In 1992 I worked for six months in London. My arrival was nicely timed to coincide with Holy Week. Although still somewhat of a practicing Christian at the time, I was perhaps most interested in the musical opportunities that would be available during that period. My first Sunday service upon arrival was Palm Sunday at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
I don’t remember what the music was that Sunday 18 years ago, but I do remember one of the hymns ended with the use of the State Trumpet stop on the organ. The pipes are en chamade (horizontal rather than vertical) and are high above the nave over the enormous West Door of the cathedral. Since the main bits of the organ are in the choir and in the triforium near the huge central dome of Sir Christopher Wren’s magnum opus, the contrast between the trumpet stops over the West Door and the rest of the organ was truly amazing.
I also spent Good Friday at St. Paul’s and had a mystical music experience of another kind that brought tears to my eyes. The choir sang Allegri’s Miserere. When sung well it is a stunning piece with a solo tenor line and a solo (boy) soprano line that goes soaring up to a glorious high C (I think). I am not sure if they still do it, but that year at St. Paul’s they had a temporary altar set up under the Dome and the choir was under the Dome as well rather than back in the choir stalls. For this particular piece they put the soloists somewhere else in the Cathedral–I think they may have been up behind the high altar. Wherever they were the separation of the solo voices from the rest of the choir made the piece even more stunning. The effect was that the building itself became one of the musicians, enveloping all in an ethereal moment that I will never forget.
Here is the superb choir of Kings College, Cambridge singing the Misrere. If you don’t feel like sitting and watching all 9 minutes, I suggest you hit play, open another browser window and continue your journey through your favorite blogs while the music plays. I can guarantee that you will peek back to check out the video once you hear the boy soprano soar over the top of the rest of the ensemble.