Madison Diocesan Choir spring concert Print
Around the Diocese
Written by Dick Jones, For the Catholic Herald   
Thursday, May. 02, 2019 -- 12:00 AM
diocesan concert

MADISON -- Under the direction of Dr. Patrick Gorman, the Madison Diocesan Choir will celebrate Fifty Days of Easter with alleluias, Scripture readings, and congregational hymns, in a free spring concert entitled He is risen indeed! on Friday evening, May 17, at Holy Name Heights.

The Randall Thompson Alleluia, always popular with choral groups and audiences, is among the selections, and fitting as it is, Gorman’s concert program offers much more to the spiritual delight of all, be they the faithful or simply those who enjoy great choral works.

Richness of Easter themes

“Instead of focusing on one piece, the music covers the richness of the Easter themes,” Gorman said.

The program includes Since by Man, Came Death, from Handel’s Messiah, The Call by Z. Randall Stroope, The Spirit of the Lord by Philip W.J. Stopford, The Lord is my Shepherd by Thomas Matthews, O Lux Beatissima by Howard Helvey, King of Glory, King of Peace, also by Helvey, and of course, a traditional spiritual, Moses Hogan’s Ain’t That Good News.

The Saint Raphael Brass Quintet and Timpani will accompany the choir, as will Glenn Schuster, associate director, either at the Schmelzer Memorial Organ or grand piano, during the concert, starting at 7 p.m. in the Holy Name Heights Chapel, 702 S. High Point Rd.

The concert also will include Youth Pastoral Musician Scholarship Awards, now in its second year. Indicative of initiative’s success, the choir is awarding five scholarships, three more than planned, thanks to the generosity of donors quick to join in support of the effort. Winners receive $500 each to help cover the cost of attending summer music clinics.

Holy Name Heights has ample free parking, and the chapel is handicap accessible. While the concert is free, the choir appreciates free will offerings in support of its music ministry, including its Youth Pastoral Musician Scholarship Awards. Donations also can be made online to the Madison Diocesan Choir, either in general support of the choir or its scholarships.

A liturgical choir

The concert program is similar to the choir’s Festival of Lessons & Carols, a longstanding tradition of this mixed choral group of nearly 70 volunteers from parishes throughout the diocese. While the event on May 17 in the Holy Name Heights chapel is billed as a spring concert, it is not typical of performances by other groups.

“We’re not a concert choir, and I don’t think we should try to be,” said Gorman, who is also director of the Diocesan Office of Worship. “But we’re very good at what we do, and that’s liturgy, and I would stack us up against any diocesan choir in the country, really.”

The concert program draws on pieces Gorman has selected and the choir has sung at diocesan liturgical events throughout the year.

“As a choir, our principle job really is a liturgical choir,” he said. “We sing at Masses. That’s what our job is, and Lessons and Carols, the spring concert, these are add-ons, and so it always does affect what our concert can be like.”

That said, what Gorman and the choir have to offer can appeal to the general public and stir the emotions regardless of individual beliefs. Consider Gorman’s comments about some regular guests, and not just sitting in the front row, but between Gorman and the choir, as accompanists.

Saint Raphael Brass Quintet and Timpani

Here Gorman is talking about professional musicians who perform often with the choir, as recently as Chrism Mass, and now the upcoming concert. Known as the St. Raphael Brass Quintet and Timpani, they are Rob Rohlfing and Jessica Jensen, trumpets; Matt Beecher, horn; Brian Whitty, trombone; David Spies, tuba; and Joe Bernstein, timpani.

“Whenever you play with musicians who are professionals, they can always lift you up, make you do your best,” Gorman said.

“I’m always moved by these professional musicians, most of whom I don’t think are Catholic, may not be religious, I don’t know,” he said. “But to a person, they almost always tell me how impressed they are with the choir, the spirit and friendliness of the choir, and in their terms, the efficiency and the singing. You don’t always hear that from professionals.”

Gorman said several confided that performing with other groups has not been as positive.

“That’s really touching,” Gorman said. “It speaks well of the choir, that the choir somehow is able to pass on that joy of Christ through its music. Seeing 60 people kind of pour their hearts out in their music I think is really an exciting thing.”

He is risen indeed!

But we’re getting a little ahead of the story, as if Pentecost Sunday has come and gone, and we are now in Ordinary Time, out in the world, spreading the good news. Back to the current Easter Season and the upcoming concert, He is risen indeed!

The title, Gorman said, is a variation of “The Lord be with you,” with the response, “And also with you.” Although an old response, it is still used often in the Episcopalian Church.

“One person would say, ‘The Lord is risen,’ and another would say, “He has risen indeed’, maybe add, ‘Alleluia.’,” Gorman said. “It’s a nice little Easter greeting.”

Although Easter Sunday has passed, Easter Season continues, and Gorman has chosen music and readings to the extended period.

“The Easter season itself lasts for 50 days, all the way up to Pentecost, which this year is June 9, so it’s a long time,” Gorman said. “Easter is about the resurrection, of course, and the Second Sunday usually has the story of Doubting Thomas. That whole week, including the Second Sunday, is considered by the Church to be one big long Easter Day. So they’re all celebrated like Easter Sunday.”

Time for alleluias on high

“Among the things they say about the Easter Season in the liturgical books is that it’s the time above all for singing alleluia,” Gorman said. In addition to the Thompson Alleluia, the program includes these selections with more alleluias, C.V. Stanford’s Ye Choirs of New Jerusalem and Praise God with Song / Lobt Gott mit Schall by Heinrich Schuetz.

Third Sunday themes vary, but Gorman said the most famous Gospel is about Jesus revealing himself to the disciples who had been in the town of Emmaus. And the Fourth Sunday theme is Jesus the good shepherd.

“So that’s a part of Easter, Jesus, this risen shepherd who cares about every individual sheep as well as the whole flock,” Gorman said. In keeping with this theme, he has chosen The Lord is my Shepherd by Matthews with soprano Donna Corcoran as soloist.

“She does a great job, just sings it perfectly,” Gorman said. “She has such a pretty voice, not strained. She’s confident, and she’s a pleasant person.”

Coming of the Holy Spirit

The latter weeks foreshadow the coming of the Holy Spirit, and here the program includes pieces that have become choir favorites, The Call, O Lux Beatissma, and The Spirit of the Lord.

“The whole Pentecost sequence is about renewal and the gifts of the Spirit, and there are some wonderful phrases about how the Spirit can ease the broken heart, it can melt the frozen heart, all the things it can do to enlighten us,” Gorman said.

Describing O Lux as an homage to the Pentecost sequence, he read the text translation:

“O Light most blessed, Fill the inmost heart Of all the faithful.

“Without your grace, There is nothing in us, Nothing that is not harmful.”

The piece is by Helvey, a contemporary composer Gorman came across a decade ago. He spends summers listening to music, often new composers, and planning concerts. He introduced the choir to O Lux several years ago, and more recently, Helvey’s King of Glory.

“He’s very prolific,” Gorman said. “I really like his gift of melody. He always has really good texts that he bases everything on. Really solid music. It’s pleasant to sing and to listen to.”

The program features one other soloist, tenor Russ Kellom, in the spiritual Good News.“ He’s got a nice easy voice, and he seems to get better and better every year,” Gorman said. “He’s just such a nice guy, really has a deep Christian spirit, a deep love of music.”

Gorman said the choir’s spring concerts in recent years have been well received, and he hopes that will be true of the May 17 performance in the Holy Name Height’s chapel.

“I’m just hoping that it’s a really joyful event,” he said.

Risen indeed. Alleluia! Alleluia!

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