Category Archives: Feasts of the Church

A Christmas Carol

“‘Tis the season to… strike the harp and join the chorus.” One of my favorite pastimes in Christmastide is caroling with friends and family, accompanied by fine libations and delectable treats. Like the real wax candles that bedeck our family Christmas tree, though, caroling seems to have become an anomaly in the modern world–a bizarre ritual of old that delights the anthropologist but is of little other use. Christians as much as anyone else simply turn on the radio and think little more of it. Ask the average person in your parish to sing the first verse of Silent Night from memory and I wager he hasn’t got the mental reserve to make it half way through. Don’t doubt me.

In opposition to this decay, I thought today I might refresh our cultural memory of, and hopefully our desire for, the once ubiquitous Christmas carol. To be honest, how many even know what a carol really is, from whence these beautiful songs came and why they are so important–not only for creating a festive mood, but for forming the imagination of our young people (and not so young) and passing on the Faith.

Carols originated as circle dances, accompanied by singing, during the Medieval period. This dance-like quality (Angelus ad Virginem), as well as refrains (Birjina gaztetto bat zegoen, or The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came) and texts in either Latin (Quem pastores), the vernacular (Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen) or both (Psalite, unigenito) were popular–traditions maintained in the modern era. Carol themes run the gamut of the liturgical year or might be secular in nature (Deck the Halls), although the Christmas carol seems to have taken the high ground. Their texts are beautiful examples of popular piety put into words, whether a carol narrates a well know Gospel text such as the Annunciation (The Salutation Carol) or speaks figuratively about the time Mary bore the Christchild in her womb (Maria durch ein Dornwald ging).

Carols developed around the same time as the great mystery and miracle plays (c. 1350-1450) in the golden age of Christendom (although no age is ever perfect) when the Church’s celebration of her liturgical life possessed the vitality to shape and form popular culture. Some carols, such as the Coventry Carol, were a part of these  mystery plays.

 

European countries had a wonderful tradition of carols to which America contributed in her turn (It Came Upon a Midnight Clear and the Negro spiritual Rise Up, Shepherds, and Follow), but in the last seventy-five years the carol has become nothing more than warm sentiments crooned on winter evenings by the latest pop stars emanating from every electronic device imaginable. I’ll gladly admit to listening to and enjoying Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra singing Adeste fidelis (in an era when even the great Hollywood stars knew a bit of Latin) or I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas, backed by a large choir and orchestra, but this is an impoverishment of the original carol.

As our culture turns away from God, or more than likely, simply forgets about Him, the popularity of the carol has waned with the winter sun. I sometimes wonder if it isn’t partly the loss of the carol and many other worthy religious customs that has aided the demise of our Faith in the western world (and a loss of the true meaning of Christmas). I have noticed that parents who understand the importance of culture in the formation of their children and therefore instill  in their children a healthy skepticism toward the benefits of “popular” culture are more successful in raising faithful children. Perhaps it would be wise for families to resist the urge to turn on the radio and tune in to the popular “winter holiday” songs and rather, rediscover the simple beauty of the Christmas carol, a true folk tune full of beautiful imagery, Christian meaning and wonderful melodies. Then learn them as a family and sing them together. Click here for a great printable (and free) Christmas caroling book or here to listen to five hours of wonderfully sung Christmas carols.

Keep the flame of the true Christmas spirit burning brightly, continue to wish your family and friends a Merry Christmas! and get together with those same beloved (and not so beloved) kin during the Twelve Days of Christmas and carol to your heart’s content. It is a wonderful way to instill in your children in the real meaning of Christmas, to marvel at the beauty and awesomeness of the Incarnation and to create lasting memories. While you are at it, make a bowl of Smoking Bishop (be sure to have the spirits you put in it blessed today on the Feast of St. John) and toast our heavenly Father, Who in His infinite love sent His Son to become man so that we might become like God! Merry Christmas!

