The Choir Invisible


SATB choir, organ, harp, percussion (vibraphone, suspended symbal)



South Bend Chamber Singers
Nancy Menk, conductor

South Bend Chamber Singers
Nancy Menk, director
In memory of Georgina H. Joshi

Program Notes

The Choir Invisible opens with the soprano singing the Latin words of Cicero, accompanied by the distant sounds of harp and vibraphone. There is a mystery, a certain plangent quality to the opening chorale; a searching. This yields to the quiet sounds of the organ – a music of the spheres– heralding an unseen choir. The soprano enters with the text of Elliot’s poem, accompanied by the whispered Latin text and a murmured ostinato from the choir: “O may I join the choir invisible…”. This idea of the chorus giving voice to the “choir invisible” is central to the piece. The Choir Invisible was written in memory of a talented young singer, Georgina Joshi.  The choice of a soprano solo is a tribute to Georgina.

As the work unfolds, the choral texture becomes richer, more present. There is an assurity of communion: the soprano, the journeyer, is accepted into the eternal choir whose beneficence guides the living. Towards the conclusion, there are echoes of the opening chorale, but these shadows lead to an ever-brightening transcendence. The final soprano ascent to a sustained high Bb closes the piece “on high.”

The Choir Invisible recognizes the intersection of Elliot’s opening quotation of Cicero ” to recognize the words of Cicero and Elliot’s own words which ask us to enter into a realm where we, with Cicero, ponder that “long time when we shall not be.” Elliot’s numinous answer is that we join with an invisible choir of all humanity which in turn guides the living to greater and more humane acts, if we will only listen.




Longum illud tempus, cum non ero, magis me movet, quam hoc exiguum. (Cicero)
(That long (infinite) time when I shall not be influences me more than this existence.)

Oh, may I join the choir invisible
Of those immortal dead who live again
In minds made better by their presence; Live
In pulses stirred to generosity,
In deeds of daring rectitude, in scorn
For miserable aims that end with self,
In thoughts sublime that pierce the night like stars,
And with their mild persistence urge men’s search
To vaster issues. So to live is heaven:
To make undying music in the world,
Breathing a beauteous order that controls
With growing sway the growing life of man.
So we inherit that sweet purity…
[And] discords, quenched by meeting harmonies,
Die in the large and charitable air,
And all our rarer, better, truer self…
Divinely human, raising worship so
To higher reverence more mixed with love.
That better self shall live till human time
Shall fold its eyelids, and the human sky
Be gathered like a scroll within the tomb…
…May I reach
That purest heaven, be to other souls
The cup of strength in some great agony,
Enkindle generous ardor, feed pure love,
Beget the smiles that have no cruelty,
Be the sweet presence of a good diffused,
And in diffusion ever more intense!
So shall I join the choir invisible
Whose music is the gladness of the world

–George Elliot (Mary Ann Evans)