HE CITY OF REGENSBURG, GERMANY (also known as Ratisbon), is beautiful on many accounts, not the least of which is the Cathedral of St. Peter and its famous choir, the Regensburger Domspatzen (literally “the Regensburg Cathedral Sparrows”), which celebrated its 1000 anniversary in 1975. Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, brother of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, directed the choir for 30 years (1964-1994), since which time Roland Buechner has held the baton. I would like to highlight this choir today for a number of reasons as we discuss the choir school in general and its role in the ongoing efforts to celebrate the Roman Rite in a worthier manner.
The choir at Regensburg is set up according to what I call the German model, meaning that while boys still form the treble lines, high school boys sing the lower parts in the choir, as apposed to the English tradition of having profession men, or university level choral scholars sing those parts.1 The choir’s sound tends toward a judicious use of vibrato (a continental sound) as opposed to a straight tone (an English sound), and the backbone of the choir’s repertoire, like that of Westminster Cathedral, is polyphony and chant. At the same time, the choir sings much religious music in the German tradition as well as German folk music and art songs, which they perform in concerts across the world. If you speak German, there is a wonderful video series about the choir on YouTube with a decent amount of footage of actual vocal instruction being given to new choristers. I have found them very helpful.
I would like to point out that while this choir is world class, I nevertheless feel that the quality of the singing is not at the level of Westminster Cathedral (this causes me incredible anguish because I have an unyielding passion for all things German) simply because it does not sing together in public as often as the choir as Westminster does (the choir at Regensburg sings for Mass on a more weekly basis). The fact that Westminster usually perfects a polyphonic Ordinary and Gregorian Propers along with choral Vespers most days of the week brings about an incredible cohesion among all of its singers. Regardless, I would still love to see a choir of this quality in every major Catholic church in America.
Finally, I make my usual plea to all pastors, principals and musical directors to give the choir school a chance at your parish. Think of how much good you could do if every child graduating from your school grew up with Gregorian chant, simpler polyphony and good solid hymns as part of their spiritual formation. Change the way they pray and you will change the way the believe!
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 If, like my parish’s soon-to-be choir school, your parish’s choir school ends after the 8th grade, what better way to keep your young male graduates involved in your music program than by having a special rehearsal for them one evening a week where they rehearse alongside other young men their age? The same can be done with the young women.