About this blogger:
Richard J. Clark is the Director of Music of the Archdiocese of Boston and the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. He is also Chapel Organist (Saint Mary’s Chapel) at Boston College. His compositions have been performed worldwide.
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Had the Church never spoken on this matter, it would still be repugnant to our Catholic people’s sense of what is fit and proper in the holiest of places, that a priest should have to struggle through the prayers of the Holy Mass, because of such tunes as “Alice, where art thou?” the “Vacant Chair,” and others of more vulgar title, which, through the carelessness or bad judgment of organists, sometimes find their way into our choirs.
— Preface to a Roman Catholic Hymnal (1896)

The Pipe Organ and Propers Flourish with Vexo and Weismann
published 9 May 2014 by Richard J. Clark

AST WEEK I DISCUSSED how the pipe organ often languishes in survival mode. Today, I would like to shine the light on the organ as it thrives.

Keeping the pipe organ alive takes creativity and thinking outside of the box. Furthermore, a mutually trusting relationship between pastor and musician allows sacred music to be nurtured, to grow and eventually flourish.

One such case is Russell Weismann who in recent years has had an interesting career path. He was Director of Music and Liturgy at Georgetown University. He then moved on to be the Associate Director of Music at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Recently, he was appointed Director of Music and Liturgy at Saint Jane Frances de Chantal Parish in Bethesda, Maryland. Interestingly, it is at the parish level where some truly creative partnerships are happening under Mr. Weismann’s leadership.

Recently, St. Jane de Chantel installed a new Lively Fulcher Organ of three-manuals and forty ranks which is beautifully voiced for a somewhat modest, yet bright worship space. The Lively Fulcher replaced an old Rogers electronic organ.

Mr. Weismann also appears to be an educator at heart, intent on catechizing the faithful on sacred music whether it be through inserting various articles on sacred music or a creative venture such as a recent mass for the Third Sunday of Easter in which the parish invited Johann Vexo, Choir Organist, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris to play at mass as well as in concert.

But much more than a showcase of the organ, this liturgy had the full intention of implementing the ideals of Vatican II. In the program, Russell Weismann writes:

The music of today’s liturgy is inspired by the tradition of liturgical music at La Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris. In keeping with the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the prescribed sung antiphons (propers) for the day replace generic hymns (GIRM ii; 48). The congregation is asked to fully participate in the singing of the sung responses. Organ improvisation is interspersed throughout the liturgy, evoking a sense of “Vox Dei”, the Voice of God.
The organ, 'transcending the merely human sphere, as all music of quality does, evokes the divine. ... It is capable of echoing and expressing all the experiences of human life. The manifold possibilities of the organ in some way remind us of the immensity and the magnificence of God.” – Benedict XVI

DOWNLOAD the program: :
PDF • Third Sunday of Easter, St. Jane de Chantel Parish, Bethesda, Maryland

LISTEN to the Prelude improvisation (Johann Vexo) and Introit (6:00 into the MP3):
MP3 • Prelude – Introit

You will also see simple and singable settings of the Entrance, Offertory, and Communion antiphons. In addition, there is Weismann’s Mass in Honor of St. Ignatius, a beautifully crafted chant-based mass setting in English which is also very singable for any congregation. Then as a bonus, there is a May crowning and procession!

So, how was this mass received by the parishioners? There was standing room only at mass.

In this case, the propers and the organ thrive because of at least three elements:
• There is a mutually supportive partnership between pastor and musician.
• There is ongoing catechesis for the faithful to better understand the liturgy.
• Wonderful resources are fully taken advantage of and utilized.

F YOU ARE IN THE D.C. AREA, please attend mass at St. Jane de Chantel. You will experience a reverent and beautiful liturgy. Having had the privilege of hearing Russell Weismann play, his hymns alone are something of a seminar in organ accompaniment, varying each verse with color, harmonization and texture yet without drawing attention to itself. Seamless and fluid, the hymns are kept interesting, piquing the interest of the congregation with each verse. I suspect this is why the congregation there loves to sing so much.

For your enjoyment, here is a prelude improvisation by Organist Johann Vexo, on Les Grandes Orgues Notre-Dame-de-Paris. The great tradition of improvisation, especially in France is certainly quite adventuresome, fully embracing the awesome mystery and presence of God: