Building a Quality Program
  • Hello All,

    Recently I was appointed music director at a local old cathedral. It’s a good sized parish but has faltered through the years and wants to rebuild to being a legitimate cathedral parish. The music director position has traditionally been part time, but for the first time ever it is Full time.

    My question to you is: If you were given the opportunity to rebuild a cathedral music program, what would you do? What would you focus on first? What steps/or changes are necessary? etc…

    There are 4 english masses and 3 spanish. There’s a small volunteer choir that sings at one mass, and cantors for the other english. A spanish praise band sings the Spanish mass. There’s a pipe organ that works fine but could use a lot of work (dead notes, piston issues, tuning, etc.).

    I’d love to see everyone’s ideas. Thank you and god bless.,
  • I'm sure many will consider this pretty far out there, but to answer the question honestly, if I was given the opportunity, I would do as follows:

    Get the organ back into ship-shape condition, and (if you aren't one yourself) get an organist (and a backup) who really knows how to play beautifully. Do lots of beautiful and reverent organ music appropriate for the different seasons and feasts (apart from penitential times), but especially lots of baroque music, that stuff is the best.

    Switch from whatever music is being done now to Latin Chant. Definitely use the chant settings of the Ordinary, and work up to doing full Propers as well.

    Perhaps buy copies of the Parish Book of Chant and the Saint John Brébeuf Hymnal for all the people in the pews. That way you can fill in Offertory and Communion with high quality music that they can still sing too.

    Advertise the choir, and build up enthusiasm and appreciation for the choir's job, which is making truly good and holy music.

    Once the foundation has been established, add in some good polyphony, especially Palestrina.

    There's a lot more that can also be done to revitalize a Cathedral's music, but those are the first things that come to mind.
  • Reintroduce Sung Liturgy of the Hours on Sundays and Holy Days.
  • Focus on a few key points:

    Choir: the stronger they are together, the stronger they will help the parish to be. Teach them how to sing together, rather than teaching them pieces to sing. If they learn to listen, they will learn to sing.

    Chant: build a core repertory. Propers are very important, but, presuming that you are in a N.O. Cathedral (which is the most likely), then you have the exceptionally legitimate option of seasonal antiphons to tap into. Paul Ford's By Flowing Waters is a great place to start, as well as Aristotle Esguerra's setting of the antiphons in english for free on the CMAA resource page.

    Hymnody: Build a core repertory. Don't be afraid of having a 5 week cycle of hymns throughout ordinary time. You can move hymns around, but if they have been without, truly, then you have a chance to do some wonderful things in this regard. I believe that you should treat all the English Masses and Spanish Masses as one congregation (respectively)... meaning, don't change hymns (necessarily) based on time of Mass or anything- keep them singing the same music at each Mass (with due respect given time choral music, which can replace hymns). One would think that this was a given, but the complete opposite was true of my current position when I arrived.........

    Finally, provided that your priest is worthy of working with (i.e. doesn't just shoot down ideas for being too traditional or the like), work WITH him toward a vision and goal that celebrates the beautiful patrimony that is our Catholic Faith.

    Good luck to you, and I pray to St. Cecilia and the Blessed Mother for your success!

    If you ever want to have a conversation over the phone, I would be happy to chat. I wasn't (and am not) in a much different position from you too long ago.
  • Interesting suggestions so far.

    Presuming this is a Catholic cathedral you've taken on, my first suggestion is to join CRCCM and engage with their membership—we have a strong email list for this sort of discussion, and of course our annual gatherings are invaluable. Your cathedral might already be current on their membership (it's the middle of renewal season), so membership might be as easy as emailing updated info to the treasurer (me). If it's not, it's only $65/year, so there's no reason not to be.

    On my general philosophy towards change in leadership—don't be in a hurry to change things, and make sure your pastor is 100% behind you if you're going to implement a seismic shift. I've seen so many fail because of these things. Take time to understand where the parish is before you craft a plan to bring them where they need to be. There's no rush.

    Also, since you have Spanish masses also, I'll just bring your attention to the fact that there's a new set of Spanish responsorial psalms that have been written for the Houston co-cathedral available on the CRCCM Repertoire Project. (

    All the best,
    Thanked by 1LauraKaz
  • Get the clergy on board to sing the Mass itself (collects, dialogues, etc.). Few things feel stranger than a high-quality choral liturgy in a Cathedral juxtaposed with a celebrant who doesn't sing a word of the Mass.
  • I couldn't agree with Trenton more.

    Once the priests start singing [well] much else will follow. This has the added benefit that the priest can condition the people to sing the responses, even when a choir is not present, and the congregation just gets used to singing many more parts of the mass by osmosis. This is an area where my pastor (who is musically trained) has put in a lot of effort, and five years later, I can tell you it has made a huuuuuge difference. People know all the responses very well, and consequently, will even sing them at daily mass when prompted to do so. All unaccompanied, all very strongly. The other reason to do this is that it raises the "baseline solemnity" of the parish. So even your simpler masses still contain many a cappella sung parts, rather than being completely silent. People learn that when they come to mass, they sing.

    Bombarde made an interesting comment about treating all the masses the same. I can tell you that this is what we do at our parish, to varying degrees of success. (That is to say: the elderly saturday mass participates very little, the 7:30am mass participates with medium vigor, and the 11am sings full-throated with total buy-in.) I've been rather contented with this arrangement, because then the experience of mass is reasonably "the same" regardless of which mass you attend (with the usual caveat that there is extra stuff at the choir mass for obvious reasons). It also lays the baseline expectation that at least xx amount of music will be sung at every mass regardless. This also makes it easier for people to transition between mass times whenever necessary. Few things are as disappointing as being a family that likes all the smells and bells, and for some odd reason, one week you have to attend the "folk mass" which barely resembles the mass you ordinarily attend. This way, if you attend xx parish, you know what you are going to get, plain and simple.

