Ely Cathedral – Choral Evensong – 3rd August 2011

Yesterday swimming, today running – don’t let it be said that Anna and I are slacking off on this trip.  Again, we were up bright and early and headed out to a little park next to the cathedral.  We didn’t take ourselves too seriously, just ran around the park a little and played tag!  The park was, by Dutch standards, extremely hilly – something of a challenge when you’re used to running on the flat.

Our statutory exercise done, we headed back to our accommodation for a much needed pre-rehearsal breakfast.  By this point in the week, everything is becoming routine – we no longer have to rack our brains, or consult little scraps of paper for the door code to the song school, and we know what time rehearsals start and finish without checking the timetable (even if we do still end up running late because of emergency frapuccino stops at Starbucks).

The weather has been getting warmer and muggier, and we were promised thunderstorms this evening.  They can’t come soon enough – the small song school where we rehearse is very cramped and stuffy, not helped by the fact that it’s on the south side of the cathedral.  When we leave the song school and move into the main cathedral the sudden drop in temperature and increase in oxygen levels is glorious.

Today is the only service where we’re singing anything which splits into two choirs (although we do have a few pieces coming up later in the week where only one or two parts split), so that took much of our attention.  We also had the mammoth psalm 18 to sing – all 51 verses of it, with 4 chant changes.  Luckily, we repeated the same set of responses from yesterday, which saved some rehearsal time.

  • Preces and Responses: Michael Walsh
  • Psalm 18 (chants by Cooke, Riding, Grey and Massey)
  • Office Hymn 210
  • Canticles: St. Andrew’s Service – Peter Aston
  • Anthem: Hail gladdening light – Charles Wood

After the service we went out with some of the other choir members for a curry, and then chilled out on the lawn of the retreat house before finally calling it a day and heading off to bed.

Ely Cathedral – Choral Evensong – 2nd August 2011

Anna and I began the day, more or less bright, and not quite as early as we’d planned, so that we could fit in a swim before breakfast and the first rehearsal of the day.  We cunningly set out without the iPhone (and therefore lacking Google Maps), so we had to rely on my vague recollections of the swimming pool being ‘on the other side of the cathedral’, after Waitrose and near the memorably named Prickwillow Road.  In such a small city, it didn’t seem that finding something as large as a swimming pool should be too difficult, so we pootled along past the cathedral, and along down the High Street, and then began to wonder if we might be going completely off course.  Conveniently, one of the cafe owners was setting out his tables and chairs, and pointed us in the right direction.  From the number of roads we had to cross, you might have thought that the pool was miles away, but we found it in about 5 minutes, after passing the ‘Cathedral Veterinary Centre’, which is presumably the vergers’ first choice when their cats get sick.

I digress….

550m or so later in a rather narrow pool with a view onto the Cathedral, we realised that we were running out of time if we wanted to still get breakfast and headed back to our retreat house, to make the most of the stewed tea and cold toast – the price you pay for turning up at 8.45 when breakfast starts at 8 o’ clock sharp.

The first rehearsal of the morning flew by with the presumably unintentional theme of going backwards – first the responses which we sang from start to finish and then backwards to the beginning again, and then one of the psalm chants which we sang whilst counting in 1 to 10 in German, and then back down to one again (vital preparation for our German anthem this evening).  Yet again I discover that whilst I can count forwards quite capably in Dutch, French and German, counting backwards is an skill I have yet to master.

Lots of fun singing words like ‘abominable’ in the psalms today… not so many sheep and oxen, however.

Whilst the weather is unpleasantly muggy, especially in the tiny song school where we are rehearsing, it’s nice to be able to sit outside on the Cathedral Green and enjoy some sun in between rehearsals.

We’ve also been enjoying picnic lunches in the shadow of the cathedral – this is the Lady Chapel, where we’ll be singing Evensong on Friday.  The iPhone doesn’t really do it justice, but I haven’t yet taken my ‘real’ camera up to the Cathedral, and I haven’t yet been able to download the photos I’ve taken on my compact camera.

