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The Cathedral and Diocese of Leeds Expands Its Musical Outreach Yet Again

Some five years ago I wrote an article describing the fantastic work in the vineyard of Sacred Music undertaken by the Leeds Cathedral Music Program, the Diocese of Leeds (England) and its Schools Singing Programme. At that time, the program weekly reached 3,500 students around the diocese through its music classes and choral tuition. Today, that number has surpassed 6,000 students, and from the original program has now developed the National Singing Programme, which encompasses all of the Catholic dioceses in England, Scotland and Wales.

Leeds Cathedral Choir and Music Program
This incredible program developed out of a simple initiative of the diocese’s bishop in the late 1980s. The following excerpt from the cathedral choir’s website reports:

“In the 1960’s, a narrow reading of the documents from the Second Vatican Council brought about a general devastation of Catholic church music, putting an end to many traditional boys’ choirs throughout Europe. In Leeds, the Cathedral Choir was disbanded in 1968. In the following two decades limited resources were devoted to music: the organ eventually fell into disrepair and only a small mixed voice adult choir sang at mass. In 1988, Bishop Konstant decided to reverse the tide of decay and lay new foundations with the appointment of a full-time Director of Music for the Diocese. The new Director of Music was to recruit from any school in the Diocese to meet Bishop Konstant’s requirement for a boys’ choir of 24 voices. Bishop Konstant’s backing and practical support laid the groundwork for the rapid development of the present choral programme under the direction of Benjamin Saunders since 2002.”

What began as a command to recruit and train 24 boy choristers from throughout the diocese has now grown into a cathedral music program consisting of a children’s choir for boys and girls ages 5-9, separate Junior Boys’ and Junior Girls’ Choirs for those ages 6-11 (there are more than 60 singers in these two groups), separate Senior Boys’ and Senior Girls’ Choirs ages 11-16, and a Scholar’s Choir for those ages 12-18, as well as choral scholars who are currently in university. Most of these young people receive free one-on-one vocal tuition from the choir’s vocal coach.

The cathedral also awards competitive scholarships to choral scholars, who receive professional vocal and conducting tuition and actively take part in the cathedral’s Schools Singing Program. Organ scholars in particular are given regular and ongoing tuition, mentoring, performance opportunities with the chance to make invaluable contacts in the organ world in order to launch them into the field of sacred music.

In 2009 the cathedral founded its very own Leeds Cathedral Choir School, housed within Holy Rosary and St. Anne’s Catholic Primary School, where music now forms part of the school’s core curriculum and provides students the opportunity to sing in the Cathedral Choir (read the cathedral’s current music list here), as well as singing for Masses and services at the two parishes of Holy Rosary and St. Anne’s.

Schools Singing Programme
The Schools Singing Programme grew from the cathedral’s desire to bring the gift of music to other schools and centers within the diocese, especially those more impoverished areas. Cathedral musicians would go out to various schools or parishes to teach music classes and form small choirs, and from these humble beginnings the program has grown to included 150 choral groups as well as numerous boys’ and girls’ choirs of very high standards. If the reader is interested to see what kind of tuition primary school children receive as part of this program, he can find quite a number of online rehearsal sessions that were filmed during England’s exceptionally long lockdown period as an effort to keep some music learning going, and to help children experience a bit of normalcy during this time. Here is a video of the very first recorded session for children (and their families), which shows the highly engaging teaching style utilized in the Schools Singing Program.

Keyboard Studies Programme
2016 saw the introduction of the Keyboard Studies Programme aimed at teaching keyboard skills at the organ and piano. As a means of introducing as many children as possible to these studies, the program also teaches classes using the melodica and accordion, both of which are easily portable, while the melodica is fairly inexpensive. The Keyboard Studies Programme was recently featured in the February edition of the American Organist (AGO) magazine in its UK Report.

David Pipe, who heads the program closes the article with the following, “To put this in perspective, at the time of writing we have 1,100 children playing the melodica each week, and 175 having individual lessons on either accordion, piano or organ. My dream would be that a child starting melodica at age nine could progress through out Keyboard Studies Programme by learning piano (or accordion), become a skillful enough organist to play regularly in church, and go on to win a university organ scholarship at age 18.”

The program has currently partnered with the Hamish Ogston Foundation to expand the program in the following four ways:

  1. “Establishing the largest and highest-quality teaching school in the UK for the classical accordion. This instrument is widely taught in Europe and Asia to give children the independence of a portable instrument and has been used successfully in the UK in many rural primary schools to learn the basics, as a transition to larger keyboard instruments and, ultimately, to inspire some young people to progress to learning to play the piano and even organ;
  2. “Establishing the largest and highest-quality teaching school in the UK for the melodica. This small air-powered keyboard instrument offers one of the most comprehensive introductions to keyboard studies, following the Japanese model where every primary school child is taught the basics of keyboard playing;
  3. “Developing three bespoke tutor books for melodica, accordion and organ, to support the teaching and learning of the young students; and
  4. “Capital contributions to facilitate the installation of 2 pipe organs; the purchase of 3 electronic practice organs; refurbishment of 4 upright pianos and the purchase of 16 classical accordions.

Expect to see great things from such a program with such a vision.

