Sunday morning we were up early, ready to enjoy every moment of our day. It’s not that often you get to lead worship in an English cathedral, so we were feeling sorely aware of how quickly this opportunity had come and gone. Still, this day promised two services instead of one, and it all lay before us.
We thought we’d make it a calm, peaceful morning by leaving early for church and working for a half hour before our rehearsal began. As if. We managed to hop on the District line just in time for some mysterious big delay due to a technical malfunction at a station down the line. At each station we sat in the stopped train for over 5 minutes (usually the stop is well under 30 seconds) and finally, after being parked at Bank station for almost 20 minutes we ditched the Tube and decided to sprint for it, now with only about 10 minutes left until our rehearsals were to start. Sprint we did, even though I was wearing backless sandals with heels. We walked into Southwark about five minutes late to our own rehearsal to find that not only were the vergers not there to unlock our space yet, but most of our choristers had been waylaid by the same transit mess. We all sat around the hallway uneasily for awhile, our numbers growing bit by bit, all exchanging the same stories and questions about the malfunctioning Tube.
Eventually we stampeded into our unlocked room and got to business. Business for me was as stressful as it got that whole week: I figured I’d skip rehearsing some of the Sunday morning music in favor of sitting alone with my score a few minutes rather than playing a 10+ minute Bach work completely cold. The rehearsal plans, under the direction of Mr. Neswick, were not well known to us, so it was a surprise to me when I realized that, from the adjoining choir room, I was hearing the beginning of the afternoon’s anthem: the one I was slotted to conduct. I bounced in and started the arm-waving, never successfully locating my own score for the piece through the whole rehearsal. It’s a good thing I had done my homework and had it mostly memorized, because that’s all I had to give it. Another moment where I reflected on the business of professional performance: still on your game when you’re caught off guard or under-prepared. I seem to do OK at it…
Sunday morning was sublime – a full, lovely Eucharist service including the Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei from Howell’s Collegium Regale mass setting. We sang several good hymns, Mr. Neswick improvised as the choir communed, we repeated an anthem from earlier in the week as the communion motet – the exquisite Prayer of the Venerable Bede – and then I was on the bench for the close of the service: How Great Thou Art and my second shot at Bach’s Toccata in E. Following the service we poked around for gifts and souvenirs in the gift shop a bit, then obtained paella from a restaurant food-stand on the otherwise-closed Borough Market. At 1:30 we reconvened to prayer the afternoon Evensong, which was also wonderful. Spirits were high. It was clear to me from my place behind the music stand, conducting our last notes of the week, that everyone was fully engaged, deriving all the joy and beauty they could from their last moments in this space we’d gotten to call home for a week. I led us through the beautiful Smith Responses again and then we closed the week with David Hurd’s exuberant, luscious It Is a Good Thing to Give Thanks to Your Name, O Most High. It’s surreal to think that I was there, standing in that place, leading that music.
We lingered long after the service concluded, taking pictures and putting the choir room right and assembling all our things. We’d reserved a nearby pub’s lower level for some festivities afterwards, so slowly we all made our way there, partying for hours, eventually abandoning the basement space for tables on the riverside corridor outdoors. We finally returned to our dorm around 9:00, walking past the floodlit cathedral, its tower rising into the night sky. We were tired and satisfied, and ready to pack our bags for Italy, a vacation-after-a-vacation that we were eager for. Next stop: sand, sun, solitude. And a lot of gelato.
Sunday 17 August, 10:55 p.m.
What a good day! We had a good night’s sleep for a change. The morning was quite stressful thanks to a slow underground train. It rendered most of the choir quite late to rehearsal and Mike and I dashed from a less accessible station after abandoning the stopped train we’d been on for almost 45 minutes – a ride that usually takes 20. Then the vergers were nowhere to be found to open the choir room. It was all a mad dash until the moment we began to process for worship, and then everything fell into place and the whole thing was superb – charged. It was such a special service, and an awesome experience singing the Howells Collegium Regale service in a London Cathedral.
After a quick pause for lunch we reconvened for 3:00 p.m. Evensong. The preparations felt almost leisurely without the pressure of subsequent services’ repertoire looming. Again, everything fell into place and there were a few magical moments. I got to conduct our concluding responses and anthem and I felt the choir milking those last moments for all their worth. Then we went out with Bruce at the organ leading – happy coincidence – his favorite hymn of all time. A night to remember.
After lots of photo ops we all retired to the pub a moment’s walk away, sitting on the river’s edge and enjoying old and new friendships (quite loudly) for hours. We were among the first to say our goodbyes around 8:30, coming back to pack for our flight to Italy.
The opportunity this week to be professionals together has been an unforgettable experience. Such a joy and satisfaction. We could be happy doing this side by side forever. I’m sorry it’s over.