All posts tagged: liturgical music

Celebrating the Easter Season, Part 1: Music

Here at Church Life Journal, we’ve had several conversations about the challenge of celebrating Easter for the entire the season, and we figure if we’re struggling to keep our Easter joy alive for fifty days, others probably are too. To that end, we’re offering several posts over the next two weeks with some ideas for sustaining a spirit of celebration throughout the Easter season. First, we’ve put together not one but two Spotify playlists to help people enter into the joy of the season through music, which is a key component of our liturgical life and our daily life (remembering of course that our liturgical life is meant to overflow into and transform our daily life). This music has been chosen for its ability to remind us that Christ is alive forever, that the darkness has been conquered, that “the sufferings of this present life are as nothing compared with the glory about to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18, NRSV), and that “if we have been united with [Jesus Christ] in a death like his, we will …

Catholic Conversations: What’s your favorite Christmas Carol?

Welcome back to Catholic Conversations, where we engage a varied group of Catholic voices around one question about Catholic life and practice.  What is your favorite Christmas carol? Most Reverend Daniel E. Flores, S.T.D. Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville, Texas Do You Hear What I Hear? Said the night wind to the little lamb. It starts simply, the whisper of grace rising through nature. The simplicity of his coming finds welcome in the poor and lowly: Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy, do you hear what I hear? From the lowly the sound is amplified to reach the mighty king: Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king, do you know what I know? It’s a hearing, then a knowing. It’s a challenge: In your palace warm, mighty king, do you know what I know? A Child, a Child shivers in the cold. . .  And it is hope. The heart can be receptive, rich and poor, lowly and powerful: Said the king to the people everywhere, listen to what I say. Pray for …

An Interview with Sacred Music Composer J.J. Wright

Following the release of the album O Emmanuel, GRAMMY-winning composer, conductor, and pianist J.J. Wright provided the following interview to Church Life Journal, where he described not only the experience of creating and recording this unique album for the Advent and Christmas seasons (which reached #1 on Billboard’s traditional classical album chart), but also the importance of children’s choirs and the future of sacred and liturgical music in the life of the Church. We are grateful to J.J. for sharing his thoughts as a complement the review of O Emmanuel featured here. CP: Throughout this piece there are moments when varied musical styles are heard side-by-side. For example, in one section, a chant melody is accompanied by a jazz trio. Can you describe your thought process when it comes to constructing passages like this? How do you fit these seemingly incongruous musical pieces together in such a complementary way? Why do you feel it’s important to fuse different kinds of music together in your writing? JJ: Music has an incredible way of stirring our emotions. When I composed this work, I wanted to create …

The End of All Our Exploring: The Entrance Rite

“Could I bring some home?” “Sure, is that enough?” “Could I have some more? He has a big forehead.” Last Ash Wednesday I spent six hours distributing ashes at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. The Cathedral staff estimates 50,000 people come through St. Patrick’s on Ash Wednesday. “Remember, you are dust and to dust you shall return.” “Wow . . . thank you.” St. Patrick’s has a strange effect on the people who walk by. Every day of every year all sorts of people come in. It’s hard to imagine a squat building drawing much attention at all in this city of skyscrapers. Of course skyscrapers are, as so often diagnosed, the product of striving, materialistic, anthropocentric, Pelagian capitalism. But I think those towers say something else. They show we haven’t lost our inertia. There’s something we still want. We just don’t have it yet. St. Patrick’s gives people a little momentum. This is a city where buildings and people scramble over each other, rat-racing like vines to get higher. St. Patrick’s teaches …

Song of the Sorrowful Mother

“Give sorrow words,” writes Shakespeare in Macbeth (IV, 3, 209). Yet, in moments of great sorrow, this is often impossible to do. Words fail to come. In such instances, it is song, not speech, that allows us to give voice to grief, to lament, and perhaps, even in the depths of darkness, to discover the faintest glimmer of hope. On this feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, the Church sings words of solace and comfort to the silent Virgin Mother who stands at the foot of her dying Son’s Cross. The ancient sequence Stabat Mater Dolorosa, sung in many churches today before the proclamation of John’s Gospel (19:25–27), allows us to stand with Mary at the foot of the Cross. This sequence, known in translation as At the Cross Her Station Keeping, is more familiar within the context of Lent, when it is often sung during communal recitations of the Stations of the Cross, yet today’s feast constitutes its original liturgical context. Just as numerous artists have depicted the Sorrowful Mother at the foot of the …

