Monday, October 22, 2007

Quiet Evensongs at New College

Two of the New College Choral Evensongs I’ve attended have been unaccompanied, no organ or instruments. Both were excellent services. The quiet in the spaces and just having voices for the prayers and anthems definitely adds a certain atmosphere in the dark chapel.

And the choir is more than good enough to pull it off. They are amazing.

In the past I thought the Choir of New College was excellent, but not quite my style. I generally prefer a lighter style of singing, such as that of King’s College, Cambridge. But I’ve found I like New College more in person than their recordings. In fact, they may be my favorite Oxford choir right now. (Magdalen is a very close second and probably better some nights.)

And I think I’ve figured out one reason why New College sounds different – the boys sing at closer to full volume than other choirs.

By the way, I consider the liturgy at New College superior overall to that of Magdalen or Christ Church, which is interesting coming from me given that the chaplain, Dr. Jane Shaw, could probably be considered in the reappraiser camp. Last night, we “miserable sinners” even did the whole 1662 confession.

One thing that helps is that she doesn’t preach mini-sermons to introduce prayers. A number of English priests have a bad habit of doing so I’ve noticed.


There’s so many moments here I could write about. I need to put more of them down here, as much as for me as for you.

Like last night, I was about to leave the main quad of New College after an excellent Choral Evensong when I heard a piano.

Oxford is a very musical place. Often you’ll hear music when you least expect it. Well, there’s this piano practice room right by the way out of the quad. And this student was practicing. He, playing a complex piece, was obviously quite good. So without him knowing I stopped and listened, turning back toward the quad.

There was the least bit of light remaining from dusk outlining the quad and the pinnacles of the chapel and hall. Light dimly showed through the stained glass windows. And it was quiet, just the piano providing a stirring background.

After a while, distant bells began ringing. For once, Oxford bells were out of place, at least then and there. And the student pianist paused to regain his bearings on the piece.

I took that as the time to walk on, content.

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