Choral Evensong – Durham Cathedral – 30th August 2011

  • Preces and Responses – Ayleward
  • Psalm 147
  • Canticles – Noble in B minor
  • Anthem – Bring us O Lord, Harris

After the service it was already time for an emotional farewell, before heading off to the station to catch the train down to Manchester for a short visit with Mum and Dad.

Choral Evensong – Durham Cathedral – 29th August 2011

A few weeks ago I made the rather spontaneous decision to fly back over to the UK for a couple of days and join Bowdon Choir for their trip to Durham Cathedral. I got up before the crack of dawn (again!) and hopped on a plane to Durham Tees Valley, in a fit of silly planning that had me arriving before the rest of the choir had even left Manchester. Never mind, that gave me a nice opportunity to settle in and do a little shopping – there’s something to be said for buying jeans in England where they’re only 3 inches too long for me, instead of 6 or more.

The rest of the choir started arriving around lunchtime, and I spent the next couple hours catching up with everyone, before our rehearsal in the stalls at 4pm. After the week with the ECS, I couldn’t get used to the relaxed rehearsal schedule, but of course this choir is singing together every week, with two services every Sunday.

It’s not so long since we last sang at Durham, so the whole visit proved to be very nostalgic. There were a few new faces in the choir, but the bulk of the choir is still made up of people I’ve known for years. The choice of music could hardly have been better to fuel my nostalgia trip – all the music we sang, aside from the Ireland, is music that I associate with first joining the choir, 15 years ago.

  • Preces and Responses – Ayleward
  • Psalm – Flintoft
  • Canticles – Ireland in F
  • Anthem – Let all Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, Bairstow

Choral Evensong – 1st October 2011

After over 2 months break, it was finally time to go back to the Nicolaaskerk for our first evensong of the new season. A few changes have taken place over the summer – we have a new name (the Chorale of the Capella Nicolai), a new system for organizing all our music, and most importantly for me, I have a new role – as soprano, as a result of the re-auditions that took place before the summer.

I can’t deny that I’ve had my knickers in a grand old twist about this latter point. From the moment that the music list arrived in my Inbox a few weeks ago, I’ve been stressing about the high notes and the fact that I had to relearn 4 pieces of music, some of which I could practically sing blindfolded as an alto.

Needless to say, after all that worrying, it all went better than I expected.   Yes, I made some mistakes, and accidentally found myself on the alto line in the psalm, and no, I didn’t sing all the high notes as well as I’d have liked. But I was surprised in the middle of the pre-evensong rehearsal to realise that I was actually quite enjoying myself, and thinking ‘oh, wow, that was a fun G’, in some cases, rather than ‘oh, oh, oh, help, big scary G, can’t do it’.

Tons of room for improvement, a lot of music to relearn, and I still have some fear of those top notes [not to mention, how to practice them without driving the neighbours crazy], but I guess I’ve got over the worst of it now, and I’m looking forward to finally getting to sing all those Christmas descants.

  • Introit: View me Lord, Lloyd (lots of soft Fs, which turned out to be F#s – struggled a bit with those, though they were pretty good in the rehearsal, I struggled with them again during Evensong…)
  • Responses: Radcliffe (some nice loud high notes, much easier!  got very frustrated with these when I was studying them, but had no problem once I sang them in the context of the whole choir)
  • Office Hymn: O blest creator of the light
  • Psalm: 119 vv 17-32
  • Canticles: Sumsion in G (advantageous to be singing soprano, less time spent hanging around waiting to have something to do then as an alto!  Not only did I find a decent number of Gs in this, but also a super scary A… it defeated me on Friday at the rehearsal, but I found it on Saturday)
  • Anthem: Like as the Hart, Howells (pretty tedious as an alto, much more fun as a soprano, this one!)

Of course, I was also back doing my job as reader.  Nearly got myself off to a bad start by reading the wrong lesson(!), but fortunately realized before it was too late.

Choral Evensong – Bavokerk – 28th August 2011

If it’s the end of August, it must be time for the ECS to sing Evensong at the Bavokerk in Haarlem. Thanks to some delays along the way, and my own unusual style of timekeeping, I ended up arriving 30 minutes late to the rehearsal, after the choir had finished with the responses, and were busy with the Magnificat.

