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A Curious Little Choir

by Gary Penkala

Let me tell you a little about a wonderfully interesting schola that I discovered at a college campus near here.

They have taken as their motto: Sed nomine tua da gloria ("But to Thy name be glory given"). This student-run schola sings Compline during Holy Week. Here's what their website says:

Coming Up...Passiontide Compline Returns

We'll be singing the Compline office in Latin, using the traditional chants on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Holy Week, at 8:00 PM, in the Chapel on campus. This is a free event and it is open to the public. Please join us and bring a friend or two along. Compline is intended to be participatory. No one is required to sing along, but, if you are comfortable doing so, you may add your voice as little or as much as you like. Remember, it is perfectly acceptable to participate by merely attending to what is being sung.

Compline is the last prayer office of the day. It last about twenty minutes. It is contemplative in nature. Given the hectic pace of life in general, Compline offers a spiritual alternative. Compline answers vapid frivolity with meaningful solemnity, rushed noise with peaceful silence, and mundane profanity with sublime transcendence. For some, it is simply a chance to enjoy an ancient musical form. For still others, it is an opportunity to sample something from our past.

Moreover, this schola has an educational mission:

Prior to Compline, a public educational offering, Putting the School Back in Schola, will provide some basic instruction in Gregorian chant. Learn neumatic notation and some of the techniques associated with this venerable musical form. This begins at 7:00 PM.

If you are interested in singing in the Schola Cantorum for these Complines, you are invited to join our practices on the three Sunday nights before. The practices start at 6:00 PM and finish at 6:45 PM.

Here's a little more about this schola:

Early music has a place on the modern college campus! Campus Ministry launched the Schola Cantorum in Fall 2005 to provide musical support for the weekly mass and selected other liturgies at the Chapel of Christ the King. It also provides a place for those with an interest in (or even passion for) early music to get together and make music. As such, the Schola Cantorum is committed to the reintroduction of early sacred music in its liturgical context.

Founding director, Jonathan Neiderhiser, was a D.M.A. candidate in conducting in the College of Creative Arts on campus. He has since completed his studies and is teaching in the Dakotas. [His musical leadership was underwritten through a generous grant awarded in memory of The Rev. Fr. Edward Vogelsong by his family.]

Schola members sing most Sunday masses at the Chapel of Christ the King. Those joining especially for one of the highlight services are not required nor expected to sing the Sunday masses, though they are welcome to do so if they so desire.

Highlights in the schola's short history include:

  • In Spring '06, the Schola sang a full Latin mass, using the mass ordinary Orbis factor and the propers of Judica.
  • December 6, 2006, the Schola led the St. Nicholas Vespers: A Latin Evening Prayer for Advent, an ecumenical worship service organized by interested liturgical ministries on campus. Nearly 140 people attended the service in the Chapel.
  • As a Holy Week offering for the whole community, the Schola Cantorum, prayed Compline for Passiontide, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, April 2-4, 2007. These Latin liturgies provided our community a Gregorian chant experience, facilitated by a 45-minute session on the basics of chant offered prior to each service.
  • Advent 2007 featured the return of Compline on the three Fridays of Advent (December 7, 14, 21). Prior to the Complines, an optional introduction to Gregorian chant was offered for interested members of the public.
  • The Schola Cantorum led three Complines for Passiontide on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Holy Week 2008.
  • Advent Compline was offered in December of 2008.

This schola maintains an internet presence via Schola cantorum fbGroup, a Facebook page.

All of this is wonderful, particularly in that it happens on a large, modern college campus. But the most interesting thing — just where is this schola housed?

Notre Dame University?
Catholic University of America?
Ave Maria Universty?
Saint Thomas Aquinas College?

Not at all (although there are scholas at those locations). This schola is resident at West Virginia University, and is sponsored by the Lutheran Campus Ministry! Yes, a Lutheran Schola Cantorum singing some of the greatest music of the Church! Oh, the shame ... for those many, many Roman Catholic parishes who shun Latin and chant, because they do not understand its significance to the Faith. Seek out the Lutherans at WVU to learn.

I congratulate the Lutheran students and their leaders at WVU. May their Schola Cantorum prosper and grow, as they lead prayer on their campus through ancient music and text. And, yes, their website did say "mass" as their Sunday liturgy!

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