By Sally K. Albrecht
Composer, Clinician, Alfred Editor
Tradition and history . . . the area surrounding the Mystic River in Connecticut is filled with both. And happily, I discovered there’s a musical tradition as well. Since 1965, area choral directors, church choirs, and community choral ensembles have joined together in song and in worship. In April 2012, I was honored to conduct this event, plus premiere a new piece: All God’s Children (SATB and children’s choir with narrator).
In the mid-1960s, the Mystic Area Ministers Association (MAMA) initiated an “all-cooperative work” between the area churches. Church choirs combined to perform well-known larger works such as the Brahms’ Requiem and Handel’s Messiah.
In 1970-71, MAMA merged with the Mystic Interfaith Laymen’s Council, to form MAEC (Mystic Area Ecumenical Council). Since that time, MAEC has sponsored an annual choir festival utilizing distinguished choral directors and composers from outside the area. Past conductors have included Helen Kemp, Douglas Wagner, Hal Hopson, Sue Ellen Page, Michael Jothen, Allen Pote, Phillip Dietterich, and many others.
This April, ten different organizations were represented in the adult and/or youth choirs:
- Eastern Connecticut Children’s Chorus
- Groton Congregational (UCC)
- Noank Baptist Church
- North Stonington Congregational Church (UCC)
- Sacred Heart R. C. School, Groton
- St. David’s Epsicopal Church, Gales Ferry
- St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Mystic
- St. Mary Mother of the Redeemer Catholic Church, Groton
- Union Baptist Church, Mystic
- United Church of Stonington
Friday evening began with a two-hour rehearsal with approximately 60 adult participants. We worked on an a cappella spiritual Walk in the Kingdom (00-32958), a mixed-meter Gloria (00-21127), a benediction In This Room (Shawnee Press), and two combined selections: the premiere All God’s Children (00-39154) and a final anthem with brass and percussion entitled Ye Shall Have a Song (00-32881).
This was followed by a 90-minute choral workshop for choristers and area choral directors. I focused on “Warm-Ups and Workouts for the Choir,” discussing how warm-ups can help unify and energize your choral sound, and introducing dozens of my favorite examples featured in two of Alfred’s publications: The Choral Warm-Up Collection (00-21676) and The Complete Choral Warm-Up Book (00-11653).
The Youth Choir (approximately 63 singers, ages 6 through high school) rehearsed on Saturday from 9:30-2:30 (with pizza for lunch, of course). We practiced the pronunciation of the 3-part Israeli round Hashivenu (00-19303), added fancy claps to Clap Your Hands (00-23562), staged Elijah and Joshua (00-21738), and learned sign language for Each of Us Has a Light (00-30988), plus polished up our two combined selections.
We had about two hours on Sunday to review and put everything together, adding flute, brass, percussion, and handbells. Our 4:00 p.m. service featured our nine choral selections, prayers and readings led by clergy from several of the participating organizations, a musical prelude and postlude, a offertory handbell feature, plus two hymns with congregational singing. A lively reception followed our service.
The word “ecumenical” means: universal, promoting or fostering Christian unity throughout the world, interreligious or interdenominational. This event created a bond within the community, a unity of spirits, and wonderful harmony . . . in so many ways!
I encourage each and every one of you to create or organize a similar experience in your area.