Diocesan Choir presents Lessons & Carols Print
Around the Diocese
Written by Dick Jones, For the Catholic Herald   
Thursday, Dec. 06, 2018 -- 12:00 AM
mary ann harr
Mary Ann Harr

MADISON -- With flute, harp, and grand organ, the Madison Diocesan Choir and director Dr. Patrick Gorman will celebrate Advent with a Lessons & Carols concert on Sunday, Dec. 16, always a joyful event as Christmas draws near, although a sad occasion for many this year.

On November 24, Bishop Robert C. Morlino died suddenly at the age of 71. He was laid to rest on December 4. Since his appointment as bishop of the Diocese of Madison in 2003, he presided at nearly every Lessons & Carols, and he was very supportive of the choir’s musical ministry.

The free Lessons & Carols service begins in the Bishop O’Donnell Chapel at 4 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 16, at Holy Name Heights, the former Bishop O’Connor Catholic Pastoral Center, located at 702 S. High Point Rd. in Madison. Plenty of parking is available, and the building is wheelchair accessible.

While admission is free, guests are encouraged to bring a non-perishable food item as a donation to the Catholic Multicultural Center food pantry. A freewill offering to support the Diocesan Choir Youth Scholarship initiative also would be greatly appreciated.

A second service will be held at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 6, at Our Lady of the Assumption Parish, 2222 Shopiere Rd., in Beloit. The parish choir will join the diocesan choir. Admission is free. The diocesan choir would greatly appreciate contributions to support its youth scholarship initiative.

Reflecting on the bishop

Reflecting on Bishop Morlino’s passing, Gorman agreed the patriarch had his critics, and he acknowledged his own disagreements and lively discussions with the bishop. “Some really nice debates,” said Gorman, adding with a laugh, “I never won one.”

But those debates always ended amicably, and Gorman came to know Bishop Morlino as a kind and generous man of strong faith, one who unbeknown to many, visited nursing homes every Christmas. He said Bishop Morlino paid him a surprise hospital visit following surgery a year ago.

“Both Denise and I thought that certainly was above and beyond the call of duty,” Gorman said. “I was always touched by that.”

And so for Gorman and others, this is a time of sadness. “It’s certainly sad, certainly unexpected,” Gorman said. “As with any death, especially a sudden one, there’s sadness in that you have no chance to say goodbye.”

And yet, there is reason to rejoice.

“He’s about the most joyful person I ever met, and I said this to him a number of times, that to me was just a sign of faith,” Gorman said. “He could have all kinds of things going on, and he would have a smile, he would talk, and not just be kind of artificially upbeat, but truly joyful.

“And so I can’t help but think that joy that was in his heart he is now experiencing to some other exponential degree. So that really gives me a good feeling about it.”

The loss of a friend, relative, family member, loved one especially, is always hard during the holidays, Gorman said.

Gorman paused during a recent interview, then said: “I always wonder, do they celebrate Christmas in heaven? I don’t know! Every day is Christmas, you know. Well, he’s going to find out. So that’s kind of the way I’m thinking about it. It will be melancholy, especially at Lessons & Carols. But his faith was very strong, very positive, so I think he’s going to receive a good reward.”

Bishop supportive of choir

“Bishop Morlino was exceptionally supportive of the choir,” said Gorman, who noted the bishop often expressed his appreciation for the choir at liturgical services, be it Chrism Mass, ordination, Lessons & Carols, or other diocesan events.

“And it wasn’t just a secondary thing for him,” said Gorman, also director of the Diocesan Office of Worship. “I think he really saw it as something that aided the worship at diocesan Masses. He just saw it as an integral part of the worship. One of his big things was beauty in the liturgy, and he felt the choir added quite a bit of beauty, and certainly, that’s what we strive for, too.”

Much as he supported and valued the choir’s important mission, Bishop Morlino left the music to Gorman, with one exception, and even then, it was more a suggestion if even that. Some years ago, Bishop Morlino stopped by Gorman’s office, as he often did, for an informal chat.

“He rarely asked for any music, but he just asked if I knew of this Polish hymn,” Gorman said. “He said it was Pope John Paul II’s favorite and that he and Pope John Paul II had kind of established a friendship, based on their Polish ancestry. Bishop Morlino has Polish ancestry.”

