Sunday, 29 November 2020

Community Focus : Founding Futures

St Mary le Tower Choir draws its membership from around the county of Suffolk. We have choristers and choral scholars from many local state schools, and have contacts with most of the Independent Schools in the region. Ipswich School is one of our nearest neighbours, and regularly holds concerts and services at our church. 

Recently their "Founding Futures" bursary scheme made the local press with the story of Tekle, an Eritrean refugee who fled war and famine to reach England four years ago. After a perilous journey over land and sea he reached our shores as a refugee. Having been placed in foster care in Grays, Essex, Tekle came to settle independently in Ipswich and studied GCSEs at Northgate High School. While studying for his GCSEs, he attended Suffolk Refugee Support’s Homework Club, which provides support to refugees who need more one-to-one help because English is not their first language. The Homework Club was initially held at Volunteering Matters, but moved to Ipswich School where students could take advantage of the facilities, and this is where Tekle was spotted by one of the school staff who volunteers at the club. In fact, the school was so impressed by his hard work and progress, that they offered him a full Founding Futures bursary to study A levels in Chemistry, Maths and Physics.

You can read the full story here

Unlike many other Independent schools, Ipswich does not have a large endowment providing bursaries to support children in the School.  Through the Founding Futures Bursary Campaign Ipswich School wants to open up access to any pupil, regardless of their family’s financial circumstances. 

You can read more about the Founding Futures Campaign here

“Education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving the community and world better than you found it”                      
Marian Wright Edelman 

Sock Snowmen

These dumpy little snowmen are so easy to make and look particularly sweet. It is a craft idea with multiple variations, duplicated across the web. I have included a couple of video tutorials at the bottom to help you. 

Sock Snowmen from "Ciao Mama"

 What You’ll Need: 
  • Pair of calf-length socks 
  • Pair of patterned socks 
  • Dried rice/beans/lentils to fill
  • Rubber bands 
  • Twine 
  • Buttons and/or felt for shirt/eyes/nose

  • Cut the foot off of one tube sock and discard. (You will only need the top of the sock.)  
  • Turn the tube part of the sock inside out and wrap one end tight with a rubber band. Then, turn it right side out again and begin to fill with rice! Push rice down into the sock so it will stretch out and become a chubby little snowman body. 
  • Once you have filled the sock to the almost-brim, wrap another rubber band around the top to secure. You now have your basic snow body. 
  • Take the patterned socks. Cut the heel and toe off of one sock, so you just have the middle. This will be the snowman’s shirt. Then take the other sock and cut off the heel. This will be the snowman’s hat. (see photo above)
  • Put the "shirt" over the snowman's body, and tie some twine around the top. The hat is tied at the top to give it shape and it can then fall to one side.
  • Decorate the face with felt/buttons/pens - it's up to you!
There are so many variations on this idea, the possibilities really are endless.
Below is a video tutorial of a similar pattern:-

or this one here:-

Christmas Carols and their origins

The word Carol means dance or a song of praise and joy. Carols used to be written and sung during all four seasons, but only the tradition of singing them at Christmas has really survived. Carols were first sung in Europe thousands of years ago, but these were pagan songs, sung at the Winter Solstice celebrations as people danced round stone circles. 

In 1223 St. Francis of Assisi initiated nativity plays in Italy, with people in the plays singing songs or 'canticles' that told the story. Sometimes, the choruses of these new carols were in Latin; but normally they were all in a language that the people watching the play could understand and join in. The new carols spread to France, Spain, Germany and other European countries. 

Photo by Dan Kiefer on Unsplash

Carols from this time were very loosely based on the Christmas story and were seen as entertaining rather than religious songs. Usually sung in homes rather than in churches, they evolved over time. Traveling singers or Minstrels started singing these carols and the words were changed for the local people wherever they were traveling. "I Saw Three Ships" is an example. 

