Since early on Tuesday morning, devoted crowds have been setting up camp on Victoria Street, eager to catch the very first glimpse of Prince William of Wales and Catherine Middleton as they arrive at the west doors of Westminster Abbey for their wedding on Friday morning.
I’ve stolen a few minutes away to write this, in between music rehearsals, camera rehearsals, my own last-minute practice (and the occasional glass of champagne), for one of the most talked about and eagerly anticipated events in recent history. I’ll be playing organ music as the royal wedding guests take their seats and then assisting my colleague Robert Quinney, who will play during the service. Even though British singer-songwriter and former army officer James Blunt farcically claimed he would be playing the organ (“Like every English or British musician being asked one silly question too often, I gave a silly answer—and then I went to my Wikipedia page and changed it to say ‘classically trained church organist,’ and 4,400 websites picked up on it”), the truth is that the circle of British organists is very small, and I know nearly all of my colleagues here in London.
The news broke last November that the couple had chosen Westminster Abbey for their marriage. I heard the announcement immediately after playing the final chord of a piece at the end of a big service held in the Abbey, which had been attended by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. I’ve been working at the Abbey for just over three years, having arrived from my previous post as Organ Scholar up the river at St. Paul’s Cathedral. St. Paul’s is a building of national significance and is the mother church of the Diocese of London as well as being a bold statement of civic pride for the city—the image of Christopher Wren’s famous dome is one of the most recognized on the planet. Westminster Abbey has a very different feel to it: it’s smaller, older, and more intimate; it’s a coronation church, the burial place of kings and queens, statesmen and soldiers, poets and priests, heroes and villains; and, as the Abbey’s Web site enticingly describes, it’s a “must see living pageant of British History.”