The church choirs of Wheaton joined forces to sing in a community Festival yesterday. The city of Wheaton celebrates its sesquicentennial throughout this year. (The College follows with its 150th in 2010.) As one of a year-long series of events, the churches of Wheaton combined in what turned out to be a very nice program of Christian sacred music, driven by choral music.
Wheaton, IL, is not the "holy city" it was once purported to be. It is still very much a city of churches, but its population is no longer dominated by evangelical churches, organizations, or ethos. It is a lovely city, a classic Midwestern college town along a significant train line that tied it to both the prairie and the city of Chicago. The character of a stand-alone community is still largely intact even after suburban sprawl has closed it in. I applaud the city for acknowledging that even though the town has become more diverse and pluralistic, it had a distinctly Christian formation and is still very much a "church community."
I have no idea when the churches last sang in combined festival for any reason, if ever. It hasn't been mentioned. But for this occasion nine churches which still have some kind of choir sent singers, and these joined students from the four high schools in town (2 public, 1 parochial, and Wheaton Academy - as old as the town) and two of the College choirs. We sang several combined numbers, and each combined choir also sang alone: the church choirs sang one anthem, the high school students sang two of their own numbers, and each of the College choirs sang a stand-alone piece.
I have served 0n the state and division boards of the American Choral Directors Association, and never followed through on the good idea of creating a church choir festival in this community. After our work together (3 combined rehearsals and the program) I am reminded that this is still a great idea, and I hope that with some of the more viable choirs in town we might pull something like this together in a year or so.
There's something really invigorating about church choristers getting together. These people sing for the love of singing and with a special sense of "service." They invariably want to be pressed to a higher performance standard, and at the same time have no illusions about the limitations of the typical church choir - limited rehearsal time, the constant moving on to the next week's service music, the unceasing cycle of Sundays and seasons, etc. Get these singers together and even if they do not know each other (but in a town like this, there are lots of relationships that span multiple churches) they have an immediate connection because of what they love to do and their faithful commitment to that task in their congregation.
A local festival would allow each participating choir to sing something(s) alone, if they chose to, and to prepare a few things to sing together - to sing in a really big choir for a change! Ideally it would give us the chance to bring in a well-known choral conductor for the big numbers, and so to share the experience of working with a master.
When the dust settles, and my hard-working colleague from First Pres recovers from his good labors, we will set our minds to consider: can we? may we? should we? and when!?