Carols remained mainly unsung until Victorian times, when two men called William Sandys and Davis Gilbert collected Christmas music from villages in England. Sandy's compiled "Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern" which is now in the British Library. In the lengthy introduction Sandys relates the history of the festival, bemoans that celebrating Christmas is ‘on the wane’ . He includes 80 carols, some 15th to 17th century, others ‘still used in the west of England’, plus 12 pages of music with 18 tunes. The book saw the first appearance of many now-familiar carols, including 'God rest you merry, Gentlemen'; 'Hark, the herald angels sing'; 'I saw three ships'; and 'The first Noel'. (In 1852 Sandys published a similar carol collection, Christmas-tide, for a more popular market.) 

Before carol singing in public became popular, there were official carol singers called 'Waits'. These were led by important local leaders who had the only power locally to permit payment for wassailing or carolling. 'Waits' were so called because they only sang on Christmas Eve which was sometimes known as 'watchnight' or 'waitnight', because of the shepherds were watching their sheep when the angels appeared to them.

Each Christmas carol tells a story, here is the history of two of the best known:-

Once in Royal David's City

Cecil Frances Alexander lived 1818-1895 in Dublin, Ireland. She was the author of the iconic "Once in Royal David's City" (and "All things Bright and Beautiful" amongst many others). She was a prolific verse writer, her hymns heavily influenced first by Dr. Walter Hook, Dean of Chichester, and later her connections within the Oxford Movement. 

Whilst many of us are unfamiliar with the controversies surrounding both the Movement and Alexander's endorsement of the class system, her hymns are known and loved by Christians the world over. Alexander also published poetry in english and french, for adults and children.

"Once in Royal" as it's affectionately known is usually sung at the start of Carol Services in the approach to Christmas, and the Nine Lessons and Carols service on Christmas Eve. The first verse is usually sung as a solo, the soloist traditionally only learning they are singing it moments beforehand!

St Mary le Tower's choral scholars from Framlingham College recently recorded this well known carol, below:- 


Hark the Herald Angels Sing
Charles Wesley, the founder of Methodist Church wrote a beautiful carol which began:- 
Hark how all the welkin rings 
Glory to the King of Kings 
Peace on earth and mercy mild 
God and sinners reconciled.

Until twenty years later a preacher called George Whitfield published a new version with the now familiar first line "Hark, the herald angels sing Glory to the new-born King!" Wesley was apparently unimpressed, not least (according to a BBC Culture article) because the angels in the Bible spoke their message, rather than sang it. The text is still credited to Wesley, who wrote over 6500 hymns!

The history around the tune is even more interesting. It is by Mendelssohn; a song he wrote to commemorate the Gutenburg press 400 years after its invention. Realising some new lyrics might be needed once the anniversary had passed, Mendelssohn said he did not mind what words were substituted for the original lyrics, as long as they were not religious....  

Here is our choir singing Ben Parry's version of "Adam lay Ybounden":- 

(press the triangular "play" button at the bottom)

Tree of the Day - the Ipswich Christmas Tree

 Ipswich Borough Council decided to break with tradition a few years back, and invested in a reusable metal tree for the town, to stand in front of the town hall. The tree consisted of several globes of different sizes, which lit up. Whilst perhaps an innovative and environmentally friendly choice (in that it was reusable) the decision proved extremely unpopular! After the first year there was even a Facebook group set up to bring back a "real" tree, and a petition to persuade the Council to abandon this perceived monstrosity.

Photo from the Facebook campaign to restore a "real" Christmas tree to Ipswich

The campaign proved to be a success, and a real tree returned to Ipswich Cornhill in November 2017. In 2018, the newly renovated Cornhill again hosted a real tree and the event drew crowds to celebrate. (The 2018 tree was sourced from Elvedon in north Suffolk, and the council moved its metal and LED-light tree to the Waterfront.) 

Sadly, due to the pandemic the Christmas light switch on event has been cancelled in Ipswich for 2020, but there will still be a real tree standing in pride of place on the Cornhill.

Where to buy your Christmas Tree this year

If you are still stuck for where to purchase your tree this year, there is an excellent guide in the SUFFOLK magazine here.

Christmas Patterns

Patterns are an important part of Christmas. We are familiar with pattern of Advent, as we wait for Jesus' coming. We light a candle in church each week, and many of you will have an Advent calendar to count the days until Christmas morning! For Christians the pattern of waiting has stretched for centuries, and as we wait for the second coming of Jesus traditions and patterns play a vital role in our lives. The entire church year is a familiar pattern, and symbols and decorations can be repetitive too.

