The Long Red Line
As University Choirmaster Robbe Delcamp prepares to put down his baton, we take a look inside the program he’s built over 37 years.
By Jim Turrell
This spring, Robert Delcamp, professor of music and University organist and choirmaster, will retire. Since 1978, he has directed the University Choir, a diverse ensemble of students from a variety of backgrounds and majors, united by their love for music and their commitment to a demanding schedule of rehearsals and performances. The choir sings each Sunday the College is in session at All Saints’ Chapel, offers the annual services of Lessons and Carols, and has made 12 tours of English cathedrals, singing the service of choral Evensong in more than 27 cathedrals, abbeys, and parish churches.
Delcamp looks back with satisfaction on the program he has built, citing Lessons and Carols and choral Evensong services, which he started directing in 1978, as two high points. “Evensong is the quintessential Anglican service,” he says. “It’s not done much anymore, and we’ve kept it alive here.”
But it’s the weekly Sunday services that bring Delcamp the most pride. “It’s a lot of Sundays,” he says. “I look back and think of all the music we’ve done and the number of students. West Point has the long gray line, and I’ve got the long red line of choristers, stretching to infinity.”
During this, Delcamp’s final semester at Sewanee, Jim Turrell has been documenting some of the University Choir’s rehearsals and performances to put together this photo essay.
The Rev. Canon Dr. James Turrell is the Norma and Olan Mills Professor of Divinity and associate dean for academic affairs at the School of Theology. He also happens to be a great photographer.
William Stokes, C’16, gets his music ready for a weekday rehearsal in the choir room. Stokes is an organ student and often plays on Sunday mornings.
Robbe Delcamp leads an evening rehearsal of tenors and basses.
William Stokes sings with the tenors and basses during a weeknight rehearsal. The senior has sung in the choir all four of his years at Sewanee.
On Sunday morning, the choir rehearses in All Saints’ Chapel before the 11 a.m. liturgy. Students make a significant time commitment when they join the choir, with weekday rehearsals and Sunday morning rehearsal and services each week.
Anna Burklin, C’18, practices the psalm. At each Sunday’s 11 a.m. liturgy, the choir will sing the psalm to Anglican chant, two anthems (at the offertory and at communion), as well as leading the congregation’s singing of the hymns and service music. The sheer volume of music learned and sung over the course of the school year is considerable.
Choir members take a brief break in the vesting room after rehearsal and before the liturgy.
After rehearsal, Aidan Farr, C'17, takes a break in the vesting room to check his email.
Exhausted choir members wait for the cue to line up in procession. Choir members participate in all aspects of student life, but they don’t have the option of sleeping in on Sunday mornings. Sometimes, even youthful energy runs out.
The choir moves out on a gray winter day in Sewanee.
The choir leads the singing of the processional hymn during the 11 a.m. liturgy.
Simon Parker, C’18, joins in the singing of a hymn.
Suzanne Herrin, C’19, (left) and Alyson Carr, C’17, (right) sing an anthem during the Sunday liturgy. Membership in the choir is open to any undergraduate student, and Delcamp works with any and all who seek to join.
Delcamp’s arms are a blur as he conducts the choir during the Sunday morning service.
On Sunday morning, the choir rehearses in All Saints’ Chapel before the 11 a.m. liturgy.
The choir rehearses an anthem by William Croft (1678-1727). The choir’s repertoire includes works by great composers of the past as well as new compositions, some commissioned specifically for the University Choir.
The choir processes out after a Sunday Eucharist. The next day, the process of rehearsal and preparation starts all over again, as choristers begin to learn the music for the following Sunday.
Cat Kline, C ’18, pulls on her surplice in the vesting room after rehearsal.
In addition to the Eucharist each Sunday, the choir also sings choral Evensong on the first Sunday of the month. Here, Delcamp confers with the officiant, the Rev. Dr. Julia Gatta, before an Evensong that will include visiting choristers from Nashville.
Delcamp conducts the choir in an introit sung at the beginning of Evensong. In England, many college chapels offer Evensong weekly. Delcamp long wished to do the same in Sewanee, but with an all-volunteer choir, the time demands would be too great.