Oh my goodness gracious, how shall I begin.
This day was full of sending-Kirin’s-jaw-to-the-floor moments, because after we said ‘bye to this friendly kitty,
this is where we went.
From inside the bus we saw it standing regally on the hilltop. Ladies and gentlemen, imagine our awe and our sparkling eyes as we gazed in marvel. Imagine the extreme inhalations of excitement as we entered its hollowed halls.
Ah, Lancing College Chapel. It was a castle. It was Hogwarts. It was magical.
So we did a lot of:
being very excited,
and getting a lot of vitamin D.
Oh and we ate a SPOT ON lunch of fish and chips. Outside.
As Benjamin Britten so beautifully put it, the place gave us a “remarkable stillness and serenity of soul.”
Speaking of Britten, that’s what we were there for! We were the closing act of the Shipley Arts Festival, 2013. The first half of our program involved a piece by our very own Westminster Williamson Voices bass member Thomas LaVoy. Indeed ladies and gentlemen, besides singing and being a genuinely kind human being, Tom is a composer. This night marked the European debut of his choral composition Alleluia. Alleluia has always been one of my favorite pieces, and my cheekbones hurt from beaming with pride for his accomplishment.
Oh but our pride did not end here. Another of our very own and a very good friend of mine, alto Mary Copeley, played the exquisite organ part for Rejoice in the Lamb. Indeed ladies and gentlemen, among the Westminster Williamson Voices we also have a fantastic organ player.
Those of you who know this masterpiece are well aware that this was no easy feat. But our Mary played it, and she played it well. She later told me that beyond playing the organ, it felt as if she was singing with the choir. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the mark that we (as conductor, choir, and organ) made music as a true ensemble. Indeed, our performance of Rejoice in the Lamb was hopefully one that would have made Britten proud if he had been there to listen to us.
Then, the second half. We began with the premiere of James Whitbourn’s The Voices Stilled: Agnus Dei, a piece that was composed, in Mr. Whitbourn’s words, “in commemoration of the myriad voices stilled in war.” Although we only had a very short time with this piece, it has quickly proven to be one that greatly pulled on my heartstrings. We sang this with choirs from West Sussex, accompanied by the Bernardi Chamber Orchestra with Mr. Whitbourn himself standing on the conducting podium.
Ah, ladies and gentlemen, so much honest and soulful music was bestowed upon us by Britten, LaVoy, and Whitbourn that night. What more could there possibly be, you ask? Well, we had just one more Britten piece up our sleeves to close the night. I suppose it was only fitting, since we are approaching the centenary of Britten after all.
Yes, we performed Britten’s St. Nicolas, complete with a gallery choir, orchestra and tenor soloist. The tenor, Nick Pritchard, was wonderful to hear. He had a shiny and vibrant voice that floated effortlessly in the vast chapel. That, coupled with no small degree of attractiveness, sent many a Williamson woman swooning.
By now, we all realized how good a piece it was. Even after we returned to the U.S., I know for a fact that its melodies still circulate in many of our heads.
But not only that. About 50 years ago in the same hall, Benjamin Britten premiered the exact same piece. Ladies and gentlemen, we were actually standing in the very hall of Lancing Chapel where he stood all those years ago.
Oh yes, and the Queen’s representative was there to hear our performance as well. She certainly sounded like she was pleased with it when she addressed us at the end.
See why I began with “Oh my goodness gracious?” Exactly. There was so much epic-ness going on, and it was an experience that I doubt any of us will ever forget.
We were all sorry to part with Lancing. But if this was hard for us, I knew Day 8 (our last day), would be harder. With a heavy heart I looked back on the chapel looming in the distance and thought to myself, “Man, I just really don’t want to leave Oxford.”
You know what else scares human beings so darn much besides silence? Endings.
And ours was fast approaching.