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​St Mary's music

Choir and organ music

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There’s been a long tradition of wonderful choral and organ music at St Mary’s church for over 130 years.

The friendly four-part choir is made up of around twenty junior choristers and adults of all ages. We enjoy singing a wide range of music at Sunday morning services, the monthly evensongs and the two special carol services at Advent and Christmas. On request we sing at weddings, baptisms and funerals held in the beautiful church.


We aim to sing music to a high standard and enjoy social time after rehearsals and services, with lots of extra fun at bowling and crazy golf sessions plus on our annual trip to the beach at Littlehampton.

What we do and why

We're a welcoming, sociable and supportive group in both the choir and as part of the wider church community who share their appreciation of the musical contributions made for church worship. We all feel a sense of pride as we support our junior choristers to develop both musically and in self-confidence. The whole choir enjoy what we do and believe that Anglican choral music is an incredibly important cultural tradition to keep alive.


We hope that many more of our local friends and neighbours can share this uplifting experience with us, whether coming along to services or joining us to sing.


We rehearse on Friday evenings at St Mary’s Church, Long Ditton and sing at the services on Sundays and special days.


  • Sunday mornings: 9.20am rehearsals for a 10.15am service lasting around an hour, followed by refreshments (sometimes cake!) in the hall. On the first Sunday each month just the junior choristers attend and sing their own anthem.

  • On the third Sunday of every month: 1662 Book of Common Prayer choral evensong service involving a rehearsal at 4.15pm, a tea break then service from 6-7pm with (sometimes sparkly!) refreshments at the back of church afterwards.

There are two candlelit carol services for Advent and Christmas at the end of November and in the last few days before Christmas. These involve months of preparation and rehearsal as many carols are sung and many people attend! As well as rehearsals on each carol service day, we run workshops when people are available to help us feel as prepared as possible and fully enjoy each occasion.


Further special services happen mid-week involving adult choir members, with 7pm practices for 8pm services such as around the start of Lent (Ash Wednesday) and during Holy Week (Maundy Thursday). We also sing for part of the Good Friday afternoon service and at the All Soul’s Sunday afternoon service in late October.


We have official breaks from singing over the weekend after Easter (called ‘Low Sunday’) and for the whole of August.

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Smiles after Choral Evensong

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Crazy Golf Tournament at Choir Social, Littlehampton


Carol Singing in aid of Shooting Star Chase

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Lined up for Advent carols

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Joining us

The choir continually recruits new members to both Junior and Adult choirs. If you enjoy singing and would like to find out more about us, contact

New members of all ages are welcome.  Some experience singing and reading music is ideal but not essential. We don’t audition but have trial rehearsals and an informal chat with Julia our music director.


Girls and boys are welcome to join as ‘St Mary’s Minors’ from age 7. They do the occasional Sunday morning service and join in practices as much as possible.


Becoming a chorister can happen at any age however. The older, more experienced choristers coach and support the younger ones such as helping them to find hymns and page numbers.

Benefits of being a junior choir member

We believe in the value and importance of music for social, educational and mental health enhancement. Being part of a church choir of all ages and hearing positive feedback from the congregation gives our junior choristers confidence, a sense of belonging in and giving back to our community and an awareness of our faith traditions. They make friends out of school and have role models in the older choristers and adult choir members.


Watching the conductor and singing with a smile are the main skills they are encouraged to learn early on. Choristers then develop ongoing improvements in reading and language (we have sung in English, Latin and German), musical pitch, breath control and diction, building up their concentration and showing calm, responsible behaviours.


All this is balanced by the chance to let off steam in the hall at break time or after services, or on the famous Easter Sunday egg hunt around the churchyard!


Junior choir members are paid a small amount each term and work on the RSCM Voice for Life training scheme and RSCM Singing Awards.

Music team

The music team is made up of:

  • Julia Bowyer (ALCM MA FCA) is our dedicated Music Director who has years of choral and musical experience in a wide range of settings and plays the piano and cello. Julia plans what we sing as a choir, taking suggestions from the organist and choir members, plans and runs rehearsals and oversees the junior choir members in their RSCM Voice for Life stages.

  • Robert Woolley (ARCM GRSM RSACert) is our organist. Robert plays a wide range of organ music to a very high standard at rehearsals and services, advises on the maintenance and improvement of the organ and contributes his extensive experience running and accompanying church choirs.

  • Cat Smith (MA (cantab) MSc QTS MaST) has sung and helped with the choir for a number of years and has an amazing memory for anthems sung and where they can be found in our extensive music library. She runs the safeguarding, admin and social side of the choir including librarian, wardrobe and many other duties including the very important matter of chorister pay.

  • Revd Dr Kuhan Satkunanayagam our rector organises the services, chooses the hymns and provides guidance and oversight.

