Walk for Life Mass to debut new sacred music highlighting children’s voices
By Valerie Schmalz
The 2023 Walk for Life West Coast Mass will feature something special: a newly-composed choral setting of the Mass, written to showcase the clear voices of the St. Brigid School Choir, following in the tradition of Gregorian chant but with a contemporary and Renaissance flair.
The Mass will be sung in English, Spanish and Latin.
Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone commissioned the Mass from composer Christopher Mueller, former free-lance jazz musician, now longtime church choirmaster and music director.
“The Archbishop wanted a Mass specifically to celebrate the gift of human life,” said Mueller, a married father of three. Because it is a Mass for Life, the Archbishop also wanted the music of the Mass be written for the choir program at St. Brigid School. “He wanted a pro-life Mass to be written for children’s voices, to heighten the emotionality of the liturgy for those in attendance.”
The Mass setting is a 10-movement work, and so to assist with such a large quantity of new music, the 20-student St. Brigid School Choir will be joined by adult singers, who will sing during some parts of the Mass, as well as provide backup in other movements for the children’s choir.
“Perhaps the most interesting piece in the Mass was the very first movement that the Archbishop and I discussed: he wanted a special post-Communion reflection,” said Mueller. It’s a setting of five verses from the opening of the Book of Jeremiah, where God says to the Old Testament prophet, who was a youth at the time, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.”
“The beginning of the Book of Jeremiah is a conversation between God and Jeremiah. God says, ‘I am giving you this task, to go and be a prophet to the nations … do not say “I am a youth,” for I am with you to deliver you’,” said Mueller.
The voice of God will be sung in Latin by the adult male tenors and basses, while the children’s soprano and alto voices will sing the words of Jeremiah in Spanish and English, mostly unaccompanied.
“The idea is to have the kids sing as much as they can,” Mueller said.
As Mueller wrote the various parts of the Mass, he would send them to cathedral music director Christoph Tietze, who “would respond with comments. There was more music than the kids are capable of learning given the amount of time to prepare,” said Tietze. “So the children are singing the four movements of the Ordinary of the Mass as well as the post-Communion reflection and the Alleluia.”
As part of their school program, the children’s choir rehearses every day at 7:30 a.m. with Tietze and the school’s music teacher, Marni Strome. In addition to singing at archdiocesan and cathedral Masses, the choir performs internationally and will sing at the Vatican over New Year’s in 2023-24. The children sang at the Vatican just prior to the COVID shutdown.
Among his extensive biographical credits, Mueller was the founding director of music at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in D.C., and the founding director of the St. Michael Foundation for Polyphony & Chant, whose goal is to promote the use of polyphony and chant in the Roman Catholic Mass and elsewhere. Since December 2019, after decades in the New York and D.C. areas, he has served as organist and choirmaster at St. Louis Bertrand Church in Louisville, KY.
The adult singers will include soprano Rebekah Wu, music director of the Benedict XVI Institute for Sacred Music and Divine Worship.
The Walk for Life West Coast each year is the Saturday closest to the anniversary of the now-overturned Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. The Walk for Life Mass, to be celebrated by Archbishop Cordileone, is at 9:30 a.m., Jan. 21, 2023, at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption.
“How powerful it is for people to pray a Mass with beautiful music,” said Mueller, “It has the power to lift up people’s hearts and minds; to give them a sense of something that is transcendent and prayerful.”