Monthly Archives: May 2015

Choral Evensong Live from St. Pancras Church, London

This week the reader is in for a treat. Choral Evensong comes live from St. Pancras Church during the London Festival of Contemporary Church Music. I doubt that every single person will be a fan of each of these works, but I have a feeling there will be at least some incredible music. For example, I am looking forward to listening to the Responses composed by Paul Burke. In preparing this post, I visited the composer’s website and listened to a recording of his Tribus Miraculis and couldn’t listen enough. There was a depth and mystery to the piece that so much of our church music, especially what is used in mainstream US Catholic parishes, lacks.

The Anglican church in England, as well as those Catholic English cathedrals that maintain high choral traditions, understand that the treasury of sacred music is LIVING. Too many Catholic musicians I have met in the United States don’t understand that. For the Catholic who attends a “normal” (how I wish I didn’t have to use that term) parish, there is no connection to the music that has fed his brothers and sisters for centuries, the treasury of sacred music is dead. On the flip side, those who attend the Extraordinary Form often experience music from the treasury of sacred music, but that too is a dead experience because those musicians refuse to acknowledge that the treasury is still expanding. Compare Palestrina’s Tu es Petrus, Rachmaninoff’s Bogoroditse devo and Lauridsen’s O nata lux. Each one of these pieces comes from different composers, times, countries and musical traditions, but each is imbued with a deep spirit of awe, reverence, mystery, spiritual depth, etc. May we take the best from our past and truly imbue today with that same spirit so that we can rebuild the Church for our children tomorrow!

Choir School Ingredients (Part II)

Last week I wrote about the ingredients of a choir school, or choral foundation, at the heart of which is the goal of creating a liturgical choir worthy of the name. I wrote that the creation of a school is not the end goal, rather, the creation of the choir is. Still, I believe that the school can be an immense help toward our goal, because it allows for daily rehearsals, instruction in music theory, liturgy, theology and most importantly, a more regular schedule of singing for the Liturgy, whether for Holy Mass or the Divine Office. I want to briefly touch on what I feel is necessary for a school of this kind.

First, you need both a pastor and music director who understand that the Liturgy is both the source and summit of the Christian life. How often we hear this phrase thrown about, yet never understood. We will not make the Liturgy the source and summit of our lives by conforming it to the world. It is the other way around. Of course, music plays a large role in the liturgy because of its intimate nature with the sacred text. Gregorian chant and polyphony, both recommended by the Second Vatican Council should be understood to form the foundation of a solid choral program.

Secondly, you need a principal who is at least supportive of the desires of the pastor and director of music and allows the time necessary during the school day to build such a choral program. I think some of the contention between principals and school music programs comes from the fact that most children in our parochial schools can’t sing a major scale, much less know what it is, after 8 years of music instruction. If I were a principal and saw a music program failing my pupils, I wouldn’t mind getting rid of it. However, if I saw my students were having fun singing and moving in groups, learning how to sight-sing and play instruments and then singing to a professional standard at school Masses, I would be much more inclined to give everything I could to make such a program happen in my school. I think many principals would agree.

Thirdly, you need a music teacher who loves and inspires children, has a thorough grounding in voice, music theory, teaching and who is a professional musicians. This is not the time to hire someone of good will, but who doesn’t have the skills. I remember reading once that Kodaly didn’t so much care who was in charge of symphonies and opera houses, he was more concerned with who was teaching in the schools, because that would determine the future state of music in his nation.

Lastly, it goes without saying that you need children for your program and a school provides that much easier than trying to coax and round up children from various area schools. If you create a culture of great music in your parish school, most students will want to take part. Then you don’t really have to recruit!

Choir School Ingredients

Perhaps I should use the phrase choral foundation as opposed to choir school in my  blog posts. My ultimate goal is to cultivate worthy music for the sacred liturgy through the musical and liturgical formation of our young people. In the past, I have spoken to priests and music directors who either don’t have a parochial school, or the school is not sympathetic to the goals of a choir school. Don’t fear. The point is not to begin a school for the sake of having a school, but to build a choral program in a way that works best for your parish, no matter how small. I will confess, the regular routine of rehearsals during the school day is easier, but a number of the English cathedrals (and parish churches) do very well with an after school program, and you can too!

At the very least, it is necessary that a parish have a competent music director working alongside a pastor who has a liturgical vision grounded in the Church’s wisdom regarding liturgy and sacred music. If your parish has that, all you need are some children for the choir. Get started!