Members of the choir and clergy, along with a group of 40 parishioners, friends and family members, spent two weeks in the U.K. (July 19 to Aug. 5), where the choir did residencies. Here, several participants share reflections and memorable moments.
Canterbury Cathedral July 22 to 24: Choral Evensong daily at 5:30
St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle July 26 to 28: Choral Evensong daily at 5:15; on the 28th, Choral Mattins at 10:45, Sung Eucharist at 11:45 and Choral Evensong at 5:15
Westminster Abbey July 29 to August 4: Choral Evensong daily at 5:00 except on the 31st; on the 4th, Choral Mattins at 10:00, Sung Eucharist at 11:15, Choral Evensong at 3:00
John Tuttle, organist and choirmaster
The daily rehearsal and performance made the choir a much more responsive "instrument."
I was moved several times: Canon Jeremy Davies' sermon about Mary and Martha at the Eucharist at Canterbury (the day before we began); "Faire is the heaven" at St. George's Chapel; and the choir's "dona nobis pacem" at the end of the Kodaly Missa Brevis at Westminster Abbey come to mind. I am always moved to do the repertoire in places where it was conceived and written.
I feel that we deepened relationships with choristers and parishioners, and I suspect that parishioners learned just how much effort our choristers put into the music at St. T's.
Father Godsall at Westminster Abbey noted the "prayerfulness and sense of devotion" in our singing.
The building of the choir's social network, but mostly the musical experience and growth we achieved as a whole.
Robert Laughton, chorister
It was fascinating getting to know the different spaces from a choral perspective - adjusting and adapting to each space in turn helped us as a choir as we learned how we needed to listen to each other to keep ourselves in check.
Well, it was wonderful to show the heart of Anglicanism that the Anglican choral tradition is alive and well and excelling at St. Thomas's. But just to be able to have the opportunity to sing in those places is a treat that can't be equalled!
Unplanned was communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth Palace. I imagine many people will be recounting the full story, but what was so special about it was: (1) the fact that he only came down to the chapel after hearing that a group of us from Toronto would be there; and (2) the incredibly intimate experience of taking communion in a circle around the altar in that way. It was a first for me, and in being able to watch as everyone partook of the bread and wine together I really appreciated the sense of community in Christ in a way I never have before. Truly an unforgettable moment.
It was really nice to get to spend time with folks I may not have in any other capacity. The tour outings were always well organized and gave us the ability to spend time with folks in other choirs. The tours that really stand out in my head, however, were not planned ones. A group of us went to Whitstable one night in Canterbury, and the tour of St. Augustine's Abbey was exceptional - the audio guide provided have a wonderful history of the place and it moved through the site and its narrative chronologically.
I can't thank the organizing committee enough for putting this monster of a task together. Their hard work clearly paid off!
The Dean's very kind words before our first evensong in Canterbury: "Don't worry about the choreography. Whatever happens is right." Not only did it put us all at ease, but it made it clear that the Cathedral was a place of worship first, and a tourist peculiarity second.
Getting invited to a private garden party by the precentor of Westminster Abbey was nice as well. He personally thanked us for being so good!
Obviously, hearing in all three places that we were quite skilled was nice too! At Windsor: "There's always that awkward moment with visiting choirs when you're not quite sure what you're going to get ... I think we're going to be just fine."
Bert Metcalfe, parishioner
While not a choir member (just a travelling groupie), I very much appreciated the choir's performance of a repertoire not entirely of their own choosing.
To be at the cradle of our Anglican faith was a truly uplifting experience.
Social and sightseeing highlights
The wonderful opportunity to get to know the personalities behind those faces that one sees Sunday by Sunday and for the chance to bond.
Chartwell: This former home of such an historic and complex person had such a beautiful setting. The exhibits were perfectly arranged and the volunteers at hand were most capable in answering any supplementary question that might arise.
Again, the opportunity of getting to know fellow parishioners, especially members of all three choirs, and to be part of such a wonderful corporate body.
A greater appreciation of the hard work that was done by people such as John, Fr Mark, Rob and Lorne, and the choir tour committee in bringing about such a wonderful, exciting tour.
Bill Thoms, parishioner
The music was the foundation of the tour and was truly a pleasure to hear. The spiritual aspect was very important to me personally.
In my case it was Dover Castle as it brought history to life with its audio and visiual presentations. Second was Battle Abbey as it is such an important historical site.
It was truly a tour de force musically and socially as I got to know, like and and admire as people a large number of choir members. A truly special group of talented people.
A wonderful experience. Couldn't have been better.