A Late Gift for Nicholasmas

As the saying goes, better late than never. Already we find ourselves on the Feast of St. Lucy, a full week after the Feast of St. Nicholas, but nevertheless, I thought I would share with you a wonderful repository of all things St. Nicholas, that like the wise Virgins, you might find yourselves prepared for the feast next year.

If you aren’t already familiar with it, St. Nicholas Center is a website dedicated to the holy man of Myra, and a must see. There are wonderful articles on the events in the life of St. Nicholas, the legends surrounding his personage, descriptions of how he became Santa Claus, Kris Kringle and various other gift givers and why St. Nicholas, who points to the crib instead of replacing it, is simply better.

There are several sections of the website especially dear to me, such as its liturgical resources and musical resources. It contains prayers and collects from the saint’s feast, as well as the order of service used for the Enthronement of the Boy Bishop at Westminster Cathedral in London, English translations of Medieval miracle plays (here for the story of St. Nicholas and the Virgins) and many St. Nicholas carols from throughout the world.

Unfortunately we live in a society in which parents can no longer allow the culture to help form their children, and in most instances are forced to fight such and un-cultural laviathon. As St. Nicholas made so bold as to punch the heretic Arius, I doubt he would have sat idly by as Christ was barred from His own birthday celebration. This website provides a wealth of materials for parents to help fight the commercialization of Christmas (and the loss of Advent altogether) and more importantly, once again put their children on the path to the Manger in Bethlehem.

Where does your heart lie?

Two weeks ago I wrote concerning a comment Msgr. Marini made in a talk regarding the friction that often results between priest and musician clash over matters musical withing the sacred liturgy. Over the next few weeks I would like to look at some of the other comments he made during his talk, points which I think are always important for us to remember.

Msgr. Marini spoke about the ongoing battle between the external work of the musician at Mass, making sure that the music is technically and artistically performed, and the interior work of allowing the Holy Spirit to transform us into saints. How many of us have fought this battle within our own hearts, pouring all of our energies into making the music at Easter or Christmas (or any Sunday, for that matter) perfect and then realizing afterward that while we were physically present for the Holy Sacrifice, we were spiritually far from it. How many of us arrived home after Holy Mass and had nothing left to give our families (and never forget they are our actual vocation).

In spite of all my faults (and my wife would gladly tell you how numerous they are), I feel that this is one area of my life in which I have a leg up, so to speak. I grew up in a family where my father was ALWAYS present. He earned a master degree in education but decided against going into the field because he knew he would have no time for his family. Instead he took a blue collar job in the oil field. When his time was up at work, he left for home and left work at work. His work time was flexible enough that he was able to get away for an hour whenever we had school plays, parent teacher conferences, etc. He came to so much that my siblings and I joked that we wouldn’t mind if he stayed home every once in a while. More importantly, he had an uncanny knack for knowing and keeping priorities in order. God was always first, even when vacation plans had to be moved around so we could drive three hours to the closest Mass for Assumption while traveling in Montana and Wyoming. We have to learn to keep priorities as musicians–God and family.

I think what we can learn from this is that if you arrive at Christmas day and you haven’t been to confession, if your daily prayer has suffered and you haven’t eaten supper with your family at least five nights a week during Advent, then you are in too far. As musicians, we tend to love our work more than others, but that is no excuse for overextending ourselves. God really is concerned with internals before He is concerned with externals. Please don’t misunderstand, I believe in excellence and I abhor bad music badly sung within the sacred liturgy, we need regular practice, but we still have to get our priorities straight. Make a pledge to put God and your family first this Advent and Christmastide. Simplify the music at Christmas Masses if you have to. Take your family to confession. Pray before you ever get to work. And practice resignation once Mass begins, letting the music fall where it wills. You will arrive at Christmas Day (or any other day) full of the joy of the feast!

Liturgical Musicians and Pastors: Are We Really Working Together?