Since we ran through all today’s music in the morning, we spent the first part of the afternoon rehearsing for tomorrow and Friday, before heading into the Quire for our final, robed rehearsal of the day.  One rehearsal and a cup of tea later, and it was yet again time to line up for evensong – choir trip days always fly by.

The music for this evening:

  • Preces and Responses: Walsh
  • Psalms: 12 (Smart), 13 (Hayes) and 14 (Walmisley)
  • Canticles: Sumsion in A
  • Anthem: Geistliches Lied, Brahms

Like yesterday, our non-written plan for the evening was ‘stretch out on bed with laptop, with peanut butter , olives and carrots in reaching distance’.  I also took a small tour of the gardens at dusk.  I’ve never been to a retreat house before, but I had the feeling that the gardens fit the bill perfectly – lots of little corners to retreat to, and a swing fixed low enough on the tree that even my feet scraped the ground.  Fun times.

Oh, and if you read Dutch, you should definitely take a look at Anna’s blog.  She writes far better than I can.

Ely Cathedral – Choral Evensong – 1st August 2011

I flew over from Amsterdam to the UK last night, along with a group of fellow singers, who I bumped into in the security line.  Despite being threatened by a 747, we had a quick and uneventful flight (even if we did have to pay for the cups of tea).

Whilst the rest of the group headed straight off to Ely, I spent the night in an old manor house, near to the airport.  Aside from the planes taking off overhead, it was very tranquil, and felt like being in the middle of the country.

This morning I took the train to Ely, arriving with enough time to sit down with a cup of tea on the cathedral green and catch up with everyone before our first rehearsal.  The song school here is tiny, and we had a hard time fitting everyone in.  I sang here 12 years ago, with Bowdon choir, but I have no recollection at all of where we rehearsed, the song school seems totally unfamiliar.

After 3 rehearsals, it was time for our first evensong:

  • Preces and Responses: Heathcote Statham
  • Psalms: 6, 7 and 8
  • Canticles: Walmisley in D minor
  • Anthem: The Lord hath been Mindful, S S Wesley

As ever, after all that rehearsing, evensong itself seemed to be over in a flash.  Considering that it was a Monday night, we had a pretty decent congregation, though I should of course some of those present were our own fan club.

We’re staying at Bishop Woodford House, a diocesan retreat house.  It’s pleasant enough, although the lack of shower is somewhat depressing.  Looks we have to go back in time and use one of these. Unfortunately it seems like it won’t attach to the bath, but only the sink taps.  Good thing that Anna and I plan to go to the swimming baths, I think!

We do, at least, have a view onto the cathedral from the kitchen.

Pasta sauce

Sometimes accidents work out for the best – in this case, the unexpected self seeding of some tomato plants in my greenhouse.  Left to myself, I wouldn’t have bothered growing any tomatoes, now I’m pretty sure I’ll have some next year too. Not only do they make good gifts, but they can also be turned into fantastic pasta sauce.

The recipe, such as it is:

slice tomatoes in half, and put it roasting tin with an onion (chopped in quarters) and some garlic cloves.  In the other half of the tin, put some chunks of zucchini.  Add salt, pepper and olive oil, and roast for 45 minutes or so in a 170C oven.

when nicely roasted and before everything is burnt to a crisp, take out the tomatoes, onion and garlic, and puree it up with a hand held food processor, or similar.  Then add the zucchini and some fresh basil.

of course, it’s all the better if the tomatoes, basil, zucchini, garlic and onion are all home grown.

Choral Evensong – 16th July 2011

A friend of one of our choir members was in the congregation – you can read his take on the service over here.

  • Introit: Never weatherbeaten sail, Charles Wood
  • Responses: Nardone
  • Psalm: 84 – a capella, I wish we could do that every week
  • Canticles: Wise in E flat
  • Anthem: Hear o Lord, Amner

This was our last evensong until October, which seems so far in the future as to be unimaginable.

Voice for Life – Silver

I finally managed to achieve one of the goals I set for myself at the start 2010: to take the RSCM’s Voice for Life Silver Award. I took the first level, the Bronze Award, in 2009, and had planned to continue straight on to the silver.

