The men and boys choir at Lexington's Christ Church Cathedral is such a draw that it once pulled in royal visitors who could have gone to see superhorse Secretariat instead.
In 1974 the choir welcomed Great Britain's Princess Margaret, the sister of Queen Elizabeth, to a church service and choir performance. She and her then- husband, Lord Snowdon, were on a four-day visit to attend the Kentucky Derby.
Addison Hosea, then the bishop of Lexington, wrote to the princess on March 26, 1974, that the choir worked "to familiarize this community and diocese with the great music of the Church, particularly that which has been performed in England during the past four centuries."
So the princess came to the church under tight security, prompting then- Assistant Police Chief Morris Carter to quip, "We're not going to put any officers with machine guns in choir robes."
That's the kind of charisma the choir has packed over its 50 years, which will be celebrated Jan. 27. The morning service will feature the Cathedral Choir, which includes members of the men's, boys' and girls' choirs. At 4 p.m., the Cathedral Choir will be joined by alumni.
Founded in 1796 and the oldest church west of the Allegheny Mountains, Christ Church Cathedral is something of a draw itself. Begun in 1963, the boys' and men's choirs have become such a tradition that family members recruit other family members.
At least one family hopes to make participation a three-generation tradition. Doug Geddes started in the choir as a 10-year-old. He was joined by his son D.J., in 1987. D.J.'s son Tripp is reported to be showing some adeptness with pitch and tone when singing his ABCs — but he's only a toddler.
Nonetheless, his grandfather would like him to consider joining the choir when he gets older.
"Our favorite piece, and we're going to be doing it at the reunion, is Parry's I Was Glad," said Geddes, 61, who is still a member of the choir and owns Geddes Fence Co.
The piece is formally called I Was Glad When They Said Unto Me, and is credited to British composer Charles Hubert Hastings Parry, who was influenced by Bach and Brahms.
Geddes said he considers his son fortunate to have grown up in the choir. "The way I look at it, it gave him two families."
One of Geddes' best memories is seeing his son sing a solo of Te Deum, a Latin hymn of praise, on a choir tour at Great Britain's Westminster Abbey. D.J. is now director of sales operations at Geddes Pool Co. in Lexington.
"It was a real high solo, and then everyone kind of sang along with him. It made the hairs stand up on the back of your neck."
The church choirs, i ncluding the girls' choir, also have notable members and alumni:
■ Amadeus Durbin was a chorister before and after he was part of the American Boy Choir and went to the American Boy Choir School in Princeton, N. J. Now an adult, he sings alto (countertenor) with the choir.
■ Abby Aiken Clay sang in the girls' choir and later married chorister Alex Clay. They have a 1-year-old daughter.
■ Elizabeth Gambet Dorsett was head chorister, and Clay Dorsett was deputy head chorister with D.J. Geddes. The two married Dec. 1, 2012.
■ WKYT anchor-reporter Elizabeth Dorsett had been a chorister at Christ Church Cathedral before becoming a founding member of the Wells Cathedral Girls Choir at Wells Cathedral School in Great Britain when she was in the seventh and eighth grades. She became head chorister at Wells.
Music assistant Kathleen Balling, whose two children have been in the church's choirs and whose husband, Erich Balling, is canon musician at the cathedral, said being involved in music has been rewarding for the group.
"We have a family business going," she said.
"We draw boys and girls from a dozen schools around Lexington, private and public," said Erich Balling. " ... The best part of that experience is that we're knitting together a community here that otherwise wouldn't exist. ... We have boys and girls who are coming here and bringing very distinct backgrounds to this work."
For him, a memorable experience was the choir's trip to Canterbury in 2007: "It was such a privilege to be an American choir in that storied tradition."
If you're a former member of the choir who would like to participate in the reunion, call the church at (859) 254-4497 or go to Ccclex.org.
If you go
Christ Church Cathedral 50th anniversary celebration for choir of men and boys
When: 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Jan. 27
11 a.m.: Cathedral Choir, featuring Sing We Merrily; Beati Quorum Via; Francis Jackson's Mass in G, Psalm 19: 1-8 Anglican Chant
4 p.m.: Cathedral Choir and alumni, featuring Eternal Light, T. Tertius Noble's Mag and Nunc in B minor, Charles Hubert Hastings Parry's I Was Glad, Gerre Hancock's Psalm 150 Chant
Where: Christ Church Cathedral, 166 Market St.
More information: (859) 254-4497. Ccclex.org