Hymnal Festival and the Joy of Communal Singing

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Ray Cornils 12 Highlights from his work in Maine

Hymnal Festival and the Joy of Communal Singing

Few instruments are as impressive in their dexterity and sonic variety as the human voice. When many voices come together in song, it can be an exhilarating experience for both singers and listeners.

The joining of many voices into one is a musical highlight for Ray Cornils. He explains, “There is nothing more uniting than human beings joining in collective singing. It is a phenomenon that has been observed throughout the centuries in which individual differences are put aside as people unite in a collective effort.”

Communal singing has been an important part of the annual concert, specifically for classical Christmas carols such as Joy to the World, Angels We Have Heard on High, and Silent Night. But the tradition of communal singing and the Kotzschmar Organ go back much further.



In the early days of the Kotzschmar’s residency at Merrill Auditorium, the Municipal Organist would give a concert every Sunday afternoon, during which the concertgoers would join in a communal hymn sing. This tradition, which lasted for decades, inspired Mr. Cornils to revive it in the form of the Kotzschmar Hymn Festivals. In collaboration with the Portland Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, around 300 choir members from churches throughout Southern Maine formed the nucleus of the assembled audience for the first concert of the series. The concert hall filled with hymns of exultation, praise, reflection, and strength all lead by the wind of the Kotzschmar Organ.

An exceptionally memorable Hymn Festival for Mr. Cornils was when he collaborated with the Salvation Army New York Staff Band. Recalling the event, he said, “the combination of organ, choir, band, and audience was thrilling. It raised everyone’s spirits and brought us closer to the unspeakable force that animates us all.”