Review of St. Agnes Conference

Here is a wonderful review of the CMAA conference two weeks ago in St. Paul, Minnesota:

by Mary Catherine Levri

On October 14th, I had the pleasure of playing a short recital at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, Minnesota. I was one of six musicians who performed for a conference sponsored by the Church Music Association of America. It was titled, “The Renewal of Sacred Music and the Liturgy in the Catholic Church: Movements Old and New.”

I usually attend the CMAA’s annual Colloquium that takes place in the summer, but my business with the Basilica Summer Choir (plus the opportunity to play this recital at the October conference) caused me to opt for this smaller, more academic conference in the fall. Directed by Dr. Jennifer Donelson, the Academic Liaison of the CMAA, the conference focused on issues at the heart of the renewal of liturgical music before, during, and after the Second Vatican Council. In a special way, the conference reflected on the legacy of Monsignor Richard Schuler (1920-2007), a musician priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul & Minneapolis who gave much of his priestly life to the preservation of the Catholic musical tradition. He is most famous for founding the Twin Cities Catholic Chorale in 1955. Part of the conference took place at St. Agnes Church, the church at which Msgr. Schuler was pastor for thirty-six years. It was in this beautiful Baroque church that conference participants were treated to the Twin Cities Catholic Chorale’s performance of the Mozart Vesperae solennes de confessore on the first night of the conference.

The following two days of the conference consisted of spoken presentations, music recitals, and participation in liturgies. A number of the talks were quite good, and some were especially enlightening. Fr. Robert Johansen, a priest from the Diocese of Kalamazoo, gave a talk on the musical initiatives of the Liturgical Movement in the two decades leading up to Vatican II. Fr. Johansen explained that in these initiatives, active participation in the liturgy was fostered in a particular way through the congregational singing of chant. He asserted that the singing of chant by the congregation is a liturgical action that possesses a “sacramental” quality, making it all the more important for this sung participation in the Mass to be encouraged today. Having lived in nothing other than the post-Vatican II Church, it was enlightening for me to realize that such practical musical reform was already taking place in the United States before the Council. Fr. Johansen’s presentation led me to realize that as lonely as I can sometimes feel in my efforts as a church musician, I am not starting “from scratch” when I encourage congregations to sing the music of the Church. I am always already standing on the work of others.

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