Thursday, January 20, 2011

Our History in New Orleans

The Diapson carries a lovely interview with Joe Hoppe, the now-retired organist and director of music for over 40 years at St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in New Orleans. It is very interesting to read about his life and work there (the CMAA just held a chant intensive at this parish).
When I was in grammar school, beginning in the fifth grade, the whole student body was taught to sing Latin by rote. We sang a Missa Cantata (High Mass) every morning during the week at 8 am. The Children’s Mass was at 8:30 am Sunday, and all the students sang; on Saturday morning at 7 am individual classes were assigned on rotating schedule. During the summer months, individual classes were assigned to sing the 7 am Mass six days a week.

In 1953, when I was 15 years old, the nun who was the church organist—and also my first organ instructor—hired me to play for all the High Masses in June, July, and August. I was thrilled when at the end of the summer I was paid $150 [$1,225 in today's dollars, ed.] for my services. The time I spent at Notre Dame was before the Vatican II changes went into effect. All the liturgies were in Latin. Even the philosophy courses had Latin textbooks.

When I started the choir at St. Patrick’s, it was with men who volunteered to sing a Latin Gregorian chant Mass for what in the old days was called Passion Sunday (two Sundays before Easter) 1987. In May I had volunteer women sing a two-part Mass. We called this a “Mary Mass” in honor of the Blessed Virgin. Then in September of that year I put the two groups together and St. Patrick’s Concert Choir was formed; some of these people assisted with the repair of the Möller.

All of the original members of the choir had sung Latin when they were in school, so Latin was not a problem. Most of these people knew how to pronounce Latin, but had a very limited knowledge of the meaning of what was being sung. As the years went along, there were very few members who had not been exposed to Latin, and the few who were not familiar with it were helped along by the older members of the group.
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