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Choir of the Queen's College - California Tour Blog - April 2018 written by members of the choir and the chaplain

Picture above: The Choir rehearsing in Stanford Memorial Church.

A special thank you to all our generous supporters who helped make the tour possible:

Joanne Alston, Mike Atkinson, Rebecca Baker, Julia Barr, Martin Bowley, Richard Brimelow, Kevin Burke, Gregory Camp, David Cheung, Henry Cosh, Steven, Crown, Karen Dean-Smith, Annette Fayet, Laura Grive, Diana Ho, David Howard, Akex Johnson, Rhidian Jones, Cameron Jones, Bill Kay, William Marsterson, David Marsh, Catherine Mason, Tessa Meurer, Martin Neill, Isobel Palmer, Ian Parker, Christopher Pidgeon, Michael Roberts, Charlotte Rowden, Amanda Schreiber, Howard Shaw, Macs Smith, Lucy Taylor, Anna Thorne, Peter Wadsworth, Simon Whitaker, Janet Wild and many other generous anonymous donors.

5th April 2018; California Dreaming - post by The Chaplain

A journey of five thousand miles begins with… well, with a very early start.

Having tagged along for the ride with the Choir of the Queen’s College, I offered to justify my presence by writing the first blog post and taking a few photos. Or a lot of photos.

The Queen’s (College) Terminal

So the main thing about yesterday was that it was long. Still, there is a lot you can get done in a day when it’s thirty-two hours long. College, take note: the next step up from an underground library has got to be a library that can fly you back to the day before your deadline.

We all prepared ourselves for acclimatising to American culture in different ways: Jacob C by wearing a baseball cap “because that’s what they wear in America”, Olivia by getting there a week early and scouting out the venues, and Kate by being actually American which gives her something of a head start.

A great tour starts with a great neck pillow

Our first stop was Dublin because, and bear with me on this one, Dublin to San Francisco counts as an internal flight. That’s right. Unlike in Heathrow, at Dublin airport you can officially go through the process of entering the US before you get on the flight which speeds things up considerably at the other end and means you don't have a 2 hour wait after the long flight!

The long wait at ‘preclearance’ also gave me my first foretaste of American culture. Queuing may be the British national sport, but the Americans are the best commentators! After that I needed a restorative, but it was too early for a drink – and also too late for a coffee if we wanted to sleep on the plane. I settled on chocolate. Chocolate is good 24 hours a day. Or even more than 24.

Dawn & the college kitchen team have nothing to worry about!

Any attempt to pretend it was ‘really’ 7 in the morning was blown out of the water in any event by the arrival of ‘dinner’: pasta with pasta salad.

Eleven hours, multiple movies, and many games of solitaire later…

Hellooo America!

We did not factor in to our tour risk assessment the long-term impact on our cholesterol!

First stop: Stanford. Which was easing us in gently, because Stanford is basically a late-nineteenth century Oxbridge college that’s grown into an entire university. They even have quads, although they have a few more palm trees. So we got half an hour or so to experience life from the other side of the camera: taking photos of their libraries, asking stupid tourist questions, and getting in the way of their bikes. And in my case getting way too excited that they have different squirrels.

Foliage just a bit more impressive than the middle of Back Quad…

We were welcomed by Stanford Chorale with whom we will be singing our first concert, here in Stanford Memorial Church.

Choir of the Queen's College with Stanford Chorale and their Director Stephen Sano

First task for the organ scholars: pick your organ. They have five.

But that’s for tomorrow. Now, after more than twenty-four hours and five meals in no particular order: good night California!

Thursday 5th April - Tricia Drummond

Following our first evening in San Francisco, many of us spent the morning recovering from our jet lag and making the most of the unlimited pancakes at the hostels breakfast buffet!

We took the bus to Stanford and rehearsed in the Memorial Church for the evening’s concert. The Stanford Chamber Chorale organised a delicious Mexican meal for the evening, which gave us a chance to get to know their choir.

