THE last decade has witnessed a remarkable
increase in the number of vested choirs in this
country; nor has this growth been
limited to a numerical increase. The standard of church music has
been elevated, and as majestic structures with spire and campanile
pointing heavenward have been raised to the glory of God, so have
the sweet voices of his children been trained to rise in services
A variety of causes have been assigned for
the rapid decay of a time honored institution of the church the
quartette or gallery choir; but while giving each due credit for
whatever influence it may have exercised, a potent factor has
unquestionably been a realization of the responsibilities of the
choristers, of their power as a spiritual aid to the offices of
the church, and an appreciation of their high calling, which may
fittingly be termed a sacerdotal office.
The Choir of All
Saints' Church, Worcester, Massachusetts
Insignificant as the position or apparel of
the choir may appear, when contrasted with the more important
question of doctrinal belief, no less an authority than Dr. J. S.
B. Hodges says: "Perhaps this state of things had more to do than
is generally supposed with the separation of the Methodists from
the Church of England. That separation was not made on doctrinal
grounds; it did not arise from different teaching on baptism,
or episcopacy. It was due more to the coldness and inanition of
the church; the lack of warm and living services, and if, instead
of having to listen to the praises of God sung for them by those
who too often had no thought of God in their hearts, they had the
opportunity of taking their own part in singing such hymns as are
now to be found throughout the church, it may be that the
separation would never have occurred, or, at least, that thousands
would have been saved from it."
The subtle power of music has been recognized
in all ages. It is the most potent arm of the church, reaching
every class, and falling on ears deaf to the most eloquent
utterances of her gifted clergy. "Let me make the songs of a
people, and I care not who makes their laws," said Fletcher, and
the aphorism is as true today.
Boy choirs are now universal throughout
England, although fifty years ago they were seldom heard outside
of cathedrals and collegiate chapels. Their adoption has created a
demand for organists and choirmasters specially educated for their
work. The successful training of boys' voices demands a
knowledge of the construction of the vocal organs previous to the
period of mutation, which is unnecessary with a choir of adult
voices, individual tuition being rarely given in the latter case
unless for the requirements of solo singing.
In this country the organist or choirmaster
too often has had no practical knowledge regarding the training
and development of the voice. Many of
them have for years been accustomed to a choir of mixed voices,
where the conditions are totally dissimilar to those attending the
training of boys. A comparison between the tonal quality of the
average English chorister and those in this country is
unquestionably in favor of the former. Sweetness of tone, facility
of execution, and purity of the upper register, are qualities
which make the singing of the English chorister so delightful.
This clearness and
buoyancy, which creates a wonderful impression on the listener, is
rarely exhibited in any marked degree in this country. Allowing
for any natural superiority in the vocal organs of the English
boys, for climatic changes, from which all singers suffer, and for
any other causes frequently advanced in explanation, we are forced
to admit that intelligent training, the use of the thin register
or head tones, the cultivation of tonal purity without loss of
strength, correct breathing, and the careful attention paid to
pronunciation and accentuation, produce the perfect intonation,
the flexibility and flute-like quality, that are prominent
characteristics of the singing of English boys.
It is small wonder that England should be far
in advance of us both in the introduction and development of the
vested choir. Her organists have the advantage of special
training, such as Oxford and Cambridge afford.
Starting when a lad with a definite purpose before him, the pupil
is surrounded by an atmosphere pervaded by musical traditions.
As the young theological student dissects prophecies in the
original Hebrew, so may he revel in
the scores of Bach or Handel. He is successively a chorister, sub
organist, and eventually in charge of some cathedral or parish
choir. His salary is sufficient to preclude the necessity of any
effort to augment his income by secular duties entirely foreign to
his musical education and tastes. He
commands adequate leisure for the successful training of
the voices under him and for the study of higher branches, such as
theory and composition. What is the result ?
A choir admirably trained, with solo voices of remarkable purity,
and the possession of a school of music distinctively Anglican.
Although many compositions of merit have been
written by American composers for the use of the church in this
country, such contributions have been of a varied and desultory
character, and nothing approaching a school of ecclesiastical
music exists as yet in America.
