In the past I’ve posted different Christmas carols and other liturgical pieces that capture well the particular sentiments and doctrines associated with feasts and liturgical seasons. Let me now draw attention to a collection of motets and carols that allow listeners to meditate on the coming of Christ in his Incarnation. Christmas in Harvard Square is the first international recording of the St. Paul’s Choir school, the only Catholic boys’ choir school in America. Led by Mr. John Robinson, a former assistant from Canterbury Cathedral, the boys take their music and their faith seriously. The CD has been spending some time near the top of the classical Billboard charts, and this week Robinson discussed the CD and his vision for the choir at National Review Online:
LOPEZ: Do the boys know what they are singing? Is there a spiritual component to their musical work?
ROBINSON: They do, yesthe primary work of the boys is in singing at daily Mass at St. Paul’s, so we are essentially a liturgical choir. We often talk about the words/music dichotomy, and every time we come to the same conclusion. The words are the most important thing to a singer, and the music is really a decoration and elaboration of that, albeit a very elaborate one. Probably our most significant work goes into “expression.” And therefore, what we are expressing is of primary importance. Delivering words sincerely is the hallmark of a good liturgical choir, as our work is prayer. I find that the Psalms are at the center of a lot of our expressions, as there you have incredibly simple music in the Gregorian Psalm tones, with immensely powerful sacred poetry.
During the school year, the boys sing at the noon daily Mass and on Sundays at 11 AM. If you’re in the Boston area, consider dropping by St. Paul’s for their service of Lessons and Carols on the 24th or for any of the Christmas Masses. If you’re not, they’ll be on Good Morning, America that morning. And if you’re looking to support the revival of church music in America and you want to enjoy the beauty of Christmas, consider getting or giving the CD (see the video below for the story behind the CD).
Nathaniel Peters is a doctoral candidate in theology at Boston College.