3.15.20 - St. Joseph Organ Committee Completes Two Trips

The push for a new pipe organ for St. Joseph Parish began in 2006. Teresa Riley was the music director and Janet Marks was organist. A pipe organ fund was established, and the project gained momentum with plans, including drawings and tonal concepts, received by various builders. However, it was not God’s timing and the project was laid aside. Then, in 2009, the 1949/82 Moller organ breathed its last and its pipes have been silent ever since, replaced by what was intended to be a temporary electronic organ with loudspeakers. Pray for God’s favor in our endeavors. Nothing is impossible with God’s help.


A list of 40 potential organ builders has been shortened to five: Buzard, Dobson, Fisk, Parsons, Schoenstein. To date, our organ committee has inspected organs from all but one of these five builders, traveling to Williamsburg/Richmond and Buffalo/Canandaguia Upstate New York areas. We also enjoyed touring an organ shop in Upstate New York. Our next trip is to New York City at the end of March, God willing, where we will inspect an organ from our final potential builder. Following that visit, our committee will invite no fewer than three of the five potential builders to visit Columbia with the idea in mind of developing and submitting plans for a new organ at St. Joseph. I’ll keep you posted! – Brad Cunningham, Organist

1.26.20 - St. Joseph Organ Committe Begins Work

Nine members on a team of parishioners and staff members have begun working toward creating a master plan for the building of a new pipe organ for St. Joseph.  Those members include parishioners Ashley Darnall, Michael Dickson, Kathy and Howard Ellstrom, Carol and Jed Shropshire, alongside staff leadership Msgr. Harris, David Cochrane, Tawfiq Hodaly, and myself.  Pray for us!  Our first meeting was Tuesday, Jan. 13.  Visit the St. Joseph Sacred Music Web site page and click on “St. Joseph Organ” where you will find a link to the Pipe Organ Committee page with pictures and short bios of our team members.  Also there, you can find a summary of what was presented to the committee on January 13.  Finally, on that same page you may see and read all of the short, informative, interesting, and educational articles that were required reading for our committee members.  Enjoy! – Brad Cunningham, Organist

1.5.20 - Hymn Singing at St. Joseph Church, 8 of 8 articles

We have identified three challenges regarding our pursuit of more dynamic congregational singing. Two of those challenges will take time: 1) expand our hymn tune repertoire, and 2) build a new pipe organ that is rich in diversity of sound and mechanical aids, but not ostentatiously luxurious or lavish. Moving forward…


We have mapped out and begun the implementation of expanding our favorite hymns repertoire. It will take seven years to accomplish this goal at the rate of four new hymns per year. Anticipated end of this project is the end of Liturgical Cycle Year C, 2025.


Concerning a new pipe organ, even if we were to sign a contract today, it would take 1-2 years for a builder to build, deliver, install and voice a new organ. We invite you to pray with us as we draw closer to realizing this project. In October we contracted with the nationally recognized firm of Scott Riedel & Associates to act as a consultant toward building a new pipe organ and organ committee is formed. Click here [Jamie, please link to https://www.stjosephcolumbia.org/organ ] to learn about the new committee members.


Finally, our third challenge, the amplification of a solo voice over the congregation and organ during congregational singing… We are well into our transition away from mic’d soloists during congregational singing. It will take several months for us to get our groove together – learning to listen to the collective voice of the congregation juxtaposed with the organ. – Brad Cunningham, Organist     

12.29.19 - Hymn Singing at St. Joseph Church, 7 of 8 articles

Insufficient tonal resources on the organ 


We have arrived at Challenge No. 3 of Hymn Singing Challenges in the Catholic Church, the organ. More specifically, organs that lack enough tonal resources to generate exciting and inspiring congregational singing.


The church organ is heard week after week, year after year by the same people, for generations! An organ with a limited number of tonal resources becomes very tiresome and arguably is one factor why church organs have taken such a beating in the ratings over the past 50 years! An excellent church organ should strive for a maximum variety of tonal resources so that musical interest can be maintained. As a point of reference, the new organ at St. John Neumann has 81 tonal resources, Trinity Episcopal 67, Basilica of St. Peter organ 43, St. Joseph 27.


