Tour to the United Kingdom

BYU Singers performing in Gloucester Cathedral.

For the past month I’ve been touring the United Kingdom with BYU Singers.  It was a fantastic tour.  Out of the three I’ve done with BYU Singers, this one was by far the most rewarding and the most fun.  Our tour itinerary looked like this:

Somewhere around Embankment.

  • Church of Christ the Cornerstone – Milton Keyes
  • Emmanuel United Reformed Church – Cambridge
  • St. Andrew’s Hall – Norwich
  • Gloucester Cathedral
  • Bristol Cathedral
  • Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama – Cardiff (recorded for a later broadcast on BBC Radio 3)
  • Exeter University’s Great Hall – Exeter
  • The Sheldonian Theatre – Oxford
  • Crawley Stake Center – Crawley
  • St. Peter’s School – Bournemouth
  • St. Mary’s Church – Hitchin
  • St. Giles-in-the-Fields – London
  • Guildford Cathedral
  • St. Paul’s Cathedral – London
  • St. John’s, Smith Square – London

The whole tour was a string of incredible venues.  I’ve never had the opportunity to sing in so many rewarding and historical places.  In addition, it was great to just be back in the UK.  As we were preparing for the tour, a man came in to talk about England to us.  He asked us to raise our hands if we had ancestors from the UK.  Turns out, all but one of us have forefathers from the UK.  He mentioned to us that, in a way, we were going back home.  I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.  The idea of home is something that has always alluded me.  There really hasn’t been a place that has felt like “home” to me for many years.  The few moments that have felt like home have been with groups of people rather in a specific place.

Some highlights for me would have to be Cambridge, Gloucester, Cardiff, Oxford, and of course, London.  We also got to see places like Stonehenge, the Roman Baths, got to attend a rehearsal of The Sixteen in Exeter Cathedral, and was allowed to take high tea at the high table in Christchurch College at Oxford.  There really are more things that I can mention here.  Ruth, a member of the choir who graduated from Oxford, kept mentioning that we have opportunities that our ancestors would never have had.

BYU Singers performing in St. Paul’s Cathedral.

All of our concerts in London, St. Giles, Guildford, St. Paul’s, and St. John’s Smith Square, were just incredible and an amazing way to end four wonderful years in BYU Singers.  St. Giles was one of the finest acoustics we’ve sung in.  Singing in Guildford, there were a LOT of people and we had a great interaction with the elected officials from the city.  St. Paul’s was a very intimidating but remarkable experience.  St. John’s, Smith Square has become one of the top three performances I’ve had with this remarkable ensemble.  Some of the finest performances of some of our pieces, especially Ferko’s “O vis aeternitatis.”  Also, in attendance were two of my heroes: Gabriel Jackson & Tarik O’Regan.  These two, in my opinion, are among the finest composers in England right now.

After the tour was over I stayed behind with two friends, Chris Downard, and Mark Zabriskie.  We spent most of our time in London, but also went out to Cambridge and Oxford.  Among other things we saw concerts by Tenebrae, the Tallis Scholars, the Cardinall’s Musick, the Sixteen and the BBC Singers.  All were remarkable performances, and it was a dream to hear these choirs in person, either again or for the first time.  Tenebrae sang “Funeral Ikos” by Tavener, Requiem by Howells, and “Evening Watch” by Holst.  The Tallis Scholars sang a number of works by John Cornysh and Jean Mouton.  The Cardinall’s Musick sang an entire concert of Byrd, including the Mass for Five Voices and “Infelix Ego.”  The Sixteen performed an all-Flemish concert with works by Josquin, Brummel and Lassus.  The BBC Singers performed Israel in Egypt by Handel.  In addition, we got to attend a rehearsal of the BBC Singers preparing Israel in Egypt.  It was difficult to come back down to earth after each of these performances.

That final concert of BYU Singers in St. John’s, Smith Square was very difficult.  Everyone was trying to mention to me that this was my final concert with BYU Singers and ask me how it felt.  It might have seemed a bit rude, but I had to immediately interrupt and say, “I’m not talking about that!”  And indeed, talking with others in the choir, with whom it was their final concert the same thing happened (rather mutually): “We’re not talking about that!”  I didn’t want any sort of sadness to overshadow what was a very important concert for the choir.

Our final concert at St. John’s, Smith Square, London.

Just before the concert, I had a small word with Prof. Rosalind Hall about this though.  Since she had been in the choir for four years as well, I asked her how she coped with leaving the choir.  Her response was very telling: “You know Matt, you never do.  You never get over being in BYU Singers, and frankly if you did, it means we didn’t do our job.”  Another friend who was in the choir years earlier mentioned, “After being in BYU Singers, you find yourself working to replicate and imitate the experience there the rest of your life and never really succeeding.”

I feel immensely blessed and privileged to have been in BYU Singers for four years and in BYU Concert Choir two years prior.  These last four years have shaped my life in a way that very few things have.  Being in these ensembles completely changed the course of my life and I feel that I am a better man because of it.

The next morning after our concert I couldn’t bring myself to go downstairs and see the rest of BYU Singers who were flying home.  It was too much.  I just lay in bed trying to deal with this new hole in my life.  I felt very empty and void with it all being over.  So much of my life these past few years has been spent revolved around this ensemble.  I took a shower, got dressed when my friend Chris came in with some breakfast.  He asked how I was and why I didn’t come down to see everyone leave.  After a bit of talking, we both became silent and I just started to cry.  A little at first and then a huge wave of sadness came over me.  After a while, I looked over at Chris and he was crying too. “Now why are YOU crying!?” I asked.  We both laughed, hugged and cried some more.

It’s not like I’m the first or only one to experience this sort of transition.  I’ve seen it happen to my friends, I just never expected it to actually happen to me.  This was my paradise and I never actually expected it to end.

At the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.

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3 thoughts on “Tour to the United Kingdom

  1. Ahhh. Transitions, transitions. What to feel about them or to say about them eludes me too! Just remember, even if experiences may fade, relationships can be eternal.
    Love you, Matt.

  2. Pingback: Recordings of Schola Cantorum Occidentalis « Matthew D. Nielsen

  3. Pingback: Tenebrae at Brigham Young University « Matthew D. Nielsen

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