Singing for Tradition

By Jacquelyn Oster, Class of 2019

On Friday evening, the students from Thomas More College of Liberal Arts were privileged to appear in a documentary by French filmmaker François Lespes, which focused on composer and choir director Paul Jernberg and his Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit. Some students sang; others kneeled and prayed with the parishioners. The documentary was filmed inside the Church of St. John the Evangelist in Clinton, Massachusetts—a magnificent structure that features a beautiful high altar, impressive statues, and intricate, neo-Gothic windows, arches, and details.

Several years ago, François Lespes (who works for French national TV) directed a documentary about geneticist Jerome Lejeune which Jernberg loved so much that he personally thanked Lespes for his work. Jernberg included a sample of his own music with the message that he sent. Lespes enjoyed Jernberg’s composition so much that he offered to make a documentary about him and his work.

Through this work, Paul Jernberg seeks to uphold the long-standing traditions of the Church through the writing of new music that is just as timeless. While most modern composers draw from styles that were intended for the stage, Jernberg’s music is based primarily on Gregorian rhythms and modes—traditional forms of worship that belong to the Church.

Many of Jernberg’s harmonic choices are inspired by Eastern chant and polyphony. Alumna Bridget Lawler, who works for Jernberg and leads TMC’s Sacred Music choir, commented on the Byzantine qualities of Jernberg’s work. She says that they are manifest in the “deep virility” of Jernberg’s compositions, which are driven by the bass, as is customary in most Eastern pieces. The strength of these lower voices contributes to a feeling of urgency, gravity, and manliness. Techniques such as drones and isons (notes that some singers hold and sustain either above or below the melody) also add to the feeling of gravity. It is important to Jernberg that his music has this masculine quality, which is often missing from the worship and culture of our day.

For more information on Jernberg and his work, please visit: http://www.PaulJernberg.com/

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