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Posts Tagged 'westminster cathedral'

Some interesting choir school stuff…

I’ve banged the drum about as loudly as I possibly can for at least starting a conversation about the choir school as a potential model for youth musical education in Orthodox Christianity, and nobody can say that the idea wasn’t given something of a popular hearing; it’s just clear that it isn’t anything anybody wants to talk about any further right now. Well, for a lone blogger, I guess I could have done worse. But what if I’m not just a lone blogger anymore…?

Oh, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Anyway, I’m morally obligated to pass along interesting tidbits about choir schools as I find out about them (I’m kind of the Ain’t It Cool News of the topic, I suppose), so here are a couple of them.

  • A few years ago, the then-blog of Westminster Cathedral in London posted an eight minute promo reel for a proposed documentary series about their choir school. It was a major inspiration to me, even in those eight minutes, but alas, the series never got past the promo reel, and then the rightsholders asked that the video be taken down. Well, recently, it’s been put back up. Here it is:
  • The Choir School of Madeleine Cathedral in Salt Lake City, it has just come to my attention, is also the topic of a forthcoming documentary. The Choir. They are at present finalizing their festival schedule, I’m told, so I have no idea exactly what the release pattern might look like, but I’ll be fascinated to see what the end result looks like. Here’s a trailer:
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Nice ways to spend Valentine’s Day or, things I’ll probably only ever be able to pull of once, part VII

Monday was our last day in England. We had an early flight out of Heathrow on Tuesday, so we had to make the day count as much as possible.

First order of business was food and real coffee. (Did I say that I don’t understand this Nescafé nonsense?) Megan wanted to try a full English breakfast, so off we went. Several restaurants within a few blocks of our hotel advertised a full English breakfast, but upon closer inspection of menus all were missing a vital ingredient — that being, of course, black pudding. In fact, black pudding seemed to be nowhere to be found anywhere, with it being replaced wholesale by tomatoes. That being the case, we finally settled on a café in Leicester Square called Fiori Corner. It was good food despite a lack of blood sausage, and I can recommend it, but do be aware that they are cash only, and they will charge for coffee refills.

Following breakfast, we headed for the British Museum. Let me tell you, if you’ve never seen it before, the British Museum is huge — so huge that if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you might very well assume that what you’re looking at isn’t the British Museum, because no museum would ever be that big. (By the way, the British Museum is right across from a thoroughfare called Coptic Street, and about the history of which I would be fascinated to learn more.) Oh, and by the way, while the entrance is free, everything else is not. You’ll pay, I think, £6 or so for a reasonably basic guidebook and map, and more depending on how detailed and complete you want it.

Hey -- eyes up here, pal.

Hey -- eyes up here, pal.

The British Museum is also so big that there’s just no way you’re going to see everything in a day, or even in a week, maybe. You really have to pick a specific area of interest and spend time there. We decided on Anglo-Saxon England and Medieval Europe, while quickly walking through some other areas on our way to find the Rosetta Stone. Among other things, we saw the Sutton Hoo exhibit, which while having a rather high percentage of replicas and reconstructions is still fascinating — particularly since I took a class a few years ago where the professor had worked on the site in her grad school days and incorporate the material into her lectures.

Following the British Museum, we went to the Royal Academy of Arts for their Byzantium exhibit with a stop at a place called Rendezvous in Leicester Square for gelato. It was good and hit the spot, but it was definitely expensive. I’ll also point out that the sign they had posted to let people know they can’t sleep in doorways is a bit odd. It looks like the caption should be, “No sensual reclining in doorways.”

From Leicester Square, it’s maybe a ten minute walk tops to RAA; it looks a lot farther on the map than it actually is. Piccadilly Circus, by the way, is somewhat Blade Runner-esque; if I had been there at night it would have seemed even moreso.

RAA, unlike the British Museum, is not free; bring a student ID if you have one — it’ll save you a few pounds on the entrance fee. You also pay for a specific exhibit, not general admission to the museum. Also, unlike the British Museum, there is no photography allowed.

The Byzantium exhibit is stunning; the examples of iconography are really breathtaking  and leave you wanting to venerate them, even though there are ropes that quite handily keep you from doing so. There was also a 13th-century Syriac Gospel lectionary on display; that was pretty darn cool. Something that rankled a bit was the caption on the wall about church life that talked about how the iconostasis was to keep the unholy masses from even being able to see the altar and how the chanting was done by all-male voices, words that seemed specifically chosen to play up how backwards these Byzantines with their alien form of Christianity were, but I suppose the real question is, what should I have expected?

A humorous moment was at an icon depicting St. Thomas with the Risen Christ; while looking at it, I heard a woman’s voice say, “There’s Thomas, doubting away.” I glanced at the person who said this, and it was a woman who looked to be of Indian descent, prompting me to think, “Hey, he’s your patron saint, lady.”

One of the big takeaways for me from the Byzantium exhibit was how Orthodox Christianity didn’t engage Byzantine culture; it was the culture, in a way that I don’t know Christianity can ever be again, anywhere. I’m not sure what that means in the long run; that may be a blog post for another time.

A leisurely walk from RAA to Westminster Cathedral for Sung Mass took us through Green Park and past Buckingham Palace. We bought some tea and some other gifts from one of the many Buckingham Palace gift shops; Megan hoped to find a tea cozy, but those turned out to be as hard to find as black pudding, for some reason. Finally we had coffee at the Costa across the street from the Cathedral, and then it was time for Mass.

The boys, alas, were not in residence, and neither was Martin Baker, so it was just the lay clerks serving as the choir. Nonetheless, it was quite beautiful, as beautiful as I’ve ever seen a Mass in the Ordinary Form. Very much worthwhile.

