Over and over again, one hears that “what brought me to St. Paul’s was the music,” or “that liturgy,” referring to the liturgy fully sung by presider, choir, and congregation, for this is who we are as a people.
The St. Paul’s Parish Choir, which sings at the 11:15 mass, is known for the beauty of its tone, its pure intonation, and the subtle musicianship of its unaccompanied singing. Its repertoire ranges from the sixteenth century to the twenty-first, emphasizing renaissance motets, composers of our own time (such as Arvo Pärt and John Tavener), and the music of the quintessential Anglo-Catholic composer Healey Willan. The Parish Choir sings every Sunday from September through June and rehearses weekly.
The Nine O’clock Choir, which sings at the 9:00 mass, is a smaller group of singers. Its repertoire includes accompanied and unaccompanied music from the Anglican tradition, shape note hymns, Celtic music, and music drawn from other sources. The Nine O’clock Choir sings three consecutive Sundays followed by two Sundays off in a five-week cycle. This choir rehearses once every five weeks.
Additional ensembles sing on an occasional basis and provide singing opportunities for parishioners who are unable to commit to an ongoing rehearsal schedule. The Benediction Choir, the Men’s Plainsong Choir, the Women’s Choir, and the Shape Note Singers are groups that sing a few times during the year.
The largest choir in St. Paul’s parish, and the most important, is the congregation itself. The level of congregational singing of hymns, psalms, and responses is remarkable. One of the joys of many a liturgy is to be singing a hymn and have the organ drop away, leaving the entire congregation singing in remarkable four-part harmony. These occasions expose the beauty, intimacy, and often lump-in-the-throat poignancy of singing together to the Creator with our very human voices. We are a singing community, and music is one of our most bountiful gifts to all who enter.