High Church choristers hit the road

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The Independent Online
AT THE age of '70-plus', it is a little late for the leader of a group of musicians to hit the road for the first time.

But Vincent Packford, former director of music and choir master of St Mary Magdalen, Oxford, for 48 years, said his 15 choristers were prepared to travel anywhere to perform after resigning en masse in a row over traditional church music.

The mass walk-out was prompted by fears that they were to be forced to abandon the church's traditional Mass, sung in English and Latin.

St Mary Magdalen has a reputation as a centre of High Church ceremony, but desertions to the Catholic Church following the dispute over the ordination of women have left it vulnerable to Low Church evangelicals, keen on electric guitars and dancing.

Celebration of High Mass complete with the use of incense is now perceived to be under threat in the city centre church.

The choir was one of the few remaining in parish churches to sing the traditional Mass. All it was left for the congregation to do was to admire the skill and join in for three hymns.

Evangelical members of the church had argued long and hard for more participation and resignations over the ordination of women gave them their chance with a change of control of the Parochial Church Council.

'The evangelists are much more into things like guitars and dancing. It's not an intellectual type of music, but emotional music,' Mr Packford complained. 'We must be one of the few parish choirs that still has a musical tradition and it would be a great pity to lose it. We are rehearsing at the moment and will be available where required.'

Mr Packford has been replaced by Andrew Williams, 23, a 'gifted organist' who graduated in music this year from Regent's Park College, a Baptist theological college, and a new programme of music is to be devised.

The Rev Hugh Wybrew, vicar at the church for the past four years, denied that the ceremonial High Mass would not be celebrated.

'There are a surprisingly large number of people who would like the church to have a rather less conservative image.'