– Vol. X, No. 2 & 3: April – May 2004
Dignus est Agnus
A Worthy Work from a New Musician
Dignus est Agnus
– Sacred Music from Holy Week & Eastertide
A Jeff Ostrowski Production
Can small parishes and chapels have genuine sacred music at all celebrations of Sunday Mass? If you think it’s not possible, talk to Jeff Ostrowski — or listen to his first CD, Dignus est Agnus (Worthy is the Lamb), featuring the choir of mostly under-twenty-somethings that he organized and directs at Saint John Vianney Latin Mass Community Chapel in Maple Hill, near Topeka, Kansas. He may change your mind.
"My guess is that most church choirs start small", said Mr. Ostrowski, a music student at the University of Kansas. "Conducting a small choir can present real difficulties as well as great joys, and this is especially true at Tridentine Masses", he said. "This shouldn’t deter anyone from attempting a similar project, however. There are both joyous and difficult aspects to forming a choir, and the challenges really can be overcome".
It helps to have talent, commitment, good will, energy, and imagination. Mr. Ostrowski, who is 22, has all of the above — plus a fine education in sacred music. He studied piano for twelve years, and this May will graduate from KU with a bachelor’s degree in music theory.
"I have been privileged to study Gregorian chant with several very knowledgeable priests, and I sang at the High Masses at Saint Joseph’s Church in Topeka for several years", he said. "This training, ultimately, is why I have been able to promote great music at my parish, where I am music director".
Did he worry about recruiting choir members capable of singing sacred music in Latin?
"I wasn’t worried about this, because I knew that true liturgical music is so great that it will always attract singers", Mr. Ostrowski said.
But there were challenges. For one thing, his experience in choral performance of chant and polyphony had been with only men’s voices, but the church choir was mostly young girls and women, with only a few men. This forced him to study Church documents and expand his knowledge of chant. He put this into practice, starting with relatively simple chants for parts of the Mass.
"Our choir made leaps and bounds when we started singing polyphony", he said. Since he couldn’t find simple music that suited the choir, "I wrote a very simple piece in an ancient style that had just one female line, since I didn’t have enough females to divide into alto and soprano sections. The congregation was astounded! We have now sung many pieces by the greatest masters of the 16th century — Palestrina, Lassus, Victoria, Croce, etcetera".
The new CD features sacred music for the Easter season (side 2 is a Votive Mass in Paschaltide, "The Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ"). The polyphonic works are performed by the parish choir, and the chant selections by Saint Gabriel Lalemont Schola, Topeka, also directed by Mr. Ostrowski. Guest artists are from the University of Kansas. One track is performed by the Collegium Musicum, conducted by Dr. John Paul Johnson, director of KU Choral Activities.
Solo organ selections (Bach, Mendelssohn) are performed by Mr. Ostrowski, who also chants the Easter Exultet (the first part). Some of his newly composed "antique style" pieces are also featured on the album. The performances are impressive, and the sound production is generally good.
Mr. Ostrowski’s interesting personal web site – including samples and complete program notes from the CD (and ordering information) – is certainly worth a visit: http://jeff.ostrowski.cc.
We expect we’ll be hearing more from him.