Tag: music

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71. St. Francis de Sales

We come to thee, O happy Saint

To claim thy care and love,

To beg thy guidance through this life,

To endless bliss above.

Chorus

Oh, pray for us, St. Francis,

For dangers hover near;

Oh pray for us, St. Francis,

To conquer every fear.

While in the rosy bloom of youth,

To God thy soul was given,

And true, through life, thy spotless soul

‘Mid suffering soared to heaven.

Thy purity has won for thee

A crown of fadeless light;

Oh, may its beauty shine on us

And cheer the gloom of night.

              The verses above are from a hymnal printed for SFDS by the Catholic Standard in 1926, under the direction of Rev. Charles McGinley who was the Director of the women’s BVM Sodality organization at the time.

              The words to the hymn are somewhat peculiar for our Patron Saint – particularly the second verse, about “the rosy bloom of youth” and the suffering of a spotless soul. Saint Francis de Sales wasn’t tortured or martyred; he became the Bishop of Geneva in 1602 and died peacefully of a heart ailment at what was then a respectable age of 55. It seems odd that the hymn doesn’t reference his patient efforts to keep the faith alive during the Protestant Reformation; his advice on the Devout Life or his other inspirational writings (“We shall steer safely through every storm, so long as our heart is right, our intention fervent, our courage steadfast, and our trust fixed on God. If at times we are somewhat stunned by the tempest, never fear. Let us take breath, and go on afresh“); or his designation as patron saint of journalists and the deaf (a role Pope Francis is now highlighting).

              Curiously, an internet search finds the same song used to honor Saint Charles Borromeo in Monterrey, CA in 1914: “…then all the people form a long procession. In the center is carried the statue of San Carlos, and, while the choir sings the Hymn to San Carlos, they march slowly around the church… ‘We come to thee, O happy Saint/ To claim thy care and love,/ To beg thy guidance through this life,/To endless bliss above…’” Here, too, the words don’t fit the life of that 16th century Bishop known for founding seminaries.

              Hymnary.org, which tracks different versions of hymns printed over time, provides an answer. Its first recorded instance of the verses, is as a Hymn to St. Agatha, “dedicated to St. Agatha’s Sodality by a member” in 1872 and popular from 1872 to 1935. Ah, now it all fits! St. Agatha made a vow of virginity in rosy youth; kept her purity, through the suffering of torture and imprisonment; and soared to heaven to claim a martyr’s crown, around the year 251 AD.

              So why was the hymn repurposed? Since saintly feast days fall once a year, usually on a weekday, there hasn’t been much call for special songs – surprisingly, even for use in the annual Forty Hours or for institutions named for saints. The International Commission on English in the Liturgy, now working on a new English language breviary, notes that music has existed for a number of saints but “Many of the nearly 300 Latin hymns, some dating back to the early centuries of the Church, have never had an official English translation…” If a need arose for an anthem, churches improvised. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has now approved the Green Book of the hymns of the Proper of Saints, so more official songs could eventually be available in English, but here’s a challenge and an opportunity for our own parish tribute to our patron St. Francis de Sales!

SFDS Boy Choir: Wheels of Change

Recently surfaced choir documents offer a glimpse back into the years when proudly magnificent SFDS Parish was pressed between the rollers of Vatican II, neighbourhood change, and the Baby Boom “youthquake” of the 1960s.

The first cracks showed in 1966, as English began to replace Latin in the Mass, and Peter La Manna, Director of the renowned Boy Choir, had trouble finding suitable new music. He wrote to Monsignor Mitchell: “My dilemma is that I can’t find Masses in English which can compare with those masterpieces…The men in the choir are so reluctant to making a complete switch to English because of the obviously lower compositional standards.”

Some of La Manna’s challenges seem odd today. In 1967, he wrote to Monsignor Mitchell: “One of the things which I have been begging for is the erection of two announcement boards for the numbers of the hymns. I think that it was feared that it would cheapen the architecture of the church. This is not necessarily true, and something in good taste could be placed on the two pillars along the front of the church. I have also asked for an announcement before Mass concerning the hymns at Solemn Mass and the fact that people should join in the singing of the Our Father and the responses. I have had no luck with that request.”

Money became tight as the parish shrunk and La Manna fought for funds to pay the Men’s choir: “For forty-five years the men of the choir have been paid…Bishop McShea…paid all of the men a uniform fee of $20 per month…to help pay for their carfare and gas expenses…” He also begged for new uniforms for the boys: “We have been asked to make a telecast on December 14 for KYW-TV. If we do this we will have to borrow cassocks from the altar boys again because ours are not fit for color TV.” Another time, he lamented that “For over a year I have asked for new cassocks. The ones which we have are in shreds...” and “these ragged vestments are not good for the morale of the group…” La Manna made the case that the choir was a critical “binding force within the parish. Many families have postponed moving out of the parish because their sons were members of the choir…” though he did admit that “the attendance at Solemn Mass is very poor...”

