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.
I can't come up with the appropriate words so I'll just say thank you for that, Thomas. My husband and I stayed for Evensong after a visit to St Paul's in 2007. Trouble was, there was no 'song' at that particular service. We'll have to try again another time…and have tissue at hand.
Beautiful! Thanks for sharing.
Now you might be shocked and possibly disbelieving but I have lived in London over a decade and I have never been inside St Pauls, outside lots, but never inside.
Wonderful wonderful post. I worked about a two minute walk from St Pauls for 4 years and only went inside the cathedral two days before I finally left my job (I thought it would be ridiculous if I didn't go at all so I ran around one lunchtime, trying to take it in in a 40 minute slot – which is not really possible). Next time I am in London though, I will visit properly. You have inspired me.
thanks for sharing
I love hearing about your time spent in London. What a lovely post! You've made me want to visit St Paul's again.
Lovely video. I was once at Evensong at Gloucestershire Cathedral when I was studying abroad at the Univ. of Gloucestershire. Also, I love hearing the organ in a cathedral. I think it was Tewkesbury Abbey where I heard an organist practicing.
I will forever kick myself for not going to St. Paul's Cathedral for Easter service. My friend and I were backpacking it and didn't feel dressed up enough to go, so we went to a church near the hostel instead.
I did visit it on another day though.
I live near London and have only been in a couple of times (before they started charging the extortinate fees that they do)but Ive never been to a service there.
Darlene: Next time you are in London on a Sunday go to St. Pauls or Westminster Abby for morning service and then go to St. Brides in the evening for Evensong. I blogged about it a few weeks a ago. It shouldn't be missed.
Susan: I am glad you liked it.
Simon S: Doesn't surprise me. There are some iconic things in DC I have yet to do.
Hannah: Even if you aren't a believer, going to a service is a great way to experience a church. And you don't have to pay the entrance fee.
Skirmish: St Pauls was high on my list when I got to London. I was an impressionable 12-year old when Charles and Diana were married so it was etched in my brain of places I needed to visit.
Christy: I say as long as you behave it doesn't matter how you are dressed. And speaking of Gloucester, in 1989 on my first trip to the UK I went to the Three Choirs Festival which was in Gloucester that year.
Chris and Jess: Thanks for stopping by. If you go to a service you don't have to pay to get in. On the other hand the entrance fee at least helps pay for the magnificent edifice.