ULTON J. SHEEN once described the angelic doctor as “the greatest mind the Church ever produced.” Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote about incentives (my word, not his) designed by Almighty God to ‘spur us on’—that is, to help us lead virtuous lives. Certain pleasures, for example, are associated with the consumption of food—and that’s good, because God wants his creatures to be healthy. Indeed, the human race wouldn’t last very long if everyone stopped eating. Certain pleasures are allowed within the BOND of holy matrimony—and that’s good, because procreation is something virtuous.1
Taking Delight • We should offer God everything: all our sorrows and all our joys. I beg my choir members never to start looking at their phones (when they wake up each morning) until they’ve prayed their daily offering. Every part of our lives can be offered to God, even ‘mundane’ things like brushing our teeth, sweeping the floor, and so on. The ‘enjoyable’ parts of life should also be offered to God! Furthermore, it’s normal, natural, and healthy for choir members to take delight in singing during Mass. In other words, we should not feel guilty about enjoying singing for God.
The Key Ingredient • I’m often asked: “How can choir directors make sure singers persevere?” I would answer: Make certain the music you choose is diverse. This is something I’ve written about many times, but it’s really important. The rest of this article presents live recordings from our volunteer choir singing last Sunday. When listening, please remember that some of the singers have only been singing in choir [any choir!] for a matter of weeks or months.
Do You Have What It Takes? • If you find yourself struggling as a choirmaster—and it’s a very difficult and challenging vocation!—consider adding some variety to your program. Singers really appreciate that. We always end our rehearsals with an SATB harmonization from the Brébeuf Hymnal—and everyone leaves smiling. Below, I provide eleven (11) suggestions. All recordings come from our Mass last Sunday:
(1) Women Vs. SATB • The following is a Eucharistic hymn “O Esca Viatorum.” The Brébeuf Catholic Hymnal provides the lyrics in English and Latin as #735. Notice how the choir alternates between women’s voices and SATB:
(2) Congregational Vs. Renaissance Polyphony • When we sing the “Asperges Me,” we begin by singing along with the congregation (organ + plainsong), but the repeat is sung in polyphony:
(3) Plainsong (Females) + Organ • For the INTROIT, they sing according to the official rhythm, the way the Editio Vaticana was intended (by its creators) to be sung. The singers find this approach eminently natural and pleasing to the ear. We only rehearsed it for about 15 minutes. Yet, in spite of the scarcity of rehearsal time, I find the results quite beautiful:
(4) Flor Peeters “Style” • We normally sing the KYRIE, but we were missing a lot of singers due to the severity of the flu season this year. Therefore, we decided to sing KYRIE VIII with a special organ accompaniment I composed based on a work by the great Flor Peeters:
(5) Plainsong + Drone • I’m not a huge fan of adding a “drone” (ison) to plainsong, but the men really enjoy it. So here’s a sample of how we sang the GLORIA on Sunday:
(6) Baroque Music • We have been singing an ALLELUIA by Johann Sebastian Bach. Unfortunately, the recording machine didn’t capture the full recording of that one. But you can download the score completely free of charge, along with individual rehearsal videos for each voice. Here’s an excerpt from our volunteer choir singing it live:
* Mp3 Download • Bach Polyphonic “Alleluia”
—Arranged by Father Moissenet.
(7) Unaccompanied Plainsong + Modern Polyphony • For the CREED, we have been letting the men and women alternate, without organ accompaniment. We have also been adding some sumptuous little polyphonic “snippets” as you can hear:
(8) Contemporary Polyphony • Last Sunday, for the very first time, we sang a setting of the SANCTUS by Father Antonin Lhoumeau. It’s very brief, but it’s gorgeous. Moreover, it uses the melodies from Sanctus XIII in admirable ways:
(9) Pure Renaissance Polyphony • My favorite type of music is Renaissance polyphony, and our AGNUS DEI begins with a marvelous canon by Giovanni Maria Nanino. The final two sections are by Father Francisco Guerrero. We need more work on the 2nd part, but this piece is really coming along:
(10) Hymnody Female Voices Only • I had not been familiar with our Communion hymn, which we sang for the very first time last Sunday. It’s #829 in the Brébeuf Catholic Hymnal, and we sang it with all our female singers in unison. The text by Monsignor Ronald Knox is truly elegant:
(11) Organ + SATB • For the recessional hymn, we sang #759 from the Brébeuf Catholic Hymnal. (I think you’ll recognize this one.) We sang the verses in unison, then broke into SATB for the REFRAIN:
M For individual voice recordings, click here.
1 There’s nothing “dirty”—according to the CATHOLIC CATECHISM—about desiring such pleasures as long as they take place within the context of SACRAMENTAL MARRIAGE. In the early Church, a heretical sect sprung up which taught that marital acts were “sinful”—but it soon went out of existence. (I won’t insult your intelligence by telling you why!)