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.

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