Holidays at Home

My blogging has been sparse lately – work has been very busy, and these past few days I’ve been taking visitors around Paris to see the sights. It’s been an interesting experience becoming a tourist again – Paris is a VERY beautiful city, we’re lucky to have the chance to live here.

To all the readers and visitors here, have a wonderful, peaceful and happy Christmas, and all the best for a prosperous and fulfilling 2010.

Ferris wheel on Place de la Concorde

Christmas lights on the Champs-Elysées

Exploring other corners of Montmartre, still in the footsteps of Robert Sabatier

Ice-skating outside the Hôtel de Ville

Merry Christmas 2008

Photo: MikeBaird

Happy Christmas to all the readers and subscribers to this blog. I hope you have a restful holiday, whether you are travelling, spending time with family or friends, or staying home.

For anyone interested in a Christmas-time story for the kids, I suggest David Haywood‘s short story, The Secret Talent of Albert Otter:

There was no doubting that Albert Otter was different.

“Our other children don’t particularly care for fish,” said Albert Otter’s mother, “but Albert Otter will eat nothing else. And our other children walk on two legs, but Albert prefers to walk on four. And none of our other children have fur, or a tail like Albert does — or such sharp teeth.”…

Read on…

Pueri cantent ut angeli

Choristers at Canterbury Cathedral, December 2008 (Photo: chrisjohnbeckett)

I’ve finally managed to finish Alan Mould’s The English Chorister. Mould’s book is likely the definitive history of boy choristers in England – a history that stretches to the first child oblates who sang the daily office alongside Benedictine monks in the monastery founded by Saint Augustine in Canterbury in the year 597.

Coursework reading meant that this book sat next to my bed all term, half-finished, until this week. But it was well worth perservering with, providing some insight into a musical tradition that formed a very important part of my early musical education.

The continuation of choristership over 14 centuries is unique to England – nowhere else in Europe today can claim a similar long-standing tradition.  But what becomes apparent in Mould’s history is the precarity of the choristers position for many centuries. Despite the demands of singing two services every day, choristers were often badly housed and fed, and until the 20th Century, little provision was made for their education.

Choristers also suffered through political and religious turmoil, including Viking raids on monasteries in the 7th century, or the open hostility of Tudor religious reformers. During the English Reformation, all trappings of Roman Catholic practice  were under threat in the newly protestant Church of England.  Choral worship probably only survived because Elizabeth I (a music fan) personally demanded that choirs not be disestablished – and today choristers still sing  the daily Canticles laid down in Thomas Cranmer’s 1552 Book of Common Prayer.

Today, it is estimated that at any given time, there are around 900 boys and girls in the UK involved in formal choristership – in cathedrals, Oxbridge colleges or the Royal Chapels.  Beyond the UK, a number of “English-style” choral foundations exist, notably at Saint Thomas Church in New York, Saint Andrews in Sydney and Christchurch Cathedral in New Zealand.

The one Anglican choir that undoubtedly receives more “airtime” each year than any other is the choir of King’s College, Cambridge.  On Christmas Eve, millions of people in the UK and around the world tune in for the live broadcast of the service of lessons and carols held in the college’s magnificent chapel.  A televised version is also recorded.  Here’s the choir a few years ago, singing Kenneth Leighton‘s arrangement of the Coventry Carol.

bo-o-o-o-o-orn! (Happy Christmas 2007)

For Unto Us A Child is Born (from Messiah) G.F. Handel
Messiah (1751 Version): Choir of New College Oxford/Edward Higginbottom/Academy of Ancient Music [Buy]

It’s Christmas Eve my dogzz, and it seems a good time to wish everyone who reads etnobofin a safe and happy Christmas, and all the best for a successful 2008, whatever it might bring!

It means a lot to have people who persevere with this blog, despite its modest content and occasional technical issues. (Thanks to Rushan especially for his advice and help!)

It’s an old-skool music choice for Christmas, (not kung-fu), with an Oxford connection in this outing by the Choir of New CollegeGeorge Frederic Handel‘s setting of the words from Isaiah (Ch.9 v.6) which many believe fortell the birth of Christ.

Dig the voice control required to sing the long and intricate semiquaver line on “bo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-rn”. Handel’s arrangement ensures that every section of the choir has to sing it sometime during the piece. Now that’s technique!

Nativity, Harris Manchester College Oxford
Nativity – Chapel of Harris Manchester College, Oxford. Photo by Lawrence OP

O Magnum Mysterium

O magnum mysterium (Morten Lauridsen)
Twentieth Century Masters Vol. 3: Choir of New College Oxford/Edward Higginbottom [Buy]

Personent hodie (from Piae Cantiones, 15th Century)
Let Voices Resound: Oxford Camerata/Jeremy Summerly [Buy] [emusic]

New College
Cloisters, New College

OK, choral music geek time.

