The View From Off the Bench and Across the Pond

Lorraine S. Brugh


I’ve often lamented that I never get to see and hear my professional colleagues because we are all working on Sunday mornings!  In fact, some of the professional organizations I have joined serve for me primarily as a place to know my colleagues.

This past 1 ½ years I’ve had my chance.  As director of Valparaiso University’s study abroad centre in Cambridge, England, I don’t have regular duties on the bench or the podium.  Our study centre is located on the grounds of Westfield House, a Lutheran theological house, serving as a seminary for the British Lutheran church.  I do occasionally play for their weekday and Sunday services on campus, but that still leaves me plenty of time to visit other churches and chapels.

Cambridge is filled with both churches and college chapels.  There are 31 colleges affiliated with the University of Cambridge, as well as 11 theological houses like Westfield House.  All of them, as far as I know, have regular services while the term is in session.  The most renowned of them, the men and boys choirs of King’s College, and St. John’s College, draw many visitors.  Stephen Cleobury at King’s and Andrew Nethsingha at St. John’s are musicians of the highest order.  In addition to their primary duty of preparing and directing their men and boys choir, they also give organ recitals on occasion.

There are other bright stars, however, in the Cambridge sky.  Most of the college chapels now have mixed choirs of students, a faculty director and an organ scholar.  This allows the choirs to sing a full range of choral repertoire, which they perform at a high level.  If one plans carefully it is possible to start Evensong at King’s College, go to Trinity College for the end of Evensong, then go next door to St. John’s for Evensong again.  If not weary yet, there is often Compline later in the evening at Pembroke or Selwyn Colleges.  It is really a feast of riches in Cambridge.

When I accepted this 2-year assignment, I assumed it would be difficult not to be playing services and recitals regularly, as I do on campus.  I’ve found, however, that since I can learn so much by watching and listening to others, I’ve only been grateful for the opportunity.

Rather by chance, I’ve been able to interview several organists for The Diapason magazine.  I happened to visit York Minster for Evensong on the day honoring their organist emeritus, Francis Jackson on his centenary.  To my delight and surprise, Jackson was there, and spoke at a reception in his honor after the service.  At 100, he was amazingly spry, and still plays for services at the parish near his home.  I wrote up the article, which The Diapason published in December 2017.

Emboldened by this first article I next contacted Stephen Cleobury, music director at King’s College, Cambridge and asked for an interview.  Surprised again, he offered an open spot in his schedule 3 days later.  I met him in his office in Gibbs Hall at King’s, and spent a delightful 45 minutes with this kind and generous leader of England’s choral world.  The Diapason again published the article.

Enjoying this adventure, I next contacted John Rutter, who lives just a few miles out of Cambridge.  He offered to come to my home on a day when he was coming to Cambridge to meet with Rachel Willcocks, the widow of David Willcocks.  That article will come out in The Diapason’s December issue.

I have had subsequent interviews with Olivier Latry at the Three Choirs Festival in Hereford, and with Colin Walsh, organist laureate at Lincoln Cathedral.  They have all been charming in their own way, often quite humorous, and generous with their time.

I have puzzled quite a bit over the disconnection between the magnificence and amount of fine organ and choral music in a country where less than 5% of the population attends church.  It takes a lot of resources to maintain all these cathedrals, schools, choirs, and parishes.  Is it worth it?  Does it serve well an increasingly secular culture?  It seems hard to justify, knowing how many other urgent needs surround us.

Last evening I listened to a recording of King’s College Lessons and Carols on YouTube.  I absolutely melt as I heard the young boy begin, “Once in Royal David’s City.”  My soul stirs in ways I can’t describe, except to return again and again.  I happened to read some of the comments people left from the recording.  These two are the best answer I have to answer why we continue to present the best we have in music.  I believe it’s a message we can all take to heart when we present our next musical offering, whether anyone tells us or not.


I’m actually an atheist but I find this music absolutely beautiful. Some of my friends will not listen to this type of music as they say it makes them feel slightly uneasy with ‘The God Thing’ but great music is great music no matter what your beliefs. It always leaves me with a feeling of inner peace as I hope it does others. You don’t need to believe in a God to be kind and offer help to others less fortunate than yourself. You just need compassion



It was actually the beautiful choral music of King’s that brought me to God. Alleluia.

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