Caritas Chamber Choir: Oundle, Cambridge, Ely, and Canterbury

I spent last weekend traveling and singing with Caritas Chamber Choir.  We went to Oundle (in Northamptonshire), Cambridge, and Ely (both in Cambridgeshire).  It was a fabulous time filled with really gorgeous music (Bruckner, Gabrieli, Dering, Brahms, Rheinberger, Mendelssohn, Palestrina, Parry, Purcell, etc), beautiful churches, and new friends who will be sorely missed after we move away!  Unfortunately, I was still fighting a nasty virus (as were many others on the tour) so I had a sore throat, cough, and hoarseness to battle.  Despite the difficulties, though, I had a wonderful time getting to know these people and singing beautiful music together in inspiring places.

First, we had a final pre-tour rehearsal on Friday evening in St. Peter’s church in Canterbury (this is the lovely little Medieval parish church just in from the West Gate Towers).

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First thing on Saturday morning, we got on the coach and headed for our first destination: Oundle.

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We passed countless fields of yellow blooming rapeseed.

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After about 3 hours, we arrived in Oundle. I heard several people on the bus say that Oundle resembles Bath.  It is a charming little town, although we only saw it from the coach.

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We sang in the Oundle School Chapel.  Apparently this school is a posh prep school, and is well-known in the UK as such.  The chapel was beautiful, and clearly there was a lot of money available to keep it in good nick.

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Our concert in Oundle went well although we had a very small audience.  Next on the agenda was Cambridge.  We sang here in the church of St. Mary’s the Lesser, or “Little St. Mary’s” as it is locally known.  It is another lovely old Medieval parish church.

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We had a much bigger audience for this concert, although still what I would call intimate.  The church had a nice acoustic, which was such a relief as we were all tired by this point.

We stayed the night in a hostel in Cambridge.  I wish I had taken photos of our room – there were 8 of us in one room, in bunk beds!  There was barely room to turn around!  Luckily, everyone was courteous and respectful and I think we all managed at least a little sleep.

The next morning, a hearty breakfast.  I tried black pudding for the first time, and it tasted a bit like haggis, but was SOOOOO salty.  Couldn’t eat it for the salt.  Everything else was nice, though.

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I tried for a walk around Cambridge to shoot some photos.  But…I didn’t make it as far as I’d hoped as the general consensus was to get out of that hostel as soon as possible, so the bus left an hour and a half earlier than originally scheduled.  I did get to see a few lovely things, though.

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King’s College…..I think.


This clock outside of King’s was amazing.  Like something out of a Terry Gilliam movie.

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Churches, churches, everywhere…

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The Fitzwilliam Museum


I made it back to the hostel 5 minutes after the bus was scheduled to depart.  I got a nice round of applause when I climbed on the bus (the last one, of course).  Luckily, my lovely friends, Christina and Sarah, were very kind to grab a lunch for me and put my bags on the bus.  Thanks!

On to Ely.

First glimpses of the cathedral from the bus.

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You can see this cathedral from miles away as it is built on a high spot in the surrounding fenland.

Ely is a charming little town.  We had a couple of hours before our concert rehearsal, so we had time to meander the streets and wander through the cathedral. My friend Sally kept me company and we enjoyed our morning sight seeing.

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There had obviously just been a wedding at the little parish church just next door to the cathedral.  The archway into the churchyard was woven with beautiful flowers.

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Oliver Cromwell lived in Ely, and the house in which he lived is now a museum and  serves as the tourist information centre.

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After a quick visit to the info center, we made our way into the centre of town to search out a cup of coffee.

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Every time you turn a corner in Ely, there is another astonishing view of the gigantic cathedral.  It is breathtaking!  It truly dominates the town and the surrounding landscape.  The town is already quite small, but then is really dwarfed by the colossus that looms over everything.

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We found a cup of coffee at the far end of the high street (it is quite small) and this was the view from our table:


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Starbucks was across the street.  I can’t believe there is even a Starbucks in tiny Ely. Sigh.


After caffeinating, Sally and I walked around the grounds of the cathedral. (Cathedral post to follow shortly)


After exploring this absolutely amazing space (one of the most astonishing pieces of architecture I have ever seen!), we rehearsed and performed in the presbytery.

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It is a magnificent space!


We stood in a semi-circle around the former site of the shrine of St. Etheldreda, the founder of the church in the Seventh Century.


Singing in that space was exquisite.  I have rarely if ever sung in any place more inspiring or more beautiful.  The acoustic was so perfect, and each time I looked up, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by the amazing place!  Oh, and the organ was awesome.  Truly, emphatically awesome.  (Played very well by George, our 16-year-old organist!)


This was the view from where I stood to sing.


Lucky me.

Good music is always made even more enjoyable with good friends…

…like Tim.

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…and Sally.


…and Christina.


The performance at Ely was by far the best of the weekend, and I think we all enjoyed it immensely.  I, for one, had a wonderful experience, and am so grateful for the invitation to sing with this mad and amazing group of people.  Thanks to Ben, the very talented conductor (and composer!), to Kate, the fearless expeditionary leader and multi-talented singer/organizer/chief morale booster, to Christina and Sally, good friends who are always willing to give me a lift to Canterbury or Petham, to Tim, who is the one who got me involved with this lovely choir, and to all of the singers who make this group the lovely, lively choir that it is.

I had a wonderful time.


What could possibly top that!?  Well, I’ll tell you what!  The day after we returned from tour, we sang the St. George’s Day evensong service at Canterbury Cathedral.  For me, that was the highlight of my time with Caritas.  It was a rare and incredible experience.

Before singing, we gathered in a little space referred to as “the water tower” and lit candles on a birthday cake for our director, Ben.  He was of course treated to a rousing (and intricately harmonized) version of “Happy Birthday”.

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Then, we sang a service in here.

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This is one of the most inspiring, uplifting, and reflective places I have ever experienced.  I have spent some time in this space over the past year and have come to love it.  I will miss it ever so much.

The anthem for the service was Parry’s I Was Glad, which is a very dramatic and uplifting piece with huge dynamic contrasts in both the choir and organ.  It really uses the organ to great effect, and in a space like Canterbury Cathedral, is quite moving.  It was a perfect end to my time with Caritas Chamber Choir.

After a well-sung service we gathered for a drink together at the Buttermarket pub just across from Christchurch Gate.  This, I think, is the essence of English culture.  It’s a fine, fine thing.

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I was so glad to be a part of it.

This entry was posted in Destinations, England, Music. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Caritas Chamber Choir: Oundle, Cambridge, Ely, and Canterbury

  1. Kate Brazier says:

    Holly, seeing your blog made me live the tour again, but this time seeing all the bits I was too busy to look at before… thank you! Thank you also for taking the time to sing with Caritas, and to become a part of the group in such a short time. We will miss you! Love, Kate

  2. Tim Frost says:

    Just having a couple of minutes off from my busy morning… I’m so happy that you were able to sing with Caritas and it was great to find out what I missed as a part-member of the tour! Sorry that we were a bit aloof all weekend… we had a long-standing invitation to visit our friends in Cambridge and it was great to catch up with them. See you Saturday for Ivana’s concert!

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