Ben Gambuzza ’20
This past week, I really had a craving to hear the Trinity College Chapel Singers. They are Trinity’s crowning musical fixture and brighten even the bleakest Sundays. And in Scotland, there are many bleak Sundays.
But this past weekend, I unfortunately could not get to the chapel. Luckily, there was a solution: The Chapel Singers’ new album on Spotify. With one listen through the 13-minute album, I was brought back to the jubilation and community that all Bantams feel at the December Lessons and Carols.
The album, released Feb. 11 on iTunes and Spotify features choral works from the 2018 Lessons and Carols, including Adam Lay Ybounden by Trinity’s Composer-in-Residence Robert Edward Smith. The program also features Director of Chapel Music Prof. Christopher Houlihan’s new arrangement of Trinity’s alma mater. According to Prof. Houlihan, all proceeds from purchases of the album will go toward the Chapel Singers’ next tour.
The album starts with Mr. Smith’s new piece, which begins with a mournful and simple, single voice melody from the organ. Zachary Schurman ’22 handles himself with steady hands and calm tempo. Though Smith’s vocal writing is straightforward, the melody is memorable and the singers’ voices are rendered quite sharp and clear by the recording. Not that the chappies aren’t already sharp. Recording just makes angels sound more angelic.
Another highlight of the album is Elijah Hernandez’s ’19 singular command of the solo in In Dulci Jubilo. Though one can hear he might have been battling a sore throat, his voice adds authenticity to a sometimes artificial-sounding album.
After A Hymn to the Virgin and How Far Is It to Bethlehem, the album finishes up with Prof. Houlihan’s arrangement of ‘Neath the Elms, which he completed over the summer. He says of the work, “Our alma mater has existed in many arrangements in its nearly 140-year history, and of course it first would have been sung by only tenors and basses. I think this new arrangement has a few interesting harmonies and a nice feature moment for the sopranos.” Indeed, in the third verse the sopranos are featured above a distant murmur from the lower parts, perhaps in a nod to 50 years of women at the College. The whole arrangement is made much more sentimental at the end than earlier versions. With ritardandi and fermata, it concludes in melancholy and nostalgia, evocations of the words “far away from our old Trinity.”
The Chapel Singers have made albums in the past, available on CD, but this is their first recording project available online. Prof. Houlihan told the Tripod, “I suspect this album will be very meaningful not only to the hundreds of annual attendees of our college’s Lessons and Carols, but also as to alumni and friends of the college who cannot return to campus as often as they would like.”
Chapel singer Kira Eidson ’19 commented: “The process of recording is always both exhausting and exciting. Sometimes you have to sing a piece over and over again, but the final product is always worth it. I’m particularly fond of our recording of ‘Neath the Elms because, as a senior, it’s especially rewarding and sentimental to have the alma mater, sung by myself and people I’ve grown especially close to, as something I can always go back and listen to.”
For the casual listener, the album can be a respite, even study music. For the critical ear, it is a pleasant reminder of the surging quality of Trinity’s chapel music.