Summer is often a few months of “down time” for many young people. However, last summer our young St. Philip’s choristers were very busy. Eleven members of our St. Nicholas Choir (the largest group from Arizona and possibly from the Southwest Region) attended week-long Royal School of Church Music (RSCM) courses.
Our St. Nicholas Choir offers training based on the RSCM program. Those members who have progressed enough in their musical training can join our Schola Cantorum Choir. The RSCM curriculum is set up so that choristers earn a different color ribbon as they progress, much like a karate class. At various points in their training they are invited to test and demonstrate their musical proficiency and earn bronze, then silver and, lastly, gold medals. The examinations test not only a chorister’s singing but also their understanding of liturgical music, such as psalms and hymns, and their knowledge of the liturgy. The choristers have to prepare a solo piece and their line of an anthem, a hymn, and a psalm to sing for the examiner, as well as doing some sight-singing. Written materials include preparing program notes, writing a complete service outline including readings and music selections, writing a prayer for the service … and being able to answer questions about all of the above. This is an impressive amount of work, and illustrates that the St. Nicholas Choristers are not just performers but also worship leaders.
Our choristers prepare for these exams through our regular rehearsals over the year, as well as extra rehearsals with Jeffrey Campbell and Woosug Kang during the summer. This past summer, Head Chorister Sarah Spurlin earned a Gold Medal with Honors, the only Gold in the Southwest Region. Only sixteen Gold Medals have been awarded since courses began in the United States, and only four have been awarded to choristers age 15 or younger. Other medal recipients were Thomas Alexander, earning a Silver Medal with Distinction; Chloe Harwood, earning a Silver Medal; and Karine Story, our Organ Scholar, earning a Bronze Medal with Distinction. We are very proud of all our exceptional choristers who work so hard in the RSCM program.
Until recently St. Philip’s was the only church in Tucson affiliated with the RSCM course, as well as one of three churches in Arizona to send youth to the RSCM summer courses. St. Philip’s is the only church in Arizona whose choristers have a achieved medal status. Since 2008, the first year that our choristers have attended the courses, they have earned twelve medals altogether: six Bronze in 2011, one Silver and one Bronze in 2012, and four (one Gold, two Silver, one Bronze) in 2013.
These courses provide rehearsals under the direction of world-class conductors, such as Malcolm Archer, a world-renowned composer and conductor who held the post at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Our choristers spend a week at these programs, making new friends with choristers from all over the country as they share their common interest in sacred choral music. This experience enhances their understanding of sacred choral music and their dedication. As Thomas Alexander said: “Every time I go this course is always a wonderful learning experience and, though a challenge, every chorister gains skill and experience. When we arrived for the first rehearsal, we were prepared and knew the music. I had the privilege to test for my Silver Medal this year and I passed with distinction. It was great to be able to test my skills as a singer and a musician. I learned so much from all the preparation that I can apply to my current role in the choir.”
We are very grateful to Friends of Music for the scholarships they offer to enable our choristers to attend these summer courses.