Veni, Veni: Music for Advent

Proulx-Richard-01

Richard Proulx is a name that is quite familiar to Episcopal parish musicians. Choirs have sung his anthems for decades, and our hymnal The Hymnal 1982 contains some 18 hymns and service music pieces written by him.

Truth be told, the Episcopalians and Roman Catholics have claimed Richard Proulx as their own, and we have had to share his wealth throughout the years. At his last church post, Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, he established a music program that was the model for cathedrals across the country.

Growing up and formerly living in the Eastern Time Zone, after arriving at home at 1:00ish in the morning, having played my own Christmas Eve “midnight masses” and being too wound-up to sleep, I would turn on WGN-TV Channel 9 in Chicago, where it was actually midnight, and watch Richard’s midnight mass from Holy Name Cathedral.

Experiencing the Christmas Eve liturgies he musically planned was like attending a survey of choral literature class in grad school. One year, in the same service, in addition to grand organ music and all the traditional congregational carols, I heard two movements from Handel’s Messiah with full orchestra, the Sanctus from a Schubert mass, the Spanish carol “Riu Riu Chiu” with multiple percussion instruments and one of Richard’s own Psalm settings with handbells and drum.

Some years ago when I happened upon Richard’s Missa Emmanuel, I was immediately intrigued but not a bit surprised at its ingenuity. Using the beloved, traditional Advent hymn “O come, O come, Emmanuel,” Richard takes and adapts snippets of the chant tune for all the parts of the mass: Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, Great Amen and Agnus Dei. For the Kyrie he adapts a Plainsong chant that is very close to the Veni Emmanuel tune.

This mass setting, which we will sing for Advent season (Sundays, Nov. 29, and Dec. 6, 13, and 20) is immediately accessible to worshippers: a Cantor sings (even lines-out) the exact melody to which the congregation responds. The choral textures sung by the choir are based upon these chant melodies, all adding up to gorgeous choral sonorities. We have used this setting in years past, and I hope it will be captivating and meaningful again for our Advent liturgies this season.

YouTube credits:

Sanctus from the Richard Proulx Missa Emmanuel
Women of the Gallery Choir
Mark Husey, organist/choirmaster
St. Peter’s Catholic Church, Columbia, S.C.

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