August 16: Pushing Our Luck in London

Saturday, August 16 was my second day off of involvement in leadership at Southwark. We were up early to make the most of the day and Mike headed straight for Southwark to prepare to play the Walmisley Service and conduct the Smith Preces & his own setting of Psalm 46. I stayed behind at the dorms to do score studies and laundry, thereby freeing up our evening in hopes of spending it in the promenading audience at Royal Albert Hall, a world-class life experience that we were eager to call our own.

The night before we’d divided up the tiny amount of practice time available to us on the organ, since seven of us would be taking turns on the bench for our last three services. I was due on the bench near the end of the cycle, and arrived just in tiem. It was a stressful morning at Southwark, each of us checking in at our precise time for just a few minutes to do triage. For me, this meant registration for the Bach Toccata and a look at Sunday morning’s closing hymn: How Great Thou Art. Poor me, the hospitable people at Southwark thought they’d “make us feel at home” and chose a good ol’ American hymn for our last hurrah. I tapped into my roots and made the best of it.

With another visiting ensemble in Southwark for a few hours around lunch time, we had a little time on our hands before our 1:30 rehearsal. Together with one of our colleagues, we attempted a frantic expedition to St. Paul’s and back, on the hunch that they’d have noon mass. Even if they didn’t, we didn’t feel right leaving London without at least seeing it from the outside. We walked fast, but didn’t get there till 12:07, so it was a nice surprise to find that they did indeed have midday mass, but that it was held at 12:30. It gave us time to wander the church yard, a dramatic presence of peace and beauty in the heart of London. We entered with all the tourists around 12:20, assuming we’d be directed to an unobtrusive side chapel. By now we’d learned the art of avoiding entry fees to monumental chapels by arriving for a worship service. St. Paul’s, a top London attraction, had an entry fee of nearly 20 pounds if my memory serves me – not something we were about to pay for a twenty-minute peek inside. While we realized we probably wouldn’t have the opportunity to see its best feature (the dome), what we were particularly looking forward to was the chance to sit in worship as simple parishioners again, something we were missing with our hearts and hands so full as leaders at Southwark. So you can imagine how tickled we were to be ushered into circular rows of chairs situated directly under the dome at the center of the cruciform space. It was completely awesome, in the best sense of the word. That noon mass was a true feast for us: its simplicity, its awe-inspiring place.

Sadly, we had to leave before the conclusion, immediately after communing, or risk being late to our own rehearsal. We rushed back to Southwark and I moved even faster, leaving Mike & Bobby in the dust as I ran for a quick stop at a bank with Saturday hours. I was hopeful that we could withdraw some cash on our pin-less credit card, thereby saving our one working pin card in case it had limits, too. In my mind’s eye we were arrived in Italy with no currency and no knowledge of the language sufficient to make a transaction in person at a bank, worse yet by virtue of the fact that our destination was a tiny village. I was unsuccessful, having left my passport behind in the dorm, which was my only accepted form of ID. But I tried, and I was armed with new ideas from the banker for how to handle such a hypothetical should it become reality, and I even arrived to rehearsal (huffing and puffing) with 90 seconds to spare. (How much excitement that expired debit card brought to our trip!)

For the post-Evensong events of our day, I’ll let my journal tell the story. Unfortunately, the second time we dashed across town on this day we weren’t quite as lucky as the first, so we will always remember this day as the time we DID take group pictures in Southwark Cathedral and thus DIDN’T attend the Proms.

Saturday 16 August, 8:10 p.m.

We are at a loud sports pub just up the street from our dorm. It feels good to be sitting down to a meal after many meals caught on the fly. And a pitcher of Pimms! We’re alone with our books and then back for a saner bedtime than usual. My feet are so bruised! We’ve walked so much in 24 hours. This morning Mike went to the cathedral early to work and I stayed behind for a load of laundry and score study. Our chances to practice on the organ are so minimal that we are approaching most things almost completely cold. It’s stressful but we are getting by pretty well. After we had our opportunity on the organ this morning, we took our free lunch time to walk briskly over the Millenium Bridge to St. Paul’s, where we wandered the grounds a few minutes and then to our wonder were ushered not into a side chapel but directly under the great dome for 12:30 Eucharist, an unforgettable experience – made funny by the woman priest (Vicar of Dibley to the max) coming to share the peace and getting completely sidetracked by Mike’s apparently fabulous pink shirt. That happened, haha! It was refreshing to be sitting for a simple said service in the midst of all we’ve been leading this week. This afternoon’s Evensong over, we raced across town to Royal Albert Hall. We ate yesterday’s picnic leftovers while “queueing” for Prom 40 – Schubert and Mahler by London Symphony Orchestra. We were among the first 15-20 people turned away at the door when all the space had been filled. If we had left church 5 minutes earlier and not wandered around the circumference of the hall in search of the queue we would’ve gotten in. We were disappointed, but we’d known it was a long shot, and it was a thrill to get as close as we did. We consoled ourselves with silly photos by posters of Verdi’s Requiem (Cambridge Choirs) and the legendary Alison Balsom and then walked north through the west side of Kensington Gardens.

We love to laugh at all the signs saying “To let” since it looks like “Toilet” to us. “Offices Toilet.”

Watching soccer in this pub makes me very homesick for JM.

Before walking home from the pub we stepped outside of its noisy atmosphere to avail ourselves of its WIFI so we could Skype our sweet birthday girl back home. Unfortunately, our call walk her from a nap, and she was nothing but sad and weepy when we saw her. This made us pretty miserable and homesick, the most homesick we were of our whole trip, desperate to snuggle our girlie and make her birthday a little less weepy. Of course, she was just fine – just having her typical post-nap grump session, but we went to bed that night with our spirits down. What can I say? We missed our daughter’s birthday. We deserved it!

Shots of stunning St. Paul's...
Shots of stunning St. Paul’s…

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Contraband photo of the inside of St. Paul's! (Shhh...)
Contraband photo of the inside of St. Paul’s! (Shhh…)

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Dwarfed by The Shard, you can see Southwark in the background of this photo.
Dwarfed by The Shard, you can see Southwark in the background of this photo.
This was the line we were standing in for the Proms. It stretched a couple blocks.
This was the line we were standing in for the Proms. It stretched a couple blocks.
I loved this Garden in the City.
I loved this Garden in the City.
At least we saw the outside!
At least we saw the outside!

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So, so, so very close...
So, so, so very close…
As we nursed our disappointment at being turned away from Royal Albert Hall we realized we were standing right next to the Royal College of Organists. Funny!
As we nursed our disappointment at being turned away from Royal Albert Hall we realized we were standing right next to the Royal College of Organists. Funny!
Consolation Selfie
Consolation Selfie
Mike loves him some Verdi Requiem!
Mike loves him some Verdi Requiem!
And Alison Balsom is kind of my idol.
And Alison Balsom is kind of my idol.

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Statue of Prince Albert across from the Hall.
Statue of Prince Albert across from the Hall.

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