Thursday, 17 June 2021

St Mary s Church Choir, Henley

ON Saturday, August 1 members of the choir were joined by some members of the chamber

ON Saturday, August 1 members of the choir were joined by some members of the chamber choir FineChants, led by St Mary’s director of music Gary Sieling, to take advantage of his invitation to provide a choir for a Sunday Mass in the Catholic cathedral of St Michael and St Gudulae in Brussels under his baton and accompanied by St Mary’s assistant organist Peter Spencer.

The rehearsals were interesting since the main (modern German) organ is hung on the wall of the nave and is not really designed for accompanying singers and hymns are not normally sung in their services.

Seating had to be rearranged to place the choir near the organ and the director communicated by shouting to the organist at the console some 30ft up the wall in the middle of the pipes, where he had climbed by a route via the roof of the cathedral.

The choir found the acoustics of the large high nave somewhat magical â?? the sound was thrown back to surround them and continued to echo around the magnificent cathedral for many seconds afterwards.

Visitors to the cathedral clearly enjoyed the experience as well and soon there was a large audience.

Gary had chosen to sing in English throughout: the Mass setting

Collegium Regale
by Hubert Howells, written for the choir of King’s College Cambridge and sung accompanied; and two anthems,  

O Sing Joyfully
by Adrian Batten and

My Soul, There Is A Country
by Hubert Parry, both sung unaccompanied.

In the service itself on the Sunday the choir contributions were interspersed with plainsong by the cathedral’s male singers of the Escola Cantorum and the priest and by congregational responses led by a very able lady with a microphone.

To cope with the dual languages of Belgium, the lessons were printed in the service sheet in either Flemish or French and read in the alternative language. The priest (Monseigneur) moved seamlessly between the two languages in the homily. For the final anthem the choir moved to the front of the cathedral to sing unaccompanied. Again the acoustic was astounding and again the choir seemed to flood the great building with sound.

At the end of the service the multilingual Monseigneur expressed his thanks in English, declaring that “for a while we thought we were in Heaven” and the choir followed the Escola Cantorum in procession down the aisle to warm applause and congratulations from congregation and clergy.

Standing ovation? â?? they were standing for the procession anyway.

The choir left with warm memories and an invitation from the Monseigneur to Gary to return next year.

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