This was not the city we’d been waiting breathlessly to visit. But there it was, lounging in the middle of our 2007 choir tour itinerary. The other singers and I—twenty-some college students whose iPods shuffled Kanye and Palestrina without blinking—uttered no complaints about the fact that we would be in the city for less than 24 hours. Before checking in to our cement brick of a hotel, we boarded a long, white bus—that velvet-infested bastion of overseas tourism—for a drive through the architecturally bleak city of Coventry.
The buildings we passed nearly apologized for their ugliness, for their being so out of tune with what an ancient city should look like. In the center of town, we paused at the remains of the fourteenth century cathedral, a cathedral that in 1940 crumbled and melted under a venomous sky. Operation Mondscheinsonate.
As we approached the iron gate of the ruins, the petty chatter dancing out of our mouths bowed into reverent silence. Above us the sky grew dark and heavy until the clouds burst from the weight of the English rain. Against the smooth, stone floor of the roofless nave, liquid crystals crashed and shattered in a percussive dirge.
There at the gate, with our backs to the ruins, our voices re-emerged in a melody as old and solemn as the ground on which we stood. When, in the final measures, we broke free of C minor, the evening sun at last came through, as if on cue.
The ruins glistened.
Catherine L. Zadoretzky is a writer and editor based in Baltimore, Maryland.