Let’s look at our past, present, and future. The St. Joseph 1949 Moller Organ possessed four tonal resources. The 1982 rebuild of that organ was an attempt to expand the number of tonal resources and bolster the organ’s presence in the room. The rebuild provided 12 tonal resources. In 1999, the organ was enlarged to 15 tonal resources. Each rebuild of the organ has been an attempt to correct a lack of sufficient tonal resources to inspire musical interest during the liturgy week after week, year after year.  The pipe organ failed in 1999 and its pipes are silent to this day. The current Allen electronic organ, while built by the world’s finest maker of electronic organs, was purchased as a temporary fix when the Moller pipe organ failed. This electronic substitute was never designed nor intended to be placed in a church like St. Joseph, seating 450, serving four Masses every weekend with more than 1200-1500 parishioners. We can do better! Stay tuned.  – Brad Cunningham, organist     

12.15.19 - Hymn Singing at St. Joseph Church, 6 of 8 articles

Hymn tune repetition ad nauseam kills healthy, robust singing


Familiarity breeds contempt!


The repetition of a hymn tune more than three or four times in a year, repeating that practice year after year, is akin to injecting morphine into the brains of parishioners. Even Here I Am Lord would go the way of the

garbage pile if sung too many times. We love our favorites, but we must also sing new songs to the Lord!


The St. Joseph parish is familiar with approximately 150 tunes representing 260 hymn titles. These statistics are based on a study of hymn tunes/titles taken from printed ordos over a period of three years. Our hymn tune repertoire is better than most Catholic parishes thanks to past St. Joseph musicians and past and current pastors. Still, we are a bit short on the number of familiar tunes we need to know. We need to be closer to 175 familiar tunes in order to avoid too much repetition of hymn tunes.


In a 2016 survey of 11 churches (four Protestant, eight Catholic) known to have strong sacred music practices (survey results on file), four churches repeat hymn tunes 2-3 times per year, four repeat tunes 3-4 times, one church only once a year, one church 1-2 times, another church had “no idea.” Will we discontinue singing our favorites? Absolutely not! And they will be repeated! However, expect the introduction of new tunes and the strengthening of others. The plan is to introduce 28 new tunes into our mainstream repertoire over the next seven years, four per year. The process for learning these new tunes: organist features tune as prelude music one or two weeks in advance of singing the tune, next we sing it in Mass at least two weekends back-to-back, and then two more times within two-three months of its introduction until it sticks! – Brad Cunningham, organist     

12.8.19 - Hymn Singing at St. Joseph Church, Organ Music during Advent

Organ Music during Advent


We take a brief intermission from our series of From the Choir Loft articles about hymn singing to say a word about organ music during Advent…


From Musicam Sacram 1967 we read, "In sung or said Masses, the organ, or other instrument legitimately admitted, can be used to accompany the singing of the choir and the people; it can also be played solo at the beginning before the priest reaches the altar, at the Offertory, at the Communion, and at the end of Mass. The playing of these same instruments as solos is not permitted in Advent, Lent, during the Sacred Triduum and in the Offices and Masses of the Dead." Musicam Sacram has not been abrogated and its principles are still in force.


From the English translation of The Roman Missal © 2010, which is in harmony with Musicam Sacram 1967, we read, “… in Advent the use of the organ and other musical instruments [during congregational singing] should be marked by a moderation suited to the character of this time of year, without expressing in anticipation the full joy of the Nativity of the Lord.”  


So, we take a break from the norm to mark the special season of Advent with absence of organ preludes and postludes. Personally, I enjoy this absence of preludes and postludes. It helps me observe the anticipatory nature of the season, waiting, yearning for the return of fabulous, glorious Christmas music! – Brad Cunningham, Organist

Celebration of Solemn Vespers at St. Joseph during Advent! 

First, thank you to Brad Cunningham, for his articles on improving our participation in liturgy at St. Joseph Church. Also, thank you to all those who read the FTCL series, for your interest in learning more about sacred music of the Catholic church! Stay tuned for more.


This week I’d like to share information about a special liturgy we will celebrate during Advent. Solemn Vespers, also referred to as Evening Prayer or Evening Song, is part of the Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Office), which are special prayers, prescribed to us by the Church, to be prayed throughout the day. The high points of the Liturgy of the Hours are Morning Prayer (Lauds) and Evening Prayer (Vespers). Vespers is an evening prayer service, a sacrifice where praise is given to God for the day that has passed. The liturgy may be celebrated by clergy, religious, or lay men and women.  When Vespers is celebrated communally, a priest wearing his cope, altar servers, incense, and a procession, we refer to it as Solemn Vespers.  Many churches offer communal vespers around high points in the liturgical season to all congregants as an opportunity to participate in a liturgy outside of Mass. 


