From Medieval To Modern

New York Polyphony
Early Music America

By Christian Carey

On January 21, 2017, New York City’s Church of Saint Mary the Virgin was the site of a New York Polyphony concert on Miller Theatre’s Early Music Series. While the organization’s other series generally are housed at Columbia University, Miller Theatre has used alternate venues, often Saint Mary’s, to feature early-music performances. It is a gorgeous space, both visually and acoustically, featuring a star-laden domed ceiling, marble columns, and statuary everywhere. On the night in question, celebrating the tenth anniversary of Miller’s Early Music Series, New York Polyphony sang selections by Palestrina and the world premiere of Ivan Moody’s Vespers Sequence.

Saint Mary’s has served as more to the group than a site for recent Miller Theatre performances. “We met as freelance singers in New York City primarily in the small nine-voice professional choir at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Times Square—affectionately called ‘Smoky Mary’s’ for its abundant incense,” says Geoffrey Williams, the group’s countertenor, whose New York Polyphony colleagues are tenor Steven Caldicott Wilson, baritone Christopher Dylan Herbert, and bass Craig Phillips. “Because the choir was so small, we knew each other’s voices and personalities really well, and we would occasionally say to one another over a beer after services, ‘we should do this more than just Sundays and Feast Days.’”

Williams was approached in the spring of 2006 by Malcolm Bruno, a record producer with whom he had worked. Bruno, who has produced Carols for Christmas for Public Radio International, was creating a program of medieval mystery plays called Footprints to Paradise and looking for music and musicians to accompany the recorded actors performing the ancient plays. “Since we had already talked about starting a group, I took this chance to jump into assembling our quartet for a project,” said Williams.

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