Barely three weeks into a new academic year, after only a handful of rehearsals, the Choir found itself on the road again. The contrast could not have been greater between this trip and our last Choral Evensong on 28th February, when our Longmynd coach battled its way through rapidly-accumulating snow to Hereford Cathedral, for a chilly service sparsely attended by a loyal handful of hardy and very warmly wrapped-up parents.
In balmy, cloudless late September sunshine the Choir - for reasons of space in the Chapel minus the new Third Form recruits - set off in the late morning from the School. An early start time for the service, 5:15 pm, precluded the possibility of down time amongst the dreaming spires – a hasty cup of tea in a café across Broad Street, squashed in between rehearsal and service, had to suffice; but the sun-filled, intimate magnificence of the Trinity College quad provided all the atmosphere we needed.
The Choir and congregation of parents, prospective parents, Old Salopians, current and former members of staff filled the Chapel and roughly balanced each other out. Recently reopened after extensive renovation, this perfectly proportioned and intimate space seemed ideally suited to the musical fare on offer.
Arthur Hope Barton, a remarkably accomplished Third Former and only in his fourth week at Shrewsbury, provided us with a Bach Fugue as an opening organ voluntary. This was followed by the contemporary American composer Stephen Paulus’ exquisite reworking of the Spiritual The Road Home, setting an appropriately tranquil atmosphere for the service to come, which included music from many different eras.
The Tudor period was represented by William Byrd’s B minor Canticles and the Ayleward Responses, the late Romantic period by the anthem, Fauré’s Cantique de Jean Racine, with the pervading air of calm briefly brushed aside by Stanford’s rousing arrangement of Psalm 150. The service was brought to a magnificent close with one of the happiest ever marriages of words and melody, Love Divine to the stately triple-time tune Blaenwern, with the combined voices of choir and congregation surely audible some way down Broad Street.
Spiritually refreshed, the more earthly needs of the Choir were catered for in the magnificent college hall, cheek-by-jowl with undergraduates up early for the Michaelmas Term.
Refreshed and reinvigorated, a short walk through the timeless streets of Oxford took us to the buses parked outside Blackfriars in St Giles before one Arcadia was forsaken for another.
The occasion was graced by the presence of many distinguished Old Salopians as well as by that of our new Headmaster, Leo Winkley, with his wife Jules, who attended Trinity College as an undergraduate. As ever, the inspiration behind this grand day out was provided by Director of Chapel Music Alex Mason and organist Dr John Godwin – the latter, happily for us, back at Shrewsbury teaching Classics again after several attempts at retirement.