January 11: Cambridge, Mollie

January 11, 2018

By Mollie Lawler, senior alto

Thursday in Cambridge greeted us in typical English fashion with gloomy skies and rain. However, this was the first day that we had truly been out and about while the rain was occurring, so I was excited to fully immerse myself in the subtleties of wielding my umbrella in the so-called “ever present British rain.” Naturally, this was also the day that I neglected to actually bring my umbrella with me, so you could say that my experience was particularly immersive.

We began the morning with a 2-hour walking tour of Cambridge led by a local guide; the guide for my group was led by a lovely woman named Catherine who has lived in Cambridge nearly all her life. Over the course of the following two hours I attempted to keep notes over all of the interesting, important, or noteworthy material that I could dutifully transcribe for your reading enjoyment in this blog. However, I quickly discovered that I would be able to publish my own guide book of the city if I indeed wrote everything down, so I have done my best to quickly summarize.

Firstly, Catherine explained the concept of Cambridge’s school system. Cambridge University is composed of 31 different college, all of which have their own campuses (including classrooms, libraries, dormitories,chapels,and dining halls; in other words, as Catherine said, everything needed for mind, body, and spirit), crests, founders, etc. Students at Cambridge apply to a specific college and in turn spend most of their time studying there. However, for a few hours a week, students will meet with other students in their field across the entire university and take a joint seminar together.

The first college that we visited was Pembroke College, whose chapel we would perform in that evening. Founded in 1347, it is the third oldest college and boasts the oldest gatehouse in Cambridge. As we entered we were very firmly reminded to never step on the perfectly manicured lawn of any college: the only beings allowed to walk across it were the Fellows (professors) or the local ducks from the river. At the gate, we were greeted by the Dean and Chaplain of the college, which Dr. ABC noted was very unusual. He was dry welcoming and spent considerable time telling us about the Chapel (Christopher Wren’s first building) and the College.

We then wen to King’s College, one of the most recognizable colleges in the university. The most prominent building on the campus is the chapel, which is monstrously huge: when someone sings in the chapel it takes 6 seconds for the reverberation to stop. Additionally, the chapel is known for its world-renowned choir, the King’s College Choir.

Following this, our group made our way to Trinity College. Here, we bid Catherine goodbye and were introduced to Nicolas Bell, the Head Librarian of the Trinity College Library, and a friend of our own Dr. Saylor. Nicolas noted the list of famous graduates from Trinity College, including Ralph Vaughan Williams and Isaac Newton. (Supposedly, the front lawn has an apple tree that is a direct descendant of the one Newton sat under as he mulled his ideas about gravity). We briefly explored Trinity Chapel, home of the most famous mixed choir at Cambridge.

We then walked over to the Wren Library—named for the famous English architect Sir Christopher Wren, who designed St. Paul’s Cathedral in London—and eagerly explored the treasures that the building held. On exhibit were a first edition of Dante’s Inferno and other famous books, a lock of Isaac Newton’s hair, and many other impressive and inspiring pieces.

Our time at the Wren Library ended around 12:15 pm and we had the rest of the afternoon to explore Cambridge at our leisure until rehearsal time for our concert. I joined up with Paxton Gillespie and Kate Broderick, and together we had an exciting time of wandering around the city. We first stopped for hot chocolate and “toasties” at a local cafe called the Indigo Coffee House. The mugs were massive, and the barista was not stingy with the whipped cream or marshmallows. Additionally, the front of the cafe had a funny sign that quipped “There will be a $1 fine levied for the incorrect usage of the word ‘literally,’ and the walls were adorned with currency from around the world from apparent offenders of this rule.

Next off, we explored an interesting bookshop called G. David, a bookseller that had been in business since 1896, according to the sign. Most interesting was the Antiquitarian Book Department, which had an entire room filled with rare and usually first-edition copies of interesting books.

Following that, we explored the local market, found a magical rock shop ( to no one’s surprise, Paxton knew more about the rocks than the seller did), and wandered down various ally-ways, finally capping the day off with early dinner at an Italian restaurant named Zizzi before heading back to the hotel to prepare for tonight’s concert.

As mentioned previously, we were scheduled to perform at the Pembroke College chapel and it was a lovely space to sing in. It was certainly smaller than our previous day in the Lady Chapel at Ely Cathedral, but the experience was intimate and warm. We were pleased with a rather large and appreciative audience, which made the concert extremely enjoyable and satisfying. Among the audience members was the Master if the College, Chis Smith, who was a member of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s cabinet, and a member of Parliament. He lived our singing!

To finish off a wonderful day, I plan to explore some of the local pubs tonight and attempt to appreciate the fine art of craft beer. (I’m more of a Capri Sun fan, myself.)