In addition to spending some time doing the things that fall by the wayside during the regular choir season, the summer months also afford church musicians time to attend continuing education conferences and workshops, opportunities to explore new music literature, gather new ideas, and greet friends old and new from whom we also glean new ideas. Last week I returned from my second continuing education opportunity this summer, the Royal School of Church Music (RSCM) Course in St. Louis, Missouri. The RSCM was founded in England in 1927 to operate a training college for church musicians and an association of affiliated churches who were “committed to maintaining high standards of church music.” The college operated until 1939, when most of its students were called up for military service. However, in 1945 the RSCM was reconstituted by command of HM King George VI. In its first 10 years, RSCM membership rose to 1,300 affiliates worldwide, and by 1952 more than 3,000 churches were affiliated.
In the 1980s, RSCM America formed as a separate organization, with its parent organization remaining the RSCM in England. RSCM America has more than 400 affiliated churches of many denominations and is represented in most states. Like its parent organization, RSCM America sponsors a number of training courses for children and adult singers each summer. This summer, RSCM America sponsored 10 training week-long courses, the St. Louis course being one. Memphis was well-represented in St. Louis this summer, with Kristin Lensch (organist/choirmaster of Calvary Church) serving as Treble Housemaster and Debbie Smith (assistant organist/choirmaster of Grace-St. Luke’s) serving as Adult Housemaster. Having served on the staff for a number of previous years, I was privileged to serve this time as the Adult Proctor (coordinator) in charge of afternoon workshops and adult social gatherings.
For those of us who love church music and love to sing, an RSCM course is a week-long feast of anthems, rehearsals and daily Choral Evensong, culminating in larger services at the end of the week. We arrive on Monday and spend the week perfecting glorious music; the week culminates with a Saturday evening Service of Lessons and Music for the Liturgical Year at First Presbyterian Church, Kirkwood, followed by singing the Sunday morning High Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. The RSCM Choir has sung at the Basilica for many years, and we were heartily welcomed during the liturgy a number times. One of the Auxiliary Bishops of the Archdiocese, our Celebrant for Mass that morning, even led the round of applause for the choir before the final blessing and recessional hymn.
One of the most important offerings to RSCM affiliates is the ability to use the Voice for Life choir training scheme. This scheme begins with training for young child singers and continues through adulthood, outlining the various aspects of service to the local church through its parish choirs. The training highlights music theory, music reading skills, good singing practices, and spiritual aspects of learning the worship traditions of the church and practicing personal discipleship through choir membership. We are reestablishing the Voice for Life training in our children’s music program at Church of the Holy Communion this fall with the hope of some of our own treble choristers attending the RSCM St. Louis Course in an upcoming summer. The benefits for children attending this course are tremendous, and I look forward to making this possible for our own children in the future.