Music Professor Dr. Kurt Poterack gives a brief overview of the importance and neccesity of studying music, especially at Christendom College.
The man that hath not music in himself,
Nor is not mov’d with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils.
-William Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice (V.1)
Because true education involves the domestication—not the suppression—of the soul’s raw passions, and since music touches this non-rational part of man, an education in good music is vital. Aristotle, for instance, held music to be the most important of subjects in the early education of the children of his day, “not because it is necessary, or because it is useful, but simply because it is liberal and something good in itself.” And this is precisely the definition of the liberal arts: the study of things that make us free, more human and truer to our nature, and not simply the acquisition of particular vocational skills that help in getting a job.
It was with the coming of the Christian dispensation, however, that a significant new facet was added to the Ancient World’s high estimation of music in education. With the regular, even daily, celebration of the Mass and Divine Office, music became an important part—an integral part as various 20th century popes and Vatican II would later teach—of the worship of the Triune God. So to the end of improving the musical ars celebrandi of the Church in the first millennium, for example, Charlemagne ordered in 789 AD that schoolboys needed to learn “psalms, notes, chants, the computus, and grammar in each monastery and bishop’s house.” Thus the monastery and episcopal schools of the day—the equivalent of today’s grammar and secondary schools—were in essence turned into “choir schools.”
This was a normal means of education for youth for centuries, but this was not merely the learning of “practical skills” necessary for the performance of a religious “ritual”; this was schooling in a liberal art which enabled its practitioners to be free, more human, truer to their nature in their leisure time. And what is the most important thing that a man, understood properly as homo religious, can do in his leisure time, especially on the day of rest—the Dies Domini—but to worship God in song? As St. Augustine wrote, “Cantare amantis est.” (“song is an expression of love,” the love of God)
To this end, Christendom College cultivates the treasury of sacred music whose integral parts include Gregorian chant and the sacred vocal polyphony of masters such as Palestrina, Victoria, and Josquin des Prez. Under the direction of a competent Kapellmeister, the students strive to render present, in resonant beauty, the sonic vesture of divine worship. This is a part of the College’s proud heritage of maintaining a high liturgical culture which includes three choral ensembles that sing at the College’s liturgy: the Christendom Choir and the Palestrina Chamber Choir, which sing polyphonic motets and Mass settings, and the Schola Gregoriana for men, which beautifies the Sunday liturgy as well by chanting the traditional propers. Four annual choral scholarships and a minor in liturgical music are also a part of the College’s liturgical music program. Along with Pope Benedict XVI, we endeavor “to seek what is worthy of the Church’s worship . . . [for] beauty and love form the true consolation in this world, bringing it as near as possible to the world of the resurrection.”
Requirements for the Minor in Liturgical Music
This minor, which is administered by the undergraduate Department of Theology, requires eighteen (18) hours of study after the stated prerequisite:
Prerequisite for MUSC 304: Competency in Music Fundamentals, as demonstrated by a departmental test or by successful completion of MUS 101-102 (A-Modern, B-Chant). MUSC 101-102 do not count toward the student’s GPA or as fulfilling graduation requirements.
- MUSC 201– History of Music in Western Civilization (3 credits)
- MUSC 302 – Music Theory and Composition (3)
- MUSC/THEO 303 – Theology of Worship and Its Music (3)
- MUSC 304 – Gregorian Chant (3)
- MUSC 310 – Choir Apprenticeship (2)
- MUSC 311– Lessons (1)
- THEO 402 – Ecclesiology or 404–The Sacraments or 451–Second Vatican Council (3)
MUSC 303 and 304 require minimal reading competency of the Roman Rite’s liturgical texts. For students considering a Minor in Liturgical Music, Latin is encouraged as the core curriculum language requirement.
Foundational Curriculum and Advanced Courses
MUSC 101-102 (A-Modern and B-Chant) These courses involve learning how to read, respectively, basic modern and Gregorian notation, in preparation for other courses (MUSC 302 and MUSC 304 ) or for admission to the choir or schola at the director’s discretion. Exemption from the course may be earned by successfully passing a departmental exam. Each course is the equivalent work-load of a one-credit course. MUSC 101-102 do not count toward the student’s GPA or as fulfilling graduation requirements.
MUSC 201–History of Music in Western Civilization This course is a one-semester introduction to the history of music in Western civilization. Since this course is open to students with no musical background, it will begin with an overview of some of the simpler technical aspects of music that are a sine qua non for intelligent listening and discussion of this fine art. After this, the course will deal with the study of the compositions, events, and people in music history, but also with writings about music and how music fits in with the culture and other arts of the times. There will be a listening component in which students will be required to recognize recordings of important compositions in music history. (3 credits)
MUSC 302–Music Theory and Composition This course begins with a brief review of the fundamentals of music and proceeds to the study of species counterpoint and figured bass. These two disciplines were considered prerequisites to the study of composition during what was known as the Common Practice Era (c. 1600-1900), a period of harmonic common practice which included the Baroque, the Classical, and the Romantic eras. Thus students will be drilled in some of the basic harmonic and part-writing principles learned by the greatest composers of Western civilization. Students will also learn to read melodies at sight and transcribe them by ear. At the end of the semester, the student will be required to write some simple compositions. (3 credits) Prerequisite: A basic reading knowledge of music (in both treble and bass clefs) is required.
MUSC/THEO 303–Theology of Worship and Its Music This course provides an introduction to the subject by analyzing and expounding the apposite documents of the ecclesiastical Magisterium, from the Motu Proprio of St. Pius X (1903) to the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) of Vatican II and the instruction Musicam Sacram of 1967. (3 credits)
MUSC 304—Gregorian Chant This course will involve a systematic study of the different genres of Gregorian chant in the Mass and Divine Office. (3 credits) Prerequisite (not a co-requisite): MUSC 101B and 102B or demonstrated competency.
THEO 304 Practicum: Theology of Worship and of its Music This course offers practical experience in applying sound theological principles to weekly sung worship, including the music Aproper to the Roman liturgy,@ Gregorian chant, according to the Ward Method. Pre- or co-requisite: THEO 303; no musical prerequisites. (1 credit hour: Practicum may not be repeated for credit.)
MUSC 310–Choir Apprenticeship In this course the student works with the professor and a chaplain to organize, present, and direct a significant liturgical event (e.g. Sunday sung Vespers) in the life of the College. (2 credits) Prerequisite (not a co-requisite): One-year’s participation in Choir. Open only to students minoring in Liturgical Music.
MUSC 311–Lessons Private musical lessons on a weekly basis for Liturgical Music Minors. 3 credits
Students may enroll in this course only by permission of the Director of Liturgical Music. Normally, only lessons in organ or voice meet the requirements of this course. Students should consult the Director of Liturgical Music for more information about MUSC 311. (1 credit)
THEO 402–Ecclesiology or 404–The Sacraments or 451–The Second Vatican Council are available through the Department of Theology.