Looking Back from the past at the House Today

It has been many years since I have been able to visit Christ Church and then only as a tourist. So it is frozen in the times that I was there as an under graduate – back in the late 1960’s!

I asked Chris, who is a contemporary of mine what it is like now – from his perspective as a volunteer who spends a lot of time there. Here is his answer:

The Tour – the Choristers Journey

They are of course the heart of the choir and when they sing… But they are also boys. So what will the tour be like for them?

Here is Chris Rocker talking about this.

The Tour – What do we hope for you?

What did we hope for when we decided to do this tour? It is a lot more than simply filling seats and offering up great music. I interviewed Chris Rocker our “general” to offer you some clarity.

We hope that the tour may give you who are alumns and those that you care for a glimpse of Oxford. Not just the visual and the sound of the choir but the very essence of the place.  We also hope that you may be able to share this with other alumns. For it is easy to go back to the House for  Gaudy if you live in the Europe. But for us here, it is hard.

We also hope that we can offer a precious moment for all of you who simply love choral music. Millions in North America have sung in or still sing in a choir. I share with you the special time that came when I too sung in a choir. Most of us old farts on the tour have done so. Chris was a singer and Tom who is our web miracle worker was a star boy chorister and a lay clerk at Christ Church. We are bound to this project by our passion for this kind of music.

For you we offer not just the concert as a chance to hear great music sung by a great choir, but we will also be having open rehearsals so that those in the local choral community can share the inner workings. We will also in some venues also be joined by the local choir such as at Grace Church in Toronto. We will do our best to give back to you as much as we can.

Apologies for the video quality. I was in Canada and Chris at Christ Church – please forgive his somewhat Vampire hue – we are just amateurs at this skype video. But his comments are anything but amateur and show his deep love and commitment to the Choir and to the House. I hope you enjoy this.

Later this week he will talk about what it will be like for the boys – our most precious charges. At the end of the week he will talk about Christ Church as it is now as seen by a man of his age and stage. I share his feeling that we had the great fortune to be at a very special place. I hope that you did as well.

Video: History

Stephen Darlington talks about the unique institution that is Christ Church. You can also hear a small excerpt of Pygott – ‘Quid Petis O Fili‘; Richard Pygott was Master of the Choristers to the household chapel of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who founded Cardinal College in 1525, which was then refounded as Christ Church in 1546.

I must confess to be slightly biased towards Christ Church’s recording of this piece, as I’m singing the 1st Alto part!

The Founding of the Choir – Henry VIII is Jealous

Agnus Dei’ from Music for Cardinal Wolsey; Missa Veni sancte spiritus, Richard Pygott (1485-1549)

HT to treblechoir99 a goldmine on Youtube with hundreds of pieces and as important really thoughtful commentary.

Here is his description of the early years of the Choir. The splendid palace you see on this video is of course Hampton Court – built by Wolsey and given by him to the King. It is still a private home for the Royal Family – but they don’t live there.

Thomas Wolsey (1471 1530; sometimes spelled Woolsey), who was born in Ipswich, Suffolk, England, was an English statesman and a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church.

When Henry VIII became king of England in 1509, Wolsey became the King’s almoner. Wolsey’s affairs prospered and by 1514 he had become the controlling figure in all matters of state and extremely powerful within the Church. The highest political position he attained was Lord Chancellor, the King’s chief adviser, enjoying great freedom and often depicted as an alter rex (other king). Within the Church he became Archbishop of York, the second most important seat in England, and then was made a cardinal in 1515, giving him precedence over even the Archbishop of Canterbury. His main legacy is from his interest in architecture, in particular his old home of Hampton Court Palace, which stands today. Few men born without noble blood had as much power as Wolsey during Europe’s Early Modern period.

Although it would be difficult to find a better example of abuses in the Church than the Cardinal himself, Wolsey appeared to make some steps towards reform. In 1524 and 1527 he used his powers as papal legate to dissolve thirty decayed monasteries where corruption had run rife, including abbeys in Ipswich and Oxford. However, he then used the income to glorify God by founding a grammar school in Ipswich (The King’s School, Ipswich) and Cardinal College in Oxford. The college in Oxford was renamed King’s College after Wolsey’s fall. Today it is known as Christ Church. In 1528, he began to limit the benefit of clergy.

