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Musical Musings: Miscellaneous

The Treasury of Sacred Music

by Tami A. Quigley
A.D. Times Staff Writer

"I think we have a niche providing traditional, solid music," offered Gary D. Penkala, co-founder of CanticaNOVA Publications (CNP), which provides quality liturgical music specifically geared to the Catholic Church, a rarity in music publication.

"We're unique in the way we specialize in maintaining traditions in the church so they remain usable in today's liturgy," Penkala said of the State College-based company that aspires to provide Traditional Music for the Contemporary Church.

Penkala - who served as Director of Sacred Music at the Pontifical North American College, Vatican City State, 1991-1993 - co-founded the company in October 1996 with his former organ student Christopher Bord.

On June 24, 2001, Penkala's newly commissioned liturgical music highlighted a morning Mass at St. Anne Church, Bethlehem PA, as part of the American Guild of Organists Region III Convention, hosted by the Lehigh Valley Chapter. St. Anne's Director of Music Jane Errera coordinated the event after three years of planning. Earlier this month, Penkala was an exhibitor at the 25th anniversary convention of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians in Washington DC.

"We focus on Catholic music, but any liturgical churches - such as Lutheran and Anglican - would find the music useful," Penkala related. However, CNP's music is rooted in Catholicism, "grounded in - and often directly flowing from - the traditions of the church." CNP espouses the idea that the texts and rites of Catholic liturgy give ample sources for creative musical expression.

Penkala was the founding Music Director of a program at Our Lady of Victory, State College, where he served for 22 years and wrote much music for the choirs and congregation. In addition, he taught classroom music at Our Lady of Victory Elementary School (pre-school through eighth grade) for two decades. Penkala was also a key liturgist at the parish during those years.

On sabbatical from parish duties and serving at the Pontifical North American College, Penkala had much interaction with the Basilica of St. Peter and other parishes, coordinated many liturgies with seminarians and attended many papal Masses. "I was impressed with the quality and traditions of music in Rome," Penkala recalled. "I came back here and was surprised - in a negative way - with the poor quality of music in Catholic churches in this country."

Penkala likened much of today's church music to "fast food," which is "immediately appealing, but has no nutritional value."

"The music in Rome has stood the test of time - it nourishes in a musical, liturgical and theological sense," Penkala attested. "I wanted to make that available to parishes here."

CNP was borne of this sentiment, and as such offers a Treasury of Sacred Music series that features "the music of the masters that I heard in Rome ... these are composers of history," Penkala said. Each of the pieces offered have been part of the musical tradition of the church for centuries - enriching its liturgies and setting the standard for future generations of church composers. They are in keeping with the spirit of the Second Vatican Council's document Sacrosanctum concilium, which states, "The treasury of sacred music is to be preserved and cultivated with great care." The rest of the music CNP offers is original compositions. Twenty-one composers from all over the world - including Penkala and Bord - are currently under contract.

"Catholic musicians may be especially familiar with Eugene Englert," Penkala said, adding that many of the other composers are being published for the first time. He noted the type of music CNP provides is not available through such major Catholic music publishers as Oregon Catholic Press and GIA.

"We also have an educational role," Penkala shared, explaining that CNP's website,, is helpful to Catholic musicians with educational articles on how good music can be used and liturgical planning information. There is an Online Catalog of quality music, and Musical Musings, which features articles about a wide range of topics related to liturgy and music. The website was launched six months after CNP was established.

"We have big plans for the future," Penkala said of CNP, including expanding its advertising and composer base. CNP currently has three to four years worth of music available to parishes worldwide.

Apart from those offered by CNP, Penkala's publications include Diocesan Guidelines for Sacred Music, Diocesan Guidelines for Wedding Music, various journal articles on choral and organ topics, and a series of descants. For nine years, he was a columnist for the diocesan newspaper The Catholic Register, writing a column for musicians and liturgists called Musical Musings.

This article first appeared July 19, 2001, in the A.D. Times, a publication of the Allentown (PA) Diocese.
It is reprinted here with permission.

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