A Solemn Vespers liturgy is sung completely in dialogue with the presider, cantor, schola cantorum, and congregation. It usually takes about 30 minutes to celebrate and contains an Introductory Verse, Hymn, Psalmody, Responsory, Gospel Canticle, Intercessions, Our Father, Concluding Prayer, and Dismissal. If you would like to read more about this ancient tradition of the Church please click here.


We celebrate Solemn Vespers each Sunday of Advent, 4 p.m. in the Church. If you have not experienced this sacred liturgy, I highly recommend it! It is absolutely beautiful and a great way to prepare for the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ! - David J. Cochrane, Director of Music

11.17.19 - Hymn Singing at St. Joseph Church, 4 of 8 articles

Amplification of a solo voice continued

We learned in Article 3 of 8 in this series that everyone who comes to Mass is a member of the main choir. Then there is a subset of parishioners who meet regularly to learn more difficult music offerings for Mass – a schola cantorum. Also, it was mentioned that when one listens to the best choirs, no single voice is amplified over the choir unless, of course, the music calls for a soloist, in which case the choir holds back in order to hear the soloist. This same holding-back phenomenon happens in the Mass when we depend on hearing a soloist who is amplified over the congregation and organ. We hold back, listening for the soloist instead of listening to the organ and the collective voice of the people. Think about it… What happens when your favorite recording artist comes over the radio or whatever listening device you use? You join in singing! However, you hold back so you can hear the recording artist. If you don’t sing under the artist’s volume, you get ahead or behind in the song. Amplifying a solo voice over the congregation and organ causes a psychological phenomenon that leads to weak congregational singing: in order for the soloist to be heard, the organ must play softer than the soloist and the people must sing softer than the soloist – everyone must sing softer except for the soloist. This is a backwards way of practicing congregational singing.


Finally, our culture subconsciously recognizes that speaking or singing into a microphone means, “Please listen to me. Please do not talk while I am addressing you over the PA system.” This is a subtle, though real message that is ingrained in our culture. Turning off the microphone is one way we can enhance our congregational singing.


Enjoy this brief YouTube video example of healthy, robust congregational singing. Notice the absence of an amplified soloist. Notice how many people are holding hymnals. Notice husbands and wives sharing hymnals, singing together. Notice the number of men who are singing. Show me a parish where the men sing, and I’ll show you a parish that is alive with prayer and good works! If you are reading this in the weekly bulletin, and not on the St. Joseph Web site or Social Media, go to YouTube and search “guide me great jehovah first plymouth”. Also, if you want to hear some of the finest congregational singing in the Catholic Diocese of Charleston, search for St. Mary Greenville on YouTube. We’ve got some catching up to do! – Brad Cunningham, Organist     

11.10.19 - Hymn Singing at St. Joseph Church, 3 of 8 articles

Amplification of a solo voice and “What is a choir?”


The leading cause of poor congregational singing in the typical Catholic parish is the amplification of one (or more) voices using a microphone. No single voice or group of voices should be amplified over that of the people or the organ. For example, when one listens to a good choir, no single voice sings over the choir. Otherwise, the cohesive structure of the choir is pulled apart. When one sings in a choir, one abandons self-identity and joins a collective identity. Likewise, when we congregate for Holy Mass, we abandon self-identity and become the collective Body of Christ. For this reason, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Sing to the Lord (par. 38), "In order to promote the singing of the liturgical assembly, the cantor's voice should not be heard above the congregation." No doubt, wheels are turning in your head. “But nobody will sing!” “How will we know when to sing?” Hold those thoughts. Stay tuned to From the Choir Loft and ask your friends to tune in too.


What we must learn in our parish: the congregation is the main choir. Yes, there exists a subset of parishioners who meet regularly to learn more specialized music from a teacher (Mr. Cochrane). In our culture, we have come to say this is the choir. But in fact, they are singing scholars (schola cantorum), students of church music who learn, rehearse and sing more difficult music not easily attainable by the average parishioner. However, it is you, seated in the church nave, who make up the main choir. Now you can tell all your friends that you sing in the church choir!


