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15th September 2009

Exeter College Choir tours the US

Following the success of their Paris tour, and Evensong in Westminster Abbey, the Choir travelled to the USA. Their 10-day tour took them from New York to Boston, Harvard and Williamstown, singing in secular and sacred venues – and with plenty of chances to experience some American culture as they went. One of our sopranos shared her experiences with us…

‘New York New York’ – Exeter Choir tours the States by Becca Rees (2008, English)

Just as sleepy school children returned to classrooms and offices finally returned to a full complement of staff after the summer holidays, Exeter College Chapel Choir left Blake/Parry’s green and pleasant land and hopped across the pond for a choir tour to the East Coast of America.

Our first stop was Manhattan, where we stayed for 6 days and during which we sang Evensong at Trinity Church Wall Street, Eucharist at St John the Divine, a concert at the University Club to coincide with the 700th Campaign Launch for alumni in the U.S and a concert in the Theological Seminary Chapel. Singing at Trinity was a sobering experience – we were there on the eve of the 9th anniversary of 9/11. The mood in the financial district, and specifically in the church where so many firemen came in between shifts during that time, was very reflective. Our music for Evensong, Purcell’s canticles in g minor and an anthem taken from Tippett’s Child of our Time, fitted this sombre mood well, and it was a privilege to sing in that church. By contrast, we could not have been too loud in St John’s, which has the space of over two football pitches to fill! There we sang Mozart’s Spatzenmesse, Howells’ O Salutaris Hostia and Bruckner’s Os Justi. Our incoming Junior Organ Scholar, Josh Hales, was able to play the big bad organ in St John’s – by no means an instrument of insignificance! With those two services and our concerts at the Seminary and the University Club done, we had a couple of days to enjoy New York, hiring bikes to cycle round Central Park, wandering around 5th Avenue, seeing the Met, the Guggenheim, the Frick, and sampling all sorts of wonderful food from the different districts.

From this hub of busyness and activity, reaching Williamstown was a shock to the system! Williamstown is situated in a particularly quiet part of Massachusetts, where cows are seen as frequently as people (which finally made sense of the Williams College cow mascot!). It was a beautiful place, and the students at Williams were very generous to us while we stayed with them. During our stay there we were shown the local Art Gallery, which had a Prendergast exhibition showing, as well as some impressive permanent pieces by Hopper and Warhol. Our concert that evening went very well, and the highlight was our new choral scholar, Alexei Kalveks, strutting out from the back row and taking the stage to sing a very dramatic solo part of ‘New York, New York’, much to many a soprano’s surprise and delight!

We left Williamstown early the next day, and arrived in Cambridge, Massachusetts ready for our concert in the Harvard Memorial Chapel. Following this, Paul, one of our tenors who did his undergraduate degree at Harvard, showed us round the university, which satisfied any Oxford-homesickness! We then travelled into Boston and spent the rest of the day looking around, ending up at a Middle Eastern restaurant for dinner to celebrate the end of the tour. We had a brilliant evening, and it was lovely to be joined by Exeter’s Development Director, Katrina Hancock, and the Finance Bursar, William Jensen, both of whom travelled to the States for the Campaign Launch and were a great support to the choir. We finished our tour the following lunchtime with a final concert in Trinity Church, Boston, which was brilliant. Trinity Church is home to stained glass windows designed by Edward Burne-Jones, an Exonian, who also designed the tapestry that hangs in Exeter College Chapel. We sang particularly well in this final concert (none of us yet bored of the magnificent Five Negro Spirituals from Tippett’s Child of our Time) and we filled the church, which was a great affirmation and a real encouragement.

Having just spent such a wonderful time together in America, the choir are well set up for an exciting term ahead, which promises a performance of Faure’s Requiem and the premier of our commissioned setting of Psalm 121 by Jonathan Dove.

The Choir is grateful to those who have supported this tour, in particular: Exeter College, Mr Peter Thompson, Dr & Mrs Cochrane, Ms Fiammetta Rocco, Mr Mike Mason, Mr Patrick Handley, Mr Peter Job, Mr Andrew Knight, Mr Peter Duffy, Fr Hugh Wybrew, Mr Dennis Stevenson, Mr William Jensen, Mr Eric Bennett and Darby’s Solicitors.

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