Children’s choir joins in Lessons and Carols Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Dick Jones, For the Catholic Herald   
Thursday, Dec. 08, 2016 -- 12:00 AM
st maria goretti cantors
The Cardinal Cantors of St. Maria Goretti Catholic School in Madison will be special musical guests at this year’s Festival of Lessons and Carols presented by the Madison Diocesan Choir on Sunday, Dec. 18, and Sunday, Jan. 8. (Contributed photo)

MADISON -- For more than 25 years, the Madison Diocesan Choir has celebrated the birth of Christ with its Festival of Lessons and Carols, and the worship service on Sunday, Dec. 18, at Holy Name Heights promises to be a celebration like no other.

Unlike earlier concerts featuring a professional brass ensemble, string section, acclaimed vocalists, or soloists on harp or horn, this event offers the angelic voices of youth, featuring the Cardinal Cantors of St. Maria Goretti Catholic School in Madison as special musical guests.

The unprecedented performance has been in the making for months, according to Dr. Patrick Gorman, director of the Madison Diocesan Choir, as well as director of the Office of Worship for the Diocese of Madison.

Children involved

“It presents special challenges, but they’re all wonderful challenges,” Gorman said of the Cardinal Cantors, students in grades five through eight at St. Maria Goretti School.

“We so often work with professional musicians, and of course, our musical guests this year aren’t professionals,” he said. “But they’re going to come with a sincerity and beauty that, you know, there’s nothing like a children’s choir singing in unison. It just fills your heart with joy and love. It’s going to be a very nice addition.”

In addition, students from St. Maria Goretti and other schools in the diocese will serve as readers. Bishop Robert C. Morlino will preside and read the final of nine Scripture readings, which tell the story of man’s fall from grace and eventual redemption with the birth of Christ.

The service at Holy Name Heights, the former Bishop O’Connor Catholic Pastoral Center in Madison, begins at 4 p.m., on Sunday, Dec. 18. All are welcome, and while admission is free, guests are encouraged to bring a non-perishable food item for donation to the Catholic Multicultural Center food pantry.

On Epiphany Sunday, Jan. 8, the choir and Cardinal Cantors will repeat the program at St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church. The repeat performance will begin at 1:30 p.m. Admission is free. The choir is grateful for freewill offerings in support of its musical ministry.

As in the past, Gorman will invite the audience to join in singing carols. Assistant Director Glenn Schuster will provide accompaniment on piano.

Family connection

Gorman, his wife Denise, and their two daughters, Katie and Sarah, are members of St. Maria Goretti Parish. Denise is coordinator of pastoral music, and Katie and Sarah are both members of the Cardinal Cantors, which is under the direction of Jo Duppler.

When the Cardinal Cantors sang at school Masses, Gorman would attend.

“Each time I hear them, I’m always real impressed,” he said.

In April, Gorman was especially moved by their singing. A much beloved guidance counselor at St. Maria Goretti, Michele Kruchten-Bender, died, and her family asked that the Cardinal Cantors sing for her funeral.

“It was just absolutely wonderful,” he said. It occurred to him then that the Diocesan Choir should feature them as special musical guests at Lessons and Carols.

“And it’s not so much a Christmas-is-about-kids thing as it is that, boy, kids have their own talents, and their own spirituality,” he said. “And that’s one of the things I like about Maria Goretti. Aside from being an excellent academic place, it’s a very good place for them to grow spiritually, at kind of age appropriateness. I’ve just been very impressed with them, and I think that helps with their singing. They all sing from their hearts.”

Cardinal Cantors

According to Duppler, the Cardinal Cantors program at St. Maria Goretti started about 10 years ago. A total of 34 students are involved, and approximately 20 will sing at Lessons and Carols.

“Our cantor program offers us an opportunity to instill in students the importance of service in the Church,” Duppler said.

“Joining the Diocesan Choir in the Lessons and Carols concerts, along with singing for Miss Michele’s funeral last spring, shows our students that music ministry can take place in many different ways.

“This is a wonderful experience to unite musicians of all ages in the celebration of the greatest story on earth! It’s also a very special opportunity for Pat to work with both of his daughters!”

Program highlights

Among the highlights is a Walter Pelz arrangement of Away in a Manger, combining the work of composer William J. Kirkpatrick with an American Traditional. Surya Blasiole, an eighth grader at St. Maria Goretti, will begin on violin with the young cantors singing the first verse, followed by the choir.