As we transition away from mic’ing a soloist (cantor) during congregational singing, train yourself to listen to the collective voice of the congregation juxtaposed with the organ. Allow your singing confidence to grow over the coming months! Cantors will continue using microphones for the Introit, Responsorial Psalm, Gospel Acclamation, and Propers. More later…. – Brad Cunningham, Organist     

11.24.19 - Hymn Singing at St. Joseph Church, 5 of 8 articles

Amplification of a solo voice continued


We draw your attention to the YouTube video introduced in last week’s From the Choir Loft.  This is one example of healthy, robust congregational singing. Any YouTube video of a Mass at St. Mary Greenville demonstrates the same. Notice in the video how the organ is used to build anticipation at the beginning of the hymn and establish a tempo for the congregation. Notice that everyone instinctively knows when to sing, yet there is no amplified soloist. Also, the organ has enough tonal resources and a trained organist who is able to use those resources leading a large group of people singing in a large room, all together at the same time. The people have learned to listen for cues from the organ. Here’s something fun to do with this video… See if you can spot how many people are not singing? Also, notice the teenage boy (:31) sharing a hymnal with his mom and thinks nothing of it! Singing families are marks of a strong parish! Parents, let your children see and hear you singing! They will carry this memory with them their whole lives.


Here is a different YouTube video example from the Roman Catholic Kölner Dom, Cologne, Germany. Notice that after a miles-long procession, the people instinctively know when to begin singing without a mic’d soloist. Everyone waits patiently while priests and altar servers take their place. This is part of the liturgy! You are part of this liturgy, active participation of a different kind – listening to the organ. Notice in the video the collective voice of the people in juxtaposition to the organ. This type of congregational singing should lead us to think, “Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: "Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns.” [Revelation 19:6] Be bold! Sing to the Lord!  – Brad Cunningham, Organist     

11.3.19 - Hymn Singing at St. Joseph Church, 2 of 8 articles

A typical Catholic parish in 2019 faces several challenges regarding development of healthy, robust congregational singing. By healthy and robust, it is meant congregational singing in which 95% of congregants are singing. The most common challenges are: 

  1. Amplification of soloist or group of soloists over the congregation and organ

  2. Limited hymn tune repertoire leading to repetition of same tunes ad nauseam

  3. Organ lacks enough tonal resources for leading strong congregational singing

  4. Architectural and acoustic deficiencies

  5. Catholic Church still evolving from little or no congregational singing prior to Vatican II

  6. Inadequate number of printed worship aids, or congregants not using the aids

  7. Use of folk/pop song music with free-style rhythm composed for a professional recording artist rather than for the average person with limited singing abilities

  8. Dependence on volunteer (amateur) organists and choir directors

  9. Use of piano, keyboard or guitars instead of organ

  10. Multi-cultural parish identity in which there is no single, identifiable music tradition

Good news – congregational singing at St. Joseph is above average for Catholic parishes. This is because excellent St. Joseph musicians and pastors, over the years, have removed challenges 6-9 (above). No. 10 does not appear to be a major contributing factor and no. 5 will take care of itself over time. So, our  focus is on nos. 1-4 above. Can congregational singing at St. Joseph be better than it already is?  Yes! Stay tuned.  – Brad Cunningham, Organist     

10.27.19 - Hymn Singing at St. Joseph Church, 1 of 8 articles

All aboard for a journey culminating the Sunday before Christmas. More in a moment, but first, a personal note…  I exist to lead congregational singing from the organ. It is in my blood. It is what God created me to do, my vocation. Over the course of my career, naively, I assumed that in all churches everywhere, Sunday morning congregations were singing the roof off the church. Not so.


I’ll never forget my first Catholic Mass at St. Mary Help of Christians, Aiken. New church, new 100-stop organ, 750 people at the Saturday Vigil Mass. I revved up the organ and began the first verse of the procession hymn. Panic ensued. I could hear the cantor singing loudly over the PA system, but few were singing below. After the hymn, I asked the cantor, “Were we singing the right hymn?” “Yes,” she replied. I asked, “Why weren’t they singing?” She shrugged her shoulders and said, “That’s the way Catholics are.” I thought, “What have I gotten myself into?”


