Monthly Archives: March 2016

St. Paul’s Choir School, Harvard Square

Last week I mentioned that Having a Vision is critically important to my life as a church musician (or, as I like to refer to myself in front of my wife, a sacred musician), and that my vision must be informed by the mind and heart of the Church. Make no mistake, you will get nowhere without such a vision. Today I would like to share with you an incredible place where such a musician had a great vision, informed by the mind and heart of the Church.

In 1963, Dr. Theodore Marier founded St. Paul’s Choir School at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Boston in response to De musica sacra (1958). What I find so interesting is that by opening himself to the Church’s vision for liturgical music, he founded such a school in the very same year that the Second Vatican Council Fathers were drafting and ratifying Sacrosanctum Concilium (read through paragraphs 112-116–Dr. Marier could have composed those lines himself). I guarantee you that the music those boys sing on a daily basis is just as important of a formator in their lives as the lectures and homilies given by their teachers and priests. I think that the St. Paul Hymnal is simply another fruit of such a vision. I also think St. Paul’s provide a blue print for us.

What I want to know is why doesn’t every Cathedral in the US work toward such a vision? Why can’t every parish implement such a vision? What, you don’t think they have the funds, the talent, the proper support? Who cares. The apostles were twelve of the biggest bunglers Christ could have chosen. St. Peter might have been the second worse, and he was made the Rock! Still, those men changed the entire course of history. Stop finding excuses and get started! If I can do it, that means ANYONE can! Just do it!

They Lied to Me in Grad School

Alright, so perhaps it was a sin of omission instead of commission, but no one in graduate school ever told me that building (and I haven’t even gotten to maintaining) a world class choral program required advanced degrees in music, organ, voice, choir, conducting, child psychology, adult psychology, theology, liturgy, Latin, phonetics, economics and budgeting, fundraising (oh, I could write a book on that subject alone), event planning, computer science, PR and HR, conflict management as well as a host of other subjects. Sometimes it makes we want to chuck it all and pursue my other passion (farming), but the Holy Spirit keeps me here, and to be honest, I wouldn’t be happy any other way. So… I thought today I might share with you some things that I do on a daily basis to stay energized and keep returning to my job that really isn’t a job-it’s my passion.

1) Start your day ahead of the rest and put God first. I get up at 5 a.m. Yikes, that seems early, but I have learned it is better to let the day come to me rather than waking up to the day. One of the first things I do every morning is make my daily meditation and examen. Please don’t think I am anywhere near sainthood or even within sight of it, but I know that I have to keep priorities straight. To be honest, I can only get to daily Mass two or three times each week, but I really try never to miss my 30 minutes each morning with the Lord.

2) Family must come next. If our relationship with God comes first, our relationship with our family has to come next, even if that means we can’t provide music for every single function at church. I have gotten in heated arguments with co-workers (yes, in the Catholic Church) before who believe that sometimes it is necessary to let family life suffer a bit in order to take care of what needs to be done at church. I WILL NOT compromise on this issue and have let others know I will take the pink slip first. I don’t believe this will ever be necessary, but it is amazing how much your family appreciates you just knowing that you think this way. The second thinh I do with my family is make sure that each day I have meaningful time with my wife and each child. It is too easy to come home tired and mentally check out. Don’t do it! There will be time to sleep when you are dead.

3) You must have vision. You will never build a world class program, much less a solid one, if you don’t have a vision of what it is you want your choral program to ultimately be (and this needs to be thoroughly informed by the mind and heart of the Church). I don’t care if you feel like you are a great musician or not, decide to have the absolute best music program at your parish, then make a list of what you need to do to make that happen and by (the grace of) God-DO IT! It is better to aim high and miss than aim low and hit. Besides, you will draw more people to your vision if you yourself believe in greatness. If all you can do is complain that you don’t have enough singers, that your pastor doesn’t appreciate good music and that nobody appreciates your hard work, guess what, no one will join you and you will have put the nail in your own coffin.

4) Always keep learning. One of the reasons I get up so early is because that is the only way I can get lots of reading in on a daily basis. I usually am reading several books all at the same time (one always has to do with the practice of music). It is all too true that when most people begin a new job, they learn everything they need to know within their first year and then they coast until they get their next job. That would bore me to no end.

5) Make a list of what needs to be done (and I don’t mean things like answering email and cleaning your office) and do those things first. A long time ago I realized that I could sit in my office answering email all day long. Yes, I would have been busy, but with the wrong things. Every morning I make a list and put the things first that will help me build a better music program, things like taking time to learn music thoroughly, spending extra time with choristers who need help, or even recruiting new choristers and avenues of funding.

6) Strive for greatness. St. Irenaeus wrote that “the glory of God is man fully alive” and he was right. However, as a friend of mine who directs the music at the cathedral in Sioux Falls, SD, once told me, most people in the church do not appreciate greatness. The attitude of “do your best” has been used as the greatest excuse for bad music, and don’t think this hasn’t affected the New Evangelization. So… no matter what anyone else thinks (even if it is your pastor) strive for greatness and never look back!

Choir and Cantor?

I realize that I am somewhat late in posting on Justice Antonin Scalia’s funeral, but I would like to share two observations. The first observation is a very simple one. If every Catholic funeral in the Ordinary Form were to show forth even a quarter of the noble beauty of Scalia’s funeral, or even if they were simply oriented toward our Heavenly Father as Scalia’s was, instead of focusing primarily on us “humankind,” the Faith in the United States would look very different. Having said that, I come to the second and actual reason for my post, the issue of the choir and cantor.

The role of both choir and cantor is to lead the congregation in singing. Okay, I understand that, but what I don’t understand is why some feel the need to have both leading the singing at the same time. The cantor often leads the congregation by himself, so why can’t the choir do the same. I have an assistant who helps me direct the choir. We often both direct the choir, but NEVER at the same time. Even if he and I were to direct exactly the same way (which would never happen), one of us would be superfluous. The same thing happens when the choir and cantor lead together, only in the end, the cantor will win over the choir because he/she is one large voice with a microphone. Not only that, but the cantor will win over the congregation. As I watched Scalia’s funeral, I loved listening to the Entrance Hymn, O God, Our Help in Ages Past. The choir and congregation sang it equally well, but there was always one big voice that I could never fully block out, that of the cantor. It was like listening to the most beautiful choir in the world, minus the one singer who decided to sing louder than everyone else in order to lead. I have been told before by “experts” that the reason to have a cantor lead even when the choir is singing is so the congregation will watch the cantor’s arms and know when to come in. Excuse me, but if we think that little of the mental capacities of our congregations, martyr me now, because there is no hope for the New Evangelization. Please, let the choir lead!