M The following email was sent to us by
M Helen Tsang, who flew from New Zealand
M to participate in Symposium 2022:
HE MEMORY WILL STAY WITH ME FOREVER. This was my first time to attend the Sacred Music Symposium (and quite possibly my last, considering I have to fly 7,797 miles to attend). The highlight of the Symposium was singing solemn Vespers each evening. Vespers was crafted and conducted masterfully. We chanted each of the psalms in monastic style, alternating the verses between the two sides of the choir. We were taught to take a brief but intentional pause within each line, letting our voices echo and fade away before we took another breath to continue. This small instruction created an atmosphere that was pure and very still, as though we were suspending our words over a timeless silence. Then, emerging from this contemplative space, we erupted into a triumphant polyphonic MAGNIFICAT by Father Francisco Guerrero (d. 1599). I experienced an almost visceral thrill as I added my voice to a hundred others. Holy Church is alive, and surging in ever-youthful praise!
Scholarly Yet Amusing • The bulk of each day was dedicated to talks, workshops, and rehearsals. We learned all sorts, from conducting, to organ playing, to choir recruitment. I’ve come home with many pages of notes and practical advice to take back to my choir. We also enjoyed a fascinating series of talks on Gregorian chant, best described as “more chant theory than you ever thought you would learn, and now you shall muse over tiny differences in chant markings.” (The talks were both scholarly and amusing—a great way to round off each evening.)
I Saw True Humility • But what I loved even more than the singing, workshops, and talks, was the humble zeal of the people I met: the presenters, organisers, and attendees. Though each presenter was an expert in their field, they never placed themselves or their musicianship on centre stage. Constantly they turned our attention to the true purpose of our music: divine worship. It was quite breathtaking to me that, in a room full of singers, conductors, and composers—many of them professionals—I never felt that we were “here for the music.” Instead, I heard: we are firstly not musicians, but servants of the Most High God; our music is not our own glory, but our sacrifice of praise.
Father Fryar Set The Tone • This tone was set by Fr James Fryar, FSSP, in his keynote speech. He called us not only to prepare dignified and fitting music, but also to comport ourselves fittingly at all times, so that our music is made more holy by the holiness of our living. Each day began with Mass, ended with Vespers, and we were recollected in prayer before the beginning of the talks. We were also greatly blessed in that the church hosting the Symposium had a perpetual Adoration chapel—and I noticed various Symposium attendees visiting the chapel throughout the week.
Mr. Clark Said It Best • If I had to sum up the Symposium in a nutshell, I can do no better than quote Richard Clark: “The church musician’s work is evangelisation. The light of God should shine through our music. We will affect people’s lives in ways we will never know.” Thank you to everyone who offered their time, money and talent to the once-in-a-lifetime experience that was the Sacred Music Symposium. You’ve given us a week that was informative, inspirational, fun, and holy.
Some photographs I took at this conference: