College Choir of St John's celebrates 500th anniversary


As a punt chauffeur and recent graduate, I spent a summer ferrying tourists up and down the River Cam, spinning ludicrous yarns about the University. Two things about this most beautiful of journeys will have stayed in the river-goers' minds: colliding with other punts and the chapel of King's College.

I wanted to educate them with a different history: that of the college Choir of St John's, whose chapel, set back on the street side of the town, somewhat loses the panoramic punch. But know where to look and you'll see the robust gothic tower astride the Tudor chimney-tops. What more striking a metaphor of the underdog could you want?

St John's hosts a choir of men and boys in which I spent a happy nine years. Like all professional opera and concert singers, my life is strewn with the corpses of failed auditions, lost competitions and over self-examination. The special environment of St John's taught me, amongst other things, not to fret about what others think of you.

The college is celebrating its 500th anniversary this year, and since the 1670s, the Choir, now directed by Andrew Nethsingha, has fulfilled the role of elevating the daily services through music. From the opera stages of New York to the concert halls of Europe, nothing for me has ever matched the serenity of those quiet evensongs.

St John's is my truth, my story on the river tour. I urge those who have never done so to step into a cathedral or college chapel one evening for evensong. Our country is resplendent with unrivalled music making. It costs nothing but your time to experience.

The Choir of St Johns' College, Cambridge performs Walton's 'Belshazzar's Feast', Royal Festival Hall, London SE1 ( 15 December