By Heather Walker
ROME — St. Philip Neri Singers’ Laetare Sunday performance in Manchester, England, was thwarted by the pandemic. The choir, founded in 1993, by Rosemarie Darby, a Lay Centre alumna, was also rehearsing for the Easter Triduum, the Ascension and, of course, for the feast of their Patron Saint, St. Philip Neri, May 18.
Sadly, lockdown restrictions meant that the venue, St. Mary’s Church, locally known as “The Hidden Gem,” was closed. The main role of this liturgical choir is to sing at Mass and other services, mainly in Manchester and the North of England. Suddenly, public Masses stopped and the choir’s chance to sing was temporarily brought to a halt. Darby and the choir asked themselves how they could keep going and stay focused.
“The choir is a friendly group and we have kept to our usual Monday meetings, when we would normally rehearse, by having a quiz on Zoom, with contributions becoming more hilarious as time progresses,” said Darby.“ Regarding the music, we miss singing together, but we also miss the opportunity of praying in our particular way as a choir through our singing, which in turn might, we hope, help others to pray.”
Darby, who is also a musicologist at Manchester University, felt it was important to keep singing, despite the limitations. So, the choir decided to try out its first virtual recording for Our Lady’s month of May. They chose a setting of “Ave Maria,” by Jacques Arcadelt.
“This was an easy piece,” said Darby. “My role as conductor was to send everyone an annotated copy of the score, with lots of directions and then record each voice part on the piano to set a tempo for everyone to follow.”
Darby was satisfied with the result and grateful to choir members who helped with the technological side of the recording.
“We plan to be a bit more ambitious next time and try some polyphony,” she said, adding that William Byrd’s “Confirma hoc Deus” was in preparation for Pentecost.
“Here in England, we are all waiting to see when the churches will open again and when Mass will be celebrated publicly,” said Darby. “Even then, singing may not be allowed for a while, but, when it is, we will be ready. In Deo speramus.”