The Music (Some) Young People Like

National Catholic Youth Choir 2012 was a resounding success. The 2013 season runs June 17 to July 2, 2013 – spread the word to talented young Catholic singers.

We asked the choristers what music they do and don’t like from this year’s repertoire. Their responses are interesting.

“Song of Triumph” by Dale Grotenhuis was the favorite piece, hands down. (Here’s an excerpt from a previous NCYC. The whole thing, with Axel Theimer conducting an adult choir, is here.) Choristers say it “has a deeper meaning” and they like the “harmonic complexity and dissonance.” It is “very dramatic and easy to get into” and the “mood is amazing.” One young singer wrote that “it lifted my spirit and made me so thankful to be part of the choir.” One said it “took my breath away, there was so much beauty in the dissonance and the words.” One wrote that “Song of Triumph moved me every time. To see how it moved the listeners was awesome.” Only one young singer disliked the piece – “because the 2nd tenor part is so difficult”! And there is this profound comment: “I definitely liked ‘Song of Triumph.’ Why? I dunno. I just do!”

Running a close second was a piece in a very different style, the jazzy “Praise His Holy Name” by Keith Hampton. (Hear it from a previous NCYC season here.) Choristers liked it because it is “more upbeat and fun,” they “love the beat and the mood it creates.” Singer said “it was fun and I loved how it felt,” and “it brings in this automatic power whenever we sing it.”

But it’s not only “upbeat” music the young singers like. “Jubilate Deo” by Renaissance composer di Lasso was a big hit, almost as much as the Hampton. One chorister writes, “Older pieces like that and Palestrina sound great,” another that “I love the old Latin a cappella.” Another wrote that “It was a Renaissance piece so it was easy to find our place again if we got lost” – not sure what that means! Another liked the Latin polyphony because “I like slower, emotional choral pieces more than fast ones.”

Similarly, one chorister liked “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name”/GROSSER GOTT, “Now Let the Vault of Heaven Resound”/LASST UNSERFREUEN, and “New Songs of Celebration Render”/RENDEZ A DIEU because “they are such glorious, old, traditional hymns.” Another likes “Holy God” because “I’ve heard it many times before in church.”

We did Paul Cremona’s catchy “Canticle of Creation” at liturgy and concert, inviting the congregation to sing the appealing refrain. I like the piece and am considering including it in a future hymnal at the abbey. But some choristers found it “too repetitive for my liking” and “too congregation-like.” Oh well.

Choristers are unanimous in their praise of National Catholic Youth Choir: “NCYC caused me to grow more in my musical abilities and faith more than anything else.” “It’s like a new family.” “This is my favorite camp I’ve ever been to.” “NCYC is the best thing ever to happen to me.” “I love that we all have two common important interests, our faith and singing.”

And in their praise of the conductor, Dr. Axel Theimer: “Dr. T is an amazing director. He knows what he’s talking about.” “He is a brilliant mentor.” “He was focused but fun, too.” “He never made anyone feel bad about mistakes.” “Dr. T has changed my life.” “He’s the best teacher I’ve ever had.” “His teaching made me so excited about religious music. I can’t wait to take back everything I’ve learned.”

Next year the NCYC camp runs June 17 to July 2, 2013 – do spread the word.



  1. Father (and Dr. Theimer by association), not trying to pick fights, but why no Latin repertoire from the Renaissance or early Baroque? Likewise some 20th Century European things (in Latin or another language?) I am not in favor of “museum singing” that acts as if compositional genius died in 1650, but the skills young singers learn from that repertoire (tuning, line, modality, sight reading) are so great that I would think they would want to be more prominent. I am glad, of course, that there is some good vernacular repertoire as well, but this did jump out at me. Congrats on your work!

  2. Bruce,
    Thanks for your observations.
    Di Lasso from this year is Renaissance, his Jubilate Deo is in Latin. Our website lists our music selections this year. We do Latin Renaissance every year (I believe my memory is accurate), Latin chant every year (this year they sang a piece at the concert, Mass XVI at Mass, Salve Regina at daily Compline – all in Latin). We’ve done European 20th century other years but I see there happened not to be any this year.

    1. Father, sorry: forgot I even commented here! I did miss the Lassus when I looked at the website! I was starting to get a high fever that day, so maybe I wasn’t all there (the organ at church also sounded like it was meantone…so I’m going to blame the frail body)! Glad to hear that they had a chance to do a Latin ordinary: I know it’s not pastorally appropriate at all times, but it is a great opportunity for them.

  3. I heard yesterday from a friend that one of the choristers who just got back had a really great time. I already heard similar reports in previous years, so keep it up!

    Oh, and Happy 4th of July to all U.S. friends on Pray Tell!

  4. Thank you from your colonial cousins, Paul. Despite any philosophical differences we all have aired out over about three centuries in all earthly realms and concerns, the kinship of the UK (and former colonies), Ireland and the USA will remain a sturdy part of history for generations to study and celebrate for many eras to come. Cheers! (Shhhh, don’t tell, but I still program “Center of my life” with some freuquency! That might earn me a visit to the Star Chamber!)

  5. Many thanks, Fr R, for this news. The music done and its enthusiastic reception by these youth is en-joying. What, of course, is not really news is that young people routinely appreciate our musical heritage (and music that is truly modern as opposed to ‘contemporary’) when there aren’t the wrong kind of peers, and even teachers and adults present who think it’s smart to disparage it.

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