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The First Choir


Immediately after the church was built in 1914, a choir was organized to lead the congregation in singing at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass which was the soul and the heart of the parish and its 39 families. These parishioners understood what an awesome privilege it was to watch their priest during the Mass when the heavens opened and multitudes of angels came to assist him.

Choir members consisted of the following men: Joseph Snoeck (Director), Con DeCleene, John Gotelaere, Napoleon Rotsaert, Napoleon Naeyaert, Arthur de Clerck and Con Shears.
Initially the choir sung hymns and liturgical music without accompaniment although a trombone was used at rehearsals, particularly for rousing the voices of the men in the choir with its soft mellow tone. The trombone, a member of the brass (wind) instruments, has been used in worship for centuries, although certainly less nowadays than in previous centuries.

Which choir member’s voice was a tenor, baritone, or bass, is anyone’s guess. When singing Gregorian Chant, of course, it really didn’t matter since all voices in the choir sang melodies in unison.

The choir contributed to the sense of awe and mystery as it sang verses of the Kyrie, Gloria in Excelsis, Credo, Sanctus and the Agnus Dei, as well as, hymns at Vespers and Benediction including the Tantum Ergo. The Tridentine Mass also had chants for particular days, as well as, the propers of the Mass. The parish choir would sing at special Lenten services, during missions, at low masses, and at the meetings or devotions of parish sodalities.

Hymns were also used in the daily office, rotating by day and by season. Doctrinal truths contained in the hymns were deeply impressed upon the minds of parishioners.

Since not everyone in the congregation could read notes, one challenge the choir faced was to convey to the parishioners in the pews the benefits of singing. As one Catholic hymnal published at the time stated:

“It is high time to [teach the people to read notes], or they will die without once having the chance to experience the spiritual joy and elevation of spirit that comes by singing the praises of God.”

Although difficult to ascertain, we can only speculate whether or not Joseph Snoeck , the Choir Director, was —as the aforementioned hymnal described—a man

“who had a strong voice, and who by his example, his glance, his gestures, made people sing who never sung before, and who never believed they could sing a note.”

When the parish purchased an organ in 1916, Miss Lilah Sullivan, Fr. Hansenns hired a the parish organist.

As anyone who ever set their fingers in motion on a keyboard understands, she had her hands full, doing the best she could to join her accompaniment with the voices of Fr. Hansenns, Joseph Snoeck, and the people in the pews to foster a true experience of prayer during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Musical Reforms of Pope Pius X

Pope Pius X initiated many regulations reforming the liturgical music of the Mass in the early 20th century. He felt that some of the Masses composed by the famous post-Renaissance composers were too long and often more appropriate for a theatrical rather than a church setting. He advocated primarily Gregorian plainchant and polyphony. Some of the rules he put forth include the following:

That any Mass be composed in an integrated fashion, not by assembling different compositions for different parts;
That all percussive instruments should be forbidden;
That ideally the choir should be all male;
That the congregation itself should ideally be trained to sing the various modes of Gregorian chant along with the choir.

These regulations carry little if any weight today, especially after the changes of the Second Vatican Council. Quite recently, Pope Benedict XVI has encouraged a return to chant as the primary music of the liturgy, as this is explicitly mentioned in the documents of the Second Vatican Council, specifically Sacrosanctum Concilium 116.