Music in the Church

From early times music has been an important element in the liturgy of the church. To many people a Missa Cantata or Sung Mass is a divinely inspired supreme form of worship. Records show that from the beginning Holy Rood Church was able to form a fine choir which was appreciated far beyond the parish. Within three years of the church being opened the Watford Observer reported that the sacred music rendered by the choir was selected from some of the finest composers, and in the same year the paper informed its readers that a grand High Mass would he sung with the choir augmented by members of the Herbente-Bassing’s Company and accompanied by an orchestra. Indeed, through the years the local paper from time to time carried reports on choral performances at Holy Rood, all speaking highly of the standard and sometimes describing in great detail what was sung, particularly at Easter time. The choir also sang outside the parish. For example in 1925 there was a pageant at Abbots Langley commemorating the fact that the only English pope, Adrian IV, lived there in a farmhouse as a young man in the 12th century. The choral parts of the ceremony were sung by Holy Rood choir.

Surprisingly for a very long time Holy Rood had no organ to support its splendid choir, only a harmonium. In explanation it is said that the benefactor, Mr. Taprell Holland, disliked organs but evidence to support this has not been found. It is curious too that the space provided by Bentley for the choir was dark, small and quite unsuitable, and this even though he himself in earlier years had sung in a choir. Eventually a pipe organ was provided and local tradition holds that it came from the 1924 Wembley Exhibition. By 1971 this organ was becoming very costly to maintain and it was replaced first by a small electronic organ and later by the present one.

Through the years, Holy Rood has been fortunate in having the services of keen, knowledgeable and hard-working choir masters and organists and at various times until recent years, a boys choir and an adult male choir. In the 1960’s when the vernacular liturgy was introduced, a number of the men’s choir left and a mixed choir took its place, which served the parish well until the 1980’s.

In recent years. the emphasis has been more on congregational singing – not a strong Catholic tradition, but something which is much enhanced by the use of cantors. The folk-Mass has proved popular, and those who come late to 11.15am Mass find standing room only. [This mass time is now 11 am.] While naturally some people are sad that the beautiful plainsong and polyphony of past centuries is no longer heard at Holy Rood, many parishioners find much of the modern liturgical music both enjoyable to sing and helpful to their own and the community’s prayer. And that, surely, is the prime purpose of music in church.