Allie Maury had never seen a church as ornate as Christ Church Cathedral in Nashville. By the end of the two-day Chorister Festival, she and two other Holy Communion Choristers had sung in two of its worship services and spent nearly five hours the day before in rehearsal.
“The part that meant the most to me was practicing and hearing all of the music come together so well, then making it even better by working hard on all the small details. Overall, my favorite part was performing the Evensong and finally getting to sing all the music at once,” said Allie, 11.
Choristers from a half-dozen Episcopal congregations with connections to the Royal School of Church Music were invited by the cathedral’s music director to the festival, directed this year by Michael Kleinschmidt, Canon Musician of Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle.
“I just think the kids got a true experience in high-level choral singing,” said Sarah Cowan, mother of Chorister Corrine Cowan, 11. “To attend with children from different churches and work together to provide a gift to the congregation is an experience not many children have. Of course, they offer that gift every Sunday when they sing in church, but this was at a higher level then they have ever experienced.
“When we picked the girls up Saturday after a full day of rehearsal, all three were tired and hungry. And they had had the experience of really working hard and paying attention.”
The Choristers’ choir of 40 children sang at 11 a.m. Sunday worship and at Evensong late in the afternoon. Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee Bishop John Bauerschmidt attended.
“I enjoyed hearing the other kids who were older than me,” said Erin Maury, 9. “The director made sure everyone understood about how to make the music better than it was before. In the end, performing with the other church participants was amazing, and I enjoyed the music we sang.”
The parents provided transportation and lodging costs.
“It was completely worth it to give our kids that kind of experience,” Cowan said. “Anytime we give our kids an opportunity to fully participate in the worship service, we solidify their ongoing connection to the Episcopal Church.”
Holy Communion is an official affiliate of RSCM in England, which maintains an RSCM America office at Princeton University.
“I loved that the girls still had lots to say about the music - which pieces were the hardest and which they liked the best - even after a long day of rehearsal,” said mother Dana Maury, who drove carpool and helped chaperone. “I liked that there were several older students in the choir and they were able to hear the results of someone who had worked hard and really developed their talent. It was a fantastic experience for them, and one they are eager to repeat again next year.”
Three years ago, Holy Communion hired music educator Ellen Koziel to rebuild the Choristers program, which now includes the St. Cecilia Choir, a feeder program for kindergarten and first-graders. Choristers in the Royal School of Church Music can be as young as second grade. For the festival, only children in fourth grade and older were invited.
“It lets them see where we are headed,” Koziel said. “There is a difference between just being in a regular children’s choir at church and a choir affiliated with the Royal School of Church Music.
“The rehearsals move at a faster pace. The sound required is the English boy choir sound, which is bright and very focused. The music these kids did was not easy.”
In fact, as service music, the parts are normally done by adults or clergy. In both services, the children sang all the parts. The cathedral choir had the day off.
“An RSCM Chorister program is directed at older elementary and middle school children, before boys’ voices change,” said Dr. David Ouzts, director of music and liturgy. “For us to have a vibrant Choristers’ program, we need to keep older children and younger youth, even when they move to the youth department at grade six.
“This festival is directed to older children. When we have them, then the style and breadth and difficulty of the sacred choral literature they can sing opens up,” he said.
Rehearsal on Saturday and Sunday afternoon was so rigorous that each Chorister was given a canvas bag of snacks to help with fatigue. The longest break was a 90-minute walking tour of the cathedral neighborhood or the Frist Center for the Visual Arts across the street.
“We’d love to go next year and take more choristers,” Koziel said, adding that she hopes the trip will become an incentive for Choristers to stay in the program and work hard.