I was very excited to discover that the Bavo is currently hosting an exhibition about Anthony Fokker, including the very first little Fokker – quite a wondrous thing, though I’m not sure I’d choose to fly in it myself.

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The programme for this evening was mostly new music from our trip to Ely, in all honesty, nothing that really set my heart on fire, although I rather like the Justorum Animae.

  • Introit – Justorum Animae, Gabriel Jackson
  • Preces and Responses – Walsh
  • Canticles – W. Lloyd Webber in E minor
  • Anthem – Lord who’s glory fills the skies, Darke
  • Anthem – Litany to the Holy Spirit, Hurford

Ely Cathedral – Choral Eucharist – 7th August 2011

No sooner has the week started then it seems you’ve already reached Sunday, in all its Cathedral craziness. As Cathedral Sundays go, this one was fairly relaxed with just two services, a Choral Eucharist and Choral Evensong. A bit of a shame really, as the cathedral trip is usually our once yearly opportunity to sing Mattins, a service of which I’m rather fond.

Cathedral Eucharists are usually a rather nerve wracking experience, as every cathedral celebrates the Eucharist with its own little quirky features. The common features are complex processing, singing in the Nave rather than the Quire, a greater amount of pomp and circumstance than your average parish church, and, if you’re unlucky, enough incense to smoke out a family of hornets. Take it from me, an incense-filled choir vestry is not the best way to begin an hour’s singing.

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The church has a wonderful range of language, both formal and informal, that you never encounter in normal life. Thus, at 10.30 this morning we lined up halfway down the Nave, face to face with the crucifers and taperers (as opposed to tapirs, which was my first interpretation of our instruction sheet). Informally, they are known as ‘the cross and lights’, and if that doesn’t clear things up for you, then let me explain that they were three acolytes (plainly put, blokes in white robes), the middle one holding up the cross, with one on either side holding a giant candlestick, who lead the procession into the cathedral. The clergy lined up behind us, the bell was rung – the prompt for the cross and candles to be lifted high into the air, and we started out procession towards the Octagon stalls. A nice straightforward procession, thankfully, because I was leading on my side.

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Although there were a couple musical glitches in the service, from a procedural point of view it went without a hitch – no unexpected musical interludes, and no mistimed organ fanfares. For a Cathedral Eucharist, everything went remarkably smoothly, and I even forgot to be nervous. We sang one of Tallis’ Salvator Mundis as the communion motet, a piece which I first learnt with Bowdon choir about 10 years ago. Typically, this time round I was singing second alto, and this is one of the few pieces I learnt at Bowdon where I always sang first. Kept me on my toes, anyway.

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Mass: Darke in F
Communion Motet: Salvator Mundi, Tallis

Ely Cathedral – Choral Evensong – 7th August 2011

After one final lunch on the Cathedral Green we robed up and filed into the stalls for our last practice, during which I spent most of my time hanging precariously on one foot on the edge of the stalls, trying not to fall off backwards. This was not helped by the fact I had to hold my choir folder slightly behind me, and every time I looked at my music my balance was compromised. A good reason to rely on my memory for as much of the music as possible, something that was reasonably easy to achieve, as all the music was very familiar, even the office hymn, which we sing regularly in Amsterdam. Of course, in Amsterdam we sing it without an extraneous Ab, and with an occasionally different text, but switching between choirs as often as I do, such surprises are beginning to be expected.

I had the feeling in the last 3 services that we were finally reaching the light floaty singing in the office hymns that Martin was requesting, but it may only have been a reflection of my new position at the end of the row which meant that I simply couldn’t hear the other singers.

Unlike many Cathedrals, Sunday Evensong appeared little different than that on any other day of the week, with no sermon, and no opening sentences. The lack of the latter made me a little sad, as I’m rather fond of erring and straying from my ways like a lost sheep, and following too much the devices and desires of my own heart. I will never cease to find pleasure in the texts of the 1662 liturgy.

In the blink of an eye, Evensong was over and we were processing out of the Choir and lining up for the dismissal for the final time. We didn’t fling off our robes straight away though – tradition dictates the necessity of a choir photo, accompanied by the requisite fumbling around with tripod and self timer in my case, and a string full of cameras around the neck in Brenda’s.

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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.

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.