Feeling a musical and social void in my life (despite a couple of lovely people at the hostel), I've been seeking a decent church choir to join. It's remarkable how few of the churches here have choirs--none of them in the denominations most closely resembling the United Church of Canada, United [Reform] and Unitarian.
Pretty much the only options located near where I currently reside are St Giles' Cathedral
(Church of Scotland), Old Saint Paul's
(Scottish Episcopal), St Andrew's and St George's
(Church of Scotland), St Cuthbert's
(Church of Scotland) and St Michael and All Saints
(Scottish Episcopal). My email inquiries to Old Saint Paul's and St Andrew's and St George's were answered, inviting me to Thursday choir and Sunday morning worship respectively. (I did write a letter to be posted to St Giles but received the abovementioned positive responses before I got a chance to send it.)
First, to sum up St Andrew's and St George's so that I can deal entirely with Old Saint Paul's below: I attended Morning Worship today. Though I found the service a comfortingly familiar mixture of typical United Church and United Reform, I disliked enough elements that I don't think I'll return. The Georgian style and wall-to-wall carpeting of the sanctuary seemed very un-church-like to my tastes right from the start, and the acoustics make one feel isolated. The people were friendly but I felt out of place amongst the overwhelmingly older and... how to put this?... bourgeois/posh group. The sermon was slightly simplistic and (again, to my tastes) delivered in too much of an evangelical style. The choir wasn't responsible for much of the service and the pieces they did sing that day were decently performed but pretty uninspiring music. Additionally, they only practice fortnightly, which isn't particularly conducive to the social aspect. So that's St Andrew's and St George's.
As for Old Saint Paul's: I've attended one practice so far and I guess I'm in what would probably be called a "probationary period." The description on the website is a tad out of date. The children no longer sing treble with the adult choir as far as I can tell. The women hardly "complement the male voices" either, since I and another young woman comprise the entire alto section--in contrast with the sizeable soprano section. (I suspect that's why I didn't have to do an audition.) The musical standards are still quite high though. They breeze through sightreading and one can really tell how many of the members are experienced choristers. I hope I don't stick out like a sore thumb! After the practice, they insisted on taking me with them to the pub. (This also happened after Evensong; see below.) Though I didn't say a whole lot, I did feel more or less included, which bodes well.
Though I was invited to sing in today's Evensong, I declined in favour of familiarizing myself with High Anglo-Catholic procedure from the relative safety of the congregation. On the whole, I think that was probably a good move, since I would have felt uncomfortable processing, genuflecting and bowing without first seeing the choir do it. It was good to get the stupid mistakes out of the way too: neglecting to pick up a candle, dropping my bulletin out of reach and getting my hand caught in the collection bag! I think what really flummoxed me was having to juggle a lit candle, hymnal, order of service and bulletin--in two hands, standing, sitting and kneeling.
Despite all this, it was a beautiful service, though obviously much more formal than that to which I'm accustomed (even at the Anglican cathedrals I've visited). Given time to learn the customs, I think I could grow to really enjoy it. Though I am slightly uncomfortable with some orthodox proclamations in their services I'm not sure I actually believe, the High style of worship answers my long-held desire for a higher degree of dignity, mystery and silence in church services, if with some degree of overkill. I admire the sincerity of the congregation and choir members tell me they're also friendly and welcoming. High Mass ("Christ the King" with the bishop!), which I intend to attend next Sunday morning, ought to be more interesting still. Then, if I'm feeling confident enough, I think I'll try singing in Evensong.
Finally, I love the fact that the server is wearing sneakers in this photo