Catholic Sacred Music Project serves as resource for parish musicians

December 8, 2023 at 9:30 a.m.
Peter Carter, right, stands with students of the CSMP 2023 Composition Institute in Alexandria, Va. Courtesy photo
Peter Carter, right, stands with students of the CSMP 2023 Composition Institute in Alexandria, Va. Courtesy photo

By EMMALEE ITALIA
Contributing Editor

The proverb “One who sings well prays twice” is often employed to encourage sung praise in the Christian tradition. In that vein, the Catholic Sacred Music Project hopes to provide a renewal of sacred music in the Church through the spiritual and musical formation of Catholic parish musicians.

“We host intensive summer programs to give them the knowledge and skills to serve the Church more faithfully and to renew and develop its culture of sacred music,” said CSMP director Peter Carter, who is also music director in St. John the Baptist Parish, Allentown.

Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., expressed his blessing and support of the CSMP in a recent letter to parishes of the Diocese.

“The truly awesome and evangelizing power of sacred music carries with it a profound mission,” he wrote, pointing out that the pursuit of excellence was praised by the apostle Paul in Philippians 4:8. “It is especially commendable in relation to sacred music, since the Second Vatican Council teaches ‘the musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art’ (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, no. 112).”

Founded in 2021, the Catholic Sacred Music Project is a collaborative effort of Carter and Dr. Timothy McDonnell, current music department head of Hillsdale College, Mich.

“Both of us are active professional musicians, but we have distinctive musical perspectives,” Carter explained.

Participants in the 2023 Conducting Institute for the Catholic Sacred Music Project rehearse in the chapel on Princeton University campus. Courtesy photo

Dr. McDonnell has served as music director of the North American College, Rome; head of the music departments in Ave Maria University, Florida; and The Catholic University of America, Washington. Carter also serves as music director of the Aquinas Institute, Princeton University, has given sacred music workshops in the U.S. and in France, and formerly hosted “Square Notes: The Sacred Music Podcast.”

The project’s inaugural event was a 2021 choral festival at the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia, with Sir James MacMillan, Scottish composer and conductor, serving as festival conductor. The project sponsored a 2022 choral festival in San Francisco in collaboration with the Sacra Liturgia conference, and a conducting institute at St. John the Baptist. In 2023, the Catholic Sacred Music Project led a composition institute in Alexandria, Va., in collaboration with the Benedict XVI Institute, and a conducting institute at Princeton University.

“As the organization grows, we hope to host events throughout the year,” Carter explained. The target audience includes active and aspiring church musicians, “though any interested musician is welcome to apply.”

The organization’s goal is to present the whole tradition of liturgical sacred music, including Gregorian chant, “as it was largely the sole music of the Catholic tradition for over a thousand years and continues to be the official music of the Roman Rite today,” Carter noted. The project also explores Renaissance polyphony as well as works by living composers.

“Wherever the culture of sacred music has flourished, there has always been new musical composition,” Carter emphasized, “and we strive to promote this by training composers … and performing their music in the liturgies and concerts we host. All our events conclude with either a public liturgy or concert, and everyone is welcome to attend.”

New events for 2024 will be available soon; for more information, visit https://sacredmusicproject.org.


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The proverb “One who sings well prays twice” is often employed to encourage sung praise in the Christian tradition. In that vein, the Catholic Sacred Music Project hopes to provide a renewal of sacred music in the Church through the spiritual and musical formation of Catholic parish musicians.

“We host intensive summer programs to give them the knowledge and skills to serve the Church more faithfully and to renew and develop its culture of sacred music,” said CSMP director Peter Carter, who is also music director in St. John the Baptist Parish, Allentown.

Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., expressed his blessing and support of the CSMP in a recent letter to parishes of the Diocese.

“The truly awesome and evangelizing power of sacred music carries with it a profound mission,” he wrote, pointing out that the pursuit of excellence was praised by the apostle Paul in Philippians 4:8. “It is especially commendable in relation to sacred music, since the Second Vatican Council teaches ‘the musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art’ (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, no. 112).”

Founded in 2021, the Catholic Sacred Music Project is a collaborative effort of Carter and Dr. Timothy McDonnell, current music department head of Hillsdale College, Mich.

“Both of us are active professional musicians, but we have distinctive musical perspectives,” Carter explained.

Participants in the 2023 Conducting Institute for the Catholic Sacred Music Project rehearse in the chapel on Princeton University campus. Courtesy photo

Dr. McDonnell has served as music director of the North American College, Rome; head of the music departments in Ave Maria University, Florida; and The Catholic University of America, Washington. Carter also serves as music director of the Aquinas Institute, Princeton University, has given sacred music workshops in the U.S. and in France, and formerly hosted “Square Notes: The Sacred Music Podcast.”

The project’s inaugural event was a 2021 choral festival at the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia, with Sir James MacMillan, Scottish composer and conductor, serving as festival conductor. The project sponsored a 2022 choral festival in San Francisco in collaboration with the Sacra Liturgia conference, and a conducting institute at St. John the Baptist. In 2023, the Catholic Sacred Music Project led a composition institute in Alexandria, Va., in collaboration with the Benedict XVI Institute, and a conducting institute at Princeton University.

“As the organization grows, we hope to host events throughout the year,” Carter explained. The target audience includes active and aspiring church musicians, “though any interested musician is welcome to apply.”

The organization’s goal is to present the whole tradition of liturgical sacred music, including Gregorian chant, “as it was largely the sole music of the Catholic tradition for over a thousand years and continues to be the official music of the Roman Rite today,” Carter noted. The project also explores Renaissance polyphony as well as works by living composers.

“Wherever the culture of sacred music has flourished, there has always been new musical composition,” Carter emphasized, “and we strive to promote this by training composers … and performing their music in the liturgies and concerts we host. All our events conclude with either a public liturgy or concert, and everyone is welcome to attend.”

New events for 2024 will be available soon; for more information, visit https://sacredmusicproject.org.

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