New CD counters secular spin to Advent season

RYE, N.Y. - The secular world ignores Advent, begins celebrating Christmas the day after Halloween and packs up the holiday before the New Year, Paul J. Murray said.

The director of music at a midtown Manhattan parish thought the Advent message was getting drowned out by the noise of commercialism, so he decided to make a CD recording of his choir singing sacred Advent and Christmas music.

"The church keeps Advent as a very special season to prepare and wait for the coming of Christ at Christmas and his second coming at the end of time. Music is a subtle reminder that we are preparing for something greater," Murray said Nov. 20.

Murray is the director of music for the parish of Our Saviour, St. Stephen and Our Lady of the Scapular, and Chapel of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. He directs the Choir of the Church of Our Saviour, which released "Hark! A Thrilling Voice Is Sounding," a 19-track disk recorded in the church during the last week of October.

"The recording is a means of evangelization to share the music of Advent and Christmas with the community-at-large," Murray said.

Murray chose music by American and European Catholic composers, as well as his own arrangements of familiar carols. "I may be a bit biased here, but I think this recording will 'make waves' in Catholic music circles," he said.

Several of the tracks have a personal resonance for Murray. One is an arrangement of a Basque carol, "The Angels Sing," by Leo Abbott. Abbot was Murray's piano teacher in high school and the CD is the first recording of his arrangement of the song, Murray said.

The "Silent Night, Holy Night" selection on the CD was arranged by Theodore Marier, a mentor of Murray's and the founder of the St. Paul's Choir School at St. Paul Church in Cambridge, Mass.

The Choir of the Church of Our Saviour is comprised of professional musicians. Six men and six women sang for the recording.

Murray said the church has a classically based traditional liturgical music program, which is reflected on the CD. "It's not limited to certain composers, but is distinguished by the style in which it's composed," he said.

The selections range from 16th-century pieces to music written in the last decade. "It's not concert music. It's sacred music appropriate for liturgical worship, and that's the unifying element," Murray explained.

On most of the tracks, the singers perform a cappella, and on several they are accompanied by an organist. This presented a challenge because the recording was made over three nights in the church on Park Avenue, a major thoroughfare.

Murray said the street noise was diminished by 6 p.m., "but I never realized how present the subway is that runs beneath the church. We are four blocks south of Grand Central Terminal and we had a couple of wonderful takes ruined by the rumble of the subway," he said.

Parishioners encouraged Murray and the choir to make a CD, and pastor Father Robert J. Robbins was a supportive partner, Murray said. The music director set up an online Kickstarter campaign to raise the initial funding and will distribute the CD through the parish, a website and iTunes. Murray said that "iTunes appeals to a different audience, a younger generation that listens to music almost exclusively on a computer or smart phone."

"Music is a powerful faith-builder because it allows people from different backgrounds to come together and feel unified," said Clare Maloney, one of the soloists.

"The CD is more of an expression of global faith. It's beautiful music, and not necessarily what I would have heard in my parish growing up," she said.

"There's a lot of excitement in the Advent music, anticipating the mystery and majesty of Christ's birth. It has a different magic to it," Maloney said.

Get the CD

"Hark! A Thrilling Voice Is Sounding" is available for $20 plus shipping at http://oursaviournyc.org/recording.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015