We Rely on Your Support

When Mayor Bill De Blasio proclaimed April 30, 2017 to be “St. George’s Choral Society Day,” his proclamation read:

“St. George’s Choral Society has used music to pave the way to a better and brighter future for our communities. For two centuries, it has been enriching the cultural life and vitality of our great city.”

We celebrate the close of our 200th year with a performance of Dvorak's Requiem on November 19.  Please support our 200th anniversary concert. Our goal is to raise $20,000 to help present this momentous performance to the community.

2018 Cultural Development Fund Award

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We are thrilled to announce that once again we have received a 2018 Fiscal Year Cultural Development Fund grant from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA).

This year, the DCA awarded us $6,600 in support of our 2017–2018 season, including our Fall and Spring concerts and Summer Choral Festival. 

We are grateful for the DCA's continued support.

SGCS at 200: The Revolutionary William S. Rainsford

William S. Rainsford, in  The Story of a Varied Life (1922).

William S. Rainsford, in The Story of a Varied Life (1922).

This is one of a series of posts celebrating St. George's Choral Society's history during our bicentennial year.

In the late 1800s, St. George’s Church became the first Episcopalian parish to allow female choir members and the first white congregation to hire an African-American soloist. Both were thanks to the vision of one man: reform-minded rector William S. Rainsford.

Rainsford arrived at St. George’s Church in 1883 at age 33. One condition of his accepting the position was ending the practice of renting pews, making the church “absolutely free.”¹ Rainsford turned St. George’s into a parish offering not just worship, but also education and social services.²

His first major reform to St. George’s music program came in the 1880s. As Rainsford wrote in his 1922 autobiography, The Story of a Varied Life:

The next change I strove for was in the church music, and here I first encountered opposition. My plans were revolutionary—nothing less than a new organ, new organist, new choir … I wanted congregational singing.

I did dearly want to make the services of the church appeal to all, not part of my people. I wanted a chancel choir, but I wanted it of women as well as of boys and men, and this being my aim, that choir must be a surpliced choir. There lay the difficulty. My vestry was divided. Surpliced choir in old St. George’s! That was too much, even for them.³

Women in religious vestments (surplices) singing in a church choir was revolutionary at the time—it’s not surprising that the decision led several members of the church to leave. Rainsford wrote that St. George’s most famous benefactor and member, J. P. Morgan, “took a good deal of persuading before I got him to my view. But he came to it finally, and then headed the list of subscribers that put up the very considerable amount of money my changes called for.”⁴ 

In 1902, suffragist and social activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote about Rainsford’s mixed choir in an article for the Baltimore Sun. She quoted church officials opposed to his efforts, including one who described female choir members singing in surplices “an abomination,” and another who stated that if women must sing in a vested chorus, “they should be as inconspicuous as possible.”⁵ 

Stanton, unsurprisingly, disagreed. She wrote, “All praise to those clergymen and to Dr. Rainsford, who 15 years ago led the way in giving the church a new idea of its duty in regard to the emancipation of women.”⁶ 

Rainsford also faced opposition when he hired African-American baritone Harry T. Burleigh as a church soloist in 1894. He wrote in his autobiography:

I can only recall, in all those years, one serious commotion in my white-robed company. That was on the memorable occasion when, without warning (for this course I thought the wisest), I broke the news to them that I was going to have for soloist a Negro, Harry Burleigh. Then division, consternation, confusion, and protest reigned for a time. I never knew how the troubled waters settled down. Indeed, I carefully avoided knowing who was for and who against my revolutionary arrangement. Nothing like it had ever been known in the church's musical history. The thing was arranged and I gave no opportunity for its discussion. When the question is one of church policy, I held, and hold, that the decision lies with the rector and with none other.⁷

On this occasion once again, J. P. Morgan stood by Rainsford. He approved immediately of Burleigh’s hiring, and even invited Burleigh into his home to sing every Christmas.⁸ 

After more than 20 years as rector, Rainsford resigned from St. George’s Church in 1906. He died in 1933 at age 84.⁹

References

1. William Stephen Rainsford, The Story of a Varied Life: An Autobiography (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1922), p. 201. [accessed 25 September 2017].

2. ‘Rainsford, William Stephen’, The Episcopal Church. [accessed 25 September 2017].

3. Rainsford, p. 213.

4. Rainsford, p. 214.

5. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, ‘Women in Church Choirs: Their Right to Wear Ecclesiastical Vestments and March in Processionals’, The Sun (1837-1991); Baltimore, Md. (6 July 1902), p. 12.

6. Stanton.

7. Rainsford, p. 217.

8. Snyder, Jean E. Harry T. Burleigh. (University of Illinois Press, 2016), p. 219.

9. “DR. W.S. RAINSFORD DIES IN 84TH YEAR.” The New York Times. (18 December 1933), p. 19.  [accessed 25 September 2017].

