Choristership Newly and Munificently Endowed
Murray Somerville, a former organ scholar of New College (1967-1970), has donated to his College the sum of £250,000 to endow in perpetuity a New College choristership. The recipient (who will be one or other of the two leading choristers in any one year) will be known as the Murray Forbes Somerville Chorister. A specially designed medallion will be worn by the chorister thus honoured. In this way, Dr Somerville contributes significantly and munificently to the financial support for New College Choir. It is hoped that further legacies from other supporters of the Choir will complement his outstanding endowment for the maintenance of the boy chorister tradition at New College.
After his time at Oxford under Sir David Lumsden, Dr Somerville has led a distinguished career as a church musician and organist in the USA, including appointments at the Cathedral of St. Luke in Orlando, where he founded the Orlando Deanery Boychoir and directed the Winter Park Bach Festival; and at Harvard as University Organist and Choirmaster, where he was also Founding Conductor of the Harvard Baroque Chamber Orchestra. Now Artistic Director Emeritus of Music City Baroque in Nashville, where he also directed the music at St. George's Church, he has been a regular and much valued supporter of New College Choir recording projects.
Dr Somerville has written the following account of the purposes behind his endowment:
“Hazel and I are very grateful for this opportunity to contribute to the musical tradition of New College Chapel, and can think of no better occasion for this than the triumphant conclusion of Edward Higginbottom's brilliant tenure as Organist and Fellow in Music.
“Actually, our gift is really in honour of three great men – Edward, who has brought the choir to its unparalleled position of international renown; Sir David Lumsden, who was generous enough to give me the opportunity to "enter into the inheritance of this place"; and William of Wykeham, whose ground-breaking choral foundation in the fourteenth century has had such a great influence on the whole history of English church music.
“We want also to affirm the place of the boy chorister tradition in the College and in English musical life. Though we have both happily directed girls choirs (indeed, the first RSCM girls course in the USA was set up during my time as Chairman of the Board of RSCM in America), we are concerned to see it getting seemingly harder and harder to persuade boys (and their parents) to choose singing over soccer – or even both soccer and singing! The boys' choir of New College is thus ever more important as a beacon of excellence in this specific area, demonstrating that singing is indeed a boy-friendly activity.
“So we happily make this investment in the future of New College Choir, just as Robert Quinney brings his own youthful ebullience and musical brilliance to the institution. Floreat in aeternam chorus collegium novum Oxoniensis!”
Murray Forbes Somerville
York, South Carolina
July 1, 2014