The Trinitas ensemble — the first ensemble of its kind in Little Rock — made its debut during its Sept. 23 concert at St. Edward Church in Little Rock.
The 16-member ensemble, composed of elite singers from central Arkansas, featured three singers from the Cathedral of St. Andrew.
Dr. Colin MacKnight, director of music at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Little Rock and founder of the ensemble, moved to Little Rock from New York City two years ago. A lifelong musician, MacKnight obtained bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from Julliard and held a number of positions at Episcopal churches in New York.
“I quickly learned that Little Rock punches above its weight when it comes to cultural and artistic offerings,” MacKnight said. “But I noticed that there wasn’t a professional chamber choir that could tackle really substantive and ambitious choral repertoire, and so I wanted to fill that gap.”
MacKnight began researching the choral organizations of cities comparable in size to Little Rock, in addition to donors willing to fund the ensemble.
Trinitas — which is Latin for trinity and is a nod to the group’s origins at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral — will perform Christian and classical music twice a year.
“This ensemble is part of the music ministry of Trinity Cathedral, but it’s just funded through donations and ticket sales,” MacKnight said. “I was lucky to find an anonymous donor who was generous enough to give us enough to get started.”
With funding for the first performance solved, MacKnight began to scout talent in central Arkansas to hand pick performers who measured up to his expectations. MacKnight had several singers in mind he had met through musical ministry at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, but he had also met several singers through the Cathedral’s director of music and organist, Beau Baldwin. MacKnight said he and Baldwin often exchanged choir members if someone was ill or out of town, even covering for one another.
“Beau has frequently played here for me, and I’ve frequently covered Masses for him at St. Andrew,” MacKnight said. “So outside of Trinity, I think the singers that I know best are his singers at St. Andrew.”
MacKnight hand picked singers from the Cathedral choir in July to fill in musical parts he was missing in the ensemble.
The 16-ensemble singers, with two singers for each part, come from diverse backgrounds, ranging from their early 20s to their late 60s. Some are professional musicians, while others have non-musical occupations. Two of the three Catholic singers are in the choir at the Cathedral of St. Andrew, while the third is MacKnight’s fiancée.
One choir member, Samantha Stover, is a parishioner at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Little Italy and is a Soprano 1. She has been singing at the Cathedral on and off since 2019 and was involved in the music ministry at her own parish.
“Colin heard me cantor at some of the Masses he had played for,” Stover said. “He invited me and the other ensemble members to formally join in July.”
Another Cathedral singer and ensemble member, Josiah Wheeler, sings “everything from Tenor 1 to Bass 2.” Wheeler, an Episcopalian, has worked closely with the Cathedral of St. Andrew, as well as his home parish of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral.
“I am already a section leader at Trinity, so Colin emailed me and told me he was starting this professional ensemble,” Wheeler said. “He said that we would have the first rehearsal the week before the concert, so we would have to know our music before meeting the other singers. I was excited for the challenge and that I was asked at all. I was one of the two Bass 2 singers, the other being Matt (Lyon) from the St. Andrew's choir.”
Lyon, a baritone who sings Bass 2, has been a cantor and choir member at the Cathedral of St. Andrew since 2017. Lyon said he “did not hesitate to accept the invite” from MacKnight to join the ensemble.
“I have always been a fan of singing choral music with a small or large ensemble,” Lyon said. “I had the pleasure of being requested by Colin … when he informed us of a professional chamber choir that he was organizing in Little Rock.”
MacKnight said he intends for the ensemble to have two performances a year, one in the fall and one in the spring. With ensemble members being invited in July, the turnaround time for rehearsals until the September performance just six weeks after the ensemble was assembled was ambitious.
“I was a little nervous about the ambitious rehearsal schedule, but it worked out fine,” Stover said. “We had the Saturday before our performance, and then Monday, Tuesday and Friday before, and then we performed on Saturday, so we had four rehearsals. We had to come with all of the music known.”
The ensemble performed 12 pieces at St. Edward Church in front of a crowd of 215 people. The hour-long acapella concert featured pieces of music spanning over 400 years, including “Ave Maria,” “Laudibus in Sanctis” and six Songs of Farewell composed by Charles Hubert Hastings Parry.
“St. Edward's has amazing acoustics for acapella singing, and the final chord of a piece can ring for four seconds or more after we stop singing,” Wheeler said.
For Lyon, singing in front of the altar was a change of scenery.
“It was a treat to sing in front of the altar at St. Edward,” Lyon said. “My past experience singing at St. Edward was as a soloist or choir member — mainly singing from the choir loft. But to experience singing down front was very exciting.”
“We had a great turnout for our audience; St. Edward’s was mostly full,” Stover said. “The acoustic space was really great for that performance … it’s so easy to sing in there.”
MacKnight was also pleased with the concert and hopes to hold more in the future.
“I was thrilled, because I had no idea what to expect,” MacKnight said. “I’ve never really started a new ensemble from scratch before. … I think in an ideal world we would get together for two concerts a year. None of this is certain, but depending on our income, maybe adding instruments to the program. There’s so much great, really ambitious choral music that we could do with an organ.”
“I had a lot of fun singing with this group, and I can't wait to find out what Colin has planned for our next performance,” Wheeler said.
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