This has been an amazing week for the Georgia Boy Choir in Oxford, England. The primary focus has, of course, been preparing for and performing in the daily Evensong services at Christ Church Cathedral. While this duty has not been without its challenges, it is thrilling beyond description for the boys and young men. In addition to a fair amount of sightseeing, each day has contained about two hours of rehearsal plus the service itself which generally lasts almost an hour - the vast majority of which is sung by the Choir.
Now that the midweek point has been reached, the Choir is falling into a fairly steady routine. Breakfast is served in the Great Hall promptly at 8:15. By 9:00, the Choir is ready for the morning activity. After lunch, if time allows, there is a brief rest time, then rehearsal, followed by the Evensong Service.
Monday morning's "activity" was a fascinating tour of the Cathedral itself, so the choristers would feel at home in this space. The excellent guides really engaged the boys, who were genuinely fascinated by the incredible history of the College, the University, and the Cathedral. It is a remarkable place to be, and an unbelievable honor to be part of such a prestigious choral tradition which spans from the current Director of Music, Stephen Darlington, all the way back to its original Choirmaster, the great Tudor composer, John Taverner.
The very first Evensong was, admittedly a little nerve-wracking for the Choir, who were really determined to make a good impression. Shortly after the huge bell, "Old Tom" tolled six o'clock, they processed in solemnly in a double line, filling the Quire stalls, which were illuminated by candlelight. If there was any doubt as to whether these 25 boys and young men from Georgia were up to the task, they were quickly dispelled when they opened their mouths to sing. It was a wonderful sound. The boys sang boldly and beautifully. Their ethereal voices filled the Cathedral as well as the hearts of those who were present. Following the service, they received many fine comments from those in attendance, particularly from the clergy who officiated the service. Spirits were high as the Choir enjoyed dinner at a fine Italian restaurant before retiring for the night.
Tuesday morning, they were off to Warwick Castle, about an hours' drive north. Warwick is a fantastic place to visit - especially for young boys. The Norman castle remains in pristine condition and the boys really enjoyed climbing its ramparts and exploring its dungeons. There was a catapult (technically, a trebuchet) demonstration which was particularly enjoyable, but the best part had to be the falconry demonstration. There were several birds - including some North American Bald Eagles which were trained to fly from the falconer's arm and swoop around in circles, sometimes just two or three feet from the audience's heads and land back on his arm. The boys were awestruck - several even proclaiming that it was the, "Coolest thing I have ever seen." It was truly amazing.
The motorcoach delivered the boys back to the College in time for them to change in to their concert uniforms and head to rehearsal. The first portion of the rehearsal was held in the surprisingly small Choir room, before heading into the Cathedral to practice with the organ. Having successfully led the Evensong the night before, the Choir now knew that they could pull it off well, but now they needed to do it again, only with completely different music. Each evening, the liturgy remains the same, but the music itself changes daily. But once again, the boys rose to the occasion - singing particularly splendidly. One of the most difficult aspects of Evensong is the practice of chanting the Psalms, an art form which is unique to Anglican worship. But following Tuesday's service there were several, including the canon who presided over the worship, who commented that the GBC had done a particularly excellent job with the Psalms.
At the appointed time on Wednesday morning, the motorcoach once again carried them north, this time to Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare. It was fascinating to wander through the 500 - year - old house, which has been well preserved, and get a glimpse of what domestic life was like in the 1500's. A short walk up the Avon river sits the church where Shakespeare was baptized as an infant, and where he was buried upon his death. Here the boys were asked to sing, which, of course, they gladly did, once again bringing joy to all within earshot.
One particularly fascinating item to be found there at Holy Trinity Church is a First-Edition Copy of the original King James Version of the Bible, published in 1611. It is likely that Shakespeare himself read from this very copy during the services there.
The bus ride back to Oxford was fairly quiet as most of the boys took advantage of an opportunity for a little extra rest, before the work which the afternoon and evening would bring.
When the Choir processed into the Cathedral to begin Wednesday's Evensong, they noticed that the attendance was the largest yet. The Nave of the Sanctuary was nearly filled and people were sitting around on the sides of the church as well. Soon, all were mesmerized by the singing of the boys from Georgia. The canticles they sang this night were by the English composer, Geoffrey Burgon which pose a particular difficulty for the organist - or at least most organists. Scott Atchison played it flawlessly and the boys matched him. The anthem for the night was John Rutter's beautiful, "The Lord Is My Shepherd," and at the end, when the text speaks of dwelling in the house of the Lord forever, one could almost imagine true heavenly glory as the singers' voices swelled in glorious harmony and ended with quiet calm.
Until next time,
The Georgia Boy Choir England Tour Team