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  • Writer's pictureKate Woodman

Chant dans la Sainte-Chapelle – Singing in Sainte-Chapelle

Ceux qui me connaissent bien, savent que la musique est une grande parte de ma vie, notamment la chant chorale. En fait, quand j’ai déménagé en France il y a 5 ans, la première chose que j’ai faite était l’audition pour Paris Choral Society (PCS). Et pendant 5 ans, j’avais eu le plaisir de chanter avec cette chorale et le chef du chœur merveilleux, Zach Ullery. On a chanté beaucoup d’œuvres magnifiques, de les grands compositeurs comme Bach, Dvorak et Mozart aux compositeurs contemporains, dont la première mondiale de « Stabat Mater », que le compositeur américain Richard Burchard a écrit pour le PCS.

Those of you who know me well know the importance of music in my life, and the importance of choral music in particular. In fact, within days of moving to France 5 years ago, I successfully auditioned for the Paris Choral Society (PCS). And for the past 5 years, I’ve had the pleasure of singing with this choral group and it’s marvelous director, Zach Ullery. We’ve sung many magnificent works, from the masterworks of the likes of Bach, Dvorak and Mozart to contemporary composers, including the world premiere of a “Stabat Mater” which the American composer Richard Burchard wrote for the PCS.

PCS music director Zach Ullery

Mais l’apogée de mon expérience PCS était peut-être l’opportunité de chanter le morceau « Sainte-Chapelle » de compositeur Américain Eric Whitacre dans la Sainte-Chapelle elle-même ! Comment est-ce arrivé? La saison 2020-2021 de PCS était l’année pire de la pandémie COVID. On ne pouvait pas avoir les répétitions. Donc, au lieu des répétitions, Zach et des choristes ont eu les réunions hebdomadaires par Zoom. Nous avons invité plusieurs compositeurs de nous y rejoindre, dont Eric Whitacre. Pendant le discussion avec M Whitacre, l’idée pour enregistrer son « Sainte-Chapelle » en Sainte-Chapelle est né.

But the high point of my PCS experience so far was, without doubt, the opportunity to sing American composer Eric Whitacre’s piece entitled “Sainte-Chapelle” in the very chapel that inspired its composition and for which it was named. How did this project come about? It’s a « silver-lining » story. Because of the Covid pandemic, PCS was unable to rehearse or perform its 2020-2021 season. In lieu of our weekly Monday evening rehearsals, we met virtually via Zoom. For several weeks, we invited composers whose works we had performed to chat with us during these Zoom calls. One of those composers was the world-renowned American Eric Whitacre. In the course of that conversation, we learned that Whitacre’s piece “Sainte-Chapelle” (inspired by the chapel) had never been performed in the chapel itself. Upon hearing this, our president Chris Lajtha mused that this would be a perfect project for PCS. And so the idea was born.

Stained glass windows of Sainte-Chapelle

Awaiting entry to the chapel

Et deux ans, c’est un réalité. Avril dernier, Zach et 52 choristes avons passé quatre heures dans la Sainte-Chapelle magnifique avec une équipe de tournage pour enregistrer « Sainte-Chapelle » de compositeur Whitacre.

And two years later, it became a reality. Last April, Zach and 52 PCS members spent 4 hours in the magnificent Gothic jewel commissioned by King Louis IX in the 13th century. I had only been to the chapel once years ago for one of the ubiquitous Vivaldi Four Seasons concerts. I was enthralled then, but to enter this magnificent space with its 15 stained glass windows (each more than 15 meters high)….empty….well it takes your breath away! There were audible gasps of wonder and delight as we entered, heads tilted upwards, mouths agape. We mingled silently or spoke in hushed tones, processing our presence in that historic space…..and then the work began.

Zach and the recording crew setting up in the empty Sainte-Chapelle

Choristers mingling before recording starts.....

....and taking in the magnificence of it all!


.....and again

Adjusting the close-up camera on a track running up the middle of our U-shape formation.....

Camera view..

une pause.....

Zach consults with the sound master....

View from the podium...

For 4 hours, our crew checked sound levels, sight lines, camera angles. We’d sing a few bars, stop, check, sing some more, break, stretch, reform, sing, check, etc. It was a slow, laborious process, but no one minded, as we knew the end product was going to be good and something of which we could all be proud. And indeed it is!

Je vous offre « Sainte-Chapelle » dans la Sainte-Chapelle chanté par Paris Choral Society......

View of the chapel as we left....ever beautiful!

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