Friday, September 06, 2013

The St. Ann Choir's History at St. Ann Chapel and St. Thomas Aquinas Church

The St. Ann Choir first began singing at Masses at St. Ann Chapel, which has a complex and fascinating history of its own. At the time the choir started in 1963, St. Ann chapel was 12 years old. It had been built by Ambassador, Congresswoman, and playwright, Clare Boothe Luce, wife of the publishing giant Henry Luce, and donated for use by Stanford University’s Catholic student center. Claire Boothe Luce wished the chapel to be dedicated to St. Ann as a memorial to her daughter, Ann Brokaw, who had died in an accident months before she was to graduate from Stanford in 1944.

Luce intended the chapel to be a small gem that she hoped would illustrate that modernism and sacred art are compatible, and she commissioned artists to decorate the chapel with expressionistic (and experimental) painted windows instead of stained glass, painted stations of the Cross, a cubist-inspired mosaic of the Blessed Virgin, and a steel mesh flat canopy decorated with mosaics and Cubist-inspired angels over the altar.
St. Ann Chapel Altar with canopy

A large impressionistic green bronze of St. Ann with the Virgin Mary is mounted over the entrance on the flat, red brick front of the modern chapel.
Bronze relief of St. Ann with the Virgin Mary on the facade

St. Ann Chapel facade

St. Ann Chapel was used for worship by the Newman Center for almost 50 years. After Newman Center activities were eventually transferred to the Stanford Memorial Church on campus, the Diocese of San Jose sold the chapel, which was decommissioned as a Catholic church and came into the possession of the Anglican Province of Christ the King.

Ever since 1998, the choir has been singing at Masses on Sundays and major feast days at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, another historic Palo Alto church, which was built in an architectural style called Carpenter Gothic at the beginning of the 20th century.

St. Thomas Aquinas Church

At St. Ann chapel where the choir first began in 1963, the experimental paint is peeling from the painted windows, and the colors have faded with age. The modernist style of architecture and art has lost much of its appeal over the decades, but the choir has been able to maintain its own nostalgic attachment by continuing to sing Catholic Sunday Vespers at the chapel, by the gracious invitation of the Anglican Archbishop, Robert Morse.
St. Ann Choir Sings Vespers at St. Ann Chapel

Thursday, September 05, 2013

The Renowned St. Ann Choir of Palo Alto Celebrates Its 50th Anniversary This Fall: Singing Gregorian Chant and Polyphony in Liturgies Since 1963

Palo Alto, California/September 5, 2013/The St. Ann Choir

In observance of its fiftieth anniversary, the St. Ann Choir will sing William Byrd's Mass for Four Voices at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, 751 Waverly Street, Palo Alto, CA 94301 on Sunday October 6, at the 12:00 noon Mass. A reception follows the Mass.

St. Thomas Aquinas Church
All are invited to join the celebration of the St. Ann Choir's unique achievement:  Fifty years of continual performance of Gregorian chant and polyphony in weekly liturgies.

The St. Ann Choir began singing the music for the traditional cycle of the Church year at Sunday Masses in 1963, before radical changes to Roman Catholic liturgy and music occurred after the Second Vatican Council.

By its perseverance in continuing to sing this music to this very day, the choir has made a unique contribution to the preservation of what the Vatican II Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy called “a treasure of inestimable value.” The weekly inclusion of this music as part of the liturgy, where it belongs, has allowed people to experience it as a living form instead of as a mere academic discipline.
"The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as a combination of sacred music and words, it forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy.” -- Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium §112

The choir is directed by Stanford Professor William Peter Mahrt, who is also president of the Church Music Association of America and editor of the journal Sacred Music. Mahrt joined the choir as a Stanford graduate student shortly after it began under the leadership of the late William Pohl, and Mahrt became its director when Pohl took an academic job in another state.

Prof. William Mahrt surrounded by a few of his 10,000 books

“The main achievement of our choir is to have maintained the traditional music of the Roman Catholic Church. We began singing Gregorian chant and classical polyphony and included organ music in liturgies before the council, and our program is pretty much the same as it was when we started. “– Professor William Mahrt
“Our choir started one year before the language changed [from Latin to the vernacular]—if we had tried to start one year later, we might not have been able to do it," – William Mahrt
“It is rare to hear chant in Catholic churches, and it is rarely taught in Catholic institutions. Catholics who are familiar with the chant and polyphonic repertoire are more likely to have gained this familiarity from listening to recordings than to have experienced this music as "an integral part of the solemn liturgy". “Buried Treasure,” Adoremus Bulletin, Online Edition - Vol. VII, No. 1: March 2001.
"I recently read a biography of Renaissance composer William Byrd that described the destruction of traditional Catholic liturgy and music that was in progress when the composer was born in England in 1540. That was the year King Henry VIII completed the dissolution of the monasteries. The monastic libraries were sacked, and the manuscripts were used for scrap. Frankly, I can’t help but see a similarity in the widespread disdain by many since the Second Vatican Council for the Church’s traditional doctrines and for the beautiful Gregorian chant and polyphonic music that had evolved as an intrinsic part of the Mass and the Divine Office over the centuries since the time of Christ. -- Roseanne Sullivan, former St. Ann Choir member, freelance writer and photographer, and blogger about music for Dappled Things magazine.
René Girard, Stanford Professor Emeritus, and one of only 40 members, or immortals, of the Académie Française, had this to say about Professor Mahrt’s achievement: “When I first attended, I assumed that the Catholic Church and the University actively supported this unique contribution to the spiritual and cultural life of the community. The truth is that ever since 1963, Professor Mahrt has been very much on his own in this enormously time-, talent- and energy-consuming enterprise.” As quoted in Stanford Magazine in “Noteworthy: On Wings of Song” by Cynthia Haven, March/April 2003.