Trey Clegg has traveled from Atlanta to perform at Piccolo Spoleto Festival many times before. This time he’s bringing 57 of his peers.
That’s the size of St. Paul’s Touring Choir, which will appear for the first time in Piccolo’s Festival of Churches and Synagogues program.
The choir is made up of members of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta, the largest historically black Episcopal church in the United States. It has eight choirs, the largest of which is St. Paul’s Touring Choir.
Although the touring choir is entirely black, Clegg, the choir director and organist, is white, a somewhat unusual arrangement, Clegg said.
The musical repertoire is diverse, ranging from English cathedral anthems to Gregorian chant to spirituals and gospel.
“I have always wanted to bring my own chorus to Piccolo,” Clegg said. “St. Paul’s is doing a very wide broad diversity of musical genres, which is not typical of the average diversity of African-American church choirs.”
When Clegg became the choir director 10 years ago, there were only 18 people in it. Now there are 80. “I would like to think that the quality attracts quality,” he said.
Along the way, it attracted professional singers like Ann Marie McPhail, an Atlanta Opera singer and a voice faculty member at Spelman College, who joined the choir five years ago.
“I want to help because they are so appreciative and they enjoy learning,” said McPhail, who began as an occasional singer and now works with the choir as a vocal coach. “I don’t know how it came to be disciplined,” she said, “but right at 7 o’clock, everybody is in the church.”
Some of the newer members started out as parishioners. Among them are Ernest and Venita Forde, a couple from Barbados who moved to Atlanta in 2005.
“From the first day we went to the church, we’ve loved what we heard,” said Venita Forde, who sang in her Barbados church choir. “The music here is way above what we did in Barbados.”
St. Paul’s Touring Choir will perform on Sunday at 3 p.m. at St. Philip’s Church, 142 Church St.
Xiaoran Ding is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.