Surpliced Boy Choirs in America

 By S. B. Whitney

Part IV

Newton Wilcox, St. Paul's, Boston

Arthur E. Green, St. Paul's, Boston

Willie V. Macdonald, Appleton Chapel, Harvard, Boston

The Church of the Messiah was the next in Boston to employ a vested choir.  It attained great excellence under the direction of Mr. J. T. Gardam, who resigned a few years ago, to be followed by Mr. Joseph Stewart, the present choir master.  The society has lately moved into a new church.  There have been some notable solo boys connected with this choir, among them being Masters Waldo Merrill and George Proctor.  The latter, after change of voice, having a strong inclination for music, pursued his studies at the Conservatory, and is now the organist of the church, and gives promise of making his mark in his chosen profession.  The two choirs of St. Paul’s and Emmanuel, Boston, have both surpliced choirs in the chancel, after having gone through the various changes of having first quartet choirs in the gallery, then quartet and chorus choirs, and afterwards a choir of boys and men still in the gallery loft, finally placing this latter choir in the chancel, surpliced.  The choir of boys and men in St. Paul’s church was introduced in September, 1887, under the direction of Mr. Warren A. Locke.  For three years it sang in the old choir loft, but in the fall of 1891 the new organ was placed in the front part of the church, and the choir took its place beside it.  The choir is sometimes augmented at special services by the choir of Harvard College, which is also under the direction of Mr. Locke.  The choir consists of twenty-four boys and eight men.  The choir of Appleton Chapel, at Harvard, was introduced in October, 1883, being composed at that time of sixteen boys and eight men.  The numbers have since been increased to twenty-four boys and twenty men.  All the men are in the University, and it not infrequently happens that there will be but two or three years’ interval from the time when the soprano or alto, a Cambridge schoolboy, leaves the choir to his re-entrance as a tenor or bass, as he becomes a Harvard freshman.  There are daily services during term time at a quarter before nine in the morning.  At times, as at the recent service in memory of James Russell Lowell, the choir is augmented by the choir of St. Paul’s, making a chorus of seventy-five voices.

The choir of Emmanuel Church is under the direction of Mr. George L. Osgood, the well-known director of the Boylston Club and the Singers’ Society of Boston, and has done admirable work while under his charge.  It numbers forty voices, twenty-four boys and sixteen men, the latter so chosen as to form an effective chorus for the performance also of works for male voices.  Mr. Lewis S. Thompson is the organist and supplements Mr. Osgood in the training of the boys.  In 1889 a new organ was placed in the church, built by George S. Hutchings, one of the most effective organs in the city.

George L. Osgood, Emmanuel Church, Boston

The choir of St. James’s Church, Cambridge, was founded in 1884.  Its growth and improvement have been rapid, and its influence is not limited to the parish wherein its work lies.  Mr. Ernest Douglass is the organist and choir master.

The choir of St. Stephen’s Church, Lynn, [Massachusetts], was organized in the spring of 1876, under the rectorship of the Rev. Lewis DeCormis, to whose efforts the institution of the choir was largely due.  Its first choir master was Mr. Walter B. Bartlett, and the organist, Mr. Lemuel G. Carpenter.  In 1879 Mr. Edward K. Weston took charge as both organist and choir master, remaining until his death in 1891.  During his administration the choir attained its present high position among the boy choirs of Massachusetts.  Mr. Weston was succeeded by Mr. Francis Johnson as choir master, and by Perley B. Pilsbury as organist.  




Emmanuel Church Choristers, Boston

St. James's Church, Cambridge, Massachusetts

St.  Stephen's Church Choir, Lynn, Massachusetts

Choir of St. John's Church, Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts

The choir of St. John’s Church, Jamaica Plain, has done effective work under the direction of Mr. J. Everett Pearson.  Coming to the church in 1889, he succeeded in getting a choir of boys and men together, and after diligent practice such rapid progress was made that it was thought that by Christmas the choir would be sufficiently advanced to make its first essay in church on the occasion of public worship, which it did.  The choir has gone on constantly improving, and has become one of the best choirs to be heard in the vicinity of Boston, the boys getting a beautiful quality of tone and performing church music with accuracy and finish.

