Like any director of an elite classical choir, Robert Taylor must find a way to pay the bills.
Taylor Festival Choir
WHEN: 4 p.m. FridayWHERE: Mepkin Abbey, 1098 Mepkin Abbey Road, Moncks CornerCOST: $36
Many choirs put out recordings of arranged pop tunes, but Taylor, director of the Taylor Festival Choir, couldn’t bring himself to do that. Instead, he found the answer in mixing classical music with the music of his Celtic roots.
At 4 p.m. on Friday, the Taylor Festival Choir will present a concert at the seesaw center of this balancing act. In a return concert at Mepkin Abbey, Taylor will lead his semi-professional choir in Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Mass in G minor and contemporary Irish composer Michael McGlynn’s “Celtic Mass.”
Vaughan Williams’s Mass serves as a pinnacle of the genre in the 20th century. The contemporary “Celtic Mass” counters the classical programming with folk-inspired dance rhythms, some Gaelic texts and nontraditional movements.
Vaughan Williams’s Mass is a favorite of Taylor’s. “For my money, Mass in G minor is the greatest unaccompanied choral work of the 20th century.”
The work also appeals greatly to the abbot at Mepkin Abbey, Fr. Stan Gumula.
“I’m really looking forward to this,” Gumula said. “We love to welcome people to Mepkin. This is one of our ways to give back to the community. We sing a lot of music here, but nothing on the level of Rob and his choir. To hear well-sung sacred music is a treat to us. It’s something we want to be a part of.”
Taylor programmed these works in preparation for the choir’s upcoming recording, featuring four works from the British Isles. Both pieces heard at Mepkin Abbey will be recorded and released at the end of 2013.
Originally, the choir was going to record at the monastery, but because it closes to the public at 7 p.m. daily, choir members’ schedules prevented it.
Taylor feels fortunate to be based in Charleston, which has a plethora of acoustically vibrant churches and venues. But Mepkin is special.
“The overall venue is an incredibly spiritual atmosphere,” Taylor said. “It’s a true monastery on the Cooper River, and when you perform up there, the spiritual feeling permeates everything you do while you’re there.”
Taylor Festival Choir is a part of the Taylor Music Group, a nonprofit that supports the choir and Na Fidleiri, a traditional Irish ensemble for youth age 9-18. The two groups will tour Ireland in 2013, performing music heard on June 8 at Mepkin, as well as other works.
Taylor is the director of choral activities at the College of Charleston, where the Taylor Festival Choir is in residence. This position gives Taylor a large pool of talent from which to recruit for the festival chorus. Seven of the choir’s singers are flown in from out of state, and the other 17 live in Charleston.
The group comes together two or three days before their performance, with their music more or less memorized, and work together before a concert. Individuals have become close with one another. Their relationships are as tight-knit as their harmonies.
“It’s a professional choir, but it’s a familial culture,” Taylor said. “They’ve known each other for years.”
Richard Jobe, one of the original choir members, describes the architectural style of Mepkin’s church as a blending of an old austerity with modern elements; the venue matches the choir’s ideal of mixing old and new to be inclusive.
Jobe is happy to return to Mepkin.
“Our invitation to sing at Mepkin is very coveted,” he said. “When you enter the grounds, you get this feeling of serenity and peace. The quietness is breathtaking. There’s something mystical about the abbey.”
Leah Harrison is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.