Sunday, September 28, 2014

Extraordinary Community News: Impossible Beauty: Catholic Music Programs in London, England Part 1 of 2

"I will go in unto the Altar of God
To God, Who giveth joy to my youth"

Tridentine Community News (September 28, 2014):
This column has written many times about the amazing traditional liturgical life in London, England. Today we wish to focus on the extraordinarily high standard of liturgical music that one finds throughout the Catholic churches of that city of great culture, arguably the highest concentration of world-class sacred music found anywhere in the globe.

From a non-musician’s viewpoint, there are five criteria that seem to distinguish a superlative Latin Mass choir: 1) Ability of all singers to sing on pitch; 2) Ability of all singers to stop and start simultaneously [this appears to be the single most difficult quality for a choir to achieve]; 3) Diversity in repertoire, best exemplified by an ever-changing, different-material-every-week music program; 4) Ability to sing Gregorian Chant as well as Sacred Polyphony competently; 5) Cohesive sound whether male voices only, female voices only, or mixed voices.

Getting to the point where a choir possesses these abilities can take years. Rounding up the right people who can sing together effectively is an immensely challenging task, as talented singers are usually spoken for and are not abundantly available to join new groups. Many choirs possess some but not all of the above five qualities, for any one of a number of valid reasons. Most major cities are lucky if they have one Latin Mass choir that fills all of these criteria. Some large cities, Los Angeles for example, do not yet have a single choir that ticks off all five qualities.

It is all the more remarkable, then, to note that London, England has at least thirteen choral groups that meet all five criteria.

Let’s take a look at the choirs that stand out. Adjacent to many of them is a sample of the music selections from their respective web sites. If you are reading this column on-line, the links will take you to the full music listings for each choir.

1. St. Mary Cadogan Street: This church is tucked away in the tony neighborhood of Chelsea. Offering mostly Ordinary Form Latin Masses, with the occasional Extraordinary Form special Mass, St. Mary’s exceptional choir is noteworthy because it is all-volunteer.

2. St. Patrick, Soho: In 2011, this church completed a restoration to its original historic architectural condition. A choir was formed to provide music in accord with the lovely building. They sing a largely Latin repertoire at Ordinary Form Masses which are only partially in Latin themselves. Extraordinary Form Masses are also held there on occasion.

3. Carmelite Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Kensington: This choir sings for a weekly Ordinary Form Latin Mass.

4. The Jesuit Church of the Immaculate Conception, Farm Street: In the upper-crust Mayfair neighborhood is that rare find: A conservative Jesuit church, offering sung Ordinary Form Latin Masses and the occasional Extraordinary Form Low Mass.

5. St. Etheldreda: Hidden down a street that is now the home to a number of investment trading firms, St. Etheldreda is England’s oldest extant Catholic church, dating to 1250. Their fully professional choir sings for weekly Ordinary Form Latin Masses. The church also offers periodic Extraordinary Form Low Masses.

6. St. George Cathedral: The seat of the Archdiocese of Southwark (“SUTH-ark”), covering London south of the Thames River, St. George has a weekly 11:30 Ordinary Form Mass partially in Latin, along with periodic Tridentine Masses.

7. St. Bede in Clapham Park: The only London parish to offer a weekly Sunday High Mass in the Extraordinary Form. A small choir sings all but one Sunday per month, while a professional choir, Cantores Missæ, sings a polyphonic Mass once per month.

Next week we’ll wrap our listing with the “Big Three”, the three main churches with multiple choirs and the most accomplished sacred music offerings of all.

Tridentine Masses This Coming Week
  • Mon. 09/29 7:00 PM: Low Mass at St. Joseph (Dedication of St. Michael the Archangel)
  • Tue. 09/30 7:00 PM: Low Mass at St. Benedict/Assumption-Windsor (St. Jerome, Priest, Confessor, & Doctor)
  • Fri. 10/03 7:00 PM: Low Mass at St. Joseph (Sacred Heart of Jesus) [First Friday]
  • Sun. 10/05 4:00 PM: Solemn High Mass at All Saints, Flint (Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost) – 25th Anniversary of the Flint Tridentine Mass. Dinner follows Mass. Wassim and the Assumption-Windsor choir will provide the music.
[Comments? Please e-mail Previous columns are available at This edition of Tridentine Community News, with minor editions, is from the St. Albertus (Detroit), Academy of the Sacred Heart (Bloomfield Hills), and Assumption (Windsor) bulletin inserts for September 28, 2014. Hat tip to A.B., author of the column.]

1 comment:

Dad29 said...

Los Angeles for example, do not yet have a single choir that ticks off all five qualities.

Did your reviewer hear the choir at St Charles Borromeo about 7-10 years ago before he made this pronouncement?