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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Much of the beauty of the older forms was lost and the hymns did not really become classical. We have reason to hope that the present reform of the breviary will also give us back the old form of the hymns. But meanwhile it seems necessary to keep the later text. This is the one best known, it is given in all hymnbooks and is still the only authorized form. Only in one case have we printed the older text of a hymn, number 57, “Urbs Jerusalem.” The modern form of this begins: “Caelestis urbs Jerusalem.” But in this case the people who changed it in the seventeenth century did not even keep its metre; so the later version cannot be sung to the old, exceedingly beautiful tune.
— Fr. Adrian Fortescue (1913)

The Vulnerability of Choral Singing
published 29 January 2016 by Richard J. Clark

HE HUMAN voice is unique in that it is the only musical instrument housed within our God given body. The connection between physical, emotional, mental health, and musical performance is direct. Get sick and the instrument is diminished. Lose mental focus, and like any instrument, performance will suffer. The human voice is vulnerable. But this also what makes it incredibly powerful.

The essence of singing—professional or amateur, in front of a large audience or alone in the shower—is the expression of emotion. Because the voice is one with the body, it is an instrument capable of instant results with regard to emotional and spiritual expression. And it leaves all those who sing before others utterly exposed. Singing is a risk.

HERE IS A HEALING element to singing in a choir. Having directed for many years in parish settings and elsewhere, I am always pleasantly shocked when I’m told, “choir rehearsal is the highlight of my week.” Singers work hard at inconvenient hours and they have to put up with me. Furthermore, members of church choirs likely volunteer on average far more time year round than other volunteers within a community.

Why do singers come back time and again? The reasons are innumerable; the willingness to be vulnerable is a risk well worth taking. This is what makes choral singing so powerful emotionally and spiritually.

But there is another element of surprise: everyone has a story. Choirs spend a lot of time with each other. Making music with anyone on a regular basis is a very intimate relationship—as is praying with those very people. We know the musical and sometimes personal strengths and weaknesses of others. Yet, just when we think we have sized up someone we spend time with each week, sometimes a new surprise hits when we learn something new about that person’s story.

Everyone comes to the Eucharist, to prayer, and to music with his or her own burdens, weaknesses, failures, and suffering. Some of the suffering and challenges we may not know about are extremely significant. Everyone is vulnerable. That is humanity. But overcoming that vulnerability makes for incredible strength. As such, I am often in awe of those under my direction given the challenges they face and have overcome.

VERONE IS IMPORTANT. I have the privilege of working with singers with amazing careers and singers who are just trying to learn the basics. But we come together in unity to pray through music. Those who are not professional singers always bring something else to the table that is very valuable to the choir. Sometimes it is the least talented who have the most to offer the group. Everyone is important.

Through a generation of experience, I can attest to many singers who fortify the choir and all our prayer through the very imperfect person that they are. Musically, a director’s challenge is to make it all work. But everyone who comes to sing is healing others perhaps as they are healing themselves. They often don’t know it. Sometimes directors need to remind everyone of that.

INALLY, THERE IS A VULNERABILITY in keeping institutions and programs alive—even highly successful ones. Those who work for the Church as musicians are deeply vulnerable—although we don’t like to show it. But, I have learned that even the best musicians and even those who appear to have high profile positions experience grave professional difficulties at one time or another in their career. We share this struggle for art, prayer, and beauty in common. A byproduct of this reality is that I am that much more grateful for my singers—who are beautiful people—without whom I would be nothing.

Therefore, as choir directors, we too have struggles and must be mindful of the struggles of those under our leadership. We all share in the common frailty of humankind. But with God, al things are possible. With God, a collection of individuals who sing in a choir have the power to heal others and create music that is greater than the individual parts, talented and less talented. We are unified in the love of Christ.

Thank God for church choirs. I don’t know where I would be today without them, because those who sing for me have saved my life and have helped heal me every single week.

More importantly, choirs elevate prayer directing our hearts and minds toward God. This is truly the healing and saving power of music.

Soli Deo Gloria

HERE ARE A FEW OF MY CHORAL/LITURGICAL WORKS for Lent and Easter. You can listen to recordings of each or these:

Communion Antiphons for Lent | SATB, Organ, Assembly • World Library Publications

Christe qui lux es et dies | Based on Compline Hymn for Lent, SATBRJC Cecilia Music

Lumen Christi | Paschal Candle Procession | Deacon/Priest, Assembly, SATB • CanticaNOVA Publications

O Sacrum Convivium | TTB or SSA • includes optional text for tempore quadragesimæ • RJC Cecilia Music

I Am Risen, Resurrexi | Introit for Easter Sunday, SATB, organ • RJC Cecilia Music