Last month Catholic News Service reported that Msgr. Marini, the papal MC, spoke on October 21 to a group of musicians in Italy as part of a choral festival.. The good monsignor outlined five important aspects of the sacred liturgy and how the choir is called to serve each aspect. While I think his points were extremely valuable for us to ponder (the topic of next week’s post), it was an “uncomfotable, practical question” asked by a woman in the audience afterward, followed by Marini’s response, that caught the attention of most.

“Many times, in our parishes, the priest wants the choir to perform songs that are inappropriate, both because of the text” and because of the moment the song is to be performed during the service, she said. “In these situations, must the choir master follow the wishes of the priest even with the knowledge that by doing so, the choir is no longer serving the liturgy, but the priest?” she said to applause.

Asked for his advice, Msgr. Marini smiled, cast his eyes upward and rubbed his chin signaling his awareness that it was a hot-button topic. He said he felt “sandwiched” “between two fires, between priests and choirs.” Acknowledging the difficulty of such a situation, he said he sided with the priest.

There are situations where priests may not be giving completely correct guidance, he said, and there are directors that could be doing better. But in either case, conflict and division should be avoided and “humility and communion be truly safeguarded,” he said.

This, like with all disagreements, he said, requires that all sides be very patient with each other, sit down and talk, and explain the reasons behind their positions.

But if no conclusion or final point is reached, then “perhaps it is better also to come out of it momentarily defeated and wait for a better time rather than generate divisions and conflict that do no good,” he said to applause.

If the truth be told, this woman’s question resonated more those present than Marini’s previous five points simply because it touched upon a deep wound–the tension so often felt between the priest (who should be the chief liturgist of his parish) and the choir director (who is often designated as the liturgist) at the majority of parishes in Anytown, USA.

To make matters worse, over the last 50 years progressives have so successfully pushed a false view of what the essence of the sacred liturgy is in the classical sense (and I would argue as it is presented in Sacrosanctum Concilium) that there is no common ground between progressives (clergy or lay) and those who wish to see an authentic implementation of the Second Vatican Council (again, clergy or lay).

I realize there are many good priests and music directors in the world today who are in love with Christ and His Church and who want to see the liturgy “worked” in all of its beauty, both for the Glory of God and for the edification of all the faithful, but unfortunately, the union of the two rarely takes place in the parish. Speaking on behalf of liturgical musicians worthy of the name, they often submit as a result of the pastor’s sheer force rather than out of respect for at least being heard.

I am blessed to work for a very orthodox pastor who at at the same time truthfully acknowledges that he doesn’t always understand my insistence on the sacred liturgy being celebrated in the way that I do. But the key is that both of us have an openness to the each other and to the truth and this makes submission on my part much easier (and while I might stretch him liturgical, it is only fair to note that he has stretched me in many areas of the Faith extra-liturgical). If that weren’t the case, I would have no other course of action than to submit to him by turning in my resignation. As I have explained to priests before who seek to understand the church musician, I feel called by God to this work and understand it to be part of my path to holiness. As such I have to be faithful to what the Church asks me to do, whether I like it or not (this is incredibly freeing). I have spent large amounts of time (time often away from my family), money and energy to learn the skills necessary to follow this avocation (I don’t see it as a job). Priests need to realize that for me to do less than what the Church asks of me would be like an athlete showing daily to practice and being told by the coach that he wasn’t really interested in the sport and quite frankly didn’t care to be. Such a coach wouldn’t have a team, and I dare say many priests haven’t been much more successful in procuring and retaining great musicians.

If I had the chance to speak with Marini in person, I would like to share with him that while what he says is true, it is equally true that if the Church is going to call musicians to this vocation, She has a duty to form pastors who will respect and nourish such a vocation (which means forming priests in an authentic ars celebrandi). Charity is never one sided. To be fair, I am sure the good monsignor feels the same way, but I think it is time that we honestly address both sides.

Music and the Formation of our Youth

Several weeks ago I gave a presentation to a group of church musicians concerning the great need for children to both experience and sing good music-not just in order to make them discerning aesthetes, but more importantly, to form their souls. I firmly believe that “while it is true that children can make beautiful music, it is more important that music can make beautiful children,” which in no less true when it comes to sacred music.

Unfortunately today the belief holds sway that “we need to give young people what they like in order to get them in the doors.” I encountered this at my first official church job more than a decade ago working for a Catholic Campus Center. The interim director suggested that maybe I should use the piano and some more upbeat praise and worship music and drop the chant (which wasn’t very much to begin with). I knew Praise and Worship wasn’t the best music for the Sacred Liturgy, but what if it would actually bring students in the door and then we could evangelize them from there. In a real desire to do what was best I called a former professor who now teaches at the Augustine Institute in Denver (and who had plenty of experience working with college students) and explained the situation. Like a really good spiritual director he didn’t shoot back an immediate response, but instead asked a question. “Lucas, you need to ask yourself, do you really believe that young people are going to show up on Sunday night just to hear praise and worship, which we as Catholics will never be able to perform to the standards of a Protestant mega church, when they could stay at home and listen to the same stuff on a CD without having to sit through the homily.” I have never forgotten that question.

What if we changed our focus from singing music that makes young people feel good to singing music that helps children to come to know Jesus as He truly is, the God Who became Man so that they could become like God. What if they learned to chant the psalms instead of the trite garbage that passes for kiddie songs today. This isn’t an argument for or against old or new music, but instead an argument for good lyrics set to good music. Perhaps our young people can once again learn that they are children of a Father who loves them and calls them to greatness!

O praise God in His holiness.

Praise Him in the firmament of His power.

Praise Him in His noble acts.

Praise Him according to His excellent greatness…

Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord.”

 

Wonderful Things are Happening in Detroit!

Two weeks ago I spent several days at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit, presenting at, and also attending, a workshop entitled In Service of the Sacred, and I can tell you there are wonderful things going on in the Archdiocese of Detroit. This is only possible because of the many wonderful and talented people involved there with music, including Mr. Matt Simpson, Mrs. Susan Lindquist, Mr. Joe Balisteri (Director of Music for the Archdiocese), Dr. Ron Prowse (Director of Music for Sacred Heart Major Seminary)and of course, Archbishop Allen Vigneron.

I gave a talk entitled, A Firm Foundation: Catholic Choral Education and the Schola Cantorum, in which I spoke about the importance of good sacred music in the formation of the moral imagination of our youth and how that happens in a “choir school.” Afterward, 35 grade school students traipsed into the room and I gave them a 30 minute crash course in the basics of sight-singing. At the end they were able to tackle a short melody on their own. However, even more exciting were two developments I learned of while in Detroit.

First, the archbishop has created a task force at the diocesan level to chart a course for the realization of the Second Vatican Council’s vision for sacred music within the archdiocese, especially at the parish level. The task force hopes to eventually compile a diocesan “Gradual,” which will be more of a repository of readily available sources in English and Latin for singing the Propers of the Mass.

The second wonderful thing I learned about was the great work of Dr. Prowse, who has almost completed composing music for the texts of the Entrance and Communion antiphons found in the Roman Missal, which he has set to Gregorian inspired melodies as opposed to plain psalm tones. The work also includes Responsorial Psalms for the week, Alleluia chants from the Graduale Simplex and a short Kyriale (click here for a short sample). He has been using his settings at the seminary and many of his former seminarians have been pushing him to finish! I think it will prove to be a great resource for any group wishing to sing the Entrance and Communion antiphons at daily Mass, especially since those texts are the ones already found in many of the mainstream music collections used by parishes, such as Breaking Bread. My kuddos to Dr. Prowse! I can’t wait to see the rest of his work and to put them to good use.

