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Diocesan Choir concert is 'For All the Saints' Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Dick Jones, For the Catholic Herald   
Thursday, May. 10, 2018 -- 12:00 AM

diocesan choir
The Madison Diocesan Choir has been directed by Dr. Patrick Gorman, since 1992.  Glenn Schuster has been organist and assistant director since 1996. (Ken Halfman photo)

MADISON -- Poll the faithful on the most famous saints, and Augustine, Aquinas, Francis of Assisi, and of course St. Patrick are sure to follow Peter and Paul on any top 10 list.

But what about St. Bede the Venerable, St. Columba, St. Niceta, or Blessed John Henry Newman, among others?

Under the direction of Dr. Patrick Gorman, the Madison Diocesan Choir offers an introduction to the saints, the familiar and those not so well known, with a spring concert, “For All the Saints,” Friday, May 18, at the Holy Name Heights, 702 S. High Point Rd., in Madison.

This spring concert promises to be as inspiring and joyful, if not more so, than past performances as it features:

• Musical settings based on writings by the saints, including selections never before performed in concert by the choir.

• Readings followed by hymns, similar to the choir’s popular Lessons & Carols Advent service, but with the readings being works penned by the saints.

• Similarly in keeping with Lessons & Carols, opportunities for all in attendance to join the choir in singing a number of hymns.

• Brass bell chimes for organist Glenn Schuster to play as he accompanies the choir on the restored Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ, installed last fall in memory of Msgr. Delbert Schmelzer.

• St. Raphael Brass and Timpani, also accompanying the choir, with Rob Rohlfing and Jessica Jensen, trumpets; Matt Beecher, horn; Brian Whitty, trombone; David Spies, tuba, and Joe Bernstein, timpani.

During the concert, the new Youth Pastoral Musician Scholarship Awards of $500 each will be presented to students to help cover the cost of attending summer music clinics.

The free concert will begin at 7 p.m. in the Holy Name Heights chapel, which is handicap accessible. While there is no admission fee, the choir appreciates free will offerings in support of its musical ministry, including the new Youth Pastoral Musician Scholarship Awards initiative.

Working as a team, Gorman and Schuster have led the choir for years; Gorman, director since 1992, and Schuster, organist and assistant director since 1996.

Searching for texts and music

As Gorman explained it, when he started planning the concert last summer, Schuster suggested one based on the writings of saints, with their works later set to music, either by the saints themselves or others.

“There’s such a rich resource of texts written by the saints,” Schuster said. “I just thought there has got to be choral anthems out there, as well as hymns, and that we should maybe do a collection of that type of music and present it in the form of a concert.”

Gorman took the idea and ran with it, searching the internet for writings of saints and choral music resulting from such works. The goal was to compile works not only for the concert, but hymns the choir could sing at major liturgical events in Madison as well parish visits.

“Some of these texts are familiar, like The Prayer of Saint Patrick; some of the hymns, too, Panis Angelicus, for example,” Gorman said “But some of them are not familiar, and so I’m really looking forward to those especially, introducing people to those texts.”

The program includes five readings, all are writings of saints, their reflections, or homilies. “They are all writings about music, singing music,” Gorman said.

St. Augustine of Hippo

The first reading is one written by St. Augustine of Hippo, entitled The heart speaks what the words cannot utter.

“St. Augustine is writing about how we really sometimes can sing even if it’s without music, or without words,” Gorman said. “What he’s saying is it’s almost like the spirit inside you can sing and improvise, just because it’s joyful.”

Following the first reading is a hymn by St. Augustine, one arranged by Thomas Keesecker that has become a choir favorite, All shall be Amen and Alleluia.

Gorman also noted that the final reading, entitled Believe what you sing, is from The Fourth Council of Carthage in St. Augustine’s time.

“It’s a very interesting perspective, that everything we sing is what we believe and reinforces it,” Gorman said. “And so from the songs, we can learn what we believe and also reinforce it, shape it, all those things.”

