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Catholic Vancouver Aug. 7, 2018

Sacred music symposium ends on a high note

By Chandra Philip

A participant at the Sacred Music Symposium at Sts. Joachim and Ann Parish flips through pages of Gregorian Chant. (Photos by Garvan Yeung / Special to The B.C. Catholic)

LANGLEY—Believed to be the first of its kind in the Lower Mainland, the Sacred Music Symposium has changed the way some Catholics view the liturgy and ultimately their faith.

“The music really draws you into prayer, into deep prayer, into mental prayer, deepening your meditation with Christ,” participant Sheldon Bjorgaard said.

He added that his connection with the Church also changed because of the weekend experience.

“It’s not just an institution,” he said, explaining he felt a deeper draw into the Church as our mother.

Gemma Bonner agreed. “Everything was really good. The workshops were good, and the talks were amazing. I didn’t know what to expect. So, for a first symposium, this was wonderful.”

Both Bjorgaard and Bonner said they would recommend others attend the event if it is held again next year.

For “any musicians, or if you are not familiar with sacred music or chant at all, it is a very good introduction,” Bonner said.

Peter Evans, who travelled from Seattle to participate in the July 27-29 event at Sts. Joachim and Ann Parish in Aldergrove, said he has a deep history with the style of music and sings in the choir at Fraternity of St. Peter Parish.

“Seeing this just makes me love it more,” Evans said.

Organizer Bevin van Liempt leads a workshop during the Sacred Music Symposium.

The symposium was planned by three sacred music lovers, Ryan Bjorgaard, Alexander McCune and Bevin van Liempt. 

“We were just kind of talking over drinks,” Bjorgaard said. “We have a really awesome music program here and most of us aren’t professionals. Alex is the only one who is a professional, but we have put something together here that is really cool, and we thought that other people would get something out of learning from us.”

Bjorgaard said they were thinking of making the symposium an annual event based on the interest they saw.

“The response has been overwhelming so we are definitely thinking of doing it again next year.”

One couple even came from as far away as Minnesota to participate.

“I think that is a testament to how far this has spread,” Bjorgaard said.

The event kicked off with sung vespers on Friday night and carried on Saturday with workshops, breakout sessions, a lecture from St. James Pastor Father William Ashley, and a Pontifical sung Mass celebrated in the extraordinary form according to Pope St. John XXIII’s 1962 Missale Romanum. The night wrapped up with a keynote speech from Bishop Joseph Perry from the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Bishop Perry spoke of the difference in the Church musical environment before and after Vatican II, which is seen as the turning point for when chant began to disappear from liturgical use.

“We are still in an era of catch-up, and you folks are right in the midst of it.”

He said other denominations celebrate musical talent in their midst; “Why shouldn’t we Catholics?”

Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry from Chicago. 

The Church has a vast treasury of music both old and new, Bishop Perry explained, adding that the culture of the Church should include sharing its ancient Latin roots. 

“I have the highest respect for musicians. Their talent is God’s artistry shining through,” he said.

On Sunday the symposium continued its exploration of sacred music, beginning with a spiritual conference led by Bishop Perry. The highlight was the Pontifical High Mass, in which all the participants presented what they had learned during the weekend. 

“I am really happy with the response from everyone,” Bjorgaard said.

“People I have been talking to said ‘We really enjoyed our classes. We got a lot out of it.’ They said it was challenging but in a good sense. It stretched them to do things they didn’t know they could do.”

More photos available here.

Pastor Father William Ashley gives a presentation.
Organizer Alexander McCune on the piano.