Here's the second of my two travelogue posts for the Music at All Saints Facebook page
It’s kind of ironic, really: back home, Thursdays are rehearsal nights for the All Saints Choir — the one day a week (other than Sunday) when we come together to make music. Here in England, however, everything is reversed: Thursdays are the one day a week when we have a break from our music-making and do whatever else we please. For the vast majority of us, it’s a day to go on an excursion to someplace new and photo-worthy. On Thursdays, we are tourists all day long.
On every other day of the week, the switch in and out of tourist mode is more nuanced. It’s a curious feeling: we are tourists until the late afternoon and then, with a swift costume change, we magically become a part of the attraction itself. Take this past Tuesday for example: in the morning, we were all graciously given a tour of Salisbury Cathedral. We wandered around the vast building, indistinguishable from the other international visitors who stared up at the stained glass. We were taken through the quire and told that the back rows had been there since the 13th century. Then, that same afternoon, we stood in those very wooden seats and sang for a congregation of people who had come from all over to attend an evensong at Salisbury Cathedral. Tourists by morning, tourist attraction by evening.
This alchemy was at work in Wells, but here in Salisbury the transformation is even more striking. The design of the cathedral is more open here, and when we rehearse (for 45 minutes to an hour) before the daily evensong, visitors to cathedral can hear and see us, and we them. Should any chorister’s eye dare stray past our conductor’s post, she would notice that, due west of Craig, just past a velvet rope, stand several curious onlookers. And they have cameras. And they are using them. Perhaps I flatter myself that they are photographing the rehearsing choir as opposed to the breathtaking section of the church we occupy, but I doubt it.
Because we are temporary guests here, we remain choral chameleons, constantly in flux from the observing to the observed. The best part of this arrangement is that each role enhances the other. Knowing that we are being observed and, presumably, held to the sky-high standard of the sacred space we occupy forces us to hold ourselves and our music to that same high standard. Better still, from the moment I first stepped foot into Salisbury Cathedral (and Wells before it), I felt my own awe for the space greatly magnified through the lens of our privileged role here. How amazing this space is…and how much more amazing that we get to fill it with song?
At our last service in Wells, we were moved by the generous phrase the canon added to our introduction. He said that having us had been “not only a pleasure, but also a privilege.” I think I speak for the whole choir, both there and here, when I say: My sentiments exactly.