Saint Thomas’s camera crew: Obsessed with stained glass windows and statuary

This article is about the camera crew at Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue (Anglican Communion) in Manhattan.

During the Howells, my friend who was watching the Mass with me said, “Shouldn’t we be going back up to the ceiling or the windows again?” Then the camera shot back up to the windows. Why? Then back to the Choir Stalls where the Choir of Men and Boys were beautifully performing the Howells. Why did we need to see the windows for the umpteenth time? I think we could all draw them in detail by now we’ve seen them so many times. He also found the “Please make a gift…” large text banner that appeared at the bottom of the screen during the Offertory Anthem — covering up some of the trebles — extremely tacky. It was there the entire length of the anthem. This was very disrespectful to the choristers. When the anthem was over, the banner disappeared. When might we expect to see the same banner appear during the entire length of the Homily or during a reading, disrespecting the priests? One is not about to see that. No, it’s always the musicians who are disrespected by this stuff.

Most camera crews I’ve seen in Anglican parish and cathedral churches I have found annoying and inept. They’re too often obsessed with stained glass windows, statuary, every details of the High Altar, banks of candles, with the camera lens gawking at these things as if through the eyes of a tourist or visitor.

The production crew doesn’t seem to know or understand their viewing “audience.” It’s not short-attention span pop-culture people. Pop culture is not into Anglican Liturgies or the Choir of Men and Boys.

The camera crew must have this rule that the camera must always keep moving for the short-attention span crowd. So back and forth showing the stained glass windows, candles and statuary. I shouldn’t think that anyone who would be deliberately watching the Liturgies from Saint Thomas would have a short-attention span. Quite the opposite in fact. The viewers would be no different than the people in the pews. They’re not of a short attention-span and neither are the Men of the Choir as well trained musicians.

The Men of the Choir are amongst the finest choristers that you’ll find anywhere. Well-trained musicians don’t have a short-attention span. I know from experience — as a Conservatory-trained musician myself with years of major Orchestra Chorus performance experience in the Kennedy Center and San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall, and training in piano (major), voice (minor) and pipe organ (minor). If the Men of the Choir were of a short-attention span, they would never have become the well-trained and highly-talented musicians they are because they wouldn’t have been able to keep their attention span, their discipline, their dedication and other factors on their decades of training. But it’s as if the production crew does not know their audience. The “keep the camera moving at all times to keep the attention” is for shallow and superficial pop culture people who can’t focus on anything for any length of time. That is not the audience who watches Saint Thomas.

For years, I’ve been complaining about the camera crews chosen to record the Liturgies in Anglican cathedral churches and parishes. They don’t seem clear on the concept of recording a Liturgy. Or as if they’re recording the Liturgy in the eyes of a tourist who’s more into gawking at the building as if they think they’re in a museum — eyes glued to the drab ceiling, the windows, the statuary, banks of candles and the like — rather than in an Anglican parish or cathedral church and there for the Liturgy as an Anglican/Episcopalian, and they’re there for the music performed by the esteemed Choir and Organist.

In my mind, the lens of the camera should be just like the eyes of someone in the Nave, and I never see anyone sitting in the pews craning their neck to look up at windows or statuary during the Mass or Evensong. Instead, the person in the pew is either looking straight ahead towards the High Altar, or glancing at the procession — although some people oddly turn around and watch the procession like they think it’s a wedding procession with the bride coming up the aisle or something — or the people in the pew are watching what’s going on with the Liturgy. Or they’re looking at the service leaflet or BCP (Book of Common Prayer).

Camera crews don’t seem to understand that. They seem to think that anytime a priest or reader is not speaking — mind you, the camera will never leave the face of a priest or reader when speaking but the musicians are not granted the same respect — that the camera should be off showing something other than the topic of the Liturgy at that point.*

Camera crews seem to think that they have to create some — I don’t know what you call it — maybe “poetic” or “philosophical” or some distraction (particularly from the seeing the music being performed) to give the viewer the feeling that they’re visiting some monastery (hearing a Choir performing or rehearsing in the background whilst showing windows once again or a statue of an angel blowing a horn or something, again some atmosphere of where the viewer is a tourist — and perhaps not even Anglican/Episcopalian — and not participating in the Liturgy whatsoever, but rather as an observer and obsessed with the stained glass windows so much that they could probably draw a picture of them from seeing them so often in the videos. The same for every minute detail of the High Altar and other statuary in the church.

