Friday, November 20, 2009

UK9: Let the competitions begin

Over breakfast, Tom tells that he saw the Queen yesterday and got some photos of her riding by with Prince Philip. He was in the right place at the right time.

Tom’s faculty mentor is Ron Herms, whose father pastored our family in Winnipeg. (Ron was a little kid among many, so I don’t remember him specifically.) Waldemar’s great-uncle pioneered the church Herms pastored, so our connections are web-like and multi-stranded. Another faculty member with a shared history is Bob Stallman. He and I attended college together. This morning I FB our choir director, Sylvia. ( Bob and I were on two choir tours together.) It was a pleasant surprise to see Bob and Ron’s names when they were considered for NU faculty.

The landlady comes by the breakfast table and asks if I mind moving across the hall to a single room. I was just thinking how nice to was not to be under the stairs, but that’s where I’ll be tonight. Her question is rhetorical: she has hired out the double bedroom I've been in to a couple. I ask her to clean the new room soon, so I can move and head to town.

Ned and Tom are prepping most of the day for debates that start in the early evening. I have to swing by the Union’s registration table about 3pm to find out if I am judging or not. I would love to hear our men debate, but judging schedules ensure that we are never in the same room.

When I go online to rethink the layout of Cambridge on a map, I browse the Kettle Yard site. What a thrill to see that the free lunch concert series Sumathi, Janet, others and I enjoyed is on TODAY! I’ll be there.

But before I arrive for the concert, I have zipped around town with the bike. It’s great to have the flexibility of going through town in many directions without taking much time. A wrong turn takes a minute to correct. It isn’t long before the paving starts to make an impression on my sitting bones. Sometimes there will be 4 kinds of stone from one side of a narrow lane to the other – large flat stone pavers, brick, cobblestones, and river rock can span a 10-12’ width. Pedestrians have right of way on a few stretches of street, so cyclists either maneuver around them or walk their bikes. Otherwise, it’s a mad grab for the front spot by cyclists: Cambridge has red bike-only strips painted in front of the stop line for cars at traffic lights. Cyclists thread their way to the front of the traffic line and head off first when the light turns yellow then green. We pedal to the side of the street as the cars whiz by. And people do drive quickly.

The concert: Shiry Rashkovsky, the viola player, has won many prizes, been concertmaster for the Cambridge University Symphony, and is on full scholarship at St. Catherine’s, where she studies Politics. Luis Pares, the Venezualan/Italian pianist, is an acclaimed soloist and accompanist who has performed all over the world. He’s also won international prizes, plays with Venezuelan symphony orchestras, and was a Junior Fellow at the Royal College of Music. Needless to say, the duo is fabulous: they've chosen to perform a Bach Viola de Gamba Sonata (#2, Dmaj BWV 1028) and a Brahms Sonata for Piano and Calarint (Op.120 #1, Fmaj).

For the first time, according to the lady sitting next to me, several people with disabilities have been brought to a concert at Kettle’s Yard. Unfortunately, two of them have Tourette Syndrome, so they are shouting, singing, moaning, and making clicking sounds the entire time. It is completely distracting during the quiet moments of the Bach. The lady says, “Now, one would have to think whether in a hall like this (where every breath echoes off the stone walls) would be the venue to bring a group like this. It is rather putting out a hundred people for a few, isn’t it?”

Fortunately the musicians are focused. I’m not sure how much the listeners actually heard of the concert: I was sitting in the front row where I could see the pianist’s hands, 4’ from the viola… and I had trouble focusing between the hum and rise and fall of voices and noises. Sometimes I could not hear the music at all.

“It puts one in an awkward position, doesn’t it?” says the lady, leaning over at the end of the concert. “On the one hand one is quite willing to think everyone should be able to attend. On the other, when the point is to hear the music, it might not be the best place for such an outing. How would one complain or talk this over without being viewed as discriminatory?” Ah the British have a way with words.

