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Welcome to the latest edition of the TCCA newsletter. With the arrival (finally!) of sunnier days, I hope the comings months will be happy and hopeful ones for you. It was wonderful to welcome the Choir back earlier in April after a term away from Cambridge. They will be performing in Wells and Ely Cathedrals in July – more information can be found in dates for your diary. April also saw the release of the Choir’s latest recording: sacred works by Cecilia McDowall.

Do take a note of the dates this year’s Alumni Carol Service and next year’s TCCA Gathering. We also hope to arrange a London drinks event for September, so keep an eye out for an update by e-mail, and we very much hope to see you at an event soon.

So little cause for carolings? The TCCA turns 15

The TCCA was formally born at its inaugural Gathering on 1 July 2006, which also marked Richard Marlow’s retirement and celebrated his thirty-eight years as Organist and Director of Music. This is, therefore, the TCCA’s official 15th anniversary.

We were, by some distance, the first College Association, and came well before the College even had an alumni department. And we shone a kindly light on the real benefits that come from maintaining an active relationship with and between alumni. But it was not an altogether trouble free birth, and one that actually started much earlier on 7 July 2000 at The Three Horseshoes in Madingley.

I, and a number of like-minded ex-choral scholars [1], took Richard out for dinner to discuss the idea of forming the Association. RKM appeared to be uncharacteristically enthusiastic, and not just about the glorious food and wine that we enjoyed, but about the prospect of the choral family he had produced over the decades having an opportunity and excuse to get together, sing and make merry. I, therefore, pressed ahead. A constitution was drafted and start-up plans were implemented.

But in 2001, just before the Association was about to be formally launched, Richard emailed me to say:

“After all your time and trouble and enthusiasm, I feel somewhat embarrassed to be writing to say that my enthusiasm for the TC Choir association is rather waning. The idea of former members meeting up informally from time to time is wonderful; but I’m increasingly hesitant about attempting to inaugurate a more formal, permanent plan. There’s nothing worse (nor, of course, more endearing in its way) than a faithful few eventually turning up, reminding one of the missing hordes!”

This was, of course, so Richard.

As a result, we put everything on ice until his retirement in 2006, at which time not only had he re-found his initial enthusiasm but he was fully committed to it.

In his valedictory, tour-de-force, speech in Hall on 1 July 2006 he said the following:

“So, thank you all for coming to give the Trinity Choir Association such a buoyant lift-off and rkm25 such a memorable send-off.  I do hope there will have been an opportunity during this weekend for me to meet and talk to you all, however frustratingly briefly. It is a wonderful chance for us all to meet again, in some cases after many, many years. Looking around, it is touching to see so many old faces – including those veterans who have temporarily escaped their nursing homes… Your presence here and your loyalty mean so much.”

That got a raucous laugh. And he went on to say:

“Tonight we celebrate the inauguration of the Trinity College Choir Association. An inauguration is a beginning – and yet, in a way, tonight’s celebration is a continuation, a re-affirming of the past. Choristers, of different shapes and sizes, have been involved with music and liturgy in this place for the past 460 years – nearly 700 years if one includes the early 14th-century musical establishment of The King’s Hall from which Trinity descends.”

And then:

“It is a great privilege for me to have been part of this ancient and distinguished tradition. In such a context my 38 years as Director of Music are, in the psalmist’s words, ‘but a span long’, ‘even as nothing’. Yet I did calculate, rather disconcertingly, the other day, while gazing at an Armitage Shanks logo in a Little Chef ante-room, that this period of nearly four decades does, nevertheless, constitute approximately one-twelfth of Trinity’s four and a half centuries of existence!

It is not particularly surprising that I am only the fourth holder of the post since 1893. Somewhat fortuitously, I became a fellow in my late twenties and, through laziness, lack of worldly ambition and an ever-growing affection for Trinity, I have remained put since then, becoming the longest-serving Organist and Director of Music in the history of the College.”

He ended his speech with the following:

“I wish the Choir Association, as I wish Stephen and future Trinity choirs, every success in their endeavours.  I can now quietly withdraw – feeling grateful that you have tolerated so graciously decades of Marlow and Marlovians, and feeling privileged to have been associated with you all as part of the distinguished musical tradition of this great College. Thank you all.”

