Madison Diocesan Choir presents Lessons & Carols December 22 Print
Around the Diocese
Written by Dick Jones, For the Catholic Herald   
Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019 -- 12:00 AM
diocesan choir
Dr. Patrick Gorman directs the Madison Diocesan Choir in the Lessons & Carols service in 2018 in the chapel at Holy Name Heights in Madison. (Photo by Joe Ptak)

MADISON -- A simple gift, heralding the true meaning of Christmas. That’s what the Madison Diocesan Choir and its director, Dr. Patrick Gorman, offer Sunday, Dec. 22, with Bishop Donald J. Hying presiding over their Lessons & Carols liturgical service at Holy Name Heights.

For Bishop Hying, this is not only his first Lessons & Carols service as Madison’s new bishop, but his first ever. Appointed April 25, he was installed as Madison’s fifth bishop on June 25. He previously served as Milwaukee Auxiliary Bishop and more recently, Bishop of Gary, Ind.

Until now, he has not had an opportunity to take part in a lessons and carols service.

Also known as the choir’s Christmas concert, the popular event is free and open to the public.

The program arranged by Gorman begins at 4 p.m. in the Holy Name Oratory, or chapel, and includes works of Fauré, Handel, and Mendelssohn, with orchestra, harp, and organ accompanying the choir.

Located at 702 South High Point Rd., Holy Name is wheelchair accessible. While the event is free, guests are urged to bring a non-perishable food item for the food pantry at the Catholic Multicultural Center. The choir greatly appreciates donations to help fund the choir’s music ministry and student scholarships.

Formed 46 years ago, the Madison Diocesan Choir today has approximately 70 members from throughout the diocese and beyond. To learn more about the choir and the student scholarship initiative begun two years ago, visit: https://madisondiocese. org/diocesanchoir

Advent service offered for more than 30 years

For more than 30 years, the choir has offered the Advent service. It is one of the few diocesan choirs to offer lessons and carols. More often, the traditional yuletide service is performed by college or professional choirs. The service provides a respite from an often hectic holiday season, a quiet time to reflect on the meaning of Christmas.

“That’s the thing about it, just how peaceful and serene it is,” Gorman said. “I sometimes worry, are people liking this song, is the concert too long. And then I realized over time that people appreciate the readings and reflecting on the birth of Christ, and they appreciate the various carols and songs that we do, too.”

The nine Scripture readings begin with Genesis 3, Adam’s temptation and fall. They conclude with St. John 1, the great mystery of the incarnation, the Savior’s birth.

‘God with us’

This final lesson is read by the presiding prelate, in this instance Bishop Hying, and while it is the culmination of service, an earlier reading strikes Bishop Hying as equally significant.

“The Prophecy of Isaiah, where the virgin will be with child and will give birth, and her son will her called Emmanuel, ‘God with us’,” Bishop Hying said in a recent interview. “Just the beauty of the meaning of that title, you know, that in Jesus, God literally is with us. That’s way beyond the imagination of the Old Testament prophets.”

The Old Testament prophets, he said, called on God to come down from heaven, to rend the curtain separating them from him.

“I don’t think any of them would have imagined that God would surpass that desire beyond all expectation and literally become a human being,” Bishop Hying said.

Following each lesson, Gorman directs the choir in a selection that complements the reading.

Following the Isaiah reading, the men in the choir will sing the Bach Cantata Zion hört die Wächter singen (Zion hears her watchmen's voices), accompanied by orchestral strings and organ. Then Gorman will invite all to sing Sleepers Wake, accompanied by organ.

Bishop impressed by choir

Bishop Hying has only heard the choir on several occasions, the first being his installation.

During a recent evening rehearsal, he happened to visit the chapel, paused to listen, then gave his blessing to members. More recently, he met with choir members before a recording of the annual TV Mass that Channel 3 will air on Christmas Day.

“What struck me is the beauty and the quality of their singing,’ Bishop Hying said. “But also in talking with them, it’s clear to me that their singing springs out of a deep faith and a deep love for the Lord and the Church. So I think they rightfully realize that their contribution of song is prayer and that it contributes to the beauty of the liturgy.”

Bishop Hying also had praise for Gorman, who in addition to directing the choir is also director of the diocesan Office of Worship.

“He does a great job, so I especially thank him,” Bishop Hying said. “I’m very impressed with the quality and the beauty of his work.”

Important role of music

Music has an important role in the liturgy, he said.

“It’s clear in our tradition that it’s very important,” Bishop Hying said. “When you think of the history of chant, the chanting of the psalms in monastic life. The beauty of music is that it really does lift our minds and hearts to God. Even secular music, just the affect it has on us. Music is like poetry — it’s open ended language that leads us to experience the transcendent.”

Much as he enjoys music, the bishop does not have a music background.

“He actually chants very well,” Gorman said.

“No, I don’t have a good voice,” Bishop Hying said with a chuckle. “Christmas caroling as a seminarian, that would be the extent of my musical career.”

Bishop Hying, who was ordained May 20, 1989, attended St. Francis de Sales Seminary in St. Francis, not far from West Allis, where he was born. His father, Albert, was a factory worker with the Falk Corporation, a leading industrial manufacturer. Donald was one of six sons in the family of Albert and Catherine, devout Catholics.

Christmas memories

He has fond memories of Christmas as a child.

“Christmas was simple,” Bishop Hying said. “We all got one gift, so I remember what I got every year for Christmas, because it was just the one thing. And I look at kids sometimes today who get 25 gifts, and they really don’t appreciate the 23rd gift because it’s just so overwhelming, right?”

He paused, then added: “There was something beautiful about just receiving the one thing. And I’m grateful to my parents, that they kept it simple. Because I think it makes you appreciate things more.”

Likes Hispanic tradition

When it comes to Christmas gifts, Bishop Hying said the Hispanic community has it right with their Día de Los Reyes celebration. One of his early assignments as a young priest was as a team member for La Sagrada Familia Parroquia in the Dominican Republic from 1994 to 1997.

“I like the Hispanic tradition,” he said. “Children receive gifts on January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany, the Three Kings, rather than Christmas Day. And I think it’s a beautiful distinction, because it really takes Christmas out of that whole gift-giving mechanism and puts it in terms of the context of gifts the three kings brought to the Christ Child. And I love that.”

Choir is well prepared

Director Gorman and the diocesan choir offer their singular gift, Lessons & Carols, in celebration of the Christ Child’s birth. Gorman said, “I say this every year, but the choir hasn’t sounded better. We’re on schedule to have a polished program.”

The choir will be accompanied at times by a chamber orchestra, 12 professional musicians including members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

On some selections, the choir will also be accompanied on harp by Mary Ann Harr Grinde and on organ by Glenn Schuster, Diocesan Choir assistant director and choir accompanist.

Early in the program, Gorman will direct the choir in singing a cappella, Of the Father’s Love Begotten, a doctrinal hymn based on a Roman poem and medieval plainsong. The program also includes: Gabriel Fauré’s Cantique de Jean Racine, Mendelssohn’s How Lovely are the Messengers, and Handel’s And the Glory of the Lord.

Other selections likely to please listeners: a John Rutter arrangement of the spiritual, Rise up, Shepherd, and follow; Giulio Caccini’s Ave Maria; There Shall a Star Come Out of Jacob, also by Mendelssohn; and This Christmastide, also known as Jessye’s Carol, as it was composed by Donald Fraser with lyrics by Jane McCulloch for Jessye Norman, who died September 30.

Gorman will invite all present to join in singing some favorite carols.

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