The hymn, Serdeczna Matko (Beloved Mother), is considered a favorite among all Poles. Gorman said he once sung it in English and only recently found an arrangement for harp and choir.

In selecting Lessons & Carols music weeks ago, he decided to include it. It follows the Fifth Lesson, the Angel Gabriel, sent by God, tells the Blessed Virgin Mary she will bear the Christ Child Jesus. Bishop Morlino would take great joy in hearing it, he thought.

“It’s a beautiful lullaby, beautiful and rich,” Gorman said. “We’ll certainly be thinking of him when we sing it.”

Musical guests on harp, flute

Frequent guest Mary Ann Harr will accompany the choir on harp for this and other selections. Also appearing as musical guest is Mary Wilkosz on flute. Mary Wilkosz has often accompanied the choir at Chrism Mass, ordination, and other services, but this will be her first Lessons & Carols appearance.

Pairing harp and flute with the restored vintage pipe organ in accompanying the choir creates an ensemble that Gorman is especially eager for all to hear and enjoy. Lessons & Carols last year was the first time many heard the Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ. As Gorman described it, the ensemble is another first, and the organ and harp were made for each other.

Harp, organ, and choir

In addition to the Serdeczna Matko lullaby sung in Polish and English, Gorman said Lessons & Carols highlights include Tomorrow Shall be My Dancing Day, sung by the women only; A New Year Carol; and Oh Holy Night. With all three, Harr will accompany the choir on harp. She has performed with the choir so often that Gorman considers her more member than featured musical guest.

“She’s just such a fine musician, and she likes to collaborate,” Gorman said. “She doesn’t want it to be a big harp recital; she wants it harp and choir, and to have us sing together well. She takes it very seriously, and always with a smile on her face. Just a delightful person.”

With the restored Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ in the choir loft, Gorman said he planned this year’s Lessons & Carols service with the harp, and Harr, in mind.

“The Aeolian-Skinner, one of its hallmarks is its almost orchestral sounding strings section,” Gorman said. “So having that, along with the richness of the harp, will be really nice. It also will be somewhat stereophonic with the organ in the back and Mary Ann on harp in front.”

Glenn Schuster, assistant director, will be at console in his role as principal choir accompanist. Organ, harp, and choir will make heavenly ensemble, as Gorman described it.

Heavenly music

“The harp’s the instrument of King David,” Gorman said. “King David wrote the psalms, or is traditionally considered to have written the psalms, and he often is depicted with a lyre, a tiny little harp. The thought was that these psalms were songs that he wrote and sang, or others sang, probably accompanied by the lyre.

“So King David’s the harpist. They say he’s the heavenly choir director, so he gets all the music in heaven.”

Gorman said he’s never done Oh Holy Night before.

“Hard to believe,” he said. “I didn’t know there was a choral arrangement of it until recently.” Oh Holy Night will follow the final reading. Dancing Day comes early in the program. “That’s always a really nice little piece,” Gorman said. “It’s playful, joyful.”

That and challenging, Harr said of the John Rutter arrangement. “It’s such a delightful, simple melody,” Harr said. “Rutter has written a very busy and difficult harp accompaniment to this tune. It is one of my favorite Christmas pieces to play. I can’t wait to do it with the women of the Diocesan Choir.”

Flautist Mary Wilkosz will accompany the choir in singing Saw You Never in the Twilight. Gorman said he has known her since they were both doctoral students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“She’s an excellent flautist,” Gorman said. “These instrumentalists often come in and they just read though the music, and they do it beautifully. She’s certainly one of the best I’ve worked with in town.

“There’s a pattern to the musicians I like to hire. They’re hard working, they’re excellent musicians, and yet they’re all just nice people who like making music, and that’s important to me.”

Both Harr and Wilkosz were equally complimentary of Gorman. “I really enjoy performing with the choir and under Pat’s baton,” Wilkosz said. “He really knows how to pull beautiful musicianship out of the choir and the instrumentalists.”

Is there Christmas in heaven? May all the faithful one day know the answer. For now, Gorman, the choir, and accompanists offer heavenly music in the spirit of King David and remember Bishop Morlino.

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