Hazel Helliwell awarded Cross of St Piran
Hazel is the Choir Matron for the choristers at Truro Cathedral, which might make her sound a bit bustley or even austere. But, in fact, Hazel is more like a surrogate mum, being on hand for the girls and boys with anything from Calpol to hairbands, encouragement to bribery with biscuits!
“I know what it feels like to hand over your child to what can be a bewildering world of life as a chorister in the cathedral. My son, Philip, was a choir boy and I so appreciated the care that was shown to him,” says Hazel. The young people have long days, rehearsing before school and then singing after school, plus Sundays, and many of them can be as young as eight years old. Hazel takes them under her wing and helps them with all the pastoral and practical aspects of their undertaking.
“I’m here for them, to make sure they are OK. I don’t worry about the music, although I love to hear them sing; I’m here if they need a chat, a quiet place to do homework, reassurance or if they’re in a pickle!” There was one time when one cheeky chorister thought it would be fun to pull on the boy in front’s surplice, just as they were going up to the service, and the surplice pretty much disintegrated! “Forewarned is forearmed and, with boisterous young choir boys, I always try to have a plan B! Happily, we were able to locate a replacement surplice and he made it to the service without a hint of the panic that had gone on!”
“To this day, when I hear them sing, I think Wow! It is the most beautiful sound that never fails to make me feel as if I’m in the presence of God.”
Hazel has an evangelical church heritage that she drifted away from in her teens but when her son started as a chorister, it was the music, she says, that pulled her back in. “To this day, when I hear them sing, I think Wow! It is the most beautiful sound that never fails to make me feel as if I’m in the presence of God.”
Hazel worked in nursing for 30 years, which no doubt has helped to give her the intuition and sensitivity needed to do her job so effectively. Others say of her that she has a warm, friendly disposition, that her care for her charges goes far beyond the job description, making the children feel cared for and protected. Hazel says,” I’ve never been happier in my working life. My heart swells when a new young chorister arrives and I sit beside them, knowing how overwhelmed they might feel when they listen to everyone else singing, learning to stand up and sit down when they should, and wondering if they will ever be able to follow the music in the same way. And then comes the day when they are given their surplus. It’s such an honour to have been on their journey with them and to hear them making such beautiful music with their fellow choristers. I love my job!”