Our road to King’s
Chris May (current Chorister parent)
I became intoxicated by King’s on Christmas Eve in 1960: suburban Sutton daylight fading as the clock struck 3pm and my Father tuning in to BBC Home Service on his Marconi Valve Radio. The two of us sat in silence listening to the Nine Lessons and Carols. It was on the front cover of Radio Times. Christ was coming into the world in Cambridge, because there were angels singing and glory echoing from afar. The whole thing was from another world. In the scullery, my mother popped shiny threepenny bits into Mrs Beeton’s Pudding mix.
In 1973, I made the flight into Egypt and listened to King’s before supper in Alexandria near the beach. One day, I brought our five year-old son Barnaby to Cambridge and there we were, in the congregation, eight feet from the conductor Stephen Cleobury as the red light flashed. Barnaby went to sleep in my arms and the Choir disappeared beyond the Organ Screen; I was back in Bethlehem. Three years later, Barnaby and his brother Gabriel passed their auditions.
And King’s still remains Christmas for me: darkness to light, revered by millions of expats sprinkled around the globe.
This side of reality as a Chorister parent, I can tell you King’s is the ultimate Pudding mix – social class, attitudes, beliefs, whatever. The Dean ended a Chapel sermon a couple of years back with the stunner “from whom no one is excluded.” This permeates everything in School and Choir life. So, while we assumed from the outside all Choristers and their Parents oozed blue blood and Bond Street, the truth is we are all too lost in the common cause to notice an absence of corgis.
Inside the Oven, mystery becomes flesh. Sixteen Choristers and eight Probationers jostle for position, getting it wrong and getting it right and emerging as professional musicians saturated with the most glorious music. They work with the world’s best musicians and composers, live in a home-from- home Boarding House and trek around the world performing in jaw-dropping venues. They’re covered by international media; they shake hands with the Prime Minister; and they perform daily with sixteen older brothers doubling as Choral and Organ Scholars.
Some people decry King’s as elitist, just like anything otherworldly. Try swapping ‘elitist’ with ‘divine’ or ‘exacting’ and you’re near, providing you add ‘normal’.
So, five years of King’s: sublime when the stage requires, and normalised by 400 other boys and girls who relate to the Choristers as their mates. We parents are many shapes and sizes. Ask us an opinion on anything and you’ll get 32 different answers. We support each other most of the time and apply gutsy tolerance on occasion.
We put King’s and our boys’ needs above our own. The humbling thing is realising we have modest influence. Of course, our boys love coming home and living family life in a more intense way than before.
What a way to spend their pre-teen years. They travel the world and sing their hearts out and get stuck into sports and academic subjects and get into brilliant senior schools and will - we are sure - never ever forget these extraordinary fleeting days.
Chris has a son in Year 8 and and a son who left King’s in 2014.