A glance over the programmes of the
leading choirs in New York shows a succession of foreign writers,
the modern English composersTours, Stainer,
Calkinbeing most prominent, while for more elaborate
festival services the masses of Mozart, Haydn, Weber, Schubert,
and Gounodadapted, of course, to English textare chosen.
Although the secular music of the day has to some extent
influenced the prevailing taste in church music, and arrangements
of popular airs and solos from the latest operas may be heard in
many fashionable churches, such selections are rarely included in
the repertoire of any vested choir. While the powerful influence
of the choral service is felt as at present throughout the land,
we need not fear a return to the abuses of
the sixteenth century, when masses founded on secular airs
were the standard of the church.
Choristers of St. George's Church, New York
Many effective anthems and melodious hymns
have been written on this side of the Atlantic, and with the
increasing interest in church music and the attention paid to it
by churches of all denominations, it is not unreasonable to hope
that American composers will, at no distant day,
furnish compositions worthy of
rendition in the cathedrals of the world.
We cannot attain perfection in choral singing
until more encouragement is given to organists and choirmasters.
Salaries are far too low to
induce the best foreign trainers to locate here, or to encourage
local musicians of note to devote themselves exclusively to this
particular work. With the exception of the organists of Trinity
Parish in New York, and those of the leading churches in Boston,
Philadelphia, and Chicago, but few organists or
choirmasters receive a salary exceeding two thousand dollars per
annum, while the average stipend is far below that sum. Choir
schools are as yet unknown here. A few such institutions as exist
at St. Paul's Cathedral, at many of the Oxford and Cambridge
colleges, and elsewhere in England, would rapidly
revolutionize existing choir methods. Pupils in these schools
receive regular musical instruction
and sing at a choral service daily, attaining thereby remarkable
In this country individual training is the
exception, attendance at rehearsals twice or thrice weekly
sufficing in the majority of cases. We cannot expect to accomplish
the results attained abroad without greater facilities for the
training of boys' voices, and a more liberal expenditure for
One of our leading church musicians describes
church music as Active and Meditative, the former comprising
hymns, chants, versicles, and so
forth, and the latter the more difficult musical selections, such
as the Kyrie, the Credo, the Te Deum,
or the Jubilate, usually too elaborate for the participation of
the congregation. While congregational singing pure and simple is
not to be encouraged, the musical service of the Episcopal Church
affords ample opportunity for the participation of its worshipers.
The soul stirring effect of such familiar hymns as Jerusalem the
Golden," or "Sun of my Soul," sung by a thousand voices, will make
a lasting impression on the memory. The choral service invites the
assistance of the congregation, and a multitude of melodious hymns
suited to every church season, and pervaded with a spirit of
cheerfulness and joy, have hailed its advent.
These hymns of modern writers have proved a
happy substitute for those of our childhood, too often tinged with
melancholy, and they have contributed in no small degree to make
the services of the church more cheerfully devotional.
Henry B. Roney, Choirmaster of Grace Church, Chicago
The natural voice of a boy, from the age of
six until puberty, closely resembles that of a girl. There are
variations, of course, in individual cases, for the singing as
well as speaking voice of the latter is often harsh and
disagreeable, while the natural purity of many
boys' voices is far more feminine in
quality. Boys' voices previous to the period of mutation, may be
considered to possess two registersthe "thick" and "thin," commonly known as chest and head tones, from the changes in
the larynx revealed by the laryngoscope, although each may be
further subdivided into "upper "and "lower."
Boys sing naturally in the thick or lower
register, in which the vocal chords vibrate in their entire
length. By cultivation, the thin register, produced by the
vibration of the inner edge of the vocal chords, is developed, and
the flute-like timbre noticeable in the singing of the well
trained chorister produced. By the use of the thin register the
compass of the voice is extended up to A or B above the staff,
which notes are delivered with ease and purity. Boys
familiar with the use of head tones do not tire readily, nor sing
off the key, as is usually the case with the untrained boy.
Some choirmasters hold that it is impossible
to bridge over the break between the registers in the limited time
devoted to rehearsals, and consequently do not permit the use of
chest tones at all. Others, and as good an authority as Dr.
Messiter of Trinity Church, New York,
believe that both registers can be used effectively, and the
execution of the choristers at Trinity would seem to validate this
The usual method is to train the head tones
downward, carrying the thin register to G or F (first space in
treble clef), the change in the
ascending scale being made before A. The objection to the practice
of the ascending scale is that boys will unconsciously force the
voice, carrying the chest tones above the desired position.