There are of course many types of pattern. Number patterns, repeating images, colours and rituals. 

Christmas paper patterns

Below is a sheet of  Christmas number patterns for you to print and complete. Check the numbers carefully, see if you can spot the pattern! Send a picture of your completed work to and we will share them on social media!
Alternatively, you might like to draw some patterns to create your own Christmas jumper design! You can download a template here

We would love to see your finished artwork! Do send us some pictures. 

Saturday, 28 November 2020

The Value of Choral Worship

As I write we are at the start of lockdown number two, and choral worship is currently extremely restricted at St. Mary le Tower. The reasons are complex, despite initial optimism hopes were dashed at the last moment as we were advised that no young people could sing in church choirs during lockdown; only choristers in choir schools who can sing as part of their school activities are permitted to do so. 

Music adds a huge amount to worship in our churches in all sorts of ways. It involves the congregation more deeply, gives words meaning and enhances scripture. Just as children are often taught important information via song, music aids memory and connects with the soul. It is comforting, reassuring, and heightens our emotional involvement in worship. It is also a fundamental expression of joy, and there are few activities more enjoyable than singing with others! Even if you are not a regular churchgoer, events such as Christmas Tree Festivals and Carol Services hold great appeal and bring a real sense of community, often lacking in our modern lives. 

The musical education offered in cathedral schools and cathedral style parish church choirs like that of St Mary le Tower in Ipswich is of enormous value to society. Places are earned by ability and potential, not social position or income and they provide children who often have little access to a musical education with unparalleled opportunity. Our choirs are a main source of mission at St Mary le Tower, building links within our community. A good music director promotes skills and enthusiasm which stretch far beyond the individual and benefit whole communities. Cathedral style choirs like ours promote more than a tradition; they teach history- which gives the present context, they train the mind and bring significant mental health benefits. For many, the chorister experience will enrich their lives for many years to come; for some it will be the foundation for a career in professional music. 

If this year has taught us anything as a society, it has shown that our value system is profoundly skewed. Our mental health has been damaged by fear and loneliness, no amount of money or privilege can protect us against the virus and supporting retail and business hasn't made us any happier. What people really need, and are crucially missing, is music. Because it's so fundamentally essential for the soul. 

St. Mary le Tower is the only Parish Church in Suffolk (other than our Cathedral) providing extensive and exceptional choral opportunities for children and young people within worship. This is a real area of growth and mission. Sustaining this choral ministry requires an intensive programme of choral services, and more recently, a great deal of creative planning! Unlike our cathedral choirs, St Mary le Tower lacks the institutional backing of an official choir school so we must respect the hiatus in choral worship, and focus our energies on December and the year ahead.

  If you feel able to contribute to our choral ministry, please visit our donation page here. 

(This article is in part an excerpt from Kate Thompson’s article on cathedral choirs on the blog “Viral Music”.) 


Prayer for the Nation - Saturday


Continuing with the lockdown month of Prayer for the Nation, on Saturday we pray for all who are grieving, and all suffering with physical and mental ill-health.

‘Lord the one you love is ill….’ John 11 v 3 

We bring to God all those who suffer in body, mind, spirit or with grief. 
We ask that in God’s great loving kindness they might know God’s sustaining presence amidst their pain. We pray for those who are stretched beyond their own capacity to cope and remain hopeful – that in the roar of these waterfalls God would bring a sense of coherence, comfort and strength.

The Ipswich Disabled Advice Bureau is now based at Tower House. It is a local, independent charity, which celebrated its 45th anniversary in 2018. 

Founded in 1973 as a small drop-in centre, that became a registered charity in 1981 and a not-for-profit company in 1996. We work to support people with any form of disability, their carers, families and others in related fields, who live in Ipswich and the surrounding area, including Kesgrave, the Shotley peninsular and westwards to Hadleigh and Stoke-by-Nayland. They currently employ one full time and eight part time staff, supported by twelve volunteers. We are a user-led organisation, meaning that over 50 percent of our Trustees, staff and volunteers have a disability themselves.