Time and space forbid me to speak in detail of all the excellent choirs to be found in New England and other parts of the country.  There are several fine choirs in the diocese of Connecticut that deserve special mention, notably that of Trinity Church, Middletown, which has been under the direction of Mr. H. DeCoven Ryder, who has not only had remarkable success in developing the choir of his own church, but has been largely instrumental in organizing the Choir Festival Association of the state, which has already given three festivals with notable success.  Trinity Church, New Haven, has a boy choir under the direction of Mr. W. R. Hedden.  A former member of Trinity choir, New York, Mr. Hedden has been able to bring to his work the experience thus gained, and has so improved his choir as to be able to give special evening services, bringing out such works as “The Daughter of Darius” by Stainer; the “Advent Hymn” by Schumann; and “God, Thou Art Great” by Spohr.  A boy choir has also within the past few years taken the place of the old quartet at Christ Church, Hartford,  so long the scene of the labors of the late Henry Wilson, the organist, whose music is gratefully remembered by the older members of the congregation.  Mr. George P. Havens organized the choir, and has remained in charge up to the present time; just now, however, leaving for a similar position at Christ Church, New Haven.

At the beautiful church at Morristown, N.J. [New Jersey], is to be heard a very efficient choir, which has been under the direction of Mr. Alfred Baker, who is soon to relinquish it for a metropolitan position.  The music at All Saints Church, Worcester, Massachusetts, has for many years been rendered by a choir of boys and men.  Under the direction of Mr. Rice as choir master and Mr. G. Arthur Smith as organist the music has advanced to a high standard of excellence.

St. Paul's School Chapel, Concord, New Hampshire

St. Paul's Church, Concord, New Hampshire

The choir of St. Paul’s School, Concord, N.H. [New Hampshire], has for twenty-two years been under the charge of Mr. James T. Knox.  In 1868, while the enlargement of the old chapel was in progress, the Sunday services were held in the second story of one of the school buildings.  There the present choir master and organist began his long and valuable services to the school.  A cabinet organ was the first instrument used, and a company of ten boys composed the choir.  Mr. Knox, then a young man with a rare enthusiasm for music, spared no effort to perfect himself in the divine art, and expended unlimited patience and time in training the choir.  He imparted a portion of his own zeal to his pupils, the boys cheerfully giving both study and play hours to practising, although no release from the regular school work was ever gained thereby.  More than three hundred boys have belonged to the choir in the last twenty years.  In many of the boys have been developed rare solo voices; among those who are thus numbered one recalls with pleasure Frank H. Potter, George R. Sheldon, Augustus M. Swift, William F. Jennison, Hoffman Miller, and George S. Hodges.  A beautiful new chapel has been occupied by the school for the past three or four years, and a large and effective organ by Hutchings placed in the chancel, which adds much to the attractiveness of the service.  The number of choristers is fifty-four, - twenty-eight trebles, five altos, seven tenors, and twelve basses.  St. Paul’s Church, Concord, N.H., has maintained a boy choir for many years, under the direction of Mr. F. H. Brown, organist and choir master.  Mr. Brown relinquishing his post a year ago, Mr. H. G. Blaisdell succeeded him and the choir is prospering under his administration, and promises to attain a high state of perfection.

Probably one of the most effective choirs in the South is that of St. Paul’s Church, Baltimore [Maryland].  This church is in charge of the Rev. J. S. B. Hodges, a gentleman who has done so much for the cause of church music in this country, both by his influence and writings and especially by his compositions, the numerous anthems and canticles emanating from his pen being used extensively by the various churches throughout the country.  The choir dates from Easter, 1873, Dr. Hodges at first taking the whole responsibility of the training of the choristers, oftentimes taking his place at the organ as well at the afternoon service when the boys were beginning to displace the old mixed choir.  Mr. Winterbottom, now of Brooklyn, was many years choir master and organist.  He was succeeded by Mr. Crook, who afterwards went to Calvary Church, New York.  Mr. W. H. Whitingham is the present organist and choir master.  The choir consists of fourteen sopranos, five altos, five tenors and five basses.

