We had encouraging success with our three appearances in the Canterbury Festival. We sang our short midday service, ‘The Angelus, the Ave and the Salve’, in three of Canterbury’s mediaeval chapels. The first Saturday of the Festival we were in St. Thomas’s Hospital, Eastbridge, the second Saturday in Greyfriars and the final Saturday in St. John’s Hospital, Northgate.
The most intriguing of the three venues was St. John’s Hospital, a hidden gem totally invisible from the busy city centre streets. This eleventh century mediaeval foundation, from the time of Bishop Lanfranc, is currently home to a number of older people. The Tudor porter’s gate in Northgate is well camouflaged within a row of mock-tudor shops. Of course once you know it is there, you wonder how you ever walked past it without noticing. Raising the sneck and walking through the gate, you encounter a scene which could be from any age. A close of stone houses with clipped geometric hedges surrounds a green of manicured turf. Quiet serenity quiet pervades the scene as the street-noise recedes behind the heavy door. Winifred, the Resident Historian, took us on a tour showing us the oldest parts of the foundation’s remains; then the mediaeval lavatories, now obsolete, and the contemporaneous hall and dining room, still in use.
Our final destination was the Chapel. We sang through a couple of familiar chants to warm up and then rehearsed the hymn to St. John the Baptist, ‘Ut queant laxis’; the famous source of the sol-fa note-names. We felt it was appropriate for us to sing this iconic piece of chant dedicated to the Hospital’s Patron in a building which would have known the music for hundreds of years.
In each venue many members of the public came to hear us and join in. I wonder how many of them feel a little nervous when they discover it is not a concert and ‘audience participation’ is strongly encouraged. We hope to build on this success for the 2011 Canterbury Festival.