We enjoyed a successful week singing at services in Newcastle Cathedral, Hexham Abbey and Carlisle Cathedral at the end of August. Our tour complemented a fund-raising walk along Hadrian’s Wall organised by George’s Trust.
Each day, between the morning practice and Evensong, we went out to join the walkers and offer moral support on their hike westwards. We also enjoyed visits to the Beamish open-air heritage museum and the Centre for Life in Newcastle.
Singing in three different buildings provided some interesting contrasts. We sang in Newcastle Cathedral on Monday 23 August. It felt rather gloomy – matters weren’t helped by heavy rain from overcast skies outside – but the clergy gave us a warm welcome. Hexham Abbey is similar in size and age to Romsey Abbey, yet quite different inside. It is split in two by a screen on which its modern Phelps organ sits – and its east end feels a lot darker than Romsey Abbey’s. Carlisle Cathedral was different again. Although only its east end remained (most of the Nave was demolished during the Civil War), with a high ceiling and spacious acoustic, it was a memorable building in which to sing.’
At services, we sang music from the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, including Save us, O Lord by Sir Edward Bairstow and O hearken Thou, by Sir Edward Elgar. A high point was our first performance on Saturday 28 August of Herbert Sumsion’s anthem They that go down to the sea in ships, a vivid depiction of mariners riding out a storm at sea. In the same service, Matthew Culley sang poignant solos in George Dyson’s Magnificat in F.
With their trek completed, walkers from George’s Trust joined us for the Sunday services in Carlisle. Along with one of the walkers, Sam Martin, Jane O’Brien, took the bread and wine up to the altar during the morning Eucharist. At Evensong, her son Henry, together with fellow walker Rob Newman, took his rightful place in the choir for Evensong.
At our final dinner later that evening, Joe O’Brien explained to the choir and walkers how much this walk had meant to him and his family. ‘George had wanted to do it in memory of his grandfather, who had died from prostate cancer. Emotionally, as the walk wore on, it actually got more difficult for us.’
Summing up the evening in his closing speech, Robert Fielding said that the words of the motet Ubi caritas by Maurice Duruflé, ‘where charity and love is, God is there’, encapsulated the whole purpose and experience of the week.
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