Letters From Mr. Sheranian
A Letter forAdvent
As we approach the end of the liturgical year, I'd like to report on the choir's activities in the past few months, and to look ahead at the coming year.
The beginning of the choral term coincided with the removal of the chancel organ and of the installation of a protective covering of the C.B. Fisk Organ, Opus 103. This has meant that we have been without a pipe organ since the beginning of September. As a temporary instrument, the church purchased and restored a two-manual and pedal reed organ, built by the Estey Organ Company of Brattleboro, VT. The organ was most likely purchased for use in a small church approximately 100 years ago, and then subsequently found its way to a private home on the South Shore. From this residence, the reed organ was moved to an organ repair shop in Waltham to be restored, and then just in time for the beginning of the choir year, was moved into place on the epistle side of the ante-chancel, where it stands to lead both congregational singing and to provide choral accompaniment.
The reed organ also does an admirable job at playing organ repertoire; but, because of its limited size and tonal palette, the selections of organ repertoire have necessarily been somewhat limited. Also, since the last issue of The Chronicle, the chancel organ chamber has been emptied of its contents; Skinner Organ Company, Opus 708 has been moved from storage in the undercroft to the workshop in Waltham; and restoration work on this beautiful instrument is underway. Working as your musician without a pipe organ is a challenge, I must say. However, when I remember that in just over a year's time, we will have two world-class pipe organs of different styles to help lead worship, it puts everything in perspective.
In addition to the choir's weekly routine of rehearsals and masses, the choir took the "show on the road" a couple of times this autumn. On September 29, the choir traveled to S. Stephen's Church (a fellow Anglo-Catholic parish) on the campus of Brown University in Providence, RI, where the choir sang a service of Solemn Evensong, Procession and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament for the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels. We were grateful for the warm welcome by the rector, Fr. John D. Alexander and curate, Fr. Blake Sawicky, and to our dear friend James Busby (organist and choirmaster) who extended gracious hospitality and accompanied the choir at Evensong.
As has become our custom, the choir also traveled to All Saints' Church in Worcester for Evensong on the Sunday after All Saints' Day. The two like-named churches have enjoyed this collaboration for the past three years, and the two choirs joined forces to sing music of Howells, Bainton, and Radcliffe. Graeme McCullough, the director of music at Worcester, was our host, guest conductor and accompanist. The Worcester Choir will join us again – here at Ashmont – for Candlemas.
To conclude, I would ask for your help with two things.
1: Open your hymnal and sing the hymns heartily! Now that the Fisk Organ is unplayable, I am seated at the reed organ during the singing of hymns. From that vantage point, I can look out at the congregation and see who is holding an open hymnal and who is not. As you can imagine, I want to see every person in the church with an open hymnal during the hymns. As I occasionally say to the boys, "Fake it 'til you make it!"
2: We are hoping to recruit a few more boys this year. With the help of some industrious parishioners, we have a few new probationers coming down the line (thank you!), but we are, as ever, constantly on the look-out for potential choirboys. Boys in Grades 3-6 are the ideal age. If you know of a local family with a boy in that category, please talk to his parents and then pass on their contact info to me. It is an enormous help. Thank you in advance.
Andrew P. Sheranian
A Letter for Michaelmastide
I write to give you a report of the choir's choir camp experiences this past summer. On July 25, twelve choirboys (along with three choirmen and yours truly) traveled from Boston to Essex, NY. Essex is a charming, sleepy town on the banks of Lake Champlain in the Adirondack region. The quickest way to travel to Essex from Boston is to drive up through Vermont to Burlington, and then to take a ferry across Lake Champlain. Once we arrived in Essex, we were greeted by the rector and people of St. John's Church. There we spent three and a half beautiful days with perfect mid-summer weather. Morning rehearsals were followed by healthy lunches. During the afternoons, the boys went hiking, swimming, kayaking, and motor boating. Accommodation was provided by the generous parishioners at St. John's, most of whom live on picturesque, lakeside estates. Each evening, a different family provided dinner for the boys at their beautiful homes; and each evening after dinner, the boys sang Compline for our hosts at dusk. On our last evening in Essex, we sang Evensong for the townspeople; and on Sunday morning, the choir sang the Sunday mass at St. John1s, followed by a lavish brunch. The people in Essex were openly moved by the boys' presence among them, and expressed their ardent desire to repeat the choir camp next summer. We are very grateful to the Rev. Margaret Shaw, rector of St. John's, and all the fine people in the parish for their generosity, kindness, and extravagant hospitality. I am also personally very grateful to Jeffrey Gonyeau, Michael Raleigh, and Trevor Sullivan for taking the time to chaperon the trip and to help with many of the details of the choir camp.
