When Walt Whitman came upon Grace Church, at 10th Street and Broadway, he was so enchanted by what he saw he described Broadway as a sea, “tossing spray of ribbons and plumes that give back rainbows,” and Grace Church a “ghostly lighthouse,” guiding the way.
Grace was famous for the quality of its music then, and some of the great opera singers of the day sang in a gallery above the front door. But by the end of the 19th century, the opera stars were long gone and the music to which listeners were compelled to listen was described as “altogether too dry.”
By the time Organist and Master of Choristers Frank Smith was hired in 1960, the church had lost its musical luster and the newly formed music committee pinned all its hopes on Smith: “Bring back our days of musical glory.”
Music at the church once again began to thrive. But Smith not only wanted to expand the congregation’s opportunities for singing, he also wanted to extend those opportunities to the community outside the church. In 1974 a community chorus of amateur singers was established, and this outreach was continued under his successor, Bruce McInnes, from 1991-1999.
Inspired by this tradition, the Choral Society of Grace Church was founded in 1999 as an independent, non-sectarian choral arts organization under current Music Director John Maclay.
Since that time, the Choral Society has become a downtown powerhouse of one hundred-fifty auditioned singers who bring concert-hall quality into the environment for which most of their masterworks repertoire was originally intended. A reviewer once wrote, “I assumed that this would be a pleasing concert, although an amateur one. I was wrong. It was magnificent.”
“We love working at Grace Church and Grace Church School,” says Maclay. “The awe inspiring interior of the Church, its warm acoustics, and the open door its parishioners and staff provide to the community make it an ideal setting for live performances of choral music. And it is such a commanding architectural presence in the streetscape that it literally causes Broadway to bend!”
Patrick Allen, current Organist and Master of Choristers of Grace Church, now runs what Maclay describes as “one of the great liturgical music programs in New York City and therefore in this country.”
Allen has also presided over the recent installation of the Church’s new world-class pipe organ, whose sounds will be woven through the Choral Society’s May 8th & 9th performances of the Duruflé Requiem and will dramatically punctuate pieces by Vaughan Williams and Britten.
The Choral Society offers a great opportunity to hear major works by a magnificent chorus, professional orchestra and soloists at an affordable price right in our neighborhood.
To be enveloped in moving works like the Duruflé Requiem, in one of New York City’s finest architectural creations, one need only follow Whitman’s lead, and stroll along Broadway to 10th Street towards the musical beacon of Grace Church.
For concert information, please go to http://www.thechoralsociety.org .
Stacy Horn is the author of Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing With Others.