle the organ, and during October 2018 this mammoth task is being carried out by a team of eight people from organ specialists Harrison and Harrison.

The team has been on site since 8 October and during the next three weeks will be carefully removing 5,379 pipes, which range in length from the size of a pencil to 10m long. This includes the 100 decorative case pipes which have been silent since the last major refurbishment in 1903 but will be returned to voice as part of the current project.

The case pipes date from the early 1830s and have a high lead content, meaning that the soft metal has bent and bowed in places under the weight of the pipes. Harrison and Harrison will reshape the pipes and line them with zinc to strengthen the structure, before graining and marbling specialists Robert Woodland and Son clean, repair and restore their decorative surfaces returning them to their original splendour.

Other work during the three week period includes removing the enormous organ console and lifting the blowers stored beneath the floor of the North Quire Aisle. The instrument will be transported to the team’s workshop in Durham for cleaning and repair works to be carried out, before work to reinstall the organ starts in spring 2020.

Learn more about the fiery origins of the organ under our Stories section, or to support the project see our donations pages.

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