As any sentient Catholic knows, there are often internecine battle in American parishes between "contemporary" and "traditional" music. Those on the "contemporary" side argue that music should reflect the times. (A similar argument is advanced by those who favor modern architecture for church buildings.) Otherwise, art becomes nothing more than an aping of the past. Plus, they say, no one can understand all those hymns in Latin anyway. On the other hand, those on the "traditional" side argue that we risk losing the artistic patrimony of the church if we neglect our heritage. Plus, they say, those contemporary songs are too difficult to sing, especially ones that seem to have been written last Thursday. Of course it’s a false dichotomy: the best parish music programs, and the best music ministers, are able artfully to combine both traditional and contemporary, and, in the process, offer an experience of liturgy that transcends those narrow categories. In November, at the Church of St. Francis Xavier in New York City, a few hundred people were treated to a concert by the "The Ignatian schola," a group of talented lay men and women (and a few Jesuits), who have been singing together for the past few years -- and just getting better and better. The theme of the concert, held two weeks after All Saints Day, was "To Praise you with All the Saints." Their concert, newly released on CD, shows just how wonderful can be the marriage of the contemporary and traditional. (Full disclosure: I spoke briefly at the concert about the saints. And all were grateful that I did not sing.) Some of the schola’s selections are traditional hymns written in praise of the saints (several are Marian hymns like "Salve, Mater Misericordiae," and "I Sing a Maid.") Others are more contemporary settings of prayers of the saints, like Michael Burgo’s beautiful "Prayer for Generosity," written by St. Ignatius Loyola. (Burgo is the talented and beloved music minister at St. Ignatius Church in Chestnut Hill, Mass.) Perhaps my favorite is an utterly haunting arrangement of St. Teresa of Avila’s famous prayer, which begins, "Let nothing disturb you..." The arrangement, by Lawrence Rosanio, features both the English and Spanish verses, sung sequentially, almost antiphonally, so that you can imagine St. Teresa praying along with you. Ordering information, as well as the complete recording of Palestrina’s "O Bone Jesu," and a few precious seconds of the St. Teresa Prayer are included on the schola’s website here: "The Ignatian Schola"
James Martin, SJ