Twenty-five years ago this week, I was singing daily at Westminster Abbey in London. I was soloist with the mixed choir from Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kansas City, on a tour of Scotland and England, culminating in a week-long residency at Westminster Abbey.
We had sung at the Abbey on Monday and Tuesday, then had Wednesday off. Twenty-five years ago, this day was a Thursday.
And on this Thursday 25 years ago, after singing Evensong, and the vergers closed the Abbey, the choir broke into two groups and had a guided tour of the Abbey. No others present. Just us and the ghosts and the saints.
Our tour took more than an hour. Then the guides said to us “Stay as long as you’d like. We have a late prayer service at 10 p.m.” So in the twilight (the sun did not set until 10 p.m. or so) I wandered the Abbey and visited the monuments for people who were already important in my life — Handel, Purcell, Stanford, Vaughan Williams.
I explored the family chapels, the tomb of St. Edward the Confessor, the graves of Mary, Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I. The incredible Mary Chapel.
But most importantly for me, I stopped for a long time at the grave of Herbert Howells. (Just search this blog for Howells!) To be alone with him for those few minutes, in the quiet of the Abbey, was a powerfully emotional, even transcendental experience.
Three days later I sang his Westminster Abbey service, and Vaughan Williams’ “Lord, thou has been our refuge,” just steps away from their graves in that north choir aisle. And barely made it through the emotions.
Every subsequent visit to the Abbey has included a moment of quiet at HH’s grave. I hope to visit once again before I too am gone.