The Musical Power of the Priest in the Ordinary Form

I recently received an email from another priest asking if I knew of someone to recommend to him as a possible organist/music director for his parish and I had to email back that I knew of no one available at the time. I believe this is a common problem in some parishes that are perhaps smaller or in more rural settings. It is difficult to find sufficient qualified help because large quantities of church musicians have not been formed. Another problem I encounter is the pastor who has musicians in his parish who faithfully show up every Sunday, but who have been formed in the “if the congregation can’t participate and the actual music isn’t of the lowest common denominator we refuse to use it” attitude. These scenarios are especially hard for the new pastor who hasn’t had time to build relationships with his musicians and parishioners and therefore is reluctant to implement any changes. This begs the question, should the priest simply give up? Fortunately not.

One musical advantage for the priest celebrating the Ordinary Form is that he can play an active role leading the music, yet still celebrate Mass. While I realize this isn’t ideal, one must take every advantage one can. If you are a priest in a rural parish with no musicians to speak of, you could still lead an a cappella hymn during the Entrance, sing the Introductory and Penitential Rites before leading the Kyrie and Gloria. If you were to proceed in the same manner through the Mass, you would probably have a greater portion of your Sunday Mass sung than most American Cathedrals.

If you already have musicians who provide music for your parish, it is probably of the “four hymns and Mass parts” variety. If you are new, don’t fight what your musicians are doing unless it is outright heretical. Just begin singing the Mass piece by piece (I think starting with the Preface Dialogue and Preface has the most impact). I firmly believe this will help people to enter into the Sacrifice of the Mass much more than merely changing the hymns and who plays them. It amazes me that Cathedral musicians sometimes take this approach. They play the same four mediocre hymns as the average parish, only they use the organ, strings, tympani and a trumpet. Immediately following the Entrance Hymn the rector speaks the Introductory Rites and what could have been an uplifting moment comes crashing back to earth.

I obviously don’t have the clout of Cardinal Sarah, but I nevertheless challenge you to begin singing at least a part of Holy Mass this Advent when you turn East to await that glorious day when Christ shall come in all His Glory.

Sing the Mass

One could entitle this post An Open Letter to Pastors, but regardless, I offer the following both as a plea as well as a challenge to all of our priests.

Fathers, I know that most of you are overwhelmed in your work to the point of breaking. You were taught in seminary to save souls, but when you dare to challenge your flocks to greatness, you turn around to find that few have your backs. You are required to be de facto CEOs of your parishes and schools, which allows you almost no time to form meaningful relationships with your parishioners so that they trust you when you spur them on to greater things. Or, as soon as they begin to trust you you are transferred. This begs the question, why would you ever want to spend the time and energy to fix the music in your parishes. I know that many writers in the traditional camp claim that by changing the music in your parishes, overnight your churches will swell in numbers and everything will be alright. That’s not true. You will more than likely loose parishioners (although you will also gain a few). Of the people who remain in your parishes, some will grumble and hope for your eventual transfer. However, you must remember that you weren’t ordained to seek the status quo, but to be great just as you ask your parish families to be great.

Whether your particular parishes are rich or poor, big or small, love sacred music or hate it, there is one thing that I challenge all of you to do, and that is to sing the Mass. Most people who know me personally know that I believe that if a priest could do only one thing to change his parish for the good, I believe it would be to reinstate ad orientem worship. Most of you are not prepared to do that, I realize. However, the second best thing you could do would be to sing the Mass (and please start with the Preface Dialogue and Preface). If you are afraid of any backlash, just pick one thing (the Preface Dialogue and Preface) and sing it for the next year at all of your Sunday Masses. If someone asks you why you sing the Mass and you are afraid to begin a liturgical discussion, you can honestly answer that you just like to sing. Those who enjoy it will congratulate you, while those who don’t won’t usually jump ship over such a matter.

