By Lou Baldwin

Special to The CS&T

Their motto is “Make a Joyful Noise unto the Lord.” That’s certainly biblical but self-deprecating to describe their church music as “noise.”

The “they” in question are several hundred church musicians – choir directors, organists, pianists and choristers – who gathered at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul on Sunday, Nov. 23 for an Archdiocesan Choir Festival.

“Today the Association of Church Musicians in Philadelphia (ACMP)celebrates a festival of song in honor of St. Cecelia (patron of musicians). Her feast day was yesterday,” said Father G. Dennis Gill, director of the Archdiocesan Office for Worship.

It is also the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the founding of the ACMP, he noted. “This is just one more way that we can give emphasis to how important sacred music and liturgical music is,” he said.

The program covered a wide range of musical selections from the Salve Regina in plain chant; the traditional spiritual Give Me Jesus, and that Philadelphia favorite Gift of Finest Wheat and many other stops in between.

For this occasion the various choir members were an alternating congregation. On some selections they joined in song with the Cathedral-Basilica Choir, directed by Michael Sheerin in the choir loft.

Guest speaker for the event was Elaine Rendler-McQueeney, associate professor of music at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., and an internationally recognized musician, teacher, composer, pastoral liturgist and speaker. Her selection as speaker was appropriate because she is a native Philadelphian who first learned to play the organ in the Cathedral while in grade school. She went on to be the Cathedral’s organist.

“If our music could build buildings, if we were architects, we would have such a glorious cathedral from all of your dedication, from all of your labor, from all of the time you put into praising God and preaching the Gospel to others,” she told the assembled musicians.

The ACMP was founded in 1968 under the leadership of Peter LaManna, who was then director of music for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and chair of the music department at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. He also founded the Archdiocesan Boy Choir and both the Cathedral and Archdiocesan Choirs, which were the forerunners of today’s Cathedral-Basilica Choir.

The ACMP is a chapter of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians but predates the national group by three decades.

This first Archdiocesan Choir Festival went extremely well, according to Callie Welsh, the ACMP president and the music director at St. Katharine of Siena Parish, Wayne.

“Our main goal was that people could pray and sing without having to worry what they were doing,” she said.

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.