Sunday, 29 March 2015

Places of Song: Groningen and Cambridge

The bells in the Martinitoren are ringing quite gustily this morning; more so than usual. There are 62 bells connected to the carillon, and as I live not 200 metres away, it means that when the wind is in the right direction, the bells are very loud. It is Palm Sunday today, of course, which is why the bells are more vigorous than usual. The tower of the Martinikerk is iconic here in Groningen, as well it should be. It is a beautiful and impressive structure. Groningen's other well known church is Der Aa Kerk, which has a rather magnificent organ. There are quite a few beautiful churches here, actually.

My thoughts tend to run towards churches and cathedrals at this time of year. As Holy Week begins, it is a busy (if not hectic) time for these places. Last year, Groningen played host to the Easter musical spectacle, The Passion. While Groningen will be a bit quieter this year, there will still be many concerts in the churches, namely Bach's famous oratorio, "St Matthew's Passion", and "The Crucifixion" by John Stainer. Both are beautiful, and Bach's music is especially pleasant (though my attention does tend to wander as all the singing is in German).

Inside the Martinikerk
Easter is a particularly important time for religious institutions and their parishioners. It is also a time of hope with the arrival of spring and warmer weather; in some places it means a long weekend; in other quarters, the holiday is merely an inconvenience, with public transport or openings hours pared down to bare minimum. And for others still, it is just a time to break into the chocolate.

King's College Chapel from the River Cam

When I lived in Cambridge, this time of year was lovely. The flowers blooming, the promise of warm, lazy days by the River Cam...and Easter. The Easter service at King's College Chapel (iconic for Cambridge) is nearly as famous as the Christmas Eve Carol service. The crowds are huge, and the queues begin early as it is so popular. In fact, during Holy Week, the concerts and services all across the Cambridge colleges and churches are magnificent. Religious significance aside, the music is truly wonderful to listen to. The music is so steeped in history, and there is nothing quite like listening to such powerful pieces in spaces they were designed to be heard. The great organ in King's College Chapel, for instance, is quite breathtaking in accordance with the boys' choir.

Top of the organ and the fan vault
This is perhaps one of the few things I miss about my old city; I often enjoyed going to listen to the choir at King's. It always felt such a privilege, which of course it was, really. To hear those young boys' voices rise up to the fan vaulted ceiling (the largest in the world) was quite humbling; a reminder of the beauty of innocence.

I know little about these iconic structures; I couldn't explain the hows and whys of the naves or transepts or chancels. But they are beautiful and acoustically perfect for the music of this time of year. In our world, in these troubled times, perhaps acknowledging the beauty of voices raised in song in places of fellowship is worth something.

Stain glass inside the Chapel

King's College Chapel from
inside the college