“The arranger, Walter Pelz, takes both tunes for Away in a Manger and works them together,” Gorman said. “It’s a nice effect. And that’s traditionally thought to be a children’s carol, so it works for us.”

A duet in Gesu Bambino features Katie Gorman and Diocesan Choir tenor Steve Harrison.

“She’ll be the echo in that,” Gorman said. “She’s thrilled. She’s got a nice soprano voice, so this will be her first time singing something big like this outside of church. She sings with the Madison Youth Choir, so she’s pretty comfortable with singing.”

Katie, who is 13 and an eighth grader at Maria Goretti, also plays the piano and French horn. In addition to singing with the cantors, younger sister Sarah, 10, a fifth grader, will be one of the readers.

The Cardinal Cantors also will sing verses of the two opening hymns, O come, O come Emmanuel and Angels we have heard on high. And they will sing verses of Holy is your name with the choir and congregation following the fifth lesson.

Following the sixth lesson, with Duppler directing, the Cardinal Cantors will sing a selection from their Maria Goretti Gather Hymnals, Nativity Carol, composed by Francis Patrick O’Brien.

Among other highlights, Gorman looks forward to directing the choir in singing The Angel Gabriel, as arranged by Lisa Stafford. “There are dozens of settings of that carol and it’s been hard for me to find one that I really like,” Gorman said. “This is a really nice one, and I think the choir sings it well.”

The program also features a piano duet. Schuster and Josephine Cowen, a soprano in the choir, once again at the keyboard, play a four-hands accompaniment as Gorman directs the choir in singing a Howard Helvey arrangement of a traditional English carol, Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day.

“Having two people, sitting side by side, and being right up against each other, they really have to play as one, and that’s hard to do,” Gorman said. Being good musicians, he said, they perform the piano duet well, as they did with a four-hands piano accompaniment to Ding Dong Merrily on High in the 2014 Lessons and Carols.

Coming together in love

The concert this year is unprecedented in another respect. If ever there was a need for angelic voices, this is it, for these are troubling times, both at home and abroad.

Following the divisive presidential election, the nation is struggling to come together and begin anew. The Jubilee Year of Mercy decreed by Pope Francis has ended, but the need for compassion, understanding, and forgiveness is ever more pressing worldwide.

“Christmas calls us to this idea of love and self giving, and we’ve come to this word where everybody seems angry at each other,” Gorman said. “There’s just all kinds of nasty comments on Facebook, or on the news sites, the pundits talking on TV. We have to remind ourselves that Christians can disagree about things, but we can’t call each other names. We can’t hate each other.”

Gorman referred to new commandment of Jesus, as told by John, and well known hymn based on it, They’ll Know We Are Christians.

“Jesus said they’ll know you are Christians by your love,” Gorman said. “It’s true, by your love they will know you. And I often think, when I see Christians saying nasty things about others, it betrays the fact that we don’t have a lot of love in our heart.”

Certainly this Christmas, he said people need to come together, see the good in each other, draw on one another’s gifts, and work together for the common good. Singing in a choir, or in this case, joining the choir and Cardinal Cantors in singing at this year’s Festival of Lessons and Carols is a good start.

Encouraging dialogue

“Choral music is a fantastic way to bring people together,” Gorman said. As he tells it, it creates a bond, encourages dialogue, and engenders respect and understanding.

“That’s one of the great things that’s misunderstood about Pope Francis,” Gorman said. “He talks a lot about dialogue, and I think there are many people who compare dialogue with capitulation. It certainly isn’t.

“As a matter of fact,” Gorman said, “I like to compare it to the Bible stores of Jesus and the woman at the well, or Jesus and the adulterous woman, or Jesus and the man born blind, or with the rich man, the road to Emmaus, in all those stories, he always talks to them. Sometimes they reject him. He doesn’t call them idiots. But most of the time, they want to hear more.”

That, said Gorman, is what Pope Francis is saying, not to fall silent and withdraw, but to engage people, talk to others, create a dialogue of understanding.

“We need to do what Jesus did on the road to Emmaus, to walk with them, and talk with them, share our stories and listen to theirs,” Gorman said. “Because there’s a lot of pain out there that we ignore, in ourselves and in other people.”

Come celebrate Christmas with the Diocesan Choir and their special musical guests, the Cardinal Cantors, at the Festival of Lessons and Carols.

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