I love music.
From a popular, upbeat song on the radio to a good country folk band on Spotify or the latest Taylor Swift CD on a long drive, I fill my head with a lot of music. Growing up, Mom would always put in a CD with older songs (Queen was a favorite) or a CD for the season (“Disco Duck” on our Easter children’s CD) as we went about cleaning the house. I grew up playing Mozart, Bach, and the like on the piano since second grade and moved on to trombone, tenor saxophone, and bass guitar in the band throughout junior high and high school. I was involved in school musicals and finally was influenced to join the high school choir my sophomore year, of which I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to be a part of, as I developed a love of singing classically in a group. My decision to join seminary, while an exciting one and a decision that I did not doubt, was also a difficult one because it meant that I would not be able to be a part of any band or choir on campus due to the large time commitment that both the music groups and the seminary demand.
I was thrilled, then, when I discovered that there was a small choir, traditionally known as the Schola Cantorum, whose main purpose was to enhance mass and other liturgical functions through music. There was also the possibility of taking private voice lessons on campus. It was through this that I was given the pleasure of learning under Mr. Nathan Medley, a professional countertenor who traveled around North America and Europe performing on top of his teaching career (for those interested, here is the link to his website: <http://nathan-medley.com/Nathan_Medley_Countertenor/HOME.html> ). I also began to learn organ, which I am now able to play every other weekend at the seminary for Sunday mass or for major feast days of the church.
Right before Christmas break of my freshman year, I was approached by the rector of the seminary and asked to lead the Schola in light of the current director taking a semester to study in Rome. I was thrilled at first, but also quite nervous, because I had never led a group before and did not really know where to start. We started out with fairly straightforward hymns with one hour practices a week, and while there were plenty of successes, there were times when I knew that songs had not turned out as well as I would have liked. It was a learning curve for all of us, particularly for me. I was among guys who enjoyed to sing, but most of them had not had the musical background that I had experienced. There was more to learn than merely the notes; guys had to learn to listen to each other, read music, sing with dynamics, and such. I can be a perfectionist when it comes to music, and there were many frustrating moments at the beginning because of my desire for perfection and the unfortunate reality that perfection can NEVER be reached in ANY musical group.
And yet, perfection is not what we were striving for. As stated before, our job as a Schola was to enhance the liturgy that we were part of. Once I was able to get a better grasp of this, the group began taking off. As my sophomore year began, I was asked again to be in charge of music at the seminary, along with the other Hess of the seminary, Andrew. It was wonderful having his experience, knowledge, and creativity to lead the group. He also began to challenge me and the group to go outside of the songs in the hymnals and begin to look online for songs unfamiliar and yet beautiful. This led us to the opportunity of singing a number of beautiful Phillip Stopford hymns (at the end of this post will be a number of links), a challenging O Holy Night (by far my favorite Christmas tune), and Franz Biebl’s “Ave Maria” which remains my favorite song sung while I was part of the Schola. After debating for a number of weeks, the group decided to put together a homemade Christmas CD that was available for family and friends of the seminary as a Christmas gift. For Easter, Corey, a seminarian from Owensboro, Kentucky, organized a brass quintet that would play with the organ and the schola to the hymn ‘At the Lamb’s High Feast.’
As is the case, there is an ending to every endeavor. After a year and a half, the torch of music director was passed on to two other members of our seminary community, and I was put in charge of organizing special events and overseeing a number of other jobs. It has been a thrilling time for me, and I cannot thank the gentlemen who worked with me enough. They have been so selfless of their time and talent, and it is because of them that I have enjoyed working with the music as much as I have. I look forward to working with many of these same people as we return next year to be a part of the Schola and other musical functions of the seminary.
As we began every practice for the Schola, so I end this post by asking for the intercession of the patron of musicians, St. Cecilia:
Saint Cecilia, heroic martyr who stayed faithful to Jesus your divine bridegroom, give us faith to rise above our persecutors and to see in them the image of our Lord. We know that you were a musician and we are told that you heard angels sing. Inspire musicians to gladden the hearts of people by filling the air with God’s gift of music and reminding them of the Divine Musician Who created all beauty. Amen.
–The following is the youtube channel of Dominic Rankin, who recorded many of the songs that we sang during my time in the Schola.