National Schools Singing Program
The Hamish Ogston Foundation has also partnered with the Leeds Cathedral Music Program to found the National Schools Singing Foundation, which either already does, or will soon, work in every Catholic diocese in England, Scotland and Wales. According to the foundation’s website, this program, which began in 2021, already works with more than 17,000 students. To put this in perspective, England, Scotland and Wales are roughly the size of the state of Oregon and one can only imagine the impact such a venture, already so established in such a relatively small geographical area, will have in the lives of those students and the church music profession twenty year down the road. Benjamin Saunders, the mover behind the Leed’s Cathedral and diocesan music program for the last twenty years is to be congratulated on his fine work.

The Catholic Academy of Sacred Music
I have long been following the work of Leeds Cathedral and over the years I have developed a strong desire to begin such an undertaking in my own diocese, and last summer The Catholic Academy of Sacred Music was incorporated for that very purpose. This year the academy works with approximately 120 students in two different groups, with the expectation of expanding to 4 groups next year. I hope to be able to share more information with readers next month, but in the meantime I would ask our readers to remember the academy in their prayers.

These are the types and kinds of institutions we need if we hope to have an impact on Sacred Music in the United States and I am grateful to know of so many different men and women throughout our country who work tirelessly in their own ways to make such institutions possible. We simply must needs keep pushing forward.

Teaching and Nurturing the Young Organist

fine organist is a sturdy shelter:

he that has found one has found a treasure.

It is no exaggeration to say that a fine organist is without price in the ecclesiastical world, second only to the holy and learned priest. The exceptional organist, one capable of elevating the Sacred Liturgy and the experience thereof unto a mystical plane,  is truly a rara avis. He provides the faithful sonically with what the great cathedrals and artists have provided in stone, glass, gold, silver and tempera throughout the ages. While the likes of an Olivier Latry don’t appear everyday, there is no reason why we can’t raise up a generation of very excellent and competent organists, much like the solid Norman churches that sit so beautifully across the planes and sweeps of Northern Europe, buildings which paved the way for the later magnificent medieval cathedrals and monasteries. What follows is an attempt to outline some process by which we might develop “solid” organists ready to take up their positions in our parishes and rebuild the foundations of a healthy and vibrant sacred music program, so much needed today.

The  Beginner
The first and best preparation for any future organist is to find himself in a home where music is both loved AND made, sitting alongside a parent who, perhaps, plays and sings at the piano. Are you, dear reader, one of these parents? It matters not how simple the songs may be, for such experiences form the cradle of musical love. As soon as the child shows interest, he should commence piano studies with a competent teacher, which shouldn’t be too hard to find, even in the smallest and least populated of areas. At the same time, those of us who are organists should ask ourselves if we are ready to encourage and even teach these same young students, for thereby we increase the ranks of our noble profession.

The Piano Studio
Setting up a piano/organ studio is quite simple. As a matter of fact, I would be quite surprised if the competent organist exists who has not been asked to teach. Indeed the more difficult aspect of one’s studio is to keep it from taking over one’s life, but the various piano guilds and online resources are thankfully numerous and generally quite helpful, and a simple Google search should put the reader in contact with any information he might require. I would, however, like to offer a few reflections from personal experience.

Firstly, make it an unbreakable rule to engrain the rudiments of music theory into the very bones of the beginning student, preferably before the age of nine or ten. The young student loves to memorize note names and values and to practice rhythms, and the teacher should take full advantage of this, lest it become a painful chore to the student later on. I have taken on a couple of older students (junior high and high school) who have managed to make it through five and more years of lessons and yet struggle to name any other note than middle C or to tackle dotted rhythms, having spent years learning music by nothing more than trial and error. This can easily be avoided and should be.

Secondly, encourage experimentation at the keyboard as much as possible, which can take any myriad of forms. Many students love to compose. Every student will, at some point in his lessons, latch on to a certain work to the detriment of all others. Instead of becoming frustrated, ask the child to take a couple of extra weeks with the piece and to learn to play it in as many keys as possible, and then to change it from the major to minor mode, or vise versa. The only people who will suffer are the parents, who will undoubtedly tire from hearing “She’ll be Comin’ Round the Mountain When She Comes,” fifty time a day, but such is the price of greatness? Yes?

Lastly, form players who realize that music, whether piano, organ or any other kind of music, must needs be expressive, able to communicate to the listener a message deeper and broader than mere notes on a page, something intangible that speaks both to the mind and heart of things sings and unseen. Nothing is more difficult and yet nothing is more rewarding.

The Organ Student
Eventually the diligent piano student will acquire a sure keyboard technique and find himself ready to commence his studies upon the king of instruments. There are a number of organ primers one can use, but I rely chiefly upon Organ Technique: Early and Modern and the well known Gleason Method of Organ Playing, both of which lead the student through graded exercises at the keyboard and pedal board, and provide copious amounts of beginning repertoire. The well rounded organ student should also gain a sure facility at chant accompaniment and improvisation. Again, I would, like to offer a reflection based on personal experience.

It behooves the teacher to teach his students the art of practicing well. The old adage “work smart, not hard,” or rather “work smart AND hard” should be our guide. I find very few young people self disciplined enough to do both from the beginning, yet the teacher should move his students in this direction. It will often require the teacher to run entire lessons as a structured practice in order to prove to the student what can be accomplished in as few as thirty minutes.

