An unforgettable concert in Spain for the Cranmer Company of Singers

The Cranmer Company of Singers
The Cranmer Company of Singers
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Choristers who make up the Cranmer Company of Singers have recently returned from a trip to Spain, where they performed a concert at the request of a town mayor.

The choir, directed by Deborah Davies and accompanied by David Quinn, is made up of members from Grantham, the Vale of Belvoir, Nottingham, Newark and Southwell.

They were invited to the Spanish town of Ávila by its mayor. They spent a week there, during which they performed a concert and also sang in the town’s Romanesque and Gothic cathedral.

Here is a report by choir member Andrew Spence:

In a way, the Spanish jaunt began during the second Italian jaunt, up in the snow-capped mountains and lakes of the Italian Dolomites. Margaret and Stephen said, “Why don’t we do a Spanish trip next year?” It seemed that they were still in touch with friends from when they were students in Ávila.

And so it was. By plane, boat, car, and coach, the Cranmer Company of Singers, 38 in number, made their way to Ávila, a picture postcard town nestling in a parched basin surrounded by almost desert-like rolling countryside.

Emerging from the mists of history, Ávila was an ancient fortified town, conquered variously by Romans, Visigoths, and Arabs. Eleventh century walls encircle the town to protect the resurgent Christian community.

And then the Cranmer Company of Singers arrived. Some staying in hotels, some in hostels, we were scattered around the tiny town, sprinkled among the countless bars and restaurants which we spent a considerable amount of time exploring under the blue sky and warm sun. The circus was in town, providing street entertainment, and there was little question of finding anywhere to eat before 8pm when Spanish families emerged to enjoy their evening.

Ávila - a busy, bustling town which looks after its visitors with smiles, generosity, and patience but which also has a thriving commercial and business community to balance its tourism. But we were there to sing which we did for the first time when we rehearsed in the resplendent Romanesque cathedral that has dominated the town for almost a thousand years. We filed in under the watchful eyes of the key-laden warders and were somewhat startled to be ushered through a narrow gate at the west end of the nave to find ourselves behind a set of sturdy bars.

The feeling of being in a zoo was reinforced when tourists threw themselves at the bars to poke their cameras at us. “I was expecting a banana”, observed Julia. Once we got going, the acoustics were magnificent. On the Sunday, David extemporised prior to the service, teasing one of the organ notes that produced an endearing croak, before bringing the choir in with North European precision as the clock chimed the hour. At that moment, when 33 people began to sing as a single voice some of the most beautiful music ever written in a soaring building which rolled the sound around its vaulted roof, at that moment we understood why we had made the journey - Byrd, Holst, Tallis, Handel, Victoria, Rizza, Wesley. Music in good company. And the congregation, unused to a choir, was moved. And one lady commented to Deborah, our director, that our singing had surrounded her like a warm embrace.

And the stillness came over us in the crypt of the Basilique of San Vicente when we sang the words of the sixteenth century mystical Carmelite nun who became St Teresa of Ávila - Nada te turbe, nada t’espante. The words - Let nothing trouble you, let nothing frighten you - movingly set to music by Deborah Davies, coyly reverting to Deborah Shaw on the parts. For some, unexpectedly, this was one of the most memorable moments of the visit - a British choir in their distinctive purple robes intoning the words of the city’s saint in the ornate beauty of the Basilique of San Vicente.

No such stillness when we sang mass there, however. No longer were saints being martyred, but chaos ruled nonetheless. David’s organ loft was so high up the walls of the nave that he was practically invisible to Deborah who needed to see him. So the choir had to stand where it shouldn’t and sit where it didn’t want to, bobbing up and down and spinning around apparently at random, never standing next to the same person twice, only catching a glimpse of Deborah occasionally. The congregation seemed to like us because they turned into an audience, stayed for a short concert at the end of the service, and applauded warmly.

And then there was the concert at San Francisco, once a Romanesque church, used to keep cattle and sheep, lately transformed into an impressive concert hall. And we gave them the Ash Grove, Ye Banks and Braes, Londonderry Air, The Carnival is Over, Morningtown Ride, Scarborough Fair, When I’m 64, culminating in the thunderous chords of Bridge Over Troubled Water - when Deborah gives you that look, you really have to give it some.

The Cranmer Company of Singers had been the bridge - between Whatton-in-the-Vale and Ávila - friends could be and were found.

And some surprised guests in the Hotel Palacio de Los Velada became friends when they heard us sing some of our favourites, just for fun. Whether or not the hotel ever received payment for all the drinks that were flowing, we shall never know, but the staff enjoyed our singing as well.

Then there were the coach trips to Salamanca and its stunning cathedral with 27 side chapels and Segovia with its astonishing Roman aqueduct and the Royal palace of Alcázar which reputedly inspired Walt Disney’s Cinderella castle.

An unforgettable privilege to have sung such glorious music in such wonderful buildings to such lovely people - in good company.