About our journey… Thomas Day, Catholic writer, Professor Emeritus, Salve Regina College,  Newport, RI, authored Why Catholics Can’t Sing in 1991. Fr. Gregory Wilson of St. Mary Aiken recommended this and other resources to start us on our way to, “What can we do about this?” After two/three months of prayer and deliberation, a  new course was charted, and within nine months the Vigil Mass was vying for first place against the singing of the Sunday 10:30 Mass. The 8:15 Mass perked up too. The parish turned full circle, singing robustly. We were just rounding the corner at St. John Neumann, following a similar course of action, but God had other plans – at St. Joseph Church. Stay tuned over the next seven weeks to learn about our new journey toward what I believe can be even more robust congregational singing than we already experience at St. Joseph Church. – Brad Cunningham, Organist

9.29.19 - ​My mom’s brother cut her thumb off with an axe when she was in high school. More about that in a minute. But first, this…

One of the best views in the house is from the choir loft where one can watch parishioners, old and young, arrive for Holy Mass. Widows and widowers, and older couples arrive and seat themselves in a favorite spot. Younger families arrive, many times without dad, who is still circling the block looking for a parking space. I watch dads and moms with kids snuggling up, hoping to get the coveted mom or dad pat-on-the back or the most coveted of all, putting your head in mom’s lap while she strokes your hair. I loved that when I was a kid! And, it is interesting to watch parents and grandparents using different techniques to help squirming children settle down. I remember my mom’s technique well! Now, about my mom’s thumb… She was helping her older brother cut firewood and put her hand in the wrong place at the wrong time. He cut her thumb off to the nubby first knuckle. Little did she know that one day she would use that strong still-remaining first knuckle of her thumb to herd children into the car for church, or as a behavior modification tool when needing to control three little squirming boys during the homily. All she had to do was take that stubby knuckle and her second finger, grab a little bit of flesh on our little legs, and we were instant dead meat. It was like a Mom-Taser. Moms and dads, keep doing what you are doing! Remember to show the younger ones how to use their ordo (worship aid). Help them follow along when we are singing! Singing counts as praying! – Brad Cunningham, Organist

9.22.19 - More about the skinny white-haired man playing the organ at Sunday Masses

When I wrote last, it was mentioned that something positive and unique is happening at Cardinal Newman High School. There are many positive beginnings happening at the school about which I am excited but the new beginning I’d like to share with you started at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year – the first-ever CN Organ Academy. Our St. Joseph music director, David Cochrane, is also music department chair of Cardinal Newman High School. Two years ago, Mr. Cochrane and I began sharing ideas about reaching young people through sacred music. I told him my dream of reaching out to young people who might consider church organist and/or church musician as a vocation. The Catholic Church has a shortage of trained organists. Are there spirit-filled young people who might pursue this avenue as a possible vocation, or as a new learning experience? Mr. Cochrane responded, “Let’s find out!” Cardinal Newman Organ Academy was formed. Our first year (2018-19) four students responded, eager to pursue organ study for academic credit. It is my delight to be the academy’s instructor. This school year (2019-20) three students returned to the program, two new students signed on, so we have five students this year! I know of no other Catholic (or public) high school in the U.S. that offers such a program. Two St. Joseph students are enrolled: Marshall Seezen and Thomas Blake. Encourage these young men. The Organ Academy is open to all Cardinal Newman students with or without piano experience, for academic credit. Also, it is open to any Catholic feeder school e.g. St. Joseph, St. Peter, St. John Neumann, etc. student.  For more information, please contact me at: brad@stjosephcolumbia.org – Brad Cunningham, Org

9.15.19 - More about the skinny white-haired man playing the organ at Sunday Masses

After graduating from university with a bachelor of music degree in organ performance, and a master of divinity degree from a Presbyterian seminary, life unfolded. God did not call me to the vocation of Presbyterian minister. Instead, my path weaved through corporate and non-profit worlds. Also, I owned/operated three businesses. The first and third businesses  were successful, the one in the middle went belly-up like a dead bug on the bathroom floor. It’s o.k. Helped me form more character!


In my capacity as owner of the third business, I met a priest by the name of Father Gregory Wilson, St. Mary Help of Christians Church, Aiken. Our one-on-one business meetings always drifted to theological discussions as I shared growing frustration over increasing secularization of Protestant denominations. Within a year after meeting him, Fthr. Wilson asked, “I don’t suppose you would consider becoming organist at St. Mary, would you?” The rest is history. I served St. Mary for almost three years, attended RCIA classes, read and studied the catechism twice, along with many more books and journal articles. I am still in discernment. Pray for me!


Looking forward to our journey together through liturgy and music in Holy Mass. Introduce yourself when the opportunity is there. Next time I write, I’d like to share something very positive and unique that is happening at Cardinal Newman High School. Stay tuned. – Brad Cunningham, Organist 

9.8.19 - Who is that skinny white-haired man playing the organ at Sunday Masses?

Glad you asked!


