HE NUMBER OF SCHOOL CHOIRS has expanded from one in 2004 (which at the time included the entire Middle School enrollment) to ten at present. These choirs sing in rotation for the daily Mass, with each choir singing approximately two times per month. The choirs also perform two concerts per year. Additionally, a different school choir provides the music at the 9:00 am Mass one Sunday each month. This offers an opportunity for those families who are not members of the parish to experience the unique and beautiful Anglican Use liturgy and witness the musical training of the students.
The school choirs include:
Additional opportunities are provided for students to expand their training and experience by participating in various regional and state competitions and festivals. While these events are of enormous value to the students, they also bring recognition to The Atonement Academy. Sponsoring organizations include the Texas Music Educators Association (TMEA), the Texas Private Music Educators Association (TPSMEA), the Texas Choral Directors Association (TCDA), National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS), and American Federation Pueri Cantores (AFPC). The choirs have consistently earned “Sweepstakes” at annual state concert and sight-reading contests. Over the past three years, a total of six high school students have been accepted into the Texas All-State choir following a highly competitive audition process. With an upper school enrollment of approximately 120 students, this statistic is particularly impressive given that it is equal to the number of All- State placements from area public schools with enrollments of several thousand students.
Choirs at Our Lady of the Atonement Church
The church choir program has experienced tremendous growth over the past ten years in both quality and quantity. In 2004 there were two parish choirs – a children’s choir comprised of choristers in grades 2-9, and a volunteer adult choir of approximately 15-20 members. Over the years the original children’s choir has been expanded to form three choirs. Others have been added bringing the total number of choirs to seven. These encompass the following:
(2) St. Augustine Boychoir
Choristers (25) – boys in grades 4-7 (by audition)
Probationers (12) – boys in grades 3, less experienced boys in grade 4
Tenor/Bass – boys in grades 7-12 (coming fall 2014)
Sings for the 9:00 AM Mass one Sunday per month as well as special liturgies throughout the year; performs concerts on their own and with other community ensembles; rehearses weekly
(3) St. Cecilia Youth Choir (20)
Grade 6-12 girls; sings for the 9:00 AM Mass approximately one Sunday per month; sings for weddings and other special events both within and outside the parish; rehearses weekly
(4) St. Gregory Schola Cantorum (12)
An auditioned group of high school and college age men who sing the Gregorian Propers for the 6:00 PM Latin Mass (OF) each Sunday; rehearses weekly
(5) Our Lady of the Atonement Adult Choir (27)
Sings for the 11:00 AM Mass each Sunday as well as special liturgies throughout the year; rehearses weekly;
Comprised of volunteers, professional section leaders and choral scholars; the choral scholar program was instituted in the fall of 2012 and provides four exceptionally talented high school students with a modest stipend. This helps to improve the quality of the choir and assists the scholars in developing their musical talent as well as valuable leadership skills
At present, over one-third of the choir is under age 30
(6) Parish Festival Choir (30-40)
With the members of the Adult Choir as its core, the parish Festival Choir provides an opportunity for those who have a desire to sing but cannot commit to weekly rehearsals; the Festival Choir sings for the annual All Souls Evensong, Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, and the liturgies of Holy Week; rehearses seasonally
(7) Collegium Canticorum (20)
An auditioned ensemble of high school and college age students who specialize in Renaissance polyphony; sings for the Latin Mass (OF) one Sunday per month; rehearses as needed
When the Murrays arrived in San Antonio, the church housed a small but versatile pipe organ. The parish was about to embark on an expansion project, one which would double the size of the church and provide some much needed additional classroom space for the growing school enrollment.
One of the first tasks was to identify a suitable instrument for the soon-to-be enlarged church. The Murrays were aware of a number of churches in Boston which were being suppressed due to archdiocesan-wide reconfiguration. A perfect match was found in the Casavant organ (Op. 2016) housed in Blessed Sacrament Church in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston. Comprised of three manuals and thirty-six ranks, the organ was purchased from the Archdiocese of Boston, moved to San Antonio and placed in storage. Upon completion of the church expansion in 2005, the organ was installed by the Ballard Organ Company of San Antonio, which made some minor tonal modifications and expanded the organ to fifty ranks across five divisions.
At the same time, Fr. Phillips learned of the availability of a one manual, seven rank Laukuff tracker organ in the Boston area that was being donated to a church with a vibrant music program. The Murrays inspected the organ and determined that it would make a suitable interim instrument to serve during the construction. Upon completion of the expanded church, the organ was moved to the Sacred Heart Chapel where it is used for special liturgies as well as a teaching instrument for aspiring young organists.
In anticipation of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the parish, a Music Series was founded in 2007. The series sponsors six musical events per year featuring artists of local, national and international acclaim. The Music Series is an important means of evangelization and outreach and assists the church in achieving one of its most ancient responsibilities of preserving and promoting the arts. The Music Series is largely self-sustaining and receives a minimal subsidy from the parish. Among those who have performed are world renowned organists Marie-Louise Langlais, James David Christie, Pierre Pincemaille, Clive Driskill- Smith, James O’Donnell, David Briggs, and Gerre and Judith Hancock.
The sacred music program at Our Lady of the Atonement Church and The Atonement Academy serves as a model for other institutions seeking to train young people in singing the great music of the Church. It owes its success to a number of factors including the support of its pastor, Fr. Christopher Phillips, appropriation of financial resources, a dedicated music faculty and an unbreakable bond between church and school. Other elements include a dedicated rehearsal space, a fine pipe organ and a church with generous acoustics. What is not essential is a school filled with exceptionally talented students. Without question, there are many students who attend The Atonement Academy who possess considerable musical talent. However, most of the students are no different from children in any other school. With the right combination of elements in place, this amazing program can happen anywhere!
We hope you enjoyed this guest series by Mæstro Edmund Murray.