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Thursday, 14 July 2011

Fostering the revival of sacred music


The Fathers of the Birmingham Oratory have set up the Blessed John Henry Newman Institute for Liturgical Music in association with the Maryvale Institute. The Patrons of the new Institute are Archbishop Longley and James MacMillan.

The idea is to provide formation in liturgical music that can benefit the ordinary Sunday Liturgy celebrated in parishes. The launch date is 17 September: the first anniversary of the beatification of Blessed John Henry Newman. During the first term, there study mornings on Saturdays. As well as giving practical instruction on singing the Mass, there will be formation in the theological and historical background to Church Music. On Saturdays at the Oratory there is the Blessed John Henry Newman Pilgrim Mass which will be sung as part of the programme.

The inauguration of the Institute is timely in view of the introduction of the new translation of the Missal which provides a good opportunity for parishes to review the music that is used at English Masses; perhaps in many places the important move will be made to singing the texts of the Mass itself (including the Propers) rather than singing hymns at the Mass. The institute is also offering evening sessions for the clergy so that they can learn to sing their parts of the Mass in Latin and English.

The Oratory is also setting up a new choir for children to sing at the 12noon Mass for families. I’m guessing here, but I expect the clap-clap Gloria won’t be featuring ;-)

Congratulations to the Fathers, and especially to Fr Guy Nicholls who is the Director of the Institute. Fr Nicholls is a highly competent musician with a comprehensive knowledge of the theology and history of Church music. You can read his extended introduction Music and the Oratory, in which he also talks about the important project of the Graduale Parvum which is the work of László Dobszay, Liturgist, Musicologist, and Fellow of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. The work is available in Latin already. A full translation into English is being prepared and an introductory volume is soon to be released, which will provide chants suitable for any celebration of Mass in English.

We are at an important moment for resacralising liturgical music. Many good young priests are keen to revive genuine sacred music. It will be something of a battle to get over the entrenched practice of having music based on beat rhythm and emotional crooning but it is beginning to dawn on people that the justification for this of attracting the young simply does not work, and that reviving a sense of the sacred at sung Masses should be given a fair chance even on those grounds. The Blessed John Henry Newman Institute for Liturgical Music is another brick in the wall as part of the “brick by brick” process.

I know that Fr Nicholls will smile at my quoting from the Pink Floyd song which features the line “We don’t need no education”: we used to quote it frequently when we were in Rome together and collapse in fits of laughter. Here is the full, live version, which goes to show that there is no telling what you can work into a blog post about sacred music (go to 1:40 if you want to miss the extended build-up):

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