Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stephen J Toope (Trinity 1983), shares the sounds which shaped his student days at Cambridge.
RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS
To me, this is almost quintessentially English music and I really like that – it epitomises the English romantic tradition. Although I knew Williams’s music, I didn’t know this piece until it was introduced to me in Hall at Trinity. I was sitting next to a guy who was an astrophysicist, and we were discussing the kinds of things you discuss at dinner, and then he started talking about this piece. I said I hadn’t heard it and, a few days later, he went out and bought the tape and gave to me. Williams really is remarkable in the way he uses strings, and I love the richness of sound he creates while always ensuring that the rhythms drive you forward.
I think the first time I heard this was in the car, driving with friends to a restaurant during the long vacation in Montreal. It was a beautiful summer night, and it just stuck in my mind. By the time I got back to Cambridge, of course, it had become a huge hit and was being played pretty much everywhere I went. So it reminds me of those first few weeks of the Michaelmas term, of warm days and good friends. I’ll be very honest and say that I don’t think I was very attuned to the lyrics at the time – it was just a song I really loved – but it does show, at least, that we have travelled some
way since the 1980s!
TRINITY COLLEGE CHOIR
In the Christmas of 1984 or 1985, Trinity’s then chaplain, Robert Atwell, asked if I would read one of the lessons at the advent service. I used to go to services quite often, and as it was to be broadcast by the BBC I think they wanted different voices and accents. It was a really fun occasion – I remember the great opening of O Come and the whole rush of feeling – the place was packed, the candles were lit, the Benjamin West altar painting was radiating, and I just thought “Wow!” It was wonderful, and I feel immense gratitude for the experience. I also like the hymn! It builds so well, it’s very singable, and it has a certain drama to it, which I like.
Although I am Canadian, I spent much of my younger years singing in choirs in the English choral tradition. So I love Arvo Pärt: I love his mathematical discipline as a composer, and I think this is a great example of that. I discovered Pärt when I was in Cambridge – I think I must have heard one of his pieces sung at Evensong and got very interested and bought a couple of albums. I also happen to be a lover of Benjamin Britten, so this piece is particularly special because of that resonance. Quite a lot of people don’t like Pärt but, for me, it’s the clarity, the force of precision about the music, that I really enjoy.
I love Leonard Cohen, but he was a quite dreadful singer in my view – so while I have always been a big fan of his music, I mostly prefer to listen to cover versions, and this album is one of my favourites. Jennifer Warnes was a country and western singer; not someone I knew, but I just thought she had such a haunting voice and such a range. I associate it with mist in Trinity Great Court – it brings back memories of evening drizzle, and a feeling of wistful nostalgia. But also of playing music in my room with my roommate Stuart Young (Queens’ 1983), who was later best man at my wedding. I didn’t have much money at the time, so I had it on tape and played it on repeat.
Music, Trinity College, Vice–Chancellor
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