The American Guild of Organists and the Royal College of Organists
If the teacher, especially the new teacher, finds himself overwhelmed at the prospect of teaching the young organist, I would greatly encourage him to join the American Guild of Organists AND the Royal College of Organists. Both of these institutions provide invaluable resources for both teacher and student, including a fine series on making the transition from pianist to organist and another on the art of teaching organ. In addition, the AGO and RCO have now joined forces across the Atlantic and for the price of a few extra lattes, one can add an RCO membership onto his AGO membership.

Finally, the AGO and RCO provide extremely useful examinations and certifications at every level of organ and service playing (as well as choral conducting), including test in areas such as hymn playing, psalm accompaniment and improvisation. In some ways I find them a greater help to the church organist than a post BA degree because they force the organist to master skills other than simply playing organ literature. I have often observed that the standards of organ playing in most parishes, if organs even exists in many parishes any more, are so low that it is easy to rest on one’s musical laurels and, but this should never be the case.  These examinations and certifications offer the organist a chance to deepen and broaden his potential. The skills of the fine organist should be as wide and deep as the ocean.

I will end with the observation that the young organist should also play an integral role in his parish choral program as either a chorister or young member of the ATB sections. Every organist should have plenty of experience as a singer, if only to realize how important it is for the organist to be attuned the needs of both the choir and congregation alike. This also provides the best education of all, on-the-job training with professionals to a very high standard from an early age. I know of no other profession, with the exception of the the family farm, where this is possible. The organ profession is a noble profession indeed.

Broadcasting Holy Mass During Covidtide

The faithful in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, similar to those in many other dioceses, recently returned to public worship along with all the restrictions and rubrics the situation entails. My own parish church, which seats almost one thousand, is limited to only 150 mask-sporting congregants, and Masses are limited to 45 minutes in order to curtail exposure between parishioners. Musical forces have also been limited to one cantor and one accompanist and the congregation has been asked not to sing. Unfortunately this could go on for quite a while.

Since the obligation to attend Mass is still abrogated in my archdiocese many parishes here continue to broadcast Sunday Masses, and even Masses throughout the week, as is the case in my own parish. Until recently my parish’s live streamed Masses were without music, but that changed with the return of public Masses, which brought not a few surprises. Imagine my shock when our first public Mass was uploaded to YouTube and the video was flagged for copyright infringement (yes, I know this can happen for all sorts of dubious reasons). I hadn’t given this a thought considering our live streamed Masses are seen primarily by parishioners and we currently hold an annual reprint license from for all the music we need and use (in addition to having a GIA hymnal in our pews). After searching the internet I discovered that yes, indeed, a special podcast/streaming license is required in order to broadcast copyrighted music. The cost of adding a podcast/streaming license onto an existing license is not prohibitive, but the purchase of the license by itself can be pricey.

I also discovered that OneLicense granted a grace period through Easter Sunday enabling parishes to broadcast free of charge, but since that time parishes are required to purchase the additional license. I should note that OCP has granted certain exceptions to parishes that currently use OCP materials. Depending upon which materials a parishes purchases and uses, it can broadcast those items if the copyrights of the songs they use from their previously purchased materials are owned exclusively by OCP. The grace period extends through the end of the current liturgical year (November). Parishes can ask for a specific lists of songs, based on their hymnals/missals used from OCP, that qualify for free broadcasting.

The easiest route open to parishes hoping to provide music during live streamed Masses is simply to use materials in the public domain or Creative Commons. Much of the traditional hymnody found in the major hymnals offered by publishers such as OCP and GIA is in the public domain and can be used anyway, although publishers sometimes change the words of traditional hymns slightly and copyright the new texts, but it would be easy enough to find the original words on the internet and use those instead. Even better would be to take advantage of the myriad of English settings of the Mass Propers, the subject of many blog posts at Corpus Christi Watershed.

The most problematic genre for use in broadcasting is the English setting of the Mass Ordinary since all of the major settings are currently under copyright. Not to mention, many of these settings extend their performance time by way of refrains (the Gloria, for example), repetition of texts, introductions and interludes, all of which might be frowned upon in your individual locale if Masses there are supposed to be kept within certain time constraints. Another concern, again depending upon locale, is congregational singing. If your diocese has requested that parishioners not sing during Mass, the use of familiar Mass settings is an open invitation to the congregation to sing. Instead, you might use this time to find many of the worthy settings currently in the public domain or Creative Commons. I personally began using Jeff Ostrowski’s Mass of the English Martyrs at my parish (where Jeff, incidentally, spent part of his childhood) last weekend and found it to blend perfectly into the sacred rites.

I would encourage all of our readers to take time and think about what is really important, musically speaking, to the execution of the Roman Rite, and to use this time to recalibrate the trajectory of your parish’s music program, if need be, toward the Church’s vision of singing the Mass instead of singing at the Mass. This could be a time of great grace for those who choose to use it.

How Do the Greats Approach the Science of Choral Conducting?

