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Fifth Avenue Famous:The Extraordinary Story of Music at St. Patrick's Cathedral [Kindle Edition]

Salvatore Basile , Most Reverend Timothy M. Dolan, Archbishop o York , Timothy M. Dolan , Most Reverend Timothy M. Dolan Archbishop of New York
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Victorian-era divas who were better paid than some corporate chairmen, the boy soprano who grew up to give Bing Crosby a run for his money, music directors who were literally killed by the job-the plot of a Broadway show or a dime-store novel? No, the unique and colorful history of St. Patrick's Cathedral.Since its inception more than 125 years ago, the Cathedral Choir has been considered the gold standard of liturgical music-an example of artistic excellence that has garnered worldwide renown. Yet behind this stately facade lies an intriguing mix of New York history, star secrets, and high-level office politics that has made the choir not only a source of prime musical entertainment but also fodder for tabloids and periodicals across the nation. In this unique and engaging book, readers are treated to a treasure trove of vibrant characters, from opera stars from around the world to the thousands of volunteer singers who brought their own hopes and dreams-and widely varying musical abilities-to the fabled choir.As the city's preeminent Catholic institution, St. Patrick's Cathedral has served one of the most dynamic and diverse communities in the world for well over a century. It has been intimately entwined with the history of New York: a major center of culture in the nation's cultural capital. The Cathedral Choir provides an extraordinary and largely overlooked insight into this history, and in Salvatore Basile's pitch-perfectexploration it becomes a microcosm for the larger trends, upheavals, and events that have made up the history of the city, the nation, and even the world. Basile also illuminates the choir's important role in New Yorkers' responses to some of the most momentous events of the past one hundred years, from world wars to world's fairs, from the sinking of the Titanic to 9/11, as well as its central role in the rituals and celebrations that have made life in the city more joyful-and bearable-for millions of people over the decades.While the phrase church choirusually evokes the image of a dowdy group of amateurs, the phrase Choir of St. Patrick's Cathedralhas always meant something quite different. Salvatore Basile's splendid history shows just how different, and just how spectacular, the music of St. Patrick's is.

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Editorial Reviews


". . . Filled with facts that add to the legend of the Cathedral."-Handing on the Faith

"The story of the music at St. Patrick's Cathedral has now been told in a new and richly detailed book."-Catholic New York

"This fascinating chronicle is not only a history of arguably the most visible Catholic church in the world, but indeed all New York's colorful church music landscape, from the earliest recorded days to the present. Basile's very colorful style makes what could easily be a dry subject into a most enjoyable ride through thick and thin times, grand occasions, countless famous personalities, and of course the ever-present church politics. A must read for any American Catholic church musician!"-Scott Turkington, Director, The Church Music Association of America

"Mr. Basile's tome bulges with facts, anecdotes and legend, beautifully woven into a fine narrative covering the period from 1879 to 2010. Thoroughly researched, well documented and wonderfully written, Basile provides the reader with continuous amazement and hilarity. You will not find a better opportunity to 'read between the lines' than in this book."-McNeil Robinson, Chair of the Organ Department, Manhattan School of Music, Director of Music, Church of the Holy Trinity (Roman Catholic)

"Fifth Avenue Famous: The Extraordinary Story of Music at St. Patrick's Cathedral (May, $29.95) by Salvatore Basile examines the 125-year history of its choir."-Publishers Weekly

"Basile's writing style and effortless wit projects New York City's civic, musical and ecclesiastical spirit as only a New Yorker would view it."-Stephen Rapp, Director of Music, St. John's Lutheran Church, Stamford, CT

"Salvatore Basile offers a well-written, engaging history of one of the most important churches in New York City, entwining its narrative with a greater one that encompasses elements of the history of media, culture, and religion on a national scale. He also introduces readers to significant church musicians whose lives and music resonated beyond the walls of the St. Patrick's to liturgical arenas as far away as St. Peter's in Rome."-Denise Gallo, Head of Acquisitions and Processing Section Music Division, The Library of Congress

About the Author

Salvatore Basile is Cathedral Music Historian as well as a soloist and Senior Cantor of the Cathedral Choir at St. Patrick's Cathedral. He has performed in numerous venues and is a music historian with a vast collection of period recordings.

