Monday, January 9, 2012

Jesus Christ the Apple Tree

Here's some more British choral singing for you Anglophiles. I could not embed the video here, but do click over to it; it's lovely.

My first gig in England, about ten years ago, was a recital of the specialized repertoire in which I had built a modest reputation, at Saint John's College, Cambridge. I learned there that the choirs from the various Cambridge colleges compete with one another; Kings College, whose choir sings this performance, is certainly the most well-known, but my hosts assured me that Saint John's was better. My hosts also brought me to Sunday night evensong at the Saint John's College chapel, where I marveled at the impressive discipline and concentration of the little boys, evidenced also in the video linked to above. I was assured that the children were perfect devils in rehearsal, but you would never know it.


Sally Thomas said...

That's one of my favorite choral pieces!

And wow. We were there when you were there. If only I'd gone to hear you sing.

Pentimento said...

Amazing, Sally! St. John's Master's Lodge, July 2001!

And I think I originally saw this video on your blog a couple of years ago.

Sally Thomas said...

Yup, we were over there in 2001. Possibly we were in France in July, though. My parents had come over to meet us in Normandy, which was all pretty spectacular, but if only I'd known, y'know?

My all-time weirdest ships-passing-in-night experience, though, was meeting, online, an English Catholic homeschooling mother who had lived, the entire four years we were there, right around the corner from us in Cambridge. We literally lived about 500 feet apart, as the crow flies, and probably passed each other daily in the street. We still haven't met face to face, and we frequented different neighborhood pubs, which is crucial -- if she'd hung out in the Free Press all the time, instead of the Clarenden Arms, I'd probably have known her by sight.

And St. John's. Sigh. They do have a good choir. I also like Trinity's, though they don't have boys. I was good friends with the wife of the (then?) choirmaster, who always kept my feet on the ground when I thought our parish choir had pulled something off well. Which makes her sound really uncharitable -- she isn't at all. Just not a mincer of words, and it was true that better choirs than ours had done Bruckner's Os Justi almost as badly . . .

Clare's choir is apparently also spectacular, though I never heard them. It's true that choral music is a huge part of the culture in Cambridge, which makes it a wonderful place to be -- you're never short for music to go and hear. Our parish choirmaster's son sang with the Jesus College choir, and we used to borrow him to sing, say, the first verse of Darke's setting of "In the Bleak Midwinter" on Christmas Eve . . . gave me every bit as many chills as "Once In Royal David's City" at Kings.

Pentimento said...

I was only in Cambridge for about a week, but it was an important time for me in terms of my career and future research, and also, much more importantly, for the amazing friendships I made, which still continue. I would say that trip was pivotal.

My mother had an LP of the Kings College choir singing Christmas music, and it started out with "Once in Royal David's City." I completely agree with you -- chills.

Sally Thomas said...

You know the story about that, right? They always begin Nine Lessons & Carols with "Once in Royal David's City," and as they're going in, the choirmaster taps one boy to do the solo. They don't know beforehand who'll sing it -- theoretically it's to keep them from getting nervous.

I was cruising around YouTube last night, by the way, looking for clips of Ely Cathedral's choir, because my older son's best friend from the time they were two and three is currently the head chorister, or was last time I heard from his family, which wasn't that long ago. He's 12-going-on-13, so it can't last much longer, but I just think that that's beyond cool. He was a very droll little boy, and I don't think anyone had any idea that he could sing, until he joined our old parish's children's choir and just blossomed.

I think Cambridge is the kind of place where pivotal things do happen in people's lives. It's so intense -- whatever you happen to be doing -- and there's such a concentration of . . . well, we used to remark that nobody in Cambridge ever seemed to be a car salesman. And then the setting itself is so full of things that quickly become dear: walks and views and moods in the weather. It just works on you somehow.

Pentimento said...

I didn't know about the soloist being chosen on the spot! That is fantastic! No doubt all the boys rehearse the opening lines in front of their mirrors at home.

I did love the week I spent there, but it must have been nothing like living there, as you did.

Pentimento said...

I listened to a few Kings College "Once in Royal Davids," because now I'm interested in what you told me about the soloist selection process. All are heartbreaking, and in fact all the performances made me cry; it's not just the soloist, it's the whole thing of it. But the 2010 soloist just killed me.

Sheila said...

You should look at the website of our boychoir here, Great photos of those amazing angelic voices in such disciplined little bodies, letting their hair down, so to speak. It really is funny being with them behind the scenes and then seeing them in performance.

Our director has never gotten brave enough to do the Kings Choir soloist choosing thing, though he said he'd thought about it a few years ago when he had several capable of doing it.

I heard an interview recently with Stephen Cleobury and had pleasant memories of sitting across the table from him at lunch. Our choir director here (not of the boychoir) had spent a semester at Kings College and become friends with Cleobury, and invited him to Memphis for a clinic and concert, etc. It was really neat!

Pentimento said...

That *is* neat, Sheila!