I recently wrote on the subjects of beauty and wonder and their integral relationship to the art of great conducting. At the same time, I stressed how important the mechanics of conducting were, albeit in the role of the humble servant, because even the greatest of artists is dependent to a large degree upon his tools and training. Michelangelo, without training and in wont of the best paints and plaster, would have struggled to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (although he most certainly would have succeeded to a greater degree than many others in possession of both). Of course this leaves the musician asking the question how much of the science of conducting do I need to possess, or is it helpful to possess, in order to grow and develop into a consummate choral artist/conductor? Where can I learn this science?

While searching the internet I discovered a DMA document that I believe many of you will find helpful because it follows the work of six great choral conductors, focusing on the techniques each one uses in their choirs to build a lasting foundation upon which a beautiful and moving musical edifice might be constructed. Christopher Smith’s A Comparative Study of Select Choral Conductors’ Approaches to Unification of Choral Sound, Rehearsal, Conducting, and Leadership follows the methods and tactics of Frieder Bernius (Germany), Tõnu Kaljuste (Estonia), Stephen Cleobury, John Eliot Gardiner (United Kingdom), Weston Noble, and Robert Shaw (United States) in order to discover how they approach the science (and sometimes even the art) of choral conducting, giving special consideration to the musical groundwork each one believes necessary to lay in his choir before the choral arts can flourish. We properly call this choir training, and while choir training in itself will never assure a beautiful and moving performance, the lack thereof will most certainly hinder it. Don’t be hampered by the lack of knowledge of the science of conducting, so that when the time is ripe and the wonder and beauty of great music wound your soul, such seed will fall upon good ground.

What Makes a Great Conductor?

What makes a great conductor? Is he born with his gift or does he acquire it through assiduous effort? Is there hope for the amateur (in the best sense of the word) or is it a heavenly gift sparingly bestowed? In a certain sense anyone willing can become a good conductor, but the great conductor possesses something more, something so intangible I believe it can’t be taught. This gift is somewhat like the Faith, it is a gift that others can prepare one to receive, but in the end can’t actually give it, but it is this gift that makes the great conductor, and here I speak of wonder.

At the heart of the great conductor is one who is born in wonder, one who stands in awe and amazement of heaven’s divine gift–music. It might begin with hearing a Chopin piano concerto, the Veni Creator Spiritus, Bach’s B Minor Mass, Beethoven’s 5th Symphony or the Durufle Requiem, but a part of the conductor’s soul is touched in such a way that he knows he will never be the same again, and like all great lovers, seeks to share with everyone the object of his passion. This isn’t to say that knowledge of certain conducting patterns in unnecessary, or that one shouldn’t have to practice technique, but it is to say that these things are stiff and lifeless until the musician has been wounded by the beauty of music.

Working with children helps to bring our view of the matter into better focus because their enthusiasm is spontaneous and their reaction unstudied. If they don’t like something they will say it and even before they say it their faces will betray it. How, then, does the great choir master get so much out of his choristers? No matter how good of musicians these boys and girls are, they are still just that, boys and girls, and they won’t give what they haven’t first been given. They can’t give a sublime performance if they haven’t first fallen in love with the music. The great conductor has to be able to prepare them to receive the gift of being born in wonder.

I vividly remember some years ago trying to teach my early choristers to sing in parts and it wasn’t working. I was discouraged at the prospect of unison singing for the rest of my life and filled with dread that we would never get beyond hymns and simple motets. I needed something more so I decided to teach the choristers the soprano line of Palestrina’s Missa Brevis and ask the adult choir to sing alto, tenor and bass. It really wasn’t difficult–mostly simple rhythms and melodic intervals. It was so simple, in fact, that the children were bored with it, but I plowed forward. Finally the day of the full choir rehearsal arrived and we began with the Gloria. I thought it best to have the entire choir sing the big F major chord before moving on and it was then that I saw wonder in the faces of the children. Something so simple as singing a major chord perfectly in tune in a resonant space changed their attitude completely and a number of them told me later that that was the moment their love for choral music truly began. Those students made all the difference to the choir.

Unfortunately there is no magic formula for striking that first spark in the life of a child, or any adult musician for that matter, but therein lies the heart of the truly great conductor–the ability awaken his fellow musicians, that they may be born in wonder.


Audiation and the Chorister

“Audiation is the process of both mentally hearing and understanding music, even when no music is present. In essence, audiation is thinking in music or thinking about music in a way the brain is able to give meaning to the sounds.” Darren Wicks

Audiation is a term coined by the American music educator Edwin Gordon and constitutes, in a sense, the primary goal of probationer training. Audiation encompasses what we loosely refer to as sight-singing and ear-training, or the ability to hear in one’s own mind, without aural assistance of any kind, the music notated by the symbols on the printed page, as well as its reverse, the ability to transcribe into symbols the music one hears in real time. This process is incredibly important for the members of a liturgical choir for many reasons, but perhaps the simplest is that it allows the singers to tackle large amounts of repertoire quickly so that the bulk of a choir’s rehearsal can be spent working toward a musical performance as opposed to a merely note-perfect, but lifeless, one.

The reality in any great liturgical choir is that there is simply too much music to learn by rote. The mediocre liturgical choir, on the other hand, spends all of its time learning notes and never arrives at the shores of a beautifully moving performance. Teaching one’s probationers to audiate launches their ship into a world of learning and musical self-discovery.

