After breakfasting at the High Table on Monday morning, the Georgia Boy Choir boarded the motorcoach bound for the small city of Wells, in the southwest part of England. Wells is nestled beautifully into the bucolic, rolling hills in Somerset. It is not bustling like Oxford was. The pace seems a little more relaxed here. The Cathedral is an immense Gothic structure, one of the largest in Europe.
After settling in to their new lodgings at the Wells Cathedral School, the boys just had a 5-minute walk to the church itself, where they enjoyed a tour around the place. Wells is renowned for the enormous "scissor arches" which holds up its central tower, as well as for its ancient clock which has figures on it reenacting a jousting tournament, every 15 minutes. The tour concluded in the Quire, which, of course, is where the boys would be spending a good bit of time over the next few days.
During the rehearsal, it took some adjusting to become familiar with the acoustic, which was considerably different from Christ Church. The organ is much larger, as, of course is the space of the room. It takes more time for the sound to reach the ears, and can pose some challenges to the ensemble of the Choir. But with Scott Atchison (whom the boys have dubbed, "the organ god") at the mighty instrument, they managed to make the necessary adjustments and produce a marvelous result.
Monday was the Feast Day of St. James, the Apostle, which meant that the Evensong service would have just a little bit of extra music and pomp associated with it. The Choir assembled in the south transept where they were greeted by the Verger and the Canon. From there they sang an introit, "Love Bade Me Welcome" before processing under the scissor arches to take their place in the Quire. The Evening Canticles they sang were by Herbert Brewer, and the Anthem was William Harris' "Oh What Their Joy," both of which are just magnificent pieces of music which the boys love to sing. Indeed the combined sounds of their voices, with that of the enormous organ, produced a glorious effect as they mingled with the thurifer's incense, and filled the massive room. The service concluded with a hymn, which was sung in procession as the boys, led by the clergy, circumnavigated the room. Several of the boys later spoke of how moving this experience was for them.
Tuesday was thankfully a less busy day, with a more relaxed pace than they had been going for more than a week. The boys were very happy to find an adjacent athletic field where they gladly spent several hours stretching their legs, and relaxing. The weather was absolutely perfect and they enjoyed playing Ultimate Frisbee and Capture the Flag. Some read a book or took a nap underneath an enormous tree that must surely have been hundreds of years old. It was a much-needed and well-deserved time of rest, relaxation, and recreation. There was no big procession and no incense at Evensong that evening, but it was glorious indeed as the boys poured their hearts and souls into the music.
When the sun rose on Wednesday morning, emotions were mixed. Everyone was keenly aware that this was the last day of what has been a wonderful tour. The boys were all excited about returning home to their families and friends, but not eager to leave England or for this incredible experience to come to an end.
Not far from Wells is the site of Glastonbury Abbey. Once a grand church and active monastic abbey, Glastonbury fell in to disuse and now stands in ruins. It sits atop a hill overlooking the Somerset countryside. The climb up the hill was arduous, but the reward of the magnificent view from the top made it more than worthwhile.
The boys were really looking forward to Evensong that night, knowing that it was their final performance and that it contained some of their very favorite music, Charles Stanford's magnificent Evening Service in C, Responses by Gerre Hancock, and the anthem, "O Thou, the Central Orb" by Charles Wood. Throughout the entire service all of the young singers gave their very best effort and the resulting in a tremendous and moving sound. They relished every note, and sang as if they did not want the experience to end. When at last it had ended, there was great satisfaction in a job well done.
After dinner and before retiring on their last night in England the Choir walked into town for a final celebratory ice cream treat. As they went to bed, sleep came easily despite the fact that now everyone was excited about going home.
The trip home to Atlanta was thankfully smooth and uneventful. Upon arriving at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, they were greeted by an enthusiastic group of balloon-holding, sign-waving, tear-wiping, cheering family and friends. The reunion was sweet..
So now, there are a few weeks off until a new season and a whole new series of adventures begin. The Georgia Boy Choir has lots of big things in store for the 2011-2012 Season. Be on the lookout for occasional updates and reports. The Choir remains grateful for the many who have been supportive through the last couple of years.
Until next time,
The Georgia Boy Choir England Tour Team