Category Archives: Most Pure Heart of Mary Schola Cantorum

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 onelicense.net 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.

Of Shepherds and Sheep

Pastoral. Perhaps no other word of the last fifty-five years better defines the Church’s western approach to proclaiming the Gospel, catechizing the faithful, dispensing the Sacred Mysteries or initiating Her missionary activities. Christ commanded his apostles to go “therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20), but today the Church demands that it be done pastorally.

The word pastoral is quite beautiful and evocative, coming from the Latin word pastor, meaning shepherd. We hear God speaking to the abandoned people of Israel through the prophet Jeremiah “et dabo vobis pastores iuxta cor meum et pascent vos scientia et doctrina” (3:15) (“and I will give you pastors according to my own heart, and they shall feed you with knowledge and doctrine”). Later in St. John’s Gospel (10) Christ presents Himself as the Good Shepherd, the Bonus Pastor,  who “lays down his life for his sheep (vs. 15). This image of Christ as the Good Shepherd constitutes the supreme model for all pastors, clerical or (in a broader and unordained sense) lay—anyone leading others into the Sheepfold of the Church. It is, therefore, crucial to understand the various nuances of pastor, or shepherd.

Shepherd. The word brings to mind the picture of a young man like that of the future King David, big and strong, a youth ruddy and beautiful to behold, and of a comely face (1 Samuel 16:12). No one ever captured the image quite like Michelangelo, whose David resembles a Greek god, not because he spent an inordinate amount of time at the gym but because he engaged in physically demanding work. The terminus and goal of his strength was not to incarnate the GQ model but to protect and defend his sheep, those for whom he was a pastor. He would fight to the death if necessary.

There is a softer, more playful side to the image of the shepherd. We think of the shepherd and his pipe, playing to his sheep, watching their joyful banter, laughing at their silly antics, wondering at their stupidity or simply enjoying time with the lambs.

Perhaps, too, the music and poetry of the Romantic period have shaped our view of the shepherd and his life. For example the strains of Beethoven’s Pastorale Symphony evoke an Elysian paradise, an idillic place where any shepherd might hope to find himself whiling away his days in freedom listening to birdsong and eating rustic French baguettes and crumbly cheeses. This makes for a wonderful evening at the symphony, but lends itself less to fact than fiction, more to fancy than reality.

The truth is that shepherds occupied the lowest rung on the social ladder, carrying out a smelly, dirty job with little pay and no recognition… and no friends. Modern western man might yearn for the quiet, pastoral life, but Covidtide has taught him that isolation and fish stink after three days. Then there are the sheep—smelly, dirty and rather stupid little creatures that constantly have to be lead here and there and who offer no thanksgiving in return. They stray from the fold at every chance. So where, pray tell, is this subject going?

During a recent conversation, the mother of a few of my choristers, the redoubtable and Pickwickian Mrs. Werth, noted that throughout her entire life priests and religious, not to mention the vast majority of laity, have affirmed and reaffirmed that bringing the Church back to a place of orthodoxy must be done with great pastoral care, usually over the course of years or decades, if not a century. Regardless of the fact that souls are being lost because because they know nothing of Christ, His Church or His teachings, pastors (in both the clerical and non-clerical sense of the word) claimed that we must proceed slowly and pastorally so as not to drive souls away from the Church (i.e., don’t preach the Gospel for fear they won’t accept it). Then entered Covidtide and Mrs. Werth wryly observed that all our pastoral sensitivities flew the Barque of Peter as if it were on fire and capsizing. In reality shepherds finally got down to shepherding—at least as far as Covid19. The Church jettisoned any Romantic notion of shepherding and got back to David dispatching Goliath.

In the face of a possible public health crisis Masses were systematically closed down and the Sacred Liturgy expunged of its extraneous elements, regardless of whether people would leave the Church or stay, and everyone from top to bottom eagerly awaited the latest directives in an effort to keep people safe and healthy. In the face of Covid19, the Church has in fact become truly pastoral. Like the shepherds of yore, the Church’s shepherds have gone out of their way to ensure that every form of this possibly fatal contagion is kept as far away as possible from the faithful in order “that they might not perish, but have…life.”  The Church discovered both means and method to effectively spread Her message.