Add Your Voice!

Rehearsals for our Fall 2017 concert begin on September 6. We want you to sing with us! 

Want to join for the first time? We will hold auditions for all voice parts on September 6 and 13, from 6:00-7:00. Contact us to schedule an audition. 

We rehearse from 7:00–9:30 PM on Wednesday evenings at St. George's Chapel, 5 Rutherford Place, one block east of Third Avenue between 16th and 17th Streets. Find out more about membership in the Members section of our website, and download our rehearsal schedule.

Our Fall concert, the last of our 200th year, features Dvorak's Requiem. We premiered this piece in America in 1892. For our Spring concert of Verdi's Requiem, we will perform with the Greenwich Village Orchestra for the first time.

Click the appropriate image below to contact us:

Our 2017-2018 Season

It's almost time to start singing once more. Our bicentennial year comes to an exciting close with our fall concert of the Dvořák Requiem. We welcome new members. Contact info@stgeorgeschoralsociety.org to set up an audition and join in the celebration. 

Keep singing with us as we close out the season with a new collaboration and our annual Summer Choral Festival.

Fall Concert with Orchestra
Sunday, November 19 at 2:30 PM

Church of the Incarnation, Madison Avenue at 35th Street
Dvořák: Requiem, opus 89

For the final program of our bicentennial year, we present a choral masterpiece: Dvořák’s Requiem. The connection between composer Antonín Dvořák and St. George’s Choral Society is rich and interesting, including a link with American icon Harry Burleigh. This program includes a complete performance of the Requiem, a piece St. George's Choral Society debuted in America in 1892. For full orchestra, large chorus and soloists, it is a fitting conclusion to the bicentennial celebration of St. George’s Choral Society.

Spring Concert with Orchestra
Sunday, April 29 at 2:30 PM

Church of the Incarnation, Madison Avenue at 35th Street
Verdi: Requiem

St. George’s Choral Society joins forces with another group of highly skilled amateurs, the Greenwich Village Orchestra, in a performance of Verdi’s Requiem. Led by Music Director Barbara Yahr, this 70-person orchestra has brought orchestral music to New York City for more than 25 years. Barbara Yahr and Matthew Lewis have been discussing the possibility of a collaborative program for some time now and it seems this Verdi program is the perfect fit. The Verdi Requiem offers many rewarding elements, for both choral singers and orchestral players. This monumental work is always an audience favorite.

Summer Choral Festival
Saturday, June 16 at 7:00 PM
Rehearsals begin June 5

Church of the Incarnation, Madison Avenue at 35th Street
Bach: Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden, BWV 230
Schubert: Mass in C, D 452

The Summer Festival is a program of works for choir and strings. Bach’s motet, Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden, BWV 230, is the only one not scored for double chorus. Singers will enjoy performing this contrapuntal masterpiece in German. The choral works of Bach are a great way to get a choir to exercise their agility and clarity! The Schubert Mass in C is a refreshing alternative to his popular Mass in G. Full of lyricism, brilliance, and charm, this piece is a delight to sing, and a refreshing program for any audience. The combination of these two works will be an enticing program for summer singers.

#MySGCSMemory, continued

St. George's Choral Society memories keep coming in, and we are thrilled to share them with you. You can submit #MySGCSMemory here.

My St. George’s memory goes back to the performance of Noye’s Fludde—probably sometime in the 60s. I didn’t dream that some years later I would be living in St. George’s neighborhood. Soon after we settled in I attended a Christmas Candlelight service. In the program there was a note inviting anyone to join the Choral Society. In fear and trembling I braved Ken Dake’s audition—and made it. It was a great singing with Ken, Harry and Matthew.
— Sue Nichols

We can only continue creating musical memories with your support! Our fiscal year ends on July 31. Consider making a year-end donation today to support the choral memories of tomorrow.

We were members of the St George’s Choral Society in the golden days of Charles Henderson and Calvin Hampton. Our first concert was a joint program of “Elijah” with Frederick Swann on the organ, done both at St. George’s and at Riverside Church. 300 voices.

The group did four or five concerts each year with an orchestra made of of the finest freelance musicians in the city. Then there was the Christmas Gala. Most programs were packed to the gills. We did most of the important choral works of Haydn and Mozart. Henderson dragged us through Britten’s “Cantata Misericordium.” We were background for concerts by the organist E. Power Biggs who recorded several albums on the great organ. We did the Beethoven “Choral Fantasia” twice. Also Brahms’ “Requiem.”

Under Calvin Hampton we did Carmina Burana twice, once with orchestra and once as intended with two pianos and percussion. Most memorable was Frank’s “Les Beatitudes,” a monumental work, especially since there was a lot of French for us to do.

