Mary Catherine Levri, Notre Dame

On October 14th, I had the pleasure of playing a short recital at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, Minnesota. I was one of six musicians who performed for a conference sponsored by the Church Music Association of America. It was titled, “The Renewal of Sacred Music and the Liturgy in the Catholic Church: Movements Old and New.”

I usually attend the CMAA’s annual Colloquium that takes place in the summer, but my business with the Basilica Summer Choir (plus the opportunity to play this recital at the October conference) caused me to opt for this smaller, more academic conference in the fall. Directed by Dr. Jennifer Donelson, the Academic Liaison of the CMAA, the conference focused on issues at the heart of the renewal of liturgical music before, during, and after the Second Vatican Council. In a special way, the conference reflected on the legacy of Monsignor Richard Schuler (1920-2007), a musician priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul & Minneapolis who gave much of his priestly life to the preservation of the Catholic musical tradition. He is most famous for founding the Twin Cities Catholic Chorale in 1955. Part of the conference took place at St. Agnes Church, the church at which Msgr. Schuler was pastor for thirty-six years. It was in this beautiful Baroque church that conference participants were treated to the Twin Cities Catholic Chorale’s performance of the Mozart Vesperae solennes de confessore on the first night of the conference.

The following two days of the conference consisted of spoken presentations, music recitals, and participation in liturgies. A number of the talks were quite good, and some were especially enlightening. Fr. Robert Johansen, a priest from the Diocese of Kalamazoo, gave a talk on the musical initiatives of the Liturgical Movement in the two decades leading up to Vatican II. Fr. Johansen explained that in these initiatives, active participation in the liturgy was fostered in a particular way through the congregational singing of chant. He asserted that the singing of chant by the congregation is a liturgical action that possesses a “sacramental” quality, making it all the more important for this sung participation in the Mass to be encouraged today. Having lived in nothing other than the post-Vatican II Church, it was enlightening for me to realize that such practical musical reform was already taking place in the United States before the Council. Fr. Johansen’s presentation led me to realize that as lonely as I can sometimes feel in my efforts as a church musician, I am not starting “from scratch” when I encourage congregations to sing the music of the Church. I am always already standing on the work of others.

Another talk on Tuesday continued this theme and stands out to me as one of the best of the conference. Dr. Kevin Vogt, a 1992 graduate of Notre Dame with a Master’s of Music in organ performance and literature, gave a presentation on Reginald Mills Silby, a little-known and all but forgotten church musician who was the first “apostle” of the Westminster Cathedral musical tradition to North America. Silby had been the assistant to Richard Runciman Terry at Westminster Cathedral in London and was a musician of great vision and ability. In 1909, Silby immigrated to America and served as music director at several prominent Catholic churches, including St. Patrick’s in Washington, DC, Saint Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha, NE, and St. Ignatius of Loyola in New York City. At these places, he implemented excellent music programs based on his experience at Westminster Cathedral, and he seems to have been a very good composer; Dr. Vogt shared a few examples of Silby’s composition with the participants. Strangely, however – almost unbelievably strangely – practically none of the churches at which Silby worked have any record of his presence there. Dr. Vogt concluded the story of Silby by pointing out that though we stand on the shoulders of giants, we often do not know who these giants are; the work of these great musicians lie hidden to us and are known only to God. How humbling a thought this is for all sacred musicians, who so often feel that we are “in the trenches” and singular in our efforts to make an impact in the life of the Church!

Speaking of co-workers in the trenches, it is important to note that Dr. Vogt was only one of a number of Notre Dame alumni to present at this conference. Matthew Alderman (B. Arch. ’06), an architect from Boston, spoke on American church architecture in the 20th century. Dr. Jared Ostermann (MSM ’09), director of music at the cathedral in Sioux Falls, SD, presented on the differences between pre- and post-conciliar liturgical forms and the consequent implications for Catholic choral repertoire. I, myself a 2011 graduate of the Master’s of Sacred Music program, was one of four young organists to present recitals of sacred music that were programmed according to the conference’s theme of liturgical renewal. Overall, the Irish had quite an impressive presence, and it was exciting to see that Notre Dame graduates are contributing to the Church’s conversation about liturgical renewal in a serious way.

Like all other CMAA events that I have attended, participation in the liturgy was a key aspect of this conference. On Monday night, conference participants attended an evening Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul, which featured the Castagnet Messe Salve Regina, an extremely exciting piece for choir and double organ. On Tuesday night, participants attended Mass at St. Agnes Church, for which the Twin Cities Chorale performed Haydn’s Messe in Tempore Belli. Both of these liturgies were remarkably beautiful. The well-executed liturgies in which the CMAA participates may be the single most valuable resource that a participant can take from one of these conferences. The experience itself is spiritually, intellectually, and musically invigorating, and the worship aids alone serve as a practical resource for future liturgical planning and selection of music. When it comes to the practical performance of the Church’s treasury of music in the sacred liturgy, the CMAA conferences are second to none.

When I returned to Notre Dame after my three days in St. Paul, I felt happy, refreshed, and a little bit more in love with the Church than when I had left. This article cannot possibly sum up all of the wonderful presentations, performances and liturgies that took place at this conference, so I encourage any reader of this to take a look at the full conference schedule. You can also find the full text of a keynote lecture given by Dom Alcuin Reid here. His talk was an excellent take on the differences in liturgical approach between Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.

If you wish you could have been at this conference, mark June 30th-July 6th 2014 on your calendar and plan to attend the Sacred Music Colloquium sponsored by the CMAA. It will be in Indianapolis. The Colloquium changed the way I think about sacred music, and it is a breathtakingly beautiful introduction to Gregorian chant and polyphony. There are also more advanced choirs and workshops for experienced musicians who are looking for more than just an introduction to chant. It is my impression that Notre Dame sacred music students and all students of sacred music would love it, and this year, the Colloquium is in ND’s backyard. Here come the Irish, I say!

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