January 16, Thursday: Ely Cathedral and St. John's College Chapel, Cambridge

By Kristina Libbey, junior alto
Major: Music Business

Ahoy from Cambridge!

We’ve finally made it to the other idyllic university town of England! We started out a little bit earlier today with an 8:30 bus call. Before catching the bus we were provided another delightful full English breakfast in the classy ballroom of our city centre hotel. Once full of the delicious cereal, yogurt, eggs, and bacon (quite different from the American kind) we took a 45-minute bus trip to Ely Cathedral.  Once we arrived we dropped off our concert attire and got a full tour of this amazing medieval cathedral.

We were split into two tour groups and we learned so much from the delightful guides, who clearly love the cathedral and who had many stories to tell about it and the people who have used it through the ages and who continue to use it fully today.  Our guide was such a joy to learn from. Like many of the other local guides we’ve encountered, she was very excited and joyous to tell us about “her” church, and everything she knew about it. She wanted to make us aware that they have placed all artwork and artifacts, collected over 1500 years, on display.   They don’t like to “keep things in cupboards, hidden away” but instead, want to share this historic and beautiful treasure trove for everyone’s enjoyment.  The Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral (where we sang our afternoon concert) is very well known.  It’s actually unusual in terms of medieval design, as it is quite a large chapel, and is a completely separate room. In the Lady Chapel we also found “touchdown Mary,” a work of art commissioned in celebration of the millennium.  It is a beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary, in which she is portrayed as a very “real” person—young, determined, and with her arms open to the challenges of her life.

After our tour we rehearsed in the Lady Chapel. We discovered what an amazing space it is for singing and has a 7 second reverb. Our rehearsal went swimmingly- we all fell in love with the space right away!  We were also promised this would be the coldest place we would perform- but it was a surprisingly mild day! We surely did luck out! While we were rehearsing, Dave Collier and Dr. Eric Saylor took the tour up to the top of the beautiful octagonal lantern/tower of the cathedral. They had not done the tour on a previous trip and really enjoyed it! We were all really jealous they had the time to get up and see the infrastructure of the astonishing lantern, with its 32 panels of stained glass and painted angels,  the beautiful view of this gorgeous cathedral from within, and also of the surrounding countryside.   

After a successful rehearsal, we had a few minutes to find a quick lunch on the High Street.  Many people found sandwiches, Panini’s, scones, and potato jackets (a form of loaded potatoes).  Then it was time to jump into our formalwear.  We are getting quite proficient at changing fast in awkward spaces.

Our concert in the Lady Chapel was absolutely phenomenal. We had a large and extremely enthusiastic audience and afterward many of them shared compliments with us. Most of us agreed that this was one of our best concerts of the tour so far.

Ely Cathedral

The Lady Chapel

We left a few minutes late from Ely, running into a small spurt of hail before the remaining sunny bus ride back to Cambridge and to our rehearsal at St. John’s College Chapel.  We had a quick rehearsal at St. John’s Chapel and discussed the amazing concert we’d had earlier and well as reflecting on how to create a “new wonderful” for the concert that evening.   While we were waiting to leave the rehearsal we all joyously joined in an informal sing of Good King Wenceslaus. We were feeling good from this day!  After this we went back to the hotel and had a few hours before the concert to find food and get ready for the performance.

The evening performance at St. John’s College Chapel in Cambridge had a very different feel than the earlier Lady Chapel concert.  (In fact, that has been true of every concert, which is part of the point of touring.) The Chapel, whose choir is one of the two renowned musical establishments at Cambridge University--the other is King’s--is rather dark, shadowy, and round.  It was easy to create a warm sound.  Our audience included Ms. Linda Vanderpool, teaching artist in the Drake Music Department, who was visiting her cousin in Cambridge, as well as university students and townspeople.  One of the listeners was a student whose mother had heard us in Gloucester Cathedral and had phoned him to say that he should not miss our performance.

We are proud to have maintained a high level of consistency on this tour but today we’ve raised the musical standard to an even higher level.  With three performances left, including singing in the prestigious St. Paul’s Cathedral and at St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London, as well as in a small town in Essex, we’re eager to challenge ourselves to getting better and better!


St. John's College Chapel, Cambridge

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