Trumpet will shine at Lessons and Carols Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Dick Jones, For the Catholic Herald   
Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015 -- 12:00 AM

Lessons and Carols
The concert will begin at 5 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 20, at the Bishop O’Connor Center, 702 S. High Point Rd., Madison, which is wheelchair accessible. While the concert is free, people are asked to bring a non-perishable food item for the Catholic Multicultural Center, and a free-will donation for the choir is appreciated.
This year there will be no second Lessons and Carols.

MADISON -- With a trumpet solo as pure and melodic as it is glorious, the Madison Diocesan Choir will herald the birth of Christ in a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, featuring brass quintet and timpani, this Sunday, Dec. 20, at the Bishop O’Connor Catholic Pastoral Center.

Dr. Patrick Gorman, Diocesan Choir director for nearly 25 years, has had harp, strings, and woodwinds accompany the choir with organist Glenn Schuster for the Advent service, a longstanding tradition of the choir.

Brass and timpani have performed with the choir at other liturgical events, most notably Chrism Mass during Holy week, but not Lessons and Carols, at least not until now.

“This gives them a chance to shine,” Gorman said.

St. Raphael Brass Quintet

Known as the St. Raphael Brass Quintet, the talented group of accomplished musicians is led by Robert Rohlfing on trumpet and includes Jessica Jensen, also trumpet; Matthew Beecher, horn; Brian Whitty, trombone, and David Spies, tuba. Completing the ensemble is Joseph Bernstein on timpani.

For the quintet’s first Lessons and Carols performance with the choir, Gorman has developed a special program with arrangements by such critically acclaimed groups as the Canadian Brass and Empire Brass.

Without a doubt the highlight for many will be a Canadian Brass composition, The Angel Choir and the Trumpeter, which is among several new offerings that the choir will perform, all to complement the readings.

“The music seems to fit the voices really well this year, and I’m excited about the brass and timpani,” Gorman said. “There are such nice arrangements of Christmas tunes. I think it will be really festive.”

Appreciation of Scripture

The lessons begin with Adam’s fall from grace and conclude with Christ’s birth. It is Gorman’s hope that the musical selections, both new and familiar, will give listeners greater understanding and new appreciation of the Scripture readings.

The Advent service offers an opportunity to pause and reflect on the meaning of Christmas, perhaps more than before as the Church now begins the Year of Mercy that Pope Francis recently declared and initiated on December 8, the 50th anniversary of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council.

Bishop Robert C. Morlino will preside and read the final lesson. Free and open to the public, the event begins at 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 20, in the chapel of the Bishop O’Connor Center, which is located at 702 S. High Point Rd., and is wheelchair accessible.

Although admission is free, people are encouraged to bring a non-perishable food item to be donated to the Catholic Multicultural Center Food Pantry, and if they are financially able, to make a free-will offering in support of the choir and its musical ministry.

Unlike past years, there will be no repeat performance of Lessons and Carols to commemorate the Epiphany on January 6, as no parish was available to host.

Brass, timpani accompaniment

Since this Sunday is the sole performance, family, friends, and all who enjoy choral music, won’t want to miss it, especially The Angel Choir and the Trumpeter.

“It has this tremendously virtuosic opening for just the solo trumpet,” Gorman said. “And then the trumpet is featured throughout the piece when the choir is resting. The rest of the brass ensemble plays what the organ would normally play. It’s not something anybody can do.”

Brass and timpani are featured throughout the program, from an Empire Brass arrangement of O Come, O Come Emmanuel, before the choir processes into the chapel, to the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah after the final reading.

The quintet also will accompany the choir in performing Mack Wilberg’s Awake, Arise and Hail the Morn. The quintet alone will perform Pietro Yon’s Gesu Bambino, an arrangement by Rohlfing.

As beautiful as brass accompaniment can be, it also presents a challenge, particularly in the O’Connor Center chapel with its vibrant acoustics.

“It‘s a room that handles brass really well, but it also can get overwhelming,” Gorman said. “Any one of those instruments alone could drown out the choir. Put all five of them together plus the timpani, and it takes a lot of discipline and a kind of humility to be able to play back a dynamic and let the choir be heard without trying to over sing.”

Talented musician shares gift

Added Gorman, “I’ve never heard anybody do that as well as this quintet, and especially Robert. He plays for us a lot at the cathedral, which is also a very reverberant room. And he’s really able to play very full, but stay in balance with the choir. It’s a talent, and he takes it very seriously. He’s a Catholic man, and takes it as a ministry really, and that shows.”

For The Angel Choir and the Trumpeter, Rohlfing will play a piccolo trumpet, pitched an octave higher than a normal trumpet.

“The Angel Choir and the Trumpeter is a lovely work for choir and brass quintet,” Rohlfing said. “It is quite challenging, but very beautiful, and I am privileged to have the opportunity to perform it. In this, I’m trying to draw the ears of the listener in, to hear the good news of the Christ Child’s birth.”

Rohlfing will use the same piccolo trumpet for Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. He has a doctorate in musical arts form the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Since 1998, he has been second trumpet of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, and he is a regular performer with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

He started playing the trumpet in the fifth grade, but his interest in music predates that.

“When I was about six years old, my dad bought a used piano from a neighbor down the street as a gift to my mom,” Rohlfing said. “I was fascinated by it, and would stand by the keyboard and watch while she practiced. I told her that I knew I could play if I could have lessons. Soon thereafter, my parents got lessons for me. So, piano is my first instrument, and to this day, probably the instrument whose repertoire I enjoy the most.”

Rohlfing has been performing with the Diocesan Choir for nearly 20 years.

“Dr. Gorman is a wonderful musician,” Rohlfing said. “He is committed to the music and especially to its role in the liturgy. He is such an inspiring leader that you just always want to give your best for him. I regard working with the Diocesan Choir as part of my apostolate, an opportunity to share the gift of music with the Communion of Saints.”

More of a prayer service

Although often described as a Christmas concert, Lessons and Carols is more of a prayer service for Gorman.

“I always think that the music that follows each lesson is like a mini homily on the reading, to somehow take a nugget of that and expand upon it,” Gorman said. “So I think it’s more prayer service than concert, but you can come to it as a nonbeliever and still really find it to be moving.”

The Advent service, he said, has always provided an opportunity to pause, reflect, and remind ourselves that God’s plan is being fulfilled. With this being the Year of Mercy, the Advent season and services have added significance.

Year of Mercy

“The biggest reason Pope Francis declared this the Year of Mercy is that he thought the world needs it, but he also said he wants people to feel again,” Gorman said. “He said that when he goes into hospitals and poor barrios, you can’t help but feel for these people.

“Yet we read about these people everyday, whether it’s people dying of gunfire, or from plague or famine, whatever it might be, and he said they’re just concepts to us, we don’t think of them as people. He wants us to have more empathy for each other and see in each other God’s design, God’s image.”

Gorman agreed the barrage of reports and images, be it the plight of Syrian refugees abroad or mass shootings in America, can leave one feeling numb and powerless to do anything.

“One of the things the pope has said about that, which I think is great, is to start just with those around you,” Gorman said. “Seeing the homeless people we walk by not as a nuisance, but as people. We don’t have to give them money, we don’t have to do anything, but give eye contact, say hello.

“His point too is from these things, we learn about ourselves, about the world, and about how to be a better Christian. It’s not just that we do something for them, but they do something for us.”

Following the trumpet solo in The Angel Choir, the Diocesan Choir gives voice to these words, “Where are you going? To the manger in Bethlehem . . . ”

Hear the trumpet. Come to Lessons and Carols, and bring a food pantry donation.



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