Monday, October 24, 2016

Teaching singing to little children

I've written here a number of times about the advantages of teaching excellent singing, particularly in the chant, to little ones. I thought I'd outline a few specific tips about how to do that. Most of these are taken in one way or another from the Ward Method.

  1. Insist on excellent singing from the very beginning, even with kindergarteners. This can be a little challenging if students are used to singing in a loud, shouting way. One remedy is simply to have students repeat back notes, sung on "oo," and listening for beautiful singing. Another is to ask students to repeat the call of the mourning dove, singing on the syllable "oo." Listen carefully for vocal production. Gently correct the students who are making more playful sounds and challenge them to "sing beautifully."
  2. Another way to correct shouting is to ask students to sing--not shout--a note as loudly as they can. Correct shouting until it is loud singing. Then ask them to sing the same note as quietly as they can, not whispering, but quiet singing. Lastly, ask them to sing the same note as "mediumly" as they can.
  3. Teach the students to sing the Do Re Mi scale with hand motions that walk the notes up the body. This is an outstanding video explanation. The entire series is wonderful.
  4. To explain the half steps in the scale, I tell a story about being on vacation in an old house on vacation, and tell the students that since their family is in the beautiful basement of this wonderful house, and the kitchen is on the first floor, that it is very important to know how to walk up the stairs at night to get some delicious hot chocolate. The problem with this old house is that some of the steps are only half as tall, and you have to be careful in order to walk up in the dark. I draw a platform horizontally low on the board, and that is Do. Then a stair, up to Re, then a stair up to Mi, and then a half-tall stair up to Fa. This continues up to Do, with a half-tall stair between Mi and Do.
    Little children are very interested in the height and size of things, and will have fairly recently conquered the processes involved in walking up stairs, so this image is very memorable to them.
These are just a few introductory steps. The main thing is to consistently ask the children to sing excellent music. That is why I always supplement these music theory explanations with selections from the Parish Book of Chant.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Hymn tune introit for St. John Paul

Some of our readers who are celebrating the Memorial of Pope St. John Paul with special solemnity may like to sing this Hymn Tune Introit during the entrance procession.

The Lord chose him to be high priest.
And made His gifts in him increase.
He opened up His treasure store,
And made him rich forevermore.
The Hymn Tune Introits are a way of introducing the proper texts in a parish or other worshipping community in an agreeable and easy way. This text may be sung to the tune of any familiar Long Meter tune.


Saturday, October 8, 2016

Support a great school, and win $$$

I teach Gregorian chant and renaissance polyphony at a wonderful independent Catholic K-12 school near San Diego, with a classical curriculum and prolife values. I thought our readers might be interested to know about our biggest fundraiser of the year, which is a raffle with a $10,000 grand prize.

 Only 1,000 tickets will be sold, so the odds are good, and the school is certainly worthy of support.

 California is something of a mission field, and our students are being taught how to keep and stand up for their faith.

For my part, I teach Religion, Latin, and how to sing beautifully at our Masses and to read music, in both chant and modern notation systems.  

Please consider helping us to form the next generation of faithful (and musically literate!) Catholics. The details of the raffle may be found here. 

Thank you!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A feature on chant and Gloriae Dei Cantores

Yesterday, the Boston-based network Catholic TV welcomed guests from Gloriae Dei Cantores, the renowned ecumenical choir on Cape Cod, to talk about their performance and recordings of choral music and Gregorian chant in particular:

Monday, October 3, 2016

Even That Free-Spirit, St Francis of Assisi Knew Liturgy Called For Splendor

On the eve of St Francis' feast day, an interesting interview in the National Catholic Register with a professor of sacred music at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. He touches on music at the University, and music in the Franciscan tradition. (I don't think I knew that Jacopone da Todi was Franciscan.)
Franciscan University has a vibrant musical life. There are two university choirs: the Schola Cantorum Franciscana and University Chorale. A small army of volunteer students leads and participates in bands and choirs, which provide musical leadership for multiple daily and Sunday Masses in the chapel. We have at least two student-led a capella, groups in addition to a string quartet; and, of course, it’s never hard to find a student playing a guitar outside on a sunny day. There are many forms of music here, for various times and places. “Diverse and healthy” is how I would describe it.
For liturgical music specifically, there are few places I’m aware of that have a similar program. If you walk into Christ the King Chapel here, you’re likely to hear one of two different types of song — chant-polyphony and classic English hymnody or guitar-led “praise and worship,” music with compositions that are both more recent and more Catholic. What’s conspicuously lacking is music from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, which is so common in American Catholic parishes.
 Not certain I get this - "praise and worship" music that is "more Catholic" than what? than the "chant-polyphony"? or than the stuff of the '60s, '70s and '80s that he mentions in the next sentence?

Anyone familiar with and care to comment on the musical praxis at Steubenville?

Thursday, September 29, 2016

What Will We Sing When We Get There?

In case you didn't know, we are going to Mars.

In our lifetime.

When humanity flings itself into the inky blackness of the nearby heavens, will the silly songs of contemporary worshiptainment be an adequate musical expression of this endeavor?

