Report of our visit to Bath Abbey to sing choral Matins and Evensong on Palm Sunday, 9th April 2006
It was a day that we will all remember to the end of our lives, a moment which most of us in the choir have never experienced before and perhaps never may again. The Bath Abbey choir was on holiday on Palm Sunday and Parnham Voices had been chosen to stand in at both matins and evensong.
It was a noticeably anxious group that assembled just after 10 a.m. outside a coffee shop in the Abbey precinct; would we get the music right (we had practiced hard notwithstanding that the Abbey had only told us at the last moment which psalms to sing); would our 18 voices be heard in such an enormous space; how would we get on split by a yawning chasm of an aisle between the cantoris and decani sides of the stalls; would we do justice to an introit composed specially by our director John Mingay, but above all were we going to find our way into the choir stalls without mishap having never been there before.
There was no need to worry. We went into the Abbey through the choir gate, and occupied the Abbey shop where we had a quick warm up. The member of the clergy taking the service arrived, gave us a welcome and made clear that she was intending to be cantor during the responses whatever. This did throw us a bit as women priests sing an octave higher. Then the crucifer led us out of our room and we were away. It was good to break the ice at the west end of the Abbey (the congregation had their backs to us) where we sang an introit, "If Ye Love Me" by Tallis. Then it was the procession, a long walk up to the choir stalls while we sang Ride on Ride on in Majesty at the tops of our voices, in unison and started to feel more confident. Two by two we bowed to the altar and then swung round left or right into the stalls. We were home and safe; from then everything fell into place.
Bath Abbey is low church, something which certainly suited me. We did our singing the high point of which was a Te Deum by William Byrd, on our own unaccompanied. This went surprisingly well considering that much of the time we split between decani and cantoris, with only half the choir singing at a time. The acoustics were perfect.
We listened to a delightfully iconoclastic sermon, sang the last hymn, processed out and looked for somewhere to have a quick lunch.
Evensong was very different and more like a concert for the congregation to listen to. John Mingay's introit "In Due Season" was a sublime moment. We sang a beautiful magnificat and nunc dimittis (in choir jargon known as the mag and nunc) by Gibbons again. By the end of the service concentration was beginning to wane and perhaps we didn't do as well as we might have done in the anthem, (another Gibbons; "Hosanna to the son of David") but perhaps the congregation didn't notice.
There is no rest for the weary, next up is a concert inTeignmouth on May 6th.
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