Making a School Musical

I’ve spent the past year working at a wonderful independent Catholic K-12 school in southern California. I thought I would write about some of my experiences there, for those who are hoping to build a musical culture in a similar situation.

The students have a history of singing the simplest Gregorian Mass ordinary, and I decided to leave that alone for the time being while we focused on some other elements of sacred music.
I teach K-8 music once a week per class. In K-5 we’ve focused on repertoire in preparation for Mass. 
  1. The 4 seasonal Marian antiphons, sung at the end of Communion time.
  2. Chant hymns including the Adoro Te, Ave Verum Corpus, Attende Domine, Veni Creator Spiritus, and Rorate Caeli
  3. Communion proper chants, seasonal responsorial Psalms
  4. A very  limited repertoire of English hymns, with outstanding text and music. Tunes include Duke Street, Jesu dulcis memoria, Salzburg, Hyfrydol, Old Hundredth, Passion Chorale, and Land of Rest.
The students have also learned some theory, using ideas from the Ward Method.
The middle schoolers have learned all of the above, plus some modern theory. They can identify all of the notes using both chant and modern notation. The eighth graders can sight sing chant notation.
For the usual Christmas pageant we used excellent Christmas carols, including Resonet in laudibus, the Carol of the Bells, and In dulci iubilo.
The high school choir has focused on SATB harmony. In addition to harmonizing the non-chant hymn tunes, which is itself a musical education because of the musicality of the arrangements (several by Bach), we’ve learned several classic motets: Sicut Cervus, If Ye Love Me, Mozart’s Ave Verum, and O Sacrum Convivium.
Although we’ve had some good luck, and I’ve had some practice at this sort of thing, the main strength of our program has simply been the vision that school music can and should aim at a high level of quality.
I’d certainly be happy to advise anyone who is interested in implementing a similar program. It’s not as hard as you might think–and it is definitely worth trying!

One Reply to “Making a School Musical”

  1. You mention simple settings for the Ordinary, I have a suggestion should you want to add to this. I found that some of the more ornate ones are very melodic with a strong tonality which makes them easy to learn, such as Cum Jubilo and Orbis Factor, as well as, of course, De Angelis.

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