You can contact them via their website

Christmas Quotes

Some wonderful Christmas quotes which warm the heart - and make good messages at Christmas time!

"Christmas is the day that holds all time together."

Alexander Smith, the Scottish poet

"A good conscience is a continual Christmas. "

Benjamin Franklin, American polymath and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.

Unless we make Christmas an occasion to share our blessings, 

all the snow in Alaska won't make it 'white.'

Bing Crosby, American singer, comedian and actor.

Christmas is a necessity. There has to be at least one day of the year to remind 

us that we're here for something else besides ourselves.

Eric Severeid, author and journalist

Christmas is a season not only of rejoicing but of reflection.

Winston Churchill, British statesman, army officer, and writer

Nothing ever seems too bad, too hard or too sad when you've got a 

Christmas tree in the living room.

Nora Roberts, author

“One can never have enough socks," said Dumbledore. Another Christmas has come 

and gone and I didn't get a single pair. People will insist on giving me books.

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

“Always winter but never Christmas.” 

C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

God never gives someone a gift they are not capable of receiving. 

If He gives us the gift of Christmas, it is because we all have the ability to understand and receive it.

Pope Francis

Christmas Lollies

I made these some years ago when my children were on strict exclusion diets due to food allergies. They are simple to make, and have only two ingredients! If you use golden caster sugar, they will be the colour of mine, below. While caster sugar will produce a clearer lolly. You can buy lolly sticks from craft stores such as Hobbycraft, which also sell the little plastic sleeves and ties. Lakeland in town also sell these. They make lovely little Christmas gifts and are quite strait forward to make!

WARNING: this is NOT an activity intended for children, the sugar gets VERY hot.

  • 2 cups caster sugar
  • 2/3 cup light corn syrup - if you have this your lollies will stay fairly clear. I desperately wanted to source some, but so far no luck. After reading some excellent info here I decided to use Agave nectar instead. It worked fine, but the lollies were toffee coloured instead.
  • Lolly sticks
  • silicone baking sheet
  • sugar thermometer
  • non stick pan
  • bowl of cold water large enough to submerge lower half of the pan.

Tip:- Add flavouring if desired - mint or vanilla, but your lollies will darken unless you have clear flavouring! 

  • Heat the sugar and syrup in the pan and using a sugar thermometer heat and stir until it is boiling at 310F
  • Remove from the heat. Submerge the lower half of the pan in the cold water bowl for 10-15 seconds, keep swirling/stirring.
  • As it thickens up pour the liquid sugar on top of the lolly sticks in 1 inch circles. (If it spreads too much, it's still too hot)
  • Quickly add sprinkles etc before the surface cools!
NB lots of sprinkles contain major allergens. I used these which do have egg white and soya lecithin in. We are lucky and these are ok for us, soya protein would not have been.

I honestly don't think I have *ever* been so nervous about a recipe before. I had never made anything like this - but it was surprisingly easy and I will be far more confident next time! Clearing up took a while, perhaps because I knocked over the sprinkles.....

Clearing up Tips
  1. DON'T panic!!! You have't ruined your pan etc (unless and liquid sugar gets burned underneath.) as long as you have a large bowl of hot water to submerse the lower half in you an manage this really easily.
  2. Once you have poured your lollies, the remaining sugar will be hardening and impossible to remove from the pan. Heat gently until it starts to move again, and literally POUR it into the cold water. It will set immediately, and your pan will have so little left in that the rest will easily dissolve in hot soapy water!


For many years I incorrectly identified "Michaelmas", the name often given to the Autumn academic term,  with the festive season. In fact, the feast of Michaelmas is much earlier in the term, often around the start of the Oxbridge term and hence the reason this school term is called the "Michaelmas Term".

Michaelmas is the Feast Day of St Michael and All Angels, and fell on 29th September this year. Since angels feature in the Christmas story, I thought I would include the article I wrote for Viral Music here! 