If you do this each year for the 6 years you might find yourself at a parish, between you and your congregations, the Preface Dialogue and Preface (year 1), the Collect , Prayer over the Gifts and the Prayer after Communion (year 2), the Dialogue before and after the Gospel (year 3),  the Lord’s Prayer (year 4), the Introductory Rites and Closing Rites (year 5) and finally any other small dialogues in the Mass (year 6) will be sung. You could do this without ever challenging your volunteer musicians, praise bands, or whoever or whatever else makes music in your parishes to change anything. At the same time, you will have changed the way your parishioners perceive what is really going on when you celebrate your Sunday Masses. They will at least understand that something out of the ordinary is taking place!

What are you waiting for? Get to it!

Theology and Music

I would have loved to have been at the CMAA Colloqium last week, but I spent that time teaching at Benedictine College’s summer Cathedral Program. For one week each summer, a number of high school students make the pilgrimage to one of America’s great Catholic colleges (one can find it on the Newman Guide) for a week of prayer, study, work and fun. Each day students attend Holy Mass, pray the Rosary and learn how to–and pray Lauds, Vespers and Compline. Mornings are usually spent studying theology, while the afternoons are dedicated to one of several specialized areas of learning. I was privileged to teach the voice track and thought I would share with you one of my presentations, which I used to show the students how music and theology work together.

I began by reading St. Matthew 16:13-19:

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death [the gates of Hades] shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

I explained that Caesarea Philippi was quite a distance out of the way for Christ and His disciples, and besides, an orthodox Jew was unlikely to find himself in this city named in honor of Caesar Augustus by Herod Philip, where there was an enormous cave believed to be the gate to Hades and where the ancients worshiped Baal. This cave was formed in the side of an enormous cliff 100 feet high and 500 feet long, which had the appearance of a gigantic rock sitting atop the entrance to the underworld. In front of the cave was a temple dedicated to Caesar Augustus where pagan sacrifice took place, among other more bizarre rituals.

Standing in view of such a sight, Christ asks His disciples who they think He is, and St. Peter professes that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. The pagan gods surrounding Christ and His disciples are meaningless and utterly worthless, for here before them stands the true God, in the flesh. Christ then bestows the authority of His Kingdom on St. Peter, who is “rock” (an infinitely greater rock than the nearby cliff) and tells Peter that the “gates of Hades” will not prevail against him.

Then I showed the students a picture of the inside of the dome in St. Peter’s Basilica and the text inscribed around the base in letters as tall as a grown man, “TU ES PETRUS, ET SUPER HANC PETRAM AEDIFICABO ECCLESIAM MEAM, ET TIBI DABO CLAVES REGNI CAELORUM” (You are Peter [Rock], and on this rock I will build by church, and I give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven). We know that St. Peter is buried beneath the papal altar under the dome of St. Peter’s, but even more importantly, that Pope Francis is the successor to St. Peter, who even today holds the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven as Christ’s Vicar on Earth. I shared that shortly after the election of Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, Cardinal George of Chicago looked pensively across the piazza where the obelisk from the Circus Maximus stood. Later a reporter asked him what he was thinking and he replied that while many dictators and rulers and nations had come and gone in the last 2000 years, here the good Cardinal was, looking across at St. Peter.

I then showed the students a video of Palestrina’s Tu es Petrus from Pope Francis’ first Mass in the Sistine Chapel, followed by a video of James MacMillan’s Tu es Petrus, sung during Pope Benedict’s Mass at Westminster Cathedral during his pastoral visit to England in 2010. Afterward we compared and contrasted these two versions and discussed how each composer brought out various aspects of the text from Sacred Scripture.

Palestrina’s version is calm and regal, perfectly at home in St. Peter’s Basilica. During the time of its composition the Church had entered the glorious time of the Counter Reformation and sought to re-establish Catholicism throughout Europe as well as take the Faith to new lands around the globe. It was a time when the Church was very sure of Herself and Her mission to take Christ to the corners of the earth.

MacMillan’s very different setting came out of a country where the Church had been persecuted unmercifully for 400 years, and where, one might say, it is entering a new persecution. Great Britain has been home to epic struggles for those remaining faithful to Christ and His Church. These struggles are very palpable in MacMillan’s Tu es Petrus. As one student commented, it sounds like the music from a battle scene in The Lord of the Rings. I would agree, and personally find this to be a fruitful exchange between the sacred and secular realms of music.

