One Hundred Years
St. Paul's First Men and Boys' Choir, ca. 1895
For the last hundred years or so the Choir of Men and Boys of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Akron, Ohio have been continuing a tradition begun centuries ago in England. Today this Choir continues to serve the parishioners of St. Paul's and the greater Akron community. Here is their history as told by Patricia M. Zonsius on the occasion of the Choirs one hundredth anniversary in October 1993.
St. Paul's Choir Of Men And Boys
There is a rich history of music at St. Paul's Episcopal Church of Akron. In the past, as in the present, music and choirs have lifted the hearts and minds of worshippers to a greater love and knowledge of The Lord.
In 1884, St. Paul's purchased a triangular lot at East Market, Forge and Fir Streets. A stone parish and Sunday school building was built and dedicated in 1885, when the Reverend Richard L. Ganter was rector. This building served as the parish church until 1909. As early as 1886, Vestry Minutes indicate that a Music Committee was appointed. The choir at this time was directed by the Superintendent of the Church School. Later, a choir director and mixed choir were paid to sing during the church year. A quartette had existed since the late 1880s. An organist, often a member of the parish, was also employed for services and for Sunday school.
The first mention of boys singing as a group was in 1890, at the 55th Anniversary of St. Paul's Sunday School. A choir of five little boys from the Sunday school, accompanied by an organ and orchestra, sang at the Easter service. In 1891, during the rector's absence in August, "A. L. Conger, Jr. read lay services, and by a large expenditure of time and energy, recruited, drilled and prepared a boy choir to assist him in his services, and attained a great success. Conclusion: A boy choir organizer and administrator is born, not made." (St. Paul's News-October 1891)
Expenditures for music were always high among the priorities of the church. Vestry Minutes in 1892 indicate that the total amount of money spent on music was $869.53 which included the payment of an organist, two basses, three sopranos, two contraltos and two tenors. The general economy suffered in 1892, resulting in a depression from 1893 to 1896 for Akron and the nation. Money was scarce, and the parish suffered as well. In the Vestry Minutes, many cuts were made in the Music Committee appropriations and even in the salary of the rector. Often, there was a column headed: "Liabilities."
We also know from a letter of July 16, 1935 from Dr. C.W. Hollister, Rector 1893-1893, in response to preparations for the Centennial Celebration, that a quartette choir was in place at the time of his arrival in May 1893 and that it was stationed up in the gallery. Dr. Hollister also stated that the first Men and Boys Choir was formed during his tenure, and the photograph on the cover of this history is from his letter. In 1893, a chorus of children again performed under the auspices of the Sunday School at a Christmas Cantata in the chapel of the church.
The first reference to a "formal boys choir" being organized was reported in the Vestry Minutes of March 19, 1894, when the Music Committee was "in favor of having a vested choir." At that meeting Colonel A. L. Conger moved "that it is the sense of this Vestry that we favor trying the experiment of a boy choir, but that the matter go over to the new Vestry. Carried. All voting Aye." Colonel Conger had been an advocate of a boys choir since 1891, perhaps earlier.
In May of 1894, the new Vestry had already secured the services of Alfred Fox (or Cox) of Cleveland "to help drill and instruct the proposed boy choir for a few evenings." A competent organist was also employed. By March 2, 1895, Miss Helen Storer was training a vested choir and "considerable progress and enthusiasm was being awakened. There would be a need for closets in the robing room, that two of the class rooms which connect with a door would be used for that purpose; that service books and hymnals would be needed, and choir seats."
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