In July 2016, the St. Nicholas Choir and Schola Cantorum from St. Philip’s In The Hills completed a week-long residency at Worcester Cathedral, Worcester, England. Singing services at the historic cathedral was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience, which allowed the choirs to deeply participate in the ancient singing tradition of the English cathedrals and to connect with the earliest roots in the Anglican Church.
In 2013, Woosug Kang, Director of Music, and Jeffrey Campbell, Associate Music Director/Organist, recognized that the St. Nicholas treble choir had the potential to achieve a very high musical standard. Kang and Campbell chose the challenge of a UK Residency to inspire the treble choir to achieve the “mountain-top” experience of singing in a cathedral at which music was composed by cathedral musicians from past centuries to contemporary times and sung by a continuum of choirs.
English cathedral music has a written treble line that requires a unique sound, which cannot be duplicated by women’s voices. St. Philip’s has a strong Royal School of Church Music (RSCM) program with youth aged 10–18. Building on that program, St. Nicholas became the only treble choir in Arizona to travel to the UK for a cathedral residency. The St. Nicholas youth sang the most complex music with confidence, joy, and love of what they were doing. Fourteen youth sang the treble line; six young men with changed voices sang with ten adults in Schola Cantorum, who provided the alto, tenor, and bass lines.
Application for the residency was made to Worcester Cathedral in summer 2013 with the assistance of England-based Charter Travel, and planning for the trip began. The choirs would sing seven Evensong services and the Sunday morning Eucharist service in Worcester. Kang and Campbell developed a music list from a broad-spectrum, mainstream Anglican repertoire that would highlight the choir’s strength and built up a treasure of the choral repertoire over 3 years.
In addition to weekly rehearsals and the regular monthly evensong service, all youth, joined by adult singers in the evening, were required to attend a 1-week “boot camp” the week before departure. The many hours and days of concentrated rehearsal consolidated the musical detail required, including an immense amount of psalmody. Midway through boot camp, the traveling choir sang Sunday services at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Phoenix. It was vital to experience singing in “cathedral” acoustics for extra training. Two days before departure for England, parishioners filled St. Philip’s to attend an Evensong service. At that service, the choir sang Benjamin Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb, the anthem the choir sang at the last Evensong in Worcester.
The choir adapted to the Worcester Cathedral acoustic environment very quickly. They realized that they could sing, not force, be expressive but not exaggerate. The balance between choir and organ was natural. Campbell was able to use a wide variety of tone colors in the music, but the organ was never overwhelming to voices. The beautiful, balanced sound was most appreciated by people listening in the nave and quire. Many people stayed for services after hearing the choir rehearse in the quire stalls.
There was a rigorous daily rehearsal schedule in both the cathedral Song School and quire stalls, but also time for fun and exploration. Highlights of excursions were Windsor Castle, Ludlow Castle, Hereford Cathedral (with its Mappa Mundi and Chained Library), Tewkesbury Abbey, Bourton-on-the-Water in the Cotswolds, and an enthusiastic team competition of Skittles (Nine Pins) played at the historic Haw Bridge Inn. There was also time to climb the Worcester Cathedral tower for a bird’s eye view of the medieval city and for ultimate Frisbee on the College Green.
A fundraising program began in 2014 with the goal of raising enough funds to cover air and land travel expenses for all eligible choir youth. Happily our goal was exceeded! Several events were held: a British beer-tasting (adults only), a silent auction, an organ concert, a walkathon, a hymn sing, and a production of Amahl and the Night Visitors. However, most of the financial support for the youth came from private donations. A total of 20 youth choristers, 10 adult choristers, organ scholar Kwesi Pasley, Woosug Kang, Jeffrey Campbell, 10 parent chaperones, and one 8-year-old chorister in training traveled to England.
Chaperones underwent their own preparation for the trip. Each chaperone was required to be certified in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona’s Safeguarding God’s Children training. St. Philip’s chaperones were in the vanguard of applying the training for this extended international trip.
The Worcester Cathedral community warmly welcomed our travelers. Vergers were gracious with their time, giving meticulous instructions on processions and movements during the service, and the choir immediately responded to that training. The long procession down the nave to the quire was done with decorum and dignity (and sometimes led by St. Philip’s guest verger Alison Lee). In addition, choristers enjoyed tea and biscuits served by the cathedral tea ladies every day before evensong and had lively conversation with worshipers during Sunday hospitality in the Chapter House. At the end of the week, the Dean of the Cathedral presented Mr. Kang with a gift for the choir, offered many words of praise, and invited the choir to return to Worcester to sing again.
—Photos courtesy of many participants
To read day-to-day impressions of the journey, and see many more photos, click here.