As I was telling you in my last post, I had an amazing weekend on the Isle of Cumbrae singing with the Scottish Plainsong Choir. Many of the choir members were staying at the College of the Holy Spirit, which as you can see below, adjoins the Cathedral. The Cathedral was built in 1851, and is the smallest cathedral in Britain. It’s an Episcopalian cathedral.
We spent Saturday rehearsing in the Cathedral:
We were well-catered for with tea breaks and lunch, through in the College. The weather was rainy and cool, but a friend and I managed a quick walk before lunch, in between showers. At the entrance to the Cathedral we found these ancient carvings:
Below you see the cloisters, a beautiful feature of the College. I managed to find a brief moment when it was empty except for me:
We had coffee and tea in the Cloisters, as well as a short back-stage rehearsal on Sunday before Vespers:
It was lovely to sing there!
During the weekend, we also had the use of the sitting room, and the library beyond it:
Note the wine glasses – many people brought wine to share with dinner. Upstairs are the rooms, each named after a saint. This one was presumably the cell of the infirmarian (my Latin is very rusty!):
This stained glass panel intrigued me. A card in the sitting room said it refers to the medieval legend of a monk who was a tumbler (as in acrobat). He devoted himself and his tumbling to Our Lady the Virgin Mary. You can read a version of the legend here. It either has a sad ending or a happy ending, depending on how you look at it!
I found the Cathedral and College to be excellent examples of the medieval revival in the 19th century. The Victorians were drawn to elements of medieval culture and were fond of recreating them in art and architecture. Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts, was very inspired by the legends of the Knights of the Round Table, and the ideals of chivalry.
The acoustics in the Cathedral, along with our choirmaster’s excellent warm-ups and constant reminders to keep our throats OPEN, meant that even after an entire day of singing, my voice didn’t feel a bit tired. I set out for another evening walk, and was joined by a friend – whose ears I probably talked off!
Here is the view from the side of the College down to the front gate:
Once again I was very lucky with the weather! We walked away from the shoreline and up the hill. The Isle of Cumbrae is not very big. There is a road around the circumference (11 miles) and a road that goes up to the hill in the middle, and down the other side.
We were soon looking down on the houses of Millport stretching around the curve of the bay, and the Cathedral on its wooded knoll. We saw a few of the island’s many rabbits, and some lovely cattle, including some calves who came up to bat their eyelashes at us (alas, no photo of them).
The Cathedral spire, from further up:
We climbed up as far as a spot with a number of benches, and a fantastic view. On the horizon, barely visible, we could see Ailsa Craig. That’s a haystack rock that lies off the coast near Stranraer, 36 miles south of Cumbrae.
Closer by is the island of Little Cumbrae. It was bought by an Indian guru some years ago who seems to be the topic of some controversy, including investigations for tax evasion. All that is just a speck in the long history of the island, which has seen castles built and demolished, a very early lighthouse lit by a fire, and a garden designed by Gertrude Jekyll.
I was sorry to turn and come back down the hill, it had been such a beautiful walk.
When I got back to the B&B, one of the owners had very kindly ironed my choir clothes for me, which had allowed me to be out as late as I wanted. I thanked her sincerely, and we had an interesting talk about growing up on the island, and the difference between the island in summer and in winter.
After another good night’s sleep and tasty breakfast, it was back to the Cathedral. Many of us sang at the 11:00 Eucharist, and all of us sang Vespers at 3:00, which was part of the Cathedral’s summer concert programme. Here is a glimpse of our music:
Some of the choir members can read the medieval music, written in “neumes”. I, however, relied on the round-note transcription above – and on my many markings to keep me straight! Do you see the asterix after “ibant”? This marks where the cantor finishes singing and the choir joins in. Thus it is a particularly important symbol. I was amused by this poster in the vestry:
We had a quick run-through in the Cloister:
And then we filed through the library and past the asterix advice, into the choir stalls. The church seemed quite full, which was very nice as there was another concert happening on the island at the same time.
Words cannot express how amazing it was to find myself singing this very pure form of music (everyone singing the same note together), in such a beautiful place. The acoustics were such that the faintest whisper could be heard by all, so I was really concentrating! (See the next post for some recommendations of plainsong music.)
All too soon we had finished, to kind applause from the audience. I was sad that it was over. However, I hope to have another chance to sing with them in the future.
When I got back home, the Dafter and Michael were out, and Tilly came to snuggle up with me. I will confess that she and I had a wee cat-nap. I had many happy memories and the music still running through my head.