Directors of Music Study Day at The Oratory. On Wednesday 12th October my colleague, Hilary Cox and I had the very enjoyable experience of attending a CISC study day for Directors of Music and those with a leading role providing music in Catholic Independent schools. The study day was hosted by Stephen Burrows at The Oratory School in Woodcote and drew delegates from a wide variety of schools from as far afield as Sheffield in the north to East Sussex in the south. Hilary and I, however, had a straightforward and swift journey to the conference from the Oratory Prep school down the road!
This was the first study day that I had attended and I must say how enjoyable and inspiring it was. After a brief welcome from Raymond; General secretary of CISC, Joe Smith; Headmaster of the Oratory and an opening prayer from Father David Elliott we set straight to our first address from Matthew Martin, Director of Music from Keble College Oxford. Matthew had been commissioned by the Oratory School to write a new setting of the Ordinary of the Mass. Matthew began by sharing with us some of the considerations which went into the composition of his setting, the extent to which it required certain simplicity of invention for general liturgical use by choirs and groups without the necessity for an intensive rehearsal schedule or complexity of vocal part. We then rehearsed and sang the short work which was very well received by all. It was included in our celebration of Mass in the Oratory School chapel presided over by Father David. Mass was offered on the feast day of St. Wilfred and in his homily Father David reflected on the role of music within a Catholic school setting and the way in which all of our senses are engaged through sight, sound and taste within the sacrament. After Mass our taste-buds were treated to more earthly fare through a delicious lunch during which we were able to chat informally with colleagues and share experiences, enthusiasm and compare notes.
In the afternoon we were treated to an address by Robert Quinney, Director of Music from New College Oxford entitled ‘Choral Music in a secular age- why bother?’ Robert confirmed in our own minds, both eloquently and with a good deal of humour, the vital role that we play as educators in the furtherance of sacred choral music in a secular age. In a time when society may be in danger of ‘dumbing down’ the arts and sacred music could be seen by many as merely relaxing or escapism, Robert reminded us of the firm foundation which liturgical music has in sacred tradition and, through the work we do with our children, the impact that we have today.
The day ended with Vespers and Benediction when we were joined by The Oratory’s fine Schola choir. Earlier, Robert had mentioned the power of music to illuminate ideas and concepts and as Mrs. Cox often reminds us at the Oratory Prep the words of St Augustine; “He who sings, prays twice.” Our voices are gifts, with which we can make music to the Lord and sung prayer expresses the joy of the heart, the happiness resulting from one who has encountered Jesus Christ and experienced his love. Sung prayer reminds us of the choirs of heaven, with whom we are called to praise God eternally in heaven. Then indeed a lovely way to end a productive and uplifting day as we sang together words from Psalm 138 before going our separate ways to continue leading others towards the path of Christ.
If I take the wings of the morning;
And remain in the uttermost parts of the sea;
Even there also shall thy hand lead me;
And thy right hand shall hold me.
Emily Reed, Head of RE, The Oratory Prep School