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Billett, Jesse

Bass singer and educator from Prescott, Ontario, Canada, whose dad was a bassist and drummer in a rock and roll band until devoting his time and talent to the church.  His granddad gave him bagpipes when he was only eight years of age and even forked out money for lessons.  He hooked up with the Spencerville Legion Pipe Band, but gravitated toward choral music and theatre in high school.

In 1997, he graduated from Grenville Christian College as the class valedictorian and then matriculated to Harvard.  He intended to study math, but the muse called again, and soon he was singing with The Din & Tonics, the Dudley Consort, and The Harvard University Choir.

From 1999, he served as music director for The Din & Tonics, and appeared on their albums, Freshly Squeezed and Platonic (on which he sang the eleventh track, “Round Midnight”).  The Din & Tonics celebrated their twentieth anniversary with a concert on 20th March at the Sanders Theatre.

In 2000, Jesse appeared on The Harvard University Choir’s yuletide offering, Christmas in the Busch.  He also impersonated the queen’s advisor in a November rendering of Antonio Cesti’s opera, Orontea, in the Fogg Museum courtyard.  In May 2002, he received the Hoopes Prize, which is awarded for research excellence.  It was a portent of things to come.

While on a tour of England with The Din & Tonics, he had a chance to see and hear the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, and was blown away by their performance.  He half-joked to his mentor, Murray Forbes Somerville, that he wanted to transfer.  The only thing is, Somerville didn’t take it as a joke.  He spent a good amount of time preparing Jesse for a very real transfer to the esteemed college.  His preparation included improving his ability to read music and singing at the daily morning prayer service.  This was a crucial combination in his development, because the choir was allotted a scant twenty minutes of rehearsal time, calling for spot-on sight-reading.

All of the hard work paid off and he was accepted into Cambridge, as a choral scholar, no less.  As far as Somerville knows, Jesse is the first American to have such an honour bestowed upon him.  In July 2002, he returned to his home country as a member of Collegium Regale, the singing choral scholars of Cambridge, who perform everything from classical music to The Beach Boys.  They entertained at his old school, Grenville Christian College, in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd.

On 5th November 2005, he was in the All Saints’ Church in Brixworth for their 23rd annual lecture, performing with fellow Cambridge student, Christopher Hodkinson.  He became a research fellow at St. John’s College in 2006, and on 6th May, participated in the Colloquium in Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic Conference, as a member of the Faculty of English.

He earned his Ph.D. partially on the strength of his dissertation, which concentrated on theretofore unedited portions of Anglo-Saxon, monastic books.  His far-reaching expertise and intellectual curiosity extends to arcane subjects such as Carolingian cantors and 13th-century, Franciscan liturgies.

Jesse is a member of the AHRC Interpreting Medieval Liturgy Network and appears on the VMP label recording of Coen Vermeeren’s Miserere Mei.

Harvard University Choir recordings
Adeste Fidelis (Frederick Oakeley/John Francis Wade)
Pro Organo CD 7134 (Christmas in the Busch)
Conductor – Murray Forbes Somerville
Harvard Baroque Chamber Orchestra
Director – Robert Mealy
The Harvard Brass
Soprano – Awet Andemichael
Bass – Mark Risinger
Organists – Erica Johnson and Edward Jones

Here he is talking about liturgical convergence as a path to Christian unity…

Sources:

  1. http://www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/2001/02.22/07-billett.html
  2. http://www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/1999/03.18/din.html
  3. http://www.rarb.org/reviews/230.html
  4. http://dins.com/the-dins/alumni/
  5. http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2000/12/1/orontea-the-triumph-of-love-pquality/
  6. http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2002/5/15/hoopes-prize-winners-announced-seventy-four-students/
  7. http://www.prescottjournal.com/2002_archives/07-10-02.html
  8. http://www.le.ac.uk/hi/news/BRIXWORTH_LECTURES/RankinBrixworth2005.htm
  9. http://www.zoominfo.com/people/Billett_Jesse_1230996819.aspx
  10. http://insulani.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default?orderby=updated#
  11. http://www.joh.cam.ac.uk/teaching_and_research/subject_information/history1/billett/
  12. http://cdbu.narod.ru/modern.html