- David Acres
Canterbury Cathedral and Westminster Abbey
Updated: Jul 19, 2019
It was a wonderful experience for the King's Counterpoint to sing in Canterbury and London last year. Only three people in the choir has been to Canterbury before, so it was a great adventure and an awe-inspiring journey of discovery for the rest of the choir. We stayed in various hotels and bed and breakfast establishments around the city and we had our first rehearsal on the morning of Monday, 6th August. England was going through a heatwave and our rehearsal room was in All Saint's Chapel, a small room approached via a steep, long, narrow flight of stone steps. Our singing could be heard down in the South West Transept, via an internal window. The Cathedral was having major works carried out in the Nave and also on the organ, but these detracted in no way from the glories of our visit. There were large congregations at every service and we received some wonderful comments from the members of the church and congregation every day, to let us know how much our singing was appreciated. We sang Evensong from Monday to Saturday and Sung Eucharist and Evensong on Sunday. The music included works by Bainton, Dove, Howells, Lang, Lotti, Murrill, Palestrina, Purcell, Stanford, Sumsion and Victoria. On Wednesday and at the Sunday morning Eucharist, we sang music especially written for our visit by the composer Graham Keitch, which was very well received by the clergy, and in particular by the Dean.
On the evening before our departure, several of us met-up with Ian Roberts, our guide and help during our time at the Cathedral, and he came equipped to arrange the choir's 'next visit'! This has been agreed for early August 2021.
On the morning of our departure to London we sang the spiritual, There is a Balm in Gilead to the Dean in appreciation of our welcome and sojourn at the Cathedral. Here is the last half of the piece, sung in the cloisters before the Dean departed for a holiday to France. The solo is sung by Dec 1 Tenor, Wayne French.
We left for England later in the afternoon and were 'royally' welcomed at Westminster Abbey the following day. We sang the daily service up to Friday of that week, Our rehearsal rooms were in Cheneygates, adjacent to the Abbey, and we stayed in hotels close to the church. On Monday evening we were treated to a 'private' look around the Abbey by David Martin, who is a lay clerk in the Abbey Choir. He showed us many different parts of the church and gave us a fabulous guided tour. After it was over he took us into the Private Gardens of the Abbey, College Gardens. This wonderful space has been a cultivated garden for over 900 years. In monastic times, it was used to grow food and medicinal herbs for the occupants of the Abbey. There was an orchard, as well as fishponds, beehives, and a separate plot for growing vegetables. We were treated to a Champagne Reception and, under the watchful eye of the Houses of Parliament, this was an extremely special and memorable occasion!
We rehearsed every morning in Cheyneygates. These are two rooms over the entrance to the cloisters, originally part of Nicholas Litlyngton's rebuilidng of the Abbot's house complex in the 14th century. Show below is the room that overlooking Dean's Yard.
There were an average of 700 people at every service that we sang at and the Evensong on Tuesday was a very special occasion. The choir sang Lang in F for the canticles and Stopford's There is no rose - it was musically a wonderful highlight of our tour. During the day there was plenty of time for downtime and many of us visited the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, Harrods, the Houses of Parliament - and of course, a few pubs! The community at the Abbey were most welcoming and the acoustic in the building, with all the stone and wood, was truly amazing! We were not able to record anything that we sang, but we all carry very fond memories of our stay in one of England's most famous and revered churches. One of the pieces we sang was Byrd's Ave verum - the version below was recorded this year at our Piccolo Spoleto concert on June 1st in Charleston.
We returned home on the morning of Saturday 18th August, carrying wonderful memories of singing glorious music to thousands of people, in some of the oldest sacred buildings to be found in England! We can't wait to return,