Mar 15, 2008

Sacred Music in the Rockies

Online Edition: March 2008, Vol. XIV, No. 1

Sacred Music in the Rockies:

Chant Workshop in Colorado Springs Inspires Singers

by Larry Rutherford

The chant seemed to echo through the mountains as nearly 120 singers learned Catholic sacred music at the foot of Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs.

The first Rocky Mountain Region Sacred Music Workshop took place at St. Mary’s Cathedral January 18-19, 2008. Despite unsettled winter weather, 117 of the 128 registrants participated at this milestone event. Some came from as far as Shreveport, Louisiana, and the Grand Tetons in Wyoming. Also included among the group were members of other Christian denominations.

Organizers were astonished by the interest the workshop engendered as the actual attendance nearly doubled original expectations.

The workshop was hosted by the Diocese of Colorado Springs and sponsored by the Church Music Association of America (CMAA), and the faculty for this educational and spiritual experience was Dr. Horst Buchholz and Mr. Scott Turkington.

Dr. Buchholz is Director of Sacred Music and principal organist at Denver’s Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, as well as Music Director of the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra. He also serves as Professor of Church Music at St. John Vianney Seminary, and oversees the organ program at the University of Denver. He is the Vice-President of the CMAA.

A native of Minneapolis, Mr. Turkington is organist and choirmaster of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Stamford, Connecticut, and founder of the St. Gregory Institute for Music and Liturgy. Before assuming his current position in 1998, he was assistant organist and conductor at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. Mr. Turkington is on the board of directors of the CMAA.

Intensive Music Instruction

The workshop concentrated on Gregorian chant and classical polyphony during an intense 14 hours of instruction over two days.

Some of the selections learned by this huge choir were Iubilate Deo by Orlando Lassus, Agnus Dei from the Missa L’hora Passa by Lodovico Viadana, If Ye Love Me by Thomas Tallis, and the Kyrie Eleison and Sanctus from the Missa Orbis Factor.

The Colorado Springs neo-Gothic cathedral provided a perfect environment for this music with its beautiful stained glass windows, ornate reredos behind the altar, and acoustics that magnified the splendor of the singing. All the music was fashioned for a practical application in the liturgy that would be sung at the Saturday evening anticipatory Mass at the cathedral.

The participants in the workshop had varied abilities and familiarity with the type of music included in the program. While some had never experienced singing this kind of music, others had sung it in their youth, and a number had never attempted to sing music requiring the technical level of ability that was involved in the polyphonic selections. Despite this, even the novices praised the event and loved the challenging but beautiful music. As two of the singers enthusiastically said, it was “Awesome — but difficult and beautiful”, and the workshop was an “enormous motivator”.

Lectures by Expert Music Directors

The workshop also consisted of two sessions of talks, which included one by Dr. Buchholz entitled “Pope Benedict XVI on Music”, and another with Buchholz and Turkington inviting attendees to “Ask the Experts”.

In addition to documents of the Church, Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977, A New Song for the Lord and The Spirit of the Liturgy by Cardinal Ratzinger were sources in the presentation by Dr. Buchholz. He discussed the “Reform of the Reform” and how the pope sees the proper implementation of music in the liturgy as directed in the documents of Vatican II and how there must be a redirection of the past 40 years toward what was originally intended.

Dr. Buchholz said that we are especially blessed in that, “since Pope Pius X, we probably have never had a pope with such a deep love, serious concern, and great expertise, in matters of liturgy and sacred music, as we have today with Pope Benedict XVI”.

Despite this support from Pope Benedict, however, Dr. Buchholz challenges musicians, “We must not wait for the Holy Father, or the Church leadership to improve liturgical music for us, but we must do it ourselves. Every faithful Catholic musician is called to ask, ‘what can I do for the Church’, and not lament what the Church does for us”.

The second of the talks provided answers to the participants’ questions concerning the practical application of sacred music in parish liturgy.

The first question was, “What are we trying to do here?” The speakers explained that we are learning ways to follow what we have been instructed to do in liturgical music by the Church. Other topical questions involved the use of Latin, seasonal responsorial psalms, vibrato in chant and polyphony, conflicting statements in Church documents, liturgically appropriate music, the Ward Method of music instruction and more items of interest to the group.

Solemn Mass with Bishop Sheridan

The workshop culminated in a solemn Mass with Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs presiding. The music learned was applied during this magnificent liturgical experience. The Introit Omnis terra was sung as an English/Latin antiphon with Dr. Buchholz and Mr. Turkington canting the verses in Latin and the massive choir and congregation replying with the refrain in English.

The Ordinary of the Mass consisted of both Gregorian chant and polyphony. The Kyrie Eleison and Sanctus from the Missa Orbis Factor and the Gloria XV were chanted, while the Agnus Dei was the polyphonic piece from Viadana’s Missa L’Hora Passa. Lassus’s Iubilate Deo and Tallis’s If Ye Love Me were sung during the Offertory and Communion respectively. The two directors also sang the proper Communion chant, Laetabimur.

Dr. Buchholz completed the music repertoire for the event with a marvelous recessional organ improvisation on the Benedicamus Domino in the “Fifth Mode”.

The music at the Mass not only had an impact on the singers but on the standing-room-only congregation as well. One parishioner said the chanting at Communion was one of the most profound experiences she has ever had.

Attendees were not sent away empty-handed, either. Many wonderful publications and recordings of chant were made available by Aquinas and More Catholic Goods ( of Col-orado Springs, and, as part of the packet of materials, each participant received a copy of the Liber Cantualis, the Jubilate Deo booklet, and a copy of A Gregorian Chant Handbook by William Tortolano.

Singers left asking to “do it again” as “this has been good for the soul”.


Larry Rutherford is the founder and former director of the St. Cecilia Cantorum in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He teaches “Sacred Music for Kids” at the local home-school co-op and is studying for his Master’s Degree in Pastoral Liturgy and Music at St. Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Indiana.



Larry Rutherford