St. David’s Cathedral 2008

The rain poured down and the wind blew as the Harlequin singers and their supporters arrived in St. David’s on the weekend after Easter. We were going to sing the services in the Cathedral whilst the regular choir was on holiday. Returning to this beautiful place two years after our first visit was a privilege – happy memories and anticipation in equal measure.

Having taken over most of the town’s B&B’s we met in the Cathedral Song School for the first rehearsal. It is easy to imagine generations of choristers gathering in this intimate, crypt-like room, surrounded by boxes of music, preparing for the daily services. Starting to sing calmed our nerves and we were soon into our stride.

The newly built refectory saw some late business – 40 mugs of tea required just when they were about to close – before we prepared for Evensong. The centrepiece of the service was a tricky setting of the ‘Magnificat’ by Parsons. Would hours and hours of practice pay off? Well, almost. We hope that the expressions on our faces when it was over looked like joy not relief!

After the service, and still in torrential rain, what seemed to be the city’s entire taxi fleet took us to Solva for the evening meal. The food was ok, the company excellent and the singing at the end was, er, ‘with gusto’. The waiter on my table stole the show with his sensitive manner. After the main course he shambled up to the table, glowered at us and said “Finished?” Customer care at its finest.

Sunday morning dawned with glorious sunshine. Large breakfasts fired the choir into life and then it was off to the Song School again. With the Parsons safely behind us, we could look forward to the delights of the Gänsbacher Mass and some Saint-Saens. The morning service started with ‘All People Clap your Hands’ (Weelkes), which we sang in the north transept. This high, stone vaulted space has a wonderful acoustic and brings the Harlequins as close as we’ll ever get to a heavenly choir. We then processed into the nave and didn’t fall down the steps whilst singing – something we didn’t quite manage last time.

Apart from singing great music, the main task of a chorister in a cathedral service is to turn, bow, stand up and sit down many times, in the right place, unannounced. Peter Moore had done essential crib sheets for all the main
moves and we got it right except for one heart-stopping moment when half the choir were sitting and half were standing. Ooops.

The service ended with the great Welsh hymn ‘Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer’ (Cwm Rhondda) sung in procession with organist, choir and people giving their all in the ancient cathedral. It is hard to see how music-making gets any better than this.

An invitation to drinks with the verger and clergy after the service made us feel like part of the place, and was followed by a large and very tasty Sunday lunch at the Old Cross Hotel. (The reader may have noticed that the food theme keeps recurring…) Afterwards we had two hours when we didn’t have to sing. Some people snoozed, others pottered around the shops in the sunshine (the whole of the tiny city can be covered in less than half an hour) and a few went to the beach or walked on the coast path, just half a mile from the Cathedral. Indeed, one of the bases was spotted on the path dressed in full suit and tie inching along a gate to avoid the mud – how very British!

Refreshed, we completed a final practice before the Sunday Evensong. This was a musical feast: Bach sung in the Transept, responses by an Englishman called Wilkinson, a high Victorian Mag and Nunc and an Easter anthem by Wilcocks.

And that was it. We had been in St David’s a little over 24 hours, but it felt like ages because we had done so much. Three things remain to say. Firstly, thanks to Peter W for choosing such inspiring music and for coaxing us into singing it. Secondly, thanks to Peter M without whose meticulous planning the weekend could not have happened. Finally, it is wonderful to be able to sing great music in such an ancient and beautiful place. To do this whilst spending time together as a choir and as friends made it a very special weekend. Here’s to the next time….