Forcing the voice is fatal to the development of head tones, and
boys who have acquired the habit of shouting are exceedingly
difficult subjects to reform.
The scarcity of good alto boys is recognized
and lamented by every choirmaster. However, in this respect at
least we have advanced over the mother country. The falsetto alto,
or counter tenor, in general use in England, is but occasionally
heard in America; and for this, I think, all true musicians are
devoutly thankful. The male alto appears to have been evolved
after the restoration of Charles II. At best it is an
unsatisfactory makeshift for the natural alto voice, the quality
of tone being shrill and unnatural.
Choir of the
Church of St. Mary the Virgin, New York
Boys possessing a pure contralto voice, as we
have said, are rare. The general custom is to employ boys with
strong voices, but who are technically soprano, singing in the
thick register. Boys nearing the period of mutation are frequently
relegated to the alti, and being
trained readers are of value, although questionable substitutes
for the natural alto voice. In the majority of American choirs the
alti are deficient, both numerically
and in tonal volume, forcing the voice being sometimes permitted
as a substitute for numbers. Purity of timbre is thereby
sacrificed, and an example set the soprani which they are sure to
In addition to the necessary ability, and the
experience gained by long familiarity with choir work, the duties
of the choirmaster require zeal, tact, and patience. In no branch
of musical training are these qualities more necessary. To inspire
enthusiasm in a choir of boys recruited from school, office, or
workshop, and with minds bent on play, is veritably a
herculean task. Rarely do boys have
any appreciation of the composition in hand. The most effective
climax is passed without a thought, and the
sublimest effort of the greatest master rendered as
indifferently as the most insipid composition of the novitiate.
The choirmaster must lend his mental
faculties to the choristers, and a delicate pianissimo,
forceful crescendo, or vigorous fortissimo represents his
faithful labor. It may be unreasonable to expect a boy of ten to
execute with the intelligence and abandon of an adult.
Certainly, with few individual exceptions, the untrained boy sings
with an indifference approaching contempt.
These and kindred reasons, notably the
scarcity of solo voices, and the limited period in which they are
available as vocalists, are advanced by the advocatesand they are
many of female voices as soloists, and even as auxiliary chorus
singers. The church of St. Mary the Virgin, New York, was the
first to employ women soloists, and at present in that city vested
choirs composed in part of women are heard at St. George's, All
Souls', St. Ignatius's, and elsewhere. In some instances these
singers are regularly vested, and in every case some appropriate
habiliment is worn.
Why women should be excluded from the
chancel, or denied participation in the musical services of the
church, is a question not easily answered. We certainly do not
share in the opinion of St. Bernard that "woman is an instrument
of the devil," nor believe that a voice which approaches most
nearly our conception of the divine in music should be heard only
on the concert or operatic stage. If the choral service is to be
rendered by boys and men exclusively, the works of many of the
greatest composers the world has produced must either be ignored
or indifferently interpreted. In the writings of Lasso, Marcello,
Durante, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Bach,
and their congenersand the list might be almost
indefinitely extendedboys are excluded, at I least in the
conception of the composer; and the majority of compositions of
the early English cathedral school require the male adult alto.
In the modern English school alone do we find compositions
specially written for boys' voices, and this is certainly a
limited category to draw upon.
But little definite knowledge as to the
genesis of surpliced choirs in this
country has come down to us. Ancient records show that boys were
heard at Trinity Church on special occasions, as early as 1760.
They were from the Charity School, not vested, and occupied seats
at the front of the church. During the regime of Dr.
Edward Hodges the choir of boys was placed in the eastern
gallery, but the solo work was intrusted
to female voices.
