I had the great joy of attending the Royal School of Church Music (RSCM) course in Newport, Rhode Island last week. Each summer, there are RSCM camps at various places throughout the country. The weeklong camps are geared towards boys and girls, but adults come along as well and fill in the gaps needed for the alto, tenor, and bass parts. I was thrilled to take five of our own choristers to this camp.

Under the direction of Ben Hutto, who directs the choirs at St. Alban’s School and the National Cathedral School in Washington, the choristers rehearsed for several hours each day tackling complicated music by Rachmaninov, Haydn, Bairstow, and many others. It’s an exhausting week for them, but the music they make is incredible. Two evensongs, a hymn festival, and a full sung choral mass were all beautifully offered. This year, I believe there were nearly 130 participants. We were honored to sing at historic Trinity Church (which also has a George Washington pew), Emmanuel Church (a beautiful Ralph Adams Cram building), and St. George’s School Chapel (another stunning Cram building which sits atop Newport overlooking one of the beaches below). We rehearsed each day at Ochre Court, a former home located immediately next door to the Breakers (the Vanderbilt family’s famous summer “cottage” – one should be so lucky!). Ochre Court was donated some years ago to Salve Regina University so now it functions as a large reception area and hosts some administrative offices upstairs. Our rehearsals were in the Grand Ballroom.

Side story/Tangent: Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt invited the famous violinist Fritz Kreisler to the Breakers to play for a summer garden party she was hosting one time. Kreisler, arguably the most celebrated violinist of his time, was not that interested in playing. When she asked him what his fee would be, he replied, “Eighteen thousand dollars.” That’s an exorbitant amount of money for the early part of the 20th century. Mrs. Vanderbilt responded, “Well, that’s fine but I hope you understand that you are not to mingle with any of my guests.” Kreisler responded, “Oh, in that case, my fee is only 500 dollars.”

The theme of this course was “Saints and Angels.” I was surprised at how little I actually knew about angels. For instance, I wasn't aware that there are nine categories of angels. This, despite the fact that we regularly will sing a hymn in our hymnal which lists these nine categories! Do you know what hymn it is? I invite you to see if you can discover it.

One common thread of the angels is about how they are endlessly singing “Holy!” The sounds the choristers made last week must surely be a foretaste of the heavenly choir. At a hymn festival one evening, I was moved to tears hearing the large contingent of treble voices singing the descants on top of these wonderful hymns – a perfectly pure sound which combined into one. No one particular voice stood out, but they were all moving in complete and seamless unison drawing attention not to themselves, but to the great and original Composer who gave creation the gift of music.

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