After mass on July 28, we drove from Essex, NY to Princeton, NJ (through hateful traffic and torrential downpours), where 15 boys and men from our choir attended the Montreal Boys' Choir Course. This is the course that had taken place in Canada for so many years, but was moved to the States because of the fact that nearly all the participants in the course are Americans. This year, the course was held on location at the Lawrenceville School, just south of Princeton. Each year, the course chooses a theme, around which the music and the activities of the week are centered. This year the theme was the Holy Ghost, and we spent a week singing about and exploring the work of God the Holy Ghost. Our main musical challenge was the monumental motet, "Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf" by Johann Sebastian Bach. This week of intensive musical training and singing is transformational for our boys, and is a great way for them to rub shoulders with boys from other choirs who are engaged in the same kind of musical ensemble that they are. The week in Princeton culminated in Sunday Mass and Evensong, which were sung in the air-conditioned comfort of Miller Chapel, on the campus of Princeton Theological Seminary. After 10 days of back-to-back choir camps, the boys (and I!) were ready to come back to Boston!
And now, looking ahead. On Sunday, September 29, the choir will travel to S. Stephen's Church in Providence to sing a service of Solemn Evensong and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament at 5:00 pm. It is particularly fitting for our two parishes to come together in this way, as we share in the catholic expression of the faith. If you find yourself in Providence that day, please make a point to come support the choir.
As always, we are looking to recruit a few more boys (grade 3 through 6) for the choir. If you have a Facebook account, please go the Ashmont Boy Choir page. There you can see pictures and video from the choir camps this summer. Click like and share our recruitment flyer with all your Boston contacts. Please help us spread the word about this unique opportunity for local boys.
Andrew P. Sheranian
A Letter for the Great Feasts
I write to let you know the choir's summer plans. First, some background is in order. Several years ago I was asked to play an organ recital in Essex, NY, a sleepy little town on Lake Champlain, south (and across the lake) of Burlington, VT. The Community Church in Essex hosts a summer organ recital series. During my first visit there in 2011, the rector of the neighboring Episcopal Church invited me to dinner at the rectory, along with the music director of the church and a few members of the choir. They asked about my work here at All Saints, and we began to formulate the idea of starting a summer music camp for our choirboys, hosted by the clergy and people of St. John's Church in Essex. Being a small retirement and vacation community, summer is the time of year when that particular parish is operating at its peak, so the idea of hosting our boys for a choir camp at that time was a welcome one. The final plans are slowly coming into form at the current time. Jeff Gonyeau, Mike Raleigh (our Davison Fellow from the Harvard Glee Club), Trevor Sullivan, and I will travel up to Essex with about twelve of our choirboys on Thursday, July 25. There we will follow a daily routine of rehearsals, musicianship classes, fun activities, outings, picnics, etc. The boys will be hosted by members of St. John's Church, in home stays. Our time in Essex will conclude with an Evensong for the town on Saturday night, followed by Sunday morning mass, at which our choirboys will join with the small choir of St. John's Church.
On Sunday, July 28, after mass, we will depart from Essex, NY, bound for Princeton, NJ, where our choirboys will attend the week-long Montreal Boys' Choir Course in Princeton. As you may remember, Ashmont boys have attended the Montreal Course for the past two years, reviving a long standing tradition of Ashmont choirboys attending summer training courses run by the Royal School of Church Music in America. This year, the Montreal Course has been moved to Princeton, streamlining the travel process and making it possible for more American choirboys to participate in the course. Our boys will join nearly 70 other choirboys and teens from other men and boys choirs in this country for a week of music making, musicianship building, camaraderie, nutritious food, and fun. Some of our boys are already looking forward to working with Mr. Simon Lole (who directed the Montreal Course in 2011), sometime choirmaster at Salisbury Cathedral in England, who will be the Musical Director of the Course this year. Every year, the course chooses a theme, around which all the musical and social aspects of the course revolve. Last year the theme was "The Mass." This year, the theme is "The Holy Spirit." The majority of our rehearsal time will be spent working on Johann Sebastian Bach's monumental motet "Der Geist hilft unsere Schwachheit auf" as well as a few masterpieces of the English Cathedral repertoire.
