After lamenting the lack of music in Venice churches, I had the opposite experience yesterday when attending Evensong in the Chapel of King’s College, Cambridge. It’s always uplifting to hear the Chapel resounding to the pure intonation and chiselled phrases of the choir, a mixture of male undergraduates from the College and boys from the nearby Choir School. I’ve heard it many times but never tire of the way the enormous space is filled – and also stilled – with harmony. The service was crowded, and many people sat with their eyes closed as they listened.
It was the start of the academic year and the day when four new choristers, little boys aged about 9 or 10, were formally admitted as members of the choir (founded in 1441). Sunlight struck through the stained glass windows, casting a glow around them as they stood in front of the Dean in their red cassocks and white surplices. The Dean congratulated them, wished them good luck with the great responsibility which goes with being a member of the choir, and mentioned the enormous audience which follows the choir’s activities, not only through their daily Chapel services, but notably on the occasion of the televised Christmas Carol Service, which 100 million people tune into. He talked of the constant need to renew the living purpose of the building, and said that music has always helped to prevent the famous Chapel from becoming ‘a museum of glass and stone’.