One think I see different from amateur choral groups today is that there were a lot of singers under 40. In fact the rules requested that those over 65 join the audience. We had no officers, no dues, and the church provided everything for us. ... Thankfully the group today perpetuates the glorious name even though it does not [perform in] St. George’s wonderful space.
— Henry Strouss

Thanks for Sharing Your SGCS Memories

For 200 years, St. George's Choral Society has made lasting impressions on those who have heard and sung with the choir.

Last week, we asked you to share #MySGCSMemory. This week, we are excited to share some submissions. It's not too late to send us your SGCS memory!

I sang with the choir for several seasons, during the period when Ken Dake was the choir director. We did a ‘Discovering Dvorak’ concert. At that time, the area by the church was being designated Dvorak Place. The ambassador from his native country attended our concert. My favorite memories were the Christmas concerts. Being surrounded by a human wall of sound, as we sang above the audience in such a beautiful setting. The decorations, the performers and of course, the immortal music. I will always think fondly of my time spent with St. George’s.
— Valerie Cruz

We can only continue creating musical memories with your support! Our fiscal year ends on July 31. Consider making a year-end donation today to support the choral memories of tomorrow.

One night we were rehearsing in St. George’s Chapel when a young woman walked in from outside, lay down on the floor, listened to the choir for a moment, then stood up and left. I guess we sounded good that evening!
— Johanna Goldberg
I have not attended a concert, but I have heard your lovely voices! My son has returned to his first love, choral music!! I am so happy for him, because it has brought him so much joy! He has progressed from children’s and youth church choirs to Wofford College Men’s Glee Club to, now, the prestigious St. George’s Choral Society!!! I am very proud of him and his love for music! Love from a happy mother in South Carolina.
— Billie Lou Liles

Share #MySGCS Memory

It's our 200th year and we want to hear from you!

Did you attend a memorable concert or event? Is there a rehearsal you will never forget? Tell us about it below or share it on social media using #MySGCSMemory.

We might share it on our website, Facebook page, or in a future email.

Name *
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Attend a Summer Choral Festival Without Leaving New York City

Have you considered participating in our Summer Choral Festival? A new Van.org interview with Artistic Director Matthew Lewis by Vice President Claire Marinello answers all your questions about the Festival and gives insight into the process and repertoire:

Claire Marinello: How does the Summer Choral Festival work?

Matthew Lewis: Basically, it’s a way of attending a summer choir festival without leaving New York City. A sort of “staycation” for choral groupies. There are wonderful opportunities to leave New York to attend choir festivals, but this one allows people to continue their summer routine while participating in a two-week intensive workshop with a performance at the end.

For me, it started when we used to host “summer sings.” These were evenings when we would gather to read through a big choral piece, often with a guest conductor. The singers had so much fun, but often wished they could get to know the piece a bit better, allowing them to enjoy it more. So, we started this festival with that thought in mind. After four rehearsals, the singers know the piece better than they would with only one reading! Not to mention we have professional section leaders, which really helps. The result has been wonderful – an outstanding choral sound after only two weeks.

CM: This year’s program consists of Aaron Copland’s In the Beginning and Randall Thompson’s The Peaceable Kingdom. Why did you choose those two pieces?

ML: We are in our bicentennial year, so I thought it would be great to pay homage to two American composers. Furthermore, since people enjoy singing so much, a program of unaccompanied music seemed due. Randall Thompson came to mind immediately, as one of the most significant American composers of choral music. The Peaceable Kingdom is a wonderful work, not performed very often, that I am certain singers and audience will enjoy. And, of course, Aaron Copland is one of the great American composers. His In the Beginning is a masterpiece for unaccompanied chorus with alto solo. The two share some similarities, but are varied enough to offer a great program.

I should also add that the Church of the Incarnation is a great space for a cappella music. The acoustic is warm for chamber music without being too distant. It’s not a cathedral acoustic, but one that allows the audience to hear what is going on with a warm acoustic enhancement.

Read more on Van.org >>

Sing With Us This June

Where will you be this June?

If your answer is "In New York City, wishing I were away at a choral festival," we have an opportunity for you.

Beginning Tuesday, June 6, we will host a two-week choral intensive, with two rehearsals a week, culminating in a free performance of Copland's "In the Beginning" and Thompson's "The Peaceable Kingdom" on Saturday, June 17 at 7:00 pm.

We want you to participate!

Never sung with us before? Apply online by May 22 for an early-bird discount.

Sung with us before? No need to fill out the application form. Pay by May 22 for an early-bird discount.

Can't sing in the Festival? We can't wait to see you at our free concert on June 17.

Click for more details, including rehearsal dates and costs.