Walking through the beautiful Stanford Campus

Following the Chorale’s performance, it was really nice to begin the concert with some music in remembrance of the First World War, in this centenary year. The choir then sang some new pieces we’ve been working on, Kuhnau’s Tristis est anima mea and Bach’s Komm, Jesu, Komm. My favourite piece of the concert was the Howells Requiem, which is such a moving piece for both performer and audience. Rory and Laurence played rousing pieces on the organ, including an audience favourite: Litanies by Alain. The concert had a great audience, and both choirs joined together for Harris’s Faire is the Heaven and Wood’s Hail Gladdening Light.

A full house at the stunning Stanford Memorial Church!

It was amazing to be able to perform to and meet some of the generous supporters of the choir.

Friday 6th April - Tricia Drummond

Today we had a completely free morning, which gave us the chance to see a bit more of the city!

A group of us went to have a look at the shops in Union Square, and then went to the Museum of Modern Art. There was such a variety of amazing works, and it also provided a welcome relief from the rain!

There are so many great things to do in San Fran, even in the pouring rain!

For lunch we went to a diner, and had a typical American Mac’n cheese.

Lunch - USA style!

The choir then regrouped and rehearsed in both of the venues for the next two concerts, at the historic Ferry Building and the luxurious Weston St Francis Hotel.

A choir member's 360 view from the rehearsal in the Westin Hotel
Team Alto in the Westin's lovely lobby

This evening’s performance followed an alumni dinner at the Ferry Building. This was contributing to the university’s North American alumni event. It was a really fun event because we got to sing a few of close-harmony classics like Moon River and Somewhere Over the Rainbow. It looked like the audience enjoyed the music, perhaps evoking memories of their time at Oxford.

A stunning setting the for the Oxford University's Alumni North American Gala Dinner - it was a real honour to be part of the special evening!

Lovely feedback from the North American Oxford University Alumni Office:

"I also wanted to let you know that the Queen’s Choir are amazing!! On Friday night, a couple of the attendees were so moved by the choir that they were tearing. I was also talking with an older gentleman afterwards and he said the songs that they sang brought back so many memories for him and that he was glad that he was able to attend the dinner (he was waitlisted for the dinner). Thank you and the Queen’s Choir for making all of this happen!"

Saturday 7th April - Tricia Drummond

Grace Cathedral

On Saturday we had two performances, at another North American alumni event at the Weston St Francis Hotel on Post Street, and an evening concert at Grace Cathedral. The Weston st Francis provided an extremely luxurious setting for our performance of some lighter music, such as the folk songs Wild Mountain Thyme and Linden Lea.

Enjoying the first sun of the tour outside Grace Cathedral

At Grace Cathedral we performed more of our concert repertoire, performing for the first time Eric Whitacre’s Lux Aurumque, which was popular with the audience. It was amazing to be able to perform in such a beautiful space, with such a great acoustic! Rory and Laurence really enjoyed playing on such a powerful organ.

Ready to rehearse in Grace Cathedral - an incredible place to sing!

sunday 8th April - The Chaplain

You can Arrive at the Cathedral in style in San Francisco!

After a day exploring the unique San Francisco-ness of SF, by Sunday I was ready for some familiar Anglican choral liturgy. Our hosts for the day were the chapter and congregation of Grace Cathedral. Like much of San Francisco, it was built following the 1906 earthquake – and, also like much of San Francisco, it was at the top of a very steep hill. I spent the near-vertical ascent trying to gauge whether Grace would beat my own ecclesiastical alma mater of Lincoln Cathedral in the niche ‘Steepest Hill to the Cathedral’ category

The steep climbs to Grace Cathedral

Grace Cathedral was built as the seat of the Bishop of California. At one time the Diocese of California covered the whole state. It is now split between multiple dioceses but there is still a Bishop of California – Bishop Marc Andrus, who was leading the service on Sunday morning.

In some ways, Grace Cathedral feels like a home from home for an English chapel choir abroad. They have sextons and beadles and lay clerkes (with an e). But, lest you forget this is twenty-first century America, there are also the less Trollopian positions of Executive Pastor and Director of Innovative Ministries. One of my fellow clergy commented how good it was to hear women’s voices as their regular choir is men and boys.

