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The Institute’s second annual Sacred Music Workshop was held April 20-22 in St. Louis at Saint Francis de Sales Oratory. Building on the format developed at last year’s well-received Workshop, participants learned about Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony, singing the chants of Vespers and Compline as well as the Mass, celebrating Eastertide in contrast to last year’s spiritual meditation on the season of Lent.  Nearly 70 participants came from all over the United States for the Workshop.

In response to the feedback and experience of the previous year, a special session was added to the first day of the Workshop for the benefit of schola directors and more experienced singers interested in chironomy and other advanced topics. Additionally, sign-ups for private sessions with Canon Lebocq were available for singers of all levels to provide individual instruction and mentoring.

The Friday evening and Saturday sessions in both chant and polyphony gave the singers an opportunity to focus on the spirituality, the technique, and the joy of animating the sacred repository of liturgical music, in unison with other musicians. Singing the Office each day with the Institute’s community of Canons, Oblates, seminary candidates, and other Catholic faithful was a spiritual treat for these singers who treasured this rare camaraderie.

We are very grateful to the Canons and staff who made this year’s Workshop possible: Canon Wulfran Lebocq for traveling from Ireland to impart his knowledge on Gregorian Chant, and for his tireless instruction to all levels of singers; Canon Aaron Huberfeld for the spiritual talks and the beginner session of Chant; Canon Michael Wiener and the staff at Saint Francis de Sales Oratory for organizing and running the workshop over the weekend; Mr. Nicholas Botkins for the polyphonic rehearsals and conducting choir for the Sunday Mass; and the wonderfully hospitable community and faithful of the Oratory for their support in hosting this event.

--Arthur and I-Wen Connick

 Other comments from participants:

In Heaven, the choir of saints praises God for all eternity, and they pray with their wills united perfectly to His. On earth, we see our dear Canons in the sanctuary which prefigures Heaven, and in the pews we see every family, every domestic church, uniting themselves to the Mass.

 In the choir loft, we have a unique opportunity: not only do we get to see this image of heaven and earth from our new vantage point, but we also get to take part in the prayer of everyone in the church. The loft is, of course, a sort of extension of the choir of clergy in the sanctuary; but it is also an aid to those in the pews, helping them to pray and unite themselves to God, so long as we do our part. Nowhere does all of this become so manifestly clear as at the Sacred Music Workshop. 

 A couple months ago, a friend of mine asked, "Should I go to this thing? I don't even speak Latin. Is it going to be over my head?" The Workshop, I told him, is precisely the best place to learn: the beauty of a cathedral-like choir is that you invariably have a near-perfect balance of experienced and inexperienced, leaders and followers. 

 For the beginner, there is nothing quite as exhilarating as hearing the trembling roar of organ and voice raised together to the melodious designs of Haydn and Mozart. You are taken into something otherworldly, and the harmony you hear around you reflects the very harmony of the Communion of Saints and the rich history of the Church. In the capable hands of experienced directors, such as Mr. Botkins, the choir comes to life and act as one; no small feat when you have around seventy voices.

 The more ancient music we hear every week, however, is, of course, Gregorian Chant. Whether one is just beginning to learn how to read chant and the names of the neumes with Canon Huberfield, or learning the intricacies of directing arsis and thesis from Canon Lebocq, the seminary's former choirmaster, the men and women attending the workshop experience the incomparable joy of working with incredible teachers of the Solesmes method. In the Psalms of Vespers and Compline, or the Propers of the Mass, we pray in the perennial voice of the Church, and the variegated lives we lead as laity are joined together as only Christ can do.

 If you have been to the Workshop, I hope to see all of you there again next year; it's such a short time to get to know other music people, but it's so very good, and there is nothing like it.

 If you have never been, regardless of whether you have been singing in choirs for six months or a lifetime, I wholeheartedly recommend the workshop. It is one of the best ways to see what a Catholic culture truly looks like, and you will gain invaluable lessons, for your voice as well as your soul, to bring back home.

 -- Chris Bartz


The Music workshop was a complete immersion into sacred music. A rigorous program of Gregorian chant and polyphony, each day was spent rehearsing and honing our voices in preparation to sing for Our Lord on the upcoming Sunday. Complete beginners and those with relatively little chant experience met with Canon Huberfeld who taught us the basic mechanics of Gregorian chant, how to read it and understand it, while the more experienced schola and choristers stayed with Canon Lebocq and practiced more advanced techniques. The program was absolutely magnificent and made all the work and practice very much worthwhile. The polyphonic works were resplendent, especially the Insanae et Vanae Curae by Hayden, and the works of chant were likewise very beautiful, though it took a bit more work to refine our voices to sing the pieces properly.

 Canon Lebocq and Mr. Nick Botkins were quite patient and very enthusiastic about helping the choristers, and they were very musically gifted and knowledgeable about sacred music. Canon Huberfeld also gave inspiring spiritual conferences on the importance of sacred music and how we are not simply singing but we are praying as well. This is perhaps the most important point I took from the workshop, that liturgical music is praying and singing for Mass is more than a performance but a prayer to God.       

Overall, the entire experience was very edifying, inspirational and productive. I learned many new techniques and I now have an even greater appreciation for liturgical music and chant. I would highly encourage others to attend this three-day workshop next year in order to learn to sing to Our Lord and praise Him, as well as to better appreciate the many, many beautiful pieces that have been composed to give glory to God and beautify our Sacred Liturgy. 

— Edward Shikles