Dorchester, Massachussetts

All Saint's Choir of Men and Boys, Ashmont

The Parish of All Saints' Ashmont, Dorchester, Boston, MA is home to one of just around 30 vested men and boys choirs in the United States, and one of very few which has enjoyed almost continual support throughout the history of the parish. The building itself is a landmark 1892 edifice, which would spurn the new American Gothic style. It was the first church of noted architect Ralph Adams Cram whose later credits include St. Thomas Church and work on the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York.

Much of the monetary impetus behind both the building and the choir came from Colonel Oliver and Mary Lothrop Peabody, and the story of their benefaction is worth recounting here, written by E. Richard Rothmund.

"Begun as a mission of St. Mary's Church Dorchester, All Saints was founded in 1867 to serve Church of England workers who had come to work for the Old Colony Railroad and other local industries. It grew rapidly, and in 1872 held its first services in a newly built wood frame church on Dorchester Avenue near the present Red-Line Ashmont station. On the Feast of the Holy Innocents in 1879, Colonel Oliver and Mary Lothrop Peabody, prominent Boston Unitarians, boarded their horse-drawn carriage to attend services at King's Chapel. They journeyed in the sorrow borne of the recent death of their only child, Amelia. As they descended Adams Street from their Milton Hill home, the heavens opened and heavy snow began to swirl about. Their driver, concerned about the balance of the trip, suggested they attend his church, All Saints. The Peabodys agreed. They sat unobtrusively in the back of the church. Father Bennitt, then Rector, preached a sermon about the Holy Innocents. It struck a particularly resonant chord for the Peabodys, for he too had recently lost a child. The next Sunday the Peabodys returned to All Saints. This time they stayed for the entire service, and when they left, Colonel Peabody pressed a princely sum for the poor into the hand of the stunned rector. The Peabodys did not return to King's Chapel. They received instruction, and were confirmed."

Mrs. Peabody, in her substantial endowment to the church, stipulated that a men and boys choir must sing at the Sunday service, though her vision of a choir school and daily Evensong has unfortunately not yet been realized. Thus the Ashmont choir has survived while men and boys choirs at well-known Boston neighbors such as Anglo-Catholic sister parish Church of the Advent and Trinity Church have not. Today All Saints' is the one of only two such choirs in Boston, the other being at St. Paul's Roman Catholic Church in Cambridge, which was well known under the direction of eminent church musician Theodore Marier.

Since its founding, All Saints' has remained committed to the principles of the Oxford movement, which the Peabodys originally found so attractive. This style of worship continues to attract and retain parishioners of many different racial and socio-economic backgrounds. To this day the choir sings weekly at Solemn High Mass (the principal service of the parish), for special feasts, and for occasional services of Evensong & Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. The parish is especially well-known for its Marian devotions including festive services of Evensong and Benediction at Candlemas, and Mass for the Feast of the Assumption, both shared with Church of the Advent. The Ashmont custom is for the choir to sing the ordinary of the Mass in English or Latin (excluding the Creed), the psalm appointed for the day (often plainsong, but occasionally Anglican chant), the hymns, and one or two suitable anthems or motets.

Notable choirmasters have included George Phelps and Archibald Davidson, who left All Saints’ for the position of University Organist at Harvard.. More recently from 1961-1992 the choir included boys and augmentation from female altos and sopranos under the direction of Herbert Peterson and later Joseph Payne, now an international recording and performing artist of early organ and harpsichord music. It was due to his vision that the current C.B. Fisk organ (III-37), Opus 103, was built on a new gallery in the nave to augment the original 1897 Hutchings in the chancel.

Michael Kleinschmidt, Organist and Master of Choristers from 1993-2001, former Assistant Organist at St. Thomas Church, New York, reestablished the choir as all-male when rebuilding the choir from scratch after a parish crisis. He also established the position of Assistant Organist for the first time at Ashmont. He resigned in 2001 to take up the post of Associate Director of Music at Trinity Church, Copley Square and is charged with starting a program of children’s choirs there. The new choirmaster is Jeremy S. Bruns, former Assistant Organist-Choirmaster at St. Paul's Cathedral, Buffalo, and finalist in the 1996 Calgary International Organ Competition.


To order Michael Kleinschmidt’s CD of the Ashmont organ:

Note: The material for this page was furnished by choir member Aaron Sunstein.

Copyright 2002, Aaron Sunstein.


Copyright 2001
This page was last modified on 01 September 2004