I Saw Eternity the Other Night: King’s College, Cambridge, and an English Singing Style stands out among the festive throng for a number of reasons, not least because it’s not really a Christmas book. It is a serious study of modern English choral traditions, but because this year marks the 100th anniversary of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College, Cambridge, it counts as scholarship in a jolly jumper. The perfect Boxing Day gift for your serious uncle.
...the most prominent institution still clinging to a boys-only treble line, when the vast majority of British cathedrals now also run girls’ choirs... That contentious topic is mentioned in Timothy Day’s monumental new tome about the choir, but his central thesis touches on something even more radical than its all-male personnel... the sound produced by King’s — a sound of such purity and precision that it still sets the international benchmark for sacred choral performance... The King’s choir’s glory years under Ord and Willcocks are at the heart of Day’s massive, impeccably researched book. Its scope, however, is far wider.
Day’s book sells itself simply, as a history and unpacking of the famous ‘King’s sound’ — the distinctive, and for many unequalled, tone of the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge. But while there’s certainly material here on the mechanics of voice production and the acoustic science of King’s Chapel, sound quickly becomes a metaphor for identity: if a man’s character can be heard in his voice, so a nation’s can emerge through its choirs.