In other news, we have recently formed a Choir Recruitment Committee, to address the most pressing concern of the music department. Our goal is to recruit five new choirboys before the end of the choir year on June 9. If you know of boy, grade 2-6, please reach out to me (617-436-3520, or email@example.com) with his and his parent's contact information so I can follow up and invite him to join the choir. Our Choir of Men and Boys is perhaps the most distinctive element of our common life, and yet, unless we join together and recruit now, its viability will be put in jeopardy. The choir needs your help. Please speak to your friends, relatives and neighbors about this unique opportunity for their sons. Thank you in advance.
Andrew P. Sheranian
A Holy Week Letter
During Lent, the choir has been busy learning some new choral repertoire for Holy Week. Many of the anthems and motets will be familiar to the congregation, but the mass settings are for the most part "new" to us.
On Palm Sunday, the choir will sing a mass by Herbert Howells in C minor. If Charles V. Stanford is to be considered the composer who defined English church music in the 19th century, then Herbert Howells is his parallel in the 20th. Deeply affected by the death of his son at an early age, Howells' music is infused with a melancholia that so typified the political turmoil and devastation of the last century. His Communion Service in C is written for unison voices, and includes an independent organ part rich in harmonic interest.
Because of the unique nature of the Maundy Thursday liturgy here at Ashmont, (which dictates that the organs be silenced after the singing of the Gloria in excelsis), the choir has usually sung a "hybrid" mass setting in the past: i.e. Kyrie/Gloria sung to a setting with an organ accompaniment, and the rest of the mass sung an unaccompanied setting, usually from the Renaissance. Philip Stopford's Keble Missa Brevis provides a clever solution to this particular liturgical pickle, because the only accompanied movement of this mass is the Gloria in excelsis! Stopford is a British composer, born in 1977, and was organ scholar at Keble College, Oxford. It is to Keble College that this mass setting is dedicated, and was premiered there in 1997 at a celebration of Corporate Communion. Perhaps the most unusual treatment of the mass text occurs in the Sanctus/Benedictus. The choir, singing in eight parts, repeats the word "Holy" while the trebles sing the text of the Sanctus. However, it is the composer's treatment of the Hosanna that is particularly thrilling. You'll have to come to mass on Thursday to hear it. Spoiler alert: the boys sing a lot of high notes!
The mass setting for the Easter Vigil was sung here first in Advent of 2012; however, because it was Advent, the choir did not sing the Gloria. This mass was composed by Josef Gabriel Rheinberger (1839-1901). Rheinberger was born in the tiny alpine principality of Liechtenstein, but spent most of his musical career in Munich, where he was professor of composition at the conservatory. Cantus Missae, opus 109 (composed in 1878) is scored for unaccompanied double choir. Most choral music is written in four parts: this setting is written in eight. Cleverly crafted, it is a delight to observe the two choirs on either side of the chancel handing the musical material back and forth. Having twice the number of vocal lines imparts a sumptuousness to the texture that brings a rich and luxurious quality to the declamation of the mass text. This setting formally harks back to the great Renaissance masters such as Palestrina and Victoria; however, in harmonic and melodic structure the Cantus Missae is unmistakably the work of an unpredictable Romantic. The work is dedicated to Pope Leo XIII: indeed, it found such favor with the Pontiff that Rheinberger was made a knight of the Order of St. Gregory by papal brief.
On Easter morning, the choir will sing a mass composed in 1776 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, for use at the cathedral in Salzburg, Austria. The Archbishop of Salzburg at the time was adamant that even Solemn Masses be kept under an hour in length, making these settings perfectly suited for use in modern liturgical settings. Missa Brevis in C "Organ Solo Mass" is similar in structure to the "Little Organ Mass" by Haydn that was sung here on the Fourth Sunday of Lent. In the Latin Mass, the Benedictus qui venit was sung while the celebrant continued with the Eucharistic prayer at the altar: this allowed that particular movement to be longer than the others. Mozart uses this movement to display the talents of both choir and organist. Its effervescent atmosphere and limpid vocal lines are perfectly suited to the joy of the Easter celebration.
