Magdalen College (pronounced MAWD-lin), founded in 1458, sits on the bank of the River Cherwell. It’s great tower is one of the first things visitors see as they approach the old city from London. The college has one of the largest plots of land in the city, encompassing the main quad, cloister, chapel, new building, meadow, deer park, and fellows’ garden. It is by far one of the most beautifully manicured colleges. The chapel gates were closed during my visit, so I could only take photos from the antechapel.
I made it! I have definitely arrived in one of the most beautiful cities on earth. Oxford is shaping up to be even more than I ever could have imagined, and University College, though small, is quite comfortable and in a superb location for access to the rest of the city.
Today was the first day of classes, so I finally have a better understanding of what I will be dealing with. My standard SMU class (European Diplomacy from Napoleon to the EU) meets four days per week for two and a half hours. My Oxford tutorial, on the other hand, meets only twice per week—once as a whole group and once in teams of three—for an hour. Both my SMU professor and my Oxford tutor seem very interesting and engaging. I’m sure I will pull a few quotes from the latter before the trip is over!
Stay tuned for my first round of photos! They should be up shortly.
For those who haven’t figured it out already, my faith is pretty central to my life. I have a lot of things to thank for that, but these days the key is my parish. I have been actively involved at Church of the Incarnation (Episcopal) in Dallas, TX for almost two years now, and I serve as a volunteer in the choir and as a chalice bearer. The latter doesn’t leave me much to talk about, so I’ll stick with the former for the purposes of this post.
I have had the distinct pleasure of singing under two different choirmasters. I started almost concurrently with the interim choirmaster, Dr. Richard Sparks (click here for his blog). Dr. Sparks is the Chair of Conducting and Ensembles at the University of North Texas. His distinctive academic style was just what I needed to get me started in the Anglican choral tradition, with which I was unfamiliar. After working with Dr. Sparks for the entire academic year, I returned home for the summer, after which I returned to Dallas to find a new Organist/Choirmaster in his place. The auditions for the position had occurred before my return home, so I was greatly looking forward to meeting his successor.
Lo and behold, Scott Dettra! Incarnation was lucky enough to snatch him away from the Washington National Cathedral. Having received his most recent degree from the renowned Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ, Scott took off with an ambitious performance schedule. It has been exhausting, but very fulfilling to work with Scott. His background in Anglican music has opened a whole new world of possibilities for the choir, and his skills as an organist are top notch.
I think that the best way in which to share this integral part of my life with you is to sit back and allow the music to speak for itself. Below you will find several recordings made of the choir. Except for the final one, these are not my recordings, and I claim no right to them. They are all, however, shared publicly already. The full recording of the requiem mass can be found on the church’s website (see my links page) under “Media” -> “Special Audio.” Happy listening!
“Locus Iste” – Anton Bruckner
“Salvator Mundi” – Thomas Tallis
Introit from Officium Defunctorum (Requiem) – Tomás Luis de Victoria
“Ave Maria” – Robert Parsons
Hymn: “Now, My Tongue, the Mystery Telling” (Grafton)
The chapel of Keble College is arguably the most distinctive in Oxford. Even from the exterior, one is immediately struck by its red brick and contrasting banding patterns. And once one steps inside, the level of detail is almost overwhelming. The chapel, like the rest of the original college facilities, was the brainchild of architect William Butterfield. Construction on the chapel was begun in 1873 thanks to the patronage of William Gibbs (the chapel being the first of three buildings at Keble funded by his family). It was then dedicated three years later on St. Mark’s Day (also John Keble’s birthday) 1876.
The inside of Butterfield’s masterpiece is a whirlwind of color and geometry, but certainly not at the expense of religious artistry (it is Anglican, after all, not Calvinist). Repeated patterns are everywhere, and mosaic details below the clerestory level and around the reredos are stunning. It is easy to see how one might be distracted by all of the artistic interest surrounding worshipers.
Perhaps one of the greatest architectural details of the chapel is not the visual element, but the acoustic. The space envelops the congregation in a wash of lush, warm tones. The choir and organ certainly do their fair share to help with this. The choir is often regarded as one of the best non-professional choirs of Oxford.
The organ at Keble is, despite its appearance, is the newest at the university. It was built by Kenneth Tickell and Company of Northampton and installed in 2011. The façade of the organ remains from the previous instrument installed when the chapel was built. The style of the instrument is decidedly English, and it speaks with a warm clarity into the space which mesmerizes the senses. The Great principal chorus, grounded by two Open Diapason ranks, is lush and strong; the solo Posaune, powerful and piercing enough to recapture people wantering attention.
The combined choir of the Church of the Incarnation is certainly among the finest in the area, and its members are workhorses throughout the year in that they sing three services every week, at least two of which are totally different from one another. It is among the few in Dallas to sing Anglican chant, and the only one to sing choral evensong weekly. As if all of that weren’t enough, the choir occasionally host concerts and other special events. Concerts are a rare opportunity to get up close and personal with the choir without the confines of the liturgy.
Come see why this choir has earned an international reputation for excellence! The final concert of the 2012-13 season is this Friday, May 17, at 7pm at the Church of the Incarnation. The program will include works by Tallis, Bruckner, Finzi, and Howells, among others. The suggested donation at the door is $10, and proceeds will go toward funding the choir’s next recording and tour. For more information, please visit the church’s website by clicking here.
As for the next tour, there are new details available. Rather than the originally planned tour of England (Gloucester Cathedral and Westminster Abbey), a domestic tour is now planned. While the schedule is not finalized, the tour will begin with a week spent in residence at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC (a return home for organist/choirmaster Scott Dettra). From there, the choir will make its way up to New York where they will sing at Saint Thomas Church (5th Avenue). An intervening stop as well as a locale for evensong in New York are in the works. This is an excellent opportunity to promote the choir and the parish domestically. The following tour will be planned for 2016 and will involve a trip across the pond.
Whilst in Oxford, it appears I will have the pleasure of worshiping in this glorious space (among many others). Construction was begun on the chapel in 1639, but it was not until 20 March 1666 that is was finally dedicated, thanks in large part to the English Civil War. Surprisingly the chapel had no organ until 1863. The current instrument by Walker dates to 1955. Sadly, the organ is not used nearly as often as its cousins in the other collegiate chapels of Oxford as the chapel only plays host to one sung service per week. Nonetheless, this will be my first stop on my tour of sacred spaces in Oxford.
I think I could get used to coming “home” to this every evening! Say hello to University College, the oldest of Oxford’s 46 colleges and halls. I think that Oxford may be something of an overload for me considering all of the exciting things to see and do. Just touring colleges alone will be more than I can manage. But the best places to find me will probably be Christ Church Cathedral, Magdalen College, Keble College, and Pusey House.