Sacred Music Resurgence at Catholic College

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STEUBENVILLE, Ohio — According to three notable college professors, a comeback for sacred music is well under way on many Catholic campuses. While incoming students are usually not well-versed in sacred music or the theology behind it, they are generally open to learning both. Once this knowledge is imparted, they are well-equipped to bring its beauty into parishes.

“Students enter with varying degrees of exposure to the Church’s musical patrimony,” observed Nicholas Will, first-year professor of sacred music at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. “Yet I’ve found that almost all of them, regardless of their current knowledge level, are receptive to the Church’s treasury of sacred music and her teaching on the subject.”

Will attributes this receptivity largely to the influence of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, whose knowledge of and love for sacred music have sparked a genuine reform in the Church. “Pope Emeritus Benedict has a refined taste for good music, especially sacred music. He was able to clearly identify worthy sacred music, and he was also able to clearly convey that message to the world through his writings, but also, and more especially, in his example as pope.”
The highest form of song, as expressed in Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Second Vatican Council’s dogmatic constitution on the sacred liturgy, is Gregorian chant. The form, history and performance style of this centuries-old liturgical practice are taught by Will to Franciscan music majors. Despite most of them not having prior experience with the subject, they have been comfortable with learning it.

“The students with the greatest exposure levels enjoy learning even more about the art, and those with lesser exposure quickly recognize the timeless beauty and universality of Gregorian chant, as well as its relevance today,” Will explained. “Not only do students accept Gregorian chant as a legitimate expression of liturgical music, but they appreciate why the Church values it above all other musical forms. This mindset is remarkable when one considers the state of liturgical music even 10 years ago.”

Now, Will deeply appreciates the fact that he can lead others in the exercise of this art form: “While the beauty of our art is witnessed anywhere it is performed, its most fitting place is in the liturgy itself. It’s so significant that we are teaching students about sacred music, not just from the standpoint of a hobby, but as an integral part of their lives in the Church. The Church’s musical patrimony is an essential part of the liturgy, and the liturgy is a living, breathing entity.”
Will takes this to heart while leading the Schola Cantorum Franciscana and serving as director of music at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish in Carnegie, Pa. He is able to live out, in close connection with other worshippers, the reality that liturgical music is not simply a matter of singing our favorite hymns: “The liturgy itself is musical, and by singing it excellently, we glorify God. Participating in beautifully sung liturgy is both a foretaste of the eternal heavenly liturgy and the principal means of nurturing our faith in the heart of the Church.”

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Assumption College professor says Gregorian chants beat today’s ‘loud’ songs

News item:

WORCESTER — The Rev. Donat Lamothe said he doesn’t like much of the music that’s being produced today, but those who disagree with the Roman Catholic priest might want to think twice before picking an argument with him.

After all, he’s spent much of his 50 years at Assumption College teaching undergraduates the beauty and intricacies of the art form.

“I respect the right of people to embrace whatever music appeals to them,” said Rev. Lamothe, a member of the Augustinians of the Assumption, the order that foundedAssumption College. “But much of today’s music is not refined and it has no structure. It’s just loud.”

Given his classical training, it’s no surprise that Rev. Lamothe’s musical preferences trends toward pieces from the Renaissance or Middle Ages, or from the Baroque era whose dramatic and sometimes strained style dominated Europe from the early 17th to mid-18th centuries.

“I really enjoy Gregorian chant and other forms of sacred music,” said the clergy­man.

Rev. Lamothe has been a presence on the Assumption campus for five decades.

At 78 years old, the New Hampshire native is in good health.

However, he has decided to cut back on his faculty chores and is now teaching part-time. Students can still draw from his vast knowledge by enrolling in the basic History of Music course.

College officials said they couldn’t recall anyone with longer faculty longevity.

“I love what I do but it’s time to cut back,” said Rev. Lamothe in an interview in his office in Founders Hall, which features a harpsichord that he had built many years ago.

Rev. Lamothe began his music studies as a child taking piano lessons.

He greatly admired his uncle, the Rev. Francis R. Lamothe, a diocesan priest in Manchester, N.H. At the age of 6 or 7, he considered following “Uncle Rudy” into the priesthood, so his parents sent him to Worcester to study at Assumption Preparatory School.

After two years at the school, he entered the the Augustinian novitiate, making his first profession of religious vows in 1956.

He was ordained a priest in April 1962 in Lyons, France, and began teaching philosophy at Assumption College in 1963.

Over the course of his studies, Rev. Lamothe amassed a number of degrees, including a licentiate in philosophy from the University of Ottawa in Canada, a master’s degree in theology from St. John’s University in Minnesota, a master’s degree in musicology from Boston University, and doctorate in musicology from the University of Strasbourg in France.

He has taught music, philosophy and Bible studies at Assumption.

In 1965, Rev. Lamothe, who has mastered the piano, the harpsichord, the recorder, the lute, and the viola, founded and served as music director of the former Salisbury Consort of Early Music, a semi-professional ensemble that utilized instruments from the Medieval and Renaissance periods.

In 1997, he became the director of the Assumption Schola Gregorian, a group of singers who perform the Gregorian chant tradition at various events.

Rev. Lamothe is also the college’s archivist and was given the Presidential Award for Excellence in Contribution to the Mission of Assumption College.

In 1997, after studying for some time with a Russian immigrant, Rev. Lamothe, an Assumption College alumnus, began painting the religious icons of the Eastern Orthodox churches.

“Music and iconography are prayer, and I love them both,” he said.

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