Dr. James Gerber’s St. Alban’s Adventure – Summer 2014

Dr. James Gerber’s St. Alban’s Adventure – Summer 2014

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Trinity Cathedral Choir St. Alban’s Residency, 2014

From 28 July – 3 August, the Cathedral Choir of Trinity Cathedral, Phoenix, Arizona, under the direction Dr. Erik Goldstrom, Canon Musician, was in residence at St. Alban’s Abbey and Cathedral, Hertfordshire, UK. I had the privilege of assisting the cathedral choir as their organist.

The Abbey Cathedral has been home to many organs, including instruments built by Bernard “Father” Smith, William Hill, Abbott and Smith, and Henry Willis. The present organ was built by Harrison and Harrison of Durham in 1962. This instrument was one of the first twentieth-century British organs that was designed to perform the organ music of the great baroque composers, particularly Johann Sebastian Bach. But the St. Alban’s organ is capable of much more and is certainly suitable for the performance of a wide range of literature as well as being an effective instrument for leading congregational singing and accompanying choirs. Today, St. Alban’s has a vibrant music program and is the location of an international organ competition.

Twenty-seven singers from Trinity Cathedral sang a total of seven services during their weeklong residency. This marks the very first time in the cathedral’s nearly 100-year history that the Cathedral Choir has undertaken such a venture. During their time at St. Alban’s, the Cathedral Choir presented music drawn from the wealth of the Anglican cathedral tradition. Service music and anthems included Tudor composers, William Byrd and Thomas Tallis; those of the romantic period, Charles Villiers Stanford, Charles Wood, and Herbert Brewer; and works of the contemporary British composers, Grayston Ives and Francis Pott. The organ voluntaries I played included works by Johann Sebastian Bach, Max Reger, Herbert Howells, and Louis Vierne.

Trinity Cathedral Choir at St Albans

St. Alban’s Abbey and Cathedral stands at the site where the Christian martyr, Alban of Verulamium, was buried. Following his conversion to Christianity, he was executed by the Romans around 300 AD when he refused to make offerings to the pagan gods of the empire. Alban is venerated as the first British martyr; the present location of the cathedral was a popular pilgrimage site during the middle ages where a Benedictine monastery had been established. Construction of the cathedral began in the late 11th century, with additions built during the 12th – 14th centuries.

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A visitor to St. Alban’s may observe the development of English medieval cathedral architecture as various styles are incorporated in this single structure. The nave is the longest of any cathedral in England (276 ft.), and is the second longest cathedral in the United Kingdom, following Winchester Cathedral, Hampshire. Following the Reformation in England during the 16th century, the monastery was dissolved by the monarchy, the cloisters were destroyed, and the abbey church was used by the local people as their parish church. The Diocese of St. Alban’s was established in 1877 and the abbey church was elevated to the status of cathedral.

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