Sunday was the last day of Michaelmas Term at the university, and somehow I wangled myself a ticket to the service of lessons and carols for Christmas at New College. Tickets to the New College service are often hard to obtain if you’re not a member of the college, so I was pretty chuffed.

The music, was of course, magnificent – right from the organ opening up with the spiky Les Bergers by Messiaen. Malcolm Hayes’ Mirabile misterium was sung by the choir from the antechapel – an absolutely stunning arrangement (a new commission?) with solo themes weaving in and out of the ensemble – unseen voices rising ethereal to the wooden angels carved in the ceiling.

There were motets and carols by Rachmaninov, JCF Bach and Holst‘s arrangement of Personent Hodie. A few of the usual suspects cropped up in appealing guises (In dulci jubilo enunciated in impeccable German and David Wilcock’s arrangement of Sussex carol). They even let the congregation sing a few…

One of the highlights was O magnum mysterium, by American composer Morten Lauridsen, serene and expansive like a Rothko canvas. It was recorded just a couple of years ago by the choir on a disc of 20th Century American composers.

Ah, what a gift music is. I probably go on too much about the New College Choir in this blog. But in their best moments this choir do (to my ears at least) represent something close to perfection in musical achievement, and to share a Christmas service with them is an experience I will never, ever forget.

O magnum mysterium et admirabile sacramentum, ut animalia viderunt Dominum natum, jacentem in praesipio!

O great mystery, and wondrous sacrament, that animals should see the new-born Lord, lying in their manger!

Christmas Greetings

Lennox Berkeley – Look Up, Sweet Babe Op.43, No.2

Performed by The Choir of St John’s College Cambridge

From Sacred Choral Music: Naxos 8.557277 [Buy]


Look up sweet babe, look up and see
For love of thee, tho’ far from home,
The East is come to seek herself in thy sweet eyes.
To thee thou day of night, thou East of West
Lo we at last have found the way
To thee the world’s great universal East
The general and indiff’rent day.

– Words by Richard Crashaw (1613-1649)

To everyone who reads this blog (yes, all three of you), have a joyful and peaceful Christmas ! I’ll be spending a few days offline enjoying family time, and be back soon.

(Lennox Berkeley biography)

Almost Christmas: Part I

It’s that time of year, and given that the annual “Christmas-is-too-commercialised” debate is being thrashed out elsewhere, I thought I’d share some Christmas music that’s guaranteed not to be heard on high rotate in your neighbourhood Starbucks.

Lester Bowie – Almost Christmas
From All the Magic!: ECM 1246/47 [Buy]

The Goons – I’m Walking Backwards for Christmas
Available on The Goon Show Vol.3 [Buy]


Holy moley. It’s a funny feeling sitting here in our first true days of summer – and instead of listening to the cricket, we’re learning about one of the greatest natural disasters of modern history.

The sheer scale of this event that has made in impression on me. At the end of 27th December, the confirmed death toll is 23,000 across 9 countries, following the largest earthquake for 40 years (9 on the Richter scale). It makes humanity seem very, very small when people, houses, cars, trees, animals can be obliterated on such a massive scale. Like washing ants down a plughole.

Although this disaster will probably not have great overall historical or geopolitical repercussions, (although the economic impact is already being calculated), it pisses all over September 11th 2001 in terms of size and the number of people directly affected. The fact that the people most hit are among the poorest in the world makes this event even more tragic.

The human side to the event is almost overwhelming. The BBC’s “Have Your Say” has become a heart-rending bulletin board not only for people from around the world to describe their personal experiences of the tsunamis, but to also post queries about missing loved ones and make requests for aid from remote areas.

I heard someone who said that she lost 2 (out of 4) of her children. She said that she didn’t know which one to pick up because she couldn’t carry them all.”

The main requirement in this area is drinking water, medicine, and shelter. Please help.”

We are desperate for news of our daughter Charlotte Jones who was on the island of Racha Yai near Phuket when the wave struck. She is 24, 5 foot 6 inches with distinguishing dreadlocks.”

Felix Navidad!

Yup, Christmas is really about family. Driving to Christmas lunch, for once all the cars on Auckland’s roads are filled to brimming with uncles, aunties, grandma and grandpa and all the kids. Everyone going to share in the simple fellowship of a meal together and to reaffirm ties of blood, love or friendship. We could really see it in some ways as a re-enactment of the journey that Mary and Joseph had to take 2000 years ago in returning to Joseph’s ancestral hometown for Herod’s census. It is probably lucky today that most of us undertake these journeys back to our whanau, back to our roots largely voluntarily, rather than through the obligation of a tyrant.

Comfort and Joy Posted by Hello