We're pleased to announce the details of this year's Chorister Open Day which will take place on the afternoon of Saturday 10 June, 4.30pm. If your son is aged somewhere between two and six, loves singing, and you're interested in the possibility of his being one of the Choristers of the Choir of New College Oxford, then this is the day for you - please do come along! More information about the day, and the registration form, can be found here.
In our final tour blog from the USA, Katie Bank, our Concerts & Tours Manager, writes about our concert in Atlanta:
After an early morning flight from Charleston and a brief on-board nap, we found ourselves touching down in Atlanta, Georgia, where we were quickly whisked away by coach to The Cathedral of St Philip. Stepping off the bus, we wished we hadn't left our sunglasses in the hold luggage, but we were pleased to find a gorgeous spread of sandwiches ready for our lunch, which some of the Clerks took outside in order to maximise sun time and enjoy the Cathedral's lovely grounds.
After a brief rehearsal in the Cathedral's glorious acoustic, the men were left to their own devices, while the choristers had nap-time in the cool basement vestry. Side note: though it was very sunny and warm outside (nearly 80 degrees F = about 25 degrees C) the cooling effect experienced upon entering the nave in St Philip's was similar to how one feels upon entering a large Cathedral in Spain. Not one of dry air conditioning, but of thick stone, somehow making it the perfect temperature, very much appreciated in the Georgia spring heat.
The dinner served to us by the church was also exceptionally delicious - pulled pork, macaroni and cheese, roasted broccoli, leafy green salad, and coconut cake for pudding. We really have eaten incredibly well on this tour, but the trouser buttons say it is nearly time to go home ... The concert went really well and the church threw us a really wonderful reception after the concert. The New Men sang a couple of tunes; the Choristers enjoyed a bit of fruit and cheese as they politely chatted to fans - before it was then back onto the coach and to bed.
As our flight the next day wasn't until evening, the Choristers (and many of the Clerks) went to the Georgia Aquarium - certainly a highlight of the whole tour for many of the boys. We saw river otters, manta rays, whale sharks, jellies (they aren't jelly fish, as they technically are not fish!) and learned loads about marine systems in cold climates. To top the day off, we saw a spectacle of a dolphin show - though we somehow managed to stay out of the 'splash zone'. I'm sure 90% of the photos taken by choristers were of 'Nemo' and friends (off brand and all natural, of course).
After all that walking around the Aquarium, a rest at our boarding gate was most welcome. There were major storm warnings all day, but we were fortunately able to fly out with only very minor delays. We were very lucky, in fact, because our poor agent, John, had a later flight that same evening which was cancelled due to the weather, and he was stuck in Atlanta for two extra nights!
Though we are now back in the UK and hopefully finally sleeping off the last dregs of the jet lag, we can safely say that our tour was so successful in major part because of the hospitality and generosity of the churches that provided us with nourishing meals, friendly hosts, and knowledgeable local tour guides. We are extremely grateful - and we hope to return to America soon!
In our penultimate blog on the tour, here's a write-up of our day in Charleston...
Heading off from Columbia in the morning, we were accompanied by our old friend Dr Murray Somerville, former organ scholar of the College who generously endowed a Choristership several years ago. A local here, Murray very kindly played a significant role in arranging the South Carolina part of the tour- and in particular this day's visit to Charleston.
The joke of the not infrequent US comment "it's very old - more than 100 years now" (cue giggles from us) had worn somewhat thin by this point in the tour - but (one of) the stunning things about Charleston was, of course, its significant history - both in narrative and in the tangible buildings dating back (in a number of cases) to the days when British rule extended to this area of the world. From the statue of Calhoun to the distant outline of Fort Sumter, the point at which the civil war started, across the bay, we felt steeped in history.
As a brief introduction, Murray gave a guided tour (as we drove around) of the town - including, of course, a stop at the Battery for the classic photo. Then to lunch - a chance to try shrimp and grits, one of the local specialities - and onwards to the church. Time for a rehearsal; by this point in the tour, we all knew the programme rather well, but a brush-up is never a bad idea, and, with a few feeling a little under the weather, there were a few minor rearrangements to be made.