At the same time, we must differentiate between audiation and teaching music theory. All the choir schools and choral foundations I am aware of teach music theory (the intellectual knowledge of how music works), but it is possible to intellectually understand the why behind rhythms and scales but not learn how to clap them or sing them in real time. Therefore these schools and foundations employ extra-curricular avenues for connecting the theoretical knowledge of music to the ear and mouth. Below are a number of methods used to help probationers navigate this ocean.

Piano Studies
The most widely used method for teaching audiation is private piano study, which teaches, or rather reinforces, the music theory a probationer learns in class. I find it interesting to note that while this method is an excellent way to reinforce music theory in a visual way (using the keyboard) as well as to teach the child to pay attention to more than one musical line at a time, it doesn’t actually engage the child’s eye ear in a manner that naturally teaches him to read an interval on the page and then interpret what that interval sounds like in his mind simply because the piano does the work for him. It is interesting to note, however, that in the world’s great cathedral choir schools the standards are so high that entering probationers must already posses incredible pitch memory and piano study works perfectly for these boys. For them, the process of audiation takes places naturally and quickly and it usually suffices to throw them in the deep end and make them swim, so to say. Regardless, piano study is still the best way to deepen the probationer’s audiatory skills. If I could find the funds, I would require all of my choristers to take piano lessons as part of their studies.

Many choir schools and choral foundations make solfege a fundamental part of their musical training because it teaches the probationer the sound of the major and various minor scales and teaches him to navigate these scales easily. A child instinctively learns to find DO from any other note in the scale and the same eventually goes for all the other pitches. By the time a child is able to navigate a diatonic hymn (with the occasional secondary dominant) or simple square note chant notation, it is generally just a matter of time and experience before he becomes comfortable tackling simpler polyphony and finally harder repertoire. Solfege also helps the child to think of the musical line in a linear fashion so that each note is tuned to the one before it as well as to the one after it, not just vertically with all of the other pitches sounding at the same time.

The one downside to solfege is that some children find it difficult to remember the actual solfege syllable names even after they are fluent in diatonic reading. One must remember that the goal of solfege is not that every chorister is able to sing his music to solfege syllables, but that every choristers can pitch the notes of the scale correctly.

Suzuki Violin Studies
A few programs teach classroom Suzuki violin in the early grades in order to develop the probationer’s sense of pitch. The nature of the violin and the way in which the child makes a note sound upon it means that the pitch can easily be played too high or too low (because there is no fret to guide him) and the child is taught to be aware of this slight fluctuation in pitch in order to correct it. This is very different from the piano, where the proper pitch, without any fluctuation in tuning, sounds as long as the right key is struck.

Another benefit to classroom violin study is that when the child has an exceptional teacher, he will learn just how beautiful and moving a musical line can sound, and hopefully when he sings he will imitate the violin’s timbre, its use of messe di voce and judicious vibrato to bring out the musical line as well as the violin’s incredible range of emotive possibilities.

Vocal Coaching
Most of the great choir schools and choral foundations today employ vocal coaches in order to provide each chorister with a weekly voice lesson. Obviously these lessons are geared toward teaching healthy vocal technique, but the added benefit is that the probationer can’t rely on another probationer next to him to give him his part. His sight-singing prowess is uniquely on display and he will try that much harder.

Other Instrumental Studies
Quite often choristers embark on further instrumental studies, in addition to piano, such as learning one of the many orchestral instruments. This again simply reinforces the theoretical knowledge learned in the classroom.

Lastly, as probationers progress into seasoned choristers, they often try their hand at serious composing, which brings them to the pinnacle of audiation. Here the child takes the grand sum of all his musical studies and experiences and weds them to his own ability to imagine, hear and create musical ideas, and thus a new composition is born. It will have taken quite some time, but the young boy will have become fluent in the divine language of music.

The Overtone Series (Truly) Explained

If you are like many other musicians who now find themselves with more time than usual on their hands, you might try using your newfound time to deepen your understanding of our shared musical craft. To that end, I offer what I consider to be the best explanation of the overtone series ever given by none other than Leonard Bernstein. This short clip comes from a lecture series he gave at Harvard University in 1973, name The Unanswered Question.

The overtone series is the foundation of western music and its primal language. While other musical scales and musical cultures find their origin in the overtone series, only western civilization has developed nature’s original gift into one of the world’s great achievements: Western music.

If you desire to be truly magnanimous, listen to the entire series of talks (hours upon hours) offered free via YouTube. Bernstein is a master teacher and doesn’t disappoint.

A Professional Choir in 6 Years!

Two weeks ago I wrote about the Westminster Cathedral Choir School (and choir) and the Guildford Cathedral Choir, two choral foundations of incredibly high standards founded in very short amounts of time to chant the services in their respective cathedrals. But what of the cathedral music director who needs first to prove the viability of a cathedral choir school before he founds one? I would venture to say this is where most choir masters find themselves and thankfully we have the wonderful example of the Madeleine Choir School at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City, Utah. Mr. Gregory Glenn, the choir school’s founder and long time pastoral administrator, graciously accepted my request to spend 6 weeks at the school in the fall of 2012 in order to collect information about the school and choristers for my DMA document and it opened my eyes to what was musically possible with children. One question I continually asked myself during my time at the school (and ever since) was why no other cathedral had followed the Madeleine’s lead to found such an institution. It is such a gift to the Church!

