Sunday, 17 April 2016

Winchester - Owen Elsley

The second stop on our grand tour of Europe was Winchester. As a much smaller city, Winchester was a nice change of pace after London, with its quiet and beautiful Cathedral green and old cobbled streets.

The high street, with its age-warped  shop facades that evoked an almost Harry-Potter-esque atmosphere, comes to life with a market around lunchtime which was frequented by the choir for bacon baps, cheeses, chicken tikka wraps, coffee and more. A short walk around town takes you past the ruins of the old Bishop's castle and along the walls of Winchester college, one of the oldest and most prestigious schools in the UK. From the top of St Catherine's hill, after a slightly chilly but nevertheless pleasant walk, we could see the beauty of the surrounding countryside before returning through the water meadows and pass the Hospital of St Cross, the oldest charitable institution in the UK.

And right in the centre of town lies the stunning Winchester Cathedral. Though one of a long list of churches we had seen and will see on this trip, Winchester was very beautiful. With the longest nave of any Gothic cathedral in Europe, it had a huge acoustic and a big organ to match. Of particular interest was the large west stained glass window. It was destroyed by Cromwell's forces during the Civil War, but after the Restoration, townsfolk and clergy who had collected shards brought the pieces together and attempted to reassemble the window. When this proved too difficult, the pieces were reinstalled randomly, giving the window a truly unique, almost modernist, look which was truly something to behold.

Like Westminster Abbey, Winchester Cathedral was one of the churches at which Warren sang as a lay clerk. It has been great for the choir to experience singing, not only in such beautiful buildings, but in ones that have a such a personal connection. We not only got to hear the stories and memories from Warren's time in Winchester but we got to see the sights, go the places and be part of that experience. Highlights for me included a delicious curry near the Guildhall and having a drink with friends in the Wykeham arms, one of Warren's old haunts.

And I now have a connection of my own with Winchester. For our second evensong in the cathedral the choir sang a set of canticles (Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis) written especially for the choir. The solo sections were written for specific voices and people, all of whom were on the tour, which made the performance even more special. To have my own composition performed by such a phenomenal choir in such an awesome building was a very special experience and one I will not soon forget.

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