Music in the Catholic Church is regulated not only by the resources available in each parish but also by the strict rules of the liturgy. Successful church music should always compliment and adorn the liturgy and never obstruct or obscure it. Much thought has to go into the choice of particular pieces for each Mass incorporating the theme of the readings and the more general feel of the season of the church year.
Recently we have started to introduce one or two new hymns, this is quite difficult to do in the parish setting as new material needs to be readily accessible to all. These include Christ be our Light, the Servant King, We come to your feast and a new hymn, written by Chris Kearl called Silent and Still which was the chosen hymn in the competition to celebrate the centenary of the Birmingham Anglican diocese. For every service in the church, musical preparation begins months in advance and many people do not often realise the amount of practice that the musicians put in!
In the 1960s, the latin liturgy was put aside in favour of an English text and a whole new corpus of music need to be provided for the Mass. At Blessed Robert Grissold, we have tried to incorporate as many styles of music as possible over the years to suit all tastes. This applies not only to the pieces that our choir sings but also to the choice of hymns. We were very lucky to be able to purchase a new set of hymn books in 2005 thanks to the generosity of the people of the parish and this has made the task a lot easier.
We have also been blessed with a long association with Mr Chris Kearl, organist at St Catherine of Siena in Birmingham who composes much of the music we sing and arranges other music to make it accessible for our choir. We are also blessed with two organists who play each month: Linda Chesshire is an experienced music teacher retired from Balsall Common Primary School and a valuable asset to the team. Kathryn Green is our junior organist learning to play the organ as part of her A level music studies.
The choir itself, under the direction of our musical director, Ian Clarke, is outstanding in its loyalty and dedication providing extensive music for the church festivals and also supporting weddings funerals and the people each Sunday at Mass. For several years, both choir and congregation have sung the Missa San Paolo, a mass setting composed by Chris Kearl in 1996. Recently, we have introduced a new mass setting which is an amalgamation of several new masses published when the liturgy changed. The Agnes Dei especially has proved to be very popular with the congregation – possibly because of its accidental similarity to an aria from Evita!
Each week, after Mass has finished, the choir remain for another hour to practice future music. Due to their devotion, we have been able to build up a repertoire of motets, many of which are sung in 4 part harmony.
We are also fortunate that the finance committee sanctioned the purchase of a fine digital organ which is large and extensive enough to play the entire organ repertoire from baroque to the present day in an authentic manner.
In addition to the organists and choir, we are developing a very capable instrumental group, under the direction of David Green. This group supports Sunday Mass twice a month and also assists the Young People’s Mass and adds an additional dimension to our worship. This group sings some of the more modern worship songs in additional to traditional hymns. Although delivering a distinct repertoire they have successfully combined with the organ and choir for some of the large festival masses.
The highlight of each year has to be our annual carol service on the Sunday before Christmas. This utilises all of the musical expertise in the parish and this is becoming very popular with parishioners and visitors alike. Rehearsals begin in September and require a lot of hard work and dedication from the musicians and singers involved but it has proved to be well worth the effort and the music learned also adorns the Christmas liturgy.
Another busy time in the liturgical year begins on Palm Sunday through the Easter tridium to Easter Day itself. This involves the choir singing 5 services in 7 days which is a lot of hard work but which makes Easter in our church such a special time. It is rare these days to find any church which provides such a rich musical input into the worship within the church and we should be very proud of our evolving musical heritage.
Anyone who has an interest in music and would like to join the team that provides music for the parish would be most welcome. Use the Contact form here
to let us know of your interest.