Michael, Gabriel and Raphael are the three named biblical angels, depicted as the beloved messengers of God. Michael is an archangel in the religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. To Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Anglicans, and Lutherans he is called "Saint Michael the Archangel and Saint Michael". In other Protestant churches, he is referred to as Archangel Michael. The name Michael means 'who is like God?'., he is described as the protector of Israel and leader of the armies of God against Satan. Michael is perhaps best known for his victory over the dragon, which is told in the Revelation to John. 

"And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven" (Rev. 12:7). 

As recounted by the Revelation of Saint John, at the end of the world war will break at between Heaven and Hell, between good and evil. As the commander of the Army of God, Archangel Michael leads the other angels in the fight against evil, represented in this picture by a seven-headed dragon. Each of the dragon's heads represents one of the seven deadly sins. Michael is therefore regarded as the protector of Christians from the devil, particularly those at the hour of death. Sanctuaries to Michael were built by Christians in the 4th century, when he was first seen as a healing angel.

We are all familiar with Gabriel's role in Luke's Gospel. Gabriel (meaning 'the strength of God') is the one who is sent by God to Mary to announce the birth of Christ. Raphael (meaning 'the healing of God') is depicted in the Book of Tobit as the one who restores sight to Tobit's eyes. 

A basilica near Rome was dedicated in the fifth century in honour of Michael on 30 September, beginning with celebrations on the eve of that day, and 29 September is now kept in honour of Michael throughout the western Church. In medieval England, Michaelmas marked the ending and beginning of the husbandman's year.  
"at that time harvest was over, and the bailiff or reeve of the manor would be making out the accounts for the year. " George C. Homans
Saint Michael defeats the Dragon, from
a 12th-century 

Music for Michaelmas
"Factus est silentium" is a sacred motet written for the Feast of Michael the Archangel by Richard Dering, first published in 1618.  Dering, like Philips, was an English Catholic musician who went into exile in the Spanish Netherlands (or, according to one account, converted to Catholicism while visiting Rome in 1612). By 1617 he published his first collection of Cantiones Sacrae and the publisher was the noted Phal├Ęse of Antwerp who also published music by Philips. Factum est silentium comes from a second collection which appeared in 1618. Its declamatory, dramatic style shows the influence of the new Italian Baroque style which at that time had barely reached the shores of England. 

There are many excellent recordings on YouTube, I've included one below and you can download the score as a PDF here.

Tree of the Day - Barbados, Berlin and Moscow!

We've received some lovely photos of Christmas trees from around the world. A frequent visitor of our Grand Christmas Tree Festival moved to Barbados in September of this year, and sent in some photos of trees from the Bridgetown Christmas Tree Festival in 2018. The trees represent the all the countries in the Commonwealth in a wonderful display of community.

You can find ideas to prepare for a perfect Caribbean Christmas by clicking the photo below , or visit here 
for further inspiration!

Christmas traditions vary around the world, with Christmas Trees a unifying global theme. Christmas in Russia can be truly magical, if rather cold!  A choir parent visited Moscow in 2018. You can glimpse St. Basil's Cathedral in the background.

Advent - children's activities

Advent is the period of four Sundays and weeks before Christmas (or sometimes from the 1st December to Christmas Day!). Advent means 'Coming' in Latin. This is the coming of Jesus into the world. Christians use the four Sundays and weeks of Advent to prepare and remember the real meaning of Christmas.

There are three meanings of 'coming' that Christians describe in Advent. The first, and most thought of, happened about 2000 years ago when Jesus came into the world as a baby to live as a man and die for us. The second can happen now as Jesus wants to come into our lives now. And the third will happen in the future when Jesus comes back to the world as King and Judge, not a baby.

Download this picture of sleeping baby Jesus to print and colour in. 

We would love to see your child's completed picture and will share some on our Instagram and Twitter accounts (NB child's first name only, no photo of the child please). If you would like to share your child's completed picture, do email it to us at and we will do our best to include it.

Older children might like to try this Christmas Word Scramble. Download it here, if you get stuck, the answers are here!