Dr. Hodges returned to England in 1858 and
was succeeded by Mr. Henry S. Cutler, who was an ardent advocate
of boy choirs. Upon his advent the women singers were
superseded by boys, who were brought down from the organ loft and
placed in front seats, and later in the chancel. Vestments, a
determined opposition to which still existed on the part of many
of the congregation, were not worn until October 14, 1860, on the
occasion of the visit of the Prince of Wales. A simple white
surplice was worn at this time, the cassock and cotta replacing
the surplice when the choir came to be regarded as a permanent
Trinity has labored with success for the
advancement of church music, and her influence has been
widespread. More than half of the Episcopal churches in New York
have surpliced choirs, and the list is
being rapidly extended. The first pointed Psalter
to be printed in this country, was the
work of the organists of Trinity, under the patronage of the music
committee and vestry of the church, and the work is in general use
The choir at Trinity numbers thirty men and
boys, skillfully trained by Dr. Messiter.
The boys are divided into senior and junior
trebles and altos. Each of these classes meets
for separate instruction, and a large probationary choir is
maintained from which choristers are graduated into the regular
organization. A full cathedral service is sung every Sunday, and
on festival occasions a large orchestra assists the choir.
George F. Le Jeune, Organist and Choirmaster of St. John's
Chapel, New York
The seven churches belonging to the parish of
Trinity, with one exception, maintain vested choirs. At St. John's
Chapel, on Varick Street, the choir,
under the direction of Mr. George F. Le Jeune,
enjoys a high reputation for the character of its music and the
artistic manner in which it is rendered. For several years past
the choral festivals given monthly at this church have attracted
much attention. Among the works rendered entire on these occasions
have been Spohr's " Last Judgment ";
"The Creation"; "Elijah"; "St. Paul"; Gounod's "Gallia"; "The
Prodigal Son": "The Holy City "; "Ruth"; and Weber's "Jubilee
Trinity Chapel, on West Twenty Fifth Street,
maintains a large boy choir under the
direction of Dr. Walter B. Gilbert. Music of the English
school predominates, although American composers are frequently
At the latest addition to the chapels of
Trinity, that of St. Agnes, on West Ninety Second Street, Mr. G.
Edward Stubbs directs the recently organized choir. Mr. Stubbs has
made a special study of the development of boy's voices; his work
on choir training being a complete textbook for choirmasters. The
choristers at St. Agnes's are chosen with care, receive individual
tuition, and the upper register is thoroughly developed; the
result being purity of tone, intelligent phrasing, and clearness
The choir at St.
Chrysostom's Chapel, where Mr. W. A.
Rabock is the organist and choirmaster, holds a commanding
place for the excellence of its choral services. St.
Paul's, on lower Broadway, is the only chapel of old Trinity that
has adhered to the mixed voice choir.
The largest vested choir in New York is heard
at St. George's, Stuyvesant Square. The male choir numbers fifty
five voices, and is assisted by an auxiliary choir of twenty
female voices, the solos being assigned to the latter. The music
is admirably rendered, the acoustics of the large edifice
contributing to the stateliness of the
musical service. Mr. W. S. Chester is the organist
The large choir of St. James's Church, on
Madison Avenue, is noted for the high character of its musical
programme, and the finished singing of
the boy choristers. The questionable expedient of using male adult
altos is practiced at St. James's, which appears to be the only
drawback to a choral service approaching perfection in its finish.
The choir has rendered thirty three festival services, at each of
which a complete cantata or oratorio has been sung. The high
reputation it enjoys is, in a great measure, due to the faithful
labors of Mr. G. Edward Stubbs, now of St. Agnes's Chapel, ably
succeeded by Mr. Alfred Stubbs Baker, the present incumbent. The
boys at St. James's publish a choir journal monthly, devoted to
reviews, criticisms, and choral interests in general.
The choir of the Church of St. Mary the
Virgin, New York, numbers forty voices, women being employed as
soloists. Perhaps the most striking and characteristic
church music performed in this country is rendered at St. Mary's,
where the services are at all times elaborate and impressive, and
consonant with the church season. A small orchestra is heard
each Sunday, and the festival services, with full orchestra, are
stately and artistic. The musical library at St.
Mary's is probably the most extensive of any vested choir in this
country, including the masses of Haydn, Mozart, Gounod, Weber,
Guilmant, and others to the number of
thirty, besides the standard oratorios, anthems, special
processionals, and so forth. Many of the masses sung at St.
Mary's have been specially adapted to English words by Dr. George
B. Prentice, whose labors in the field of church music cover a
period of thirty years.
The choir of St. Andrew's Church, at Fifth
Avenue and One Hundred and Twenty Seventh Street, numbers forty
two voices, and gives evidence of skillful training. Music of
English composers predominates; in justification of which Mr.
