Friday, May 14, 2010

Prime Time

Yesterday was fun, but nothing too earth-shattering. The day started fairly normally. I was up and functioning around 9 and we had good rehearsals at the chapel. Then we headed down to the pier to ride the ferry downriver to Greenwich. I don’t think I will ever be a big fan of boats! It was enjoyable, but I prefer land.

At Greenwich, we (Nathan, Steve, Emily, Jake, Allen, Phil, and I) ate lunch at a fabulous Italian restaurant. Then we headed up to the Royal Observatory/Prime Meridian location, running into Ruth Eldredge on the way. I’m glad that I know Ruth and will be seeing a lot of her over the summer, both on this trip and at Cambridge. Seeing the Prime Meridian was cool, but I liked the camera obscura better; the technological abilities that people had a long time ago are amazing! It was also fun to see most of the clocks that Harrison made to deal with the longitude issue. However, now I’m not sure which museum has the real H1…

Then we rushed down the hill to get to the rehearsal on time. They were actually starting later than we thought, so we got to visit with the director for a bit. Harry Christophers is an interesting and very gifted fellow. I liked the rehearsal, but I wish when the director had spoken, he had spoken louder for our benefit. I liked Harry Christophers’ rehearsal style. He knows his singers and allows for flexibility and fun, in moderation. The difference with his choir and most other choirs is the dependence he can have on their ability to resume focus very quickly. They would snap back into serious rehearsal mode at the drop of a hat and produce incredible sounds from the downbeat.

I also appreciated how he rehearsed the pieces. They would sing a few pages, or just measures, fix any problem (or just review) and then they were off to another section, pages ahead. Obviously, they were rehearsing music that they are incredibly familiar with, but this style during the polishing time was impressive. We do some of that at BYU, but I think we can’t do as much as they do because we don’t snap back into serious mode quickly enough.

After the rehearsal, we heard from Sally Dunkley, the group’s musicologist. All throughout the afternoon/evening we enjoyed the aid of Simon Berridge, a member of both the church and The Sixteen. He is a great man and will be helping us in a workshop and at Cambridge.

Phil, Jake, and I then explored Greenwich and found a small cafe for dinner. It was ok food, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else! After that, I grabbed some postcards, so those can start getting sent out soon! As we strolled back to the chapel, we walked past Trinity College, one of London’s conservatories. They have practice rooms with windows! There was someone practicing the violin and looking out an open window! I was a little jealous. I’ll have to look more into Trinity College, and not just because of the above-ground practice rooms!

Then we attended the official concert. I enjoyed it more than The Tallis Scholars. It was not for intonation, the Tallis Scholars had a little better pitch. But seriously, pitch complaints at tonight’s concert were only noticeable to musicians; they were incredibly in tune for the bulk of the performance. What did it for me was the great dynamic contrasts. This gave the concert a strong feeling of engagement. All of the performers really wanted to be there. My only wish was that I had gotten more sleep last night so I wouldn’t have been fighting sleep during the first half; I’ll admit that I fell asleep for about 5-10 minutes in a really long piece that we had heard during the rehearsal. Two nights ago was a late night! And as a side note, the chapel was gorgeous!

Today was interesting for a few reasons, but we will get to those as they arise in the day’s recounting. The morning was fairly typical, but we went to catch the coach behind Royal Albert Hall instead of going to the church.

When we got to Oxford, we wandered through town to meet at the Sheldonian Theatre. On the way, we passed the recital hall that seniors give their recitals at, where Haydn and Handel gave some premieres. Such history! Once we figured out the plan, I ran into the Bodleian Library Admissions Office and got things sorted out for using the collections to do my Hubert Parry research project. The lady who helped me was great and gave me my reader’s card. It is beyond cool to have official access to some of the oldest and largest collections in the world. After that was sorted out, Emily, Emilie, and I headed for lunch at McDonald’s. It was nice to have some true American food and sit in a familiar setting for a while.

We met up with Ruth Eldredge to head over to the Headington Girl’s School. We took a short bus ride and walked up to a gorgeous estate. We had a great time exploring the school’s new music building and attending classes with the girls. The building was finished within the last year and is immaculate. Their recording capabilities and the whole situation is great for educating young people about music. One of their great ideas was naming each room after a famous English composer and having it as a timeline, of sorts, from the department head’s office, all the way around the building. I was impressed with how eager the girls were to learn. I don’t think it likely for me to ever teach young people, but if I had to, it would be in such a situation. At the end of the afternoon, they had biscuits and drinks for us to enjoy and gave us two CDs. The English are so hospitable.

We had a little time before out rehearsal, so I went over to the special collections building and checked my plans with them. They copied my letter that has Dr. Bush’s signature on it and gave me instructions about officially requesting manuscripts when I’m about to arrive in a few weeks. Afterwards, I slipped into another room and used the internet. It was such a wonderful feeling to be sitting at a table in a university library again. And it was great to have a password that gave me access to their library system internet network. Taking such joy in these things reminds me why I have a goal of being a professor.

Jake, Scott, Ryceejo, Allen, Heather, and I met up for rehearsal with Wadham College at about 5:30. The chapel was very cold! We sang around the piano, underneath the organ. The organist wasn’t there. The rehearsal went well, but it was funny how loose the standards were. Not that the singers were bad, they are great sight readers and singers. They just had some texting going on and the policy about attendance is very lax. It was interesting to me that their director is from the US, near New York and Boston. It was fun to sing tenor. If I end up singing tenor in the fall, it will be good training for me to hear inner parts better.

After the rehearsal, the director allowed me to go up and see the organ. I played a short bit to feel the action and to hear the different ranks the organ had. The action was heavy and the sound was incredible. She said I can have a little bit of time on Sunday, so I will bring some music to actually play! (Another note: I got an e-mail from the neighboring college in Cambridge, Selwyn, saying that I can practice on their instrument while I am there for two months. Their organist will meet with me to iron things out, introduce me to the porters and give me keys! So many doors are opening for me!)

Jake and I wandered to find a bite to eat after rehearsal (I had my first Cornish pasty — so good!) and then we met the group to travel back to London. I’m actually typing this as we drive. Maybe this means I will get to sleep at a decent hour tonight! Now that I’ve gotten to watch the countryside, I’m realizing how much it looks like Virginia. Honestly, if the cows were replaced by sheep, Virginia could pull of the look. At least, for this region of the country.

Today really was great! I’ve seen English countryside, learned to love Oxford (and hoped that Cambridge has a similar feel), played an incredible organ, sung in an ancient chapel, gotten access to the Bodleian, and just had a great time all around! I’m so happy to be studying here for a summer, and can’t wait to be here for an even longer time!

As a side note, blogger is giving me troubles uploading pictures, so check out my new picassa album. It has all of my London pictures and I will keep uploading all of them, enjoy! To get to it, click on the picture slideshow to the right.

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