If you are looking for a classically “Oxford” experience, but are reluctant to endure the physical exertion and frigid early morning practices required by rowing, I heartily recommend joining a college chapel choir. You might not escape the cold (stone chapels not being known for their warmth), but physical exertion is generally limited to saving enough breath to get through the Amen without passing out.
I’ve joined the Hertford College Chapel Choir, which is a non-auditioning choir open to students from any college. We see the music for the Evensong service for the first time at Friday evening rehearsal, and then have another rehearsal on Sunday with a quick break before singing the actual service: Responses, Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis (“Mag & Nunc”), Psalm, Anthem, and several hymns. The only way to survive the barrage of notes is either to have very strong sight-reading skills or lacking these (as in my case), to position oneself strategically beside someone else who has. Somehow it all comes together, though, and the result, soaring in the chapel with the organ, is absolutely beautiful.
Best of all, once the benediction has been spoken and we file out into the chilly darkness of the Hertford quad, fluttering and billowing in our student gowns, we are well compensated for our services with sherry in the Old Library and a delicious candlelit formal dinner in the Dining Hall.
It’s the perfect evening before the Oxford week begins once again.