The point here is not to debate the Church’s response to Covid19,  but to juxtapose Her response over the last two months to possible physical death to that of Her response over the last five decades to certain spiritual death.

We felt compelled to spread the word on Covid19… even when some didn’t want to hear it.  We should do the same with the Gospel. We catechized the faithful on Covid19 via homilies, videos, articles, books, leaflets, etc. We should do the same with the teachings of Faith. We celebrated (and continue to celebrate) the Sacred Liturgy in such a way that everyone knew that we as a Church believed fully in the threat of Covid19 and its ill effects and we were ready to do whatever it took to save lives. We should treat sin the same way we have treated Covid19. In many places now the faithful are turned away from Holy Communion for publicly failing to live up to the Church’s teachings on Covid19 safety (i.e. not wearing masks). We should do the same when Catholics publicly live contrary to the teachings of Christ. Weddings have been stopped or postponed until couples are able to marry according to Church and societal doctrines for clean living. Perhaps we should take the same care to insure couples are ready to enter sacramentally into marriage. This is how we should shepherd the flock, the People of God.

I pray that those of us who are shepherds in some way, weather as bishops, priests or human fathers, are willing to examine our lives and ask if we haven’t been guided in the past by a romanticized pastoralism, which has resulted in some sort of ecclesiastical version of the self-help movement. I fear that the Four Last Things (death, judgement, Heaven or Hell) haven’t been at the forefront of our minds and hearts in a very long time and that in practice we have ceased to believe that Christ called each of us to glory, to His Glory, with the Father and the Son, with Mary and all the angels and saints, our real family—the Mystical Body of Christ—the true Sheepfold. The wolves have broken down the fence and found their way in to the Church and it is high time we leave the French baguettes and cheese behind and take up the rock and sling shot and feed the people once again on the solid food of “knowledge and doctrine.”

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.

Solfege
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.

Composing
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.

Colin Mawby (1936-2019)

I learned with sadness last Sunday that Colin Mawby (Nov. 24) and Stephen Cleobury (Nov. 22), both former directors of music at Westminster Cathedral, London, had passed away–a great loss to the world of sacred music. While Cleobury, who went on to direct the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, is undoubtedly the more well known of the two men, I want to pay particular tribute today to Colin Mawby and his particular services to the Church.

Mawby began his music career as a chorister at Westminster Cathedral under the great George Malcolm, the man responsible for introducing the “continental sound” to Westminster, making it unique in the world of English Cathedral Choirs. Mawby assisted Malcolm at the organ from the age of twelve.

In 1961 he ascended to the post of Organist and Choir Master at Westminster Cathedral and it was because of his work there that I first came into contact with him. As I was finishing a chapter in my dissertation about the cathedral’s Choir School, I contacted Martin Baker to inquire about the turbulent times of the 60s and 70s and how the choir had managed to survive the upheaval. Baker put me in contact with Mr. Mawby, for which I am forever grateful. I will never forget sitting down to supper with Mawby one evening in Rome and asking him what Westminster was like during the days of the great Cardinal Heenan. He laughed and said that modern child labor laws would never allow the choir master at Westminster to work the boys the way he had been worked as a chorister and the way he had worked the boys in his early days at the helm of the choir. I share this completely from memory, so my apologies if it is not 100% accurate, but I remember him saying the boys sang roughly 15 services weekly, including the capitular High Mass, Vespers and Compline on most days.