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What do we sing?

We create a welcoming, inclusive atmosphere and everyone is encouraged to sing a range of music to the best of their ability.


Depending on availability at services we sing full choir SATB, either with organ or unaccompanied, or do easier flexible pieces in one or two parts. Music is chosen that is suitable for the theme and atmosphere of the service, but also for a variety of styles and composers over the whole history of classical music from plainsong through to present day.


Favourite composers whose music we've sung in recent months include Vaughan Williams, Sumsion, Aston, Howells, Haydn, Joubert, Ayleward, Stanford, Stainer, Chilcott and Byrd.


Highlights of music through the year include:

  • Women Composer’s Sunday in March;

  • Junior anthem Sundays including Wachet Auf by Bach, The Lord is my Shepherd by Goodall;

  • Special RSCM anthems for royal occasions;

  • All Souls and Good Friday – quiet reflective music;

  • Remembrance Sunday – supporting the singing around the war memorial and our head chorister playing trumpet for the Last Post;

  • Choir singing at our popular crib service, featuring more choristers on brass instruments; and

  • Carol services for Advent and Christmas (Nine lessons) by candlelight, each with a wonderful selection of congregational and choir-only carols.

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Choir Rehearsals

The junior choristers practice on Fridays from 6.30pm to 8pm. We do warm-ups, sing through hymns and upcoming anthems, then have a short break in the hall for squash and biscuits before the adults join in at 7.30pm. We also find time to look at our Royal School of Church Music (RSCM) Voice for Life award work.


Adult choir members join in the practice from 7.30pm to 9pm, starting with singing joint pieces with the juniors then from 8pm working on learning individual parts and on our overall sound and musicality. There is also the opportunity to suggest and try out new music and confirm repertoire choices for key services. Sometimes we continue on to a local hostelry for post rehearsal refreshments...


The music team appreciate we all have busy lives so not everyone is able to sing every week, but as with any activity you get out what you put in.


It is strongly encouraged for the juniors to get into the routine of weekly Friday practices and Sunday morning services, but they are not expected to do both services when there is an Evensong Sunday, unless they wish to. They are expected to sing at the Juniors service on the first Sunday of each month.


We have a commitment sheet for choir members to fill in each term to help us with music planning and to ensure we can cover all the parts for special services and evensongs.


Some adult choir members who live further afield join just for Christmas carol services and/or monthly evensongs in a ‘workshop’ style approach. Planned music and recordings are shared in advance to aid preparation.

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The Organ

The first organ in the new 1880 church, with two manuals and fifteen stops, was built by Forster and Andrews of Hull and installed in 1881. Early photographs and paintings of the church show that the casework projected into the chancel, unlike the present instrument.


In 1928, after nearly fifty years, the organ was in need of attention and the lowest estimate by Abbott and Smith of Leeds, was accepted. Unfortunately they converted the organ to pneumatic action which was unreliable and the instrument received attention from four different organ builders over the following forty years.


Eventually the unreliability reached a point where it was decided that the organ should be replaced with an instrument with mechanical tracker action (like the original Forster and Andrews organ). Matthew Copley, a local organ builder installed an organ originally built c1860 by Alfred Hunter for the former Borough Road Baptist Chapel in South London.


This organ was installed in 1984 with the addition of a mixture stop and a good 16ft pedal stop by Hill, but only six years later it was damaged by smoke from a serious fire in the church vestry. Repairs were executed in 1992 together with some additions and modifications, including converting the pedals to electric action.


In 2013 – 2014 the organ was overhauled by Andrew Cooper. His work included a new solenoid-operated electric stop action and combination action, providing 4 thumb pistons to Swell, 4 thumb pistons to Great & Pedal, three reversible thumb pistons to Swell to Great, Swell to Pedal and Great to Pedal, plus a General Cancel and a setter piston. The Swell suboctave coupler key contacts were replaced to a modified design to improve the key touch and the Pedal key action switching replaced. The main Swell and Great key actions and couplers were overhauled and remain mechanical.


The bellows was re-leathered, the manual and pedal keys refurbished, the pedalboard relocated at the right height relative to the manual keys and a new adjustable stool provided. The Great Organ soundboard and wind trunks were modified to provide reliable tuning and a steady wind supply. 


The Great Stopped Diapason, Principal and Fifteenth were replaced as the previous pipework was beyond repair, as was the treble (from Tenor G) of the Swell Trumpet. The Great Mixture composition was modified in the treble and the Swell Gamba revoiced.


The front pipes are now painted gold with silver mouths.


The Organ Consultant was John Norman


The opening recital was given by Philip Berg, MVO, Master of the Music of The Queen’s Chapel of the Savoy on 13 September 2014.



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