The MasterSingers are on their way to Durham, England to serve in residence at Durham Cathedral. Choir School staff, chaperones and MasterSingers will be sending us photos and observations during their tour. Check back for updates!
Day One: Charlotte to Manchester
We arrived in England! The flight was the first for many of our group, so it’s always fun to experience those “first” in our young people’s lives. For air travel, that includes the amazement of being up in the air and so far off the ground, wondering about the science of flight, being on a double decker airplane with over 270 other people, trying to sleep sitting up during the long flight over the Atlantic Ocean, experiencing the technology of seat back movies, games, etc., and experiencing the disruptions that weather issues make in airport scheduling! Storms around JFK airport before our arrival from Charlotte created a 3 hour queue for the airplanes sitting in the gates and on the tarmac trying to leaving the airport!
The flight was smooth and our late arrival allowed some to get a little sleep before landing in Manchester and heading to our first tour site, Harewood House. We also experienced typical British weather with heavy rain greeting us as we arrived and loaded the bus. Also typical for England, the expected all day continuous rain stopped or turned to a drizzle as we arrived at Harewood House to begin our visit of the magnificent 18th century mansion and landscaped grounds. Inside the house, room after room reflected the exquisite craftsmanship of the 18th Century with superb chimney pieces, ceilings, carpets, mirrors and furniture by Chippendale. Outside we enjoyed the sweeping terrace designed by Sir Charles Barry, Architect of the Houses of Parliament, which overlooks the formal gardens, along with bunnies, goats, flamingos, penguin pool, and the extensive bird garden where we found many interesting species of birds to view.
We also experienced our first British lunch at the Harewood House café with options of packaged sandwiches, potato jackets and hot entrees. We’ll enjoy this version of lunch in many places over our next week together.
Still trying to not nap, we headed to the hotel to settle in and enjoy dinner before an early night to bed, hoping to move our bodies ahead to the 5 hour time difference and an overnight flight! What a great first day for our England adventure!
Our Day in York
After a good night’s sleep and our first traditional English breakfast, we were back on the bus traveling to York for a guided walking tour of the town, lunch and dinner in a café, a visit to the Jorvik museum, and to experience our first British Choir led Evensong in York Minster!
Our two guides were great as they detailed the history of the founding of York and the building of the Minster. We visited parts of the historic town wall and the gates entering the city, the ruins of the Abbey and its history, the old city with its small shops and the famous York “Shambles”!
After lunch in our groups, we visited the Jorvik Museum. This museum chronicles the arrival of the Viking in Northern England, and specifically in what has become the city of York. The museum is built on the site of an archeological dig examining the remains of the Viking society. In addition to traditional displays at the beginning an end of the museum, the major experience is a ride through exhibits of what they have discovered about the Viking community- their cooking, agriculture, animals, family life, and even replicas of the people based on skeletons found on the site. While “Disney-like”, it was fun and informational. The final exhibit room included an area on Viking music which intrigued many of the kids.
After some free time in our groups in the city, we gathered again at York Minster and attended Evensong together. This was the final weekend of services for the boys of their Choir School, before they went on holiday and the graduation of some. They presented special music for the special weekend. All agreed the service and music was outstanding.
We concluded the evening with dinner in groups in York, before returning to the hotel for sleep and to continue our efforts towards overcoming jet lag. Tomorrow would be a return to York for Holy Eucharist and on to Durham to settle in for our Residency!
Our last day in York and on to Durham!
We returned to York to experience Holy Eucharist at the Minster and were warmly greeted by their congregation. They were pleased that a Choir in Residence at Durham was attending their service! Again, we enjoyed their Men and Boys Choir as they sang their final day of services before their summer “holiday”.
After lunch, we wandered again through the streets of York seeing things we missed the day before. Then on to the bus to ride to Durham- our home for the week. Being the Choir in Residence is such an honor and very exciting. Durham is one of the most visually exciting cities in Britain. The magnificent Norman Cathedral, built in 1069, and the Castle stand proudly on a sandstone hill almost enclosed by a steep banked wooded bend of the River Wear. The next stop was our dorm for the week, Queens Court, part of St. Chad’s College and on to dinner at St. Chad’s dining hall. Our after-dinner activity prior to light’s out was led by the Men of the MasterSingers! Tomorrow, we learn more about Durham Cathedral and officially become the Choir in Residence!
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Residency, Day 1
Morning rehearsal in St. Chad’s Chapel; Guided tour of Durham Cathedral; Photo op in Cloister (hoping to run into Harry Potter!); Visiting the new “Open Treasures Exhibit” and enjoying the “costume” section to fight the dragons & be monks at the Cathedral; photos from the top of the high tower tour!; Practicing the processional; rehearsal in the Cathedral and experiencing the amazing acoustic; Leading our first Evensong; Game night led by the girls; Chapter House panorama- our vesting room and Harry Potter movie classroom!
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Residency, Day 2
Today’s activity was a trip back in time via the Beamish Museum. Located on a site of more than 300 acres, we visited this open-air museum to experience life as it was in Northeast England in the 1900’s. The buildings were deconstructed historic buildings that had been moved to Beamish and reconstructed! In the Colliery Yard, many donned hard hats to take a guided walking tour into the coal mine. In the Pit Village, we experienced the schoolhouse, writing on slate tablets, visiting pit cottages with costumed residents explaining their life in the 1900’s. The pit ponies were in their stable and gorgeous stained glass was in the chapel. Stores in the town were open to purchase handmade confectionery, freshly-baked breads, etc. We took a short ride on the steam powered train before returning by tram to our bus. Many of us experienced the famous, original Fish and Chips (“using beer batter, fried in beef dripping, using traditional methods cooked on a coal fire range”). The wait for Fish and Chips is often one hour or longer, so we arrived early to be certain to get ours with minimal wait time. While we arrived skeptical, we definitely enjoyed the Fish & Chips!