Mallinson Randall, the choirmaster,
says, with much soundness, "I am not prejudiced in favor of
English music. If I see good and suitable music I buy it, whether
it is written by an Englishman or a Chinaman;
but it is not generally understood that the music written for a
mixed quartette, or chorus choir of mixed voices, is, in many
instances, entirely unsuitable for boys. Music that will display a
woman's voice will often be totally ineffective if sung by boys."
Among other representative boy choirs in New
York are those at the Church of the Heavenly Rest, directed by Mr.
Henry Carter; All Souls', on Madison Avenue; All Angels', West End
Avenue, and Calvary Church, Fourth Avenue. The last named, a
recent convert to the boy choir movement, for years possessed a
quartette which was ranked as one of the foremost in the city; the
veteran musician, Joseph Mosenthal,
being the organist. Thirty odd
years ago Mr. Mosenthal was forced out
of St. John's by the advent of boy choristers, only
to suffer a similar experience at
Calvary four years ago.
Boy choristers have rapidly superseded the
mixed voice choirs in the leading cities of this country. Brooklyn
has no less than eighteen vested choirs; those having claim to
particular recognition being St. Ann's, Brooklyn Heights; St.
Paul's, Clinton Street; Church of the Messiah, Greene and Clermont
Avenues; Grace Church, on the Heights, and St. John's. The choir
of the latter church consists of twenty six boys and fourteen men,
the music being of the English cathedral school. Special musical
services are frequently given, on which occasions a complete
oratorio or cantata is rendered.
The first boy choir in Boston was heard at
the Church of the Advent. Dr. Cutler, whose name is closely
identified with the boy choir movement in this country, was one of
the earlier organists at this church, and his successors have been
Mr. Edward Mattson; Mr. Henry Carter;
Mr. Hermann Daum; Mr. W. J. Coles,
and the present efficient organist and choirmaster, Mr. S. B.
Whitney, whose labors cover a period of over twenty years. The
choir is a fine one, and the music, especially the festival
services with orchestral accompaniment, are
elaborate and effective.
St. Paul's Church, Boston, has a choir of
twenty five boys and ten men under the direction of Mr. Warren A.
Mr. George L. Osgood directs the choir at
Emanuel Church. The scholarly tone of the selections, and
the finish with which they are rendered, place this in the front
rank of Boston choirs. The men form a four part male chorus, and
are chosen on that basis. Unaccompanied singing is a feature at
this church, and the artistic methods pursued in the training of
the boys' voices produce a wonderful accuracy of intonation.
The Church of the Messiahone of the first in
Boston to organize a surpliced
choiris conspicuous for the excellence of its musical services,
and for the number of boys possessing exceptional solo voices, who
have been heard there.
As far back as the year 1816, a choir of boys
was attached to Christ Church, Philadelphia, although it does not
appear that they were vested. At present, in that city, several
excellent choirs are heard; those
attracting special attention being at St. Mark's, under the
direction of Mr. Minturn Pyne,
and the large choir at St.
Clement's. At the latter an orchestra
is commonly employed, and the musical services are elaborate and
The vested choirs of Chicago deserve a
commanding place among the choirs of this country. In 1862 the
first boy choir in the West was organized at Racine College,
Wisconsin, and three years later Trinity Church, on Jackson
Street, Chicago, joined in the movement with a boy choir, which,
however, was not vested. In 1868 a vested choir was introduced at
the Chicago Cathedral, and full choral services were established.
The Church of the Ascension, Calvary, St. James's, Grace Church,
and St. Clement's joined the movement
in the order named, and at the present time the
surpliced choirs in the diocese of
Chicago number forty.
Kavanagh, of Grace Church, Chicago
The choir at St. James's, under the direction
of Mr. W. T. Smedley, is conspicuous
for the extent and character of its music. A syllabus of the
compositions rendered at St. James's would include composers from
Palestrina down to Goss and Stainer.
The choir has given twelve concerts, the proceeds defraying the
annual encampment on the shores of Lake Michigan, a happy feature
of choir work in the West. The Choristers' Guild, organized in
1888, has given ten musicales. At the latter each boy of the choir
is given an opportunity to sing a solo, the selection being made
by the chorister. The choir at Grace Church is the largest vested
choir in the West, numbering fifty boys and twenty five men, under
the direction of Mr. Henry B. Roney.