Finally, I conclude with a plea for help. It is my goal to recruit five more treble boys (grade 3-6) between now and the end of the school year. If you know any private music teachers, school teachers, coaches, social workers, nannies, or anyone else who might know boys, please talk to them about the choir. Mention our newly formed relationship with the Harvard Glee Club. Point out the opportunity for a free music education, grounded in the English Cathedral tradition, and the chance to sing with some of the finest professional singers in Boston. Invite them to attend one of our weekly rehearsals or to a mass. Give me their names and contact information. Together we can reach this goal. Thank you in advance.
Andrew P. Sheranian
A Lenten Letter
I'd like to give a brief update on the goings-on in the music department. What one hopes will be a time of quiet reflection, the month of January in fact ended up being a very busy time for the music department. At the beginning of the month, we celebrated the great feast of the Epiphany, bringing the twelve days of Christmas to a close. Soon after that, the choir began to prepare for three special events which came in rapid succession at the end of the month.
The first was the annual mass for the Society of King Charles the Martyr, which our parish had been asked to host this year. On a snowy, late-January Saturday morning, a large and enthusiastic group of high churchmen gathered here at Ashmont to celebrate the life and witness of the Royal Saint. The choir sang W. A Mozart's Missa in C "Spatzenmesse", as well as S.S. Wesley's beloved anthem "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace" – in addition to some hymn singing that will not soon be forgotten.
The following day, the Third Sunday of Epiphany, we had the great privilege to host the Harvard Glee Club at Sunday mass. The collaborative relationship between the two choirs, now in its second year, continues to enliven and enrich the music program here at All Saints. Sunday, 27 January 2013 was the first time in which the Harvard Glee Club sang for mass at the church in which their first official director was once Organist and Choirmaster: Archibald T. Davison was employed here at All Saints from 1906-1910, after which he took up a post at the Memorial Church at Harvard. The Glee Club joined the All Saints' Choir in singing a mass by French organist and composer Maurice Duruflé. Messe 'Cum jubilo' is scored for unison men's voices and organ. It was a great chance for our men and teen boys to get a chance to sing with the Glee Club in the context of a Sunday morning mass.
One week following, we celebrated another great feast of the church year: Candlemas. For the second year in a row, our choir was joined by the choir of All Saints' Church, Worcester and their director, Graeme McCullough. Nearly sixty choristers were packed into our choir stalls, which Ralph Adams Cram designed to accommodate only forty! Extra chairs were brought in to make room for happy singers, all of whom have come to look forward to this biannual collaboration. On a more personal note, Graeme McCullough (the music director in Worcester) is a Protestant from Northern Ireland. After last year's Candlemas Procession, he remarked to me how strongly his Protestant relatives and former colleagues in Belfast might react, should they come to learn that he, candle raised high in the air, was to be found at a catholic parish, singing "Ave, Ave, Ave Maria" at full voice!
I thank you all for your continued support, and ask, as ever, that you keep the choir in mind as you go about your daily lives in the community. If you come across a boy (3rd-6th grade) who might be a good addition to the choir, please contact me with his and his parents' names and phone numbers, and I will follow-up and do the rest. A few things you may mention in your conversations with parents of prospective choristers might be: the new mentoring program with the Harvard Glee Club; the chance to get high quality, free music education in the English Cathedral tradition; the opportunity for kids to make music at a professional level; and the reality of a safe environment where boys can thrive personally and musically. Our choir is wonderful opportunity for local boys: I ask for your help in making it available to more. May we all have a blessed and holy Lent.
Andrew P. Sheranian
A Christmas Letter
In March of 2012, the All Saints' Choir participated in a joint concert with the Harvard Glee Club. The concert was a great success, drawing in a large crowd and generating quite a bit of excitement. One of the things we learned during the course of preparing for the concert was that All Saints and the HGC have a thread of commonality: Archibald T. Davison. "Doc" Davison was Organist and Choirmaster here at All Saints from 1906-1910, after which he was hired to be the Organist at the Memorial Church at Harvard University. He made such a positive impression on the students, that the Harvard Glee Club appointed him to be their first official director. Prior to that time the Glee Club had been a rag-tag group of students that sang together in a mostly informal fashion. "Doc" Davison turned the Harvard Glee Club into what it is today: one of the finest male choral ensembles in the country. When the two o rganizations discovered the Davison connection, there sprung up an ardent desire for the relationship to become more firmly established. After lengthy discussion between Andrew Clark, (director of the HGC) the rector, and me, it was decided that a mentoring fellowship program would be the best way to cement the relationship.