And yet more confirmation that this country loves organs! There was even an organ at the Dodgers game in LA (but more of that later…) Laurence and Rory confirmed that the one in Grace Cathedral was indeed a fine instrument, if not quite worthy of being bowed to every time we passed the altar!

Our Organ Scholars Laurence (left) and Rory (right) in Grace Cathedral

The morning’s service was due to feature TWELVE baptisms, so it was all hands to the font for the clergy, including me! Luckily, Jeffrey the Precentor was on hand for a pre-match locker room briefing, with the aid of this fabulous liturgical blackboard.

How to coordinate 12 baptisms!

The whole team was incredibly welcoming to me and to the choir – and there are some things Anglican clergy can always bond over, like digging into the vestment cupboard! But there cannot be any greater welcome than being invited, on my first Sunday in the USA, to perform the sacrament of baptism welcoming a little girl into the worldwide family of the church.

my first baptism in the usa

The choir sang the eucharistic setting written by Philip Stopford for Keble College when he was a student there in 1997, a suitably dramatic and atmospheric piece for the setting and occasion. There were also some great Easter hymns (yes, Easter Sunday was only a week ago!) and there seemed to be a strong tradition of congregational singing. We’ve never yet sung this piece in Chapel, although contemporary sacred music has been one a specialism recently with the disc A New Heaven. The choir appreciates the opportunity to sing Eucharistic music in its proper setting (which happens only once or twice a term in Chapel) and it was a privilege to be part of this special occasion for the baptismal candidates and their families. Many of the congregation stopped afterwards to compliment the choir – hopefully we have introduced a new audience to the choral music being produced by British composers today!

There was just time for lunch in the sun in the park by the cathedral before a very early Evensong, and this time it was Rory’s turn on the organ. This service featured classics of the English choral tradition: Howells Col Reg and Elgar’s anthem The Spirit of the Lord. The quire area was full, and definitely the best place to sit to appreciate the acoustic. We’re all sorry to leave San Francisco which has been so welcoming.

A beautiful sunset over golden gate bridge seemed like the perfect end to our time in this fantastic city

Next stop LA!

monday 9th April - Jake Alston

Our day started early as we gathered in the hostel to begin our trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles. After we had conquered the ticket gates at the metro station (suitcases cannot go through turnstiles, Jacob C!) and the last few stragglers had made it down to the platform, we took a train out to San Francisco airport. We then had to confront the stringent weight limit and some quick switching of shoes and clothes between suitcases but the flight was, overall, hassle free.

Ready to fly!
First glimpses of LA!

Forms of transport below 20,000ft proved less reliable, however. We found the bus at Los Angeles airport but unfortunately it was on the back of a tow truck! Those of us who were not already part of the ‘gig economy’ found themselves unable to deny the convenience of Uber, whose drivers took us door to door to our hostel in Hollywood.

Hollywood - here we come!

The group was elated to find that all of our rooms were ensuite, and fans and air conditioning (essential in the 36 degree heat!) were present. We had an hour to spare before heading to Getty House for our next spot of singing and so we went to explore. I went to a good pizza place on the other side of the block while others opted to explore the walk of fame on Hollywood Boulevard or popped to the supermarket to discover how many brands they recognised.

Hollywood Boulevard and the famous Hollywood sign in the distance!

We then travelled in Ubers to Getty House, the residence of the Mayor of Los Angeles who just happens to be an alumnus of The Queen’s College! We were there to provide entertainment for an evening event organised for alumni of The Queen’s College and Wadham College living in California and the surrounding states. We were also able to enjoy the beautiful surroundings and were treated to a lovely range of sandwiches, drinks and canapés by the Mayor and his team. This event was one of the times that we sang secular music and our programme was, we hope, well received. It included the Irish traditional (although perhaps originally from the USA!) song ‘Molly Malone’, ‘Moon River’ from Breakfast at Tiffany’s and ’Somewhere over the rainbow’ from The Wizard of Oz!

Some beautiful scenes from our time at Getty house - the Mayor's Residence

We ate, sang and socialised with the Mayor, Old Members, our Provost and each other through the evening. Then we continued our, now longstanding, support of Uber and its drivers by taking Ubers back to our hostel.

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