Y ALL ACCOUNTS, the music at this year’s World Youth Day was a great success. For example, Bishop James Conley, of Lincoln, Nebraska, wrote a wonderful piece about it, and Fr. David Friel, of Philadelphia contributed a lengthier analysis. Their conclusions were the same: Beautiful music helped thousands of young people to pray that holiest of prayers, the Mass. And for this, I’m very grateful.
When Fr. Jonathan Kalisch, O.P., a chaplain of the Knights of Columbus, proposed to me that I lead the music at the English-language site for World Youth Day 2016 in Kraków, Poland, I was thrilled. I am a proud Pole, born, raised, and educated in that wonderful country (and my formation as a priest took place largely in the Dominican priory in Kraków itself). I’m also somewhat of an itinerant American, having worked at parishes and campus ministries in New York City; Anchorage, Alaska; Seattle, Washington; and now Salt Lake City, Utah. Finally, I’m a church musician, trained as an organist, who also loves to sing and to collect suitable liturgical repertory from Poland and elsewhere. These were all contributing factors to my appointment: having been raised and formed in Poland, the liturgical music created there by the Dominicans brought me—quite literally!—to the Order, and this same music has become an essential part of my work in the United States. Having worked in America for many years, I’ve accumulated a large body of Polish and French repertory that has been translated into English, and I have a working sense of what student choirs and congregations can learn and sing. The charge that World Youth Day in Kraków somehow “sound like Poland” was my challenge to execute, and I was happy to take it on. For more about the “why” of the music, take a look at Fr. Friel’s piece, linked above, where he reproduces an essay I wrote for the World Youth Day Mass booklets.
WHAT I COULDN’T SAY THERE (because of space constraints) I’d like to say here: without the help of many wonderful collaborators, the music at World Youth Day’s Mercy Centre wouldn’t have happened. I’d like to take this opportunity to mention the many important people whose efforts brought that music to life.
While it’s been widely noted that the Dominicans—the religious order of which both Fr. Kalisch and I are members—were responsible for the music at the Mercy Centre, my most important collaborator wasn’t a Dominican at all! Christopher Mueller, a colleague and friend from my days back in New York City, was the person I tapped to conduct the ensemble in Kraków. But he did so much more than that: we were really partners, co-directors. Any accolades of mine must surely be shared with him, and here’s why:
(A) I selected about 60% of our repertory, and he the other 40%.
(B) He took upon himself the huge task of compiling all the music, which came from a variety of sources and required thorough editing.
(C) While a large part of my role was to handle organizational tasks (assembling the choir, setting up a rehearsal venue, and working with the Dominican Liturgical Institute — more on that later), Chris’s role was entirely a musical one. He led all the rehearsals and conducted at all the Masses. He planned out how our volunteer choir & orchestra was going to learn over 100 pages of music (around 30 different pieces) in a single retreat weekend, and he kept us focused and on-task during all our day-of rehearsals prior to the Masses.
(D) There were quite elaborate Mass booklets, which Chris designed and created by himself. He wanted the Mass booklets to be as beautiful and compelling as the Mass music, and he did not disappoint.
(E) After our four sung Masses at the Mercy Centre, we didn’t want to “waste” the fruit of our labors. In order to archive the musical material, Chris led a recording session in the beautiful medieval Church of St. Giles, and when he returned to the U.S., he did all the editing and post-production himself. Take a listen to the results here.
(F) Something else that Chris did when he got back to the U.S. was to annotate the web videos of our three big Masses, so that people could view/listen to specific pieces of music in context if they desired. Watch the Masses of Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday.
As I said, Christopher Mueller was my co-director, and we couldn’t have made it without his many talents and leadership!
ANOTHER KEY CONTRIBUTOR was the Dominican Liturgical Institute in Kraków, which for the past 30 years has led a major liturgical revival in Poland. Director emeritus Fr. Tomasz Grabowski, O.P., put together the very fine orchestra of young Polish musicians. Newly-appointed assistant director Fr. Grzegorz Doniec, O.P., prepared the full scores and instrumental parts as required, and was also the clarinetist in the orchestra. Additionally, the Institute recorded and released a CD of the music we would be presenting at WYD so that pilgrims could bring the music home with them as both keepsake and inspiration. 1
I’d also like to recognize Fr. Gabriel Torretta, O.P., an American Dominican, who helped in the musical planning, proofread the programs, and was my logistics assistant who helped keep things running smoothly in Kraków. As well as the three of us Dominicans, there were four Sisters of Life amongst the choir & orchestra, and we were very grateful for their presence, both musical and spiritual. And finally, all the singers and instrumentalists — they were the heart, soul, and sound of the ensemble. They volunteered to give a week and a-half of their time to fly to Poland and take part in this wonderful week of prayer and liturgy. Without them we would have had nothing!
I remain extremely grateful to every participant, and I think we showed that our “Polish” experience of liturgical beauty was really a universal experience for the Church. We hope that this approach to music will become more widespread, and I believe that through the labors of Christopher Mueller and all these fine musicians, it certainly will be.
SINGERS : Sr. Mariana Benedicta, S.V., Bianca Czaderna, Ellona Delac, Jack Delac, Jennifer Delac, Danielle Dellino, Lana Dziekonski, Eugenia Xavier Geisel, Agnieszka Głownia, Megan Jones, Vincent Kania, Michaela Kearns, Sr. Gianna Maria, S.V., Rev. Łukasz Miśko, O.P., Peter Molina, Giordan Montero, Christina Mueller, Michael Gabriel Mueller, Tess Murray, Annie Nguyen, Sr. Cecilia Rose, S.V., Sr. Josephine Rose, S.V., Jenny Taylor, Rev. Gabriel Torretta, O.P., Arthur Tsoi, Nick Weber, Zachary William, Matthew C. Yost, Tona Yost, & HuaLing Maggie Zhao
INSTRUMENTALISTS : Kasia Bidzińska (violin), Wiktoria Bogalska (violin), Rev. Grzegorz Doniec, O.P. (clarinet), Klaudia Mycha Janicka (viola), Ania Kufel (flute), Lawrence Lam (keyboard), Łukasz Pawlikowski (cello), & Joanna Stolarska (oboe)
We hope you enjoyed this guest article by Rev. Łukasz Miśko, O.P.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 Digital files can be purchased online through the iTunes store by searching for “Jesus I Trust in You” by “the liturgical ensemble.”