From Heavenly Harmony
With a Merry Noise
As a teenager, singing tenor in the chapel choir at Winchester College in the 1960s, Peter Phillips experienced a eureka moment that established the trajectory of his whole life. He and his fellow students were learning to sing "O clap your hands," an a cappella anthem for two choirs (with eight vocal parts) by Orlando Gibbons (1583–1625). "That was when I got it," Phillips told me not long ago in an interview. "That was when I fell in love with the style."
The style in question is the style of Renaissance choral music, specifically the intertwining of multiple vocal lines to create a harmonic tapestry in which the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. Peter Phillips was so taken by his experience of this remarkable artistic form that, while still an undergraduate, he organized a performance of Thomas Tallis's 40-part motet Spem in alium. That concert (in 1973) was effectively the birth of the Tallis Scholars, the ensemble that continues to perform in concert and in recording studios and that has done more than any other institution to help many listeners—young and not so young—fall in love with this style.
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Ken Myers is the host and producer of the Mars Hill Audio Journal. Formerly an arts editor with National Public Radio, he also served as editor of Eternity, the Evangelical monthly magazine, and This World, the quarterly predecessor to First Things. He also serves as music director at All Saints Anglican Church in Ivy, Virginia. He is a contributing editor for Touchstone.
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