The May Morning celebrations may well have been cancelled, but the Choir of Magdalen College is determined not to let this 500-year-old Oxford tradition go unmarked.

The Choir will welcome the coming of spring this year, but the Choristers and Academical Clerks won’t be singing from the top of the Great Tower. Instead, they’ll be singing from their homes across the country via video link, which will then go out on Facebook live at 6am on May Day.

The Choir of Magdalen College

Mark Williams, the Informator Choristarum at Magdalen College, has been working with the 28 members of the Choir over the last few weeks to complete new virtual renditions of the Hymnus Eucharisticus and a traditional madrigal for May Morning.

“I think IT’s going to be really moving to see all the choristers in their bedrooms and homes singing together again. It’s going to be quite a tearjerker.” Helen Pike

“May Morning is a highlight of our calendar,” said Mark, “so, when I mentioned the idea of a virtual May Morning to the choir, everyone was delighted to take part.

“It’s been tricky to get everyone all together, but I am glad that the members of the Choir have thrown themselves into this. We’re pleased that we will still be able to celebrate May Morning with the Magdalen community – and with thousands of others – this year.”

May Morning in Oxford

Helen Pike, Master of Magdalen College School, said she was on board from the word go: “May Morning is one of the highlights in not just our choristers calendars but our city’s as well, and while we cant recreate it exactly, I think this year’s virtual rendition is going to be really moving.

“this really is a chance to see our world class musicians in action for yourselves.”

“Of course it’s taken weeks of preparation and rehearsals to conjure up the same magic, but it does mean that we may attract a whole new audience by performing it virtually.

“Of course it won’t be quite the same as singing from the top of Magdalen College Tower but there are advantages – people can listen and watch who might not otherwise be able to come to central Oxford, they will be warmer and more comfortable at home and be able to hear it better, plus everyone gets front row seats,” Helen smiles.

“So this really is a chance to see our world class musicians in action for yourselves.”

Chorister practicing in bedroom – note the bare feet

“It’s going to be quite a tearjerker I think to see all the choristers in their bedrooms and homes singing together again, because it will be such a powerful experience. Yet you can watch May Morning live from the safety of your own homes.

“One thing is for sure, it will be a truly memorable and unique experience that people will never forget.”

Here is a video teaser of what to expect: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=2646680402211256

And what of the boys themselves? Are they excited? “Very. They are obviously used to performing to huge audiences but this is something they have been really looking forward to, especially as their choir trip to New York was cancelled recently because of the pandemic.”

Chorister recording at home

As for what the boys will be singing, it’s a surprise, but last year, amongst the classical pieces, the world famous 28 strong choir sang Over The Rainbow which the crowds loved as the sun came up.

The Choir of Magdalen College was founded in 1480 and enjoys an international reputation as one of the finest ensembles in the UK. The Choir is made up of Choristers who are part of the College Foundation and attend Magdalen College School, and Academical Clerks and Organ Scholars who are undergraduates at Magdalen College.

The precise origins of May Morning are uncertain but the tradition is thought to date back to at least 1509, when the College tower was completed.

Over the centuries the nature of the event has taken several forms, ranging from a solemn Requiem in memory of King Henry VII, via a lengthy celebration involving bands of musicians, to the event as we know it today, which evolved in the mid 19th century, thanks to the historian John Bloxam, Bursar, Dean and Librarian of Magdalen.

You can watch this very special May Morning performance at 6am on Friday 1 May on the Choir’s live Facebook page www.facebook.com/magdalencollegechoir/ and later on their webpage https://www.magdalencollegechoir.com/

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