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Vol. IV, No. 8: December 1998/January 1999

First Symposium on Sacred Music Held in Arlington

Church musicians, organists, and parishioners from all over Viriginia and as far away as New England made joyful music unto the Lord, and learned about the deep relationships between music and liturgy at a symposium on sacred music held at Queen of Apostles Parish in Alexandria, Virginia on October 31, vigil of the Feast of All Saints. The event was co-sponsored by Adoremus and the Church Music Association of America.

Dr. Kurt Poterack, current head of the CMAA and a co-editor of the Adoremus Hymnal, began by reminding listeners that the CMAA is the only Catholic church music association in America that unhesitatingly accepts the Second Vatican Council's teaching on sacred music.

In his opening address, "Vatican II and Sacred Music", Poterack emphasized that virtually every phrase of the ten Vatican II articles on sacred music can be traced to pre-Conciliar teachings of popes, especially those of Pius X and Pius XII. "There is a real continuity between what the Council teaches and what, say, Pope Pius XII teaches about liturgical music in his 1955 encyclical Musicæ Sacræ Disciplina", he said.

Poterack also cautioned against misinterpreting Vatican II's liturgy constitution (Sacrosanctum Concilium), especially by trying "to pit one part of a document against another, or one document against another, or the 'Spirit of Vatican II' against its texts."

Calvert Shenk, organist amd choirmaster at Saint Paul Cathedral in Birmingham, Alabama, and an editor of the Adoremus Hymnal, conducted organ and hymnody sessions focusing on some vernacular hymns from the Adoremus Hymnal. Shenk pointed out that many of its hymns centered on Catholic doctrines.

In another session, attendees learned to read the traditional square-note Gregorian notation used for Latin chant in the Adoremus Hymnal. Some participants were surprised to learn that Gregorian notation is not difficult to learn. "Anyone can read Gregorian Chant and sing it", said Nancy Bash, of Holy Spirit Parish in Annandale. She said she hoped that the symposium would help dispel the notion that Gregorian Chant and its notation are esoteric or intimidating.

New music, such as Shenk's compositions for choirs, was also featured. Shenk said that most of his compositions grow out of the needs of particular choirs or parishes. His Mass of St. Therese (of Lisieux) was written for a small rural parish in Alabama.

William Stoop of Delaware said that "the music ... was quite simple. There was a good balance between the simple congregational parts and the more complex parts of a four-part choir."

Father Robert Skeris, a professor at Christendom College and former director of the Pontifical Institute for Sacred Music in Rome, gave the closing talk on "active participation". He said that the Latin phrase actuosa participatio denotes activity related to zeal, a sincere, interior impulse, not necessarily visible, external activity. "The one necessary element [of actuosa participatio] is the interior and deliberate act that makes it worship", he said.

He described seeing Pope John Paul II at Mass in deep prayer during the entire duration of a seven-minute Benedictus of Anton Bruckner sung by a choir. The Holy Father did not say or sing a word, but was deeply engaged in actuosa participatio by his devout listening and engagement in hearing this piece of sacred music.

The Symposium closed with a Mass featuring music learned during the workshops. In acccordance with Vatican II's statement that people should "be able to say or sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them", the choir and congregation sang together the Gregorian Missa Jubilate Deo found in the Adoremus Hymnal, and other hymns, accompanied by organist Cal Shenk.

A second Symposium was held at St. Agnes Church in St. Paul, Minnesota on November 14.

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