Friday, 11th May 2018
The good weather seems to have made such a difference. Over the Bank Holiday, Oxford seems to have been turned from a City of study, into a City of leisure. The beauties of the City, so enhanced by the sweet showers of April, have sprung into life, the gardens gleaming in their multi–coloured finery, the Cherwell a slow flowing artery of celebration with punts full of revellers. The dreaming spires which seem to have stood for so long seem an appropriate environment for all this happiness and joy at Spring’s coming. CCCS has seemed a place of energy recently too, though our pupils, many of whom will be taking CE very soon, seem to have managed to get their heads down very effectively. It’s always seemed to me to be odd that in this country pupils take their important exams at a time when the weather is most distracting; on the other hand I can always remember in my case the good weather at exam time kept my spirits up at a time when I otherwise might have been in a darker state. Exams have come very quickly this year. Our CE candidates have ten more school days before they start most of their exams; meanwhile I have just heard of a pupil at St Edward’s who finishes their public exams today!!
I know that almost all of you are avid listeners of the Today programme on Radio 4 and as such you will almost certainly have heard the interview conducted by John Humphreys on Wednesday morning with Paul Smith, Headmaster of Hereford Cathedral School who is, this year, chairman of the Choir Schools’ Association, which celebrates its centenary this year. Its annual conference was held this week at St Paul’s Cathedral, in London, St Paul’s being one of the founder members. The group, of which we are a member of course, was founded and still acts to promote and protect those schools which have choristers; in fact of our just over 100 boys in the prep school, 40 are choristers so that very much includes us. Indeed I suspect we have the highest ratio of choristers to pupils of all the schools represented, bar Westminster Abbey Choir School which only has choristers. Of course though our recruitment into both choirs is very healthy at the moment, it is not an easy climate these days as a huge amount of commitment is required on the part of pupils and their parents. But there will always be people who are prepared to commit themselves to something which is completely worthwhile. It was a joy to spend 36 hours in the company of a group of people who believe completely in the flourishing of this wonderful way of life. From every corner of the country heads came, including the headmaster of Saint Thomas Choir School, New York, our one American member. The climax of the conference was the Evensong held in St Paul’s; in the quire all the heads sat staring across the vast spaces of that enormous building, sitting amongst the ornately carved stalls so meticulously executed by Grinling Gibbons; wood carved so finely that it seems, in places, as delicate as paper. The choir consisted of St Paul’s Cathedral Choir, members of Westminster Abbey Choir and of King’s Cambridge, the three founding members of the organisation, along with the girl choristers of Salisbury, the first Cathedral choir to take girls. Enhanced by the staggering echo of the building and the industrial-sized organ, the resulting sound was extraordinary, the notes echoing around Wren’s great dome for several seconds. Part of the music had been written for the occasion by the choral composer Richard Shepherd, and so it was the first time it had been heard by anyone. I reflected that here was a noble tradition stretching back several hundred years at its finest but one which is being enhanced and fed by new composition all the time; traditions are always at their best when they are dynamic, as they always should be. I reflected that this was a good metaphor for the School – a traditional and ancient institution which is always updating itself, ensuring that the important lessons which have always been true are taught again in a way appropriate for the age in which we live. How fortunate we are that we are part of such a place.
There are a number of lovely events in the near future. Tomorrow is our House Music Competition at St Peter’s College. It’s a week earlier than normal as the choristers are away in Germany next weekend singing at the Handel festival in Göttingen. Do please support your sons by coming; if you haven’t been before, it really is a splendid event. The Adjudicator this year is Chris de Souza, the former director of the BBC Proms. The following Sunday (20th May) Hannah and I are hoping you will join us for a tour of Worcester College, one of Oxford’s greatest gems. Behind its cool and plain façade are possibly Oxford’s finest gardens, an Elysium which seems to expand for ever, particularly given the impression one gets from outside where the College seems to lie surrounded by roads, car parks and the spread of Jericho. It always reminds me of going through the wardrobe into Narnia. We will be going into parts of the College which are not open to the public so please do ensure that you get your tickets from the Front Office and come along. Our Guide will be the wonderfully entertaining Dr Salisbury, who is, amongst his many other roles, principal adviser on Liturgy to the Archbishop of Canterbury, not that that will be his theme on this occasion!