By Stephen McKinley
A book-lined corner of the British Consulate in New York is an odd place to hear Belfast’s St Anne’s Cathedral Boy’s Choir.
But on their recent tour of New York City and Albany, the choir attended a reception at the Consulate and sang a few pieces under harsh fluorescent lights to a small but delighted audience. Next to them, on a wall was a black and white photograph of a quizzical-looking Winston Churchill, who appeared to tilt his ear in the direction of the songsters.
Acoustic conditions had been better earlier in the day, when the choir sang during a lunchtime Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral, as well as at other churches, both Protestant and Catholic.
The boy’s choir had their last gig at the Cathedral of St John the Divine on Sunday, July 8, before flying home on Monday.
"Normally we go on tour to somewhere exotic, like Portsmouth," said Canon Raymond Fox wryly, acknowledging that the New York trip was proving to be exciting. Canon Fox of St Anne’s Cathedral was the tour leader and coordinator. He spoke warmly of the boys’ efforts on what proved to be a sometimes arduous trip — none of the visitors were prepared for the New York summer heat, and on the trip to Albany, had to contend with broken air conditioning on their bus.
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That aside, the life of a chorister is a serious commitment itself, said Fox.
"The boys come in at about 8 years of age," he said. "They go through to about 14, or until their voice breaks. We have about 25 boys from different schools around Belfast, from both religious traditions. They have to practice Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, every week of the year."
Some of the choir’s hosts had warned the Canon that turnout for the recitals could be low, because of the summer months. Not so, said Fox.
"At St Patrick’s Cathedral we had a great crowd, and afterward we chatted with people from all over Ireland — Newry, Castledawson, Sligo, Kilkenny," he said.
At the Consulate reception, Deputy Consul General Duncan Taylor welcomed the choristers, and Canon Fox responded by pointing out that the press release announcing the choir’s visit was now an historical document.
"It’s signed by someone who used to be first minister of Northern Ireland, someone called David Trimble," he said, referring to the fact that Trimble had resigned his position by the time the choir had reached New York. "And his henchman, Seamus Mallon. We also want to present to the Consulate two Belfast teddy bears, which in the spirit of ecumenism we have named Patrick and Anne. These were given to me by one Sammy Wilson, in his very last act as Lord Mayor of Belfast."
Wilson was replaced as lord mayor by Jim Rodgers in June.
Deputy Consul Taylor told the choir, "You are helping to represent Northern Ireland in a positive light in a way that neither we nor journalists can ever do."