By Christ Church Cathedral School headmaster Richard Murray

I am sitting on the tenth floor of a hotel in Jinan, a city midway between Shanghai and Beijing. In Chinese terms it is not particularly big but its population is more than that of Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle, Leeds and Bradford put together.

I am here because I am accompanying our Cathedral Choristers on a tour round China where we are singing, amongst other places, in the National Center for Performing Arts, in Beijing, known as ‘The Egg’. Here we will perform live to more than 2,000 people in a concert broadcast to the nation. We will also perform in Xi’an, the home of the Terracotta Warriors.

Almost everything about this country defies belief. In order to get to Jinan, we travelled on a bullet train which reached a speed of 306kmph (approximately 200mph). We covered the 400 miles from Nanjing to Jinan – almost exactly the same distance to the mile as London to Edinburgh – in just two-and-a-half hours. Just as impressive has been the welcome which we have received. Everywhere people have been courteous and helpful, desperate to make us feel at home. Despite the crowds, we have never felt threatened or in danger. We have, I think, a huge amount to learn from such a society.

For the Choristers this trip is an experience enjoyed by few other children of their age. How many children get to perform in front of such vast audiences and be wildly feted for what they can do, a talent after all which they have been perfecting for years? At points they have been treated like celebrities. In Macau, our first stop, a girls’ choir with whom we were singing mobbed our boys, screaming with delight when they agreed to appear in selfies. The appetite for things Western and, in particular, things British is extraordinary and if we doubt the value of our traditions, of our way of life, of our choirs in particular, it is not a doubt shared here in China.

Tonight the choir sung to a packed hall. Unlike the audiences at home, this audience was young; families came and children were standing in the seats, their arms aloft cheering and clapping. The Choir is so exciting, so enlivening, so energising and the people of this vibrant country seem instinctively to understand this. What a huge achievement this is for Stephen Darlington, its director for the last 33 years, who is retiring at the end of this tour. An interesting mark of the esteem in which he is held is that tonight, in a city more than 6,000 miles from home, a very high-ranking local official sent a vinyl record and a set of CDs of Stephen’s recordings which he had amassed over the years to the concert hall for autographing.

I am indeed privileged to be here to witness Stephen’s retirement – to witness the end of an era certainly but more than that to witness a passing on, in the best possible state, of this great Choir as it approaches its 500th anniversary in 2025. Choirs such as ours are a global treasure and we, in Oxford, should be proud that we have such a gift to share with the world. We should be tremendously grateful to Stephen Darlington who has done so much over the past third of a century to help ensure that Oxford’s name is known across the globe.