When Thursday morning dawned, it was yet another beautiful day in England. The boys and young men of the Georgia Boy Choir made their way to the lovely town of Hereford, where later that day they would be singing Choral Evensong in the magnificent Hereford Cathedral.
Upon their arrival they were welcomed most graciously, and given a tour of the ancient edifice. There are several highly valued treasures of antiquity housed there. Foremost among these is the famous Mappa Mundi, a 13th-century map of the world drawn on a piece of vellum more than 5 feet in diameter, which recorded how scholars of the time interpreted the world in spiritual as well as geographical terms. The boys in the Choir were quite taken with it and delighted in identifying some of the 500 or so drawings it contains.
After lunch in the churchyard, and a shopping excursion into the quaint city center, the young gentlemen got down to the real business at hand. They appeared confident as they processed into the beautifully carved wooden choir stalls. As they began the service with Healey Willan’s marvelous “Rise Up, My Love,” the ethereal tones of their voices wafted to the great arched ceiling and cascaded down upon the listeners enveloping them in a blanket of gorgeous sound.
The canticles for the evening were from the St. Paul’s service by Herbert Howells, a veritable tour-de-force in the canon of great choral literature, which was sung magnificently by the Georgia Boy Choir on this evening. When organist Scot Atchison, opened up the organ’s mighty trumpets for the beginning of Gerald Finzi’s “God Is Gone Up” the centuries-old timbers of the church shook, and when the Choir came in, their exuberant singing was indeed triumphant. It was a most satisfying and thrilling conclusion to a beautiful service.
Friday was spent in Ludlow, a gem of a town situated on the River Teme, and indeed teeming with history, beauty, and culture. The boys and young men of the Choir enjoyed a short hike in the wood surrounding the town, followed by exploration of the splendid ruins of Ludlow castle.
Afternoon tea was provided by the kind members of the local Methodist church, which also provided a good location for a brief nap (or, as the locals say, “A bit of a lie-down”) before the evening’s concert in the nearby St. Laurence’s Church. St. Laurence’s, sometimes referred to as The Cathedral of the Marches, is considered by many to be one of the finest parish churches in all of England. Word of the concert, which was given as a benefit to the Society for the Preservation of St. Laurence’s Church had apparently gotten out, and the nave began to fill with audience members.
Throughout the evening the usually reserved Britons became more and more enthusiastic as they listened with rapt delight to the young Americans. Some even shouted their approval after a few numbers and all clapped along in rhythm to one of their favorites. At the end of the two-hour concert, they insisted on hearing one more song, so, of course, the Choir willingly obliged. With tears in her eyes, one lady said she couldn’t remember having had a more enjoyable evening in years. It seemed to be the consensus for both singers and listeners alike.
On Saturday morning the Choir said goodbye to county Shropshire and beautiful Bedstone College and headed to the dreamy-spired city of Oxford for an excursion punting on the river. Those who were in the Choir three years ago, when the Georgia Boy Choir spent a whole week in Oxford were particularly eager to see some of their favorite sites from that time. First stop: The West Cornwall Pasty Company for some delicious lunch. On the way to the river, they passed by the Sheldonian Theatre, the Bodleain Library, the University Church of St. Mary, Lincoln College, Magdalen College, and many other phenomenal landmarks.
Most Americans think of “punting” as what one does when faced with fourth and long, but in England, especially in Oxford and Cambridge it is very popular to travel down a shallow river on a flat-bottom boat propelling it with a long pole.
It sounds easy enough, but keeping the boat straight and the punter dry can be a considerable challenge. By the time the entire Georgia Boy Choir were in their punts it comprised a flotilla of 7 such vessels. Most of the members tried their hand at punting and only two actually fell in. All had a splendid time.
Then it was on to London Town. The big city will be quite a change, but will undoubtedly provide a multitude of joys and delights.
Until next time,
The Georgia Boy Choir
2014 England Tour Team