    The obvious caveat to that is that some people who like the '[insert any troped genre here] mass' may chose to move to a different parish if that style of worship is not offered to them. That said, I find myself utterly unconvinced that it is in any way beneficial to have a folk, "normal" and "high" mass all at the same parish every weekend. For starters, at least one of those genres is really not supported by any of the documents like the GIRM or TLS, so why take pains to either introduce one, or keep one on life support? Considering the fact that cathedral parishes should be setting the tone for the whole diocese (as was recently reiterated by Bp. Klemm in his wonderful letter) it seems prudent to establish a beautiful, traditional baseline that is present at all cathedral masses.

    Also, please, PLEASE introduce propers. Even if they are only in the vernacular and "in addition to". But PLEASE sing them. Other DoM's and PRIESTS will be looking to you whenever they come to a diocesan liturgy. If you do it, it will arm people in parishes where this may be a, ahem, less-welcome development to have the courage to say, "we are simply doing what they do for the bishop at his own church. We are bringing our mass into closer alignment with our high priest."
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,992
    "The obvious caveat to that is that some people who like the '[insert any troped genre here] mass' may chose to move to a different parish if that style of worship is not offered to them."

    If available within reasonable distance, they likely will unless there is a Mass with little to no music, and they have no canonical prohibition against doing so.

    PS: On the flip side, if you publish your music programming, you may also *attract* seekers from other parishes who have not heretofore found this kind of programming easily nearer to them, and you can also help promote this model to the rest of your diocese. In my experience, American Catholic parishes (even cathedral parishes) tend to have immense inertia about (namely, against) sharing this kind of information. (Imagine if a bishop articulated an expectation that the faithful should expect parishes to post their music programming to parish websites.)
  • Chaswjd
    Posts: 263
    Here is a non-musical thought. You appear to have a very bilingual parish. Sometimes, the effect of a bilingual parish is actually to have two parishes who share one physical church. I would suggest that you follow the lead of the Second Vatican Council and take steps so that all parishioners can say, in Latin, those parts of the mass which pertain to them. Have all the ordinaries and all of the dialogues be in Latin at every mass, no matter which language the rest of it is in. That way, a Spanish speaker attending an English mass could participate in those parts of the mass which pertain to him or her. The same would be true for and English speaker who attends and otherwise Spanish mass. It would also allow celebrations, especially at the Triduum, where there to be only a single liturgy to have some commonality.

    You could also then use the Gregorian mass settings as part of the project.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,700
    I was the DM in a parish that was half Anglo and half Spanish… neither side participated in the others liturgies if they could avoid it. Latin is the only solution to bring the two parties together. Bilingual masses were an absolute disaster as they created a divide and spotlighted the differences between the two existing congregations. No one wanted to participate in either the English or the Spanish at those liturgies which were typically done for Christmas and Easter, making the highest celebrations of the church, the worst experiences of all. The whole ruse of multiculturalism is one of the worst parts of the NO. Rather than focusing on worshiping God, we were focusing on each other’s differences. Globalist elite reasons for revolution anyone?
  • I am convinced that bilingual liturgies, of the Spanish and English flavors, do not work well in practice. There are two different sets of musical and cultural expectations working at cross purposes. In 25 years of liturgical music work, I can say that some of the most awkward liturgies have been when Spanish and English speakers are responding to prayers in their own languages and not bothering to do the same in the other’s. Ditto for hymns and Mass parts. If nothing else, it emphasized the cultural division in the room and it happened during Holy Week.
  • Don’t get me started… I agree completely. I will never forget my first bilingual Easter vigil when the Anglo choir finished singing a piece of renaissance polyphony during communion, and it was the Spanish choir’s turn. They immediately launched into a lively “hymn” Resucito with guitars, percussion, clapping, and a rain stick. To say the juxtaposition between those two musical expressions was incongruous is to nearly be injurious to the English language. I cannot express the emotions that flooded through me at that moment. Whatever they were, they were not something I’d ever like to feel again during a sacred liturgy.

    And if nothing else, such liturgies have reallly crystallized in my mind just why Latin ordinaries and prayers (Pater Noster, Credo, etc.) are so very important. They are a leveler and allow both communities to come to mass on the same terms. It’s very sad to begin, “at the Savior’s command, and informed by divine teaching, we dare to say:” only to have to communities talk over each other in their own languages, rather than praying in the universal langage. No Bueno, folks. No bueno.
  • As banal as it sounds:
    1. Stabilise the repertoire, including genres at each point in the liturgy,
    2. Stabilise the manner of accompaniment and leadership, and
    3. Ensure that a consistent set of liturgical customs prevails, through close consultation with the MCs and servers.

    If these things are in place, the rest can be put into place. Without these, you're in a perpetual state of revolution.
  • GambaGamba
    Posts: 542
    Congratulations! It would help to know, roughly, what your budget is and what the general financial health of the place is. Seems to me you could do excellent things (assuming pastoral cooperation and commitment), but whether that’s founding a choir school and hiring pro ATBs, assistant DoM, and organ scholar OR having a solid, committed all-volunteer chorus that can competently sing the chant and sometimes Byrd for 3 from xeroxes will depend entirely on your funding. Both are excellent but one is rather more pricey…
  • At the risk of stating the obvious: bathe the whole process in prayer. At its best, music direction requires pastoral skills. Volunteer musicians can tell the difference.