HERE ISN’T ANY MORE TIME to “beat around the bush.” The time has arrived. At this year’s Symposium, we will be revealing all our best tricks of the trade—and sharing them generously with the participants. The topic is: How to stand in front of a volunteer choir without fear. No matter how great a musician you are—even if you can play both books of the Chopin Etudes by memory—it’s still necessary to learn the pedagogical methods which will allow you to succeed. Otherwise, you risk falling into depression and despair, because the vocation of a Catholic choirmaster is filled with difficulties.
Is It Worth It? • When we consider all the difficulties and obstacles of our vocation … is it worth it? Especially when we remember how much training is required for many of our volunteer singers … is it worth it? I think it absolutely is, because we are exposing our people to the great treasures of sacred music—and that is very cool. All of us can remember some very special pieces that made us dedicate our lives to sacred music. And now, we are allowing “ordinary” Catholics from the pews to join our choirs and fall in love with sacred music.
Jules Van Nuffel • Here is a live recording from Easter Sunday of an “Alleluia” by Monsignor Van Nuffel. We have a 100% volunteer choir, and I’m so proud of these people! Some have been singing for less than two months:
Crux Refrain • On Good Friday, we sang the plainsong Pange Lingua by Bishop Fortunatus, using an SATB refrian by Maria Quinn. Again, I am so proud of this volunteer choir; several members have been singing less than two months!
The Hymn They Love • The choir fell in love with hymn number 688 from the Brébeuf Hymnal. The title of the hymn is “O Come And Mourn With Me Awhile,” with a text by Father Frederick William Faber, an Oratorian priest like Father Uwe Lang. The tune is SAINT CROSS. We never practiced the harmonies, but because of the absolutely marvelous way the Brébeuf typesets the verses, the choir was able to sight-read the harmonies:
Interesting Translation • Monsignor Knox wrote a special translation of Salve Caput Cruentatum. It’s number 440 in the Brébeuf Hymnal, and the first line is: “O sacred head ill-usèd.” The Good Friday ceremony had been going on for three (3) hours by the time they sang this hymn, so their voices sound a little rough:
Easter Has Arrived • A very ancient Easter hymn is called Ad Cenam Agni Providi. On page 42 of the Brébeuf Hymnal, a translation is provided by Robert Campbell of Skerrington (“At the Lamb’s high feast we sing”). The bass section has some trouble with the first verse, but we’ll fix that—just give us time. I think you’ll recognize the tune:
Volunteer Polyphony? • Volunteer singers can absolutely learn to sing polyphony. Even though some of the singers have been singing in a choir for less than two months, listen to how well they do on this KYRIE ELEYSON by Philippe Verdelot:
The text is attributed (if memory serves) to Saint Bonaventure:
Philomena prævia temporis amœni,
que recessum nuntias imbris atque cæni,
dum demulces animas tuo cantu leni,
avis prædulcissima, ad me, quæso, veni.
Nightingale, harbinger of the pleasant season,
that declarest the retreat of rain and mud,
whilst thou charmest souls with thy gentle song,
bird sweeter than all, come, I pray, to me!
Later on, the Council of Trent would frown upon secular tunes being used as a Cantus Firmus.