He told me of marching the boys into the cathedral on Christmas Eve to chant the entire office of Matins, after which the boys launched right into Midnight Mass. If that wasn’t enough, and because Westminster was a cathedral and it was the bounden duty of the cathedral’s chapter to offer to God the worship of the Divine Office, the boys sang the office of Lauds immediately after Midnight Mass. Because the mystery of the Incarnation is so great that the Church gives us three very distinct Masses on Christmas Day to celebrate different aspects of Our Lord’s birth, the boys still had two more Masses to sing. They were back in the apse of the cathedral to sing for Mass at Dawn and again for Mass during the Day. They still couldn’t officially begin Christmas break, though, until they had sung Solemn Vespers on Christmas Day in the afternoon. The choir’s heaviest workload occurred in the spring during the Holy Triduum, when Mawby said they might spend up to eight hours a day singing in the Cathedral.

All of his efforts to that point paled in comparison to how hard he had to work following the Second Vatican Council to keep the choir going and the school open. He fought for the choir and school even to the end of his life. He also battled for quality sacred music all throughout the church. I think I speak for many church musicians today when I say how grateful we are for his work at Westminster Cathedral.

Mr. Mawby also deserves recognition for his work as a composer. Probably his most well known work is his Ave verum corpus, one which has already entered the current canon of sacred works and which (I believe) has the power of endurance.

Other works include Haec dies

…and his Tu es Petrus.

 

Finally, I would like to add an Ave Maria I am happy to say I had a part in. In January 2016 our Schola Cantorum traveled to Rome and Mawby composed this work for the choir to premiere at the Basilica of St. Ignatius (it begins around 30 seconds).

Mawby was gracious enough to fly to Rome and have supper with the choir and listen to them sing. It was a time that many of our choristers and their families will never forget.

We give thanks today for the great work Colin Mawby undertook for the good of our Holy Mother, the Church, but even more importantly, we commend his soul to the mercy of our Heavenly Father.

Requiem aeternam, dona eis Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Where do we go from here?

In his work The Weight of Glory, C. S. Lewis writes about the mediocrity of our race: “Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Such is the nature of man that he settles for that which is easy. WE settle for that which is easy—especially in the realm of our sacred music. One only has to attend Mass at the average American parish for ample proof. On the other hand, I recently had the chance to speak with a small group of church musicians from around the mid-west that, each in his or her own way, is having a profound effect on the musical environment in their parishes and cathedrals, both in the sacred liturgy and through their teaching and mentoring of others. Both the weeds and the wheat are growing in the Lord’s vineyard and so it will be until the end of time.

Over the course of the last two months I have written about various forms of the choir school and have encouraged those who are able to begin choral foundations of some sort for youth in their parishes and cathedrals. Today I ask each of you who directs music in one of these churches to make a commitment to form the next generation of musicians. We need to break out of our complacency and ease. We need to break away from simply providing music for the next Sunday’s Masses. We need to lift the minds of our young people out of the gutter of self-absorbtion and turn their hearts to the glories of Heaven! God has given us the task to do this through the glory of music. Music might not be the only way to do it, but it is certainly one of the most beautiful ways.

If you struggle to know where to begin or how to begin I want to help. Over the course of the next weeks I plan to go through the process of founding various choral institutions with all of the myriad of questions that can arise along the way, from discussing various models for funding your venture to the training and disciplining of choristers.  I will even discuss ways to help convince the powers that be.

The time has come for us to stop complaining and begin doing. We must bear the weight of Glory!

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!

A WHAT School?!?

Last week I wrote about the affect that the founding of roughly 350 choir schools in the United States would have upon our general level of sacred music within a single generation and provided a number of resources for the novice and not-so-novice who would like to know more about choir schools, but who are currently unable to visit these great institutions.

Today I would like to continue this thread of thought in order to discover more about what makes a choir school tick. I also want to tie the choir school concept to several real models that I feel are every bit worth imitating in one way or another. Along the way I hope to provide more resources for our readers should they wish to dive further into the subject.

