Here at St. Stephen’s, we believe that music is a means of prayer, worship, and spiritual encouragement – whether we are singing, playing, or listening. Our 10:30 a.m. service on Sundays is full of music, including the hymns, the psalms, and acclamations that are shared by the whole congregation, as well as special offerings by our choir and other musicians. Guest musicians are often added to help us celebrate the Principal Feasts of Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, and All Saints.
Our choir is an integral part of the worship life of St. Stephen’s. In addition to our volunteer choir, we also own several octaves of English handbells, and have a small number of ringers have played from time to time. We have also been blessed to have several professional musicians serving their country by playing in our military bands in our congregation.
These three are the focus of several ensembles that are taking the lead in this vital area of parish leadership, including a parish choir, the use of small groups of instruments to perform with them, and a growing number of handbell players. These form the heartbeat of an exciting and dynamic ministry area. This new musical role is reflected by three ensembles.
Quire & Schola Cantorum
The very first 1662 Book of Common Prayer used the rubric “In quires and places where they sing, here followeth the Anthem” for Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. This simple line allowing for the offering of choral music beyond just the Psalm and Canticles has helped to define the Anglican choral tradition. For over 400 years, composers in our tradition have been writing church music to help draw the listener into a deeper relationship with God. And our intent at St. Stephen’s has been to do just that.
“Schola Cantorum” is Latin for “school of singing.” It reminds us that the choir—or quire!—is the principal vehicle of music education in the Church. The Schola is the ancestor of the modern Sistine Choir, established by Pope Sylvester I (d. 335). Together our Quire, using its Anglican spelling, will lead us in praise and our understanding of liturgy.
When in our music God is glorified,
and adoration leaves no room for pride,
it is as though the whole creation cried – Alleluia! (Hymn 420, vs. 1)
A small group of musicians playing together is also known as a consort. For example, in the Renaissance a typical instrumental group was “a consort of viols.” Often a church’s choir will be accompanied by some miscellaneous and various combination of instruments, such as a brass quintet on Easter, a string quartet on Christmas Eve, a flute duo, a Taizé ensemble, etc. Whenever a group of instruments play together or play with the choir, we can identify them as the Severn Consort.
Tintinnabulation is the lingering sound of a ringing bell that occurs after the bell has been struck. We are naming our group of bell ringers Tintinabuli for the style created by the famous modern Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. This style was influenced by the composer’s mystical experiences with chant music, often slow and meditative, minimalist. Perfect, in fact, for a group with very basic musical skills such as our bell ringers. Much of their music is easy, involving things like random ringing, clusters of notes, and slow repetitive patterns.
So, who can join these three ensembles?
Our Quire & Schola Cantorum has doubled in size since they began singing (and learning!) over the summer. They are especially in need of altos and tenors. This so-called adult group is actually open to Middle and High School students able to attend rehearsals and sing at services.
Our Severn Consort can include anyone able to play the instrumental parts needed, but can also include anyone of any age even as simple as a basic Taizé part.
Tintinabuli do not have to rehearse nearly as often as the others. Mostly they perform around major holy days. Anyone from Middle school up is welcome.
One day, it is our hope to establish singing choirs for children and youth.