Atheist republican goes to church to meet Queen

Publicity image from coronation

I’ve just been to St Paul’s Cathedral for a Coronation Concert for the Jubilee Year. Before my atheist republican friends rush around for an intervention, I should state that I went there for the music. That’s right, I love the sound of a good choir, regardless of what they’re singing about. This was not just a good choir, but the lovely and accomplished Choir of Wellington Cathedral of St Paul, performing their Coronation Concert for the Jubilee Year.

It was strange to be walking in to a cathedral, and I confess I did glance around to be sure no-one saw me. Some people sneak into bars, or casinos; I sneaked into a church.

I was a tiny bit late, so the concert was underway when I tip-toed in, and as the first piece (Parry’s I was glad) was for the entrance of the Queen, there was naturally enough the momentary desire to strut down the aisle waving at my subjects, until reason prevailed and I decided against it, and sat down. The conductor spoke about the pieces, and after  I was glad  he said that they hadn’t sung the central Vivat section, as this was traditionally sung by the Queen’s Scholars of Westminster School. I don’t think anyone would have told the Queen or her Scholars if the cathedral choir had sung it, but it was nice to know they were being proper about things.

The programme of music was of that featured in the 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, so I knew that it was likely to be stirring stuff, and the choir didn’t disappoint. They produced a beautiful still sound for Howell’s Behold God our Defender,  followed by their excellent Zadok the Priest. The organ introduction with the big bass notes made me think of a rock concert (that would be the event producer in me coming to the fore). The mark of a good choral concert is if you get chills (of the good kind), and when the choir launched into Zadok I definitely did. No microphones, or drums, but they rocked it. The conductor as seen from behind by the audience appeared to be getting into it as well – go Handel, go Choir.

There was a bit of audience participation as well, in the form of the audience being upstanding for a few hymns. This is where I ran into difficulties, as I just could not in good conscience sing some of phrases…”Dark Satanic mills”?? OK, I know it rhymes with “upon our clouded hills”, but really. Ditto “sing to the lord with cheerful voice, him serve with fear”…I would have thought that cheer and fear didn’t really go hand in hand, but that’s just me.

However, once we were invited to join in with Holst’s I vow to thee my country, I was on solid ground. Having worked on Rugby World Cup for 18 months, I knew the words to World in Union, which is written about Rugby to the same music,so while others were singing about “pride is suffering”, I happily sang along about Rugby  – after all, how often does one have the chance to sing along to a pipe organ with a choir in a concert?

The other moment of challenge for me was the obligatory performance of God Save the Queen. I stood up along with the rest of the audience, but enjoyed the choir’s version without me singing it. In my view, as I am from a colonised country, the queen can be as happy and glorious as she likes, but  “long to reign over us”? I don’t think so. However, it was well performed, even if one doesn’t agree with the words.

Politics and religion aside, it was a lovely concert with an excellent choir, and as this concert was a fundraiser for their participation in the NZ Cathedral Choirs Festival, I would give them rousing applause, my cash for the programme, and will very likely toddle along to the festival for another dose of lovely choir music. If you hear someone standing next to you quietly singing slightly different lyrics to the hymns, that will probably be me. Just remember, its takes all sorts.

There’s a grumpy PS to this blog – note to the parent with the crying child: NO-ONE comes to a concert to hear your whining child crying and coughing. If you can’t keep it quiet, go home, and if it has some sort of plague (one deduces this from all the coughing), then put it to bed. DO NOT take it to a choral concert. A Def Leppard metal concert – maybe; choirs in a cathedral – no.


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