Preserving the Treasury of Sacred Music: Twin Cities Catholic Chorale

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the spectacular Twin Cities Catholic Chorale at the Church of Saint Agnes (St. Paul, Minnesota). Now in its 50th season at the parish, the Chorale has planned some special events to celebrate its golden jubilee, including a rare presentation of Mozart's Solemn Vespers (K 339) on Laetare Sunday. A vignette promo video of the Chorale can be seen here
An early recording of the Chorale

The Chorale's motto is "Classical Music in a Heavenly Setting." It was founded in 1956 by Monsignor Richard Schuler, a musicologist and gifted church musician who at that time was a professor at the University of St. Thomas and a weekend assistant at the nearby church of the Nativity, both in St. Paul, Minnesota. The Chorale has been signing at the church of Saint Agnes since 1974, marking the 2023-2024 season as its fiftieth consecutive season at the parish. 

The Church of Saint Agnes, school Mass

Saint Agnes is a perfect venue, an Austro-Hungarian Baroque church of grand size and stature built in 1912 with an extra large choir loft and perfect acoustics. The church itself was modeled after Stift Schlagl, a monastery church at Aigen in Upper Austria. The Baroque art and design of Saint Agnes, reflecting the cultural origins of the founding families of the parish, complements well the Baroque musical ensemble, complete with Baroque vestments in the sanctuary. 

An early recording of the Chorale

Today the Chorale is an integral part of the parish life, made up of about 60 volunteer singers with a professional orchestra and vocal soloists who all come together to study the great treasury of sacred music which the Church has always fostered. The current director is the talented Mr. Marc Jaros and the organist is the gifted Mrs. Mary LeVoir. The new president of the board is Mr. Mark Pilon, who has been signing at Saint Agnes for nearly forty years.  

The conductor in the choir loft

To mark the 50th anniversary, long-time Chorale member Dr. Virginia Schubert has put together a noteworthy book in celebration of the founder, Monsignor Schuler. This attractive volume, published by Arouca Press, is a collection of the good Monsignor's most significant writings on the subject of sacred music and liturgy. The book is entitled Sacred Music and Liturgy After Vatican II and is available for pre-orders. The publication date is set for April 21. 

New book on the writings of the Chorale founder

Saint Agnes has a rich tradition of liturgical arts

The joy and awe of participating in the Chorale, singing the great Masses of the classical composers with a professional orchestra, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and a dream for many. To present music of this level, excellence and complexity requires a critical mass of support from the parish leadership, the clergy and servers, volunteer choir members, professional instrumentalists, vocal soloists, and the generosity of the public. 

Solemn Mass includes various processions throughout the year

Although all of this is done for the greater honor and glory of God, it nevertheless has its necessary costs.  Last year the Chorale and orchestra presented 28 Masses from October 2 to June 11, including Mozart's Requiem on All Souls' Day. Professional musicians, instrumentalists and soloists are paid, as the "laborer is worthy of his hire" (Luke 10:7). Readers are encouraged to donate monthly by becoming a Friend of the Chorale and donating here

The choir loft of Saint Agnes

While most people today can only hear this music in concert halls or as recorded music, parishioners at Saint Agnes have the rare privilege of hearing it LIVE performed in its original setting as the composers intended -- in the context of sung Mass in the Roman Rite. The spirituality that inspired and fashioned Baroque music and culture was mysticism and contemplative prayer, with the Baroque expression representing in a sense the Infinite, reaching the boundary of human measure. Kudos to the parish for keeping this tradition going strong. 

The splendor of the Baroque flourishes at Saint Agnes

The Chorale sings at the weekly Sunday High Mass at 10:30 am from October through the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, except during Advent and Lent. On Christmas Eve, the Chorale sings the Midnight Mass, a tradition that has won the hearts of all who have been there and had their hearts soar at the cherished entrance hymn: Transeamus Usque Bethlehem, a beloved piece by the composer Josef Ignaz Schnabel.

View from the choir loft

The program of sacred music and liturgical arts at Saint Agens is in many ways unique in the world. The solemnity of the Solemn Latin High Masses along with the Chorale and professional orchestra make for an other-worldly spectacle that carries one back to the Vienna of the Habsburg dynasty with incredible Masses by composers such as Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and many others. 

The parish worship schedule includes Sunday Vespers

It should be noted Saint Agnes has multiple different choirs. The Saint Agnes Chamber choir is an a cappella ensemble dedicated to singing the masterpieces of the High Renaissance and preserving the great patrimony of polyphonic Masses and passing that inheritance on to the next generation. This choir was formed in 1986 and is today under the competent direction of the great Mrs. Donna May. 

View of the choir loft

Further, the Saint Agnes Schola Cantorum has sung at Saint Agnes for a great many years. They sing the Gregorian Chant year-round for the Sunday High Mass and the weekly Sunday Vespers every Sunday afternoon. The Schola has long been a training ground for future church musicians and seminarians. It is directed by Mr. Paul LeVoir, a true maestro and magister cappellae.

Saint Agens has a long tradition of wonderful priests who support the Chorale

The Saint Agnes Parish Choir is under the direction of  Mrs. Mary LeVoir. It is a liturgical choir composed of members of the parish that sings at the 9:00 am Sunday morning Mass from September through May. The repertoire includes classical choral music from a wide variety of styles and historical periods, in both Latin and English, with emphasis on traditional Catholic hymns and motets.   

There is a very active liturgical life at Saint Agnes

For over 50 years the entire parish and local community have benefitted in countless ways from the Chorale. Catholic life has been fostered, devotion has been deepened, God has been glorified, converts have been made, and the Faith has been bolstered. Meanwhile, the torch is passed on to a new generation of inspired believers as the Faith is transmitted successfully. Thank you to all involved!  

Photos above courtesy of Neal Abbott Film and Photography

Fans of the Chorale include the young and old


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