The music is elaborate and effectively rendered.
Kavanagh, the foremost boy singer that this country has yet
produced, received his musical training at Grace Church. His voice
was of an unusual compass, extending
from low G to high C, and combined the mature perfection of the
female voice with the timbre of a boy's. Breadth, dignity, and
pathos marked his delivery; vocal difficulties were surmounted
with ease, and the most intricate operatic recitative and aria, or
the simplest ballad, was sung with the intelligence and finish of
one far beyond his years. In addition to a tour embracing
the Pacific coast, Master Kavanagh
sang, by special request, before Patti, and was rewarded by a
chorus of bravos and a shower of kisses from the diva.
A word regarding the Diocesan Choir
Association, comprising thirty two choirs from the diocese of
Chicago, and aggregating one thousand voices. Four annual
festivals have been given, at each of which the
programmes have been of a high
standard of excellence, and the artistic results eminently
satisfactory. The association aims to elevate church music; to
encourage young choristers in their work, and promote a
reverential rendering of the best in church music. No musical
association of this magnitude exists in this country, and its
excellent work promises much for the cause of sacred music in
W. H. Wittingham, Choirmaster of St. Paul's Church, Baltimore.
The choir of St. Paul's Church, Baltimore,
numbering thirty voices, under the direction of Mr. W. H.
Whittingham, was organized as a vested
choir in 1872. For a large proportion of the boys a comfortable
home is provided, and they are educated at St. Paul's Parish
The choir at St. Paul's Church, Milwaukee,
organized in 1888, consists of twenty five
soprani, eight alti, seven tenori,
and ten bassi. Mr. Louis H. Eaton is
the organist and choirmaster. Master Ralph Rowland was a soloist
at St. Paul's, and has since developed into a talented violinist.
St. Paul's Cathedral, Buffalo, has a choir of
twenty four boys and fourteen men, directed by Mr. E. Wesley
Magdalen College, Oxford. A full choral service is sung on
The choir at All Saints' Cathedral, Albany,
under the charge of Dr. Jeffries, is well known for the excellence
of its choral work.
The fine choir at All Saints', Worcester,
Massachusetts, was organized by the Rev. William R. Huntington,
now of Grace Church, New York, and sang for the first time on
Easter Sunday, 1868. Mr. I. N. Metcalf, an enthusiastic musician,
was the first choirmaster, the rector acting as
precentor. The present choir consists
of twenty four boys and ten men; the standard of the musical
selections is high, and the choral services are artistically
Dr. A. H. Messiter, Organist and Choirmaster of Trinity
Church, New York
The large choir at Trinity Church, New Haven,
is well drilled by Mr. Warren R. Hedden,
a pupil of Dr. Messiter. The musical
appropriation is liberal, enabling the choir to give special
musical services, at which the best church soloists in this
country have been heard from time to time. The choirs of Christ
Church and St. Thomas's, New Haven, are also well trained and
doing effective work.
Other representative boy choirs in
Connecticut are those at Christ Church,
Hartford; Trinity, Bridgeport, and Christ Church, Norwich.
The choir at St. Paul's School, Concord, New
Hampshire, is noted for the individual excellence of the solo
voices developed during the past twenty years. Many soloists now
occupying prominent positions look back upon their membership in
this choir as a valuable aid and incentive to later successes in
the field of church music. Mr. James T. Knox's connection with St.
Paul's has lasted twenty three years.
The Cathedral at Denver maintains a large
vested choir, under the charge of Dr. Gower, and a full cathedral
service is rendered.
Boy choirs are no longer regarded as an
adjunct of ritualism, and the prejudice fostered by this opinion
is rapidly passing away, if not already dissipated. If a
ritualistic service is impossible without the vested choir, a boy
choir is possible without any other adjunct of ritualism, as
attested by the large number of such choirs in so called "low"
churches, where no material changes in form or
ceremonies have marked the advent of the boys.
Certainly, no well founded objection can be
raised against the white robed choristers, who appear to have come
amongst us to remain; and the appropriateness of their position
and apparel alone would seem to justify their introduction.