Wednesday 20 March 2013, 15:59
The Close surrounding the Cathedral is normally a tranquil place disturbed only by birds, bells and tourists. But recently it’s taken on a more frantic mood amid preparations for the enthronement.
Everywhere is action; gardeners plant flowers, scaffolders assemble the TV broadcast positions, and police scour the area for security risks. But traditions persist. Every day a group of younger residents emerge from a door into the Close, then walk serenely through the mayhem into the huge church.
Inside, they proceed behind a gate then disappear up a narrow stone spiral staircase to their own private area. They are the Canterbury Cathedral Choristers, led by choirmaster David Flood. And for one session only, 5 live was invited to hear them practise.
Their rehearsal room must be at least 600 years old, it’s a warm space above the north transept with small windows in the thick stone walls and venerable timbers holding up the steeply pitched roof.
About 20 choir boys aged between nine and 13 stand at little lecterns arranged in a horseshoe around the grand piano, from which David Flood conducts the choir. He wastes little time, going straight into Britten’s ‘Te Deum’ in C.
It’s a piece specially chosen by the new archbishop for his inauguration. I stand behind David’s shoulder to record the session as he plays while simultaneously directing the choir with nods, shouts and encouragement.
Earlier I met some of the choristers. For a bunch of schoolboys they show a highly professional attitude. Max, 12, tells me the importance of getting everything perfect. They are delighted to find themselves in the choir for an enthronement.
Archbishops tend to stay in the job a while, so it is not something that most Canterbury choristers will experience. A few are nervous, but there is no doubt what’s the best thing about taking part; ‘being on telly’.
What a huge privilege it was to be allowed to witness the inner workings of England’s greatest church. Earlier that day I had been into the Cathedral archive, stepped through the cloisters and gazed at medieval bibles in the library.
But at the end of the day I was haunted by a nagging question: How on earth did they get that grand piano up the spiral staircase?
Full coverage of the enthronement of the Archbishop of Canterbury throughout the day on Thursday 21 March on 5 live.
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