Monday, September 03, 2007

A significant feast day for lovers of chant


Above: Pope Gregory the Great dictating what the Holy Spirit puts into his mouth -- from the Golden Legend, image from Antiphonary of Hartker of Sankt-Gallen (Cod. Sang. 390, p. 13) Date: ca. 1000


Today, Labor Day 2007, is the Memorial of St. Gregory the Great, pope and doctor of the Catholic Church. And for those who follow the old church calendar, it is the Memorial of St. Pius X, pope. Both of these popes had immense influence on the practice of plainsong (chant) in the Church. Pope Benedict XVI is likely to be remembered too for his own contribution to the preservation and practice of this kind of music when later ages look back at his reign.

Fortuitously, today was the day I had a chance to interview Stanford Professor WIlliam Mahrt on his work with the Church Music Association of America. We talked about his lifelong study and performance of Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony. Mahtt got swept into his lifelong love of this kind of music when he was a Stanford graduate student in musicology in 1963, and so he sang with the St. Ann choir when it was first created in 1963. He became its director in 1964, and he has continued to lead the choir almost all of the years since then, except for a few years when he taught at Case Western and Eastman School of Music after receiving his Ph.D -- before Stanford called him back to teach there.

God willing, today's interview will be the baiss for an article I have been asked to write for the National Catholic Register, and it will also serve as the start of a history I planned to write about the choir.

Partway through the interview, I mentioned that when I was praying the Office of Readings this morning, I realized it was the feast of St. Gregory the Great. St. Gregory the Great and St. Pius X pray for the success of this article and for the restoration of the chant to its "pride of place" in the liturgy.


Below: Stereopticon of Pope St. Pius X walking in the Vatican gardens
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