So you’re back in Oxford, collections are long gone, Christmas is a memory only your waistline remembers and the rigours of Oxford life are back in full swing. Fifth-week blues are yet to come and still many delicious weeks of hard work and academic inadequacy stretch ahead, with some hard partying – maybe, if I can just get this essay and reading done – added in. But sometimes you wonder if you could be making more of your Oxford experience than leading a life tied to the twin poles of booze and books. Your college choir is here to help.
The wonderful thing about your college choir is that it probably doesn’t audition, and if it does, it shouldn’t. Sure they are there to sing at important college events for the great and the good, but musical quality is really not the main point. It is all about fellow feeling, friendships, and the well-documented psychological benefits of singing in a group. That spiritual uplift need not be of a religious kind: at my college the vast majority of the choir do not take communion. It can actually get quite embarrassing sometimes. Instead the music is the real joy, as it drifts from the chapel into the fading light and monastic calm that only falls over college on a Sunday evening.
One term in my choir has furnished me with some of my most memorable encounters. My friend and I found ourselves dining opposite Gail Trimble of University Challenge fame (a.k.a. ‘The human Google’) at a choir formal. “What meat is this?” My friend asked me. “Dunno, Chicken?” I guessed. Gail did not look impressed. Earlier in the term I had opened the chapel door to find myself face to face with the Bishop of Oxford. We stared at each other for an agonising moment before I clocked that the man in front of me was older, wiser, more grandly dressed, and in every respect more important than me. I abased myself and stepped aside.
Of course the world of chapel carries its olde-worlde trappings without apology or irony. When we hosted the University sermons we said prayers not only for the monarch, nation and more colleges than I could count, but also “all the aristocracy of this realm” (which, I must note, still includes Jeffrey Archer). It was positively Elizabethan. I mean Bess I, not the current Queen. For those of an OCA bent this sort of thing is probably rather comforting. For the rest of us we accept it as part and parcel of the whole shebang.
And if you’re still not convinced, remember that whereas rowers have to pay for their hobby, college subsidises you in choir. Free formals are a real boon for all you freeloaders out there, even if you do have to sing for your supper.