St. Paul’s Cathedral has stood in what once was Londinium, what today is London and it will probably still be standing 111 meters tall in whatever city eventually replaces London. In the cathedral’s more than 1,400 years of offering service to God, countless religious, political and artistic leaders have made their mark.
The word ‘old’ has a drastically different meaning in a country such as England, where almost every church and cathedral predates the birth of the United States of America.
The comparative youth of the United States was perhaps made most striking to UC Irvine’s Concert Choir when its members had the remarkable opportunity to sing at St. Paul’s Cathedral on March 28, 2006. They also performed to the delight of British residents and passing tourists in three British churches, making their mark and representing our school in England.
The choir, which performed in this year’s 25th-anniversary Madrigal Dinner, features a varied repertoire including Negro spirituals, works by Johannes Brahms, Franz Liszt and 16th-century Madrigals. The weeklong trip provided the choir a chance to explore England’s rich history, perform in new settings and bond.
Since all choral singers must listen to and be comfortable with each other, the trip will probably have a positive effect on the quality of the music the 31-person choir makes.
Making quality music and attaining the high standards for which the group is known was challenging in St. Paul’s Cathedral, where the central dome reaches more than one football field in height. The beautifully detailed mosaics and ceiling art may be pleasing to the eye, but the sheer massiveness and open space produce less than ideal singing acoustics.
Sing the first note of your favorite song and it will reverberate around the cathedral for about seven seconds. Singing the entire song requires vocal clarity and a good ear. For a multipart choir of over 30 members, the task was carried out with the help of conductors Joseph Huszti and Jung-A Lee.
The highlight of the Concert Choir’s performance at St. Paul’s Cathedral was ‘Locus Iste,’ by Anton Bruckner, which was sung with sweetness and reverence. Translated from Latin, the title fittingly means: ‘This is God’s House.’
In a most monumental house of God the Concert Choir sang ‘Locus Iste,’ and numerous other songs, like the rhythmic Negro spiritual ‘The Word was God’ by Rosephanye Powell. Surprisingly, the Negro spiritual did not sound out of place in the centuries-old cathedral. The pulsating rhythm of the song worked well with the cathedral’s unique acoustics, as did the dramatic final chord, whose power was accentuated by the seven-second echo.
As contrasted to ordinary tourists to the cathedral, UCI’s Concert Choir interacted with history and showed its admiration for the stunning cathedral through beautiful songs composed over the last 500 years.
But for Megan Tuohy, a fourth-year English major, her favorite concert was the one at St. Leonard’s Church in Watlington, the smallest town in England at just under 3,000 inhabitants.
After having recently arrived in England, ‘It was rainy, I was jet lagged and I feared we’d be singing our first concert to no one,’ Tuohy said. ‘To my surprise, the entire church was filled. It was as if all of Watlington had come just to hear us.’
The audience’s level of involvement in the Concert Choir’s music was high. Clearly they were enjoying this California choir’s gift of song. Such a relationship between choir and audience can be symbiotic as the audience’s noticeable pleasure in the choir’s music increases the emotional involvement of the choir, which in turn results in a satisfied audience.
‘As I looked out into the audience as we sang,’ Tuohy explained, ‘I saw faces of people who deeply and truly appreciated us being there. They were so happy.’
Indeed, Choral Director Huszti thought that the Watlington concert was the best first concert of any UCI choir with which he had ever toured.
The UCI Concert Choir, which will perform in concert on Saturday May 13 in Winifred Smith Hall, made its mark not just on historical churches in England, but on the people for whom its members sang.
‘It’s one thing to make good music, which we did,’ Tuohy said, ‘but to move people, to make people happy, well, that’s on a whole different unforgettable plane.’