...and then, before long, it was time for the concert. For me, perhaps my favourite moment comes with the Byrd. Between the appropriately stately O Lord, make thy servant Elizabeth, the solemn Ave Verum, and the expressive Vigilate with the tricky-to-sing word painting of 'repente', one could luxuriate in the music as it rolled round the church. "Let us now praise famous men ...such as found out musical tunes..." - Byrd certainly falls into that category.
The concert over, our remaining time in the US was rapidly decreasing. The following morning saw an early start, for our flight to Atlanta; in the final blog, Katie, our Tour Manager, will write about our stay there, and the end of the tour.
In the next two instalments of our blog on our choir tour, Peter, a 3rd Year Academical Clerk (i.e. Choral Scholar) has a review of our journey through the delightfully welcoming South Carolina - first up, Columbia…
"Oh, we'll be travelling by coach from Cleveland to Columbia." It sounded so easy...of course, in reality, this full day's worth of coach journey was not a minor undertaking - but, in fact, all went extremely well, complete with a lunch stop at Applebees on the way. Not to mention an onboard showing of Star Wars! Eventually, we reached Columbia, got out of the coach- and what a difference in climate! Cleveland had been wet in a manner very reminiscent of Oxford in Hilary Term - but in a day, we'd reached an area that seemed not unlike a hot summer's day (by British standards, at least).
Food is definitely dear to the collective heart of the choir, and Trinity Cathedral, who were hosting us, produced marvels for dinner; then, with some of us still wondering as to the recipe behind some superb brownies, Choristers departed hotel-wards, and Clerks to their homestays. Of course in an ideal world we'd keep the whole choir together most of the time - there's something particularly wonderful about going around on tour as a group of thirty aged between 9 and 60 (roughly), united by a love of music whilst still chattering about every subject under the sun meanwhile - but this isn’t always feasible. Not that there was an issue - our homestays have been wonderful, and our hosts so welcoming. The world changes, but it's nice to see hospitality in the style of Baucis and Philemon remaining.
After the early start for the journey from Cleveland the previous day, Sunday brought a welcome opportunity to sleep in, and a free morning. Some clerks headed to the cathedral with our hosts to attend the morning service; others headed out for a meander around; for the Choristers, the sun and deep blue sky meant that, rather than indoor 'bouncy', there was a chance to head outside for a closely contested game of football (or rather, “soccer").
A brief lunch; then, while Tim and Joe set up organ registrations, the rest of us headed into the cathedral's song school for a rehearsal. One of the fun things about this tour around Episcopal churches (i.e. the Anglican communion in the US) has been seeing the parallels - and variations, of course - with our setup back in the UK. Entering the choir room here, one certainly had a sense of being 'home'. Sure, it was (much) tidier, a little newer, and the music desks didn't have half a century of pencil-etched graffiti covering them - but there was very much a feeling of the common, centuries-old tradition uniting us, especially as we rehearsed later with the Trinity choristers.
Before long, it was time for our concert - our only mid-afternoon performance on this tour. There’s always a sense of needing to adjust to the acoustic - sometimes a beautiful reverberant sound especially good for our polyphony, sometimes a little more compact, wanting (even) greater precision and balance, especially with the organ. Though, speaking as the webcast editor, I can definitely say that nowhere (that we visited on this tour) has as annoying an acoustic as New College Chapel with its roof! To our delight, the concert was a great success - and singing with the Trinity boys for Stanford’s glorious Te Deum in C to end the concert was definitely a highlight.
The masses converged on the church hall, with a great throng of our choir, our hosts, and the Trinity choristers all mixing together at tables chatting over dinner - and then the clerks went back to our homestays for the rest of the evening. It would be fair to say there was a fair deal of curiosity about us - from the hosts’ children “What do the British do in terms of x?”; from the grownups, inevitably “So, what do you think about Brexit?”, to say nothing about the discussion of President 45. The main activity of the evening, though, was the basketball - the South Carolina girls team had reached the final - and had a link to the school a number of the Trinity choristers attend. It was nail biting, but, to everyone’s delight, the team won. Honour satisfied, cava was opened to round off the evening - and a very pleasant stay in Columbia.