Janice Kerkkamp, chorister
Polishing our repertoire for the tour and achieving ensemble and blend in the Anglican chant.
Attending Evensong every day and hearing some interesting sermons.
Getting to know the other choristers and parishioners of St. Thomas's a little better.
Sightseeing/group activities highlights
The punting tour in Canterbury turned out to be a delightful way to unwind after a long and busy day; the walking tour of the ancient city in London was very interesting (though we were very footsore and hungry by the end of it); the pub tour in London was a very pleasant evening with good friends and an entertaining guide.
Members of the congregation at Canterbury complimented us on our light sound and clear words. The Dean at Canterbury said that we were both friendly and excellent. The clergy at St. George's said that it was a relief to hear us sing and realize that the services were in good hands. After the Eucharist at St. George's Chapel, an older couple said to us that we were the best visiting choir they had ever heard in the seven years they had been attending St. George's. Members of the congregations at both Canterbury and Westminster commented on our style and ensemble in the Boyce anthem, in particular.
The choir members got to know one another better, especially the newer choristers.
Our ensemble and blend improved greatly during the tour.
We got to know some of the parishioners a little better.
The tour was extremely well organized - kudos to John Tuttle, the tour committee, the choir librarians, and especially Rob McChlery (best "choir mother" ever!).
Each of the three tours has been wonderful, but I felt this was the best one overall. A very congenial group of people with whom to travel! I felt that the members of the choir worked together very well. Canterbury Cathedral, St. George's Chapel, and Westminster Abbey were all wonderful places to sing. Canterbury and Windsor were lovely towns to visit, and there's lots to do in London.
Charis Kelso, parishioner, and her father, Clair, a Friend of St. Thomas's
Seeing the choir adapt to three very different spaces with competence and talent. The a cappella work and the voices rising above three organs was thrilling. Hearing the choir in the Abbey during three wonderful services was a particularly pleasant and moving experience.
One of the amazing gifts of worshipping at St. Thomas's is the ability to attend a said mass each day. In England, all cathedrals start the day with morning prayer at 7:30 a.m. and a said communion at 8:00 a.m. Being able to attend that said mass each day of the tour was a treat. Each day in London, I (Charis) scooted across Millennium Bridge to attend communion in a beautiful and intimate chapel space in one of the world's most beautiful church buildings - St. Paul's. This was a privilege indeed.
Although shared B&B accommodation meant having wonderful conversations with new people each morning, the Farewell Dinner Cruise was the only time we were all together as a group. It was very easy to circulate and chat with a broad mix of people. What a perfect way to end a fabulous trip!
Sightseeing/group activity highlights
It is impossible to select just one favourite experience because all of the group sightseeing activities in which we participated were splendid, from Dover Castle to Sissinghurst to Knole to Chartwell House to Hever Castle to Windsor Castle to Kew Gardens. Two specific highlights that are most memorable are the Dunkirk simulation exhibit in Dover Castle and the exhibit of artwork by generations of Royals at Windsor Castle. Both of these exhibits were very interesting and illuminating. The presentations in the palace at Kew Gardens where George III lived during his illness provided insight into the medical mysteries of the King's afflictions and the horrible treatments he was subjected to by a team of doctors baffled by his condition.
Our friend, Marjorie Race, has been a member of England's St. Michael's singers for over 40 years. She attended two Evensong services in Canterbury and was incredibly impressed by our choir. Such a glowing review from a musician of Marjorie's calibre, with such a discerning ear and someone who has sung in many of the venues that the St. Thomas's choir has visited during all three parish tours, is high praise indeed. A parishioner at Royal St. George's chapel - one of the wives of one of the Military Knights, said that the St. Thomas's choir was the best visiting choir she had ever heard at the chapel. A member of the congregation at the Abbey paused after the communion service on Sunday, August 4 to ask us to share with the choir that it was absolutely superb.
British plumbing aside, everything was extremely well-organized and went off without a hitch. Everything ran VERY smoothly! As with the two previous choir/parish tours there are many people to thank, and in particular the efforts of David Montgomery, Jean Nichols and Lorne Swan must be acknowledged. However, the tour would not have run as smoothly or as seamlessly as it did without the particular talents of Rob McChlery. Rob's ability to charm vergers and stewards in all three places is beyond compare.
Whether it is to share in a superb musical adventure, explore exquisite monuments to the glory of God or visit friends and family in England, the St. Thomas's parish tours are the perfect blend of travel, spiritual fulfilment and fun! When will the next one be, John?
Photos by John Meadows, Julia Armstrong