Teddy Hall Choir Diaries

10 Sep 2018

Choir Tour 2018
Choir Tour 2018

On Monday, the St Edmund Hall choir set sail for France (metaphorically, at least) for this year’s tour. Check back throughout the week for updates on their progress, as told by the choir members themselves. For more information on the tour, see here.

Day 1 (Monday 10 September), Alex Burgar

My name is Alex, and I’m one of the current soprano choral scholars at Teddy Hall, about to go into my second year studying German and Russian ab initio. At the moment, I’m on tour with the college chapel choir in Pontigny.

The first day of tour involved for many an early start, and for all, a lot of train travel. Once we had spent several hours on the Eurostar, Metro, and the train to St Florentin, we arrived in Pontigny, and were shown our rooms at the Mission. Following dinner, we headed to the abbey to have a quick sing and scope out the space. For me and the other freshers, this was our first time singing at Pontigny, and the abbey, with its stunning acoustic that rings ages after you’ve stopped singing, is easily the best place I’ve ever sung. Although this wasn’t a formal rehearsal, it was a valuable opportunity to get singing and start working on the music for the performances and services later in the week. In the evening, we had a chance to relax and unwind with some wine in the garden of the Mission.

The Choir rehearsing in Pontigny Abbey, conducted by Organ Scholar Viraj

Day 2 (Tuesday 11 September), Alex Burgar

Day 2 in Pontigny and rehearsals began. We rehearsed a varied repertoire in the morning, including Grieg, plainsong, and spirituals, in preparation for performances throughout the week. Interspersed with enjoying the glorious weather, the choir’s main aim for the day was rehearsing for the compline in the evening, when we sang Tye’s Nunc Dimittis and Tallis’ Te Lucis Ante Terminum, with senior organ scholar Viraj making his cantoring debut. We enjoyed the rich sound the abbey’s acoustic allows, as well as the amount of space compared to the Teddy Hall chapel. The echo in the abbey is really indescribable, and since compline is a very peaceful service, it was a wonderful end to the day.

Day 3 & 4 (Wednesday 12 & Thursday 13 September), Alex Burgar

On days 3 and 4, the music really started to come together, and the choir is starting to sound a lot more unified. Outside of rehearsing, we went to a local vineyard in Chablis for a wine tasting, followed by a visit to Chablis’ church, where we were treated to an impromptu organ recital by organ scholars Hagen and Viraj. Some members of the choir, mostly the choral scholars, also went to sing some pieces without any of the pressure of an impending performance, in the abbey, which was a great way for us to have a sing together before the group of scholars changes with the new academic year.

I’m leaving the tour today to go on my year abroad so someone else will be taking over here, but I’m really grateful to have been able to go on the tour and spend time with the amazing people who make up the choir. Thanks must go to everyone involved, but especially Chris, Paddy, Justin, and the organ scholars.

The choir singing at the shrine of St Edmund in Pontigny
The choir in front of the shrine of St Edmund, in Pontigny Abbey

Day 5 (Friday 14 September), Olivia Payne

Hi, I’m Olivia, and I’m taking over from Alex for the next few days. I’m a sixth-year medical student and I’ve been in choir since my first year, so I’m a tour veteran compared to most of the choristers!

Today was the big day, with the concert in l’abbaye de Pontigny bringing us to a spectacular conclusion to a wonderful time in Pontigny. First, however, we had a marathon of a rehearsal in the morning, polishing the pieces and making sure we sounded as good as we possibly could. We were also recovering from the festivities of the night before, where the choir presented gifts of wine and goodies to the people who made this tour possible – Paddy Carpenter, Justin Stead, and of course our Director of Music Chris Bucknall. We also took the opportunity to sing the Hymnus de Sancto Edmundo (with words written by the 1930s chaplain of the College, Austin Farrer) in front of St Edmund’s remains in the abbey. This was recorded and will be on the College’s YouTube page soon – watch this space!

It was then time for the concert, and the choir was very excited to show off all we’d learnt over the course of the week. The performance was absolutely beautiful, with the notes ringing around the gorgeous acoustics of the abbey. It was probably my favourite concert I’ve ever performed with the choir, and it really demonstrated how vital these tours are – the whole choir was able to come together and grow in musicality and friendship.

The choir was very sorry to say goodbye to Alex, and we wish her all the best in Russia and Germany in the next year!

Tomorrow, we look forward to our performances in the Collège des Bernardins, where we’ll be performing a selection of the pieces from tonight’s concert. Entry is free, and the performances will be at 14:30, 15:30 and 16:30. If you happen to be in Paris, we’d love to see you there!

Day 6 (Saturday 15 September), Olivia Payne

Today was an early start, as we had to get the train from Pontigny to Paris in order to perform at the Collège des Bernardins in the afternoon.

After a long train journey and a couple of metro journeys, we made it to the glorious college. The college was originally founded by Stephen of Lexington, a student of St Edmund at Oxford, with the building dating from the same time (the 13th century). It has a glorious colonnade, incredibly light and airy, and it was an absolute pleasure to perform there.

The performances (three in total) took place in the sacristy, which had a glorious acoustic even when it was packed full of people. Each performance started with Chris Bucknall and Viraj (our Organ Scholar) singing plainchant, and then the choir performed a selection of pieces from yesterday’s concert.

We then checked into our accommodation for the evening and headed to the home of Marie-Helène, who kindly hosted us in her beautiful apartment for dinner and drinks. The choir gave impromptu performances of Bruckner’s Locus Iste and Byrd’s Ave Verum, which went surprisingly well given that none of us had any music!

It’s another early start tomorrow as we fly back to England, bringing us to the end of our tour. We have all had an absolutely fantastic time and have improved so much as a choir, as well as solidifying the links between Pontigny, the Collège des Bernardins, and the Hall.

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