by Michael Caruso
After 10 years at the helm of the musical forces of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, Zachary Hemenway will lead his final service of Holy Eucharist with Choir Sunday, June 3, at 10:30 a.m. Later in the week, Hemenway will begin making his way west to take up his new post as music director at the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in Seattle, Washington.
“It’s a fabulous opportunity,” Hemenway recently told me over lunch at the Iron Hill Brewery on Germantown Avenue. “Epiphany is a big parish, about 1,500 members, and it’s experienced rapid growth after a period of decline. Their rector, the Rev. Doyt Conn, who’s been there about 10 years, has set the place on fire. Attendance is up, the adult choir is fantastic, and they are very interested in developing a children’s choir program.
“There are two organs. There’s a three-manual tracker in the church and a new smaller tracker in the chapel. The principal liturgy in the church is your traditional Anglican Rite II while the liturgy in the chapel is more informal. The choir that sings in the church is centered around 12 professional singers, and there’s a full-time assistant organist who works under the music director.
“Music plays a major part of the character of the parish. I saw it for myself as part of the audition process. The liturgy and the music are impeccable but not fussy.”
Speaking of his 10-year tenure at St. Paul’s Church, Hemenway pointed to the parish’s chorister program for young singers as among his most cherished accomplishments.
“And continuing to build the quality of the singing of the Adult Choir,” he added. “Our trips to England were particularly rewarding. And, of course, the Ann Stookey Fund to establish an endowment to maintain this spectacular instrument.” Hemenway was referring to the Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ at St. Paul’s. It is one of the largest of its kind in the country. Hemenway also pointed to his having established a relationship with the Curtis Institute of Music in center city from which St. Paul’s Church has engaged organ scholars to play whenever he needed to conduct without accompanying at the organ console.
Perhaps my favorite of all of Hemenway’s achievements as music director at St. Paul’s Church has been his establishing the “Five Fridays” series of chamber music recitals that helps raise money for Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network and Face-to-Face Germantown. The two organizations help individuals who are down on their luck to regain their footing in a society that is no longer well known for the charitable attention paid to those in sore need of a helping hand.
Supported by generous patrons, the parish covers the costs of presenting the musicians who perform in order that all the money raised by ticket sales can go directly to both charities. It’s a literal but sadly rare example of “putting your money where your mouth is” in a manner firmly rooted in the traditions of the social gospel.
Like everyone at St. Paul’s Church, as well as many Chestnut Hillers who aren’t parishioners, I personally will miss Zach Hemenway’s boundless enthusiasm for his musical vocation and the compassionate commitment to excellence he brought to everything he did. Good luck and God speed in Seattle.
Erik Meyer, music director at the Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Field, Chestnut Hill, will lead the parish choir in its final Choral Evensong of the season Sunday, June 3, 5 p.m. The musical program includes Gerald Near’s setting of the “Magnificat” and “Nunc Dimittis,” Peter Christian’s settings of the “Preces” and “Responses,” and Josef Rheinberger’s “Abendlied” at the “Offertory.”
“Concerts at the Cathedral Basilica” brought its 2017-18 season to a close Wednesday, May 23, with a performance by the Philadelphia Boys Choir & Chorale. Led by Jeffrey Smith, the ensemble’s artistic director and conductor, the concert took place within the resonant splendor of the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia.
The program included Ron Nelson’s “Gloria,” John Rutter’s “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” Robert Cohen’s commissioned “The Promise of Three Moments,” Paul Mealor’s “Ubi Caritas,” composed for the 2011 wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, David Clydesdale’s arrangement of “Amazing Grace,” the commissioned premiere of James Lavino’s “We Live Today,” Smith’s own arrangement of Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America,” and several other selections.
Throughout the concert, the boys and men sang with authority and expressivity. Their tone was remarkably focused for an ensemble of more than 60 choristers drawn from throughout the region; pitch and tuning were immaculately pure, dynamics were broadly varied, and diction was surprisingly crisp considering the long reverberation time of the Cathedral Basilica. I found myself hoping that in the not-too-distant future, the Philadelphia Boys Choir and Chorale might make a stop in Chestnut Hill and sing a concert at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, perhaps at Christmas time?
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