Sunday, July 13, 2014
Today was our highly anticipated day off, here in Oxford. The prospect of sleeping in has been calling to us all week, and I dare say that we all had sweeter dreams last night thinking of it. With bleary eyes and extravagant bed head, we all convened for breakfast at 8AM, as is tradition, and then lumbered back up to bed. (I have a feeling we looked like a scene out of The Walking Dead as we exited the dining hall.)
The conducting fellows, however, were quite bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at breakfast as they awaited their trip to Christ Church for the Sung Eucharist service. It’s exciting enough to be able to view a service in the Christ Church Cathedral, which itself supersedes every dream I had ever had about what a European cathedral might be like; but for these conductors, today was not a day for sitting in pews—it was a day for singing. All of the conducting fellows, as well as two of the members of the choir, were given the great honor of participating in the service as singers and organists. Performing the traditional hymns of the Sung Eucharist service, as well as a mass by William Byrd, the conductors carried themselves with great dignity and deep humility as they participated in the centuries-old customs of Anglicanism. As someone sitting in the pews, it was truly stunning to see the melding of cultures as this group of supremely talented conductors from around the world shared in the traditions of Anglicanism. I think it’s safe to say that each and every singer today left a bit of his/her spirit in that cathedral today. The honesty and profound musicianship displayed were extremely inspiring and, I think I can speak for those of us who attended, they made us incredibly proud.
In addition to the conducting fellows, two organists from the choir performed the Prelude and Postlude for the service. I’m not kidding when I say that my head literally shot upwards toward the magnificent instrument that’s housed in the Cathedral as soon as I heard the opening notes of the service. I looked at the strangers around me and could barely stop myself from yelling, “I know these people! I sit next to her in choir!!!!” I can’t tell you how amazed and proud I was of the professionalism and musicianship that Peter Carter and Mary Copeley displayed today. I’m so proud to call them my peers and my friends. Thank you, guys, for sharing that special part of yourselves with us today!
As someone who was not raised in the Anglican tradition, today was an eye-opening experience. I have been to similar services in the States, but to be here, in the birthplace of Anglicanism, witnessing these age-old customs was awe-inspiring. A deep sense of tradition and collective history pervaded every moment of the service. It’s very interesting, as a citizen of the great Melting Pot, to participate in an event like this. The entire time I’ve been in the UK, I have been absolutely stunned at how truly saturated daily life is with history. Living in Princeton, of course we see the little blue historical marker signs and are reminded of the various battles that took place there during the Revolution; but here in England, 1776 is practically yesterday. To think that what I experienced today has been performed in this way (or nearly this way) since the time of Henry VIII, is absolutely mind-blowing to me. As a self-proclaimed history buff, I was utterly and completely breathless simply being in the presence of the beautiful traditions of Anglicanism.
In all honesty, I still can’t believe that I’m here. Even though, as I look at the calendar, I realize that my time here is almost up, it still doesn’t feel real. How did we get so lucky? I could never have imagined how deeply this experience would change my cultural world view and perspective on education, but believe me when I say that this has been an illuminating adventure. As I gazed up at the ornate ceilings of the Cathedral this morning, I was reminded of something Dr. Jordan said to me just the other day. He said, “Now you understand why you’re here. It changes you. It changes the choir.” He could not have been more right. We often use the phrase “life-changing” quite liberally. (“Oh wow that chocolate cake was life-changing!”) But I feel completely justified in saying that my life has been changed by Oxford. While you’ve probably gathered by now that I’m no stranger to hyperbole, I promise you 100% that I mean it when I say that I will never be the same having been in this most hallowed place.
Not a bad way to spend the day off.