Back to Durham to lead Evensong, and the MasterSingers are amazing! They work hard, perform well and receive compliments from strangers as we walk through the town.
The evening activity was an experience on the Rowing Boats on the River Wear that loops around the town. We set in 4 boats, learning how to work together and row efficiently. Watching from shore was entertaining and all teams succeeded at rowing down the river and returning to shore by the end of our evening. The sunset and the Cathedral were spectacular!
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Residency, Day 3
Today, we rode deep into the Northumberland region to Hadrian’s Wall. Roman Emperor, Hadrian, visited Britain in 122AD and ordered that the wall be built. It to 6 years to build the 73 miles of wall, and 15 feet high. It runs from Wallsend in the east to Bowness on Solway in the west. While many believed it was built to keep out the Scots, it was actually built to separate the Romans from the Barbarians. The Romans left about 400AD and the wall was not maintained or protected. Many stones were used for building and other walls in the area. The remains of the Housesteads Fort are near the site of our visit. It is the most complete Roman Fort in Britain.
After our next Evensong (Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis led by the women of the choir and soloist), and dinner, our groups enjoyed the Durham area while participating in a scavenger hunt. While on the hunt we followed a map and clues to see a variety of obscure historical sites throughout the town.
Residency, Day 4 – “Quiet Day”
Our Full Day excursion!
We began the day at Alnwick Castle. Construction of the castle began in the early 12th Century and was sold to the Percy family in 1309. The family eventually became the Dukes of Northumberland and still lives in the castle today. It is currently the second largest inhabited castle in England. The castle and grounds have been the site of a variety of tv shows and movies, including two Harry Potter movies, Downton Abbey Christmas Special and Transformers: The Last Night. Along with viewing the castle and some of its rooms, attractions included the Dragon Quest, Broomstick training and Archery. Almost all tried their hand at archery before our private “Alnwick on Location” film tour. The guide was engaging and it was interesting seeing where several current movies were filmed.
After lunch, we drove on to Holy Island of Lindisfarne- known simply as Holy Island. This is a tidal island that is only accessible during the six hours of low tide. It is known as the birthplace of English Christianity. St. Cuthbert founded the monastery on the island and lived there until his death. The monks eventually fled with his coffin when the island was invaded by the Danes and made their way over the years to the current site of Durham Cathedral where his grave is now located.
We enjoyed the small church still active on the island, the castle and the gorgeous scenery. Some even waded in the cold North sea and enjoyed ice cream before heading back to the bus and Durham for dinner.
We enjoyed our “day off” from the Cathedral, but look forward to returning to the quire seats to lead Evensong on Friday.
Residency, Day 5
Today we traveled to St. Bede’s church in Jarrow, England. St. Paul’s, Jarrow has been a place of worship for 13 centuries! Venerable Bede was sent to the Jarrow monastery in 672 AD and stayed until his death. He loved knowledge, enjoyed Astronomy, Numbers, Latin and wrote history books and over 60 books of biblical interpretation. We had an interesting presentation by Jimmy Guy, a long-time member of St. Paul’s and expert on the church, Jarrow and St. Bede. St. Paul’s is believed to be the second oldest church in England with a dedication stone of 685 AD in the building. They served us cookies and tea and we enjoyed wandering the ruins of the monastery before heading back to Durham.
The teens had a choice of activities in the afternoon. Some went to the Botanical Gardens; others enjoyed the tower tour at the Cathedral; others enjoyed an English lunch in a café in town and walked the circle around Durham to catch the best views of the Cathedral.
Then it was time to regroup, rehearse and lead Evensong!
Residency, Day 6
We awakened to our only rainy day in England! We had experienced unseasonably warm and dry weather and we appreciated it. Saturday began with rehearsals for our final 4 services; Saturday Evensong, Sunday Matins, Eucharist and Evensong. Eucharist would be held the next morning in the Nave, so a new seating location and acoustic had to be experienced and learned.
After rehearsals, it was Market Day in Durham and we were thrilled to find our rainy morning had turned to a light drizzle! We made our way to the market in our groups to experience the entertainment, vendors and lunch. There were fewer vendors than usual due to the weather, but we had fun wandering the market and enjoying the entertainment.
Then it was back to the Cathedral to lead Evensong. In the Chapter House (our vesting area) after Evensong, we sang and recorded a few favorite songs in that amazing acoustic. One more experience that is rare in the U.S. and a remarkable conclusion for the service.
After dinner, we enjoyed what has become an England tour tradition with “Improve Night”! All had fun watching and participating. We headed back to the dorm knowing there was one more day in England before heading home to our family.
Residency, Day 7
On our final day in England, we led three services- experiencing the great music, the wonderful place to sing, the history of this ancient building and being part of the community that has kept the experience and tradition of daily sung services since the 11th century. We feel a part of the long line of 10 centuries of choirs and choristers who call the Cathedral home. We’ve learned much in our time in England; music, history, responsibility, being part of a group working together toward a common goal and more! We ended the day with our celebration dinner and our annual award ceremony that concludes every tour- recognizing each chorister for their unique contribution to our trip! To conclude our evening, our musical chaperones entertained us with Mr. Mays’ humorous musical creation of “MasterSingers Tour of England” set to the tune of “Mary, Weep Not, Weep No Longer”, one of the hymns for the week. We laughed and enjoyed each other before packing and preparing for an early morning bus ride to the airport. Our goodbye to Durham occurred before the sun came up, as we began our travel day home!