Accompanying Fellow Disciples

In my years of studying piano, nothing was more fear and nausea inducing than the prospect of performing a solo recital. Being out there on a stage, alone, no sheet music to fall back on, everyone watching, listening for mistakes. On the whole, of course, the experience of performing solo recitals was valuable and formative, but I’m still thankful that those days seem to be behind me. These days, my time at the piano is almost entirely spent in accompanying, and most of this accompanying takes place within a liturgical context. It’s no less of a performance, but it’s a different kind of performance. It’s an interesting verb, accompany, particularly when considered in a musical context. Often in the classical music world, accompanists are (wrongly) perceived as second-class citizens, or at the very least, they are perceived as subordinates to the solo singer or instrumentalist. Accompanists are to be heard and not seen (think about a hidden pit orchestra for a musical or opera); they are not to draw attention to themselves; they are to follow the …

A New Song for the New Evangelization: In the Beginning

Few things impact the celebration of the liturgy more concretely than music. Ask any Mass-goer exiting the church to recap the Gospel and he or she may begin to resemble the proverbial deer in the headlights. However, ask that same person to name any hymn sung during the liturgy and you’re not only more likely to receive an actual answer (or even a serenade), but you’re also likely to receive an opinion on the quality of the liturgical music itself. Music quite literally resonates within the hearts of worshipers in a unique way. Whether vocal or instrumental, music has a power to evoke an intellectual or emotional response that cannot be underestimated; therefore, its role in the overall impact of a liturgical celebration also cannot be underestimated. Music clothes our communal prayer in beauty, allowing us truly to “lift up our hearts” to the Lord in a way that simultaneously expresses our unique humanity and our universal desire for communion with God and one another. Given this reality, the question for parish music directors in …

Singing Praise in the Darkness

Christ’s peace must reign in your hearts, since as members of the one body you have been called to that peace. Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness. Let the word of Christ, rich as it is, dwell in you. In wisdom made perfect, instruct and admonish one another. Sing gratefully to God from your hearts in psalms, hymns, and inspired songs. Whatever you do, whether in speech or in action, do it in the name of Jesus. Give thanks to God the Father through him. (Col 3:15–17) I’m sure many of you are at least familiar with J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, which tells the story of the quest to unmake the ring of power, a device that has the potential to destroy the world. In this story there is a character named Sam, the gardener and faithful companion of Frodo, the hobbit tasked with destroying the ring. As they near the end of their quest, Sam finds himself in a rather hopeless situation. He has just battled with an ancient, terrible monster in the …

Marriage and Music: Singing God’s Love

In his recent essay on the Sacrament of Marriage, Timothy O’Malley observed that a deeply consumerist culture has grown up around the nuptial liturgy and the reception. Having assisted engaged couples with choosing the liturgical music for their wedding ceremonies, I can attest that this consumerist culture is not simply relegated to externals like flowers and clothing; rather, it has seeped into many couples’ perceptions of the nuptial liturgy itself. In some respects, this is only natural; for example, the couple chooses Scripture readings that carry special meaning for them or that present an important teaching of the Church that they wish to be reminded of on their wedding day. It is commendable that such choices are made with care and consideration—it allows the wedding ceremony itself to reflect the particularity of the couple being joined together in Matrimony; however, a problem arises when this mindset toward personalization becomes the sole motivation behind decisions that shape the liturgical celebration and the couple loses sight of its place in the Church as a whole. Unfortunately, many couples have …

Called to Serve, Called to Lead

On a recent weekend I was called to fill in as cantor at a local parish. I arrived about twenty minutes before Mass, got the list of music from the organist, asked clarifying questions about the community’s worship style, met the priest, confirmed how to pronounce his name when I announced him, answered his questions about what parts of the Mass would be sung, and took my place at the front of the assembly. A few of the songs were unfamiliar to me, and I silently thanked my college sight-singing professor as I balanced reading the notes and words with making occasional eye contact with the assembly and raising my hand to encourage singing at the beginning of each verse. This particular congregation didn’t need much guidance; they were obviously used to singing, so I backed off from the microphone a bit and let them hear their own voices rather than mine. A few of the songs were quite familiar, the same as those I had sung with my students at a prayer service earlier …