So, for example, when the stellar Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys was singing the Gloria on 15 January 2023 (it was the Stanford Service in B Flat), we saw the priests censing the High Altar, we saw statuary and a very distanced view of the Nave. Even though the Choir was the topic at that time because they were performing the Gloria, the Choir was not shown up close by the camera. Anything but the Choir was shown. The Choir was over there in the distance. It’s fine to show the priests censing the High Altar briefly but the camera’s focus should be on the subject matter of the Mass at that time which was what? The Stanford Gloria in the Choir Stalls. A friend of mine watched it with me and said, “They never show the boys.” Well they didn’t then, but they do show the boys at times but you have to look for it because you might miss it! because the camera can be elsewhere that camera crews are obsessed with. Or as my friend said, “Or they won’t show the Choir until the last chord of the piece.” Well thanks a lot camera crew. It’s good we got to see that piece performed. Sigh. Insipid and inept.

I’ve never accused any camera crew of being obsessed with the Choir of Men and Boys or any choral ensemble for that matter in a Liturgy or the Organist. Just the opposite has been the case.

Also, there’s a camera showing the pedal board of the organ at St Thomas, but that camera doesn’t get much use and usually only when the pedal work of a piece is fast. When the pedal work is slower, the camera crew lose their attention span for it.

So upon reflection, maybe it’s the camera crew that’s the problem. (Well that’s already been determined). Has Saint Thomas hired a short-attention span, pop culture genre camera crew?

Note to Camera Crews: Why aren’t the choristers given the same respect as priests? Do you not understand that singing is an extension of speaking and if a priest or reader is speaking, that camera never moves off of them. But if the Choir is speaking on musical tones (singing), the camera crew does not give the same respect to the choristers. It zooms off to statuary or windows or a bank of candles, anywhere but the Choir. Imagine if the camera zoomed off to the windows and parked on them during the Homily/Sermon or during the readings. You will never see that happen.

One wonders where churches get these camera crews? Some act rather amateurish when they first start out and then seem to get the hang of it — but obsessed with windows, statuary, etc. after they do it awhile. So maybe they are volunteers from the parish or cathedral.

Note to Camera Crew: The Choir is not background music. They are part of the Liturgy, just like the priests, the acolytes, the vergers and all other participants.

Does the production crew think that choristers are boring to watch? (Just because the production crew possibly find them boring to watch?)

So why doesn’t the camera stay on the subject at the moment which is the choristers? Do camera crews think that choristers are boring to watch? How could the Choir be any more boring to watch than the ceiling or the stained glass windows for the umpteenth time which one has seen over and over at this point? If they think the Choir of Men and Boys is boring to watch, they’re no more boring than watching a priest or a reader or the Gospeller. Again, the camera never moves off a priest when speaking or a reader. Why aren’t the choristers given the same respect?

If they’re trying to copy/emulate Diane Bish’s The Joy of Music programme, there’s no comparison to be made. Trying to emulate Diane is inappropriate because Diane was in a different church each week, not the same parish or cathedral church each week like St Thomas or other churches of the Anglican Communion that come to mind. Also, Diane’s camera crew (Haney Productions) never disrespected Diane or her guest musicians by obsessing over the architecture of the building rather than Diane. When her camera crew showed something other than Diane, it was very briefly, and not for an extended period such as the entire length of the Stanford Gloria as I mentioned earlier.

Regular viewers of Saint Thomas have seen the windows now how many times? Countless times and the same for everything else the camera crew insists we look at other than the superb Choir of Men and Boys or the Organist.

Camera Crews are telling a story, but they don’t seem to know that.

As a friend of mine said: Camera crews don’t seem to understand that they are telling a story. The story of the Liturgy. And that story cannot be told accurately when the cameras are obsessed with superficial things that are not part of the story line. Windows have nothing to do with the Liturgy. Neither do drab ceilings or statuary. Every inch detail of the High Altar, or columns, or panoramic views of the Nave and the like have nothing to do with the Liturgy other than it’s the location of the Liturgy. But none of that is the “story line.” All of that is fluff compared to the subject matter of the Liturgy.

I felt frustrated the entire length of the Stanford Gloria that I mentioned earlier. I wanted to see the Choir of Men and Boys perform the Stanford especially since the trebles had been away for awhile on their holiday, but instead the insipid camera crew only showed the Choir from a distance as I keep saying, yet again (for the thick people) the Choir was the topic, the subject matter at the moment because the Gloria was the subject. Understand, camera crew?

The Choir of Men and Boys is a stellar example of choral excellence at its finest and some of us want to see them when they perform and not from a distance. Production has the ability to show the Choir up close, so why not use it more often? We do not find them “boring” or “uninteresting.” We become annoyed when the camera flies up to show more stained-glass windows.

Again, they wouldn’t dream of taking the camera off of the priest during the Homily and disrespecting him or her. So why not give the choristers and the Organist the same respect?

This article is a bit repetitive. I could edit it for brevity and less repetition, but upon reflection, I think the repetition is needed — since there are a lot of thick people out there — to hammer the point home. Maybe some camera crew, somewhere, will get the message.