Parish Choir invited to sing at The Vatican
The Choir of St George’s, Beckenham, has long been a renowned choir in the Diocese of Rochester. Under the new leadership of Marcus Wibberley as Organist and Director of Music (2017), the choir has reopened something it had done in the past – international touring. The purpose is twofold – to establish new horizons and opportunities for the choir and to create and foster links at parish and diocesan levels with churches abroad. Following a very successful tour to Tallinn, Estonia, last year – where the choir and diocese have historic links already – Marcus received an invitation from a contact in Rome for the choir to come and sing Mass at St Peter’s Basilica and a number of other prominent churches in the city.
Their first engagement is singing Choral Evensong at All Saints’ Anglican Church, in the heart of Rome, on Saturday 6 April at 6.00pm. Choral Evensong is at the forefront of the regular activities of the choir at home. The congregation for this much-loved and prayerful service, held every Sunday at St George’s at 5.30pm, has been growing dramatically over the last two years, and this is in fact a national trend. To take this service and showcase it abroad is both a passion and a privilege for the choir.
On Sunday 7 April, the choir will first sing Mass at the breath-taking basilica of St Paul’s-Outside-The-Walls at noon, before heading back to the centre of town to sing the same service (but with different music) at St Peter’s Basilica at 5.15pm. Among the music they will be singing is the Mass for Five Voices by William Byrd. Byrd was a catholic composer in England at the time of the Reformation and was under considerable oppression as a church musician at that time. Never would he have thought that hundreds of years later an English choir would take his music and sing it in The Vatican. This aspect is particularly poignant for Marcus in his planning and execution of the music.
On Monday 8 April at 6.30pm, the choir will sing in concert at the church of St Maria della Pace. They will be showcasing some of the more glorious unaccompanied Lenten anthems by English composers ranging from William Byrd and Thomas Tallis through to Henry Purcell and coming right forward in time to Sir William Walton of the 20th century. Tuesday will be a day off for the choir, with some much needed rest and sight-seeing. The tour then culminates on Wednesday 10 April with Mass at the basilica of St Maria Maggiore, again a prominent venue in the city centre, and this will be another highlight for the choir in their mission for this trip, which falls during the first week of the Easter holidays.