Detroit showcased as ‘hub for liturgical music’

Photo by Mr. Mack Photography

Steven Ball, organist at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit, plays during the NPM convention's opening session. | Photo by Mr. Mack Photography

Detroit – More than 2,100 Church musicians from around the country, and some from outside it, had the chance to hear some of the Detroit area’s best composers and performers of liturgical music when the National Association of Pastoral Musiciansheld its annual convention here July 12-16.

“The reason I asked to have it brought here was to showcase on a national level the talent we have here, and it demonstrated that Detroit is one of the hubs for liturgical music,” said Louis Canter, coordinator of music ministry for the Archdiocese of Detroit.

With a convention theme of “Hope and Harmony,” the gathering also sought to prepare liturgical musicians for the coming changes in English-language Mass texts due to be introduced at the beginning of Advent 2011.

Not only did attendees get to hear some of the new musical settings that have been composed to fit the new wordings, but they also heard from speakers who gave suggestions on how best to introduce the changes and explain the reasons behind them.

Canter pointed to local composers such as Timothy Smith, Norah Duncan IV, Steve Patrunak, and Santiago Fernandez. Canter himself is a published liturgical music composer.

And among the outstanding local musicians who were heard during the convention, he cited John J.F. Thorne, music director of Sacred Heart Parish, Detroit; Johnny Kash of SS Peter & Paul (West Side) Parish in Detroit; Nancy Deacon, music director at Most Blessed Sacrament Cathedral; and Noriko Ernst, assistant music director at Our Lady of Sorrows, Farmington Hills.

But if those were some of the stars of the NPM convention, Canter stressed that the convention was only possible thanks to the efforts of about 375 volunteers from around the archdiocese.

Convention attendees had the opportunity to hear four new Mass settings — the finalists in a competition that drew more than 150 entries — and vote for their favorite.

The winner was  “Missa Rinnovare” (“Mass of Renewal”) by William Gokelman and David Kaufmann of San Antonio, Texas.

Their composition, which NPM will publish, may be sung with various combinations of instruments, including guitar, piano, organ, brass and even full orchestra. It may be sung by a congregation alone or with the participation of a four-part choir.

The other finalists were the Mass settings composed by J. Christopher Pardini of Pittsburgh (second place); William Glenn Osborne of Orlando, Fla. (third place); and Thomas J. Fielding of Raleigh, N.C. (fourth place).

Participants interviewed after the close of the convention had high praise for its speakers and musical programs. They said they learned useful information about the coming Mass changes and how to implement them.

“I had the chance to hear some new and really refreshing music,” said Andrew Langlands, music director at St. Regis Parish in Bloomfield Hills, referring to the new Mass settings showcased during the convention.

And he said it was a relief to realize that, based on the publishers’ displays in the exhibitor area, the cost of purchasing new hymnals and sacramentaries “is not going to be as big an expense as we had feared.

Langlands expressed confidence that, if introduced properly, the transition would go well next year: “I think people are going to be quite accepting of the changes. There’s a beauty and a flow to the new texts that I think composers will find easy to set to music.”

Largely because it was set here in Detroit, Langlands said this year’s NPM convention “was the most fun” of any in the 16-17 years he had been attending.

For Thorne, who besides his work at Sacred Heart Parish is archdiocesan coordinator for Black Catholic Ministries, it was his first time attending an NPM convention.

“It was an amazing experience for me,” said Thorne, who put together the 125-voice choir that performed a concert of sacred music from the African-American tradition on the first evening of the convention.

He speculated it will “take some time” for people to get used to the changes, but noted that it also took time for people to adjust to the changes that came in the wake of the Second Vatican Council.

Nevertheless, Thorne predicted, “In 10-15 years, we won’t even remember how we had to be re-catechized about this. We’ll just keep moving on as Church.”

Linda Vollmer, music director of St. Joseph Parish in Milton, La., said she enjoyed listening to the new Mass settings, but was also glad to hear that Marty Haugen’s popular “Mass of Creation” would be revised to reflect the revised Mass texts.

Some of the new Mass settings showcased at the convention were “really great,” said Kathleen Kilban, a cantor at two New York City parishes — St. Stepen of Hungary and Holy Cross.

“They’re exciting as new Mass settings, not just because we have to change things,” she said.

Renee Fredel, coordinator of liturgy at St. Anne Parish in Wausau, Wis., said every NPM convention offers “lots of useful information — very practical things I can take back and use in my ministry.”

Fredel said she was returning home convinced that the smooth transition to the new Mass translation “will depend a lot on us and how we do our jobs and present it to the people.”

Sr. Christine Glelka, CSJ, pastoral administrator at St. John the Baptist in Carrollton, said she was already part of a committee in the Saginaw Diocese that is working on advising parishes on how to manage the transition, and that she was taking away a lot of good ideas from the NPM convention.

Fellow Josephite Sr. Teresa Waner, director of music and liturgy at the Congregation of St. Joseph motherhouse in Wichita, Kansas, said the Church “has given us plenty of time to prepare for the changes,” but predicted, “With those who are not ready for change again, it could be difficult.”