The winds of change have begun to blow through Ripon Cathedral this Autumn with the arrival of a new Singing Development Leader, a new organ scholar and some exciting developments for the choir.
Aoife O’Connell, a professional opera singer who has recently worked with Opera North’s education department, is heading up a community outreach project to promote singing and inspire young musicians in Ripon and the surrounding area.
As Singing Development Leader Aoife will be working with schools and other agencies to develop various initiatives including a children’s community choir.
She said: “I think music can be really beneficial, particularly to young people, because it’s a very community spirited thing. It stimulates children’s minds and helps them learn how to work with others while also helping to develop their empathy skills. There’s a lot of potential and a lot of possibilities in this role which is very exciting.”
The appointment is part of a three year project funded from a grant of £60,000 from the Allchurches Trust. The injection of cash also sees the introduction of a bespoke training scheme for choristers with free music theory lessons and bursaries for learning a musical instrument.
The cathedral has a fine tradition of music which dates back to the 7th Century when St Wilfrid brought two singing masters from Canterbury to teach the monks singing and Gregorian chants. However maintaining the musical activities at Ripon comes at the considerable cost of some £275,000 a year.
It’s thanks to the Ripon Cathedral Music Custodians – who help meet that cost – that the cathedral also welcomes Alana Brook, 25, who takes up the John Sayer Organ Scholarship.
Alana hails from Australia and has just returned from visiting family in Adelaide. She said: “I always wanted to work in a British cathedral. I played at St Peter’s Cathedral in Adelaide and came to the UK on a tour of British cathedrals.”
Alana studied piano at university back home and recently gained an Associate Diploma of the Royal College of Organists. She comes to Ripon after two years in Dorset where she was the Milton Abbey School Organ Scholar.
“I am hoping to play a much larger repertoire on the organ here, which is much bigger,” she said of the cathedral’s impressive Harrison and Harrison organ – which has four keyboards and boasts pipes dating back to 1695.
Director of Music Andrew Bryden said: “I’m delighted to welcome both Aoife and Alana to the cathedral at this exciting time in the development of our music here. Alana will provide invaluable support and make a significant contribution to our work of singing daily services.
“We’ve been seeking to enhance our work in the wider community and Aoife’s appointment will take this forward in a way that we could never have managed without the generous grant from the Allchurches Trust and the Ripon Cathedral Music Custodians.”