Monday, September 01, 2014

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College of St. Mary Magdalen Choir Director on Holy Week Sacred Music

The Cardinal Newman Society would like to thank the College of Saint Mary Magdalen for allowing us to reprint this interview with College Choir Director, Debbie Harne.

You are preparing the music for Holy Week and Easter right now.  What is that like?
It is a wonderful but intense experience. We prepare liturgical music for Holy Week and Easter that includes complex Latin chants as well as four part polyphonic compositions.  We divide the choir into six scholas, each responsible for their own chants.

What role does music play in the liturgy during Lent?
Music plays an important part in reminding us of the nature of the liturgical seasons. During Lent, we "fast" from the Alleluia and the Gloria and the hymns are generally more introspective and penitential.  The Stabat Mater and the Ave Regina Caelorum are also associated with Lent.

How can singing in the choir assist students to enter more deeply into the liturgy and worship?
As we move through Lent and toward Easter, our individual spiritual lives are united within the larger community through the music we sing.  We are reminded that our redemption -- and the price of that redemption -- is both individual and ecclesial.

You sometimes describe the choir at the College as a "teaching choir."  What does that mean?
Some students come to the college with extensive musical experience, having sung both chant and polyphony in other contexts. Other students have a more limited ability and experience. We learn from each other and encourage one another toward our common goal, which is not performance, but rather the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful. 

You also direct the polyphony choir.  What are they singing this year?
Our focus this year is on Palestrina's Sicut Cervus, Byrd's Ave Verum Corpus and Gabrieli's Maria Magdalene.  We are planning a performance in Manchester later in the spring semester.

What are your hopes for the future of the choir?
I would love to see us continue to expand what we do with polyphony as well as chant, establishing a permanent chant schola devoted to the propers of the Graduale .  We are currently singing the propers in English and supplement these whenever possible with the Latin propers.  I'd like to see us increase the latter.  I would also very much like for us to be able to visit parishes throughout New Hampshire, sharing the treasury of sacred music with our neighbors.

What do you hope students will take to their home parishes from their experience in the choir?
At the beginning of the year, I tell students that one of the objectives of choir is to equip them to share their experiences here with others after they graduate. During their four years in choir, most students develop an affection for beautiful liturgical music, especially the music of Holy Week and Easter. Although students purchase the Graduale Romanum as the basic chant text, they also purchase the Parish Book of Chant so that they will possess a more readily understood reference to share with others. They also gain other practical skills -- the ability to read chant notation, for example -- that will allow them to help others learn chant and other liturgical music once they return to their home parishes.  Most of all, I hope they will leave with the conviction that beautiful liturgical music can bring us closer to God and that this music belongs to the whole Church, not just our College.  If we are to carry out the vision of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council and carry forward the liturgical renewal initiated by Benedict XVI, we must rediscover our great musical heritage and share it with others.

The College of Saint Mary Magdalen is recommended in The Newman Guide for its strong Catholic identity.

Catholic Education Daily is an online publication of The Cardinal Newman Society. Click here for email updates and free online membership with The Cardinal Newman Society.

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