Herbert Howells: St Paul’s Service (The Trinity Choir)


El 11 de febrero 2014. Hola. The Trinity Choir, The Model of Choral Excellence and the brilliant resident Chorus of Trinity Wall Street (Anglican Communion) in Lower Manhattan, performed one of my favourite pieces on el 2 de febrero de 2014 (which was The Feast of the Presentation Sunday in the Liturgical Year). St Paul’s Service (the Nunc Dimittis) by Herbert Howells was the Communion Anthem for this Liturgy. For those who don’t know, the St Paul’s Service is one of the “Big Three” (meaning most often performed) Canticle settings by Howells. The other two settings being: Gloucester and Collegium Regale/King’s College. St Paul’s Service was written for St Paul’s Cathedral in London. The Trinity Choir performed the Howells superbly and guest organist Eric William Suter’s organ accompaniment was equally excellent. But you know, I’m posting this with hesitation. I enjoyed this as much as possible under the circumstances. What was the circumstance? Keep reading:

I’ve had it up to here with Trinity Wall Street’s camera crew.


I was trying to enjoy the Howells and at the same time I felt like SCREAMING! because the insipid camera person would not show The Trinity Choir singing the Howells. Where did they get these camera people who work at Trinity Wall Street? These are the best camera people one can find in Manhattan? I find that hard to believe. Go over to B&H Photo in Manhattan and get some camera people who know what they’re doing. Internet viewers did not get to see The Trinity Choir singing the Howells. Instead we had to watch people coming and going receiving communion and the priests. Why is that important to see? Communion looks the same each week. Do we need to see people receiving the bread and wine? I’ve seen that for years; it looks the same each week and often the same people (especially at a parish). Meanwhile, The Trinity Choir is singing beautifully but where is the camera? The camera is on people coming and going for communion with the damn camera going down the row of people one-by-one as they receive communion. [roll eyes] A couple of times, from a far distance and from the left side of the room the camera showed the far right side of The Trinity Choir. They were over there in the distance with Julian, but one couldn’t actually see them with any detail, which is how I prefer to watch them. Instead, viewers continued to see people coming and going for communion as if viewers still hadn’t grasped that concept. As a choral person, it was extremely frustrating to watch this because I like watching (up close) The Trinity Choir sing and Julian conduct them and especially a piece like the Howells’s St Paul’s Service. I felt like reaching into my PC screen and trying to move the damn camera myself with a zoom closeup on the Chorus so I could WATCH THEM (as Julian does) sing the Howells I was hearing and WATCH Julian conduct them and Eric. Then viewers were treated to a view of the back of the church, with the camera coming down from near the ceiling level and down to the organ pipes. I would like to point out that the camera people at Trinity are obsessed with their ceiling. They show it frequently. I don’t know why, it looks the same each week. Nothing changes about it. As they do in the video below, they will even take the camera off the organist (Eric or Janet) playing the organ voluntary at the beginning of the Liturgy in order to show the ceiling (and windows) of the parish. Near the end of the Howells, they showed the pipes at the back of the church but those pipes are from the previous pipe organ and have nothing to do with the current Digital organ. The pipes are there just for looks/show. I guess they think the viewers don’t know that. I think they’re trying for some “poetic” or “get the feel of the parish” effect or something. It’s damn annoying especially when the cameras should be on the Chorus singing the Communion Anthem at the moment. Again (if they happen to read this), I like watching up close: Eric, Janet or Julian when they play and watching up close The Trinity Choir when they sing. I don’t need to “get the feel of the parish ambiance” and all that stuff by watching members of the parish come and go or do anything else.

I’m writing about this because this has happened many times before and I’m sick of it. Also, the camera rarely shows someone who is singing a solo so you have no idea whose voice you’re hearing. During Navidad 2013 for the piece “In the Bleak Midwinter” (by Harold Darke) a soprano had a solo. I noticed that the camera struggled to find her and identify her, but finally did. I knew that the bass/baritone standing next to her probably also had a solo in another part of the same piece because he did the year before (for Navidad 2012). I said to my PC screen during this: Okay, camera person, he’s standing right next to her. So will you be able to find him when it’s time for his solo? They barely did. He was more than half-way through his solo before they were able to finally land the camera on him! Ugh. There have got to be better camera people in Manhattan than this crew.

The Offertory Anthem was also excellent as was Eric’s organ improvisation immediately afterwards and during the censing of the free-standing altar. I appreciated that the priest took his time respectfully censing the altar, unlike the guy who plays the role of “the Rector” and who nearly jogs around the altar when he does it and is so quick about it as if it’s such a bother to him. He’s leaving when exactly? I did not like the choice of the gospel-sounding response sung just before the Howells. It did not match the rest of the Higher-Church liturgy. Gospel music before Howells? Sometimes they do that sort of thing at Trinity. I don’t know why. Trying to please all people or something? That usually doesn’t work and in my opinion it didn’t. It would be the same as performing Händel’s oratorio Theodora—which The Trinity Choir and The English Concert just completed a tour with, with outstanding concert reviews—and during the intermission(s) of Theodora playing Gospel music. Would they do that? I don’t think so, so why do that during this Liturgy? It didn’t match. It was too southern baptist-y for me. If the Alvin Ailey Dance Company (my favourite) were updating or adding new music to one of their signature works, “Revelations” that music would work well in that.

So now, you can listen to—since you won’t be able to watch hardly any of it, unless you like watching people take communion—the Howells which begins at 1.11.23 in the video below. The Howells was glorious with excellent organ accompaniment from Eric! Hopefully they will do this piece again in the future and at that time maybe the camera will let us watch them sing it and watch Julian conduct it. Might that be possible, Trinity Wall Street? Chau.—rosa barrio

You’ll have to work with the scroll bars on the right side and bottom to see the video embedded. Their videos usually take some time to load (very slow) and often buffer, so you’ll have to be patient.


Herbert Howells: St Paul’s Service (Washington National Cathedral)