Thirty-four Catholic colleges and over one thousand Catholic secondary school students assembled in Hamer Hall, Melbourne, on 21 May, to praise God through sacred music and art.
The event gave the lie to the belief of some liturgists that young Catholics are turned off by 'old' sacred music. The enthusiasm of those who presented some of history's greatest musical masterpieces was there for all to see.
The event was organised by, the Catholic Education Office which invited Catholic schools in the Melbourne Archdiocese to take part.
Jane Wood from Xavier College acted as Music Director and students came from across the Melbourne metropolitan area and further including St Joseph's and Clonard Colleges from Geelong, St Ignatius College, Drysdale, and Salesian College, Sunbury.
The choirs were supported by an outstanding orchestra comprising forty-two young musicians from Melbourne Catholic Colleges which added richness and depth to the musical event that encompassed a range of musical styles.
The image employed as a theme for the evening was a depiction of Jesus crucified, which enveloped those present with a sense of reflective meditation. This image was interspersed with the projection of a selection of classical religious images with permission of the National Gallery of Victoria.
This rich combination of Christian art and Catholic sacred music added a depth of meaning and reverence to the evening.
The following are some of the items performed, together with comments.
The Concert began with plain chant of select voices singing Ubi Caritas by Maurice Durufle (1902-1986). 'Where charity and love areÉ' is based on the antiphons sung during the ceremony of the Washing of the Feet at the Mass of the Last Supper on Holy Thursday and as it is included in this particular Mass it is closely connected with the Eucharist.
A selected group of college choirs next presented Sicut Cervus by Giovanni Palestrina (1525-1594). This is a Renaissance motet and a setting of Psalm 42, 'As the deer longs for flowing waters, so longs my soul for You, O God.' This is often chosen for the Easter Vigil Mass as it one of the Responsorial Psalms.
Ave Verum by William Byrd (c. 1543-d.1623) was the first of two arrangements of this traditional hymn on the program, the second being by Mozart. The hymn has the words,
Hail, true Body, born of the Virgin Mary mild
Truly offered, wracked and torn, on the Cross for all defiled,
From Whose love-pierced, sacred side
Flowed thy true Blood's saving tide:
Be a foretaste sweet to me In my death's great agony.
Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring by J.S. Bach (1685-1750), originally composed for trumpet, oboe and strings, is a Christmas favourite. The range of clear young voices during this piece was most inspiring.
Gloria in Excelsis by Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), often referred to as the Vivaldi Gloria, over the years has maintained its great popularity. The choir threw itself full voice into this hymn with most colleges taking part.
Following this was the Sanctus from the Harmony Mass by Josef Haydn sung by four leading soloists from different colleges, chosen through audition. They were: Rebecca Moore, Loreto Mandeville Hall (Soprano), Olivia Hammond, St Ignatius College (Alto), Michael Padgett, St Kevin's College (Tenor), and Raphael Wong, Xavier College (Bass). The musicianship displayed in the singing of this prayer was outstanding.
The Lord is My Shepherd by Franz Schubert, a hymn based on Psalm 23, was sung in a four-part arrangement, although originally it was written for female voices. However, the powerful male voices added great depth and enhanced the harmony of the work.
The next item in the program was Lift Thine Eyes, a work based on the biblical Prophet Elijah, written by Felix Mendelssohn, and with the words,
Lift thine eyes to the mountains,
Whence cometh help,
Thy help cometh from the Lord,
The maker of heaven and earth ...
The piece, supported by crystal clear soprano voices and the mass choir, enthralled the audience.
The penultimate item was a peaceful melody titled To Our Lady by Christopher Willcock SJ (1947-). Fr Willcock is a contemporary Australian composer of sacred music and this one was written as a particular devotion to the Virgin Mary.
The grand finale was a mass choir involving all the students presenting the Hallelujah Chorus from Messiah by Handel. The arrangement is a complex of voice parts and was brilliantly performed. Daryl Barclay supported the choir as cantor.
During this finale, the large Hamer Hall pipe organ was played by accomplished organist, Roger Heagney, who pulled out all stops and finished with a reverberating note on the thirty-two foot bass pipe, which held the audience spell-bound. The performance of this piece was most impressive.
Thanks and congratulations must go to the Melbourne Catholic Education Office, as well as the directors of music and teachers from the colleges who trained the singers and instrumentalists.
This presentation brought hundreds of young Catholic students together in a sense of shared tradition in faith, expressed in music and art. The joy and enthusiasm of the participants was palpable. This spectacular event is a must for a repeat in 2008. 'Laudate!'
Gabrielle Walsh is National Secretary of the Australian Family Association whose son David is a member of the St Kevin's College senior choir and took part in the concert.