The City of London is truly one of the most splendid and storied cities in all the world. Having been settled thousands of years ago, her inhabitants have, over the centuries, done an admirable job of being on the forward edge of civilization, while still honoring and preserving her history. As early as AD 604, there was a church dedicated to the Apostle Paul sitting atop Ludgate Hill, the highest point in the city, overlooking the River Thames.
The present church, dating from the late 17th century, is one of the most magnificent and awe-inspiring buildings on earth, befitting the grand metropolis it serves. St. Paul's cathedral has been the site of the commemoration of some England's most significant events, including the funerals of Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, Sir Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher; Jubilee celebrations for Queen Victoria; peace services marking the end of the First and Second World Wars; the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana, and the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II. It is also home to one of the very finest Choirs of Men and Boys anywhere.
When the Georgia Boy Choir passed through London on their way to Oxford three years ago, they felt privileged to be allowed to sing just one song in the hallowed space beneath its cavernous dome. That one song resulted in an invitation to return as Choir-in-Residence while the home team is on holiday. So every day this week, the 30 boys and young men from Atlanta have filed into the choir stalls to perform the office of Choral Evensong in the mother church of the diocese of London.
One might imagine that the young boys would be overwhelmed at such a daunting responsibility, but they have been dutifully preparing for months. When Associate Conductor and Organist, Scott Atchison played the opening strains of Charles Stanford's wonderful Magnificat in C on the mighty organ, and the Choir began to sing, it was clear that they were equal to the task.
They were as enthralled with the joy of singing here as were the hundreds of listeners at hearing them. The sound of their voices filled the immensity of the giant room even during the softest passages. Following the final fortissimo, smiles crept across their faces as the boys listened to the reverberation of their voices as it continued to haunt the massive space.
It did not take long for them to feel at home in their new role, singing each day with more confidence, and with a better understanding of how to maximize the marvelous, but unusual acoustic. They showed considerable versatility while singing a variety of canticles ranging from the Tudor master, Thomas Tallis to the late 20th-century English composer Geoffrey Burgon. Other services also included settings by George Dyson, Herbert Brewer and, perhaps the musical highlight of the tour, the magnificent "St. Paul's Service" by Herbert Howells. One of the more challenging aspects of singing Choral Evensong is the chanting, or "pointing" of the Psalms, but the young Georgians mastered this technique and presented each day's Psalm with clarity and beauty, even evoking compliments from the St. Paul's clergy.
Taking full advantage of their time in London, the Choir spent each morning seeing some of the sights in and around the city: visiting the Tower of London, seeing the Crown Jewels, climbing the dome of St. Paul's, touring the London Museum, the National Gallery, and the Imperial War Museum, shopping in and around Trafalgar Square, cruising up the River Thames, standing outside Buckingham Palace during the changing of the guard, participating in acting workshop at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, and riding on the top level of a double-decker bus.
If one were to ask each boy about this week in London, there would likely be 30 different "favorite" moments, but without a doubt, it will be a week none of them is ever to forget, although it may not be until many years from now until they realize the significance of their experience.
Until next time,
The Georgia Boy Choir
2014 England Tour Team