This week the reader is in for a treat. Choral Evensong comes live from St. Pancras Church during the London Festival of Contemporary Church Music. I doubt that every single person will be a fan of each of these works, but I have a feeling there will be at least some incredible music. For example, I am looking forward to listening to the Responses composed by Paul Burke. In preparing this post, I visited the composer’s website and listened to a recording of his Tribus Miraculis and couldn’t listen enough. There was a depth and mystery to the piece that so much of our church music, especially what is used in mainstream US Catholic parishes, lacks.
The Anglican church in England, as well as those Catholic English cathedrals that maintain high choral traditions, understand that the treasury of sacred music is LIVING. Too many Catholic musicians I have met in the United States don’t understand that. For the Catholic who attends a “normal” (how I wish I didn’t have to use that term) parish, there is no connection to the music that has fed his brothers and sisters for centuries, the treasury of sacred music is dead. On the flip side, those who attend the Extraordinary Form often experience music from the treasury of sacred music, but that too is a dead experience because those musicians refuse to acknowledge that the treasury is still expanding. Compare Palestrina’s Tu es Petrus, Rachmaninoff’s Bogoroditse devo and Lauridsen’sO nata lux. Each one of these pieces comes from different composers, times, countries and musical traditions, but each is imbued with a deep spirit of awe, reverence, mystery, spiritual depth, etc. May we take the best from our past and truly imbue today with that same spirit so that we can rebuild the Church for our children tomorrow!
If you direct a children’s choir and would like to introduce them into the beautiful repertoire of chant, you simply must download a copy of the Graduale Parvum, or “Little Gradual.” This is the work of Fr. Guy Nicholls, a priest of the Birmingham Oratory. Perhaps over the next couple of weeks we can go through some of this music. It is simply an outstanding piece of work and a great aid in the restoration of authentic sacred music into our liturgies, especially those with children.
The very first choir school I ever visited was St. Thomas (Anglican) on 5th Avenue in New York City, where I attended their annual Choir Master Conference. David Hill, who once directed the music at Westminster Cathedral, led the workshop. As we arrived, we were invited into the choir stalls to observe Mr. Hill lead a full rehearsal of the men and boys prior to Choral Evensong. The warm-up was beautiful (I could have listened to a concert of just that), but what came next struck me speechless. The first piece the choir sang was an Anglican psalm setting and it moved me to the very depths of my being (I am NOT an emotional person!). I had never heard a choir sing so beautifully, while at the same time communicate the text at such a profound level (one can hear them almost daily via their live broadcasts). Such is the power of music.
I enjoyed reading Richard Clark’s recent post wherein he writes that beautiful music within the sacred liturgy is not merely a “frill,” but an integral part of the liturgy. Speaking personally, beautiful sacred music moves me more than the most eloquent of homilies. I have a feeling this is true for many others. Perhaps if we invested in better music in our parishes (along side personal holiness in general) the Good New would be spread more effectively. Another reason for establishing a choir school.
BBC’s Choral Evensong comes live today from Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, sung by the chapel choir under the direction of DR. Geoffrey Webber. Click here to listen to a few of their posted recordings. What an incredibly beautiful choral sound, just what a mixed choir should sound like! I can’t wait to listen to this broadcast.
Choral Evensong comes via an archived recording from the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, from 1992. I encourage all directors of sacred music programs to visit the choir’s website to hear recordings of an incredible choir and to see how this choir takes sacred music into the public sphere through its many incredible recordings and commissioning of new music. Truly amazing, and a challenge to all!
The BBC broadcast of Choral Evensong comes live during the Octave of Easter from Temple Church, London. If my memory serves me rightly, St. Thomas More worshiped here during his time as a London barrister (before the English Reformation). Temple Church also played a role in the Anglican Choral revival in the 19th century, since which time it has been well known for its music program.
Choral Evensong comes live today from St. Edmundsbury Cathedral. Many of the choirs we have heard during Choral Evensong are comprised of choristers from the cathedral school alongside professional lay gentlemen who sing the lower parts. St. Edmundsbury Cathedral is different because it has no cathedral school, so the choristers come from many schools around the area, while the lay clerks are volunteers, which goes to show that one can achieve great sacred music on a volunteer basis.
I am very excited to announce the Choral Vespers come live today from the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. The cathedral possesses a fine choir of men and boys, which will be on display today for the Solemnity of the Annunciation. I only wish that Sir Edwin Lutyens’ original design for the cathedral had been carried out. It has been called the greatest building never built. Nevertheless, you will not be disappointed to hear the choir.
The choir at Durham Cathedral traces its routes back long before the English Reformation, more than 900 years in fact. Durham was originally a monastery where boys sang the treble line. Today the Cathedral Choir includes both a boys choir and a girls choir, which, as is often the case, split the services between the two, while lay clerks sing the lower parts for each group. The choristers are educated at the Chorister School, found in the cathedral precinct. In all, another typical English cathedral choir set-up. So… what gem of information can be gleamed from Durham?
If one visits the Chorister School website (specifically the music page), one will find that almost all of the students at the school (far more than just the choristers) are involved in music to some extent. Almost all learn some piano and sing in some kind of choir. I bring this up to refute an argument that has been brought up to me before, namely, that by creating one very select choir within an institution, one denies all the other children in the school the legitimate right to make music to a high degree (being forced to sing on the B-Team as it were). Instead, I have found that having one select choir that sings to an incredibly high standard encourages the other choral groups in the school to sing at much high levels than usually thought possible because those students in the secondary choral groups have a tangible standard toward which they can strive. A high tide raises all boats. This always students to sing in a choir commiserate to their musical abilities. All in all, wonderful thing! If you run a parochial Catholic school, why don’t try this model for your music program. YOU HAVE NOTHING TO LOOSE!
Here is an archive recording of Choral Evensong from Durham Cathedral. I post this rather than a recording of an individual work because of my love for Anglican psalmody. I hope you enjoy!
Choral Evensong comes live today from York Minster, the second largest Gothic church in northern Europe. York Minster has a treble line of both boys and girls who split the weekly choral services alongside the tenors and basses, known as the songmen.