On Friday morning (the 25th,) the choir drove to York, which has been my favorite city so far. Its city center (within the still-standing Roman walls) is densely-built, with narrow cobblestone streets and beautifully-preserved buildings, cathedrals, and the like. One street, called the Shambles, is a real-life Diagon Alley--a narrow street lined with medieval buildings, with the upper floors of the buildings jutting out over the street and sagging inward. The Shambles was once where the butchers of York sold their meats (“Shambles” comes from “Fleshambles,” which were countertops in the shop windows of butcheries.) The character of the city, a blend of well-preserved ancient architecture and modern stores, restaurants, and pubs, was charming. The main door of our hotel, the Hilton, framed a view an ancient Roman fortress sitting on a hill.
We got there around lunchtime, and I found myself at Betty’s Tea Shop with Vanessa Libbey, Sophia Huang, Brittney Leemon, and Jake Watson. (In Chester, a Hannah the waitress had recommended it to me when I told her I was going to York.) We got classic afternoon tea and food (I got Darjeeling from the Himalayas and a rarebit cheese sandwich.) After a great meal and conversation, the rest of the group went shopping and I left to explore. I walked a few blocks and found York Minster, which is the largest gothic cathedral in northern Europe and the magnificent icon of the city. As I wandered I discovered a square where an acrobat was balancing on a plank of wood sitting on a rolling cylinder with a ring of fire between his feet while he juggled flaming torches. Afterwards, I chatted with an English couple celebrating their 23rd wedding anniversary.
In mid-afternoon, the choir rehearsed at the Church of St. Michael De Belfrey (nextdoor to York Minster) for our evening concert. We left the doors open in the back, and passersby wandered in to listen as we rehearsed. We returned to the hotel for dinner, dressed in our robes, and paraded back to the church, where we waited in the square outside before our concert.
It was during this waiting period that a group of British high school rascals approached the choir. One fat rambunctious 17-year-old, drunk as could be, began singing “Wonderwall” by Oasis at the top of his lungs, and was joined by his friends, Dylan Carlson of our choir, and several other choir members. We thought the rowdy kid would leave after a verse and a chorus, but he stayed long enough to sing the whole song (maybe twice?) with unintentional key changes every few words. As the buffoon was dragged away by his friends, he pulled down his pants and began hopping like a rabbit. Just when we thought he was gone, the boy came running back into the square, completely naked, his chubby body bouncing around as he trotted towards us in what seemed to be slow motion. The choir roared with laughter as the idiot was tackled by his friends and dragged away. Dr. Hightower (whose expression during the incident was of course priceless) did his best to fix our focus in the last few minutes before the concert.
Our performance was one of my favorites. As they were during the rehearsal, the doors stood open, inviting people to wander inside as we sang. The choir faced west to the back of the church, where the sun shined through a giant window as it set, making lyrics like “The sunset and the dark’ning blue” “Come we now to the hour of setting sun” all the more meaningful. A few pieces in particular had never sounded better, especially Ola Gjeilo’s “Sanctus,” we shook the earth during the final Hosannah passage. It was inspiring. Many locals stayed to thank us after the concert and promised to come listen to our recital at York Mister the following morning (more on that later!)
As if the day wasn’t exciting enough already, then we went out on the town! I friends and I headed to the Evil Eye Lounge, an edgy bar that is apparently Johnny Depp’s favorite in York. It was decorated in vibrant colors and cool upholstery, and the menu was a quirky selection of interesting mixed drinks and shots. I watched with awe as one bartender masterfully filled glasses with ice water to cool, mixed the ingredients in another cup, threw things in the air and shook them, and poured the final mix through a strainer and filled the cold glass to the brim. I ordered a funky drink called a Pear Cardamom Sidecar.
After the Evil Eye, Kelsey Brown and I departed for the hotel and stopped to grab a late-night snack: Döner Kebab, which is kind of like gyros, but Turkish. (It was a junk food we had both seen frequently in Vienna in January 2011, and so we enjoyed experiencing it again.) It was a great end to my favorite day on tour so far.