My name is Catherine Clover. I am author of The Templar’s Garden and producer of the choral music album Like as the Hart, recorded by the Choir of New College Oxford under the direction of Robert Quinney. As I entered my thirties, two life-changing events happened; my mother, who was my best friend and confidante, died of cancer, and at the same time, when I needed him most in my life, contact was lost with a chaplain and friend who had mentored me during the formative years I was a graduate student at the University of Oxford. Over the decade that ensued, my existence consisted of two roles: that of mother and expat wife. My daughter and I followed where we were told to go, and I gave up my own identity to assume what society expected of me as a woman without the right to work in a foreign country; to remain a silent partner who answered to any and all needs of my child and spouse.
In 2015 I had an awakening. On my solo return to Oxford in October that year, as I walked up St Aldate’s Street in the shadow of Tom Tower, the entry gate to Christ Church, I heard the voice of God. I shall never forget that moment. Glancing ahead in the chill of the late afternoon, with filtered sunlight being cast against the medieval golden masonry surrounding me, I heard my calling; after years of floating rootless and ungrounded between two homes and multiple countries, I was home at last. I have been returning to Oxford to worship in the medieval college chapels and to write ever since.
My inspiration is drawn entirely from my love for my mother and my daughter, the choral music sung by the Choir of New College that I have heard over the past two decades, my friendships with Anglican priests, and my spiritual home in the Oxford college chapels, English cathedrals and parish churches that are a sacred refuge to me. A sense of community and human connection are what feeds my soul, not disturbing and disruptive messages delivered through devices and social media. When I am in the mode of creating a medieval world I turn my focus inward, first to meditation through the writings of female medieval mystics such as Hildegard of Bingen, Margery Kempe, and Julian of Norwich, and then to what is audible through centuries of choral music. From Palestrina to Tallis, Bach to Mozart, Vaughan Williams to Rutter, the beauty of the human vocal range as captured by composers, past and present, helps to engage me in my characters’ fifteenth century lives.
What pleases me most is the fact that Like as the Hart has been favorably reviewed by the British press, and that it has been accepted not just as a soundtrack to my novel, but as an album in its own right. This was my intention from the start. I wanted to create a choral offering that could help the reader of The Templar’s Garden to engage in a genre of music and become familiar with a choir that, perhaps, they had never heard of. For the choral music enthusiast who is already familiar with the choir and their formidable discography, I wanted to provide a new, literary, context for interpreting what they hear. In that way, book and album support each other, while telling a story of mysticism and love, which is also heard in the music I selected for the album.
I commissioned two new settings of Psalm 42 (“Like as the hart desireth the waterbrooks, so longeth my soul after thee, O God”) by two composers, Antony Pitts and Alexander L’Estrange, each with ties to the choir. In doing so, it was my hope to give something back, to say thank you to the boys and the men (and their families) who have, for centuries, carried the tradition forward, today including performances by the newly formed girls choir in Oxford called Frideswide Voices. It is my hope that, through the stories I tell and the music I curate, I might create a separate, parallel world from the madness that surrounds us, one that is founded in quiet reflection and in faith, hope and love. That is, if we are open to stopping what we are doing for just a few moments to listen.