SFDS Boy Choir in 1965

As baroque pageantry gave way to 1960s streamlining, La Manna mourned the new simplicity. He felt that that people needed to “see evidence of their contributions…in the beauty of their church, in the flowers on the altar, etc. …I heard many remarks…that there had never been such a dull and unmarked feast of Christ the King at de Sales as there was this year. Also that there has never been a novena to Our Lady when her altar looked so bare. I know that these are small things, but when I came here Father Curran said to me, de Sales has won her reputation by making small things important, and by providing the parishioners with a liturgy which is edifying and beautiful.” La Manna felt some of this was due to a lack of continuity in the Rectory, where, until recently, “there were always curates here who were ‘trained’ under the programs and policy of the past.” He also gently suggested to Monsignor Mitchell that “when I first came here the homily was limited to seven minutes at Solemn Mass. Now it goes as long as twenty minutes. Our attendance has dropped drastically because we are sometimes in there an hour and twenty minutes, and it used to be slightly over an hour.” In La Manna’s view, shortening the processionals was not an option.

Changing priorities. In truth, the decorations, sermon length, and pageantry probably were of little consequence. Between 1963 and 1973 the number of parish families dropped from 4,233 to 1,232, and school students from 1,158 to 621, as the Catholic population citywide shifted to the suburbs. And there was also the famously divisive Venturi renovation!

Bruce Shultz arrived at SFDS as organist in 1969 and gradually, under choir director Dr. Michael Geheb, and then Rev. Hermann Behrens, an inclusive group of men and women (and choir babies!) built a tradition of excellence for a new era. Today’s choir family, under the direction of Isabel Boston, offers a diverse repertoire from Latin Chant to Spirituals, and welcomes new members.

Color OUR Collections: SFDS Coloring Book Goes Online Feb, 7-11

Every February, the NY Academy of Medicine invites archives around the world to share free coloring books online based on materials in their collections. This year’s SFDS Parish Coloring Book celebrates neighborhood businesses advertised in the parish bulletins of the 1940s and 1950s. Check out all the offerings – from SFDS, to Drexel University, to the Vatican Libraries, to the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, and beyond, starting February 7 at https://library.nyam.org/colorourcollections/

Weekly Parish Dances

tuesday dances 1946 (2)The 1940’s and 50’s were part of a big dance hall era,” Joe Ruane recalls, and dancing was the popular pastime: “our crowd would go to St Joe’s (his home parish in Collingdale) on Sunday night; de Sales Tuesday and Friday night. On Wednesday night I would go to the Carousel Hall in Clifton Heights which my father owned which had a big band…and then I would…go to the Arcade Hall on the 5000 block of Baltimore Avenue where my friends hung out. Saturday would be Holy Cross, Springfield.” 

From the 1930s to the 1960s, Saint Francis de Sales offered regular Tuesday night dances in the parish auditorium for all the “young people of the parish and their friends.”  A typical 1950 Monthly Bulletin notice advertised: Music for the occasion is played by the well known and very popular orchestra of George Sommer. Admission is seventy-five cents. Good music and a very beautiful auditorium provide the atmosphere for a very enjoyable evening. All the young folks of the parish (no High School students) are cordially invited to attend these Tuesday evening Socials. We would like to see many of our young married couples attending and can assure them of a very enjoyable evening.”

George Sommer, with his “Big Band” sound, was known as “one of the best dance bands in the city and one of the most popular.” Information about the band appeared in Billboard Magazine, and they played at ballrooms across the city.

What about the High School students? They had their own dance night at de Sales auditorium every Friday. John Deady recalls that “I attended the Friday night dances. Admission $.50. On the stair case going up to the stage (rectory side) is a closet. There was a turntable in the closet where 45 rpm records were stacked. Cokes were sold at the kitchen on the other side of the stage. Did not go to the Tuesday night dances. Understand it was a wide age group that attended them.”

The Tuesday and Friday groups likely catered to slightly different musical tastes. A 1959 Parish Bulletin opined: “Older people often express disapproval of rock and roll because it is so noisy and so violent, and the music accompanying it seems so unbearably monotonous. But for oldsters to be unsympathetic toward rock and roll for these reasons does not make it morally wrong.”

Joe Ruane’s father, incidentally, was a disk jockey for the dances in Collingdale, and Joe recalls a big event there: “a pre-publication test run of Bill Haley’s ‘Rock Around the Clock’ in 1953.” However, Catholic high school students were discouraged from joining the dance floor at American Bandstand, Dick Clark’s famous TV dance program, broadcast from its 4548 Market Street TV Studio (Today’s Enterprise Center for minority entrepreneurs). That was still considered too “fast!”

