Friday, May 4, 2012

Clear channels of music and Cromwell's head

Image of The Chapel Court at Sidney Sussex from the Daily Mail.

On Sidney Street in Cambridge, I pause before the front gate. An ancient wooden door stands ajar and I peer into the courtyard. This place feels familiar. Sidney Sussex College? A woman in a neat blue coat comes out, rolling a suitcase behind her. "Go inside," she advises. "The chapel is beautiful."

"But is it allowed?" I ask. These colleges are private. One does not go in without an invitation.

"Oh yes," she says. "They're having an open day. And the choir is practicing, so you'll hear some lovely music too."

I step into the green front courtyard of this building of warm medieval stone, past the empty porter's lodge, and enter silence. The street noises fade behind the stone wall that is draped with wisteria just coming into bloom. The only sound is the quiet conversation that engages a small knot of students.

They direct me to the chapel, and I pull the old knob to open the heavy wooden door. Yes, I have been here before, and I go straight to the plaque on the wall and read its strange inscription.

"Near this place was buried on 25 March 1960 the head of Oliver Cromwell Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland, fellow commoner of this college 1616-7."

As I step back, the sterling voices of young men rise in harmony and then the women's higher tones blend in to swell the chorus.

The day is cold for May, but this evening is magical. With some reluctance, I step out of range of the music and leave this green and quiet place to return to the street.

There, I hear a different kind of music. A thin girl with a nose ring is playing a penny whistle, a familiar Irish tune. I begin to walk away, but as the tones swell on the chilly evening air, I fumble in my pocket for a pound coin and turn back to add to her basket of offerings.

I climb aboard the bus to return to the station, ascend the narrow, steep and winding stair and take the front corner seat, hungry to see what else I can before I go.

When we stop I am level with the roof of the bus shelter, which carries an advertising slogan that seems to be a special reminder for me: "Clear channel," it says, and I recall the words of Jean Houston so many years ago, and her exhortation to become a clear channel for abundant life.

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