Regarding the school’s history, Mr. Glenn related to me that he had had some desire to found an institution like the Madeleine Choir School, but it had always seemed more of a dream than a reality. Nevertheless, he visited all the Catholic schools within a 40 mile radius of the Cathedral and auditioned all students in grades four through eight. Roughly 70 choristers (half boys and half girls) accepted his invitation to join an after school choral program at the cathedral and rehearsals began in the Spring of 1990. The boys and girls practiced separately, each for 90 minutes every week, and only sang for Mass once per month. This went on for some time until the cathedral’s rector, Msgr. Francis Mannion, decided that Glenn should spend time at a real choir school if he hoped to start one in Salt Lake City. Glenn packed his bags and traveled to London for three months in residence at the Westminster Cathedral Choir School in the fall of 1992. Four years later the Madeleine Choir School opened her doors and has been growing ever since.

What We Can Learn
I think the first and greatest lesson we can learn is that Mr. Glenn had a love of and passion for the cathedral choir school model and had a vision for what such a thing could look like at the Madeleine Cathedral. He also worked with a rector who could share in his vision. Sometimes I talk with music directors and pastors who want the children in their music programs and schools to sing good sacred music, but they haven’t taken time to flesh out in their minds what such a program in their parishes would look like or how they might actually carry out such a plan. They are under the impression that all it takes is learning a couple of neat music hacks for their students to be able to tackle Palestrina Masses, and all for the price of only $10,000 a year for a part-time music director! But this simply isn’t realistic.

The second lesson we can learn is to persevere when the long route is necessary. Glenn began with a good number of students and a strong desire, but not much more. He and Msgr. Mannion didn’t know if Glenn could pull it off. He ran an after school choir program for six years before the school began. It was also A LOT of hard work and Glenn was honest in relating to me the problems he encountered along the way. In the beginning the choir, even with 35 students in each group, never strayed from unison singing. Moving on to part-singing was difficult and didn’t take place until he began a summer camp where choristers finally experienced daily rehearsals for the first time. Chorister parents found it difficult to understand the idea that the choir had an obligation to the cathedral to sing her daily services, even when that meant returning to the Cathedral on Christmas afternoon to chant Vespers, and all this after having sung Midnight Mass and Mass During the Day. When it came time to propose an actual school for the choir, he had to create model budgets and numbers to give to cathedral committees because such a thing had never been done. When the bishop finally gave permission to found a school, it was full the next day, but Glenn had no teachers. Teaching sight-singing has also been a challenge all the while keeping up with concerts and other obligations (thankfully he has the incomparable help of Mrs. Melanie Malinka, the school’s music director).

I write all of this because it shows how one man’s dogged determination brought a choir school into being. There were new challenges all the time, but Glenn kept finding solutions and eventually his plan took root and developed. As in the case of Sir Richard Terry having the friendship and backing of Cardinal Vaughn, Glenn had the support of Msgr. Mannion, the cathedral’s rector. This support was key, but once he had the necessary vision and support, the rest was a matter putting one foot in front of the other. The thing to remember, though, it that he did it, and you can too!

A Professional Choir in 6 Months

So it continues… the challenge I lay down to church musicians to found choir schools or choral foundations in their respective cathedrals and churches. To that end, I offer these brief histories of two choral foundations begun in the 20th century, namely Westminster Cathedral Choir School (Catholic; 1901) and the Guildford Cathedral Choir (Anglican; 1960-61). The incidents I relate in these histories come from a variety of sources, but I rely primarily on Andrew’s Westminster Retrospect (Westminster) and Carpenter’s The Beat is Irrelevant (Guildford).

My reason for offering these histories simultaneously is that both institutions were founded at the same time as their respective cathedrals and were considered as part of the fabric of each building. Cardinal Vaughn, the spiritual son of the great Cardinal Manning and builder of Westminster Cathedral, felt the choir to be as important to the solemn celebration of the Church’s sacred liturgy as the cathedral itself. His original agreement with Sir Richard Terry, Westminster’s first choirmaster, was that the choir would sing the daily High Mass, the little hours, Vespers and Compline (can one even imagine!). At Guildford the original plan had been for sung services only on the weekends, but Barry Rose, the choir’s first director, was adamant that there be daily choral services in the cathedral and his opinion held sway. In either case, it was unthinkable that the celebration of the liturgy could be separated from the best liturgical music. Of course, this view requires the creation of some sort of stable, first rate choral foundation, in order to make it a living reality.

The second reason I offer the histories of these two great cathedral choirs in the same post is that they had to be founded and their choristers trained to extremely high standards in relatively short periods of time. Terry had only six months to prepare his boys for Holy Mass on Ascension Day (1902), when the they, together with the men of the choir, offered Byrd’s Mass for 5 Voices in the  cathedral’s Chapter Hall. Rose had roughly the same amount of time before his choir’s first choral service in the new cathedral (1961), the televised enthronement of the new Anglican bishop of that see, followed by the cathedral’s consecration a month later.

