Category Archives: London

On the road with the Choirs of St. John the Divine and a postscript from Jazz Camp

The bus driver loaded our suitcases into the baggage compartment and shut the doors. We lined up on the steps for a photo. That’s when I realized There are a lot of kids here! Twenty-four choristers from  the Cathedral School of St. John the Divine in Morningside Heights, New York City.

Here we are just before leaving for the airport
Choristers and the Tower  in London, August 15, 2019

The choristers, community chorale members (including me) and professional singers spent seven days in London singing as one at St. Paul’s Cathedral (late 1600s) and two additional days at the Canterbury Cathedral where Thomas à Becket, the Archbishop, was murdered half a century earlier. The choristers brought youth. The cathedrals brought history.

We’re walking up Ludgate Hill to St. Paul’s Cathedral, August 16

We sang at the Evensong services. (The regular choir was taking its August break.) Evensong begins with the cantor singing O Lord, open thou our lips. We respond And our mouth shall show forth they praise …

Our choir stalls WITH LAMPS. We loved the lamps, arches and domes, mosaics and stained glass

… followed by the Anglican chant of a Psalm in four part harmony. To me the Psalms feel like the heart of the musical experience, where poetry meets harmony. They are mysterious. I often don’t know what they mean. We rehearsed them line by line.


Director Kent Tritle coached us on every vowel (most are diphthongs) and reminded us time and again to articulate our consonants just before the beat, so they would be heard throughout the lofty, lengthy cathedrals. Bryan Zaros also rehearsed and conducted us and never broke a sweat as leader of the tour. Ray Nagem, our organist in New York, played for most services in England. Dean Clifton Daniel shared the entire trip with us. I loved meeting every person in and out of the choir. The music was magnificent. On Sunday, after our third day at St. Paul’s, I wrote this email home:

Looking  into St. Paul’s dome

“Today we sang the Eucharist service, then the Evensong. The services move fast here! I like that. There were lots of people attending. . . . The choristers all sing soprano. In rehearsal [on the request of the director for the benefit of us singers], a chorister produced a beautiful, in-tune high A and held it. Then she released, and the note continued to sound. After the air finally stopped reverberating, she shyly smiled.”

In our off hours we visited the House of Commons. The chamber is extremely small. It’s impossible to imagine 650 people crammed into it. We spent a day in Oxford. Soprano Glenda Strothers, alto Abigail Huffman and I visited to the National Gallery. I found the Charles Dickens House. We went to the Handel and Hendrix Museum, and heard a good jazz band – The Brass Monkeys – at Pizza Express. I want to mention trumpeter Chris Dowding whose playing and composition for Esbjörn Svensson moved me.

Checking in to YHACanterbury

London was the lion’s share of our  trip, but we made it to Canterbury for two more Evensongs, a Cathedral tour,  reception in the Archdeaconness’s home (she is from New Zealand), and a last-night dinner at an Indian Restaurant

Home on Saturday afternoon, August 24. I have been happy ever since!


Two weeks before the choir tour, I was in Burlington VT at Jazz Camp thanks to organizer Roni Ben-Hur. Music ranged from Thad and Sam Jones to Brazil and beyond. Thank you, Helio Alves, for the lessons. I barely took a single picture.

I love the stretch from jazz and improv to singing and reading. But are they really so far apart? I’m thinking about this. Comments are welcome.




Side trip: Handel & Hendrix in London


Glenda Strother, soprano in the St. John the Divine Community Chorale, outside the Handel&Hendrix site

I’ve posted out of order! Preceding  impressions from my August 2019  trip with the St. John the Divine Community Chorale from NY to London, here’s the story of a single residence we found — home to two musical figures, centuries apart. Finding the Handel House / Hendrix Flat is like solving a puzzle. We knew we were close when we saw this message on the tiled wall of a downward-sloping alley: From the summer of 1723 until his death on 14 April 1759 Handel lived and composed many of his greatest works at No 25 Brooks. It stands among other multi-story houses from that era, now occupied by art studios and boutiques.


And here’s the twist. Two hundred years after George Frederick Handel and his harpsichords lived there, another musician moved into the upstairs flat. Now Jimi Hendrix’s room is restored, with  a very good exhibit about his brief residency in 1969.
Hendrix and his girlfriend Kathy Etchingham decorated the room in fabrics, spreads and rugs. Based on her memory and many photo sessions that took place in this flat, the bedroom is restored and features a replica left-handed guitar. “Etchingham remembers that this guitar was always on the bed or propped up against the bed so that Hendrix could write songs, noodle away or jam with his guests.”

There are sample covers from his record collection, and a list of his records from Acker Bilk and Albert King through The Beatles, Bill Cosby and Handel himself to Richie Havens, Roland Kirk and Wes Montgomery.

Hendrix also entertained musicians and went out to hear music. The  timeline says that in March 1969 “Hendrix goes to [the club] Ronnie Scotts to see Roland Kirk play” … there’s a photo … “and continues to return to the Speakeasy [a neighborhood club] to jam with the likes of The Gods and Billy Preston.”

This was a peak time in Jimi Hendrix’s career. Also a short time — a few months. Hendrix died in London in 1970 at age 27.