My name is Brad Cunningham from Augusta, Ga. When I was seven or eight, the church organist had a hard time keeping me off the organ bench while she tried to play the prelude or postlude. It was fascinating to watch her use those shiny knobs, buttons, multiple keyboards, and her feet too!


At age 12, I acquired a new-found independence upon the acquisition of a brand new Huffy three-speed bicycle. It was now possible to ride five miles to the church after Sunday dinner, by myself, sneak into the (unlocked) church, and climb onto the (unlocked) organ to figure out how it worked. One Sunday afternoon, the pastor found me out and reported this clandestine activity to my father. Foiled! From then on, I had to have permission from Mrs. Clark, the organist. Eventually, Mrs. Clark was worn down by permission requests and said, “Brad, just help yourself whenever you want!” Fast forward…


The next thing you know, in my early 20s, I was graduating from Shorter University in Rome, Ga. with a bachelor of music degree in organ performance. The moral of this story is always encourage a child’s dreams (and leave the church organ unlocked!)


Following university, it was marriage and off to a seminary of the Protestant variety, Reformed Theological (Presbyterian) Seminary in Jackson, Miss. where a master of divinity degree was earned. Was God calling me to be a Presbyterian minister? Oh…. Look at the time! Gotta’ go. We can wrap this up later. – Brad Cunningham, Organist 

8.29.19 - Three Things!

First, at most Saturday Vigil Masses, English G. Morris Jr. serves as organist. English has been the minister of music and organist at St. Martin's in the Field Episcopal Church for more than 30 years. Thank you, English, for sharing your gifts and talents with St. Joseph for over 10+ years!
Second, some of you have asked what is the reason for ringing the organ chimes three times before the prelude at Sunday Masses? This is a Mr. Cunningham thing. It signals that we are closer to the Mass! It signals that it is time to shift from contemplation to eager anticipation. Why three times? Another personal thing – in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Finally, occasionally, you’ll hear a jolting, ear-splitting, mess of sound like a train whistle gone horribly bad, blasting from the organ at the most inappropriate place in the Mass. I jump straight in the air when that happens. Let me explain… our Allen digital (electronic) organ was purchased in 1999 as a quick, “temporary” fix when the Moller pipe organ collapsed from exhaustion. Our “temporary” electronic organ was designed for a small church seating 75-150 people. To augment this organ’s tonal resources, a Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) box was added, allowing up to six additional voices. Problem is, you can only see three of them at the time on a little bitty LED screen (1994 technology!). Sometimes the Spanish Trumpet (train whistle) stop is lurking off-screen and I’ve forgotten to turn it off. It hurts me more than it hurts you! You are asked to be patient when this happens because God is not finished with me yet.
– Brad Cunningham, Organist

8.4.19 - History of Catholic Hymn Singing in a Nutshell, 5 of 5 articles

The Modern Hymn Begins Its Journey

The development of the congregational hymn as we know it today, four-part harmony provided by an organ, moving in the same rhythm as the melody, with metrical, poetic symmetry, took hold during the Protestant Rebellion (early-mid 1500s). Hymn singing was a tool used by Protestants to teach doctrine in the vernacular. Martin Luther, a trained musician, took four-part singing and made it simple so that the people could sing/remember doctrine. However, in the Roman Church, the official music employed in Holy Mass remained monastic-based chant in Latin and Mass settings using highly complex forms of harmony intended for trained musicians only. So, we missed the boat on using vernacular hymns to teach doctrine, but we created some of the world’s most valuable musical treasures of art. Post Vatican II, we can now have both! By the way, would it surprise you to know that a resurgence of Gregorian Chant and choral works by the old Masters has been happening for several years, around the world? Ask Mr. Cochrane what his Cardinal Newman students prefer to sing!

English Catholic hymnals did begin appearing in the early 1800s in England and the United States of America. However, it was still not the practice of the Church that vernacular hymns be incorporated into Holy Mass, rather for private or small group devotions, or special occasions in certain Masses. It was not until after Vatican II (1962-65) that liturgy could be offered in the vernacular and use of vernacular Catholic hymns was encouraged at Holy Mass. The door was opened. Who, or what, would walk in?

