Singing for the Queen again, 60 years on

On Tuesday, Lord Wallace of Saltaire attended the anniversary service marking 60 years since the Queen’s Coronation. As he writes here, it wasn’t exactly a first for him…

Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Lord Wallace of Saltaire

This week I had the wonderful honour of attending the Queen’s 60th Coronation anniversary service. To be invited to such an occasion is quite something in itself. But for me it was also a walk down Memory Lane – because I actually sang at her Coronation, at the age of 12.

I was in the Westminster Abbey Choir. I’d sung in my church choir in a little town in Lincolnshire and one of the clergy suggested since I had a good voice I should apply to a choir school. So I joined the Abbey Choir when I was just nine and by the time of the coronation I was 12 and a corner boy, so I had in many ways the best seat on the front row. I was furthest east, closest to the high altar, when the Coronation came.

Because we were in the Abbey Choir we were used to doing ceremonial services of particular importance – funerals of field marshals and visiting heads of state. The Coronation was a grand event with lots of rehearsal – I can remember singing in the rehearsal to Vaughan Williams and William Walton and lots of people who’d written to the music for it, so that was all part of the tremendous build-up.

But when it came to the day itself… we didn’t get to see very much. We were there to sing. And we had a very fierce choirmaster who would have been really angry with us if we hadn’t been watching his beat all the way through the service. So I didn’t actually turn round to see much of what was going on at the high point of the Coronation service, although I saw an awful lot of the processions in and out when we weren’t singing.

There was a huge sense of occasion, of course, because we were there for more than four hours. We processed in after an awful lot of people, a great assortment of uniforms and dignitaries from Commonwealth countries, the Queen of Tonga –an extraordinary figure.

At the time it had never passed my mind that I would still be living 60 years later, never mind attending the anniversary service. It was tremendous to be involved. I’m still involved in the Abbey – I sing there several times a year and I help to give guided tours of the Abbey, for which we raise a certain amount of money for charity each year. But this was a particularly special occasion and I’m very happy that I was asked to represent Parliament  in the procession which took the oil up to the altar. And I got a much better view this time.

It was very cheerful. It was a very good service in that it provided a mix of the State, society and the country as a whole, and for me to be walking behind a teacher and a lollipop lady, together with a High Court judge… my first instinct when it was suggested was ‘this is going to look very silly’. Actually it looked a very good part of a cross-section of the country again.

And I was singing again. But I moved from being a treble to a deep bass when I was about 12-and-a-half…

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