Choir’s debut performance set for tonight in Little Rock

Colin MacKnight, director of music at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Little Rock, is shown in this March 16, 2023 file photo. MacKnight has launched a 16-voice professional choir, Trinitas, which will hold its first-ever concert this evening, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Cary Jenkins)

Colin MacKnight is not only a highly acclaimed organist and director of music at Little Rock's Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, he's also a tenacious talent scout, scouring Central Arkansas for its finest singers.

The results of his search will be on display this evening at 7 o'clock in the capital city, when the Trinitas ensemble makes its debut at St. Edward Catholic Church.

MacKnight, who personally selected each of Trinitas' 16 members, is the group's founder, director and primary fundraiser.

It's the city's "only fully-professional choir," he said. "I don't know of any others in the state," he added.

MacKnight, who came to Trinity just over two years ago, says he's always on the lookout for gifted people.

"As much as I can, when I hear about a new, good choral singer in the area, I usually invite them to come sing with us at Trinity. By doing that, I've gotten to know the people in the choral scene pretty well, I think, and gotten to get to know a lot of really great singers -- both inside and outside of Trinity," he said.

Seven ensemble members came from the cathedral; the other nine are from elsewhere.

"Some of them don't have church jobs, but they're all really, really, strong choral singers," MacKnight said.

Tonight's performance will showcase their vocal abilities.

"It's a really ambitious all-a capella program, a lot of music that just doesn't get done much because it, frankly, can't be done much because it takes a really, really elite ensemble to be able to execute," he said.

Given the music that will be performed, St. Edward is a particularly appropriate venue.

"It's mostly sacred music. There's one secular piece on the program," MacKnight said. "We've got about 400 years of work covered."

The ensemble will perform "Laudibus in Sanctis" by William Byrd, a former organist at Lincoln Cathedral, roughly 150 miles north of London, and a gentleman of the Chapel Royal; and "When David Heard" by Thomas Weelkes, a former organist at Chichester Cathedral, about 80 miles southwest of London, not far from the English Channel. Both men died in 1623.

Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry's "Songs of Farewell," six choral motets written during World War I, will be the centerpiece, accounting for more than half of the music. The author of "Lord, Let Me Know My End" composed the music as hundreds of thousands of British service members were dying; his own death came on Oct. 7, 1918, five weeks before Armistice Day -- Nov. 11.

Other pieces include Anton Bruckner's "Ave Maria," Charles Wood's "Hail, gladdening light," Caroline Shaw's "And the swallow" (based on Psalm 84) and Charles Villiers Stanford's "The Blue Bird."

St. Edward, which was built by German immigrants, is one of the city's oldest churches, and it's one of MacKnight's favorite places to hold concerts.

"It has the best acoustics in the region, I think, for this type of music, but it's also ... an incredibly gorgeous church. I would say, without exaggeration, it's one of the prettiest churches in America that I've seen from the inside. You have to go in to realize how special it is," he said.

While the first performance is this evening, MacKnight is already looking ahead.

"My hope is that this ensemble can continue to offer maybe two programs a year -- one in the fall and [one in the] spring or something like that. But it's going to be sort of a constant fundraising effort," he said. "I got the donations together to put on a first concert, but future performances will depend on on our ticket sales and [finding] more donors. It'll be a little bit of a hand to mouth kind of an operation."

If you go: Trinitas will hold its first concert at 7 tonight at St. Edward Catholic Church, 801 Sherman St. Tickets can be bought at the door: $15 for adults; $10 for students.