Surpliced Boy Choirs in America
By S. B. Whitney
From Christs Church,
Philadelphia, we learn that Miss Clifford, in 1816, bequeathed a sum of
money to be applied to teaching six boys, as a choir to sing in Christ
Church. There is no mention of these choristers being vested.
To the Rev. Dr. Francis L. Hawkes we owe the establishment of the
first vested choir in the North. This was at St. Thomas Hall, Flushing, L.I. [Long Island, New
York], in the year 1841; and we are informed that the fact of Dr. Hawkes
having established this vested choir defeated his election to the bishopric
of Mississippi. In describing
the chapel at Flushing, the Rev. Dr. Mead, who opposed the consecration of
Dr. Hawkes, gave the following description of it
There was a choir and splendid organ.
The little boys, the choristers, went into a vestry-room, each took
down his white surplice from a peg, and ten or fifteen entered the choir and
chanted the service of the church. This
was the only instance of the use of the surplice in this way that he had
ever known. We are told that at
this description, there was considerable of a sensation, and much
surprise was evinced. In
reply, Dr. Hawkes gave his version of the matter, and said, The new
chapel was a small building, fifty by thirty feet, with a chancel capable of
accommodating some two hundred people.
Now, with regard to the surpliced choir, music was taught at the hall
on account of its moral influence. I
had trained a choir of boys, who often went to New York, where the
congregations were much pleased to hear them sing.
It was true that the boys had on their white surplices, after the
manner of the singing boys of the Church of England; and, said Dr. Hawkes,
I take great pride and delight in them.
This was too much, however, for the conservatism of the time, and Dr.
Hawkes lost his election to the See of Mississippi.
A short time after this, the rector of a parish in Ohio, the Rev. Mr.
Tate of Columbus, endeavored to establish a vested choir of men and boys,
and the result was that he was driven from the diocese and threatened with
deposition from the ministry.
Trinity Parish, New York, was
organized in 1697. The
employment of boys in this church to lead the singing dates from about 1710. In 1709, the parish founded the Charity School, the boys of
which sang at some of the special services, as has been mentioned.
After the great fire of 1776, which destroyed church and school, the
latter was moved up town, and the attendance of the boys doubtless ceased.
The church then built was in its turn taken down, to make way for the
present structure, completed and opened in 1846.
A fine organ was built by Henry Erben, and an English organist, Dr.
Edward Hodges, appointed. The
choir boys had been trained by Dr. Hodges, and from this time, boys have
served continuously in the choir, at first in conjunction with a double
quartet and mixed chorus, all in the organ gallery at the west end.
In 1858, Dr. S. H. Cutler succeeded Dr. Hodges, and in the following
year the boy choir was placed in the chancel and the feminine element
finally dropped. Choir
vestments were not worn until a year later.
In 1866, Dr. A. H. Messiter was appointed organist, and in June of
last year, 1891, the twenty-fifth anniversary of his appointment was
celebrated by a service, at which Gounods Orphčoniste Mass for mens
voices was sung by a hundred and twenty-five past and present members of the
choir. The regular choir
numbers thirty-five, eighteen boys and seventeen men, about two-thirds of
whom are paid salaries. The
service music used is chiefly English, the anthems from all sources; and at
the principal festivals the classical Masses of Beethoven, Haydn, Schubert,
etc., are sung, the service of Ascension Day being accompanied by a complete
orchestra and the choir largely increased.
The church contains two organs, a large one in the west gallery and a
smaller one in the chancel; both are used at Sunday services, and are not
mechanically connected, the assistant organist, Mr. Victor Baier, usually
playing on the large organ, which is used for voluntaries and occasionally
in the service. The choir of
Old Trinity is so well known throughout the country, on account of the
reputation it has always maintained for its admirable performance of church
music, that extended comment here would be superfluous.
The choir of Trinity Chapel,
West Twenty-Fifth Street, New York, was ordered to be vested by the Trinity
Church corporation, in March, 1866, but it does not appear that the
vestments were worn until the first Sunday in May of that year.
This choir is well known as one of the most important of the Trinity
Church corporation, and has for the last twenty-two years been under the
direction of Dr. Walter B. Gilbert, the well-known organist and composer,
whose music is sung in many of our churches.
If he had never written anything else, he would certainly be entitled
to the thanks of all good church people for having given us the beautiful
music of the hymn, Pleasant Are Thy Courts Above.
The choir of Trinity Chapel consists of thirty-two members, twenty
boys, and twelve men, and during the entire time of its existence it has
performed the music of the daily service throughout the year.
One of the celebrated choirs
in New York is that of St. Johns Chapel, Varrick Street.
