||Choir members sing during the Madison Diocesan Choir’s annual Lessons and Carols in December 2011. (Catholic Herald file photo)
MADISON -- With Pope Benedict XVI’s declaration of the Year of Faith, the Madison Diocesan Choir’s Festival of Lessons and Carols on Sunday, Dec. 16, at the Bishop O’Connor Catholic Pastoral Center takes on greater significance and solemnity.
More than the traditional Advent prayer service celebrating in Scripture and song the Christ Child’s birth, Lessons and Carols this year offers all an opportunity to witness and affirm the good works of others throughout the diocese, as well as rediscover and renew their own relationship with Christ and the Church.
Returning as presider this year, Bishop Robert C. Morlino will mark the occasion by awarding papal honors to 24 members of the diocese, individuals recognized by Pope Benedict as living lives with faith, hope, and love.
As in the past, the free concert will take place in the chapel of the O’Connor Center, but it will begin at 3:30 p.m., a little earlier than usual due to the special awards ceremony. The center is located at 702 S. High Point Rd., and it is wheelchair accessible.
If you go
||What: Lessons and Carols
When: Sunday, Dec. 16, 3:30 p.m.
Where: Bishop O’Connor Center
702 S. High Point Rd., Madison
Cost: Free. Bring a nonperishable food item to benefit the Catholic Multicultural Center.
Encore: Saturday, Jan. 5, 3 p.m.
St. Aloysius Church, 115 Madison St., Sauk City
As a small contingent of the choir sings the medieval Latin Christmas hymn, “Puer natus in Bethlehem” (A child is born in Bethlehem), Bishop Morlino, the honorees, readers, remaining choir members, and the choir director, Dr. Patrick Gorman, will process to the front of the chapel. When all are in place, Bishop Morlino will present the papal honors.
“Since this is the year of the Year of the Faith, Bishop Morlino wanted to highlight all of the good things that people have done for the diocese,” Gorman said. “I am honored that the bishop chose to combine the papal honor awards ceremony with Lessons and Carols.”
Gorman, who is also director of the Office of Worship for the Madison Diocese, described the awarding of papal honors as a rare occurrence, the culmination of a rather involved nomination process. Bishops make nominations to the Vatican, and the Holy Father may or not approve.
“In this instance, the Holy Father granted a great number for our diocese — 24,” Gorman said. The last time a large number of awards were presented in the diocese was in 2001.
Given the awards ceremony, the chapel will likely fill to capacity quickly. While the concert is free, the audience is encouraged to bring a non-perishable food item for the pantry at the Catholic Multicultural Center. As always, the choir is grateful for free-will offerings to
support its music ministry.
Once the bishop has conferred the papal honors, Lessons and Carols will begin.
The program this year features as special guests the Pecatonica String Quartet. Also complementing the voices is the choir’s very own Mary Lou Wagner, who will accompany the choir on flute.
Glenn Schuster, organist and assistant director, also will accompany the choir, as Gorman invites all present to join in singing a number of carols between the readings. The lessons begin with Adam’s temptation and fall, and they conclude with the birth of Christ.
The program is a mix of familiar and new, somewhat challenging, pieces for the choir. One such piece is a John Rutter arrangement of a Dutch traditional carol, “King Jesus hath a garden.” The choir will sing the carol accompanied by both the string quartet and Wagner on flute following the first reading.
“That’s a piece that I’ve enjoyed for many years and have toyed with the idea of doing,” Gorman said. “And I just decided this was the year to do it. It’s a lovely text and I think a real memorable melody. So I think it will be a real crowd pleaser.”
Gorman was especially pleased that Wagner had agreed to join in playing the flute.
“She’s such a good strong alto, but she also has this kind of quiet talent of playing the flute,” he said. “She plays really well, seems to enjoy it, and I think really adds a lot when she plays.”
For Lessons and Carols three years ago, she and another flute player, Molly Gould, also an alto, accompanied the choir in performing the Norwegian carol, “O Yule Full of Gladness.”
“Prayer and praise to the Lord through music has been a very important part of my life for many years,” said Wagner, who began playing the flute in grade school. She has played for liturgies and weddings, previously at St. Bernard Parish in Middleton and now her home parish, St. Peter Parish in Ashton.
“Being in the Diocesan Choir is a blessing because of the fabulous group of dedicated members and the musical and spiritual guidance of Pat Gorman,” she said. “I’m very honored when Pat asks me to play, and I hope my small part at Lessons and Carols helps to enhance the holiday spirit of those in attendance.”
Chosen with strings in mind
Most of the selections were chosen with strings in mind. The quartet performed with the choir at the Solemn Evening Prayer on October 11 at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Madison opening the Year of Faith on the 50th anniversary of Vatican II.
“It sounded so nice that I decided that this was the year to have the quartet as guest performers for Lessons and Carols,” Gorman said.
Amber Dolphin, violinist and leader of the group, was a member of the full string orchestra that performed with the choir at its 2011 spring concert, “Choral Masterworks of the Church,” that included the Mass No. 2 in G-major, by Franz Schubert, and Vesperae Solennes de Confessore, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
“There’s a real sense of warmth and serenity that comes with strings,” Gorman said. “They have such a unique timbre, and it mixes so well with the voice that I think it provides just an extra layer of beauty to the whole concert.”
Gorman had the strings in mind when he chose an old English lullaby, “Myn lyking,” a lyric poem by an unknown author who wrote a song for the Virgin Mary to sing to the infant Christ. Many composers have put it to music. Gorman will direct the choir in singing an arrangement by R.R. Terry following the Fourth Lesson.
“This little piece called ‘Myn lyking’ has just a very lovely spring quartet accompaniment,” Gorman said. “No organ, no piano, or anything like that. It’s just this kind of pretty little lullaby. The strings play a part different than the choir sings, and it all comes together very nicely.”
Piece composed by Pittsburgh priest
Another new selection for the choir this year is “O Loving Mother,” composed by Fr. James Chepponis, a priest in the Pittsburgh Diocese. The choir plans to visit Pittsburgh as part of a tour next summer. Gorman selected it for that and other reasons.
“The text is based on one of the Marian Antiphons that’s used during the liturgy of the hours during Advent and Christmas,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of his music in the context of the liturgy. He writes antiphons, Communion songs, and things, but this is the first straight choral piece by him. It’s simple, but very pretty.”
Gorman will invite all to sing a number of carols between the readings. The choir will also sing several pieces by itself including Anon’s “Rejoice in the Lord always” and Handel’s “And the glory of the Lord.”
“The choir has been working hard and has learned an extraordinary amount of music this year,” Gorman said. “I’m really pleased with them. It’s always fun when we get to do something with instruments, and especially with instruments we don’t work with a lot, like strings. I’m hoping this is a prelude to a spring concert in 2014 where we’ll do an orchestral work again.”
Continuing its mission in this Year of the Faith, Gorman and the choir will give a second Lessons and Carols performance on Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013, at 3 p.m. at Divine Mercy Parish at St. Aloysius Church in Sauk City. The performance will precede the 4:30 p.m. Mass.