In one sense, Gorman said, it’s like the Alphabet Song all sang as children to learn the ABCs. “It’s kind of like that with Church music,” he said. “We sing these songs. Sometimes you don’t remember every word that was said in the homily or read in the Scriptures, but the songs, somehow the music and words together, stay with us. It’s one reason why music is so important in the Church, because you want it to be really true and what we believe, so it reinforces all the good that we do.”

St. Patrick

Perhaps a case in point is The Prayer of Saint Patrick. Although a familiar text, the arrangement by the contemporary composer John Rutter is among new selections for the choir. While not particularly difficult, it can be challenging. Yet it truly becomes a prayer when sung from the heart.

“You can count the beats and everything, but unless you can really sing it from memory and feel it, it’s hard to sing together beautifully,” Gorman said.

Gorman is eager for people to hear the choir sing The Prayer of Saint Patrick as well as other selections, some he had in mind when he began his research and some surprises.

“I knew some of the pieces that I would want to do, especially the Irish saints, and St. Thomas Aquinas,” Gorman said. “St. Thomas wrote an awful lot of beautiful texts that are still in use in the church today.”

Blessed John Henry Newman

Although not so well known, Blessed John Henry Newman was another saint that Gorman had in mind from the start.

“Blessed John Henry Newman had written some texts that are often sung to hymns, so I was glad we could find a couple of his texts, Lead kindly, light and Praise to the Holiest in the Height,” Gorman said. “He seems to be very popular among young people these days.”

Praise to the Holiest in the Height is one Schuster is eager to play on the restored Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ. Another favored selection for him is the opening hymn, based on the life and writings of St. Francis of Assisi, All Creatures of Our God and King.

“I’m one to gravitate more to the big hymns,” Schuster said. “With the brass, it will be awesome and amazing!”

St. Bede the Venerable

Among the surprises for Gorman in his research? St. Bede the Venerable for one, and his text Christus est stella matuntina set to music.

“St. Bede is quite popular in the European saints,” Gorman said. “It’s nothing fancy. It’s just a beautiful text, and the music itself is very ethereal, kind of chant-like. It’s a good mix of music and text.”

The remains of the Benedictine monk, patron saint of scholars and historians, are buried in Galilee Chapel of Durham Cathedral. On the wall above his tomb is a translation of his prayer, Christus est stella matuntina:

Christ is the Morning Star,

Who when the night of this world is past,

Brings to his saints the promise of the light

Of life and opens everlasting day.

St. Columba

Another selection new for Gorman and the choir is the monastic hymn Altus Prosatur, based on the writings of St. Columba.

Altus Prosatur is one I like ’cause it’s just kind of a big, hearty Irish hymn, that’s kind of unison and then parts for a little bit,” Gorman said.

Saints still speak to us

For Gorman, the message in all of this is twofold.

“One is that the great saints of the Church still speak to us today,” he said. “One of the great things about the Church is that we believe it’s not just us here but all those faithful who have gone before us and that we’re still in dialogue with them because they’re still living, living in heaven.

“And so they still have things to say to us, and I think all the things we’re going to hear at this concert about music are all very lovely things.”

Second, he said, is their inspiration in holy lives they lived. “These saints in whatever way they lived, they lived very holy lives, and I think we sometimes confuse holiness with piousness,” Gorman said.

“Holiness is, as Mother Teresa said, doing small things well, doing things and just keeping them to yourself in the name of God. . . . One of the things they say to us by their example is that it’s about rolling up your sleeves and helping others in God’s name, and spreading the Gospel that way.”

Gorman said all the saints on the concert program spread the Gospel by helping others.

“So I think there are some things that everybody can do,” he said. “I always think, in God’s eyes, there’s very little difference between the choir master and the person who cleans under the pews during the week. Their works are both done out of love for God.”

 

 

 
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