Wolsey’s chapel choir clearly prospered under Pygott’s direction — so much so, in fact, that it soon aroused the envy of the king. Late in March 1518, the dean of Henry’s own household chapel, Richard Pace, wrote to Wolsey in order to requisition one of the cardinal’s choristers, couching his reason as a veiled threat: ‘if it were not for the personal love that the King’s highness doth bear unto your grace, surely he would have out of your chapel not children only, but also men; for his grace hath plainly shown… that your Grace’s Chapel is better than his, and proved the same by this reason that if any manner of new song should be brought into both the said Chapels to be sung ex improviso then the said song should be better and more surely handled by your chapel than by his Grace’s.’ A few days later, when Pace wrote again to thank Wolsey for the chorister, he remarked that ‘Cornyshe [the master of the king’s chapel] doth greatly laud and praise the child… and doth in like manner extol Mr. Pygote for the teaching of him.’ Pygott seems to have continued to direct Wolsey’s chapel for the rest of its existence, accompanying his master on embassies to France on at least two occasions, and being rewarded from time to time with annuities from monasteries susceptible to the cardinal’s influence.

Howard Goodall – Part of the heritage of Christ Church Music

I have owned the recording of Etermal Light for some time now and I play it often. It has become one of my favorites.

I hope you enjoy the many excerpts here too.

There is something so fitting about Goodall, a graduate, going back to his roots and having his choir in such a role.

Christ Church Cathedral School

What is it like to be a chorister? This link will take you to the school site where there is a video that will give you a great view of the life that the boys lead.

I like the scale and the personal aspect of the place. Wish I had gone there.

When you come to a rehearsal, you will be able to ask them yourself what it is like.

Christ Church Cathedral School is a Prep and Pre-Prep, fee-paying boarding and day school for approximately 140 pupils based in OxfordEngland. Steeped in music and history, the School was founded by Henry VIII in 1546 to provide choristers for Christ Church Cathedral and College. Now a Church of England School, it was originally housed within the College itself. Today its premises are located across from Christ Church at 3 Brewer Street, Oxford and Cardinal Wolsey‘s house is still used for teaching.[1]

In the 19th century, the Dean of Christ Church, Henry Liddell (father of Alice, who was immortalised in the books of Lewis Carroll) arranged for the building of a new choir school on its present site. More recent developments include the opening of a Pre-Prep department and nursery, and the William Walton Centre which comprises several new classrooms and teaching facilities.[2]

All pupils are boys except a few girls who attend the nursery. The 22 boarders are choristers or probationary choristers for the Cathedral. The dormitories in which they sleep are named after distinguished former organists including Ley, Taverner and Armstrong and formerly Watson. All other pupils are day boys, among them twelve non-boarding choristers who sing in Worcester College Chapel. The school also used to provide choristers for Exeter College but this was stopped when Exeter no longer wanted a boys choir.

Video: Alumni

Stephen Darlington speaks about Christ Church’s illustrious musical alumni from years past.

The Choir and Christ Church – A glimpse of magic

Here is just a fleeting glimpse of the choir and Christ Church – next week we will start to go behind the scenes and you will meet Stephen Darlington, members of the choir and have a look at the Christ Church Choir School – a remarkable small school that I wish I had gone to.

What do you remember of your Oxford experience?

This Oxford Promo video is a typical promo – but it did bring back to me, glimpses of Christ Church, the beauty of the city, the life of the student and sense of academic awe that I had when I first arrived.

How did you feel when you first arrived? I was terrified that I would be the stupid one. I also only knew 2 people when I arrived and wondered how I would fit in socially as well.

I regret that I was a bit of a hearty philistine – Yes I have “swum” in Mercury. The Bulldogs knew me well. I was fortunate to have Charles Stuart as my Moral Tutor and as a regular Tutor. He more than anyone taught me how to think.

I did next to no work for my first 2 years but then knuckled down and in effect did all of the 3 years in one at the end. I only stopped having nightmares about finals a few years back!

I wish that I had participated more broadly at the time. But I did have the time of my life and made the best friends of my life too. More than anything these friendship have and still do sustain me. We have all had our ups and downs – buried our parents – been god parents to our children – and now get old together. I can’t imagine my life without them.

I can rarely go back either to see my friends or Christ Church. This is why I am so excited about bringing some of this here to where I live. I am also making amends I hope for my very uncivilized escapades. No fire extinguisher left unused on my staircase in Peck!

Wishing you too great memories and great friends