 

 

Philadelphia Orchestra at de Sales

Michael Murray and Philadelphia Orchestra at St. Francis de Sales, Feb 1980 (PAHRC)

Did you know we were digital sound pioneers? On February 1, 1980, Michael Murray and the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy recorded the Saint Saens Symphony No. 3 in C in our church – with recording company Telarc using then new Soundstream technology to capture the sound.

Michael Murray, the organist, recalls  that “a few months prior to the recording, the Telarc folks and I visited half a dozen churches in the Philadelphia area to try out organs, before settling on the St. Francis de Sales instrument.”

Fran Byers writes that the recording took a lot of preparation:  Bruce Schultz “had to ‘re-pitch’ the whole organ to conform with Maestro Eugene Ormandy’s pitch for the orchestra in order to make the sound ‘brighter.’ The organ was originally set to 435 pitch since 1911, which is flat compared with 440 (modern) and Ormandy wanted 442, to make the sound brighter. Every pipe had to be tuned or cut to make its pitch sharper. The organ is still at that pitch. All 6,000-plus pipes had to be physically cut after being taken out of position. It was quite a project. Also, the pitch of the organ is heavily dependent on the weather. The hotter the temperature, the sharper the organ’s sound. In winter, the pitch can go below 440, which makes it flatter than standard pitch.   It took about a week to prepare the organ, with round-the-clock work.”

Father Leo Oswald later recollected that “it was freezing cold, so space heaters were brought in… There was too much reverberation, so the area was draped…” Fran remembers “26 pews were taken out, 13 on each side of the middle aisle…The sound engineer and his equipment were in the lower church. They closed off the neighboring streets.  At one point, there was a siren outside, which had to be cut off.”

“Only a small handful of us were allowed in the church to observe and hear the recording, “ Fran recalls, “We sat in front of the St. Joseph altar. I recall Sister Carmella being there, as well as Dr. Harry Wilkinson and Father Oswald,” and Bruce was with the orchestra.

Years later, Michael Murray remembers that “several orchestra members mentioned really enjoying making music in those reverberant acoustics. The players were accustomed to the rather dry acoustics of the Academy of Music.”  Reviewers still note that the innovative recording exemplifies the best of Ormandy’s “Philadelphia Orchestra Sound.”

Musical Heritage

choir-singer-md

In many cultures, minstrels and griots sing ballads that preserve and tell history. In that spirit, did you know that our choir’s musical repertoire is a chronicle of our parish?

Isabel Boston, Choir Director, notes that some of the choir favorites were written right here for our church. Albert J. Dooner, Choir Director and Organist from 1921 to 1957, composed a number of pieces: “Dooner’s beautiful Ave Verum Corpus is still part of our regular repertoire. Jubilate Deo is used occasionally as a postlude for a big event. We would have sung it for Monsignor’s installation had we been upstairs with the organ. We sang Dooner’s Mass to St. Francis de Sales for the 125th Anniversary Mass.

Bruce Shultz, who has been our Parish Organist since 1969, created the “Mass for John Paul II (our regular mass during ordinary time) and his Mass for Patience (usually sung during Advent).”  Also, “we sing ‘Behold the Lamb of God’ by Bruce’s teacher and mentor, Harry Wilkinson… and a few by Harry’s teacher, Harry Banks.

Some hymns have special connections: Isabel notes that “Eternal Father, which we sing each year on Memorial Day, holds an association to our Ninth pastor, Father Hilferty, and his naval career” and “The hymns ‘Alleluia, Alleluia, Let the Holy Anthem Rise,’ and ‘Praise My Soul, the King of Heaven’ remind me of Fr. Janton; he really liked those. Father Hermann Behrens, beloved Choir Director who passed away unexpectedly in 1996, was from Germany, so “Any good German hymn reminds us of Fr. Hermann, but especially ‘A Mighty Fortress’ and ‘Now Thank We All Our God,’ or the German choral version we occasionally sing, ‘Nun Danket Alle Gott.’ He also introduced many of the Bach pieces to the choir repertoire. Music is a continuing tribute.

Christmas music is rich with history: “Silent Night” and “Adeste Fidelis” have been sung almost every year since our church was built, and the “Halleluiah Chorus” is a perennial favorite. “O Little Town of Bethlehem” is notable for its local roots: it was written in Philadelphia by an Episcopal minister, just after the Civil War.

The Second Vatican Council proclaimed sacred music “a treasure of inestimable value…” because it enriches the Liturgy. In our parish it also provides a living connection through 126 years of our parish story, from all  “those who have gone before us”  to the families in the pews today. Treasure, indeed.