Unique in the world insofar as it is both a collegiate chapel and a diocesan cathedral, Christ Church Cathedral is certainly one of the must see-sights in Oxford. I only wish that one could say the same of hearing it. Although the choir is quite solid under Dr. Stephen Darlington, and the organ (1978 Rieger) is charming, the acoustic and the layout of the space make it an auditory nightmare. It is as though the space was designed to serve both of its functions, but each in its traditional form. The nave is essentially a self-contained, hall-style collegiate chapel. The choir stalls are just beneath the organ, with the precentor’s desk behind them. The daily offices are, in fact, led from the west end. This is perfectly sensible in itself. But the Eucharist is celebrated at the east end (where it belongs). Although in its proper place, the choir and organ are now substantially separated. The chancel, for reasons unknown, is actually longer than the nave, making the space supremely awkward as worshipers torn back and forth from left to right in order to face whatever is happening at the time. The pulpit only complicates matters as it faces northeast diagonally across the crossing in the direction of the chancel. The lectern, a modern movable piece of furniture, is perched dead center in the aisle at the top of the chancel steps.
I also must lament the use of Common Worship in place of the Book of Common Prayer for the celebration of the Eucharist. For a cathedral church, it is simply not appropriate. The contemporary language is awkward, and it is totally lost against the backdrop of the Latin mass settings sung by the choir. In short, this space is well worth seeing, but I would suggest attending either matins or evensong rather than one of the Eucharist services.
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.