Two young men from opposite sides of the world recently released a new collaboration in the form of a collection of 24 hymns. Christian Catsanos wrote the words from Australia and Tate Pumfrey composed the music from Canada.
I have had the pleasure of singing with Christian in the past and thought this would be a grand opportunity to write about this new book and his side of its origins.
In September 2004 a concert at Sydney Town Hall1 inspired him to pursue sacred music. A few months later he composed his first hymn at the age of 11 – a Christmas carol.
Christian grew up singing in the school choir. The high school choir exposed him to high quality liturgical music, preparing for the weekly school Masses. The school had a student organist who was graduating, so Christian volunteered to take his place and was accepted. His background in piano stood him in good stead and his organ playing flourished.
Now Christian plays the organ and last year earned an Associate of Trinity College, London and is currently preparing for his Licentiate under the tutelage of Mr Peter Kneeshaw AM.
His two great mentors in liturgy and sacred music have been Dr Richard Connolly and Mrs Donrita Reefman.
The book of hymns grew from a chance encounter on Facebook where Tate Pumfrey asked for words to go with his hymn tunes. Christian Catsanos responded and over the next two years produced these twenty-four pieces covering all the major feasts.
Many hymns show the influence of Gregorian chant. My favorite example is this Salve Regina which started with Tate’s hymn tune based on the simple Gregorian chant antiphon. Christian’s words arrange the Salve Regina into three verses with the refrain:
Hail, holy Queen, our sov’reign be;
Salve, Regina, hail to thee.
Rhymes in the English language have changed over time. Occasionally one finds a hymn which rhymes words like “die” with words like “eternity”. This hymnbook employs this freedom with an Advent hymn for Laetare Sunday. Here is the fourth verse:
“So, upon this day so holy,Verse 4, “Sing a hymn of exultation” for Lætare Sunday
we our Lætare do cry;
through our penitence so lowly,
we shall know the victory;
and, our hearts employing wholly,
shall we praise the Trinity!”
I asked Christian whether, in his opinion, these words should be sung to rhyme (for example, victor-eye, Trini-tie) or as they are usually pronounced. He gave the practical answer that although for a formal rendition it would be more meaningful for preserve the rhyme, these hymns are made for congregational use and most people will pronounce them as they are accustomed and that is fine too.
This following hymn is written in honor of Jesus’ Most Precious Blood, whose feast day is coming up on this Wednesday, the 1st of July.
O Jesus, who for man below,1st verse, O Jesus Who for Man Below by Tate Pumfrey and Christian Catsanos
In such a mighty flood,
Poured streams of crimson, for to flow,
His precious, precious Blood;
The self-same Blood, in form of wine,
He gave before He died,
Was then out poured in love divine,
When He was crucified.
Lastly I asked Christian: “What is the best part of composing hymns?” He answered the question with this piece on the vocation of hymnodists from a speech he gave last year:
Saint Augustine says, “One who sings well prays twice.” I truly believe this, and it sums up why the vocation of hymnodists, because we are the people whom God has set apart from the rest of His flock to bring sacred music into the temporal world, is so important. It is beyond me to say whether the sacred music known upon earth will be sung in heaven, or whether there are hymnodists among the choirs of angels who have written that which will be sung at the eternal feast. What I know for certain, though, is that the hymnodists marked by God and set among His flock but apart from the rest of His flock, bring many people to the eternal feast, because they have enabled many to sing well and pray twice; and no one who claims himself for Christ but makes his life devoid of prayer can be fit for the Kingdom of God.Christian Catsanos from a speech on his 15th anniversary as a hymnodist in 2019
One last recording from the hymnbook, a Eucharistic hymn
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 The concert featured the Gloria in excelsis Deo from the Christmas cantata The flower of Bethlehem, with words by Irene Gass and music by Eric H. Thiman.