Sunday, March 15, 2009

Merton College Evensong

March 11th, Cuddesdon

Today was cool and mostly cloudy. We trekked into Oxford, trying to find a car park we could afford. We found one off Cowley Street several blocks from the Magdalen bridge. After some exploring and a library visit for Craig, we were to meet at 6:15 at Merton College for evensong. This is the end of Hilary term at Oxford and most of the colleges don't have evensong out of term, so this was our last chance for awhile.

Getting there about 45 minutes early, I took some pictures while the light held, then as the photos got dimmer and dimmer, I gave up. As I walked over small pink and grey cobblestones set in sweeping arcs between rows of flagstones in one courtyard, I caught a glimpse of the green of grass through the stonework of another courtyard. As I walked through the arch, I heard the choir begin to practice in the chapel, so I went in, sitting out of view listening.

When Craig arrived it was time to go into the chapel proper and the music I had heard from a distance now enveloped us. The plainsong seemed to have a physical shape and persistence, holding the hearer in the space of the worship. The singers' clear voices melted together pouring out like liquid and ending soft as a feather into silence.

As the choir members marched out solemnly by twos they skirted the microphones used for the podcast**. The only sound to be heard was their shoes clicking on the floor. I thought how ordinary these young people looked, so different from one another, yet how prodigious was their talent. The singers - each year different - carry on a tradition that has been the hallmark of Anglican/Episcopal worship for centuries. We can hear it now because they and others like them have kept the tradition alive.

(The music and settings we listened to was by Byrd, Tompkins, and Bach. Merton College is home to the Tallis Scholars. For those who like plainsong, or anysong.. this is the group for you... )

**When we looked at the post for the evening service we noticed that it was to be podcast. I went to the Merton College website, and the March 11th evensong wasn't up yet, but the podcast from the month before was there. If you'd like to hear what it sounded like, click on the link on the top to the right and select the podcast mentioned in the body of the paragraph. )

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