ODAY IS the fifth day of the Sacred Music Colloquium. We had a beautiful Solemn High Requiem Mass in the Vetus Ordo celebrated by Fr. Robert Pasley at St. Paul Cathedral. Jonathan Ryan gave a recital tonight and his playing was just amazingly colorful. It seemed like he used every single combination of stops on the 4 manaul mechanical organ. And of course, there is no better way to end the day by singing the Compline in the Gothic cathedral.
I will be sharing more about the Requiem Mass tomorrow. I would like to focus on the breakout session, another panel discussion, again today. I found this discussion on “Successful Chorister Programs at a Parish” really helpful. As many of you may know, I just finished my first year as the Music Director at my parish. I founded a children’s choir when I got to the parish last summer and I have been experimenting with the program for a whole year. I learned a lot from my “tests” and had pretty good experience with the kids. And it is just great to learn from people who have successful programs at their parishes. The panelist of the breakout include: Jonathan Ryan, Jeffrey Morse, Scott and Suzanne Atwood, Scott Turkington and David Hughes; and Mary Jane Ballou served as the moderator.
The foundation of every successful parish chorister programs is a clear goal, and that for the glory of God. Choristers and parents must understand the ultimate purpose of Sacred Music. Hughes said that it is very important for them to pray as they are singing, not only in the Liturgy, but also during the rehearsals. Every rehearsal should be a prayer as we prepare both musically and spiritually for the Mass.
Many people asked the questions “how did you build a program from the ground up and how do you recruit choristers?”. The Atwoods said that schools, whether they are attached to the parish or just around the area, are good places to recruit choristers. It is ideal that the choir director takes some time to search for potential singers for the program and invite them personally. Ryan suggested that choir directors should “be good shepherds” and “go find the sheep”. He thinks it is important to have the parents’ support and directors should communicate with them, which could mean to find them by going to every single parish events like First Communion classes, Holy Hours and even Bingo nights. The panelists all agreed that it is very important to get the parents involve. Parents can form advisory groups or help take care of the children’s needs and discipline. The collaboration of the director and parents is a must in order to build a successful program.
On the topic of “audition”, Morse said that it is necessary to have auditions (ear tests/any other names) to find out the abilities of the children. It doesn’t mean that children who cannot match pitch will be turned down. And actually he suggested that pre-chorister program be formed and the director may focus on helping them to match pitch. To run a chorister program is very time-consuming and directors must be patient and encouraging. Morse also suggested that hierarchy be established in the program, that is to appoint a head and deputy head choristers, so that children will know their importance and take up responsibilities. The head and deputy head choristers can also set good examples for the younger choristers.
Regarding repertoire for children’s choir, the panelists suggested that the children should learn the psalm tones and basic chant. They should learn how to sing one line of music before singing multiple lines or sing with instruments. Also, Turkington and Atwood recently published a book with a collection motets for treble voices. The book, Cantate Domino, is available on amazon. A list of hymns and motets for children’s choir has also been made and hopefully I can share it in another post in the future.