Before reading Miss Wing’s thoughtful article, listen to recordings from Symposium 2018, conducted by Dr. Horst Buchholz:
Y IMMEDIATE THOUGHT upon discovering the Symposium was to jump at the opportunity of spending a week immersed in singing plainsong and polyphony with people who are, at a minimum, as engrossed in this music as I am. And I was not disappointed in finding so many people of the same spirit, who could reveal things I had yet to discover, and with whom I could swap stories of experience. But that was only the beginning of what I found there. This glorious week draws musicians who are so passionate and sincere of heart! In that respect it was similar to a retreat. It is an occasion to be refreshed in knowing why the Church’s tradition of sacred music is a treasure.
Passion is demonstrated in many ways, such as the choice of repertoire for the closing Solemn Mass: the exquisite Marian-themed Ordinary had its contributions from Victoria’s 16th-century imitation as well as Kevin Allen’s powerful harmonies, and in both we hear clear tributes to the richly significant plainsong melodies I came to know more profoundly. And these were complemented by a brief and expressive early-modern Van Nuffel motet (“Pater Noster”), which like all the pieces here could be sung solidly and loved by my volunteer choirs. They are by no means bland filler pieces! This is what “variety within unity” ought to look like in a liturgy. If you occasionally share a habit of mine for getting stuck in one style, take new inspiration here!
In another (rather unexpected!) way I acquired better mastery of this tradition’s music: counterpoint classes! To be honest, I was initially skeptical of what we could possibly get out of four days of counterpoint. It is not a discipline I considered necessary to think about during performance. But I will now! Studying counterpoint makes it possible to understand the elegant shape and construction of polyphony—so practical in teaching a piece—and to see why some pieces (such as the harmonizations I put together every now and then) work while others fall flat. Through these very active learning sessions, I came to a better appreciation of the structure of the music we should have as our goal, whether it is in Bach’s dynamism, a timeless hymn, or Kevin Allen’s remarkable creations, which I have come to love.
In these instances, and at many other times during the week, I was constantly reminded of the beauty of ORDER. Surely it is an implicit goal of our calling as church musicians to bring order back into the lives of those we serve, especially in modern times; as well as back into the Mass, where the order built by tradition took such a hit. 1 The liturgy should be lived, and in its full proper splendor. This order calls to mind the Divine Wisdom that willed the ordering of your life and the sacrifice of the Son of God. Authentic sacred music diffuses and expresses this order, and is the way many searching souls will discover God’s order (including you and me). That is why it was absolutely worth it for us to devote a week to filling ourselves with the order of this music and learning tools to share the fruits of its contemplation.
After all, it’s not enough to listen to polyphonic masterworks and daydream about possibilities. The Symposium is also about taking the limitations you’ve got and tapping the potential of a volunteer choir. I learned several tips for growth, against the habit of just “getting by” every Sunday. They proved to me that it is possible to provide for a liturgy that is beautifully formed in its art, and with fitting dignity rather than minimalism or clumsy excess—even for someone like me, with no conservatory training. (Thank you Dr. Buchholz for using a graph to explain conducting to this math major!)
That is why I found that the Symposium draws a uniquely inspiring set of participants. There was great unity in goals and attitude, and everyone contributed something: individual guidance from our master presenters, discussions about the practical obstacles we face as church musicians every Sunday, stories from a wide range of experiences, and brave individuals volunteering to try a technique for instant feedback we could all learn from. Most importantly, in our gathering we were all brought to an awareness of the presence of God. We found it in the zealous spirit of our rehearsals, in the humility of beautiful texts like Lead, Kindly Light, and in the pleasantly surprising reverence of facing the tabernacle during the Sacred Music Extravaganza presentation! In our service, where striving for the heights in both our craft and the spiritual life are so closely united and often difficult to achieve, this week was true refreshment.
It was a joy to meet and work under Dr. Horst Buchholz and Mr. Kevin Allen—never a dull moment with their expertise and excellent sense of humor! Heartfelt thanks to Mr. Jeff Ostrowski and Mrs. Andrea Leal, who made many unseen sacrifices to make this Symposium memorable and to care for every single one of us in attendance! Likewise to Fr. Dominic Popplewell, for sharing true wisdom and for giving us encouragement. (As choral singers, to have the presence and support of our beloved priests means the world to us!) And huge gratitude to Fr. James Fryar, FSSP, pastor of the FSSP parish responsible for this event.
We hope you enjoyed this guest article by Miss Phoebe Wing.
iPhone video clips:
A happy participant from Colorado wrote:
The absolute best part of the entire Symposium for me, however, was the glorious Solemn Mass on the last day. The “proof” was right there—the liturgy done properly and beautifully is the ultimate catechesis for me. The reverence of the clergy and the music and the clear emphasis on the Eucharist as “source and summit” brought me to tears many times in that Mass (I confess, I was not able to sing the “Agnus Dei” through my tears, even though it was one of my favorite pieces!) I am now convinced that it is vital to restore sacred music and proper liturgical practice, particularly in the Ordinary Form, in which I work. I was already receiving that direction from prayer, my pastor, and my research, but now I have a new fire underneath me. I feel renewed and ready to do my part!
A happy participant from the Philippines wrote:
Today, I just got back from a full five-day symposium on Sacred music, inspired by conversations with fantastic and very experienced conductors and composers Jeffrey Ostrowski, Dr. Kevin Allen, and Dr. Horst Buchholz, to what I can say was the most incredibly musical immersion of my life. It was an experience that was uplifting and not condescending: a new direction for the next steps. It was witnessing commitment, love, dedication, and hard work put in Sacred Music. It was meeting people with the same mind: that Sacred Music is serious work and not a hobby. It also shows that it is worthwhile “complicating” our lives for God. Thank you Andrea and Jeff for making this possible with all of your help. Thank you Corpus Christi Watershed. Now it’s time to get that music moving!
