Music in the spotlight – BC Catholic
It’s easy enough to find performances of sacred music if you try hard enough, but they will rarely be accompanied by the smell of incense and candles. Sacred music organization MOTE’s Assumption Project aims to change that by placing music in its intended context.
Recognizing that many pieces of classical music have been created to accompany the Mass, MOTET (taken from a Latin acronym: Musicae Opus Toti Ecclesiae Terrestritranslation: “The Work of Music for the Whole Church on Earth”) joined a growing movement in the Church to highlight the beauty of the Mass through the contextualization of music with the Catholic liturgy.
At first glance, these things – candles, incense, bells – may seem only superficially related to music, but MOTET co-founder David Poon thinks we lose something when music is divorced from the Church – and therefore sacred – from the context.
“Why does this music have a special place in the secular world and not in our Catholic world? Poon reflected in an interview with The BC Catholic.
This question was at the heart of why MOTET started The Assumption Project. Originally, they mainly organized concerts between Christmas and Epiphany called The Twelve Days of Christmas. The programs were structured around sacred music, but Poon wanted to go further.
He led The Assumption Project in 2016, the Feast of the Assumption. The mass included that of Maurice Duruflé, Mass Cum Jubilo and it was a modest success. MOTET saw growth through its second and third events, but unfortunately, like so many things, COVID got in the way. Poon was happy with the turnout this year, regardless.
“I hope Project Assumption will be a lasting tradition,” Poon said. COVID hit and this year’s choir was smaller but still bigger than the second event they held.
The end goal was not just to create something beautiful for the time being, but to help bring that beauty – and music education – into the wider Church.
“I think just like the other things we do at Mass, music should be set apart,” he said, “it should be different from everyday life.”
It is a subtle reference to a tendency in some parts of the Church to create music for the Mass that mimics secular music.
“Some new anthems just aren’t good songs,” Poon said. “It’s not about cultural context; it’s just not good music. Sacred music should be theologically sound and more than that, good sacred music should be “inherently sacred in form, transcending the mundane as it draws us to the Divine,” Poon said.
This year’s Assumption Project choir performed parts of the Mass written by Cristóbal de Morales, a Spanish composer of the early 1500s. Of his twenty-two surviving masses, six are based on Gregorian chant. This was an important part of the decision process for Poon because Church doctrine specifically grants primacy to Gregorian chant in the realm of liturgical music.
“Gregorian chant will never be ‘popular music’,” he said, “but that fact helps us stay ‘grounded in the sacred.'” When music is informed by Gregorian chant, it elevates us to God because that is “what it is intended for”.
It is not just about helping people learn music, but about fostering a seriousness in the task of bringing music to the liturgy. Part of what sets this event apart within the MOTET program is the decision to invite professional and amateur singers to participate in the choir.
“The goal is to bring together musicians from all parishes for one event,” Poon said. “Then they can bring those experiences back to their parishes.”
The focused nature of the music Poon chooses for The Assumption Project requires time and dedication to learn. MOTET hopes to foster a work ethic in participating musicians so that they can go to their parishes and bring their work ethic with them. Regardless of the skill of the musicians, a good performance should always be the goal of even the smallest, inexperienced church choir.
“There has to be an intention,” Poon said, “even if the group isn’t technically qualified, they have to strive for the best performance possible. q Photo by Nicholas Elbers When music is inspired by Gregorian chant, it elevates us to God because that’s “what it’s meant to do,” says David Poon.
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