Grace Church Choir, Chicago at St. Clair Springs, Michigan

Blatchford Kavannah, Grace Church, Chicago

There are many excellent boy choirs in New York state outside the metropolis.  At the Cathedral of All Saints, Albany, under the able direction of Dr. Jeffries, an English organist; at Syracuse; at Rochester, where Mr. J. E. Bagley has several choirs under his charge; at St. Paul’s, Buffalo, and in many of the smaller cities, - the male choir has been introduced and local choir festivals are of frequent occurrence.  It has been much easier to introduce such choirs in the West than it has in the East, there being no old prejudices to overcome, and little or no fear that its adoption meant or implied anything more than a more appropriate rendering of churchly music.  At Cleveland, Detroit, Toledo, Cincinnati, and St. Louis, to say nothing of smaller towns, may be found excellent choirs.  In Chicago, the Choir Festival held a year ago, in the Auditorium, where some twelve hundred singers, boys and men, sang in a chorus, under the very able direction of Mr. H. B. Roney, will give some idea of the prevalence of this kind of choir in and about that city.  This Festival was a most decided success, from a musical point of view, due in a large degree to the untiring zeal and energy with which Mr. Roney entered into the preliminary work of preparing the singers for the final rehearsals.  Probably the best-known choir in Chicago is that of Grace Church, where Mr. Roney is in charge.  The choir first sang in the church in October, 1884, under the charge of Mr. Herbert O. Oldham; who was succeeded, in turn, by Messrs. S. B. Whiteley, C. E. Reynolds, F. C. F. Kramer, and Mr. Roney, the present incumbent, who assumed the charge in May, 1887, and enlarged the choir to a membership of seventy-five choristers.  The services at Grace Church have attracted much attention since Mr. Roney has brought the choir to its present high standard of perfection; and at the special monthly services on Sunday evenings, the church building has been found to be too small to accommodate the vast multitudes of people who desired to attend.  Master Blatchford N. Kavanagh was the soloist of the choir.  This lad had a most remarkable soprano voice, which skilful training, as well as practice, had developed so that he became one of the noted solists of the country.  Besides having this remarkable voice, under good cultivation, the lad had, withall, a musical nature of the highest order, and sang his selections which much expression and feeling.  Indeed, his voice was considered so phenomenal that Mr. Roney, leaving his choir for a time in the hands of a deputy organist, took the lad to California, singing in all the large cities from Chicago to San Francisco.  He has never sung in the East, his voice changing some two years ago; so that there has been no opportunity to compare him with such soloists as Bradon, Forbush, or Noung.  But there is little doubt that this lad was one of the greatest, if not the greatest, soloist that this country has ever produced.  There is a fine choir at St. James’s Church, under the direction of Mr. Smedley, also at the Cathedral Church on the West side.  Mr. Walter C. Hall has charge of a choir at Emmanuel Church, and is doing good work.  The boy choir has also taken the place of the quartet at Trinity Church.  There is a very fine choir in the cathedral at Denver, in charge of Dr. Gower, a very able organist and choir master, who came out from England several years ago, to take charge of the music at this church.

With the wonderful progress that has been made in this country in the last fifteen or twenty years in view, both in church music and choir training, the outlook for the future is full of promise, and there is some warrant for thinking that the time is not far distant when the daily service will be held in many cathedrals of the larger dioceses at least; which, with the necessary daily practice, will insure greater efficiency and excellence, the effect of which will be felt at once by the parish choirs, so that, at no distant day, the standard of church music will come up to, if not surpass, that of the mother country.  Let this be our hope.  

      Part III | Return

Copyright 2002
This page was last modified on 18 November 2005