by Rosemary & Christopher Clemence

Rochester Cathedral’s Special Choir embarked on their second USAtour last September. A party of twenty-eight left Gatwick for Atlanta, Georgia, where we spent the weekend at St Philip’s Cathedral, which housed a 4-manual Aeolian-Skinner organ built in 1962, the year the cathedral was completed. Our programme for the week was to be Evensong followed by a concert at each venue and this was well received in Atlanta.  On Sunday we joined the Cathedral’s choir for Sung Eucharist.   We were able to go “down town” and see the HQ of Coca Cola (the Dean being from the Candler family, one of the founders!)


On Monday we flew to Charlotte and picked up people carriers and headed north for Rocky Mount, North Carolina.  The Church of the Good Shepherd made us so welcome. Apparently our conductor, Douglas Henn-Macrae, had seen an advertisement by Harrisons in 1998 for a new organ – hence our contact. After rehearsal we had a wonderful lunch at the City Club. We could not believe the number of people who attended Evensong and the concert – some people were standing for both events! A marvellous reception was laid on afterwards, including a pianist on a Steinway grand who got us singing songs from the shows.   


On Wednesday we drove west to Winston-Salem, originally two towns (Salem being the old part where the Moravian community live). The Church of St Paul was built in 1860 and had a 4-manual 1928 Skinner organ. We had a brief trip to the Dunn Arts Centre at the North Carolina Wesleyan College– brand new facilities for the whole community.   


On Thursday we headed further west to Blowing Rock, along the Blue Ridge Parkwayskirting the Blue Ridge Mountains, and it did get much colder.  The trees were stunning, showing off their autumn colours, and in the small picturesque town of Blowing Rock the Church of St Mary-on-the-Hillswas a gem.  Doug had chosen this church after reading in a church music magazine about some parishioners who had taught themselves to sing part music and who were so keen had attended courses in the USA and Britain.  The organ (a Reuter of 1971) was at the West Endand, as we were only doing a concert, we sang the accompanied pieces from the West Endand the unaccompanied pieces from the East End. This compromise seemed to work well. During our time there, Chris and I managed to drive to the “Blowing Rock” outcrop. It was about 34F and really was blowing. It certainly gave a wonderful panoramic view.


The next day we drove 330 miles to Charleston, South Carolina, the town where the first shot of the American Civil War was sounded. What a fascinating and beautiful place! Full of old weather-boarded houses, narrow streets and bounded by the Cooper and Ashley rivers. The day was gloriously sunny with temperatures in the 70s! After a rehearsal on the Saturday, we were taken round the centre by Walter, a city guide, who is also writing a book about slavery. The Church of the Holy Communion housed a 1928 Moller organ.


It was good that our own Canon Meyrick could renew acquaintances with the staff he had met earlier in the year. The Saturday Evensong and Concert were well received. After breakfast, provided at the church, we sang the Mass Ego sum qui sum by Rogier which Jason Smart, our organist, conducted so that Doug could join the altos. An excellent soprano from the church sang the regular parts of the service and Jonathan Meyrick preached.


We made many new friends, saw many new places and were again overwhelmed by the hospitality.  Here’s to the next tour!

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