“The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium) Is this today’s understanding of the Catholic Church’s musical tradition? Do most American Catholics know and appreciate their musical heritage? Where is this great tradition being practiced and passed on in our country?
Most young Catholics may never entertain these questions. Yet there are a few Catholic colleges where these questions are not only taken seriously, but also answered in dynamic and exciting ways. One such college is Magdalen College in Warner, New Hampshire. Here the faculty, staff and students agree, “[a] school without music is like a body without a soul.”
Magdalen College has a unique music program involving all of its students in a four-year accredited course on Choir. The goal of the Choir program is to provide students with an opportunity to learn about the musical heritage of the Church and to come to appreciate the adage that music is a potent instrument that shapes the character of the soul.
The Choir's source materials are drawn from both traditional and contemporary liturgical music such as Gregorian chant, Masses by Haydn and Mozart, hymns sung in four-part harmony, and polyphony. The materials abide by the ordered rhythms of the liturgical calendar. For example, during Holy Week, which is the highlight of the academic year and the culmination of the liturgical calendar, all students remain on campus to participate in the liturgies. The Triduum is celebrated with liturgical music, which comes from the long-standing tradition of sacred music, including and giving precedence to Gregorian chant.
Throughout the year in addition to on-campus musical activities, the Choir travels to local parishes in the surrounding communities. The music learned at the College also finds its way across the country when students return home for vacations and sing at their own parishes. But the Choir’s repertoire is not limited to liturgical music. The Performance Choir, a small group of auditioned students, offers concerts at community functions. Their programs range from American and international folk songs to Big Band classics, jazz, and gospel music.
Music permeates life on Magdalen College’s campus. Whether students chant the liturgy, sing as they walk to class, or jam in the student lounge, they grow in friendship with each other and God through music. But more importantly they help, in their own way, to preserve a treasure of the Church her great musical tradition.
If you would like to learn (or “hear”) more about Magdalen College’s Choir program, the students have recorded three CD’s Sacred Hymns and Motets, On Jordan’s Bank, and Rabboni, with a fourth Christmas CD to be released in October. All four recordings are available for purchase on the College website.
(Sarah Jane von Haack is the Assistant Director for Public Relations at Magdalen College. She graduated from Magdalen College in 2001 and participated in the College’s Choir program. For more information on Magdalen College, visit www.Magdalen.edu.)