​7.28.19 - History of Catholic Hymn Singing in a Nutshell, 4 of 5 articles

Congregational Singing Fades Away

In the West, singing by the congregation faded away 5th - 10th centuries and was handed over to trained clerics. Coinciding with the development of Western music in general, European polyphony (combining several voice parts on top of and surrounding a melody) began appearing in Holy Mass during the 12th century. Apparently, things were getting out of hand by the 1300s when we read from Jacob of Liege:

There are some who although they contrive to sing a little in the modern manner, nevertheless, they have no regard for quality; they sing too lasciviously, they multiply voices superfluously some of them employ the hocquetus too much, breaking, cutting and dividing their voices into too many consonants; in the most inopportune places they dance, whirl and jump about on notes, howling like dogs.

This type of part-singing was eventually banned by Rome. If you’d like to hear a not-too-extreme example of what the big fuss was about, click here. Some styles of music simply do not fit the spirit of Holy Mass. However, church musicians continued to advance the art of part-singing in Mass settings, letting go of the specific hocket technique against which the Church ranted. By the 1500s great Masters e.g. Palestrina, Byrd, Josquin des Prez, were creating beautiful music works with multiple harmonies for Holy Mass, Masters which today the Vatican encourages us to use. These type works are often sung by our choir at St. Joseph. However, the harmonies and rhythms were far too complicated for the common person to sing on the spot, thus they were sung by trained singers only.

7.21.19 - History of Catholic Hymn Singing in a Nutshell, 3 of 5 articles

Ancient hymn singing takes on a Western flavor

Our previous article suggested what Jesus and the early Eastern Church hymn singing might have sounded like. After persecution of Christians faded in the 4th– 5th centuries, the Church grew fast in the West. Intimate settings in houses were no longer adequate meeting places. Large buildings were constructed in which hundreds and sometimes a thousand or more people would meet and sing hymns, their praises to God. However, these hymns were not what you and I think of as a hymn today, utilizing four-part harmony and an organ. Western music during the period of the early Church was still in its infancy. Congregational singing was in unison only, unaccompanied, and would stay this way through the so-called Dark Ages, roughly 5th–10th centuries. The terms we use today for this type of singing e.g. Gregorian chant, plainchant, Latin chant or chant, would have been interchangeable with the word hymn though this meaning would change over time. By the way, pipe organs did not begin appearing in Christian churches until around the 10th century.

Now, check out early Roman/Western hymn singing. Listen to the difference in a previous article link. Eastern hymn-singing uses the human voice in the background as a constant drone (humming tone), to keep the men on pitch. In Western Roman tradition, the pipe organ produces the drone support, and the singing is purer, without up-and-down inflection of the voice, thus more European in nature. While Western Roman chant uniquely belongs to the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox hymn-singing is closer to the “sound” Jesus would have known as someone who lived in the Middle East.

7.14.19 - History of Catholic Hymn Singing in a Nutshell, 2 of 5 articles

Singing hymns in the style of Jesus and the Eastern Church

First of all, congratulations on a great job so far with the new Gloria! We recognize that this is not an easy Mass setting, and it is impressive, as we listen to the Mass recordings, to see how much we have improved over the last four weeks. From our experience, we know it can take up to six months to learn something as difficult as this Gloria. It will not take St. Joseph’s that long. Keep singing out––it is okay to make a mistake! We will continue to use it for a few more weeks to get some more practice and then will take a break. Great job and thank you for your willingness to try something new!

Jesus grew up hearing men sing in the temple and synagogue. All Jewish boys grew up hearing this singing. Though it cannot be said with certainty, my guess is that had you been the upper room host that night, waiting on Jesus and his group to clear the room so you could take out the garbage and put the red and blue hymnals back where they belong, you would be hearing a strong Eastern flavor of singing. This is a pretty good representation of what you might have heard.

Singing in the church during the one or two generations after Jesus’s resurrection would have retained a strong Jewish flavor. Gradually, as the disciples spread into more distant parts of the Roman Empire, and the church was opened to the gentiles, and as the development of Western music and musical instruments advanced, the singing of hymns began to take on slightly different forms, though still in the form of chant.

It was Pope St. Damascus (366-384) who convoked at Rome a council to which he invited many of the oriental bishops of the Eastern Orthodox Church at Constantinople and the other important sees of that area. Here’s a listen at how the singing might have developed over a few hundred years from Jesus’ life on earth. Want to hear more? Click here.

No joke. Serious. The hymn singing you hear at these links is darn close, if not spot on, to what you would have heard. More about this next week.

