Hurricane Gustav ripped through St. Paul Church in Bayou Goula with an angry roar. Its screaming winds sent the steeple crashing through the roof and onto the ground. It seemed like a death knell for this post-Civil War structure, one of a dwindling number of 19th-century churches still standing in Louisiana.
But thanks to the grassroots organization Friends of St. Paul Church, this Carpenter Gothic-style building not far from Nottoway was saved from demolition, and its original beauty is being resurrected bit by historically accurate bit. With restoration efforts 80% complete, the Iberville Parish community will raise a joyful noise on December 15 as the Baton Rouge Early Vocal Ensemble (BREVE) brings its repertoire of Renaissance and Baroque music to the 1871-built church.
“This music goes really well in a sacred space,” says BREVE founder and artistic director William Plummer. “When you’re singing in a church like this, you’re singing music in the space it was intended for. You can’t get that in a concert hall.”
Founded in 2010, BREVE’s mission is to make sure the music of the 15th through 18th centuries is not forgotten. The group puts on performances during Lent and Christmastime, and many of those concerts take place in historic churches like St. Paul that are being brought back to life.
“Our music kind of honors restoration projects like this one,” Plummer says. “When people hear it, it speaks to them personally. And there’s the added benefit of seeing the architectural beauty of the space while listening to the architectural beauty of the music. Having that visual along with the aural experience is pretty special.”
The St. Paul concert will serve as a fundraiser for the restoration; donations will be accepted at the door. BREVE’s a cappella program will include familiar carols as well as rarely heard centuries-old songs like “Gaudete! Christus est natus” and “Joseph lieber, Joseph mien.”
“The whole goal here is not to feel like you’re in a history lesson,” Plummer says. “This is living, breathing music. And I have faith that it’s going to sound incredible.”
Learn more about BREVE and this concert at facebook.com/batonrougeearlyvocalensemble. Find out more about the St. Paul restoration project at friendsofstpaulchurch.org. And after the holiday rush, check out BREVE’s upcoming Lenten season performances at St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Paincourtville on March 15 at 4 p.m., Our Lady Queen of Angels in Opelousas on March 22 at 2 p.m., and Trinity Episcopal here in Baton Rouge on March 29 at 5 p.m.