In Part 2 of our interview with Dr. Peter Kwasniewski on choirs in the Church today, we consider Benedict XVI’s contribution and the many benefits of children being raised singing sacred music.
What do you see as benefits for children and young people being raised singing sacred music?
The benefits are many and deep. There are psychological and physiological benefits to singing and making music. There is the intellectual component: it is a type of learning that expands the brain, puts you in possession of a whole set of skills you would not otherwise have. You are inducted into an immense cultural heritage, something uniquely great in our Western tradition. And above all, there are the spiritual blessings—being conformed to beauty-in-motion, having one’s mind and heart imbued with order and harmony, receiving the doctrine and piety of the Catholic faith in a powerfully interior and holistic way. The music becomes a part of us and we find ourselves in the music. In the first millennium of Christianity, all the sacred music was learned orally; the singers carried it in their heart, while it carried them in their life of prayer. And the liturgy and its music blossomed in thousands of monasteries, from which the faith went forth into every land and people. That was how the old evangelization succeeded, and that is the way our new evangelization will succeed, too.
As a choir director, do you have any stories of young people being transformed through singing in a choir?
I have seen so many individuals transformed in my 25 years of working with choirs that it would be hard to know where to start! At both my alma mater [Thomas Aquinas College] and Wyoming Catholic College, the students in choir come to love the music they sing so much that they take their stuffed choir binders with them after graduation and look for ways to bring the music to the places they go. A few have contacted me to say that they are now in charge of parish choirs or music classes for children. Some are in monasteries or convents where they spend the day (and often part of the night) singing praises to the Lord, sometimes with the same melodies they sang in college. Other students marry and pass along this priceless treasure to their children. There is a ripple effect.
Do you have any final comments for Aleteia?
Most touching to me are the students who say, after their first semester in choir, “I have never had the chance to sing this kind of music before. It is so beautiful, so prayerful, and fits the Mass so well. Why is all this so rare? Why can’t everyone enjoy this blessing?” Indeed, why not? We have a lot of rebuilding to do. This is no time for melancholy regrets and bitter complaints. We need to bring our heritage back into our churches, where it belongs—and where choirs will always have a dignified and irreplaceable ministry to carry out.