In September, Michael Raleigh was appointed as the first Archibald T. Davison Fellow. He is a Boston native who grew up in Hyde Park and attended Boston Latin School. He's currently a sophomore at Harvard College studying music. Michael comes to All Saints on Thursdays to help the boys work on musicianship skills and homework before rehearsal; during rehearsal, he helps things run smoothly, ideally making my job easier so the choir can make it through more repertory for Sunday masses. He also sings alto with the choir almost every Sunday and special feast days. Michael has played piano for ten years, percussion for six years, and has studied voice off and on for five years, though he has been singing since childhood. He studied jazz piano at Berklee College of Music in high school through the City Music program and the Berklee five week summer program. He is currently studying voice as a countertenor with tenor Charley Blandy. At Harvard, Michael sings in the Harvard Glee Club, conducts the Holden Chamber Singers, and plays snare drum and cymbals with the Harvard University Band. He has also managed the Harvard Summer Chorus and has sung with Harvard Glee Club Lite, a pop music a cappella subset of the Glee Club. We are all very pleased with the progress of the Fellowship, and are hopeful that it will be able to continue into the future.
As we near the end of this year, I am prompted to reflect on the happy situation in which I find myself as your parish musician. Rare it is in the field of church music to encounter a parish as supportive of sacred music as All Saints is. Your words of encouragement and support constantly bear me up, and I am ever grateful for it. I am also very fortunate to have the chance to work with a helpful and hardworking priest, who spends countless hours assisting me with the many mundane tasks associated with running a boys choir. In addition to the support I feel from the parish and from the clergy, I am also humbled by the contributions of some new volunteer men who have joined the choir. All these aspects are vital components of successful music program.
I do often remark, however, that there is one constant challenge that weighs on me in my work here at Ashmont, namely the recruiting of boys for the choir. I try to spend a portion of every day focusing on recruitment. While a number of new boys have joined and their voices have added enormously to the sound of the choir, the issue is always looming on the horizon. I am all too aware of the fragile, time-sensitive nature of a boys' choir. I share this concern of mine because there is something you can do to help! Please spread the word about this unique opportunity for boys in grades 3-8. Our choir is a rare and special opportunity for local boys: help me extend it to a wider circle. If you know a boy in the neighborhood, please speak with his parents and pass their contact information along to me. I will do the rest.
Andrew P. Sheranian
An Advent Letter 2012
A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols
Sunday, December 16 at 4:00 pm
Sung by the All Saints' Choir of Men and Boys
An annual tradition at Ashmont, a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols will be offered at All Saints on the afternoon of December 16. The service, which has gained world-wide popularity due to the radio broadcasts from King's College, Cambridge, actually originated in the Cornish town of Truro in 1880. Legend states that the then Bishop of Truro, Edward White Benson (who later went on to become Archbishop of Canterbury) initiated the service to keep men out of the pubs on Christmas Eve.
This year's Festival will begin in the traditional manner, with a solo treble boy singing the first verse of "Once in Royal David's city". Some of the most loved carols will be sung both by choir and congregation, as well several lesser-known works, ranging from the Renaissance to the present day. Please mark your calendars, plan to attend, and bring a friend or neighbor.
Andrew P. Sheranian
Seek him that maketh the seven stars - Jonathan Dove
O little town of Bethlehem - Walford Davies
Lux aurumque - Eric Whitacre
Bogoroditse devo - Sergei Rachmaninoff
Lo, how a rose e'er blooming - Jan Sandström
Ave Maria - Robert Parsons
Manger Carol - Leo Sowerby
Gaude Virgo - Josquin des Prez
In the bleak midwinter - Harold Darke
Joys Seven - arr. Stephen Cleobury
A Letter for All Saints' Day & All Souls' Day
The Favorite Hymns List
Over the past few months, parishioners have had the opportunity to submit lists of their favorite hymns. As promised, what follows is a list of the parish's most favorite hymns, according to the results of this survey. The hymns are listed in ranked order: the hymns at the top of the list were submitted at the highest rate.
Christ the fair glory – Caelites Plaudant
Thank you to each and every one who took the time to share your favorites!
Andrew P. Sheranian