By Peter Niedmann
One thing I love about summer—along with the beach, corn on the cob, steak on the grill, etc.—is the opportunity to see other church musicians in action. Conferences, conventions, and vacation travel are always fun and illuminating because of the chance for exposure to colleagues and their work.
In July, I went to an RSCM boy choir course at Groton School in Massachusetts. A couple dozen trebles from New England and beyond joined choir directors/organists for a music-packed week, led by Walden Moore (Trinity Church, New Haven). Each day ended with an Evensong or Eucharist, and the final day was spent singing two services at Trinity Church, Boston. Singing under Walden Moore was intense and rewarding. He wastes no time in rehearsal— discouraging questions that break the work flow until the end of the session. He spent considerable time just talking to the boys about responsibility and leadership and self-discipline. The final results at the services in Boston showed the week’s work yielded beautiful, thoughtful singing. [Chichester Psalms – Bernstein; Hear My Words, Ye People – Parry; Gloucester Service – Howells; and much more]. Top-shelf organ accompaniment on two outstanding Aeolian-Skinner instruments by Jeremy Bruns added greatly to the experience. (His improvisation, morphing out of the Bernstein, into the Doxology was inspired!)
In August, I spent a week in the beautiful White Mountains of New Hampshire at The Chorus of Westerly (RI) children’s camp. Led by their excellent music director, Andrew Howell, the boys and girls of this unique community chorus worked hard on pieces for their upcoming season. Carmina Burana was the main focus, with quite a bit of time spent on the pronunciation of the various languages Orff set to music. The kids had no trouble navigating through the work. Andrew Howell systematically broke each movement into very small, digestible chunks to learn and rehearse. Only when that section was solid would he move on to the next bit. He also maintains a very high energy in rehearsal, never allowing the chance for boredom or fatigue to creep into the work. [The Westerly chorus will join 2 other choruses and the New Haven Symphony to perform the piece at Woolsey Hall in November.] The kids also worked on Beethoven’s 9th for another upcoming concert. Conveniently, in the group was a German exchange student! She slowly read the text for the singers to hear authentic and accurate pronunciation.
In addition to watching Moore and Howell, I also saw other fine church musicians conduct and play in shorter sessions at these two events: George Kent (Christ Church, Westerly, RI); Andrew Sheranian (All Saints, Ashmont, MA); Colin Lynch & Richard Webster (Trinity Church, Boston); Joshua Stafford (St. Peter’s, Morristown, NJ).
And, to cap off the summer, I heard the new C.B. Fisk organ (Op. 150) at Christ Church, Philadelphia in a service, played with finesse and vitality by organist Parker Kitterman. He played the delightful Ad Wammes piece, Miroir, for the prelude, which had people in the pews tapping their toes! And the Fisk, of course, is a beauty to behold and hear.
We church musicians can easily feel a sense of isolation in our work. It’s so important to get out and see what other folks are doing. We are not alone!