Friday, 27 November 2020

Lockdown streaming and the role of Plainchant

Lockdown live-streams
When churches initially reopened for services after weeks of lockdown many of us were looking forward to experiencing services via personal attendance rather than via streaming services such as Facebook. Although initially a daunting step into the unknown, our church's brave step into the digital world has reaped significant benefits already. Looking forward, it is becoming increasingly clear that there are real opportunities to grow St Mary-le-Tower church online at the present time. In particular, our recent Sunday evening services of Choral Evensong and the All Souls Eucharist, have attracted more than a thousand viewings each, which is very remarkable. It seems that going online is going to be a real growth area for SMLT, with online church membership, choir recruitment and even perhaps fundraising. 

The second lockdown, which should soon come to an end, came at a time when we as a community had established our online presence. Although not without its challenges, it has been a useful reminder of the value of of the internet, not only for the weeks when we are prohibited from attending services in person but for those regularly unable to attend, who may now have a real alternative. It is something we intend to continue for the time being, and will contribute to future planning to ensure we as a church are as inclusive as possible.

During the early days of reopening after the first lockdown choirs were not permitted. Thus the best option was for an organist, priest and cantor to be present with a focus on plainchant.

Plainchant, or plainsong is a type of early church music consisting of a single line (monophonic) of unaccompanied vocal melody in free rhythm, with no regular bar lengths. It has been present in Christian worship since its earliest days, possibly influenced by Judaism and certainly by the Greek modal system. It was initially the only type of music allowed in the Christian church. It was believed that music should make the listener receptive to spiritual thoughts and reflections, to achieve this the melody was kept pure, repetitive and unaccompanied.

Plainchant is usually either responsorial (where the cantor/soloist sings a series of verses, each one with a response from the congregation) or antiphonal (verses are sung alternately by soloist and choir, or choir and congregation). For now, I suspect most churches will adopt a cantor only approach. A key feature in plain chant is the use of the same melody for various texts. This is similar to ordinary psalms in which the same formula (the "psalm tone") is used for all the verses of a psalm, just as in a hymn or a folk song the same melody is used for the various verses.

Gregorian chant is a variety of plainsong named after Pope Gregory I (C6th AD). He compiled all known types of chants into one collection, named after him. This compilation was known as Gregorian Chant, which later became a term used to describe this variety of music in general. Gregorian chant originally developed around 750 AD from a synthesis of Roman and Gallican chants, and was commissioned by the Carolingian rulers in France, with standardisation only occurring around the C12th AD.

The Frankish Carolingian dynasty of the C7th-C8th AD exerted increasing power over the Roman church, in an interdependent relationship. Their support of plainchant contributed to the development of the core liturgy of the Roman Mass with plainchant included. Gregorian chant appeared in a remarkably uniform state across Europe within a short time. Charlemagne, once elevated to Holy Roman Emperor, aggressively spread Gregorian chant throughout his empire to consolidate both religious and secular power, requiring clergy to use it on pain of death. From English and German sources, Gregorian chant spread north to Scandinavia, Iceland and Finland. In 885, Pope Stephen V banned the Slavonic liturgy, leading to the ascendancy of Gregorian chant in Eastern Catholic lands including Poland, Moravia and Slovakia.

Early plainchant notation

Plainchant represents the first revival of musical notation after knowledge of the ancient Greek system was lost. Plainsong notation differs from the modern system in having only four lines to the staff and a system of note shapes called neumes. The earliest notated sources of Gregorian chant (written c.950) used these symbols to indicate tone-movements and relative duration within each syllable. It's a sort of musical stenography that seems to focus on gestures and tone-movements but not the specific pitches of individual notes, nor the relative starting pitches of each neume. (Given the fact that chant was learned in an oral tradition in which the texts and melodies were sung from memory, this was obviously not necessary.) It reminds me of my autistic son's attempts to invent his own musical notation, it works in the context he requires it to, with the necessary appreciation of the stenographic system!

Modern plainchant is still written in the C13th form, where the neumes are written in square notation on a four-line staff with a clef. Small groups of ascending notes on a syllable are shown as stacked squares, read from bottom to top, while descending notes are written with diamonds read from left to right. When a syllable has a large number of notes, a series of smaller such groups of neumes are written in succession, read from left to right.

Parts of this article are reproduced from an article on the blog Viral Music.