We walked back to the hotel afterwards, with me pausing to be amused by a sign from the Considerate Builders Scheme, and started packing things up. We decided to go to the Sherlock Holmes Pub and Restaurant for dinner; please let me caution you against making the same mistake. It is a tourist trap with a capital T, capital TR. The food is expensive and not good enough to merit the price (although now I know what “Toad in the Hole” is, and it would be curious to try it again someplace better), and overall it is just not worth it at all.

The next morning, breakfast was at one of the Starbucks locations in Heathrow; seemed like it was time to start re-acclimating to the American world. At long last, around 10:30pm, reluctant to wake from the dream, we stumbled across the threshhold of our little house in Bloomington, with our once-in-a-lifetime long Valentine’s Day weekend adventure completed, and the real world now calling us back.

Having the story to tell, and the memories we have of there with each other, is worth it.

Pictures can be found here.

Nice ways to spend Valentine’s Day or, things I’ll probably only ever be able to pull off once, part IV

“I get really nervous about anniversaries and holidays,” Megan told about a month and a half ago. “You always come up with these big, extravagant, amazing things and I feel like all I have to offer is just some dumb little daisy.”

“That may be how you see it,” I said, “but to me it’s the most beautiful daisy I’ve ever seen.”

Thus it was that, on our Valentine’s Day in England, Megan was on a quest for daisies.

We finally found ourselves up and about around 11:30am; we were to meet Emily and her husband Frank at 3:30pm, so we had some time to kill. We set to finding real coffee (since the room was outfitted only with Nescafé and an electric kettle) and food; thankfully, we found both at the Caffé Strand just around the corner from our hotel. There we had excellent coffee, in fact, as well as terrific grilled croissants. I think we got out of there for around £11 — do note that they are cash only, if you are inspired to go. Also, I hadn’t realized before that if you’re just ordering coffee (rather than an espresso drink), the convention is to specify black or “white” (with cream added). If you just ask for coffee, they’ll ask you what kind.

We still had about three hours to kill and breakfast to walk off, so off we went.

It was a chilly but clear day; chilly enough that when we walked by the street vendor selling fresh roasted chestnuts that we got some, and nice enough for the obligatory hi-we’re-tourists-let’s-pose-with-Lord-Nelson’s-lions photos. (By the way, it’s a little harder to climb up there, as well as a farther jump down, than it immediately appears.)

From Trafalgar Square we walked to Westminster Abbey, passing a demonstration in the vicinity of Downing Street regarding an issue in Sri Lanka. I have to plead ignorance on what the exact issue was; a group called the Tamil Tigers was being protested as terrorists, with the British government having some involvement. For some reason I am not sure I can explain, I found the whole thing fascinating and am curious to know more.

From Westminster Abbey (we didn’t go in; I have something of an aversion to paying to go into churches) we walked to Westminster Cathedral. Now, when I was here a year and a half ago, I had no idea where I was going and walked from Victoria Station to Westminster Cathedral back to Victoria Station via a route so convoluted I don’t think I could reproduce it even if stinking drunk, blindfolded, and forced to walk backwards. Turns out it’s a straight shot along Victoria Street. That made me feel quite dumb.

Anyway — every time I’m in Westminster Cathedral I think to myself, “You know, you’re not actually using all of these beautiful Byzantine chapels… can I just take one back with me for my church?” There was a wedding going on while we were there; I suppose having one’s wedding at a landmark like that necessarily entails the presence of tourists. The one time I’ve been in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York there was also a wedding going on. We spent probably about an hour there; Megan’s souvenir was a bottle of holy water which she is going to send to her father.

We strolled back in the direction of Leicester Square, and met Frank and Emily at the Pret A Manger (“Ready to Eat”) in Leicester Square. “The Pret”‘s concept is, more or or less, organic and healthy fast food; it’s very good and more-or-less reasonably priced (although if somebody can explain to me the logic behind London’s quirk of charging extra sales tax if something is eaten in, that’d be most appreciated). We caught up for awhile, then decided to go to the National Portrait Gallery for a bit before Emily’s 5pm call.

Beforehand, however, Emily decided to drop some things off in her dressing room at the theatre, so we all followed her backstage. Virtually every backstage area of every theatre I’ve ever been in has been identical; this managed to cause my stomach to clench up a bit walking around back there, but I just reminded myself it wasn’t IU’s Musical Arts Center and I was fine. One way or the other, it was worth it to get to see, um, “Madam”.

“Bride of Frankenstein?” I asked. “You’re not the first person to say that,” said Emily.

The Gallery was cool to see, but as Megan and I both noted, it’s very odd when anything after 1400 A.D. just strikes you as too modern for your interests. On the other hand, the banter between Frank and me about some of the individuals depicted, such as a person named “Alcock,” reminded me that I have actually missed the two of them a good deal.

Then Emily was off to her call; Frank followed Megan and me back to the hotel so we could change into our opera clothes; then it was a full-on hunt for daisies.

See, we had seen a number places throughout the day where daisies might be procured, but each time Megan had deferred, not wanting to carry them around all day or just have to take them back to the hotel. We figured, what the heck, surely there’s an obvious place to get flowers in the theatre district?

Well, eventually, yes, there was — initially, however, there was not a florist as far as the eye could see. I even stopped somebody I saw carrying flowers and asked where they had bought them; “Nowhere near here, sorry,” was the answer. Finally we noticed the grocery store Tesco, which is where Megan was able to find her Valentine’s Day daisies to give to me at long last.

Then it was off to the opera.


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