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Voice for Life, Bronze Award

In the end, I applied twice last year, but the first time I had to cancel because I was sick, and the second time the exams themselves were cancelled due to a lack of candidates. In April this year I sent off my third application, which had undergone an almost complete transformation since my first attempt, and in May, two days before we left for Kenya, I travelled down to Brussels to finally take the exam.

The exam is designed to test both singing ability and knowledge of the church and church music, and contains the following parts:

  • Section A – Using the Voice Well (ie. singing!). My music choices were:
    • Hymn: Jesu, lover of my soul, Aberystwyth
    • Psalm: 15, chants by Wesley
    • Anthem: My soul there is a country, Parry
    • Magnificat: First Service, Weelkes
  • Section B – Musical Skills and Understanding, which consist of:
    • Sight reading
    • Aural tests
    • General questions about musical knowledge
  • Section C – Repertoire, discussion about:
    • Chosen anthem
    • A contrasting anthem of your own choice
  • Section D – Testimonial, since my choir isn’t affiliated with the RSCM, I wrote my own, which was slightly strange!
  • Section E – Choir in Context
    • Explaining the origins of set liturgical texts
    • Put together a church service – I choose a Service of Harvest Thanksgiving at Mattins
    • Discussion about the role of music in the church and worship

As you can see, as well as the singing, there was a lot of preparation and background reading required. The exam itself scary, but mostly uneventful, aside from the fact that the piano had a panic attack during my psalm and I found myself singing more verses unaccompanied than I’d expected. At least this time round I didn’t find myself stuck on the roadside due to overhead wires falling down on the International train line.

I’m still kicking myself for making some stupid mistakes during the exam, but overall it went well, and I was very happy when I received the results – I passed with Distinction, with an improvement of 10% compared to the Merit I got for Bronze.

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Voice for Life, Silver Award

Since I was singing Evensong, I missed this year’s Choral Festival so my new medal was presented to me during our final ECS rehearsal for Ely. I haven’t had the chance to wear it yet – its first outing will be Choral Evensong at Ely Cathedral in August.

Choral Evensong – 2nd July, 2011

Normally we would have already finished the choir season and be starting our summer break, but this year we are continuing through to the end of July, and not starting back until October. This is what we sang for our penultimate evensong:

  • Introit: Hide not thou thy face, Farrant/Hilton
  • Responses: Seal
  • Psalm: 85 (Hopkins)
  • Canticles: Blow in F
  • Anthem: O for a Closer Walk with God, Stanford

Mass – 5th June 2011

Today was one of the rare occasions where we’re called upon to sing the Mass at the Nicolaas. Awake at 6am, it almost felt like I was back on safari again, although strangely it was light – I’ve got used to getting up in the dark of late. Thanks to my birthday gift from my fellow choir members at least I could take a cup of tea with me – my standard Sunday Mass gripe is that the shop at the train station isn’t open early enough.

Some repetition of yesterday’s music, to keep things simple, but with the introduction of a new Mass – the Missa Brevis, by Lennox Berkeley.

  • Mass: Miss Brevis, Lennox Berkeley
  • Offertory: God is gone up, Croft
  • Motet: O Rex Gloriae, Marenzo
  • Psalm: 99 (Walmisley)

I’m slowly getting the hang of singing the Mass, though I remain unimpressed with my ability to sing in Dutch – I still stumble sometimes over the words (I have to admit that I simply don’t always understand them!), and my intonation isn’t great.

Choral Evensong – 4th June 2011

After two and a half weeks away, I have a busy weekend with the choir – a good way to overcome the culture shock and get back into my normal routine! I wouldn’t have thought that it was possible to be hotter than I was in Africa when I came home, but as soon as I put my choir robes on for the rehearsal today I changed my mind about that.

  • Introit: O Rex Gloriae, Marenzo
  • Preces and Responses: Radcliffe
  • Psalm: 47 (Monk)
  • Canticles: Walmisley in D Minor
  • Anthem: God is gone up, Croft