Queen’s passing- a footnote

I’ve written a more important page about some of my experiences of our great loss, in September 2022.

This page is about a small footnote to the bigger story.

Before my bags were unpacked from about a week away from home enjoying one visitor from abroad, either overseas friends arrived, passing through London. It was great to see them! I am in need of some unusual “disturbance” from my rather too routine life at this sad time.

I joined them on the afternoon of Friday, 23 September 2022, and we parted at breakfast three days later, Sunday morning.

Saturday, five days after the Queen’s funeral, we went to the ordinary evensong at Westminster Abbey.

I am a great believer in the value to them of children being choristers, and whatever you might think about that, the services at the great cathedrals and collegiate choirs are things of great beauty. Thus I want all and sundry to experience the institution.

And of course, if you are a person of faith, or at least with some sensitivity to a spiritual dimension, it only adds to your reasons to experience this unique (mostly) English institution.

Evensong at Westminster was in our plans even before the Queen’s death.

We timed our arrival perfectly. There are no “bad” seats for evensong, but it is a particular bonus to be able to watch the musicians… boys, men, conductor… at work. (Alas, the man playing the organ will never be seen well… though we even had some view of him, on this occasion.

As I said, there are no “bad” seats, but our seats on the 24th were about as good as it gets. (Diagrams follow.) We could even watch the face of the boy with the huge, and difficult, solo part in the Magnificat from Stamford’s Canticles in G. (He seemed quite young to be given it, and besides singing superbly, he couldn’t have done a better job in respect of his posture, stillness, facial expressions. Suitably modest, self-effacing.)

But that wasn’t all.

We were in Westminster Abbey. Five days after the Queen’s funeral there.

We were sitting in the 12-seat second row of the seats in the north transept, nave end. The King’s seat for his mother’s funeral was diagonally across from us, altar end of the 14-seat front row of the seats in the south transept. In a cathedral empty apart from him and us, we could have spoken without raising our voices.

The choir was in its usual stalls, both days, further towards the nave.

It was nice on so many levels.

To explain that again: our evensong seats were the equivalent, on the “near” side (from the picture below’s point of view), to those outlined in green.

For the funeral, and for evensong, the choir was to the right of what you see below.

Below: Overview of Westminster Abbey… (pass on quickly to “detail”, which follows…)

Below: Detail of the relation of our seats to everything.

The Queen’s coffin rested at the small blue line marked “Q” in the above

Our evensong seats were at the mustard line “U” (for “us”)

The choir, as usual, was in two halves. The halves face one another across the aisle in the area marked “Choir”. (“Quire”, if you referring to the part of the building, vs the people who sing there!)

The green bar is the “Rood Screen”. A “separator” dividing the Quire, etc, off from the nave. It goes up about 15 feet, not all the way to the ceiling. At Westminster (and other, but not all other, places) the organ console is on top of the screen.

You can hear the Stamford in G Magnificat, nearly as we heard it, at the Youtube the link will take you to. (In the YouTube clip it is sung by the choir of Royal Holloway (all adults) during Evensong, March 2015.)

As one would expect of an adult(!), the soprano soloist does a fine job.

But her performance doesn’t, for me, have the magic of the ethereal voice of a child, nor the extra dimension of the fact that something remarkable is achieved, when it could so easily be disappointing. A piano can play many notes that a trumpet can. But they don’t sound the same, do they? A violin and a bass differ mostly in size. The size of an instrument… be in inanimate or living… does make a difference to the sound.