A happy participant from Los Angeles wrote:
What an amazing and unforgettable experience the 2018 Sacred Music Symposium was! I was able to participate in singing the most beautiful sacred music with many other wonderful Catholics from around the world; a rare opportunity for me. The conferences provided many helpful tips and ideas for both choir directors and choir members. I came home in high spirits and motivated to continue doing my work as a voluntary choir director. I look forward to attending the next Sacred Music Symposium. It is too awesome an opportunity to miss. Thank you to all of you who helped coordinate this wonderful event and may God bless you!
A happy participant from New Hampshire wrote:
It was the most wonderful experience I have had in a long time, for it both introduced me to knowledge which I could not otherwise easily acquire, and also connected me with the most wonderful people who brought a taste of the strength of the medieval musical school to the present day. I will be processing it for a long time, and hope that I will be able to retain even a fraction of the experience.
A happy participant from Las Vegas wrote:
I’m back from an absolutely wonderful week of Sacred Music with Corpus Christi Watershed and Los Angeles FSSP. It was so great to be able to learn so much ancient and new music that is part of the history of our Catholic Faith. I learned so much about music theory, chant, and technique. Even though I feel like I don’t know very much, it has inspired me to learn more! What’s more, I got to meet so many amazing and wonderful young people who are dedicated to their faith! It was a pleasure to meet them and talk about all sorts of things from Latin, to Theology, to the Mass, to school, to vocations, and even goats! God bless you all and I look forward to next year’s Sacred Music Symposium! I will be forever grateful to Mr. Ostrowski, Mr. Allen, Dr. Buchholz, Fr. Popplewell, and all the organizers of the Sacred Music Symposium for the knowledge, experience, and help they have given me. Thank you also to Fr. James and Fr. Ken Fryar, all the FSSP Seminarians, and the altar boys. If you enjoy singing Catholic music, conducting, or composing music, I highly suggest you attend next year’s Sacred Music Symposium! You will have an experience never to be forgotten!!!
A happy participant from Arizona wrote:
I have been blessed to attend the Sacred Music symposium for the past three years. Listening and singing with the many young people who attend is a privilege and tells me that there is hope for retaining this precious gift of sacred music. We can be assured that our valuable Catholic treasury of music and art will be preserved and in time brought into the Ordinary form with their expertise. These young people have been singing & learning solfege, conducting, learning to play organ, forming small choral groups and teaching others. All have amassed an incredible wealth of good solid repertoire. I applaud our sponsor FSSP and organizer Jeff Ostrowski for continuing their mission to bring sacred music to the forefront, to educate us on what is truly sacred and why.
A happy participant from the Dominican Republic wrote:
My experience with the Symposium was far beyond of what I could imagine, the night I saw the event article on the CCW site, I did not think twice and sent an e-mail to apply, even though I live far away from the location it was going to take place, I knew that somehow I would have to be part of this. Talking with Andrea during the process of application, answering doubts, solving the dormitory made things so much easier and took a great weight off my shoulders in adventuring into the unknown. The first day I was greatly impressed at the number of young people dedicated on bringing the sacred back to our liturgies, how hardworking they were as if their lives depended on it—talent isn’t enough!—these hardworking young people have a clear sight in mind, be apostles of the church through their voices. The hospitality of the faculty mixed with the spiritual bond that united us made this Symposium something I will never forget.
Beginning the day with a Low Mass in an improvised classroom chapel made me realize how the Mass even when is stripped to a bare minimum and more importantly celebrated devoutly can bring such many graces to the ones who are hearing the priest’s prayers, the different classes and talks during the week had so many information packed in that my brain felt it was going to explode, probably sounding like one of Victoria’s Masses, learned so much by watching the conductors mold and perfect to the littlest details of a piece to bring forth a magnificent sound worthy of, keeping the distance, the choir of angels who sing to the Lord a new song according to their virtues infused in their nature, just as that, every participant, being entirely different from the other united their virtues and offered to the Lord this unity made possible by the consuming fire of the Holy Spirit in which we, the Mystical Body of Christ sing in “una voce”. Every day, finishing with sung vespers was something I could not wait to show others, the way the psalms were resonating the spirit being felt during the event, the different antiphons with completely different meanings from one to the other made sense as a whole, perfected our work during the day by the offering of the Church’s praise.
At the end of the week, during the extravaganza and subsequently the Mass, everything clicked, the hard work during the week made sense, the 4 daily cups of coffee finally made their effect…the things we were so nervous about, waiting anxiously for it to come, was here, and, Oh man, thanks God that made me wait so long, because I would not realize the meaning and purpose of sacred music viewed in the context of Church’s history and especially the Mass. Everything flowed, we were one in Christ that whole week and I give thanks to the Lord for allowing me to have this amazing experience, my prayers goes to everyone involved in this event, to the carmélites who hosted it in their school, and the FSSP for sponsoring it! Thank you Jeff, Kevin, Horst, Andrea, Fr. Popplewell and everyone involved in this, may God give you many graces to keep up the good work.
A happy participant from Santa Clara wrote:
The Symposium was wonderful. I have attended similar programs in the past, but what set this experience apart was that the Faith was at its center. Being surrounded by like-minded Catholics for five days was refreshing, and singing the most beautiful music in the world—with dozens of wonderful individuals who cherish the rich body of Tradition and meaning behind it—was truly lovely. It was like being in virtual heaven for the length of a work week.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 I was glad to come to greater knowledge and love of the Extraordinary Form that week, which received a special attention in the conferences and liturgies.