Being on a choir trip to England, it’s hard to ignore the historical choral tradition in the UK. Almost every cathedral in England boasts its own resident choir, usually made up of young boys all the way up through older gentlemen. Sadly, the tradition does not include girls or women, but it’s easy to get over that because the sound of a British choir, particularly the boy sopranos, is breathtaking.
Several of my colleagues and I were fortunate enough to attend an Evensong service at none other than Westminster Abbey. An Evensong service is a church service where almost all of the scriptures and even some of the liturgies are sung by the choir and/or the congregation, and there is no sermon. They are held in the evening (hence “even” song), and this particular one was on our last evening in London. It was clearly a popular service because we had to line up almost an hour in advance, but it paid off because we got to sit in the choir stalls on either side of the men and boys of the choir. For reference, if you watched the royal wedding a couple of years ago, the choir stalls are at the altar end of the main aisle, so we would have had a prime view of Will and Kate.
The main focus of the service was, of course, the choir. I’m always amazed by the homogeneity of sound produced by men and boys of so many different ages, and this one was no less impressive. One thing my colleagues and I agreed on afterwards was that we were sitting so close to the choir, almost literally in their midst, that it was easy to hear the small flaws in balance, diction, timing, etc. that we wouldn’t have noticed had we been sitting in a different section of the cathedral. We would have heard a much more unified choral sound instead of individual voices, though they were all wonderful.
I was also able to take some very sneaky pictures from the choir stalls using the reverse camera on my iPhone.
On the subject of singing in England, I can’t write about this trip, and this day in particular, without telling you about the truly special evening that followed the Evensong service. After our large group dinners every evening, smaller factions inevitably broke off to go seek out adventures, and this day was no different. It started with my friend Jelly and I deciding to go off on our own to get away from some clashing personalities, and then one or two people decided to join us, wanting to go find the London Disney store. Then a few more people joined, and suddenly there were eight of us walking down Gloucester Road into Hyde Park.
It was already about 9:00 at night, but the sky was far from dark. Finding ourselves unexpectedly in one of the most beautiful areas of London, we changed our plans and began to frolic. One of the results of this evening was the following panoramic photo, in which every member of our group appears, yet we asked no one to take the picture for us. Magic!
You may notice the giant palace in the background of the photo. That’s Kensington Palace, which is surrounded by (you guessed it) Kensington Gardens. Naturally, we said, “Let’s go explore!”
This was the point at which the night became really memorable. As you saw in the last picture, there was a kind of arbor in the garden, and we paused there for a little while. I don’t remember which one of us had the idea, but someone (probably half-jokingly) suggested that we sing something. Between the eight of us, we had all four choral parts covered, so we picked one of our choir songs, took a pitch, and started singing…
And we sang in a circle inside that arbor for an hour.
We sang through several of our tour repertoire, at least the ones we had memorized and knew we could cover the parts on, and then we moved on to rehashing old songs from earlier in the year, improvising harmonies to hymns, and even learning a short barbershop tag. All the while, people walking through the gardens and Hyde Park passed us and complimented us, but I don’t think it meant nearly as much to anyone as it did to the eight of us. It was a completely random group of people who just happened to end up walking through the park together, but we bonded and shared this intimate moment, and we all recognized that that’s ultimately why we do what we do. Music has this magnetic power to bring people together regardless of backgrounds, demographics, nationalities, or really anything else, and that’s why I feel such a need to be a part of it.
Oh, and the title of our little ensemble? Well, at first we dubbed ourselves the Kensington Singers, but upon doing some research we found out that there actually is a group called the Kensington Singers, so we went with “New Kensington Singers.” Turns out we are also the members of the Fellowship of the Ring, but that’s a post for another time…