Last weekend my neighbor, who lives across the creek, parked his truck in line with the front of my house and turned up his radio really loud. He opened the door so the racket was aimed directly at me. I don’t know if he was trying to make a point or if he was just an idiot. As long as I kept my doors and windows closed I could barely hear it but when I went outside the din was just annoying. I needed to do some shopping so as I left I put in a CD of Libera’s Sanctus and cranked that volume up to 35. Then I rolled down the window as I slowly proceeded up my driveway. I never heard another peep out of him all weekend.
There must be something in the water in Cambridge, England that makes people want to sing, and sing well. I have looked at different directories of choirs for that area and none of them are comprehensive, but they list a lot of groups. Of course, boy choirs are what we really want to know about and as far as I can tell there are three major ones. We all know about King’s College and St. John’s College, but I was surprised to find out recently about another choir that is truly wonderful.
The Chapel Choir of Jesus College has a CD titled Sweet Spirit Comfort Me and I’ve been wearing it out. This has everything I like in a boy’s choir, good, clear trebles with notes that soar high, pretty tunes and a cohesive sound. These boys are really good.
The singing is accompanied by soft organ music that adds to the voices without trying to dominate them.
I really love all of the songs on this CD and I’m listing them here. I especially adore tracks 1 and 7. They’re achingly beautiful. Tracks 8 and 14 are organ solos.
1. A Song of Peace: Charles Villiers Stanford
2. Ubi Caritas: Simon Lole
Messe Basse 4 Movements: Gabriel Fauré
6. Agnus Dei
7. The Father's Love: Simon Lole
8. Andante in G: Charles Macpherson
9. Balulalow: Peter Warlock
10. What Songs Are These?: Richard Lloyd
11. Who can express the noble acts of the Lord?: Samuel Sebastian Wesley
12. I waited for the Lord: Felix Mendelssohn
13. Ex ore innocentium: John Ireland
14. Chorale Prelude on 'Eventide': Charles Hubert Hastings Parry
15. Magnificat in C: Christopher Robinson
16. Nunc Dimittis in C: Christopher Robinson
17. Ave Verum: Sir Edward Elgar
18. Litany to the Holy Spirit: Peter Hurford
19. Praise and Glory: Rory Boyle
The all-male choir is one of only three College choirs of its kind in Cambridge, and is highly regarded. Unlike the others (at King's and St John's) it recruits trebles from local schools rather than maintaining a choir school. They sing two of the four choral evensongs per week as well as Eucharists.
The Chapel Choir is made up of boy choristers and adult male singers while the College Choir has female undergraduates so if you are a purist (like me) who doesn’t like to mix sopranos and trebles be careful when ordering music.
On their web page they list the Choristers’ Code which I like a lot.
The Choristers' Code
When boys are admitted to the choir, it is understood that they will abide by the following rules:-
1. Support, help and praise all other choristers.
2. Respect and listen to the adults who are in charge, and do what’s asked, when it’s asked. This includes no talking or disruption during a rehearsal or service.
3. Report any bullying to an adult, always.
4. Respect and listen to the advice and instructions of the Head and Deputy Choristers.
5. Be kind and helpful to younger boys.
6. Co-operate when older boys are trying to teach and help younger ones.
7. Share food and drink, ensuring there’s enough to go round.
8. Make sure that no one is feeling left out.
9. Look after cassocks and surplices; always hang them up on your own hanger, tidily.
10. Be responsible for (and clear away) own mess.