Monday saw our departure, heading off relatively early for Charleston. Tune in again soon…
In our third blog on tour, Tim Wakerell, our Assistant Organist, writes about our concert in Pittsburgh:
We arrived in Cleveland, Ohio on Friday following a short coach trip from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Anyone feeling homesick was instantly comforted by the weather which was so reminiscent of our green and pleasant land... I was impressed by the imposing gothic architecture of Trinity Cathedral and optimistic about performing in such a grand space. Following a typically delicious lunch (we have been treated to some wonderful food so far), Josef and I were taken into the cathedral to acquaint ourselves with the Flentrop organ which has a facade not dissimilar from the most famous instruments in the Netherlands.
Performing in different venues is always a challenge for an organist, as each instrument varies hugely in terms of specification, acoustic, volume, playing aids, and action; even if one has the specification in advance, the effect of even a single stop can often be unpredictable. The organ in Trinity Cathedral was built in the 1970s in a classical style, meaning that it is particularly suited to baroque music and less so to the accompaniment of Anglican choral music. Typically for such an instrument there were no playing aids (buttons which enable the player to set combinations of stops and make rapid registration changes) which means that assistants are required to pull stops. Nevertheless, I quickly got to work and was delighted to find some warm sounds which did justice to our choral repertoire. I was thrilled to meet the distinguished cathedral organist, Todd Wilson, of whom I had heard so much, and found him to be a most charming and helpful man. Part of our concert programme included two solo organ pieces, the Toccata in F by Bach which was ideal for the Flentrop (a favourite of mine: one never tires of Bach’s daring sense of chromaticism) and Messiaen’s Dieu parmi nous. Messiaen is not an obvious composer to play on this type of instrument, but thanks to some vigorous stop-pulling from both Todd and Josef, we prevailed and the tutti of the Flentrop sounded particularly splendid in the majestic final pages.
It was also good to have the choir singing in front of the organ as a result of the flexible seating in the cathedral; this meant that it was easier for both choir and organist to hear each other, which greatly improves ensemble. The choral repertoire resounded in the brilliant acoustic with unaccompanied pieces such as Byrd’s Vigilate having great clarity and vibrancy. We were thrilled to have such an enthusiastic audience, for whom it seemed that we could do no wrong. An encore of Shenandoah naturally concluded a wonderful concert and it was good to feel that the audience still wanted more.
Now for a 9 hour bus trip to South Carolina - I do hope that it will be a little warmer at the other end…
In the second of our blog series, here’s Tom, one of our Year 7 Choristers, to tell you all about our visit to Pittsburgh…
We arrived in Pittsburgh from NYC after a painfully long coach trip - though it was broken up by activities such as reading, playing games, and watching WALL-E. In the morning we visited the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and Museum of Art before our rehearsal in the afternoon and our concert. Despite the fact the weather was rather grim, our experience of Pittsburgh was not marred in the slightest.
We got to the Museum and the first thing that we saw was an exhibit with a motion sensor camera where you could swipe through the air and rotate the view. It was a circular computer screen that showed pictures from a camera just outside the museum, taken at five-minute intervals.
After fiddling about with that for a few minutes, we split into two groups and met up with our tour guides to enter the Natural History Museum. In the museum, we went round the dinosaur exhibit. I didn't realise how closely dinosaurs were linked to modern-day birds! Our tour guide was knowledgeable and friendly. She showed us all sorts of skeletons and gave us extra information on all of the exhibits. After a brief stopover in the gift shop, we headed into the Carnegie Museum of Art where we saw some pieces by Monet, Van Gogh, Cézane, Hopper, and a bronze bust by Bernini. The museum was quiet and tranquil because there were few other people there.
We headed back to the church on a bendy bus, which was enjoyable. We had lunch in the church, which consisted of hoagie baguettes, salad, and to finish, Klondike Bars (American ice cream sandwiches). Afterwards, we had a brief rest time in the church before beginning rehearsal with the choir. The rehearsal went well and we were all feeling very confident that the concert would follow suit. After some time for relaxing in the hotel, we headed back to the church for dinner, where we had delicious breaded chicken and salad. Excellent!
After vesting up, we began the concert. One highlight for me was during the encore, Shenandoah, as you could see the audience's faces lighting up. All in all, the performance went extremely well, setting us in good stead for the rest of the tour. The following morning, we were then on a coach from Pittsburgh, enjoying the short journey to Cleveland...
