The Harvard University Choir existed informally until it was officially ratified by a constitution in 1834. At the time, even this “official” group conducted themselves pretty informally, reading or sleeping during the Morning Prayers service until it was their turn to do something. That all changed in 1862 when John Knowles Paine became the first choirmaster and organist and whipped them into shape.
The choir is famed for its Christmas concerts, which started in 1910 under the direction of Archibald T. Davison, who asked the women’s choir at Radcliffe to participate in the event, an invitation extended by Professor G. Wallace Woodworth, who succeeded him. In 1958, John R. Ferris integrated female choristers into the mix on a permanent basis, and his tenure lasted thirty-two years.
Dr. Murray Forbes Somerville took over in 1990, and he exposed the HUC to an international audience by adding recording and touring to their agenda. In 2003, Edward Elwyn Jones became the seventh university choirmaster and organist.
The HUC is a professional choir, and its members are paid a stipend and have lent their voices to a variety of recordings, including Alleluia, Carmina Burana, Carols from the Yard, Christmas in the Busch, Lo, There is Light!, Rorem: Works for Choir and Organ, and Sing the Glory!. Some of their annual Christmas concerts have been captured on CD, as well. The 100th Carols Service took place in the fall of 2009. It is the oldest such service in the United States.
In the spring of 2010, the Harvard University Choir regaled audiences with one of the grandest of liturgical masterpieces, Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. John’s Passion”.
The Harvard University Choir recordings
Adeste Fidelis (Frederick Oakeley/John Francis Wade)
Pro Organo CD 7134 (Christmas in the Busch)
Harvard Baroque Chamber Orchestra
Director – Robert Mealy
The Harvard Brass
Soprano – Awet Andemicael
Bass – Mark Risinger
Conductor – Murray Forbes Somerville
Organists – Erica Johnson and Edward Jones