August 24-25, 2015
An early morning ride westward brought us to Heathrow in good time to get coffee, do some last-minute shopping at what looks more like a full-featured mall than an airport terminal, and prepare ourselves for the transatlantic flight to come. Unfortunately, though, the plane itself apparently forgot that last important step; we sat on the plane at the gate for a good four hours while a mechanical issue was explored. As Dan Houston pointed out, although enforced confinement to narrow seats and aisles wasn’t ideal, better to discover problems while on terra firma – and who can argue?
Mag-and-Nunc wars ensued. The backstory: Thanks to the puckish humor and lovely voices of some of our younger singers on the coach from the hotel, many of us had already entered the terminal with the Gerald Near “Magnificat” stuck in our heads; earlier in the week, Richard Larraga had expressed his dislike of this composition in typical Richard terms: “The Addams Family goes to church.” So, with little to do on the stationary plane besides rehash the week, friendly arguments broke out about the merits of the Near versus the Stanford Mags and Nuncs; a crying baby at the rear of the plane was assumed to have just been exposed to the Near for the first time; the need for thirty more tenors in order adequately to present the Stanford was proposed and confirmed.
The cabin attendants, sensitive to the mood of the masses, brought pretzels and water to placate the hungry, though calls for champagne began – alas, in vain – at the hour-and-three-quarters point. Eventually a teetotalling cocktail party broke out, with about half the group mingling in the aisles and bewildered non-choir passengers trying to make their way to uninhabited areas. At no time did we burst into song, to everyone’s relief.
At the four-hour mark, the captain sadly confirmed what, by that time, we all suspected: we were going to deplane, return to the terminal, reclaim our luggage, crowd onto buses to transfer to a nearby hotel, and try it all again the next day.
We will elide the rest of Travel Day #1, except to note that the hotel kindly moved their starting dinner hour back to 5:30 from 6:00 in acknowledgement that most of its guests hadn’t eaten a meal since a very early (and less than nutritionally adequate) breakfast and might be moved to take up torches and pitchforks if some food wasn’t forthcoming.
Travel Day #2 began even earlier, with most of the hotel emptying onto the front terrace at 6 a.m. to wait for buses back to the airport. Heathrow did itself proud, funneling at least half the cancelled flight’s passengers through three harried ticketing desk attendants and ensuring that we all achieved at least twenty minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise on our way to the gate. (It is perhaps worth noting that we did burst into song a few times in the ticketing line. Who knows to what extent this affected the speed of the line?)
All 28 St. Peter’s passengers safely, if breathlessly, aboard the 757 that we fervently hoped would wing us homeward, we proceeded to wait an extra half hour past “wheels up” time for additional meals to be loaded. There was muttering. Later, blessedly in the air, we discovered why: somehow the airline had received, or interpreted, instructions that rather than one person’s request for vegan meals among our party, we were instead requesting 28 sets of vegan meals. Again there was muttering, but the hapless flight attendants, having discovered the error before the second meal service, did their best to encourage others on the plane to choose the vegan meals so that at least some St. Peter’s non-vegans would have the choice of a standard meal.
The upshot is that, some 34 hours after leaving our home-away-from-home Crowne Plaza at Blackfriars in Central London, we were in fact home.
And so another residency closes. The presentation of beautiful and meaningful liturgy; the moral and practical benefits of good work to do and the evidence of that work well done; the fellowship of pub, restaurant, hotel, tour, coach, and – to a greater extent than usual – plane; the sharing of hardships both minor and significant; all these elements have marked each residency and continue to mold the choir into an ensemble not just in voice but in heart. We return to St. Peter’s “a people, forgiven, healed, renewed; that we may proclaim God’s love to the world and continue in the risen life of Christ our Savior.”