Okay, so if I wasn’t conscious of the fact that long titles are a drag, this post would be entitled ‘The Day I (Finally) Heard the Choir of King’s College in Person and Was Pretty Sure I Had Died and Gone to Heaven’, or something like that, because oh my gosh this choir…words cannot describe how incredibly talented this group of boys, sixteen of them, aged between 8 and 13 and young men, fourteen undergraduate students at King’s College, typically aged between 18 and 22, are.The choir has existed since the foundation of King’s College by King Henry VI in 1441 and to this day their main task is to sing during the daily services held in the college chapel. If you want to read more about the choir, you can visit their site here which is also a good place to listen to recordings of the choir.
How did I hear about these boys and become so entranced by them you may be wondering? It happened while I was working at the Classical department of the HMV store on Ste.Catherine Street in Downtown Montreal when I was in University, which was honest to goodness one of the best jobs I ever had, I think I actually enjoyed it more than being a tour guide, because while I love my job, I’ve been obsessed with Classical music ever since I can remember. My parents didn’t force me into it, I just remember sitting on the floor in my bedroom one day when I was little, fiddling with the dial and landing on CBC Radio 2, which was all Classical at the time and I got hooked. My mom used to brag about it, like ‘Hey, my kid sits there for hours listening to Tchaikovsky and Beethoven, what does yours do?’. I’ve been passionate about music ever since then, so naturally, when I was job hunting during my first year in university and HMV had seasonal openings I dropped off my CV and wrote down on the application form that I wanted to work in the Classical department. Not many people asked to work up there, except for people who mistakenly thought that ‘Classical’ meant Elvis and the Beatles, so I got the job in the blink of an eye and with that, the free run of the department and employee pricing on every single album and DVD in the entire store. Ask me how I ended up with hundreds of CDs in my house and I will tell you no lies. It was while working in the department that I picked up my first recording of the choir’s, ‘Heavenly Voices’ and I thought they were pretty darn good, so I then bought their 2000 recording of ‘Carols form King’s’ on DVD and boom, I was hooked and then some. Hearing the choir on a compilation CD was one thing, but to hear and see one single formation (the choir changes a bit every year when new boys and men enter and leave) is absolutely divine and of course, the chapel itself is drop dead gorgeous, especially when the boys sing by candlelight.
From the time I watched that DVD making it to Cambridge to see the choir sing in person was on my bucket list, so when booked a ticket to London in the first week of December last year, I made darn sure that the choir would be singing during my time in the UK so I could go over to Cambridge and hear them because there was no way I was flying back across the Atlantic without having seen them. My Darling who, funnily enough, was part of Montreal’s most famous boys’ choir, Les Petits Chanteurs du Mont-Royal for their full eight year program, barely knew about the choir and was less than keen to hop on a train for a day trip outside of London when he was only going to be there for four days since he was coming to join me after visiting family in Poland. I insisted that he would regret it his entire life if he didn’t come with me to Cambridge though and he skeptically agreed and I bought us two tickets. We spent the day visiting the town on our own and then with a tour guide and Cambridge was everything I had imagined it would be and more.
After our guided tour, my Darling and I popped into a cafe our guide had recommended to us, Fitzbillies, which is famous for its Chelsea buns. They were unfortunately out of them by the time we got there, but their amazing ganache based hot chocolate and warm, moist scones more than made up for that!
After our snack, it was finally time to head over the King’s College for Evensong.
I was worried there might be a massive lineup, but it was a quiet day and one of the locals reassured me that there was room for the entire town in the chapel. I was skeptical, but when I got inside, I saw that he was right, although about half the townspeople would have been on the rear side of the choir screen and would not have been able to the choir. The sight of the chapel on the inside is absolutely breathtaking. It is much larger than what I had imagined from the photos and videos I had seen of it, especially in terms of its height and the fan vaulting on the ceiling is absolutely amazing. Finally, the choir filed it and as soon as they began to sing, I got goosebumps and teared up and promptly looked up at the ceiling to keep myself from crying like an idiot. As for my darling, I looked over at him and saw that he was listening to the boys sing with his eyes closed, a very good sign indeed. After the service ended, as my Darling and I were walking to the train station to head back to London, he thanked me for convincing him to come along on our day trip and he has since become just as much of a King’s groupie as I am. We left the town with the most recent ‘Carols from King’s’ DVD, which is of the choir’s 2013 Nine Lessons and Carols service as well as the Choir’s recording of Fauré’s Requiem. The CD has been in our CD player ever since. Don’t worry, we don’t listen to it on a loop, it’s a five disk changer! One thing is for sure though, when my Darling needs help relaxing after a particularly stressful day at work, he puts on his headphones and listens to it.
If you’re interested in discovering the Choir of King’s College, I highly recommend that you start out by listening to their ‘Favorite Carols from King’s album and if you enjoy it, you should move on to Evensong Live 2015, which is a pretty good sampling of sacred choral music throughout history. I also highly, highly recommend that you watch the documentary below about the choir and all the preparations that surround their annual BBC broadcast of Carols from King’s since it gives a very good glimpse into the daily lives of the choristers and the history of the choir and finally, I’m also including a clip of the choir singing one of my favorite contemporary carols of theirs, The Shepherd’s Carol, which was composed for the choir by a former chorister, Bob Chilcott.