October 2, 2019

Tea, Scones, and Evensong At Choir Fundraising Event

BRITAIN BOUND: The choir from Trinity Church is beginning a fundraising campaign for their 2021 summer tour to the United Kingdom. Members, some of whom are seen here during a recent tour, will sing at cathedrals in Yorkshire and Scotland. An English tea is the first fundraiser, taking place Saturday, October 6 at Trinity on Mercer Street.

By Anne Levin

Once every five years, the choir from Trinity Church Princeton travels to the United Kingdom to sing in historic cathedrals that have choral traditions going back centuries. On their most recent trip, the choir sang at none other than London’s Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s, as well as Lichfield Cathedral in Staffordshire.

The next tour is scheduled for the summer of 2021. The 50-member ensemble, about 20 of whom are children from third grade through high school, will be Choir in Residence at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland; and Ripon Cathedral in North Yorkshire. (Downton Abbey fans may recall the town of Ripon being mentioned occasionally on the television series.)

So it makes sense that Trinity is starting its year of fundraising for the trip with a  traditionally English afternoon tea. The public is invited to the event at the church on Mercer Street on Sunday, October 6 from 3 to 4:30 p.m. After all of the sandwiches, scones, clotted cream, and savories have been consumed, the choir will perform a Choral Evensong. Admission is $35.

“The music program at Trinity is one of the most popular and important parts of the whole parish,” said Tom Whittemore, Trinity’s director of music. “It’s demanding. It just kind of calls out parts for the kids and adults that they would not normally think they were capable of doing. I love that it really gives kids an opportunity to sing at an adult level. Kids are unmolded clay, so you don’t have to chip away at any bad habits.”

Trinity’s is one of about a dozen Episcopal or Anglican church music programs in the United States based on the English cathedral choir model, according to Whittemore, who has been with the church for the past 15 years. “It is very high-end in terms of training. The kids are here twice a week and on Sundays,” he said. “They are treated as adults in rehearsal, as absolute equals — with the knowledge that we know they’re not.”

The U.K. sojourns are designed, in part, to expose members of the choir to their roots. “I use contacts of places I think are interesting,” said Whittemore. “You can go back to the early church, and that’s where a lot of the great music was developed, even from pre-Renaissance to the Victorian era. If you went through choirs, you were educated and had opportunities you would not otherwise have had.”

The repertory “does not speak down,” Whittemore said. “It is high quality music. Like any good choral music, it responds to the text. It teaches not just notes, but artistry, and how to communicate. It really sort of plumbs the depths.”

This time next year, Whittemore hopes to be buying airline tickets and making final arrangements for the 2021 tour. The group stays in hotels, rather than private homes. “But you get to live in the community and get to know people, and live that experience,” he said.

Several more fundraising events will be held throughout the year. To reserve a place for the tea, email trinitychurchtea@gmail.com or leave a message at (609) 924-4807.