#hymnsingingthursdays #fromthechoirloft

7.7.19 - History of Catholic Hymn Singing in a Nutshell, Hymns and Songs, 1 of 5 articles

Following Vatican II, Catholics find themselves singing more than ever. It is the singing of modern hymns to which we eventually want to turn our attention. But first, what were Christian Catholics singing before Vatican II? Let’s find out!

Have you ever wondered what the singing of Jesus and the disciples sounded like in that upper room? What “hymns” did they sing? They were not the type of hymns we sing today when we gather for Holy Mass. Trust me. You would not recognize the tunes. Keep in mind that any song sung in praise of any deity can be called a hymn. But the style and form of the hymns Jesus and his disciples sang would have been quite different from what we are accustomed to hearing. Probably, one or more of the psalms of David set to tunes that every man in that room would have known, were sung. If sung true to form, these hymns would have been sung antiphonally, that is, one of the disciples would have sung the verse, and the other men would have responded. We know this because Hebrew scriptures leave us evidence of these musical directions. Most likely, these hymns would have been sung with voice only, no instruments.

Do we know if Jesus was the cantor? Or, might it have been Peter? I think it was Jesus. Here’s my thought on this…. When I visit family during seasonal events and we share a meal together, my dad is always looked upon to offer thanks and say the blessing before the meal. He is perceived as the head of our house. We tend to look to a leader to lead. Jesus was the leader; his disciples were his followers. I’m putting my money on Jesus cantoring the psalm-singing. What do you think?

#hymnsingingthursdays #fromthechoirloft

6.30.19 - From The Choir Loft

Have you seen our new Sacred Music Program Website? It now provides resources for our parish community to learn more about the history of sacred music in the Catholic church. Thank you, Jamie Hall, our director of ministries website and social media for your work on this project. We appreciate you!

On our Congregational Singing page, you will see documents and articles about hymn singing in the Catholic Church, links to podcasts about sacred music, and our new blog From the Choir Loft. Check it out!

Over the next several weeks we will conduct several educational mini-series having to do with congregational singing and explaining changes we will make to help our parish community grow in sung prayer. We are very excited about the implementation of these changes which mirror what is happening in parishes across the country. As we implement these changes, please have an open mind and be willing to join your voice during our congregational sung prayer. Our first mini-series is History of Catholic Hymn Singing in a Nutshell. Look for it in the bulletin, on our blog and social media this week. Please join us on this journey to make our parish THE model parish for strong and robust congregational singing in the Diocese of Charleston! -David J. Cochrane, Director of Music

6.16.19 - From The Choir Loft

This weekend we have started to introduce the “Gloria” from Missa de Angelis. This is a 15th-16th century Gregorian chant Mass that has been part of the Catholic Liturgy for centuries. You may think, “I have heard this before,” which is because it is very common and used throughout many US Dioceses. It is exciting to incorporate the rich history of sacred music of the Catholic Church into our Liturgies at St. Joseph’s. We have posted listening examples on our Facebook page, if you would like to listen to it at home. Do not worry if you make a mistake, it is ok! Sing out, sing confidently, and let’s lift our voices as one choir to the Glory of God! -David J. Cochrane, Director of Music

6.9.19 - From The Choir Loft

Thank you to all for welcoming Brad Cunningham and I to the SJCC community over the past three months. I am honored to serve this amazing parish as the Director of Music and look forward to helping the beauty of our liturgies continue to grow. Over the next few months Brad and I will introduce a series of publications in the weekly bulletin, on social media, and on the parish website called “From the Choir Loft…”. This series is designed to help us grow our sung prayer together. Please stay tuned for more information!

Starting on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity (June 16th) we will introduce the “Gloria” from the Mass entitled Missa de Angelis. This is a 15th-16th century Gregorian chant Mass that has been part of the Catholic Liturgy for centuries. Many Catholics are already familiar with this Mass as it is sung throughout many US Dioceses. It is exciting to incorporate the rich history of sacred music of the Catholic Church into our Liturgies at St. Joseph’s. If you would like to listen to this Gloria, listing examples will be on our Facebook page on 6.6.19.

-David J. Cochrane, Director of Music

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St. Joseph Catholic Church

3512 Devine Street

Columbia, SC  29205


Fax: 803.799.7607




St. Joseph Catholic School


Fax: 803.540.1913



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Parish Office Hours:

Weekdays:  8:30 AM - 4:30 PM

Weekends: Closed

Church Hours:

Open for private prayer

Mondays-Fridays:  8:00 AM - 3:00 PM

Directions to St. Joseph's and Map of Campus