AM PRETTY WORKED UP about this. Dr. Lucas Tappan recently wrote about the The St. Paul Choir School and choir school education. Beyond highlighting the background of James Kennerly, the new Director of St. Pau’s Choir School, he bluntly summarized the state of sacred education in the United States. Dr. Tappas’ evaluation is direct, upsetting, but spot on.
Our children are capable of so much more yet we accept mediocrity from them and for them. Sadly, it is usually we adults who place such limitations upon them. Anyone who works regularly with children see how quickly they learn, assimilate, and even memorize.
Our children must at the very least be exposed to the great music of the Church on a regular basis. It must be normative in our schools and in our Sunday liturgies! If a parish has the resources at hand to sing the traditional music of the Church, it has a pastoral responsibility to do so. If it does not, it has a pastoral responsibility to learn and expand its offerings.
ANY PARISHES HAVE a “family” Mass that includes a children’s choir in which little to no traditional music of the Church is sung. (I am all for a family Mass. I have four young children. My wife and I know the struggle, and when I hear crying babies at the Cathedral this is very heartwarming. I feel for the parents).
However, to not sing anything traditional is inexcusable. Traditional hymnody is often easier to sing: simpler melodically and rhythmically, and generally more substantive in theology (depending on the edition, of course). They were designed that way centuries ago. This includes Traditional Roman Catholic Chants such as Adoro te Devote, Veni Creator Spiritus, Pange Lingua O filii et filiae, Ubi Caritas, Regina Caeli, etc. These can certainly be sung in English as well!
These hymns offer fantastic opportunities to discuss with children some aspect of the theology of these hymns. Children ask tough theological questions at very early ages. (My kids have certainly kept me on my toes!) Collaboration of music directors and faith formation directors is ideal. If that’s not possible, music directors must think of creative and age appropriate ways to discuss the meaning behind the words. This also helps engage children more directly with the music.
SAVE THE DATE: • New England American Federation Pueri Cantores Choir Festival is to be held at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Saturday, March 21, 2020! I will be there. I want not only accomplished choirs and singers to attend but I want choirs for whom this may be a stretch or a challenge to attend and feel welcome! More details will emerge in the Fall concerning repertoire, scores, and recordings.
IS EMINENCE CARDINAL Cardinal Seán O’Malley has spoken quite passionately about his desire that parishes (and children) learn a common repertoire of traditional music. I have personally heard his frustration that some parishes are unfamiliar with the most essential hymns. Familiarity with common repertoire has certainly been a reoccurring theme for him. E.g., In 2011, with the implementation of the new English translation of the Roman Missal, all parishes in the Archdiocese of Boston were required to sing the Chants of the Roman Missal for a period of time before learning other new settings.
Likewise, the 2007 US Bishop’s document Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship (SttL) proposes a modest list of common repertoire:
75. Each worshiping community in the United States, including all age groups and all ethnic groups, should, at a minimum, learn Kyrie XVI, Sanctus XVIII, and Agnus Dei XVIII, all of which are typically included in congregational worship aids. More difficult chants, such as Gloria VIII and settings of the Credo and Pater Noster, might be learned after the easier chants have been mastered.
The document also encourages:
132. “…one should never underestimate the ability of persons of all ages, cultures, languages, and levels of education to learn something new and to understand things that are properly and thoroughly introduced.
WOULD ADDITIONALLY PROPOSE that children’s choirs introduce, if slowly, some traditional repertoire according to their abilities. This may be a very slow process over the course of a year or years. That is OK! Peruse this list as a starting point: A Reference for Catholic School Masses provided by The American Federation of Pueri Cantores and the National Catholic Education Association. This may help achieve some balance in repertoire at the very least.
A second practical reference is this modest, yet important musical resource for the sacraments of First Communion and Confirmation: Music for First Communion and Confirmation – A Catechetical Guide for Liturgical Celebrations. This resource is not meant to be the only music sung at such liturgical celebrations, but as a starting point for parishes that don’t use any traditional music. It is a starting point for some common repertoire.
• While you are at it, DOWNLOAD the Parish Book of Chant.
FURTHER HELPFUL approach is that a Mass geared toward families may certainly include an adult choir, or a children’s choir singing with adults from time to time. This is so beneficial and takes a lot of pressure off of the children.
It is important that the adult choir does not change its approach drastically or at all to pander to what we think the children may want. Rather, adults modeling the ideal for children is critical and so helpful! It is an investment!
For example, while a hybrid program of traditional and “contemporary” (for lack of better terms), anyone who grew up in the last twenty-five years at my last parish assignment assuredly was exposed weekly to essential traditional music: hymns, choral works from Renaissance Polyphony to modern composition, chant, and four hundred years of organ repertoire. Nor did this exclude “contemporary” music (and a good deal of it!) But the inclusion of music from the sacred treasury of music just seemed “normal.” Because it should be. It is the music of our Church!
We gain nothing by denying children exposure to our sacred treasury of music except to stunt their intellectual and spiritual growth! To do so is deleterious to their development. For tradition is not simply a dusty old relic, but a living, breathing jewel that informs us of who we are today. Tradition contains the wisdom of the ages from which we may learn to be better Christians today. Tradition connects us with the generations of faithful who came before us. This too, helps us know where we come from as Roman Catholics, and how we must live our lives in service to each other. (Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi Lex Vivendi!)
HILDREN ABSORB THE OUTSIDE WORLD quite readily. They also absorb quickly what they are exposed to at Mass. Need we feed our children (and young adults) more of the outside world? Would we do the same in the classroom? If not, why not?
Should we take a more counter-cultural approach through reverent prayer? If so, why?
Pope Saint John Paul II stated in his address On Active Participation in the Liturgy:
“In a culture which neither favors nor fosters meditative quiet, the art of interior listening is learned only with difficulty. Here we see how the liturgy, though it must always be properly inculturated, must also be counter-cultural.”
It seems traditional sacred music at Mass is counter-cultural, revolutionary, and necessary!
EYOND THE LITURGY, parents should expose their children to the arts! I was a great beneficiary of such exposure from my parents as a young child. Museums, history, the symphony, theatre, classical film, and literature. This also serves a young mind well, provides a healthy frame of reference, and leads to a broad liberal (not used politically here) education. This in turn allows a child to become critical thinkers, and as such, Christians capable of serving each other better.
SAVE THESE DATES!
• Thursday, July 25 2019 | 7.00pm | Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Boston
JEUNE CHOEUR D’ILE DE FRANCE
(Youth Choir of Greater Paris)
Francis Bardot, Director
• Featuring works by Bach, Delibes, Fauré, Franck, Mendelssohn, Offenbach, Pergolesi, Poulenc, Rameau, and Saint-Saëns
• Sunday, September 15, 2019 | 3.00 pm | Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Boston
LEO ABBOTT, (FAGO, ChM)
Director Emeritus of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross
• Rededication of the 1875 E. & G. G. Hook & Hastings Organ, Opus 801