Singing in Hogwarts
For many years, Harry Potter has been a famous and much loved wizard, even in the muggle world. This kid reporter and choirboy had a chance to visit and sing at some of the great inspirations and filming locations for the Harry Potter films and enjoy a week of fun at the world famous University of Oxford. As a member of the Georgia Boy Choir, which was the Choir-in-Residence at Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford from July 18-24, I spent a week in Christ Church College studying music, the college’s fine architecture, and its rich history. The school’s alumni include 13 British Prime Ministers and leading scientists, politicians, and artists.
The GBC rehearsed for two hours and sang a 45-minute long Choral Evensong every day in the cavernous cathedral with marvelous acoustics. The echo was long and enormous, and a bit hard to deal with. “Don’t sing by what you hear but by what you see. We can then produce a fantastic sound together,” conductor David White told us.
The bulk of the service was done by the choir. It was an exhausting but rewarding experience. For around 500 years now, choirboys have stood on the exact spots, resonated their voices in the cathedral, and produced some of the best music in the world. These were high expectations to live up to, but the GBC boys seemed to find encouragement in that fact and worked to set the bar even higher.
So what was that about Harry Potter? In the movie Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry is shown arriving as a first year at Hogwarts and is greeted on a staircase by Professor McGonagall before being taken into the Great Hall. Inside there are four long tables for each House of students with similar personalities. The High Table at the end of the hall is for Professors and the Headmaster Dumbledore.
First of all, the staircase where Harry is greeted filmed on 16th century stairs inside Christ Church. The Great Hall of the college was the inspiration for the Great Hall of Hogwarts and is almost identical to the one in the movies, which was a replica built in a film studio. Also, the ancient 1000-year-old cloisters of the college were ideal filming locations. One scene was when Harry Potter was shown his dad’s Quidditch trophy.
The choir ate dinner at the Great Hall, and it was an exhilarating experience to be able to walk up the staircase and into the magnificent room. Unfortunately, the Great Hall had no floating candles, sorting hat, or magically appearing food. Every day for breakfast and dinner, the GBC members sat in one of the House tables. Since there was a change of tables daily, there were shouts of excitement about what House’s table the choir was sitting at: “We’re sitting at the Gryffindor Table! Wait, it might be the Ravenclaw table!”
Finally, on the last morning, the choirboys got what is probably the ultimate dream of a Harry Potter fan: to sit at the High Table. Where did this kid reporter sit? In groundskeeper Hagrid’s seat! It was a glorious moment, to look out and imagine seeing Dumbledore commencing a feast or Harry receiving mail from Hedwig.
Harry Potter isn’t the only piece of children’s literature associated with Christ Church. Math professor Charles Dodgson — more commonly known by his pen name, Lewis Carroll — wrote Alice in Wonderland based on the stories he told to the Dean of Christ Church’s daughter Alice. Carroll was also inspired by a painted glass panel in the Great Hall.
So after a week in the corridors of Christ Church, rehearsing before concerts, telling people about the mission of the choir, and singing at their best, the Georgia Boy Choir, came to know the Evensong program well and did it brilliantly. Spirits were high whether it was time to play cricket on the Christ Church Meadows or to perform an Anglican chant under candlelight in a church. One of the tour guides at the beginning of the week said, “Singing at Oxford has been a long tradition and it is an honor. Value your time here and do well, and I hope it is a wonderful experience.”
And the boys can be proud to say they did just that.
Photo: Kid Reporter Andrew Liang at Christ Church, Oxford. (Courtesy Andrew Liang)