We made it! The Abbey were taking what they described as a ‘cautious’ approach – only sixteen singers permitted, single-file and masks on for processing, the men sitting two rows behind the women and no congregation allowed in the quire. It was a bit of a shame that our many family and friends who came along weren’t able to see us except on a TV screen in the transept, but at least we got to sing. Westminster Abbey is only having choral services on Friday to Sunday during the summer vacation, and we were delighted to be one of only a few (mostly London) choirs invited to sing there this year.
It was our fifth visit to the Abbey, and I’ve just been looking through the photos realising those of us who sang on the first visit are now ten years older! We’ve had several new members join us since then of course, including alto Naomi Warman who had a baptism of fire in our Covid-secure Christmas concert, David Chapman who is a fine addition to the tenor section, and we’re delighted that soprano Nadia Bunker is back after a child-rearing break.
On Friday we sang all 47 verses of Psalm 106 which I think will remain notorious in our minds, plus the contemplative Purcell’s ‘Thou knowest Lord the secrets of our hearts’, perfect for a Friday evensong, and the popular canticles setting in D by Charles Wood, organist and prolific composer who died in 1926.
Saturday was a slightly less low-key affair although nothing like the big services we’ve come to expect at the Abbey. The canticles setting was Kenneth Leighton’s Second Service (1971), and although we sang it two years ago at Rochester, it’s a challenging piece and there’s nowhere to hide in the vast, resonant space of the Westminster Abbey quire! Add to that the fact that most of us have sung very little in the last 18 months, and it made for an exciting sing. Our final anthem was Ireland’s famous ‘Greater Love hath no man’ (1912) – a moving piece with plenty of dynamic contrasts for the choir (and listeners, hopefully) to enjoy, and featuring lovely solos from soprano Liz Kelly and bass Tony Jay .
Our fine accompanist for the two Evensongs was Westminster Abbey organ scholar Charles Maxtone-Smith, who’s not only older than he looks, but has already had a great deal of experience. We think he’s on the way up!