Yesterday I mentioned St Mary’s Indian River, William Critchlow Harris’s gem of a church at Indian River near Malpeque on the North Shore of the Island. Built by the members of the congregation in 1902 it served the community until it was deconsecrated in 2009. During the 1970s-80s the church had deteriorated to a sorry state and neither the parish nor the diocese had the funds to make the necessary needed repairs and restoration work. The possibility of the church being torn down loomed and the thought of losing this historic and architectural treasure spurred Island folk and businesses to create a “Save St Mary’s” campaign in 1987.
Amongst the fund raising efforts was a series of Sunday Summer concerts in the church. The popularity of these concerts and the management of the programme itself became so enormous that the Indian River Festival Association was formed and incorporated in 1996. The Association is dedicated to the presentation of fine music at the Indian River Festival and to the upkeep and preservation of St Mary’s. The church was deconsecrated in 2009 and in 2010 the Association purchased the building and lands from the Diocese.
As well as the charming farmland setting and the beautiful exterior design, the church bears a Harris trademark – exceptional acoustics. As well as being an architect Harris was a musician – a violinist. He understood the use of woods and form to produce an interior that serves as the perfect setting for voices and instruments.
This year’s concert season is well under way and on Sunday we made our way up to Indian River to hear a choral and instrumental concert presented by the Festival and the PEI Symphony Orchestra. The chorus is amateur but under the direction of Kelsea McLean produces a sound that many professional choirs would envy. I was particularly struck by the men’s section – not always the strength of any amateur choral group.
Their central offering was Frostiana: Seven Country Songs. A cycle of poems by Robert Frost set by Randall Thompson which premiered October of 1959 in Amherst, Massachusetts where the poet made his home. Composed to commemorate the bicentennial of the town, Thompson had been urged to set The Gift Outright but found the piece was not appropriate to the occasion. He asked to be able to choose the texts himself and choose seven poems from Frost’s vast catalogue. Knowing that the male and female choruses rehearsed separately, he structured the work so that they sang together in only three of the seven movements. The other four movements are set for either male or female voices alone. Though perhaps a trifle lengthy for a Mercoledi Musicale I found it an interesting piece that I certainly wanted to hear again and wanted to share.
This performance comes from a concert by Harvard University Choir under the direction of Edward Elwyn Jones with Christian Lane accompanying. I’ve provided the time each movement begins in the video stream as well links to each of the poems should you wish to read them.
- The Road Not Taken (0:00)
- The Pasture (5:08)
- Come In (7:26)
- The Telephone (12:07)
- A Girl’s Garden (14:28)
- Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening (17:40)
- Choose Something Like a Star (22:01)