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March 30th, 2015 - Mark Doerries of Notre Dame University visits the Music Programme
Mark Doerries of Notre Dame University visits the Music Programme

Mark Doerries of Notre Dame University visits the Music Programme

Dr Mark Doerries writes:

It was my great pleasure to work with the choirs of Leeds Cathedral during the beginning of I hope will become a long-term partnership and exchange between Notre Dame University and the Diocese of Leeds.

Benjamin Saunders has developed a magnificent system of ensembles whose singers perform the highest levels of church and concert music. Their sustenance, what fills the minds and hearts of these choirs, is polyphonic music. The bright and shimmering sound of these young choristers' voices uniquely shaped the haunting melodies of Monteverdi, Byrd, Victoria, and Palestrina during my visit. Singers as young as ten years of age learn massive amounts of music for daily mass and vespers services at the Cathedral, while also managing to learn concert repertoire for performances at Ampleforth College and the Leeds Town Hall. I could not be more proud of the performances and services I had the pleasure to co-create with the choirs. In addition to their director, the Cathedral Choirs owe their success to the dedication, talent, and pedagogy of colleagues Lucy Haigh and Daniel Justin who work tirelessly to educate these hungry musicians.

Saunders' extraordinary vision of young singers engaged in sacred music extends beyond the cathedral and into the greater community of the Diocese of Leeds. It was a treasure to hear the community-rooted Bradford Girl Choir take part in a BBC Radio broadcast of favourite hymns and readings under the direction of Thomas Leech. Another particularly moving experience was witnessing the work of Sally Egan, Charlie Rhodes, and Elizabeth McDonagh-Smith at Holy Rosary-St. Anne Choir School in Chapeltown. This multi-ethnic, -religious, and -lingual school unites students from diverse backgrounds together several days a week in song. Saunders and Egan view choral singing as a cross-cultural activity, not confined to the elite schools of southern England, and as the very heart of the mission of the Church.

This commitment to instilling a love of singing in our youngest generations has the capacity to strengthen our communities. During our digital age, Benjamin Saunders and the staff of the Music Department of the Diocese of Leeds have cultivated a physical community around the singing of sacred music that spans class, race, politics, and gender. The choirs of the Diocese of Leeds are a model for future churches, schools, and communities filled with extraordinarily beautiful music.

Mark Doerries, March 23, 2015
Director of the Children’s Choir
University of Notre Dame, Indiana


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