Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Problem was the Queen

St. Martin-in-the-Fields, 2002

During our last trip to England, my wife and I discovered and became fans of the lunchtime concerts at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, the Trafalgar Square outpost of the Church of England. Since the 1720s St Martin’s has had a lively faith community and a close connection with music. The “fields” surrounding the church are now the busy streets of central London, but music remains to be a big part of the church's life.

After a busy morning of walking and sightseeing, we could think of nothing more delightful and restful than dropping into St. Martin's aptly named Crypt Café for an inexpensive lunch, following by an hour-long concert upstairs in the sanctuary. Other people apparently felt the same way because the church was full each weekday we were there. Over the course of a week, we heard an opera singer, a string quartet, two solo musicians and a girls' choir.

It’s hard to pick favorites. The Russian pianist was terrific. The string quartet played exceptionally well together. But I can say without a moment’s doubt that our favorite performance was the girls’ choir up from Southend for the day.

It was early July. The day was hot and humid. The forty or so 13 to 15 year-old girls were wearing heavy plaid woolen school uniforms better suited for a cooler day. But they cheerfully assembled on the steps in front of the alter and followed their director into a challenging program of sacred and secular music.

About midway through the concert, my wife elbowed me when she noticed that a couple of girls standing in the front row were looking faint. As we paid closer attention, we noticed several girls throughout the group who were starting bob and weave. Their eyes fluttered a bit. A few minutes later the girl standing at the end of the second row fainted and fell to the floor. A few minutes after that a girl from the other end of the same row fainted.

As anxious mothers rushed around collecting fallen girls and hauling them off to the cooler shadowy edges of the sanctuary to recover, the remaining girls soldiered on. They closed the concert with a rousing arrangement of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. You could tell from their excitement that it was their conductor’s gift to them for having plodded through all the sacred music. Unfortunately, the demands of Bohemian Rhapsody were so rigorous that several more girls fainted and fell to the floor during its performance.

At the end of the concert the audience applauded wildly, not so much for the performance as for the fortitude of the performers. Afterwards, my wife ran into some of the girls in the ladies room, where they were changing from their heavy jumpers into jeans and t-shirts. When my wife asked one of the girls if they were okay, the girl explained that the problem was a combination of the heat and the heavy clothing. "But," she explained, "it was the Queen what really got us.”


  1. I love the Cafe in the Crypt. Best cheap eats in London I've found. But don't tell anyone else, okay? It'll be our secret...

  2. It feels so wrong to say, but this is comical.

  3. Awwww-- That's a great story. I love it! And I'll bet they were marvelous.