In order to begin our conversation, I believe it is necessary to keep in mind that the ultimate goal of the church musician is to provide the most beautiful music possible for the sacred liturgy and NOT (necessarily) to create a school. This is perhaps why in England cathedral choirs are often referred to as choral foundations. For example, there has been a choir at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London since 604 A.D., but it wasn’t until centuries later, in 1123 A.D. that a school was established by the bishop of London to educate boy choristers. The important thing is the choir that sings for the services. The cathedral does not announce each week that St. Paul’s Cathedral School (where the choristers are educated) sings for the cathedral’s services, but rather that St. Paul’s Cathedral Choir sings for the services. It is, therefore, possible to have a fine choral foundation without an actual school (Rippon Cathedral Choir). However, I firmly believe it is more difficult.

Another point to keep in mind is that there are very few “real” choir schools left in the world. What I mean by this is a school whose sole raison d’être is the education of a certain church’s choristers and no other students. Two such elite programs that readily come to mind are the choirs schools at Westminster Abbey (Anglican) and St. Thomas Fifth Avenue (Anglican). Both of these schools are residential and educate only the boys who sing in each church’s choir. As far as I am aware, the Schola Puerorum, the school for boys of the the Sistine Chapel Choir, also exists solely for the purpose of educating the choir’s choristers, but it is not a boarding school (are are Westminster and St. Thomas). The same is true for St. Paul’s Choir School (Boston). The obvious reason for such schools is that the musical education of the choristers becomes the guiding principle for all of the school’s education decisions and programs. The downside, however, is that educating such a small number of children is EXTREMELY expensive and strong in will and perseverance would have to be the rector of any church to attempt building such an institution.

Much more common today is the choir school that educates non-choristers as well as choristers (and often both boys and girls, even where the choir remains open to boys only). This list includes choir schools such as Westminster Cathedral Choir School (Catholic) and the Madeleine Choir School (Utah). The Madeleine Choir School has always educated non-choristers, whereas Westminster Cathedral Choir, like many other European choir schools, began educating non-choristers in order to keep the school financially viable. St. Paul’s Cathedral School (London) is another well known choir school that now educates both choristers and non-choristers (I would recommend readers watch the 1978 documentary Paul’s Children, the first part here, during the tenure of the legendary Barry Rose). Some, like Westminster Cathedral and St. Paul’s are boarding schools (at least for the choristers) and some, like the Madeleine Choir School, are simply day schools. In choir schools that educate both choristers and non-choristers, there can exist a tension between plotting an educational course that provides the best environment for choristers and one that favors non-choristers. The Madeleine Choir School implemented a creative approach to this issue, allowing the school principal to plot a course for the daily educational needs of all students, but retaining the cathedral choir director as the school’s pastoral administrator, a position above the principal, which allows him final say should there ever arise an conflict between chorister and non-chorister interests.

The mission of all of these choir schools remains the training of their choristers in the art of sacred music. The main difference, however, among all of the schools I have mentioned, is how much control each school is able to exert over a chorister’s formation. The greatest amount of control is exerted by the residential “real” choir school that can plan all of its educational and extra-curricular events around the needs of the choir. This lessens slightly as one descends to the non-residential “real” choir school, then to the residential choir school that educates both choristers and non-choristers, next to the non-residential choir school that educates choristers and non-choristers, penultimately to the regular school that partners with a cathedral or church choir and lastly to the choir that exists as an after (or before) school model.

As I just mentioned, there are regular schools (non-choir schools) that work in partnership with a church’s choir to provide an ideal setting for the musical education of that church’s choristers even though the school is not a choir school. This model is perhaps more common in England where there is no-separation between church and state. It is also somewhat easier to facilitate because English schools generally begin much later than American schools (around 9 a.m.), which allows for a choir rehearsal at school each morning at a reasonable hour before the school day officially starts. (I have personally tried this at my own American parish and a 7 a.m. choir rehearsal somehow sounds much more cruel to choristers and parents than an 8 a.m. choir rehearsal.) A wonderful example of such a choir is the London Oratory Schola Cantorum, directed by Charles Cole.

