July 18th, 2012Seven Days of Musical Heavenby Susan Treacy

Although the 2012 CMAA Sacred Music Colloquium ended on July 1st, I am still basking in its afterglow.  This was Colloquium XXII!  What an amazing fact!  The Colloquium began in 1991, thanks to Father Robert Skeris, at that time on Christendom College's theology faculty.  I have been attending the Colloquium since 1994 (missing only twice) and I have witnessed a tremendous efflorescence of Catholic sacred music and liturgy.  In the early days attendance hovered around twenty-five to forty participants; there was a cozy intimacy, helped along by the homey ambience of Christendom College.  There were also the founding fathers, titans of sacred music—Monsignor Richard Schuler, Father Robert Skeris, Maestro Paul Salumunovich, Father Ralph March, O.Cist., and organist/composer Calvert Shenk.

The Colloquium moved in 2003 to the campus of The Catholic University of America.  This is where the growth began to occur, helped along, perhaps, by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger's ascendency to the papacy.  It was about that time, too, that the Church Music Association of America (CMAA) began its own website, which has expanded to a repository for free scores of sacred music that is unparalleled.  Also, Arlene Oost-Zinner had become the organizer of the Colloquium, which task she is still splendidly accomplishing today.  In 2006 the number of participants rose to eighty-five, and 2007 saw an unprecedented situation.  The Colloquium topped off at 144 and people were actually turned away.  It was then that it was decided to move to another venue and raise the ceiling on the number of participants.

2008 saw the Colloquium at Loyola University of Chicago with about 230 participants.  Corpus Christi Watershed filmed the new, larger Colloquium and released a fantastic three-minute video describing the event.  We stayed in Chicago for two years and then moved to Pittsburgh, where the Colloquium was hosted by Duquesne University, thanks to the invitation of world-renowned organist and chairman of the sacred music program Ann Labounsky.  After two excellent years in Pittsburgh the Colloquium moved on to Salt Lake City.  Everyone at the Cathedral of the Madeleine were most gracious hosts!  The cathedral itself is a superb neo-Gothic structure dating back to the very early 1900s, with stunning renovations made in the early 1990s.  The “crown jewel” of the cathedral, however, is the Madeleine Choir School.  Begun as an after-school activity, the MCS became a full time choir school for boys and girls in the Fall of 1996.  On Tuesday evening of the Colloquium, the choir of boys, girls, and men sang a concert of sacred music dating from the sixteenth through the twenty-first centuries.  The choir was superb, and I would put them on a level with such great choirs as Westminster Cathedral in London.

Participants join a Gregorian chant schola and a polyphonic choir; rehearsals for these ensembles are held daily.  Every day at the Colloquium Holy Mass is celebrated, and the participants provide the music as choirs and congregation.  Tuesday was Mass in the Ordinary Form in English—a Votive Mass for Saint John the Baptist—with Latin Proper chants but a brand new polyphonic setting of the Ordinary, by Christopher Mueller, organist and choirmaster at St John the Evangelist, Stamford, Connecticut.  On Wednesday was the CMAA’s annual Requiem Mass for its deceased members.  This was a Missa cantata in the Extraordinary Form sung entirely in Gregorian chant, except for the Offertory antiphon, Domine Jesu Christe, which was sung in a polyphonic setting by Francisco Guerrero (1528-99).  On Thursday, the memorial of Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, there was a Latin Mass in the Ordinary Form.  The main celebrant and preacher was a newcomer to the Colloquium, Father Guy Nicholls, of the Birmingham Oratory, which was founded by Blessed John Henry Newman.  This Mass was again sung entirely in Gregorian chant, but for a Communion motet—O sacrum convivium—by Giovanni Croce (1557-1609).  Friday’s Mass was a Solemn High Mass in the Extraordinary Form for the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul.  The celebrant was Monsignor Andrew Wadsworth, Executive Director of ICEL (International Commission on English in the Liturgy), and he was assisted by Fr Guy Nicholls, Cong. Orat., as subdeacon and Dr Edward Schaefer as deacon.  In addition to the Gregorian chant Propers for the day, the Ordinary was the magnificent Messe solennelle in C-sharp minor, by Louis Vierne (1870-1937) for choir and organ.  There is hardly anything more meltingly beautiful than the Agnus Dei from Vierne’s setting.  A Lady Mass was celebrated on Saturday, in the Ordinary Form (Latin), sung almost entirely in Gregorian chant.  Two motets in honor of Our Lady were sung—Sir Edward Elgar’s Ave verum corpus and Josquin Des Prez’s Ave Maria…Virgo serena.  A special treat on Saturday evening was the polyphonic Vespers, with musical settings by Orlando di Lasso (1532-94).  Lastly, on Sunday morning there was an English Ordinary Form Mass, but with most of the music in Latin.  The polyphonic Ordinary was the Missa a 4 voci by Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643).

Well, dear readers, I have recounted only a small portion of what went on at the Sacred Music Colloquium.  There were also a great variety of interesting classes and workshops, as well as chanted Morning Prayer and Compline each day.  Last, but not least, there are always so many great people attending the Colloquium.  It is truly a feast for the heart, mind, soul, and ears!

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