Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, cantor, conductor and composer, talks to Aleteia about the future of church music
Dr. Kwasniewski, can you tell me something about your background in church music?
I’ve been composing music for about 25 years, mostly sacred choral music but also instrumental works and a few secular works. My first serious lessons in composition and conducting took place with a wonderful teacher, Roy Horton, now deceased, who was organist at Delbarton School in Morristown, New Jersey. I fell madly in love with music and threw myself at it more than at any other subject up until that point. When I arrived at Thomas Aquinas College, I had the good fortune to be asked by the main choir director, who lived quite a distance from the college, to be the assistant choir director. I started leading choir practices and even leading the choir at Mass on Sundays. It was a kind of total immersion experience, like being thrown into the deep end of the pool without knowing how to swim very well. But the four years in college of working intensively with the choir really fired my imagination.
Can you be more specific about what it was that fired your imagination?
What was appealing to me was Gregorian chant and classical polyphony. In college I was in the schola for four years and sang the proper chants of the Mass, Sunday after Sunday. We also sang polyphonic Mass ordinaries and motets. That was my first serious acquaintance with sacred music: singing Palestrina, Victoria, Byrd, the great Renaissance composers. I suppose you could say I had really good models to work with and I tried to imitate them in my own compositions, although they were clumsy at first. With trial and error, through study and hard work, I finally got to a point some time after I graduated where I was writing music choirs wanted to sing and I felt confident in putting it forward.
Someone could raise the objection: why don’t we just sing chant and Palestrina? The composers of this music, whether anonymous or named, are clearly geniuses and we can’t equal their work, so why bother?
Support Aleteia takes a minute
If you’re reading this article, it’s precisely thanks to your generosity and to that of many other people like you that make possible the evangelization project of Aleteia. Here some numbers:
- 20 million of users around the world read Aleteia.org every month.
- Aleteia is published daily in eight languages: French, English, Arabic, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish and Slovenian.
- Each month, our readers view more than 50 million pages.
- Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia’s social media pages.
- Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos.
- All of this work is carried out by 60 people working full-time and approximately 400 other collaborators (writers, journalists, translators, photographers…).
As you can imagine, behind these numbers there is a big effort. We need your support so we can keep offering this service of evangelization to everyone, regardless of where they live or what they can afford to pay.
Support Aleteia from as little as $1 – and only takes a minute. Thank you!