Monday, March 10, started with an excellent rehearsal with Suré at Gregory Rose’s home. She and I seemed to be in a particularly good mind-meld today, and both the Barber and Avebury cycles went well, which we took as a good omen.
On the other hand, for unknown reasons, my laptop computer at the hotel had stopped connecting to the internet, even though it had worked perfectly for the three previous days and shows strong wi-fi connection – just no internet access. So today I brought the laptop to rehearsal, and afterward Suré and I decided to get off at the Canary Wharf Dockland’s Light Rail (DLR) overland train stop because there was a big mall and Costa’s there. Costas are all over London, and quite similar in business to US Starbuck’s – coffees and pastries, light sandwiches, etc. – with free wi-fi available for customers, allowing me to post a blog from there.
After that it was back to the hotel and a meeting with Grace and Marge who were ready to pounce for High Tea at the Clarendon! It had been a long time since I had actually sat down to a real high tea, and so it was fun – way more food than we could eat, of course, including: fresh-made finger sandwiches [smoked salmon & cream cheese, egg mayonnaise & mustard cress, honey roast ham & mustard], fruit scones, clotted cream, strawberry preserve cakes, and Twining Teas selection.
Afterwards, it was time to get ready for the evening outing to St. Martin’s theatre and the 25,549th performance of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap! The play’s claim to fame is that it is the longest running consecutive show in theatre history, opening on November 25, 1952 and continuing to show at St. Martin’s to this day. The theatre itself was quite spiffy and newly-renovated-looking, done in a combination of brilliant red and gold fabric and shiny dark wood. There was also an impressive domed glass ceiling. The 2-act play was fun and interesting, wonderfully written, with everyone having an opinion about “who done it.” But unfortunately I can’t tell you here, since during the final curtain call at the end of the show one of the cast members urged the audience to keep the tradition of not divulging the ending to others, but instead encourage them to come see it for themselves. So I am honoring that request here.
Tuesday, March 11, was essentially devoted to 1) Suré and I getting our last practice session in at Professor Rose’s house before Thursday’s concert, and 2) a lovely side trip to Canterbury Cathedral in Kent. I didn’t realize England had high speed trains, but they certainly do. We rode the one from London’s St Pancras station to the Canterbury W station, and it took only 56 minutes. VERY comfortable, smooth and fast! The village of Canterbury was delightful – many small, modern shops, restaurants, tea houses, etc., set in an ancient location. But of course the glory and central attraction of the area is the cathedral, the center of Anglican church life to this day, still very much alive and well.
Canterbury is more or less the “Vatican City” of the Church of England, and was a great pleasure to visit. The cathedral is the home of the archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the Church of England and symbolic leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Its formal title is the Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Christ at Canterbury.
The building has historical depth which we in America can only dream of equalling. Founded in 597 (!), the cathedral was completely rebuilt from 1070 to 1077. The east end was greatly enlarged at the beginning of the 12th century, and largely rebuilt in the Gothic style following a fire in 1174, with significant eastward extensions to accommodate the flow of pilgrims visiting the shrine of Thomas Becket, the archbishop who was murdered in the cathedral in 1170. The Norman nave and transepts survived until the late 14th c., when they were demolished to make way for the present structures.
Our essential purpose for the trip was to attend Choral Evensong at the cathedral, at 5:30 pm. Amazingly, there has been a choral tradition at Canterbury Cathedral for 1,400 years (!). We heard the current resident choir of 25 boy choristers and 12 lay clerks. Boys are aged 8 to 13. They attend a local private school, St Edmund’s School, but for the most part are resident at the cathedral, where they study music extensively. There are 7 choral services a week, plus numerous extra services at Christmas, Easter and Pentecost, so there is plenty to do and learn. In October 2013 the cathedral established a voluntary girls’ choir, thus sanctioning the first female singers IN THE HISTORY OF CHORAL SINGING at the cathedral (!). What we heard was absolutely wonderful – professional sounding in every way: great ensemble, intonation and balance, plus astounding beauty of tone, all set in the glory and gloom of that ancient cathedral – it was a haunting experience, to be sure. The level of discipline, order, musical accomplishment and, really, dignity, the boys displayed was truly impressive, and eye-opening. The lesson we all took away from it was ‘children will essentially live up to (or down to) whatever expectations are placed on them.’ We were duly impressed with the training and accomplishments of these boys!
Afterwards we all had a lovely meal at a “mod” Italian restaurant called Prezzo – excellent food, for which we were all famished! Gracie had to make a faux phone call from one of the red British phone boxes before we departed Canterbury for home! She said this was the best day of the trip so far, and we all agreed!