Kingston, Jamaica – The congregation at Kingston’s Holy Trinity Cathedral will have something extra to celebrate at their services next Sunday.
They can treasure the favourable comparison of the acoustics of their church building, to the experience at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Dr. Sheila McDonald Harleston, director of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) Choir, made the comparison as her choir paid a unique visit to the Holy Trinity Cathedral on Monday, May 18, while on a Jamaica National Building Society (JNBS) sponsored tour of the island, lasting from May 16-22.
“The acoustics are breathtaking… and I just love the reverb,” Dr. Harleston stated, after directing the choir within the empty Cathedral. “This is the closest I have heard, to Notre Dame.”
One of the most famous cathedrals in the world, Notre-Dame de Paris is renowned not only for its Gothic architecture, but also for its outstanding acoustics. Notre Dame is the top tourist attraction in France, holding weekly recitals that have a central place in concert tours of the country.
“The cathedral we visited last year in Guadeloupe was wonderful, but this is completely different,” the director pointed out. “It is so angelic… heavenly. I could stay here all day.”
An Associate Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Dr. Harleston was honored in the seventh, eighth and ninth editions of Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers. She has also served as a Regional Director for the 105 Voices of History, a choir consisting of representation from the 105 historically black colleges and universities.
Coming from a historically black university, the choir performs secular and sacred music, mainly at universities, schools, and churches. In addition to performing in France, they have also previously performed in England, Germany, several Caribbean islands, and major cities on the eastern seaboard of the United States of America.
Noted as one of the most beautiful churches in the Caribbean, the Holy Trinity Cathedral, with its murals and stained glass panels, is listed among Kingston’s main tourist attractions, but its acoustics have generally not been celebrated.
“You just don’t hear these acoustics too often,” Dr. Harleston said, acknowledging that it could be somewhat “tricky” for faster paced music.
Some of the 28 member UMES choir literally gasped in astonishment, as they entered the neo-byzantine Holy Trinity Cathedral, on a tour conducted by Keeble Allen, the property manager, who outlined the history of its construction in 1911 and its more recent restoration.
The choir members made use of their cellphone cameras as they experimented with the sound effects from singing directly under the centre point of the 85 foot high copper dome, to fanning out to the walls of the cathedral, and on to the first floor balcony.
“It is magnificent,” Dr. Harleston declared, “just beautiful.”