Seattle's New Recording of Liturgical MusicJan 8, 2020
At the beginning of this year, over twenty musicians — including Dominican friars from three different provinces — convened at Blessed Sacrament church in Seattle, WA, to record a unique project of liturgical music.
The repertory was brought from Poland to the United States by Polish Dominican friars, who have been serving in various campus ministries and parishes in America for nearly two decades. Translated and recast into English, this beautiful choral music has proved itself a powerful tool in bringing people closer to the heart of liturgical prayer. Soon audio files and scores will be available for listening, downloading, and free use in parishes around the English-speaking world, thanks to this initiative sponsored by the Dominican Liturgical Center of Kraków.
“Simple, beautiful, dignified, singable. That’s the music of the Polish Dominicans,” says Christopher Mueller, a choir director based in Louisville, KY, and the artistic director of this recording project. “A group of non-professional singers from across the country came together for an extended weekend and recorded two albums’ worth of music that most of them had never seen before — but the beauty of the music, coupled with the spiritual depths of the texts, provided the singers with ongoing inspiration throughout the experience. Our fervent hope is that it will inspire others as well!” The first of the two albums will be available by mid-February on Spotify, iTunes, and other digital platforms. There will be an accompanying website with PDF scores for free download.
What was it that drew a medical school student from New York City, two high school music teachers from Idaho, a biology Ph.D. student from the University of Washington, a software engineer at Microsoft, and over 20 other young adults to this particular musical genre? “The Polish Dominican style of writing is evocative not only in harmonies but in theology, meditation, and depth of text,” explains Zach Groeblinghoff, a choir director from Caldwell, ID, who led part of the Seattle production. “This music is ideal for parishes to participate in experiencing the mysteries of our blessed Catholic faith with reverence and accessibility.”
“It’s simple and striking,” adds Julie Bellefeuille, a theology student at the University of Notre Dame, who traveled from Indiana to participate in the project. “The harmonies do not distract from the text, but rather they draw me into a prayerful and personal encounter with the Word of God. The style is reverent and dynamic. It is not afraid to claim our Catholic tradition, but also freely creates something new that corresponds to a world longing for its Redeemer.”
In Poland there has been something of a hidden revolution in liturgical music, beginning in the 1990's with the formation of the Dominican Liturgical Center in Kraków and its commissioning of well over one thousand pieces of liturgical music by Dominican friars and the young composers in their orbit. The point was not to create something "new" or “exciting", but rather to tap into the sound of the eternally prayerful: the simplicity of the human voice, singing in four parts, influenced by the Byzantine and Orthodox musical traditions very much alive in Poland's neighbors.
Polish Dominicans have been applying their particular liturgical approach and sound in the United States for almost twenty years, and have served all over, including the Church of Notre Dame and Columbia University Catholic Ministry in New York City; Providence Academy in Minneapolis, MN; St. Thomas Aquinas University Parish in Charlottesville, VA; Holy Family Cathedral in Anchorage, AK; the St. Thomas More Newman Center in Tucson, AZ; Blessed Sacrament Parish and the University of Washington Newman Center in Seattle, WA; and the St. Catherine of Siena Newman Center in Salt Lake City, UT. They have worked with students and parishioners of all ages, constantly expanding and refining the corpus of their music translated into English, and the pieces they have just recorded are the natural fruit of those years of prayer, joyful witness to the Christian life, and musical adaptation.
“Most of this music is antiphonal, where a short refrain is repeated several times, interspersed with Scriptural or meditative verses. This reflects the very structure of the Mass propers themselves — the antiphons at Entrance, Offertory, and Communion,” Mueller points out. “The unfamiliarity of this beautiful choral music gives us a chance to experience God anew at each liturgy,” he continues. “We can't apply our usual ‘traditional music = conservative’ or ‘contemporary music = liberal’ thinking. We must become open to the vastness of God, and beauty offers us a powerful means of doing that: true beauty calls us out of ourselves, orients us to something greater, and stirs up a longing for the transcendent. Sacred music, the expression of the deepest human yearning for the most profound Mystery of Love, creates in us a special dimension whereby we can be permeated and transformed by the Eternal beauty of God himself.”
For updates on the project please visit the DLC website: www.dlc.foundation.