Illuminated: The Tudor Choir Celebrates Candlemas

The Tudor Choir
St. Mark’s Cathedral
Seattle, Washington
February 25, 2006

During this past weekend in Seattle, (February 24-26, 2006), positive vibrations could be felt throughout the city. In the south end, African drummers and dancers taught workshops and gave performances at the Langston Hughes Cultural Art Center, in the Queen Anne District, Brazilian musicians celebrated Carnival also with drums, dancing and sambas and in various churches around the Seattle area, several Early Music choirs and ensembles also sent out healing vibrations. While I would have enjoyed attending all these wonderful events, I attended The Tudor Choir’s Candlemas at St. Mark’s Cathedral.

For anyone who attends choral concerts will know the importance of the venue in which the concerts are performed. In Seattle, St. Mark’s Cathedral along with St. James Cathedral are known for their beauty and acoustics. St. Mark’s Cathedral’s musical staff and hosts several choirs within the church including the renowned Compline Choir under the direction of Dr. Peter Hallock and even the St. Mark’s Marimba Ensemble. The Tudor Choir, under the direction of Doug Fullington is a choir in residence at St. Mark’s and at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Medina, Washington and maintains a flexible membership of 8 to 40 vocalists.

The Tudor Choir specializes in Renaissance and early American and English choralmusic.  The choir has performed with Seattle Symphony, recorded several albums,
and appeared with dance companies such as Seattle’s Pacific Northwest Ballet and Mark Morris Dance troupe and has performed with several guest conductors since 1993. The Candlemas performance marks my first time seeing the choir in concert, although I had heard a radio interview with Fullington on the Mostly Medieval show, two weeks prior to the concert.

St. Mark’s has a reputation for hosting choral concerts. With its 60 foot high ceilings, large windows and mammoth pillars, not to mention its cavernous atmosphere, a choir is afforded many creative options. The Tudor Choir, which for this concert included 4 tenors, 3 sopranos, plus a guest soprano, Rebekah Gilmore, 2 altos, 2 baritones and 2 basses certainly used the space to achieve dramatic results while presenting sacred music, both polyphony and monody chants of the Elizabethan Era, (sacred chants composed by English scholars), or newly composed chants honoring St. Brigit, composed by Jeff Junkinsmith which received their world premiere during this concert.

The first half of the program was “anchored by two monumental 16th century choral settings of Candlemas responsory chants–Videte miraculum by Thomas Tallis (1505-1585) and Gaude, gaude, gaude Maria by John Sheppard (1515-1558)–separated by Tallis’ 5-voice setting of the Candlemas hymn, Quod chorus vatum, which alternates chants and choral verses.” Most of this section featured polyphony vocals performed by the choir near the church’s altar. Guest vocalist, Rebekah Gilmore would sing the Antiphon from a balcony in the back of the church and the choir would respond with riveting polyphony. The voices filled the entire space, reverberating off of the windows and ascending majestically to the rafters. A couple of times, I felt my eyes misting, not
because I enjoy chants about virgins and immaculate conception, (I’m not Catholic), but from the sheer beauty of the human voice when it connects to the heart.

Following a lengthy intermission in which people, such as myself who do not normally sit in pews worked the kinks out of our spines, the choir changed its location from the front near the altar to a mysterious corner in the back of the cathedral. Candles replaced the vocalists at the front of the church and vocalist Rebekah Gilmore donning a medieval aquamarine cape and holding a candle out in front of herself proceeded up the aisles like a virginal bride of Christ, singing in perfectly clear soprano. Gilmore, who had played the role of the mysterious singer in the back of the church earlier was now the main focus as
she alternated between sitting like an enthroned virginal queen at the altar and singing angelic monody, her face softly lit by glowing candles.

She had taken on the role of the Irish saint, Brigit, who originally was a pagan entity representing fire later transformed into a Christian saint. Candlemas which was brought to Europe from the Middle East in the 7th century is currently honored on February 2nd, 40 days after the birth of Christ and one day after the pagan feast, Imbolc. It’s a fascinating topic in itself and not one I can get into here.

The second half of the program featured sacred choral compositions of Seattle-based composer Jeff Junkinsmith and traditional Irish chants as well as Salvator mundi Domine by John Sheppard and the final composition, Lumen ad revelationem gentium Nunc dimmittis by Thomas Packe. During the final number the choir’s polyphony married Gilmore’s monody as she proceed down the aisle and to the back of the church and then mysteriously disappeared from sight.

This Candlemas was performed towards the end of winter, but the candles that lit the cathedral reminded us that light exist in the midst of darkness and that a variety of spiritual and religious celebrations of rebirth are just around the corner. Choral music at this time of year rejuvenates bodies that have been deprived of light for several months and hearts that have been deprived of hope. The combination of The Tudor Choir’s lush vocals and the ambiance of the Cathedral was overpowering at times and stunning throughout. Certainly those seeking the truly sacred experience found it at this concert.

The choir was well received and appreciated by the audience that packed the cathedral. The concert was recorded and I heard Doug Fullington mention in a pre-show lecture that a CD of the concert would be released in the future. The Tudor Choir currently has several recordings available at and for those folks in the Seattle area or who plan on visiting Seattle this spring, The Tudor Choir will present Simple Gifts–Shaker Tunes and Anglo-Americana at Town Hall on April 8, 2006 and Lily Among the Thorns: Songs of beauty, love & devotion inspired by the symbolism of the lily at St. Mark’s Cathedral on May 6, 2006 and at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Medina, Washington, May 7, 2006.

Other Early Music contacts:

St. Mark’s Cathedral
1245 Tenth Avenue E., Seattle, Washington, 98102
(206) 323-0300