When the first priest arrives on Mars, and says the first Mass on another world, what sort of music could possibly match the profound human accomplishment, and the divine inspiration, that got him there?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Wyoming Catholic College Announces Fellowships for Sacred Music

Professor Peter Kwasniewski sent a note about his college's program of music scholarships, so we pass it along for interested readers:
Since its opening in 2007, Wyoming Catholic College has always supported a strong choir program and a men's schola. On average, about 40 students participate in the choir, and about 10 men in the schola.  
The choir practices cover more than repertoire: we work on voice production, solfege, music theory, and some history and theology, especially as regards the liturgy (we sing for both EF and OF Masses). Schola practice, too, delves deeply into the structure and "rhetoric" of the Proper chants for Sundays and Holy Days so that we may sing them better. 
Students who have prior experience playing the organ are given opportunities to play at Sunday High Mass, and if they are good enough, they can receive a work-study scholarship for this position. In addition, students who can play instruments well are included in small ensembles for performing Renaissance and Baroque music during liturgies, paraliturgical functions, and social events. 
Recently it was decided to go one step further. To attract musically talented students who wish to study at a Catholic liberal arts Great Books college, WCC is offering an indefinite number of "Pope Benedict XVI Fellowships for Sacred Music" for qualified applicants. The fellowship is a merit-based grant given to freshmen who can demonstrate musical talent, experience, and interest, and who are planning to sing in the College Choir and/or Schola. 
For more details, visit this page, and look under "Fellowships and Merit Scholarships":
Please address inquiries to Trevor Lontine, Director of Admissions, at

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Sts. Cosmas and Damian--and Ecclesiastical Reform

The Franciscan basilica Cosmas and Damian, in the Roman Forum, is a unique renovation. Because of the dampness of the surrounding area in the old heart of Rome, the basilica's remarkable mosaics began to lose tiles, and entire figures. So in the 17th century it was rebuilt by papal works, and its floor was raised an almost impossible 7 meters. Its old floor was now the floor of its crypt, and the new floor was above the waterline, saving the priceless and ancient works of art along the interior walls.

What is striking about this renovation is the wonderful sense of beauty and proportion in the new space. Somehow the raising of the floor was done so thoughtfully and expertly that there is no sense of walking into a space that has been fixed and redone--with the exception of the replaced mosaics in the corners of the apse, which are visibly drawn by a new hand. As far as the architecture goes, the space works as a complete and harmonious whole.

 It seems to me that the basilica suggests a lesson about all reforms in the Church. Reform is not bad in itself, and the Church must always be discerning its way forward, with "continuity and discontinuity at different levels," in the happy phrase of the Pope Emeritus.

More of our reforms should be this seamless, this beautiful, this attentive to both the past and the present, preserving a sense of harmony and proportion. Reform is not destruction. It attends to the ethos of a thing. Reform in the Church respects the authentic expressions of the Church's marks wherever they may be found.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Papal honors for Peter Latona

The latest recipient of the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Medal, "For the Church and for the Pope," is exemplary church musician Dr. Peter Latona, Music Director at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

The award is the highest papal honor available to the laity, and is given exceedingly rarely. Dr. Latona served extensively during the visits of Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis during their visits to the United States. With this medal, Pope Francis recognizes these contributions to the life of the Church.

What makes this honor particularly well-deserved, in my opinion, is not only Dr. Latona's work both in front of the camera and behind the scenes in these high-profile events, but the careful attention to excellence that he brings to every Mass. Music at the National Shrine is a daily job, with 4 sung Masses every day of the year. When Dr. Latona plays a daily Mass, the music is exquisite, particularly during the time of Communion meditation. It might be easy to "fill" music at these less visible events, instead of really playing, but that is not his way. He really plays, composes, carefully curates, and the results are a wonderful example for Catholic cathedrals and parishes to follow.

Congratulations! Ad multos annos!

Tonight: Music for the Year of Mercy

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A new recording of the Requiem chants

For some years, Massachusetts-based hymn expert Peter Meggison has been working to keep classic devotional hymns alive by commissioning new recordings of them.  Having made over a dozen sessions with choirs and small ensembles, he distributes the songs on CDs and on the web.  Most of the music on the site is from the era 1850-1950, and represents popular hymns sung at Catholic Masses and devotions in America and England.

This summer he collaborated with conductor and organist Michael Olbash to offer something different. Instead of late-Victorian hymns in English, the aim was to present a once-familiar sound from the traditional Mass itself: the sound of the Latin chants of the Requiem Mass, sung with organ accompaniment.

A choir of 11 met for an afternoon in St. John Church in Clinton, Massachusetts in June to perform the music, and it is now available on the project's website at .

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Hymn for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Let us join in the feast:
The triumph of Christ’s Cross.
The Greatest has become the Least,
Assessing gain as loss.

God grant I never boast
In glories that will end,
If Christ, who sacrificed the most
Accounted me a friend.

What greater love than this:
The Lord laid down His life.
The Master of the realms of bliss
Bore pain and scorn and strife.

He conquered Satan’s pride
By deep humility.
Within His saving wounds I hide
And gain His grace for me.
Meter: SM ( Suggested tune: Saint Thomas (Williams), or others:
Franconia Southwell
Saint Bride Swabia