Dominic Brenton reflects on this year’s choir holiday.
This year’s choir holiday was always going to be a special one for me. It was the first one on which Rachel, my fiance, would be joining me and it took me back to Norwich, the city where I had spent three happy years as a student and, in particular, its cathedral, where I had been a regular member of the congregation in those days.
We joined the others on a rather damp Wednesday at Hethersett Old Hall School, our base for the stay, having travelled up a couple of days earlier to explore West Norfolk under our own steam. The adult common room, where we caught up with friends after the summer break, looked very comfortable with lots of squashy sofas and good tea-making facilities.
Our accommodation in general was very good and catering was reckoned to be possibly the best ever for a choir holiday, with a salad buffet available as well as a hot meal and, even better, the cooked breakfast included all the important ingredients, rather than just a couple each day. Ken and Margaret Stott brought their cheese board but, due to the size of suppers provided, it never saw the light of day. There can probably be no greater compliment!
Norwich Cathedral boasts the second highest cathedral spire in the country after Salisbury as well as some fine examples of Norman architecture, very much reminiscent of Romsey. It is a very inspiring setting in which to sing.
Our first service celebrated the feast of St. Bartholemew and, very appropriately for me, included the Evening Service in F by Peter Aston, formerly Professor of Music at the University of East Anglia, under whose conductorship I sang in the University Choir during my student days there. The anthem was The Spirit of the Lord, Elgar’s glorious setting of verses from Isiah that acts as the prologue to his oratorio The Apostles. This too was very apt for me, since the first time I sang it was in this very building, as part of an enlarged cathedral choir at city’s Civic Service in the year I graduated. All in all, then, it was good to be back.
Subsequent services were more contemplative in character. The full choir gave an assured performance at Evensong on the Friday of Thomas Morley’s Fauxbourdons service and Orlando Gibbons’ anthem Almighty and everlasting God; on the Saturday the men sang music by Sumsion and Matthew Locke.
The festive mood returned at the start of the Sung Eucharist on the Sunday, however, with Harold Darke’s exhilarating setting of the Gloria, underpinned by full organ, ably played throughout the week by David Coram. The sublime Agnus Dei later in the service set the mood ideally for the administration of the sacrament. I learned afterwards from old friends at the cathedral that this Eucharist setting does not feature in the repertoire of its own choir, so it was good that we were able to bring it to wider attention.
Further celebratory music at the Sunday afternoon Evensong – Dyson in D and Vaughan Williams’ Let all the world in every corner sing – brought our worship in Norwich to a rousing conclusion. Yet singing holidays aren’t just about music and, as ever, some enjoyable excursions were organised by Dick Hewett. The boys enjoyed a mini-cruise on a steamer through the Norfolk Broads and a visit to a medieval fair near Swaffham. This featured displays of armed – not to mention armoured – combat through the ages – and much more. The men joined them for a day out at Bressingham Gardens, which boasted not one but three steam railways; a good time was certainly had by all.
The surreal end to the week was a military drill session with Joe O’Brien; after a legendary dormitory inspection on the holiday at Truro a couple of years ago, some of the boys knew what to expect – but then it was the adults’ turn
Whilst it was interesting for me to revisit old haunts, therefore, life moves on and there is so much more to which Rachel and I can look forward next year.