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Chandos has a well-established tradition of “cathedral weekends” and our latest one was a successful trip to Winchester in February.
Twenty-four members of the choir made the trip, many of them retaining fond memories of our previous visit in April 2015. As on that occasion, our assignment was to perform for all four of the weekend’s sung services while the cathedral choir took a well-deserved break.
Cathedral weekends provide an excellent opportunity for us to front-run repertoire for concerts, raise the profile of the choir, rise to the challenges of singing in a cathedral acoustic, and become more accomplished sight-singers.
We packed a lot into a short time, with services and rehearsals following hot on the heels of one another. The first service was Evensong on Saturday, where we sang canticles by Brewer and Duruflé’s Tantum Ergo as the anthem. Then it was back to a freezing Pilgrim’s Hall for more rehearsal time, with James working us very hard to ensure our consonants were super-clear and that the two halves of the choir were combining seamlessly. Some light relief was also provided by efforts during the rehearsal to prevent James’ car being locked in a car park behind an immoveable barricade – a feat which was achieved with just moments to spare.
Later that evening we were able to relax with a meal at a local hostelry. Not content with being able to drink just from 8.00 onwards, John and Alaric thought they would sample some other establishments before joining the rest of the choir for a meal, and managed to clock up quite a few miles before finally locating “our” pub.
The meal was superbly choreographed by Alison and Bridget, who were clearly alert to the risk that everyone would have forgotten everything they had pre-ordered. But all the dishes which were served managed to find consumers.
An early start followed the next day as we gathered at 8.30am to practise for Matins. We successfully carried off Stanford’s Te Deum after very limited rehearsal time, followed by Tallis’ In ieiunio et fletu. Some parts of the Matins service actually felt more like a quickfire in-tray exercise, with the Psalm, Te Deum, anthem, Venite and Jubilate all following within a few minutes of one another and scraps of paper disappearing and reappearing. Singing hymns while processing over an uneven floor also led to a few narrow scrapes. Matins was followed almost immediately by Eucharist, where we sang Palestrina’s Missa aeterna Christi munera and Sicut cervus.
After a short break for lunch our final task was to sing Sunday Evensong. This time the canticles setting was Noble in B minor and the anthem Ubi caritas by Duruflé. After the service we were plied with tea and biscuits by the cathedral staff, who were very welcoming and supportive throughout the weekend.
Although we were kept very busy during our visit, there was some time for reflection during the many hours sat in the cathedral. I certainly had a sense that the choir has improved over the past 12 or 18 months. When we last visited two years ago, I’m not sure we would have delivered the music to such a high standard with such limited rehearsal time. We have been lucky to recruit some strong singers over the past year or so.
More poetically, it is comforting, even for those like me who are not regular cathedral-goers, to be able to spend a weekend participating in worship with such a timeless quality. In a world where great technological innovations frequently become obsolete within a year, and corporate leaders are evaluated on their ability to deliver constant change, it was heartening to be reminded that there are still cathedral choirs all over the country who turn up every day to sing the same set services, using more or less the same format they have been for hundreds of years. It would be nice to think that in 500 years’ time there will still be choirs performing Tallis and Palestrina in our great cathedrals, while some of the issues that loom large in our lives today have been consigned to mere historical footnotes.
Unfortunately my temporary spiritual satisfaction was swiftly ended by South West Trains on the journey home: an incident with a stray refuse sack getting itself attached to a wheel of the train was sufficient to detain about eight choir members outside Woking for fifty minutes. Unfortunately the delay was not deemed long enough to merit compensation either.
Much more importantly, a big “thank you” is due to all those who helped make the weekend a success. No doubt I will miss someone, but this list definitely includes Sally, for persuading Winchester to host us in the first place, Richard for organising all of the music, Alison for arranging the meal out, Philippa for tracking down an excellent organist to come and play for us, and last but certainly not least James, for leading us with such expertise and enthusiasm through all of the challenges of the weekend.
Forthcoming cathedral trips:
- 21st-22nd July 2018 - St Fin Barre's Cathedral, Cork
- 23rd-24th February 2019 - Winchester Cathedral
3rd March 2017