So, although we now formally celebrate the 15th anniversary, arguably the TCCA is already 21 and has truly come of age.

And age has been such a determining factor during the pandemic. The last year or so have been so terrible for most, but it has been particularly devastating for musicians, students and young people. They have suffered greatly and missed out on so much which is largely unreclaimable, and for the latter at such a formative time in their lives.

Like RKM did back in 2006, we should now not only look back but also forward. I hope that the alumni fire that the TCCA lit back in the noughties will now burn even brighter and that we will soon gather again to remember the past and its musical glories, to enrich friendships but crucially to support Stephen Layton and enhance the choral future at Trinity so that it can endure for a further 700 years.

I leave you with one of RKM’s favourite poems, The Darkling Thrush, which was set to music by Jonathan Dove for his final service and in which Hardy watches the sun set on one era and dawn on another. I too look forward to a time which is free of the wind’s death lament, full of cause for carolings.

I leant upon a coppice gate

      When Frost was spectre-grey,

And Winter’s dregs made desolate

      The weakening eye of day.

The tangled bine-stems scored the sky

      Like strings of broken lyres,

And all mankind that haunted nigh

      Had sought their household fires.


The land’s sharp features seemed to be

      The Century’s corpse outleant,

His crypt the cloudy canopy,

      The wind his death-lament.

The ancient pulse of germ and birth

      Was shrunken hard and dry,

And every spirit upon earth

      Seemed fervourless as I.


At once a voice arose among

      The bleak twigs overhead

In a full-hearted evensong

      Of joy illimited;

An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,

      In blast-beruffled plume,

Had chosen thus to fling his soul

      Upon the growing gloom.


So little cause for carolings

      Of such ecstatic sound

Was written on terrestrial things

      Afar or nigh around,

That I could think there trembled through

      His happy good-night air

Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew

      And I was unaware.


[1] Jonnie and Rebecca Sampson (née, and now, Mills), Duncan and Marie-Claire Byrne (née Brookshaw) and, my wife, Rebecca Yates (née Daldorph).

Nicholas Yates (1991), TCCA Chairman (2006-2014)

Election to the TCCA Committee

Cat Suart (2005), after five years on the TCCA Committee, has stepped down as General Secretary. We are very grateful to Cat for giving so generously of her time and skill to support the TCCA. Susanna Helgeson (née Spicer, 1982) has been appointed as the Committee’s new General Secretary.

If you are a member of the TCCA and are interested in joining the Committee, we would be delighted to hear from you. Anyone who would like more information about what is involved or wishing to nominate themselves for election to the Committee should please contact Eleanor Lancelot (

Latest recording release: sacred works by Cecilia McDowall

The Choir’s latest recording – sacred choral works by Cecilia McDowall – has now been released.

Well-known for her soaring vocal lines and textual interpretation, the recording features McDowall’s Marian Three Latin Motets, amongst other vocal settings of sacred and devotional texts, including Standing as I do before God, which takes Sean Street’s reflection on words spoken by nurse Edith Cavell on the eve of her execution in October 1915.

The recording also includes music for solo organ: a sequence based on the Advent ‘O’ antiphons which was composed in 2018 and is played by then organ scholar Alexander Hamilton (2015).

McDowall: Sacred choral music is available to buy as a CD and to download from Hyperion Records.

Annual Gatherings

The Annual Gatherings scheduled to take place on 17 July (1996, 1997, 1998) and 21 July (1968, 1969, 1970, 1971) have been postponed.

Please note that it is still hoped that the Annual Gatherings scheduled for 11 September (2008, 2009, 2010) and 15 September (1965, 1966, 1967) will go ahead.

For more information, please click here. Please direct any queries to

TCCA membership

If you know of any former Choir members who are not currently receiving TCCA communications and would like to, please do encourage them to get in touch with us via the sign-up form.

Dates for your diary

10 July 2021 Trinity College Choir in concert at Wells Cathedral. To book tickets, click here.

17 July 2021 Trinity College Choir in concert at Ely Cathedral. To book tickets, click here.

September 2021 London drinks (date and location to be confirmed via e-mail)

6 December 2021 Alumni Carol Service at The Temple Church

2 July 2022 TCCA Gathering and belated celebration at Trinity College of Stephen Layton’s 15th anniversary as Director of Music



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