Among the bevy of exciting new items in our forthcoming Autumn 2014 catalog you’ll find The Chants of Christmas, a collection of holiday music performed by Massachusetts’s famed Gloriæ Dei Cantores choir. This CD is just the latest in a series of the choir’s recordings to be offered by Bas Bleu, and we think you’ll love it as every bit as much as The Chants of Angels and Mozart: Rare Choral Works.
As the choir has gained something of a following among our readers—er, listeners?—we decided it was high time we learned more about this inspiring organization. Recently, Gloriæ Dei Cantores’s own Blair Tingley took time out of her crazy-busy schedule to chat with us about the internationally acclaimed “Singers to the Glory of God.”
Bas Bleu: Tell us a little bit about how and why the choir was formed.
Blair Tingley: The choir was formed originally as a church choir to assist with the somewhat un-inspired hymn singing that was taking place on Sundays! After several years and a great deal of work, the choir went on several study trips to Cambridge, England, and then began touring internationally, particularly to Russia and the countries of the former Eastern Europe in the late 80’s/early 90’s as the “iron curtain” was coming down.
BB: How many members does the choir have today and how are they selected?
BT: The usual number is close to 40 singers, although the choir often performs and records in groups of 4, 8, 12, 16 and other varying combinations. Singers have to complete the “Royal School of Church Music” theory program, and then they audition to enter.
BB: Since its founding, the group has performed in more than twenty countries in Europe, Asia, and North America. Which trips and experiences stand out as highlights?
BT: The choir’s international tours began in 1989, traveling behind the Iron Curtain to Hungary and Yugoslavia. It was an extraordinary time in history—often the planning committee would set up a tour in one of the Eastern European countries while it was still communist, and then when the choir arrived, it was on the wave of newly opened doors of freedom.
There was something particularly special about going to Russia in 1990, and then again in 1992, from Moscow to the former Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) and as far East as Irkutsk in Siberia. We were the first Americans many of the Russians had ever met. We also were privileged to sing the sacred Russian Liturgical music in the civic concert halls—something that had been forbidden for seventy years.
Twenty-four years later, with the building tension growing in that part of the world, it seems our timing in history was particularly significant.
BB: After the fall of the Iron Curtain, Gloriæ Dei Cantores was the first American choir to perform in cities previously closed to the West. How did those experiences shape Gloriæ Dei Cantores’s mission?
BT: The choir experienced sacred music’s ability to bridge international cultural, political, and ecumenical divides, by communicating heart-to-heart. We were met with such an intense heart-felt embrace by people from whom we had been separated for so many years. It was humbling. We realized the power of love that can be so deeply shared, when hearts are truly united in serving and loving God.
When we traveled to all the European countries, it was our tradition to fully immerse ourselves into the language and style of the pieces we sang. Often people would come up to us after concerts, weeping and sharing their stories with us. On a lighter note, in Sofia, Bulgaria, we closed the program with a native Bulgarian folk song, “Dilmano, Dilbero.” It has a very unique style of vocalizing, and as soon as we started, the entire hall erupted into shrieks! We felt like rock stars!
BB: With such a storied history and depth of talent, it seems like the choir is capable of touring year-round. And yet they serve as the community choir for the Church of the Transfiguration on Cape Cod, singing at weekly services. Why?
BT: The Church of the Transfiguration is our home church. The worship services we sing are the cornerstone of our performances. Every piece we sing and record was first sung as part of the liturgy. When we perform in concert, we continue that tradition of praying the text as we sing—the worship provides that foundation. However, we very much enjoy opportunities to tour and perform across America as well as internationally, and we often collaborate with orchestras such as the Boston Pops.
BB: Gloriæ Dei Cantores’s albums are distributed by Paraclete Press, with whom Bas Bleu has enjoyed a long relationship. How does the choir’s work and message correspond with Paraclete’s?
BT: Gloriæ Dei Cantores’s mission of bringing hope and beauty into people’s lives through excellence in the choral arts resonates deeply with Paraclete Press’s publishing vision. Paraclete has always been an ecumenical publisher, building bridges of understanding and reconciliation between people of different religious backgrounds and walks of life, and the choir’s international relationships and pursuit of spiritual and artistic authenticity have reached countless people with a similar message. Whether the creative expression is written, spoken, or sung, the deeper message of hope and God’s love for humanity is the same.
BB: Gloriæ Dei Cantores’s discography includes more than fifty recordings in eighteen languages. Which of the choir’s CDs are the most popular?
BT: That’s a challenging question! It’s probably like asking which of your books are the most popular! Having said that, it’s a bit of a spectrum—our Gregorian chant recordings, our Renaissance recordings, the Russian recordings, but there are also Bach aficionados, and those who particularly like American music.
BB: What does the future hold for Gloriæ Dei Cantores?
BT: As with books, many people enjoy holding an actual CD with the beautifully illustrated accompanying booklet in their hands. But to meet the needs of the growing technological market, the choir is on the cutting edge of some of the latest digital technology with our SACD recordings and high-definition digital downloads. We will continue our weekly worship services and regular concert series, which includes a concert of Finzi’s works this fall with soloist and orchestra, as well as our traditional and well-loved “Service of Advent Lessons and Carols” in December. 2015 will a big year. We are preparing a recording of Rachmaninoff’s “All-Night Vigil” with a Russian choir, and we have been invited to tour Italy in the fall of 2015, including concerts in Florence, Pisa, and Siena!
BB: Thanks to Blair for sharing Gloriæ Dei Cantores’s story with us, and our heartiest “bon voyage!” to the entire choir for their upcoming travels!