Sewickley choir members 'amazed' by unique trip to Scotland
As an accomplished soprano, Anna Singer has plenty of experience performing solos.
But the solo she had earlier this month during a concert at Greyfriars Kirk, or church, in Edinburgh, Scotland, portions of which were built in the 1600s, was special.
A member of The Chancel Choir at Sewickley Presbyterian Church, she performed as part of The Reformation Festival Chorus with colleagues and singers from five other choirs during festivities marking the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.
“There's something so powerful about that, and then, to be able to do that with 100 other people in a beautiful church with amazing acoustics and an organ that's just blasting way,” Singer said.
The Chancel Choir was one of six church choirs representing the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) that the Presbyterian Association of Musicians invited to participate in Reformation 500 activities in Scotland, said Craig Dobbins, director of music ministries at Sewickley Presbyterian Church. He is a past president of the organization. Dobbins celebrated the 30th anniversary of his position with St. Stevens this month.
The trip took place from July 29 to Aug. 6. Twenty people with ties to the choir went.
The concert at Greyfriars Kirk on Aug. 5 was the best part of the trip for him, Dobbins said. Renowned choral director Simon Carrington, a former member of the Grammy Award-winning vocal ensemble King's Singers, conducted, so Dobbins had a chance to sing during the performance.
The concert was part of the famous Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Dobbins said.
“We were amazed, when we got to Edinburgh, looking through the (festival) catalog of performances — there it was,” he said.
The local choir members also performed at St. Giles' Cathedral in Edinburgh, the Mother Church of Presbyterianism, part of which dates to the Middle Ages, and at historic Holy Trinity Church in St. Andrews.
Dobbins said that during those two concerts, people listening particularly seemed to like the choir's rendition of American spirituals.
Another highlight of the trip for Dobbins was a visit to a church in Colinton, a suburb of Edinburgh said to be the inspiration for Robert Lewis Stevenson's poetry collection “A Child's Garden of Verses.”
Members of a church there provided a dinner for the visiting American choirs.
“That was really lovely — to meet people active in their church and to have that exchange,” said Dobbins, 66, of Glen Osborne.
A member of The Chancel Choir for 15 years, Singer grew up in Sewickley and lives in Pittsburgh's Mt. Washington neighborhood. She also has fond memories of that dinner.
“I felt so welcomed by those people,” she said, adding that the Scots they met throughout the trip were wonderful.
“The whole time in Scotland, I was so impressed by the kindness the people have.”
Seeing Salvador Dali's painting “Christ of St. John of the Cross” at the Kelingrove Art Gallery and Museum was a highlight of the trip for both Singer and Dobbins, as was an organ recital taking place while they were at the museum.
Singer is an announcer and music programmer for WQED, 89.3 FM, a classical music station; an opera singer who recently performed the lead role of Mrs. Lovett in “Sweeney Todd” with Pittsburgh Festival Opera and a voice teacher.
She said she is using some things she learned from Carrington with her students and hopes to play music from a CD of the Greyfriars Kirk concert on the radio.
Regarding that concert, Singer said it was impressive how Carrington, who didn't have previous experience with the choir members, and the member of different choirs who normally don't perform together were able to create beautiful music with limited practice time.
“Coming together and creating a mutually attractive sound is quite a challenge, and I think we did that,” Singer said.
Among the pieces in the concert were works by Bach and Mendelsohn and Southern hymns.
Her solo was in “Blessed Be the God and Father” by 19th-century English composer Samuel Sebastian Wesley, which she said was familiar to people in the audience at Greyfriars Kirk but not to the Sewickley Presbyterian Church choir members.
“I'll never have that opportunity to do that again,” Singer said. “It was great.”
Madelyn Dinnerstein is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.