Product Details

  • File Size: 2027 KB
  • Print Length: 325 pages
  • Publisher: Fordham University Press; 1 edition (April 15, 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,103,048 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a fascinating read November 23, 2010
This is a fascinating book. I couldn't put it down and read it in two days. If you have the slightest interest in NYC history, church music, choral singing, singers, or Roman Catholic liturgy, you should definitely buy Fifth Avenue Famous. One thing in particular I loved about this book is that it is written by someone who obviously knows from direct experience all the little quirks of professional church musicians and the way they work. I gained a new understanding of the various papal pronouncements on church music and how they have affected the musicians "in the trenches" throughout the 20th century. Having been in this field myself since 1978, so much of what iss described in these pages rings true; some of the more recent events described touched me personally, as I was an Associate Organist at another major east coast cathedral at the time and met one or two of the people mentioned in the last few chapters. Basile's painstaking research into the life and work of men like Pietro Yon and James Ungerer sent me to the file cabinets to search for their compositions, and I have plans to perform some long-neglected mass settings this spring as a result. One word of warning, though: if you are someone looking for lots of detailed information about the organs of St. Patrick's, you will not find what you are looking for in this book. The author certainly gives enough information to satisfy most readers, but he is not an organist and does not spend page after page describing pipe scalings and wind pressures. That being said, an appendix with a stoplist or two might have been nice, but that would have been only a pleasant bonus. There are many fascinating photographs included. Fifth Avenue Famous is entertaining, edifying, and absolutely worth buying for yourself and for your friends with similar interests.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Fifth Avenue Famous: The Extraordinary Story of Music at St Patrick's Cathedral offers a fine history of one of the most important churches in New York City, blending in a history of church music as a whole and telling of singers, music directors, and emerging religious trends and technological changes alike. The stories here offer an in-depth look at the history, choral music and evolution of music at St. Patrick's and makes for a fine collection documenting the cathedral's evolution and importance - a 'must' for any New York or spirituality or music shelf.
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4.0 out of 5 stars History of the most famous church in the whole USA July 17, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Basile did a decent job of this history and I'm glad to have it.

It had a few grammar and spelling errors in it, but every book seems to now-a-days.

Glad I have it!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fine history of NY Church Music Scene March 6, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As a former member of the Boy Choristers (1962 - 1966) at St. Pat's and living with my Dad being in the Men's choir from 1950 until the time of Courboin's retirement, AND "church hopping" on Sunday afternoons while in college to go to organ recitals, this book has now given me a well-rounded complete history of St. Pat's. But, not only St. Pat's. Mr. Basile also gives great insight as to why the music program had its ups and downs and why there are so many churches in that neighborhood.
Since singing in that great space, watching Dr. Courboin improvise at the organ console during communion and getting yelled at for yawning during Midnight Mass have been my inspiration for my life in music, I am so grateful for this book. I'm sure there are thousands of people that have been "taken" by St. Pat's into a life-long love of music, whatever the genre that speaks to each of them.
It is also for anyone involved in church music. It supports my belief that the church musician is the unsung hero, not the second class citizen, because we all do it for love.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars FAR MORE THAN JUST MUSIC HISTORY July 3, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I must say that this book amazed me. I was expecting the usual dry history of a well-known institution, but "Fifth Avenue Famous" proved to be a page turner. A whole cross section of New York history, a lot of it the juicy read-between-the-lines variety, with music woven in and out of it.

The author begins in the nineteenth century before St. Pat's was even built, and unveils the whole crazy music scene in Old New York and the equally crazy characters who inhabited it. As the story accelerates, we learn about the men who were picked to make music at the landmark cathedral and the reader is treated to a look behind the scenes that provides interesting tidbits while carefully skirting actual scandal. That's a neat trick, because with these guys, scandal seems to hover just below the surface. Some of this stuff was flying around the New York rumor mill for years, and now any careful reader in Chattanooga can pick up on "secret affections", alcohol problems, battles with the media, and some really, really dirty office politics. There's also a wild section about one pope's decision a century ago to fire female singers from every church choir everywhere, which made for an international media circus.

"Fifth Avenue Famous" strikes that rare balance between gossip-mongering and a boring list of facts, and the author balances a wicked sense of fun with a real sympathy for his characters. The book's research is solid, and its facts are presented so entertainingly that casual readers as well as career musicians, and even non-catholics!, will find plenty to interest them.
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More About the Author

(Visit at
Salvatore Basile has worn many hats--as an actor, dog walker, furniture refinisher, opera singer, produce trimmer, magazine columnist, decorative painter, and (for exactly one night) private cook. Now he writes.
A native of Syracuse, he came to New York as a refugee from the Boston Conservatory and tried the theater, landing in the original company of the Off-Broadway musical "Hijinks." A season with a Gilbert and Sullivan troupe led to a singing career and performances of over 90 opera and concert roles, including three world premieres. In between, he entered the writing field with a three-year stint for Classical Singer magazine, penning the column "Things I Promised Not to Tell."
A call from St. Patrick's Cathedral for a last-minute replacement led to his singing a single concert. That led to a full-time position with the Cathedral Choir and its cantorial staff. That led to an appointment as the Cathedral's first Music Historian. And THAT led to "Fifth Avenue Famous."
It's his first book.


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