This is another chapel of the Trinity corporation.
The choir was vested for the first time in September, 1866.
The organist and choir master is Mr. George F. LeJeune
 . This
was one of the first choirs to give a special monthly musical evening
service. These services became
so popular, that is was well-nigh impossible to gain admission to the church
without going some time in advance of the hour appointed for the beginning
of the service. The most
elaborate selections of music, from the oratorios and other sources, were
given with the most perfect finish so far as the execution of the music was
concerned; and by Mr. LeJeunes method of training the voices of his
choristers, a peculiar quality of tone resulted, quite different from that
produced by any other choirmaster in the city.
The choir of St.
Chrysostoms Chapel in one of which the Trinity corporation may well be
proud. This choir is the one usually chosen to supplement that of
Dr. Messiters choir on the great festival of Ascension Day.
It is thus to be set down to the credit of old Trinity, that three of
the first churches to properly and permanently establish boy choirs belong
to that venerable parish.
The choir of the Church of the
Heavenly Rest, Fifth Avenue and 45th Street [New York], has been
in charge of Mr. Henry Carter for some three or four years.
Mr. Carter has been an organist for forty-five years, having begun at
the age of nine as organist to the Rev. Sir John Seymour, father of the
present Admiral Seymour. He was
at one time organist of the English cathedral at Quebec.
Later on he had charge of the choir of the Church of the Advent,
Boston, and during his administration the choir was very much improved and
some fine soloists were brought out, among them being Masters Willie Breare,
John Laster, Arthur Buttrick, and Fred Sayer, who were soloists of the first
order. A most interesting
musical performance was at this time given by the choir in Music Hall,
Boston; Dr. Cutler, who was then at Trinity, New York, coming on, and
bringing with him his solo boys, Richard Coker, Theodore Toedt, Ehrlich, and
Granden; with the accompaniment of the then newly imported great organ, the
effect was grand. After being for a short time at St. Stephens, Providence
[Rhode Island], Mr. Carter, in 1873, joined the musical staff at Trinity
Church, New York, playing the great organ in the gallery, where he remained
seven years. At the Church of
the Heavenly Rest he found a choir without soloists, and in fact without one
satisfactory voice; but with good results he has brought forward Masters
Edward Baker, Frank Osborne, Harry Gibbs, and Winfred Young, who have made
their mark as soloists.
The Cathedral choir at Garden
City, L.I. [Long Island, New York], has made quite a reputation for itself
under the able direction of Dr. W. H. Woodcock, who has had great success in
producing a beautiful pure tone from his choristers, and a certain finish in
the execution of church music that has attracted many people to Garden City.
One of the finest solo boys who have been heard in or about New York
in late years was the soloist of this choir, Master Fred Forbush, who not
only had a most beautiful voice, but was so thoroughly musical in his nature
that he sang like a young artist. There
seem to have been a succession of fine solo boys at this cathedral; one of
them, after leaving the choir, sang in a church in New York at a salary of
nine hundred dollars, probably the largest salary ever paid to a boy
soloist, certainly in this country.
The present choir of St.
Jamess Church, New York, was organized May 1st, 1886; before
that date the music was rendered by a quartet of men and women, reinforced
by a small chorus of boys. The
boy singers, however, in the days of the old quartet, did not take much
interest in their work, and left most of the singing to be done by the men
and women. Since May, 1886,
only boy sopranos have been used. The
choir has become famous, chiefly through the purity of tone developed in all
the boys voices. In November, 1886, the choir commenced giving recitals of
standard oratorios and cantatas. The
performance of these works elicited the strongest commendations from the
musical public at large; not only were people of the Episcopal Church
attracted to the services, but many came to hear the choir from other
denominations. Among the works
sung have been Haydns Creation, Gauls Holy City,
Sullivans Prodigal Son, Barnbys Rebekah, Spohrs Last
Judgment, Stainers Daughter of Jairus, Webers Jubilee
Cantata, Handels Messiah, Mendelssohns Lauda Sion,
Mendelssohns Elijah, Gounods Gallia, Gauls Ten
Virgins, Garretts Shunamite, Stainers Crucifixion,
Arnolds Song of the Redeemed, Garretts Harvest Cantata,
and the Two Advents. All
of these works have been sung complete, with the exception of the larger
oratorios. The choir enjoys the
distinction of being the only choir in this country, which has ever had
special cantatas composed expressly for it.
Dr. Arnold, of Winchester Cathedral, England, composed the Song of
the Redeemed; and Dr. Garrett, of the University of Cambridge, wrote the
Two Advents for St. Jamess choir.
