Bavarian who has school and Minster singing from same page

The new organist and choirmaster at Croydon Minster and Whitgift School is a busy man in the weeks before Christmas. JASON COURT got to speak to him in between rehearsals

There can’t be too many Bavarians in Croydon. Ronny Krippner is here, as organist and director of choral music at Croydon Minster and Whitgift School, and busy with some of the borough’s centenary commemorations of World War I.

A man in his element: Ronny Krippner at Croydon Minster, where is the director of choral music

A man in his element: Ronny Krippner at Croydon Minster, where is the director of choral music and organist

“On November 9 at the Fairfield Halls in the morning, the boys sing at the civic service of remembrance. Singing at the service is an honour. We do it every year, alternating between the boys’ and girls’ Minster choirs.

“Then Friday November 14 at 7.30pm, also at Fairfield Halls, we have a special concert together with the London Mozart Players, Whitgift School choristers and Portsmouth Grammar.

“They commissioned the famous composer, Jonathan Dove, to write a piece to commemorate the centenary of World War I, For an Unknown Soldier. It is a cantata in nine movements, very difficult, and for the choir to be performing it is a huge honour.

“It is a piece that will stand the test of time. The performance will be its London premiere. It is not uncommon for the Minster to be asked to perform this kind of thing as we have many people who sing at a very high standard.”

The Michaelmas Term is a busy time for any church choir, Krippner explains. Advent, the church’s season leading to Christmas, begins soon, too. “There are a series of choral services throughout Advent, starting with the Advent carol service, culminating in a fundraising Carols by Candlelight service, where funds are raised for the choir, before the Christmas Eve and Christmas day services.”

The boys, some as young as eight years old, put a lot in to the choir, with two rehearsals each week, an evensong and a main Sunday service as a minimum. When they are performing, there are extra rehearsals, and these activities are in addition to their school activities. It requires dedication, a love of music, and parental support.

“It’s professionalism at a young age. We pay pocket money not because it is a nice thing to do, but because we believe they work like professionals. We are demanding and it is competitive to get in the choir,” Krippner says.

“Each year we have choral scholars who leave and go on to Oxbridge to sing in the big choirs. Two years ago we had a scholar go to King’s, Cambridge, as a bass, and this year one went to Christchurch, Oxford, as a tenor. This happens every year and that is what the Minster is renowned nationally – producing choir singers for Oxbridge.”

Krippner was living in Regensburg when he was recruited for his job in Croydon. “The headmaster of Whitgift School teamed up with the vicar of Croydon Minster and they created this new job of director of choral music at both the school and the Minster.

“In the morning I teach at the school and in the afternoon I come to the Minster to run the boys’, girls’ and adults choirs. It is vital that a choir has links to local schools, but now having that special link to Whitgift makes it easier to recruit choral scholars and younger choristers.

“I came to Croydon because of English cathedral music. Again, people don’t realise that evensong is very particular to England. There are boys’ choirs in Germany but not many of them. It is an English thing to sing this glorious music on a daily basis. This improves the ability to sight-read, something that on the continent we are not as good at.”


Croydon MInster: one of the borough's under-appreciated gems

Croydon MInster: one of the borough’s under-appreciated gems

THE MINSTER, WHICH many still know better as “Croydon Parish Church”, is a real gem.

Krippner says that he had heard of it back home in Regensburg.
“I didn’t really know about the choir, but I did know about it as a centre of excellence for the organ. It has a huge reputation amongst organists in the UK and abroad.”

He rapidly came to realise that the Minster choir was special too.
“We are part of the Choir Schools Association along with St Paul’s Cathedral School and Westminster Abbey School as a choral foundation. The only other places in south London where you can have similar singing opportunities are Hampton Court Chapel Royal and Reigate Choristers. We need to make this better known.”

Krippner’s home city is only one-third the size of Croydon, so his arrival in south London not so long after the notorious riots in 2011 presented something of a culture shock. “It is very different. Croydon amalgamates with its neighbours within one big London. Where I came from, it was all straightforward. You were in Regensburg, then it stopped, for a mile there was nothing, and then the next town. It is also much more multi-cultural here.

“Since the riots, there has been an emphasis to turn the area into something beautiful. They are re-developing the park area around the Minster. We try and do our bit and add culturally. People should remember that some of the boys in the choir had no previous exposure to classical music at all.”

Ronny Krippner: "The Minster choir is accessible to everyone"

Kapellmeister Krippner: “The Minster choir is accessible to everyone”

The choir draws boys from both state schools and the independents, and from a varied range of economic, cultural and even religious beliefs. “The choir is accessible to everyone,” Krippner says.

“In our choir we have Hindus and Muslims, and what we want from our boys is not necessarily to be Anglican, but sympathetic to the Anglican tradition. For a German, it strikes me that Anglicanism is the bedrock of English culture. Whether it is Zadok the Priest or other religious music, it is part of the English culture. The choir is a two-part thing where you learn a bit about religion, of course, but also you learn a lot about the English cultural musical heritage.”

Having a centre of excellence in the heart of our borough comes at a cost. While Krippner is paid as a teacher by Whitgift, the choir at the Minster is a different matter. “The Minster choir is solely funded by the Friends of the Music, a group of choral music enthusiasts in the borough. It is the task of my team to ensure we have enough money in the pot so we can buy new music, enable the children to occasionally have voice tuition, and to subsidise trips.

“This year we sang at Canterbury and Rochester cathedrals. There is no other financial help. Each summer we have a Friends of the Music concert to raise funds. At the moment this is annual, but we will need to do this more regularly over the course of next year, simply because we need more money.

“We pay the older boys and girls in the choir a scholarship, which is basically pocket money. This is a new thing but necessary because all the other churches are doing it and if we don’t we won’t attract choristers anymore. We are a big church so we need lots of them.”

It seems that Croydon’s Minster choir is better known and regarded outside the borough than within it. The passion and dedication of the Minster’s Bavarian director may be beginning to change that.

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