It’s out to Ridley Hall (a theology school) to pick up the Lenten devotional booklet from last year so we can read it together at Lent 2010. I stop by the Union to register as a judge, saying that I want to begin tomorrow morning. (It's high timte to hear our team.) I also stop by Lakeland, a household gadget store, to pick up typically British blackbird pie flutes for my daughters-in-law. (Remember the nursery rhyme?) I sketch my favorite new ideas from Lakeland before queuing at a street vendor’s for a vegan hummus wrap, a late lunch at 4pm.

Then I have to make a quick trip to the west side of town where the cycle shop is. The manager refuses to let me tie up the bike outside on the weekend: they are closed, so I have to get the bike to them today before 5.30. He wonders if I know anyone who would return it for me Monday. It’s a short ride over to Tyndale House, where the receptionist Enid agrees to have someone return the bike Monday. I'll lock it up there, and walk back to the hotel tomorrow evening. Tyndale can keep the deposit as a donation to the House.

By 5 I’m in line at the Chapel at King's College, whose foundation stone was laid in 1446. It took a hundred years to finish, and it is staggering to see. Best of all, the acoustics are perfect for the choir concerts. “It has the largest fan vault ceiling in the world and some of the finest medieval stained glass,” according to the college website.

By the time the doors swing open at 5.15pm, a few hundred people are waiting to get into Evensong. A woman from Duke U in North Carolina asks if it’s worth the wait. “Do you think they’d mind if I leave halfway through? I should meet my sister and don’t want to be late.”

What? I assure her the experience will be a worthwhile event, but she'd be considered extremely rude to leave. One group marches to the front of the chapel while we, “Are you common public then? No reservations?” (-Master) sit on the closer side. The choir sings facing each other from each side of the chapel, standing and kneeling between the two groups of listeners. Another hundred or so people sit in the overflow area outside the main chapel. The huge carved wood gate is between us, but the music fall from the gap at the roof onto them. The organ is strangely silent – the organist is not present for the entry nor the exit of the choir and Masters.

A new version of the Magnificat with a pedal tone of tenors rings out under a soaring melody. 16 choirboys and 16 male students swell the worship of Evensong. The youngsters reach effortlessly for high As and Bs while the basses plant a steady footing for the counterpoint harmonies above. This Evensong reaches a level above what we heard in Oxford. The gold medal Cambridge team has stepped up after Oxford’s silver. It’s all Olympic quality, but there is a clear distinction in quality.

The choirmaster at Kings is older, perhaps more experienced. Two tenors conduct the psalms: while one conducts from his position near the end of the second choir row, and the group facing him sings. The sides alternate verses. The directing is unobtrusive, great practice for the singing conductors, and the choir stays together. The endings ring up and echo into the 50’ vaults above our heads.

I sit beside Marina from Italy, whose son has just come up to study Mathematics. We walk out to the town square together – she is taking her son for dinner. I am heading to the Union, the oldest existing debate society in the world.

“Older than Oxford? Really?” asks Tom.

Really. I just miss the notice of where the teams are debating their first round. Though I walk through the entire Union, I can’t find NU. (Later I find out they were at a college down the road.) I sit in to listen to another group.

After supper, I run into Tom and Ned, who are pleased with second place in Round 1. We sit together for team assignments, write down their room, and… “What!” My name comes up as judge, in spite of signing off today.

Off I go to work with a judge from Calgary and another from Cambridge. They are young – 20s, and really know what they’re doing. I hate being asked first what I think of the debaters since I’m always the least experienced. This time, there is initial disagreement among us judges, but we come to a happy consensus in rating the teams and speakers.

I unlock my bike from the black metal railing on the walkway into the Union. The lights still don't work, in spite of the cycle shop’s instructions because the tire and light connection don’t meet to make the necessary friction.

I'm home by 11.05pm. I write until 1am, and am ready for a sound sleep in my narrow, white-duvet-covered bed. The hotel is still noisy – some guests are in the main area laughing and chatting. Time for earplugs, please.

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