Other works from foreign authors will probably follow in due time. The fact that the choir has rendered works of such
importance, in a manner acknowledged by all to be equal to the singing of
choral societies generally, has done much in New York City to vindicate the
ability of boys to sing difficult music as well as women.
The choir of the Church of the
Holy Trinity, Madison Avenue, has been very much improved since it has come
under the direction of Mr. H. W. Parker, the well-known organist and
composer. This choir often
unites with the Garden City choir in special festival services held
alternately at Garden City and in the Church of the Holy Trinity; and Mr.
Parkers choir has supplemented the mixed chorus of the Church Choral
Society, in some notable performances which have been given, with orchestral
accompaniment, under the direction of Mr. Richard Henry Warren, Mr. Parker
presiding at the organ.
There are many fine choirs in
Brooklyn, and on the occasion of the Brooklyn Choir Festival, which occurs
annually, a wonderful chorus of over six hundred voices is to be heard; the
singers filling up the entire body of the church where the festival is held. Here is something to see as well as hear, - a congregation
robed in white, and congregational singing of elaborate anthems and services
and hymns, the performance of which is impressive in the highest degree.
The Church of the Advent, in
Boston, was the first church in that city to employ boy choristers in the
choir, and the first church in New England in which a vested choir appeared. This church, beginning in an upper room on Causeway
Street, subsequently removed to a church building on Green Street, thence to
Bowdoin Street, afterwards to the beautiful church on the corner of Mount
Vernon and Brimmer Streets. In
the early days of the parish the music was under the management of several
gentlemen, constituting a music committee, who filled the position of
organist from among their own number. In
1852 a choir of boys was introduced by the Rev. Dr. Croswell, but they were
not vested until some years later under the Rev. Dr. James A. Bolles. The first professional organist was Dr. Steven Henry Cutler,
a thoroughly competent and well educated church musician, whom we have
already mentioned in connection with the establishment of the boy choir at
old Trinity, New York. Mr.
Edward Mattson succeeded Dr. Cutler, after a short interval, during which a
parishioner presided at the organ. During
Mr. Mattsons administration the choir attained notable excellence as
regards the individual voices of its members.
On the departure of Mr. Mattson his place was filled by Mr. Henry
Carter, an English organist of rare ability, of whose work in training the
choir and developing rare solo talent I have already spoken.
On his leaving Boston to become the organist at St. Stephens,
Providence, [Rhode Island], many of his choristers followed him, which left
the choir in a sad condition for his successor,
Mr. Hermann Daum, who found it uphill work, through ably assisted in
the training of the boys by Mr. William H. Daniell, who was the first to
fill the independent position of choir master.
Mr. Daum was succeeded by Mr. William J. Coles, a young man of
remarkable talent and promise, but on account of failing health he was soon
obliged to give up the position. The
Rev. Joseph W. Hill was now appointed choir master, and the writer took the
position of organist. Marked
changes were made in the character of the services.
Some of the greater masses of Gounod, Schubert, and Mozart were sung
for the first time; given first with piano accompaniment and afterward with
a small orchestra to supplement the organ.
In 1882, Mr. Hill went to old Trinity, New York, and the writer took
full charge of the music as organist and choir master.
The last Sunday in November, 1891 (the first Sunday in Advent), being
the twentieth anniversary of his incumbency as organist of the church, was
celebrated by a special service, in which many past as well as present
members of the choir took part, making a notable chorus; the music sung
being the Mass for male voices (Orphčoniste Mass) by Gounod, the same music
that was sung at the twenty-fifth anniversary of Dr. Messiter in New York.
Among the notable soprano soloists brought out in the choir in the
past few years have been Fred Bond, who had a phenomenal voice, Fred Rimbach,
Edwin Warring, Hartwell Staples, Peter Delehanty, and Eugene Storer.
The acoustical properties of the new Church of the Advent are
exceptional, and the organ is one of the finest instruments in the country.
As before stated, on the greater festivals, a large and effective
orchestra is always employed, - the players being taken largely from the
Boston Symphony Orchestra, - through the liberality of Mr. J. Montgomery
Sears, a gentleman who has always taken the greatest interest in the boy
choir movement, and who at his own expense established some years since, and
still maintains, a fine choir at Trinity Church, Marlborough, Massachusetts.
The influence which has always been exerted by the Church of the
Advent, as a pioneer church in matters of church music, especially during
the administrations of Dr. Cutler, Mr. Carter, and Rev. J. W. Hill, has been
widely felt and acknowledged.
The author consistently misspelled this persons
name as LeJeurne. Correction was made to enable correct
The author consistently misspelled this persons
name as LeJeurne. Correction was made to enable correct
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