St. Paul's youth choristers perform in England

St. Paul's Episcopal Church (Cleveland Heights) choristers Anna Turner, Erin Ptacek, Cecilia Payne, Sam Mitchell, Faith Shook and Maddie Gillooly sang Choral Evensong at Ely Cathedral in England.

This summer, six young choristers from the children’s and youth choirs of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland Heights traveled to England to sing in a medieval cathedral.

Maddie Gillooly, Sam Mitchell, Cecilia Payne, Erin Ptacek, Faith Shook and Anna Turner joined choir members of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, in Akron, to sing at Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire from July 28 to Aug. 3. Four of the choristers—Gillooly, Mitchell, Payne and Turner—are Cleveland Heights residents. Ptacek lives in Lakewood, and Shook resides in South Euclid. 

Daniel Fortune, organist and choirmaster at St. Paul’s, Akron, extended an invitation to Richard Nelson, organist and children’s and youth choir director at St. Paul’s, Cleveland Heights, asking Nelson to identify young singers to help fill in treble voices for Akron’s men’s and youth choir trip. The six who went were able to commit to the required rehearsal schedule, travel timeline and fundraising.

The choristers rehearsed with the Akron choirs for a full year in preparation for singing at Ely Cathedral for a week of Choral Evensongs and a Sunday Eucharist service—part of the cathedral’s visiting choir program. One special performance took place in the Lady Chapel, the largest chapel attached to any British cathedral. Garrett Law, St. Paul’s (Akron) assistant organist and choirmaster, served as the tour’s accompanying organist. Law is also an undergraduate student at the Cleveland Institute of Music. 

Four of the six choristers were accompanied by their parents for some or all of the trip, but the two older singers, Payne and Gillooly, traveled overseas with only chaperones.

“At first I had my doubts on whether or not I would enjoy myself,” said Payne, a sophomore at Cleveland Heights High School, “but the kind community of St. Paul’s (Akron) really welcomed me and the other choristers in with open arms.” Payne celebrated her 15th birthday one day after the choir visited the Harry Potter Studios in London. She had the honor of opening the welcoming doors to Hogwarts School, from the original movie set of the blockbuster series.

“Before the trip started, I was a bit nervous,” Gillooly, a 14-year-old freshman at Cleveland Heights High School, said. “Even though we had tons of rehearsals together, I felt as though I didn't quite know the Akron choir kids. On one of the first days I sat next to one of them and struck up a conversation. Almost ironically, we became friends due to a shared music taste.”

In addition to rehearsing and performing in Ely daily, the choir traveled throughout southeastern England, including London and Cambridge, by coach, the London Underground (Tube), and on foot. 

“We saw so many beautiful churches and interesting historical sites such as the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace, all while spending time together and being a family,” said Gillooly. 

The Tower of London displayed a stunning art installation of ceramic red poppies pouring over the sides of the castle walls into its moat, commemorating the 100th anniversary of Britain’s involvement in World War I. Each poppy represents a British military fatality from the war. 

Other trip highlights included visits to Burghley House, touted as England’s greatest Elizabethan house; Hampton Court Palace, home of King Henry VIII and other royals; Warwick Castle, a 1,100-year-old medieval castle with live entertainment and demonstrations; Duxford Royal Air Force Museum, home to an original Concorde transatlantic jet; and the American Memorial Cemetery, an homage to the American Allied soldiers who fought in World War II.

The uniqueness of the trip was not lost on the younger travelers.

"It was such a great experience singing in Ely Cathedral at a young age," said Anna Turner, a sixth-grader at Roxboro Middle School. “I loved sightseeing. Westminster Abbey was amazing!”

Sam Mitchell, a sixth-grader at Ruffing Montessori School, summed up his experience, saying, “We were exhausted by the time we got home, but we loved every second of the trip!”

Turner and Mitchell, Middlefield Road neighbors, were accompanied by their younger siblings, Henry Turner, 9, and Luci Mitchell, 8, on many of the sightseeing outings.

The public is invited to hear the choristers sing together on Wednesday, Oct. 8, 6 p.m., at a Choral Evensong service at Trinity Cathedral, 2230 Euclid Ave., Cleveland. For more information, visit

Andrea C. Turner

Andrea C. Turner owns ACT One Communications, LLC, a marketing and communications consulting firm, and is the Heights Observer's e-news editor. She and her husband, Mark Turner, traveled to England to accompany their children on the choir tour.

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Volume 7, Issue 10, Posted 9:30 AM, 09.09.2014