Virtual choral evensong from St James the Greater

First we brought you Leicester’s own Quarantine Choir - this week we share with you the choir of St James the Greater and their rather special ‘virtual’ choral evensong for Easter Day.

With a lot of hard work, and some technical magic, the church managed to put together a celebratory sung service with around 30 members of the choir, and clergy, each working from their own homes.

The result, we think you’ll agree, is quite magnificent. (You can see the full video below)

Director of Music at St James’s, Matt Haynes, admits it was a challenge - but he likes a challenge! “I wanted to see if it was possible to make a bunch of singers in different locations sound like St James the Greater Choir - and it does have the St James sound!” he explains.

“I enjoy the music of choral evensong beyond any other form of music making, so any opportunity to perform a Magnificat and Nunc dimittis, I’ll take it.”

The incredible collaboration was put together by Matt, and ‘technical genius’ Andy Judge. It started with Matt recording organ parts in his home studio on a digital computer organ to accompany the virtual choir, before listening to the recordings whilst waving his arms around ‘frantically’ trying to conduct in time.

“This was quite challenging because in the real world you hope your organist will follow you rather than trying it the other way round!” he says.

These videos were then given out to various choir members to record their vocals alongside - in excess of 150 vocal lines across the whole service. The choir featured members from teenage choristers, to long established stalwarts.

After the choristers had submitted their videos recordings, the work that followed came courtesy of Andy. It took him a whopping 60 hours during Holy Week to blend it all together and assemble it into the final service, which included a homily from the Reverend Andrew Quigley about the current global crisis.
“There was certainly a lot to do!” says Andy, who has been a member of the choir himself for 37 years.

“The main comment from the choir was how surreal it was. As singers we are used to listening and blending with the rest of the choir, but in this case all we could hear was the accompaniment track in our ears. But as soon as I started to blend the recordings together, the sound just blossomed.” 

Being a part of the church’s musical offering over Easter was incredibly important to the choir.

“As the most significant festival of the Church’s calendar, it was not sitting well with any of us that we couldn’t make a musical offering,” explains Matt. “It was important for the mental health of our members to have a meaningful project on the go for Easter. Church choirs attract all sorts! We ALL needed this.”

Andy agrees: “Music has the ability to enrich our worship and praise of God,” he says. “With the technology that we have available to us nowadays, it just seemed the right thing to do, to give a sense of stability and familiarity of worship in these uncertain days.”
He also says: “It’s a joy and privilege to sing great music, to high standards, to the Glory of God.

Singing in a choir such as this is about the only activity where young children can work with and achieve the same standards at the same time as adults. The lessons learned by such teamwork will remain with them for the rest of their lives.”

There’s no escaping the fact that the current coronavirus lockdown is having a significant impact on church choirs, musicians and organists, who find themselves disconnected from each other and their instruments.

Roxanne Gull - member of the Quarantine Choir and a renowned conductor, teacher and musician across the diocese - is a former assistant organist at St James the Greater. She says: “When this crisis comes to an end, there will need to be significant financial and organisational resources available if church music - and the music profession in general - are to be able to recover fully and effectively.

“However, music has the power to overcome all obstacles, and already there has been an explosion of music-making online and on social media including attempts to create and improve technology, to make collaborative music-making possible, widespread sharing of archived performances and huge numbers of musicians from all traditions sharing their creative efforts while in isolation. Music will always find a way!”

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