Two new key musical appointments for Christ Church

Two first-class musicians will be joining the staff of Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford in the next few months.

Benjamin Sheen (below), currently Associate Organist at St Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue, in New York City, is to become the new Sub-Organist, beginning in January 2020. And Helen Smee (right) will be taking up the part-time position as Director of Frideswide Voices of Christ Church, the girls’ choir that is to become a permanent part of the choral foundation of Christ Church this September.

Both posts play an important role within Christ Church’s access initiatives. The Sub Organist will take the lead in developing a new outreach programme, designed to inform and engage potential students of the organ from a diverse range of backgrounds across the Diocese of Oxford (Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes).

The Director of Frideswide Voices will build on existing foundations to ensure the choir continues to attract choristers from a wide range of schools across the area, bringing girls from families with no previous connection with Oxford University into Christ Church.

Hailed as a ‘brilliant organist’ by the New York Times, Benjamin Sheen is the 2013 winner of the Pierre S. du Pont First Prize in the inaugural Longwood Gardens Organ Competition, and that same year received Second Prize and the Jon Laukvik prize at the St Albans International Organ Competition.

A former Organ Scholar of Christ Church, he holds degrees from the University of Oxford and the Juilliard School, is a prize-winning Fellow of the Royal College of Organists, and the 2011 recipient of the Worshipful Company of Musicians’ Silver Medal. As a concert organist with a growing international reputation, he has performed throughout Europe and the USA as well as in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and South Africa.

Benjamin Sheen said: ‘I am honoured and delighted to have been appointed as the next Sub-Organist of Christ Church Cathedral. As a former organ scholar at Christ Church, I am excited to return to this historic institution and I look forward to being part of the next chapter in its musical history, working alongside the choirs, organ scholars and Director of Music, Steven Grahl.' 

Helen Smee is currently a freelance conductor and workshop leader who works regularly with a broad range of ensembles and music organisations across the UK. She studied Music at Peterhouse, Cambridge, where she was the Organ Scholar, and Choral Conducting at the Royal Academy of Music.

A specialist in working with young singers, Helen is Musical Director of Highbury Youth Choir and an Assistant Conductor with the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain and has worked with organisations including the Royal School of Church Music, London Youth Choir, Leicester MusicFest and many more.  Much of her work is based at the ancient parish church of St Mary the Virgin, Merton Park, in London, where she trains and directs the choir of boy and girl choristers, choral scholars, and adults, and co-ordinates the flourishing organ scholarship scheme. 

Helen said: ‘I am thrilled and honoured to be appointed to direct Frideswide Voices at such an exciting moment in the choir's development, as it is brought into the choral foundation at Christ Church. The work done by Will Dawes and all at Frideswide Voices up until now has built an excellent choir, and I look forward to leading the girls in their next chapter.’

Steven Grahl, Organist of Christ Church, said: ‘I am delighted by these appointments. Benjamin Sheen is a highly-skilled keyboard virtuoso, who will bring much to the Cathedral’s music team through his organ playing and choir training. His experience in New York means that he has much expertise to offer in the training of our organ scholars, and in his commitment to developing possibilities for students of the organ.

‘Helen Smee is an accomplished conductor and educator, whose breadth of professional activity makes her ideally suited to being the next Director of Frideswide Voices now that this choir has found a musical home here at Christ Church. I know that she will be an inspiring director of the girls, and that she will bring much to the musical life of Christ Church.

‘I am very much looking forward to working with Helen, and with Benjamin.’