Today we went into the ancient academic town of Oxford to explore it and to sing our first concert of the tour. Most of the group took a guided walking tour in the morning, and we also had the entire afternoon in town to look around on our own; in between we sang in Christ Church Cathedral, which is also the chapel of Christ Church College, for about forty minutes starting at 1 p.m. In the foreground are some of the non-singing spouses and friends who are accompanying the choir on this tour; the photo was shot by my wife Cheryl, who is temporarily among them due to a cold that has shut down her singing voice.
Our audience at the concert was fairly small, but it included one special guest in particular. Here are Ron and Rita Koch in the Christ Church College quad with Gregory Taylor, whose parents went to college with Rita!
The poet Matthew Arnold referred to the "dreaming spires" of Oxford; it seemed that most of the 39 colleges that make up Oxford University had at least one distinctive tower to contribute to the city's skyline. This is "Tom Tower" of Christ Church College (also in the background in the previous photo), which houses a 6.5-ton bell called Great Tom that is rung 101 times each day at 9:05 p.m., once for each of the original scholars of the college; other towers have other stories. There's one that townspeople used to climb to throw stones at the scholars below ("town vs. gown" tensions were pretty fierce five or six centuries ago!) until the college shortened it by twenty feet so the stones wouldn't hit so hard; Magdalen College has a tower where thousands of people gather at 6 a.m. on May 1st. to hear the college choir sing a Latin grace before kicking off their May Day revelry.
Tom Tower was designed By Sir Christopher Wren; twelve years earlier, in 1669, he had finished his first large-scale work, the Sheldonian Theatre just a few blocks away. He modeled this building on the ancient theater of Marcellus in Rome, though with a closed roof because of the local climate. Originally University ceremonies had been held at a local church, but rowdy scholars and ecclesiastical surroundings don't really mix, so the Sheldonian Theatre was built to give them a place of their own for matriculation, graduation, and other ceremonies.
Here's another Oxford structure modeled on an Italian original, the "Bridge of Sighs" at Hertford College, which strongly resembles the Bridge of Sighs in Venice. We saw the original while on our 1999 European tour; I thought I'd link to a webpage with a photo, but I don't seem to have posted one.
This is the Radcliffe Camera (chamber), which was originally built as a library but which now serves as a reading room for the Bodleian Library. This famous institution, dating back four centuries, is a "copyright library," which means it receives a copy of every book published in the United Kingdom! It is now housed in two buildings, plus the space underneath them and the Radcliffe Camera, and under the streets between; books are never taken outside, but instead are transferred from the stacks to the reading rooms through underground passages.
Oxford is a town dense with history; we saw far more than I had opportunity to photograph or room to post, ranging from a tower built for William the Conqueror in 1071 (and another tower even older) to the beautiful University Park to museums including the famous Ashmolean (and their contents!). One bit of history both old and new is The Eagle and Child, pictured here; this pub dates back to 1650, and 300 years later it was the gathering place of "The Inklings," a group of Oxford authors that included C. S. Lewis, the great Christian writer, and J. R. R. Tolkien, best known for his "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.
Cheryl and I had dinner at The Eagle and Child, or "The Bird and Baby," as it was familiarly known to "The Inklings"; other folks from our choir also had the same idea! I'm sure many other MBCC folks had interesting adventures today; David Evans, in particular, saw some action on the river Thames. He rented a boat with Jo Emerson and Marie Bishop, and was apparently rowing on the wrong side of the river when an Oxford student in a one-man shell came blazing toward them, collided with them, and sank! The scholar was pretty steamed, and called David some academically inappropriate names as he pulled his boat out of the drink; but the man who had rented the boat to David and the ladies was delighted that he had knocked the "arrogance" out of an Oxford boy--so David told me I could post this story as "MBCC 1, Oxford 0." Here's hoping nobody else gets cussed at on this trip!
new 28 June 2002, updated 12 July 2002