Memories of Choirs and Cloisters – Fifty Years of Music

Originally by A. Herbert Brewer: Edited by Dr. John Morehen

The original version of Memories of Choirs and Cloisters was published in 1931 and contained the author’s recollections and anecdotes.  In this year, celebrating the 300th anniversary of the Three Choirs Festival, John Morehen has modernised the spellings, names and punctuation, and generally organised the text into a more coherent memoir. 

The book consists of nearly two hundred A5 pages divided into over 20 chapters, ranging from Brewer’s early upbringing in Gloucester, through his various professional appointments around the country, followed by his return to his home town where he became so very involved in the musical life of the city.

Throughout the book there are fascinating anecdotes which bring Herbert Brewer’s experiences to life and give glimpses of his character.  One early anecdote describes how, as a young chorister at St. Mark’s Church in Gloucester, Brewer enticed a stray cat into the vestry and then hid it in one of the organ pipes.  To the amusement of the children in the congregation, the cat added some weird and wonderful noises as an accompaniment to the efforts of the organist, before climbing out of the pipe and escaping. Brewer was temporarily suspended for his part in the event but did not return to the choir.  Later, he was accepted as a chorister at Gloucester Cathedral where he progressed to being both soloist and head boy of the, then, College School.

After appointments in Oxford, Bristol, Coventry and Tonbridge, Brewer returned to Gloucester in 1896 as the organist at the Cathedral.  His first big function was the celebration of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1897. For his first Three Choirs Festival in the following year, Brewer determined that the chorus should be drawn from the three counties of Gloucestershire, Worcestershire and Herefordshire, a move that was deemed very successful.

The book is full of Brewer’s reminiscences of musicians, singers and composers, of places and events that he attended, most of them accompanied by stories which bring the whole to life.  He even includes some political events, having been made the City High Sheriff in 1922.  Copious notes are provided on most pages throughout the text, with the editor expanding on Brewer’s own memories, adding details where necessary to extend the original information and to enhance the text.  A comprehensive index is given at the end, together with an index listing the composers and their compositions that are mentioned.

Memories of Choirs and Cloisters provides a fascinating insight into the life of one of our greatest cathedral organists and the people with whom he came into contact.  I am sure the book will appeal to all with an interest in Gloucester’s musical history, as well as to those who, like me, lack musical knowledge but are interested in our city’s past.  Published by Stainer & Bell, 2015.  Price £14.99.   ISBN 978-0-85249-946-7