Alexander Armstrong meets Magdalen College Choir
30 April 2021
Alexander Armstrong’s first official engagement as the Ambassador for the Cathedral Music Trust was to meet members of the Choir of Magdalen College, Oxford, as they prepared for their world-famous annual May Morning performance and find out about their experiences of singing during the pandemic.
Since the early 16th century, the first day of May has begun at 6am with Magdalen College Choir singing from the top of the Great Tower, welcoming the rising sun. The occasion typically attracts crowds of tens of thousands of people to the High Street below, bringing together Oxford's communities to enjoy dancing, singing and revelry, and to listen to the Choir from the foot of the Tower.
With the onset of lockdown in 2020, last May Day involved choir members singing from their homes to create a virtual performance, which was enjoyed by over 200,000 people online. This year, the Choir recorded the traditional Latin hymn, prayer, and madrigals at the top of the Tower to create a filmed performance that will be released on May Morning just before 6am on their YouTube channel.
Director of the Choir Mark Williams said: “As soon as it became clear that we could do it safely and within the guidelines, we knew that we wanted to record this year’s May Morning from the Tower. The Choir was sworn to secrecy, as we couldn’t risk people finding out, in case we drew a crowd; it’s been Oxford’s best kept secret. I suspect some early morning joggers got quite a surprise!
“May Morning is one of the highlights for members of the Choir, and it was wonderful to be able to sing at the top of the Tower once again this year. The atmosphere was very different without the crowds in the streets below, but as we sang in the dawn light, we all had a real sense of what a privilege it is to be part of this unique tradition. We are delighted to be able to share it once again this year with the Magdalen community – and with thousands of others around the world – continuing a truly magical custom dating back over 500 years.”