History of Music at Grace

Music has been an important part of the Grace Church community since soon after its founding. It is clear that music was seen as vital as early as 1845, given that Richard Upjohn’s design of the present church provided for an organ. In 1855, the Rev. Thomas March Clark was appointed rector and brought with him his organist, Lewis T. Downes, to organize the first choir at Grace Church. The Grace Church Choir has played an active and important role in the parish ever since.

Over the years the structure and makeup of the choir has varied widely and changed often from a quartet of soloists to a choir of adults, to a choir of men and boys, and as early as the 1920s, to the first incarnation of a multigenerational choir incorporating boys and girls as well as men and women. While adapting to the needs of the times, it has remained an important presence in the parish since its inception.

The recent musical era at Grace Church began in 1982 when the rector, the Rev. Dan Warren, and the organist, Jim Morgan, re-founded a Men and Boys Choir to complement the existing Adult Choir. Highlights of that period included performances of the Bach Christmas Oratorio with orchestra and performances with Dave Brubeck and the Brown University Chorus and the reinstitution of Choir Camp in 1988.

In 1990 when Mark Johnson began as organist, the format of the Grace Church Good Friday service was changed to its present format – a three-hour liturgy with choral reflections to accompany each of the meditations on the seven last words. In that same era, Grace Church introduced a Service of Advent Lessons and Carols, increased the number of choral evensongs, and expanded the Choir Camp program. During the 1990s the choir or subsets of the choir collaborated with a variety of ensembles including the Rhode Island Philharmonic, Rhode Island Civic Chorale, Providence Singers, Brown University Chorus, Portland Symphony, the Litchfield Choral Union, the Ecclesia Consort, the Chorus of Westerly, Moscow State Ballet, Trinity Repertory Company, and Beavertail Opera for performance of works including Bach Mass in b, St Matthew Passion, Magnificat, Bernstein Chichester Psalms, Britten Ceremony of Carols, Friday Afternoons, Noyes Fludde, St. Nicholas, Spring Symphony, A Boy Was Born, Rejoice in the Lamb, Durufle Requiem, Faure Requiem, Handel Messiah, McCartney Liverpool Oratorio, Menotti Amahl and the Night Visitors, Monteverdi Vespers, Orff Carmina Burana, and the Vivaldi Magnificat. During the same period, our repertoire of liturgical music expanded dramatically. The choir sang a choral prelude prior to the Sunday Eucharist each week of the program year for several years, and choral mass movements by Byrd, Josquin, Taverner, Tye, Victoria, Monteverdi, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert and Stravinsky, among others, were sung on a fairly regular basis.

In 1993 the parish founded a Girls Choir and held Choir Camp on Block Island, and from 1994 to 1996 the choir sang Evensong on Thursday afternoons weekly from October to May.

After Easter 2001, early in the tenure of the Rev. Bob Brooks as rector, the decision was made to invite girls to sing with boys in the treble line of the Grace Church Choir. That same year, our “Summer Choir” was inaugurated, which made it possible for our parish to have a choral presence at the principal Eucharist 52 weeks a year. From 2000 to 2009, members of the choir sang Compline on the third Thursday of each month, October through May.

Recently the Grace Church Choir has enjoyed several special opportunities to sing, including the Presiding Bishop’s Visitation for Diocesan Confirmation in 2005, Bishop Wolf’s wedding to Thomas Bair in 2007, and 22 occasions between 2005 and 2007 when the choir collaborated with other ensembles and singers in the diocese to support various liturgical occasions at The Cathedral of St. John. Additionally, girls from the choir performed The Vivaldi Gloria with the Foundling Baroque Orchestra in 2008.

The Grace Church Singers was formed in 2006 at the time of the merger of Grace Church and The Church of the Messiah in order to provide a chance for members of our congregation who were not able to make a weekly service commitment to share their musical gifts. This has been a well-received and useful addition to our choral program.

During the 2004 – 2005 program year, Grace Church experimented with a series of Taize Prayer services. These were revived for the 2008-2009 season.