Take a moment to visit these choirs’ websites to find out about the history and structures of each one. Is the choir attached to a school? How often does each choir rehearse and when? How many Masses, parts of the Divine Office or services does each sing weekly? Where are the choristers educated? Do choristers received a reduction in school fees because of the time they give to the cathedral or parish in service to the liturgy? Do choristers receive a thorough grounding in music theory? How many services does each choir sing on a weekly basis? What kinds of music does each choir sing? Are choristers required to take lessons in piano or in other instruments? Are choristers given voice lessons as part of their musical education? Who sings the alto, tenor and bass parts in these choirs, professional singers, boys with changed voices or a combination of both? Are there other organists or helpers on the music staff (educating choristers is VERY time consuming)? Does the choir take part in musical events outside the liturgy, and if so, does this help them to sing at a higher level within the liturgy?

These are things a choir director needs to think about as he plans to build a successful choral foundation at his own cathedral or parish. And because I do think it is indispensable that liturgical musicians in American begin to build choir schools for the training of our own future musicians, next week I will begin taking readers through the histories of the founding of various types of choir schools. The schools I have selected were all founded in the 20th century and therefore have many more documented histories available to help the church musician of today create his own blueprint for such an incredible institution.

 

So… You Can’t Visit a Choir School

I have, of course, shared with readers many times in the past my abiding love for the choir school tradition and the conviction that it would be the fastest and surest path to restoring musical sanity in our cathedrals and parishes and of bringing the light of true, good and beautiful sacred music into the daily experiences of parishioners everywhere.

I continually ask readers to imagine a choral program for children where the same children are taught to use their voices well, where they learn to read music at a deeper level each year and where, in grades 5 through 8 they sing through vast amounts of the greatest sacred choral music that Western Civilization has bequeathed to the modern world (especially Gregorian chant and polyphony). All the while, these same students are receiving serious tuition in keyboard and voice.

There are roughly 175 dioceses and archdioceses in the United States. If at the very least the primary cathedral of each diocese or archdiocese plus just one parish in each of these same geographical regions committed themselves to creating such programs and graduating at least 10 students each year, that would mean 3,500 students annually. In one generation (roughly 20 years) that would mean approximately 70,000 students. While the vast majority of those students would not go into music professionally, they would at least help to fill our parishes with congregations and choir members who would expect real sacred music sung to a high degree and who would be willing to finance it.

Lastly, there would be those students who would go on to be professional church musicians and who would have experienced greater portions of sacred music (and performed it to a higher degree) by the end of their 8th grade year than most American graduate students in music can boast of experiencing by the end of their master degree. I was very privileged to spend six weeks at the Madeleine Choir School in Salt Lake City and I can honestly say that experience was worth a graduate degree in itself. Nevertheless, I realize that this experience simply isn’t possible for most so I want to offer readers a second way. What follows are links to books, articles, videos, etc. that provide valuable information about choir schools and/or choral foundations. These tools cannot replace spending personal time at these institutions, but they will certainly wet one’s appetite for a first hand experience.

Books:
The Art of the Choral Conductor (Finn)
The Beat is Irrelevant (Carpenter)
Catholic Church Music (Terry)
John Bertalot
Manual of Church Music
Ward Method
Westminster Retrospect (Andrews)

Training Programs and Music Theory Standards:
Voice for Life (RSCM)
ABRSM Music Theory Standards

Dissertations:
Catholic Choir School Models in the United States (Seighman)
The Choir School in the American (Anglican) Church (McGrath)
Lifelong Influences of Being a Chorister (Dong)
The Madeleine Choir School (Tappan)

USA Catholic Choir School Websites:
The Madeleine Choir School
Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church and Academy
St. Paul’s Choir School

European Catholic Choir School Websites:
Westminster Cathedral Choir
Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral Choir
Regensburger Domspatzen

Podcasts and Videos:
The Role of Sacred Music in Catholic Education (Cole)
Staved Off (St. Mary’s Cathedral Choir, Sydney)
Westminster Cathedral

I would recommend in general searching YouTube for videos about choir schools, auditioning to choir schools, life in choir schools, etc.