Remembering Westminster Abbey
By June A. Vetter
Special to The Pilot
Erin Plisco still reflects on her role as choral conductor in London's Westminster Abbey.
It was 3 p.m. New Year's Eve day, 2011. The young choral director at Pinecrest High School and adult choral director at Trinity Christian Fellowship was invited by Dr. Lauren Fowler-Calisto, associate professor and director of choral studies and vocal jazz at Christopher Newport University in Virginia Beach, to travel as assistant conductor to England with a university choir over the Christmas holidays.
"The opportunity at Westminster was arranged through the CNU president's office, and that opened the door for Dr. Fowler to send in an application and extensive audition recording, after which the choir was invited to perform while the normal chapel choir was on holiday," said Plisco, who conducted the choral presentation.
The choir performed sacred and appropriate music for an Anglican service, including an a capella prelude, the "Magnificat" and "Nunc Dimittis" (with organ), sang psalms and responses with the abbey cantor, and an anthem with organ accompaniment.
The university musicians rehearsed briefly prior to leaving the United States and then rehearsed for an hour in Westminster before the actual full service in which all the clergy and the cantor were present.
"Since it was a regular service, all sorts of people were in attendance, and because it was the evening before a holiday, the abbey was pretty crowded," said Plisco.
The massive structure, with its medieval coronation throne, Poet's Corner containing memorials to William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and other literature greats, as well as the tombs of Queen Elizabeth I, "Bloody" Queen Mary, explorer David Livingston and -naturalist, Charles Darwin, is located next to the Houses of Parliament in the heart of London.
Originally built in the Romanesque style to house Benedictine monks and -consecrated on Dec. 28, 1065, the church was rebuilt in the Gothic style between 1245-1517. Periods of siege and damage during turbulent periods in England were -followed by periods of rebuilding and restoration throughout Westminster's long, iconic history.
"It is one of the most incredible things I've ever done," said Plisco about the privilege of conducting in the abbey. "For an hour, the world seemed to stop! Performing beautiful music in such a majestic atmosphere was life-affirming for me. The history alone of the abbey - standing where kings and queens had been crowned, making music just feet away from where Handel is buried, along with other music legends like Vaughan Williams and Herbert Howells, was almost more than my mind could conceive. It was like stepping back in time and into an alternate universe.
"The grandeur and history of the abbey, the traditional Anglican service, the organ, the choir and their singing, the aura of mysticism that seemed to permeate everything all combined made for this unworldly, magically transcending experience. I find there really are not any words appropriate to describe the exact feeling I felt during that service. I just know that if I only experience what I felt in that place once more in my lifetime, I will be happy."
The CNU choir also performed in Bristol Cathedral, in Bristol, and in Southwark Cathedral, in London, where the choir performed Handel's "Coronation Anthems" with the London International Orchestra of Academia. Simon Carrington, founding member of the Kings Singers, conducted the performance.
June Vetter is a local writer.
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