Westminster Cathedral Choir School (originally a boarding school for choristers only) opened in 1901 with 11 choristers, then grew to include about 25 boys by the following June when daily choral services began in earnest. Terry was known for his unrelenting hard work, grueling standards and numerous rehearsals. During his tenure at Downside Abbey (before moving to Westminster) teachers complained that his rehearsals eclipsed all other school activities and one can only wonder what they were like when he began anew at Westminster. Rose didn’t have a dedicated choir school, but did form a partnership with the Lanesborough School, where he trained choristers four days a week in addition to rehearsals at the yet unfinished cathedral. I have sat in on rehearsals conducted by Rose and I can say they are truly thrilling and his quest for beauty in unrelenting. I can well imagine that neither he nor Terry ever settled for less than twice what the choristers thought was their best.

It must also be noted that Byrd’s Mass for 5 Voices not withstanding, both choir masters put the quality of performance before the difficulty of repertoire and always focused on the music of the liturgy before moving on to “filler” music. Rose would often spend most of a rehearsal before Choral Evensong on getting a few lines of one of the Psalms perfect, which necessitated scrapping the proposed anthem in favor of Tallis’ If Ye Love Me, supposedly sung more often in the early days of the choir than many singers cared to remember. Thankfully Mr. Rose recorded most of what his choir sang during his tenure at Guildford Cathedral (offered on YouTube by Archives of Sound). Terry noted in his 1907 book Catholic Church Music that it would be better to sing the psalms and antiphons at Mass and in the Office recto tono than to give them an unmusical rendering. I often wonder if some of the vitriol directed against the Church’s music is due to its less than stellar presentation.

Lessons to be Learned
The greatest lesson I feel we can learn from both of these is the connection between the sacred liturgy and liturgical music. The Second Vatican Council reminded us that the Church’s treasury of sacred music is Her greatest art because it doesn’t just adorn Her rites, but becomes part of them. If we want to renew the Church’s Sacred Liturgy, we must also renew its link with sacred music. It is a travesty of titanic proportions that the completely sung Sacred Liturgy is rarely offered in Cathedrals today, even for great feasts, much less on a daily basis. Our Cathedrals owe God nothing less than the solemnly sung Liturgy (which encompasses more than Mass!) on a daily basis. Please note that this is not a slight against Cathedral music directors. I know so many good ones who work tirelessly to make things as beautiful as they are allowed.

The second lesson we can learn is that the practice of making the Church’s music is only possible with constant rehearsal and dedication on a daily basis. It is wonderful that volunteer choirs exist at cathedrals and they most certainly add to the beauty of the Cathedral’s sacred worship, but they simply cannot bear the load of the Church’s daily liturgy. This is almost impossible without the aid of a choir school. Of course this begs the question of which kind of choir school should a cathedral have, but this can only be discerned by those at each cathedral. A cathedral in one of our great metropolitan areas almost necessitates a residential school of some kind simply because there often aren’t many children living in their geographical areas and grueling daily travel would be to much for children and parents. Most cathedrals in the United States could adequately work with a day school, while those in the more remote areas might have to content themselves with an after school choral foundation that sings on Sundays and major feasts only.

Because this article deals with cathedral choirs that were founded in a very short amount of time I want to address circumstances particular to their foundings. While I can’t speak from personal experience, I feel that this would be the most musically rewarding way to begin a cathedral choir school or choral foundation. In order to do this, a musician would need to have the complete trust and friendship of the bishop, rector and the cathedral’s master of ceremonies (or in the case of a larger parish, the pastor). The musician would need carte blanche to do whatever necessary (and within reason) to make such a foundation possible and would need to have every help from the cathedral and diocese as are regularly necessary to establish a new school, much less a residential one. If the cathedral or church already had a school, the music director would need the same cooperation from the principal, teacher and parents.

Another key ingredient to such an undertaking would the selection of the best choristers. In this kind of institution only the most ideal children could be accepted. Children, even those who had no previous training, would need to possess a beautiful singing voice, free of anything that might hamper the development of the choir’s tone, an incredible ear able to reproduce what it hears correctly the first time, a driving desire to be part of such a choir and the intellectual capabilities to deal with such intense learning on top of all his or her other school requirements. I once heard John Scott, while at St. Thomas Fifth Avenue, mention that as of May in that particular year, he had only accepted four candidates on probation for the choir the next year. His standards were that high (and yes, there were a number of other boys who inquired and even auditioned). Those selected had to be able to learn to read music in a very short time, create a quality choral sound and develop a decent repertoire to handle the demands of daily choral services. One would also have to be as exacting with the men of the choir.

If you are a bishop or cathedral music director and are reading this blog, I venture to guess you already understand the intimate relationship between good sacred music and the Church Liturgy. If you do, please consider moving forward with such a venture as a cathedral choir school. There are wonderful people of great faith and incredible talent who are more than willing to help. We need to be bold!

Sense and Sensibility

In Jane Austen’s immortal novel Sense and Sensibility, we encounter the devoted, if extremely dissimilar, Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne. Elinor, the eldest, is the model of sense and self restraint, always ready to place what is right, as well as the good of others, before her own self concern; Marianne, on the other hand, is the model of sensibility, always ready to follow the mood and emotion of the moment, regardless of the needs and feelings of others. As in all of her works, the affairs of the heart of both Elinor and Marianne form the plot of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.

