Contact: Samuel E. Cromwell
The St. Augustine Catholic Church Chorale performs at the 10:00 a.m. Mass each Sunday.
The Chorale, the oldest of Saint Augustine’s choirs, traces its roots to the year 1866, after the founding of the “Parish for Colored Catholics.” Tribute was paid to the voices organized to sing sacred songs of their faith, to proclaim their religious commitment through music, and to use the gift of music to raise funds for the support of their parish.
The early development of both the congregation and the physical structure occurred during the ministry of Father Felix Barotti (1867-1881). Prior to Father Barotti’s ministry, the entire congregation rendered the choral part of the services. Appointed in 1866, he arrived in the parish in 1867. He launched a building program and organized the first Sanctuary Choir. Father Barotti viewed the choir as an essential part of a “great spiritual edifice,” so that “a beauty will be found to permeate the music of the Mass.”
In 1873, a thirty-five-voice choir was formed under the musical leadership of Professor John Esputa, director of the U.S. Marine Corps Band and the music director of The Colored American Opera Company, both the first opera company in the District of Columbia and the first African-American company in the United States. Many of the company were members of the Saint Augustine Chorale and they used their musical talents to raise money for their church community and build schools for their children in the 1870s. The first Chorale members added to the beauty and dignity of the service and made a major contribution to fund-raising efforts. The choir’s concerts and operatic performances raised an estimated $75,000 to complete the construction of the church. By 1876, the Chorale had grown to sixty professionally trained voices. Between 1873 and 1908 three of the music directors were Professor Tregina of the U.S. Marine Band, Anton Gloetzner and Anton Kasper.
The ministry continued to be one of the major accomplishments of the church, singing the works of the world’s most celebrated composers of sacred music with polished eloquence. Their excellent work earned the church an enviable reputation in the community. On May 24, 1905, The Washington Post described Saint Augustine Parish as the “largest colored Catholic Church in the United States…A MECCA FOR LOVERS OF SACRED MUSIC, where white people as well as Black throng the beautiful edifice on Sundays and feast days to listen to the superb renditions of masterpieces of the great composers.”
George Dines, Music Director from 1961-1979 worked with several organists, including Nancy Dines (Mr. Dines’ mother), Leroy Merring, Ray Brubacher, Richard Metcalfe, Cathy Bounds and Joyce White. After retiring, he remained active in the music ministry as Cantor at the 8:00 a.m. Sunday Mass before passing away in 2008.
The transition from Latin to English took place, as recommended by the Second Vatican Council, near the beginning of Mr. Dines’ tenure. He felt that the wealth of musical literature in Latin should remain in the choir’s repertoire. So, the choir continued to sing Latin motets occasionally, and once a year, an entire Latin Mass. Today, the Chorale continues to sing such classics as Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus, the Requiem by Faure, The Seven Last Words of Christ by Theodore DuBois, Stabat Mater by Pergolesi, Cesar Franck’s Panis Angelicus and Handel’s Messiah.
In 1979, Leon Roberts, Director of the Saint Augustine Gospel Choir, was named Music Director for the Parish and began teaching in Saint Augustine School. With Richard Metcalfe and Bob Moore as organists, he continued the heritage of sacred music, traditional hymns and spirituals, while expanding the Chorale’s repertoire to include contemporary works. Mr. Roberts directed the Chorale until his departure from Saint Augustine in 1994. From 1994-1998, the music directors included Patricia Fointno, Valeria Foster and Randy Thomas. From 1998-2005 the Saint Augustine Chorale, under the direction of Alece Howard Morgan, expanded its concert repertoire to include the Mass in G Major by Schubert, Messa da Requiem by Verdi, Ein Deutsches Requiem by Brahms and Requiem in D Minor by Mozart. Between 2005-2008 the Chorale, directed by Philippa Smith-Tyler, added to it is concert selections the Messe Solennelle in C Sharp Minor by Louis Vierne, Te Deum by John Phillip Sousa and number of Negro Spirituals.
Between 2008-2011, Alece Howard Morgan returned to direct the Chorale’s growing repertoire with such compositions as the Requiem in D Minor and the Coronation Mass Requiem in D Minor by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Blest Pair of Sirens by C. Hubert H. Parry. Today the choir is led by Samuel Edison Cromwell.
In 1996, the Chorale’s membership adopted the following mission statement:
The Saint Augustine Chorale shall continue its ministry to the worshipping community of Saint Augustine Catholic Church dedicated under the patronage of Saint Augustine on Trinity Sunday, June 11, 1876.
And, shall continue the Catholic tradition, drawing on ethnicity, old and new styles of music, while maintaining the traditional musical focus of the Chorale in singing hymns, spirituals, sacred and classical music that help worshippers pray and sing.
The Chorale members shall support one another through Christian love, respect and hospitality and strive to continue their Christian commitment to the worshipping community in everything they do.