An exhibition of nearly 350 years of musical experience will take place at the Cathedral of All Saints in Albany on Tuesday, Dec. 9.
The Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys will perform George Frederic Handel’s “Messiah” with the support of a baroque instrument orchestra.
Under the direction of Cathedral Director of Music Woodrow Bynum, this performance of Messiah will feature guest soloists, soprano Ava Pine, alto Emily Marvosh, tenor Jack Swanson, and baritone Sumner Thompson.
Violinist Aysslinn Nosky, of the noted chamber ensemble “Tafelmusik” and concert master of Boston’s Handel & Haydn Society, will serve as concert master of the period instrument orchestra.
This marks the fifth year of the renowned choir’s performance of Messiah at the South Swan Street cathedral, and Bynum said the surroundings provide concert-goers with a “feast for the eyes, as well as the ears.”
The Albany performers hold the distinction of being the longest, continuously singing choir in the United States. Established in 1872 by Bishop William Croswell Doane, it predates the erection of the cathedral itself by 16 years. Doane had dreamt of a grand cathedral to mirror those found in England, and Bynum said, he wanted to have a choir prepared once it was completed.
In association with Boston’s Handel & Haydn Society, who recently celebrated their 200th anniversary, the concert promises an authentic sound that remains true to the 1700s. Replicating that sound, said Bynum, involves attention to detail.
“The Messiah is similar to performances that commonly happen this time of year,” said Bynum. “And, you can do a marvelous job by using modern instruments.”
There was a collective movement in the 1960s to perform baroque pieces with instruments that have not changed. For example, harpsichords – a cousin of the modern piano – are characteristic to such period orchestras. And, though music enthusiasts will easily recognize stringed instruments such as violins and cellos, the difference lies in the strings. “The violins use gut stings instead of steal,” he said, providing a “softer” sound opposed to modern strings.
“And it matches beautifully with the boys’ voices,” said Bynum.
In addition to its annual Messiah performance, the choir sings choral services in the Cathedral during the academic term. The choir has performed with the Albany Symphony, with the Boston Symphony at the Tanglewood Music Festival, and has undertaken several tours to England throughout its history.
The choir is made up of boys ranging from 7-15 singing the treble parts. Professional male vocalists sing at the alto, tenor, and bass octaves, provide the choir’s overall rich sound. The choir boasts 30 voices, in all.
Bynum has directed the choir for nearly nine years, constantly recruiting for performers and battling against “Mother Nature” as the boys’ voices change as they grow into adulthood. He started with nine trebles, and had the singing corps as high as 16 recently. It provides him with a sense of accomplishment but, he said, the credit goes to the boys and their parents.
“Perfect attendance is more the norm than the exception,” said Bynum.
Every treble practices twice a week. A weekly dinner is shared among them as they practice on through the evening.
“If we didn’t have the choir parents, we would be in a big, big mess,” Bynum said.
Outside of their performances, Bynum can also measure the boys’ level of commitment by how they occupy their time.
“When you consider the number of video games they are not playing,” he laughed.
Bynum also said there is a bond established between the choir and the performers. As the years slip by, the past has a way of returning. He recalled a visit from an alumnus who told him the choir was his second home. Another treble, his voice recently felled to Mother Nature, represented a legacy starting with his grandfather’s performance with the choir in the 1930s.
The 1930s, Bynum said, was the zenith of tremendous popularity for the choir. Then-Director James William Jones mastered a corps of 40 trebles whose popularity stretched throughout the East Coast.
Tickets for this concert can be purchased in advance at www.brownpapertickets.com (Event No. 839825) or by calling 800-838-3006. A limited number of tickets will be available at the door. Ticket prices are $40 VIP seating, $25 adult, $20 for ages 65 or older, $15 for students, and $10 for children (under age 12).
The Cathedral of All Saints is located at 62 South Swan St., at the corner of Elk Street, one block north of the State Capitol building. There is ample street parking near the cathedral.
Bynum said that anyone is interested in performing in the choir can contact him at The Cathedral of All Saints at 465-1342, or by visiting thecathedralofallsaints.org.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.