I hope and pray the Church continues to raise up true artists like Palestrina, Bach, Mozart, Durufle, MacMillan and many others who will bring the Gospel to the world through the medium of the greatest of all the Church’s arts–Music.

Choosing Choral Music

This year I attempted something different as I began the process of choosing music for our next choral season. I spent a week going through all kinds of choral music and came up with a list of about 50 different motets for various liturgical seasons, ranging in style from the Renaissance to the 21st century (yes, there is very good modern music being written, even if most Catholics don’t experience it on a weekly basis), then I sent it out to my choir members and asked for their feedback. I must admit that I have enjoyed reading the responses from various singers and it will be nice knowing that most of the choral literature we sing throughout the next year will be generally liked by everyone. Anyway, I thought I would share with you some of my findings. Please remember that our parish celebrates the liturgy according to the Ordinary Form, in English, but generally very reverently (we rarely sing choral settings of the Ordinary, with the occasional exception of the Kyrie, so my list contains motets only). I hope those of you in similar circumstances might find this post helpful.

Firstly, there is a general apathy to much of Palestrina, although the music of a number of his contemporaries, especially Tallis and Victoria, is much loved. Two exceptions to this attitude are Palestrina’s Hodie Christus natus est and Jubilate Deo. In general, many of my choir members think of his music as “vanilla” and would rather sing something with a little more flavor. Other works from this era that bear the stamp of approval are Parsons’ Ave Maria, Gesualdo’s Tenebrae factae sunt (everyone likes this piece), Tallis’ O nata lux, Gibbons’ O clap your hands and Victoria’s O magnum mysterium and Improperia. Peter Philips’ music also fared generally well.

The Baroque period did not do as well as the Renaissance, although to be honest, I didn’t include as much music from this era. While Bach (and numerous other Germans) is obviously beautiful, our choir doesn’t usually sing in German. A couple of notable and well loved pieces from this time period are A. Scarlatti’s Exultate Deo and H. Hassler’s Cantate Domino (if you consider it as early Baroque).

The Classical period did about as well as the baroque period. Unfortunately, our parish isn’t in a position to sing the great Viennese Masses and there is only so much of Mozart’s Ave verum corpus that one person can handle (sorry to several readers I personally know who love this piece). Mozart’s Regina Coeli in C is generally well liked.

The Romantic era provided a number of well loved composers and works, especially Rheinberger and Bruckner. Rheinberger’s Abendlied is beautiful and especially appropriate for the Easter season. I would love to sing more of this German-ish repertoire (yes, this will push our group, as I wrote earlier, we don’t usually sing in German). As I understand it, the German countries traditionally had permission to sing in the vernacular at High Mass and a number of beautiful works came about as a result. Holst’s Ave Maria, scored for SSSSAAAA is also popular.

The modern era, if one were to include the early 20th century to the present time, proved to be, besides the Renaissance, the other popular progenitor of sacred music. Casals O vos omnes is one of my personal favorites, as well as a favorite of many others. Other well liked works are Stanford’s Beati quorum via, Poulenc’s Exultate Deo, H. Howell’s Haec dies, Parry’s I was glad, Whitacre’s Lux aurumque, Kverno’s Ave Maris Stella and Ave verum corpus, Part’s The Beautitudes and Nystedt’s Peace I Leave with You. Much to my surprise, many choir members want to sing Messiaen’s O sacrum convivium, although one alto wrote to me a one word description of the piece–“scary.” Oh well, we are going to sing it anyway.

I plan to do more of this in the future and I would recommend it to all others who direct any kind of church choir. While I still have final say over what we sing, I have found in the past that if a motet is well loved, rehearsals and moods tend to remain positive. If we sing great liturgical music and everyone is joy-filled, then our singing during Holy Mass tends to be joy-filled.