In this first blog on the current choir tour to the States, Robert Quinney writes about our time in New York:
The best view of the famous Manhattan skyline on offer to the choir was, ironically, that afforded by the New Jersey Turnpike as we sped away from New York City this morning. When one’s on the island, it is of course impossible to appreciate much beyond the sheer height of the buildings, and the intensity with which New Yorkers speed about the place (or sit, not speeding, in its traffic). Looking up becomes tiring, so before our concert the choristers had time to look around instead, not only at street level but also in the subway and on the water. A morning trip on the Staten Island ferry to see the Statue of Liberty was followed by lunch al fresco near to Wall Street; later the choristers visited Times Square and Central Park while I rehearsed with aria soloists and the orchestra. Then, on the concert day a phalanx of stretch limousines arrived at the hotel, to whisk the choristers (at a snail’s pace, naturally) to lunch courtesy of our generous benefactor, Anne Kriken Mann. Red carpet treatment indeed!
Down to the real business of the trip, and our performance of Bach’s John Passion in the cavernous Byzantine splendour of St Bartholomew’s Church, Park Avenue. We were joined by The English Concert, on this occasion comprising seasoned UK-based players with several of their young American ‘fellows’. As in our Oxford performances the soloists emerged from the choir to sing their arias, with the exception of current lay clerk Daniel Tate as Christus, and recent academical clerk (named 2017 ‘Breakthrough Artist’ in the What’s On Stage Opera Poll) Nick Pritchard, who for the third time joined us as Evangelist. The remaining ‘step-outs’ from the choir include the two soprano arias: Ich folge dir gleichfalls and Zerfliesse, mein Herze were sung by Oscar Bennett and Jamie Robson respectively, to great acclaim from the crowd. New York audiences, it seems, have never heard such confident solo singing from boys; especially not in music that grown-up singers regard as seriously challenging. The intelligence with which these two Year 8 choristers communicated their arias doesn’t occur in a vacuum, of course: we are fortunate to have a group of remarkably engaged, inquisitive young musicians, whose daily work in the song room and chapel, as in the classroom, nurtures the sophistication and sang froid with which they approach a high-wire performance such as this one. And that’s to say nothing of the clerks’ solo singing, which included a superbly authoritative yet subtle Pilatus from George Robarts.
Now we’re in Pittsburgh – I’m typing this in the café of the Carnegie Institute, while the boys explore the Natural History museum – ready for our first choir & organ performance this evening, featuring music from the sixteenth to twenty-first century, at Calvary Episcopal Church.
New College Choir is looking to appoint an alto lay clerk from 1st October 2017 to 30th September 2018 (one full year), to sing under its director, Robert Quinney. As well as singing daily services during university term, lay clerks enjoy excellent opportunities to develop solo singing in concerts, recordings on the choir’s own record label, and on tour in the UK and abroad.
The post is suitable for young singers building up a professional portfolio, and there are excellent opportunities to sing professionally in Oxford outside the choir’s schedule.
More details about lay clerkships can also be found on their webpage.
The closing date for applications has now passed.
This term sees an exciting mix of organ recitals in New College Chapel.
Beginning on Monday 16 January, the Organist, Robert Quinney, (continuing his Bach series) and Assistant Organist, Timothy Wakerell, will continue our programme of Monday evening recitals. Towards the end of the term, the organ scholars will also each give a Sunday afternoon recital. Admission to all recitals is free; no tickets are required.
Monday 16 January (1st Week) at 9pm: Robert Quinney plays Bach
Monday 23 January (2nd Week) at 8.30pm: Timothy Wakerell plays Messaien, La Nativité du Seigneur
Monday 30 January (3rd Week) at 9pm: Robert Quinney plays Bach
Monday 13 February (5th Week) at 9pm: Robert Quinney plays Bach
Sunday 26 February (7th Week) at 4pm: Josef Laming (Senior Organ Scholar)
Sunday 5 March (8th Week) at 4pm: Charles Maxtone-Smith (Junior Organ Scholar)
For the final two webcasts of term, we've put up a live recording of both our Advent and Christmas carol services, for all those who couldn't make it, or who need a fix of New College Choir over the vacation - after all, you can never have too many carol services...
The orders of service for both webcasts are available below, so as to help you enjoy, and participate in, the service.
Advent Carol Service - the service booklet is also available in pdf format.
Christmas Carol Service - the service booklet is also available in pdf format.
Apologies for the low quality: a true pdf should be uploaded soon to replace the scan.