Music’s Measure

The Clan McCormick holidayed this year on the Isle of Skye, a remote but ruggedly beautiful island in the Western Isles of Scotland. We went to Mass in a delightful Catholic church in the isle’s main town of Portree – it was a modern build but actually built to look like a place of worship rather than a scout hut! There was a massive east window, completely clear-glazed, presenting the wonderful views out across the water to the mainland as the backdrop to worship. The Mass was fully sung, with a cantor leading the psalm and gospel acclamation. I was a little concerned about the Mass setting, knowing that since the introduction of the new rite, decent sing-able versions were not abundant. So imagine my surprise and delight when the Gloria began with the Glendalough setting we’ve been using over the past few months! This was all the more appropriate given the close links to Celtic Christianity in that part of Scotland and was sung enthusiastically by all present, no doubt fully aware of this significance. Back at home I’ve been delighted at how well received this mass setting has been – a number of people have taken the time to comment on how they’ve enjoyed it and although the setting is being ‘rested’, be assured we will return to it at some point next year.

We move now to the ‘final push’ of Ordinary Time taking us to Advent. The mass setting we will be using is a familiar one at St Julian’s: Christopher Walker’s Celtic Mass. The Celtic link again is a coincidence (there’s not a deliberate attempt to invoke the spirit of St Columba!) and we are substituting the gospel acclamation (normally the festal Celtic Alleluia) for a setting by Bernadette Farrell. The marriage of elements by these two composers is apposite as their journeys in liturgical music have been closely connected.

Christopher WalkerChristopher Walker, born in London in 1947, moved to Bristol and sung there in the Anglican Cathedral choir. After taking a degree in music at Bristol he became director of music at Clifton Cathedral in Bristol, and it was here he realised the value of responsorial music as a means to improve participation. Much of his output has this ‘people focus’ at its heart, and you’ll notice this in the Gloria of the Celtic Mass which uses responsorial form. Walker now serves as musical director at St Paul the Apostle, Los Angeles.

Bernadette FarrellBernadette Farrell, also a Briton, born in 1957, has been a leader in the renewal of catholic worship for many years and more recently is focussing a lot of her output on children’s worship. You will find much of her material in use in church schools and her writing style is often grounded in contemporary social issues – similar to the approach of John Bell and the Iona Community in Scotland. At St Julian’s we use a lot of her material – the hymn ‘Christ be our Light’, the psalm setting ‘O God you search me and you know me’ and her setting of the ‘Magnificat’ amongst others.

Both were active collaborators in the influential St Thomas More Group of composers, founded by Stephen Dean, which provided a well needed dose of musical and lyrical rigour to the post-Vatican II renewal of liturgical and pastoral music. If it wasn’t for them, we’d have been left at the mercy of the vernacular ‘folk’ music that characterised much of the Catholic Church in the decades following the Council and which, alas, can still be found today in un-imaginative liturgies. There’s only so much of ‘Sing it in the valleys’ anyone should have to endure!