Twenty-five years ago today I flew home from my first-ever trip to England. I’d been there with the Mixed Choir from Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral, Kansas City. We were on tour singing from Edinburgh to London’s Westminster Abbey.
Reminiscences and from my journal:
Here’s some of that music that still sends me into tears:
And the entirety of that Vaughan Williams anthem, sung at the Abbey by their choir:
Watching this, I burst into tears at that climactic A5 from the boys, and that last chord, and the memory of such wonders as the gift of singing this feet from the grave of the composer, in the company of dear people from my home parish.
A photo from that last day at the Abbey, in the Abbey garden:
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.
I find no better way to relax after two days of faculty meetings, totaling nine hours of time with colleagues, than to listen to choral music of Herbert Howells.
Tonight, it’s the Requiem, perhaps my favorite work by HH. I have this newish recording by Conspirare and Craig Hella Johnson, and it’s delightful indeed.
Our faculty meetings were fruitful. Tiring. Enlivening. Productive. Nine hours of meetings over two will never be fun, but enough humor allowed us to break and laugh, and we spent time charting the next few years of the Webster University Department of Music.
Meanwhile, I fell on Sunday. In my yard. On my tush.
And while nothing is broken, I’m sore, and all this sitting today has left me feeling poorly tonight.
I arrived last evening at dusk and had a quick jaunt through HM Border Control and Customs, and then onward to the Heathrow Express and central London.
My AirBnB is a delightful ground-floor flat less than two blocks from the Lambeth North stop on the Underground. A Tesco and a Sainsbury’s are both adjacent to that Tube stop, so grocery shopping is easy.
I’ve had my breakfast of scrambled eggs and seedy toast with strawberry jam. (I do love bread that seems to include pine cones and squirrel droppings. In my opinion, the heartier the forest products in the bread, the better.)
Now 9.15 a.m., I need to figure out what I’m doing today, but I think it will include (since rain the order of the day) a day indoors, including some Herbert Howells research at the Royal College of Music.
Here’s the view from my bedroom this morning:
And this view from the Austrain Airlines flight includes the Thames Barrier and the O2 Dome:
These massive, double-decked Airbus jets always amaze me:
Today is the 121st anniversary of the birth of Herbert Howells. Last year on this day I attended an all-HH Evensong at Gloucester Cathedral.
Today, I am saying a memorial Morning Prayer with intentions for HH, listening solely to his music (including Daniel Bara and East Carolina University’s performance of his Requiem), and reading a chapter of the new HH compendium.
HH is the on-going life-work research subject. May he rest in peace.
There’s nothing like a 30-minute each-way walk in the southwest England heat to get the blood going!
I visited this afternoon St. Mary Redcliffe, an old local parish with an incredibly preserved Gothic structure. Herbert Howells wrote music for this parish, so I simply had to visit.
Getting ready to leave, I noticed that Evening Prayers would commence in five minutes, so I joined the lector in the Lady Chapel for a 25-minute prayer service. My friends and colleagues in the GHTC choir were named aloud, with prayers offered for safe passage, and for peace of heart and mind, as they must surely be tremendously frustrated and tired at this point.
Those of us who are here in Bristol will join for dinner in an hour’s time. I understand that we’ll be going to Exeter tomorrow to be tourists and sing Evensong no matter what. The KC contingent is to arrive at Manchester in early morning, but they will be wheezing in to make it by time for Evensong, and then will surely be exhausted as well.
No matter. All will be well, as God is in heaven, and as my birthday will come ‘round no matter who is here to celebrate and make merry.