As the story begins, the Miss Dashwood’s dying father evokes a promise from his only son (from a previous marriage) to financially provide for his step-mother and step-sisters (Elinor, Marianne and a younger sister) after the elder Mr. Dashwood’s demise. Despite every good intention to carry out his father’s wishes, the younger and fickle Mr. Dashwood is promptly discouraged from doing so, thus Elinor and Marianne are left with only the capital of their good names and family relations to make up for their unfortunate deficit of fortune and rank.

Elinor eventually falls in love with Mr. Edward Ferrars, whose family has higher prospects in mind for him than the impoverished daughter of a landed gentleman. Matters are further complicated because earlier in life, Edward secretly and foolishly promised his hand in marriage to another, Lucy by name, whose decent good looks and unending use of flattery are barely able to conceal her want of education and good breeding. She is the model of the social climber. Nevertheless, the honorable Edward refuses to break his promise of future marriage to Lucy, even though it means he will forever be separated from Elinor. For most of the novel both characters silently and secretly put right and honorable conduct before their own hopes and desires–no doubt a bitter cross to carry.

Marianne, on the other hand, falls in love with Mr. John Willoughby, a young man as different in temperament and conduct from Edward Ferrars as Marianne is from Elinor, yet whose exuberant love of life and eternal gaiety are as eminently suited to Marianne’s sensibilities as Edward is to Elinor’s sense. Such reliable facts and sure sign-posts as the emotions of the human heart prove to Marianne beyond a shadow of doubt that she and Willoughby are the perfect couple. It comes, then, as quite a shock when Willoughby gathers up his own sensibilities and leaves her (before the proverbial knot is tied) for a jealous women of lesser worth but greater fortune.

Marianne, upon learning of Willoughby’s treachery, indulges in every form of interior questioning and self pity—if her soul should soar in moments of jubilation, then it surely must sink in times of despair. She is wasting away when she learns of Elinor’s own cross and how her sister has born it in silence and serenity. She wonders how it is possible and Elinor replies that “…while the comfort of others was dear to me, I was glad to spare them from knowing how much I felt.”

Marianne wonders if her sister ever really loved Edward, if she can so easily let him go. Elinor replies “I understand you.—You do not suppose that I have ever felt much.—For four months, Marianne, I have had all this hanging on my mind, without being at liberty to speak of it to a single creature; knowing that it would make you and my mother most unhappy whenever it were explained to you…— If you can think me capable of ever feeling—surely you may suppose that I have suffered NOW. The composure of mind with which I have brought myself at present to consider the matter, the consolation that I have been willing to admit, have been the effect of constant and painful exertion;—they did not spring up of themselves;—they did not occur to relieve my spirits at first.— No, Marianne.—THEN, if I had not been bound to silence, perhaps nothing could have kept me entirely—not even what I owed to my dearest friends—from openly shewing that I was VERY unhappy.”—

“Marianne was quite subdued.—

“Oh! Elinor,” she cried, “you have made me hate myself for ever.—How barbarous have I been to you!—you, who have been my only comfort, who have borne with me in all my misery, who have seemed to be only suffering for me!—Is this my gratitude?—Is this the only return I can make you?—Because your merit cries out upon myself, I have been trying to do it away.”

Of course Edward and Elinor eventually wed and Austen declares them to be “one of the happiest couples in the world” and that “Marianne Dashwood was born to an extraordinary fate. She was born to discover the falsehood of her own opinions, and to counteract, by her conduct, her most favorite maxims.”

I heartily recommend the novel for the pure and simple pleasure of reading it. I also recommend it because of the lesson it teaches us regarding the folly of leading one’s life based on human sensibilities untethered from truth and reason. This lesson is true no less in the realm of sacred music than in the realm of lovers.

In a real way, Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony are the sense in liturgical music. Contrary to popular belief there is emotion in this music, but it is always in harmony with, and ultimately subjugated to, truth and reason. It gently awakens emotions that raise the mind and heart to God, rather than stirring them up purely for their own sakes.

On the other hand, Praise and Worship and other similar styles (there have been such styles of music since the beginning of the Church—this is NOT an old versus new issue)  form the sensibility aspect in liturgical music (although they really aren’t liturgical works). These styles place emotion and the self at the center of the Sacred Liturgy and Christian life and that simply can’t be. The Church’s public worship and our Christian life isn’t about ourselves, it is about the Other.

This is obviously a very simplistic analysis of an extremely complex issue and I haven’t yet even touched upon the untold number of works of sacred music in about as many different styles and national qualities, ranging from ancient to modern, that are imminently suited to the Sacred Liturgy, but that isn’t the point of this article. My point is to challenge those involved in the world of sacred music, especially where the youth are concerned, to first ask themselves what is musically most appropriate and only then to ask themselves what music do people like.

All too often I hear the battle cry that we must offer the dwindling number of young people in our churches music in accord with their sensibilities and emotions—music that they like, music they can “get into,” music that moves them and helps them to experience God… and yet the numbers keep falling. Like Marianne Dashwood, we are tasting the bitter fruits of disappointed love.

What if, on the contrary, we flip the paradigm and first offer what is musically most appropriate and then allow peoples’ sensibilities to be formed by it. Perhaps like Elinor Dashwood, we might have the sense and charity to look beyond ourselves, our own musical wants and whims and obediently follow a much surer path.