St. Mark's Choir sings cathedral choral music
The St. Mark's Choir, under the direction of Brian-Paul Thomas, will sing choral music of the Cathedral tradition Sunday, Oct. 16, at 5 p.m. The music for Choral Evensong includes John Ireland's "Greater Love Hath No Man" and Charles Callahan's setting of the "Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, The Harvard Service." All selections for the program are part of the body of work that members of the choir sang during their successful choral residency in England this summer.
Fifteen members of the St. Mark's Choir (The Chester Schola), plus five "ambassadors," journeyed to Chester, England on July 7 for a week-long residency in the cathedral in that historic city, which is located in the northwest region of England, not far from the border with Wales.
Chester Cathedral (officially "The Cathedral Church of Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary in Chester") began as a Benedictine monastery more than 1,000 years ago, and has been a place of prayer and pilgrimage ever since. It was dedicated to Werburga, the daughter of a Saxon king, who renounced her royal status and became an abbess over all the nuns in the realm. She is said to have performed many miracles to alleviate sickness, trouble, pain and personal problems but is best known for miraculously restoring to life a goose that had been stolen and eaten. St. Werburga's likeness is captured in a stained-glass window in the cathedral cloister.
The English choral tradition is maintained in Chester Cathedral: the resident choir, including boy and girl choristers and lay clerks (adult males), sings eight services a week (Choral Evensong, daily except Wednesday, plus the Cathedral Eucharist, Mattins -- sung morning prayer, and Choral Evensong on Sunday). That is the schedule the St. Mark's choir followed. Each Evensong repertoire included intoned Preces (short prayers or petitions) and responses; intoned appointed Psalms; a setting of the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis; and an anthem. The Eucharistic service included elements of Haydn's "Missa Brevis" as well as two anthems.
Every day began with rehearsal in the Cathedral's Choir School, a purpose-built suite of rooms located on the original site of the monks' dormitory. Afterward, the group enjoyed outings to places of interest in both England and Wales. There was also free time to explore the rich history of the city of Chester, originally a Roman fortress which is still completely surrounded by a wall that is walkable. There was another rehearsal in late afternoon to prepare for Evensong, which was offered at 5:30 p.m.
Everyone in the group -- singers and ambassadors alike -- was pleased with the experience.
Canon Chris Humphries, the Precentor (the cleric who directs the choral services of the Cathedral) discussed the group's experience in a letter to Brian-Paul Thomas, St. Mark's Choirmaster and Organist.
"We do thank you most sincerely for the preparation you put in. The skill and enthusiasm of your singers and musicians was much appreciated and greatly enhanced our worship. ... Please pass on the thanks of the whole cathedral community to everyone concerned."
Choir members participating included sopranos Alison Gruseke, Emily Kelting, Mary Petro and Cassia Ward; altos Ann Fuller, Eloise Killeffer, Ellen Robinson and Judy Stephan; tenors Jack Donahue, George Friesen, Raud Johnson and Jeremy Reifsnyder; and basses Chris Gruseke, John Layng and Bob Stephan. Ambassadors included Lynn Donahue, Ann Hagen, Richard Keith, Ditte Reifsnyder and Margo Sisson.