Elaine Meigs visited St. Paul's Cathedral in London with Cal State Fullerton's choir when she was 16 and was amazed by the architecture of the 300-year-old church. She never imagined she would have the opportunity to visit it again.
So it came as a huge surprise when the choirmaster told her and fellow choir members at St. Wilfrid of York Episcopal Church in Huntington Beach last year that they would be going to St. Paul's for a seven-day residency beginning next week.
St. Paul's allows visiting singing groups from around the world to apply for an opportunity to sing at the cathedral while its choir is on its summer holiday.
"Is there something between a scream and a cry?" Meigs, 58, said as she described her reaction when she learned about the trip last summer.
Christopher Gravis, St. Wilfrid's choirmaster, said he applied for the residency position in March 2013 because he felt his group was ready to take its talents on the road.
"It's not an uncommon thing for some Episcopal churches and the really fine choirs to do a cathedral tour and maybe sing in one of the lesser-known cathedrals in England," he said. "I sent in our audition materials to a tour consultant, and St. Paul's Cathedral wanted to have us sing. I was totally overjoyed."
St. Wilfrid's will begin its seven-day residency Monday and will sing evensongs — a worship service sung by a choir — every day during its stay, Gravis said. The group will perform three evensongs on its last day.
Gravis and his choir have been practicing and perfecting their evensongs for the tour.
"We're going to sing nine services, and each one has entirely different music," Gravis said. "This volunteer choir has committed to 108 rehearsals or services in the last 11 months. These accomplished, busy professional people have many things to do.… Their dedication has been astounding this year."
Choir member Derek Wimmer, 68, said he has sung in other cathedrals in the United States but considers the trip to St. Paul's to be a major coup.
"I've sung at the Washington National Cathedral, which was a pretty incredible experience," Wimmer said. "But going to St. Paul's is like going to the mother lode."
Wimmer, who sings second bass, said he is confident the group will do fine during the residency.
However, he added that he might have butterflies in his stomach when the choir performs in front of the hundreds of church members and tourists who congregate at St. Paul's each afternoon.
St. Wilfrid's choir typically sings to about 200 people at its church.
"I'm not nervous now, but I will be then," Wimmer said with a laugh. "It's not something you want to mess up."
It has yet to sink in for Meigs, who sings alto, that she and the choir are going to England for a week. As an Episcopalian, she sees the opportunity as a "mountaintop experience."
"We sing to the glory of God....," she said. "When we sing, it's a prayer. So this will be our prayer of praise and thanksgiving, and we just hope that the people who hear us are blessed by what we do."