Immaculate Conception Parish of Malden, MA
By Rosalind Mohnsen
When I accepted the job at Immaculate Conception Parish of Malden/Medford, MA in 1983, little did I expect to still be working here thirty years later. I have not tired of any sameness as each year sees something different and unexpected taking place. I am pleased to be asked to reflect on this journey, which gets more interesting each year.
With regard to clergy, I have served with four pastors, seventeen associates, six seniors, ten priests in residence and two deacons. Thirteen seminarians and four transitional deacons have spent time here in training. We have even had three ordinations in our church.
With regard to numbers, nine weekend Masses have been reduced to five, and attendance is lower. Weddings have gone from an average of sixty per year to fifteen per year. Funerals have remained steady with only a small decline, from 130 to 110 per year. Nevertheless, it seems busier than ever. The more a music program is developed, the more time it takes.
The Parish Choir has developed greatly. Though we have always sung in four parts, our repertoire is now more challenging; we are able to sing four-part a cappella and chant well as a group. Recognizing the importance of chant, we sing the Propers of the Mass every Sunday, i.e., Entrance antiphon, Offertory antiphon, and Communion antiphon, mostly in English chant, and mostly by Fr. Samuel Weber, O.S.B., though also some by Adam Bartlett and Richard Rice. We also sing anthems at Offertory and Communion. The program for the Sacred Paschal Triduum is quite involved; that is the week we see each other five times for liturgies. I now have three men in the choir who are able to chant the entire Passion according to St. John on Good Friday. The choir has sung in English, Latin, German and Russian, and a quartet has sung in Spanish. Despite occasional inclement weather, we have always had someone present on Sunday.
We began paid cantors in my twelfth year. Other than one soprano cantor, the choir is entirely volunteer. One year saw an age span of high-school ninth grader through eighty-eight year old alto. 2013 saw a birthday for a 90 year old member, followed by her retirement, and a baptism of a baby boy of a soprano-tenor married couple in the choir. We have regularly celebrated birthdays, with many thanks to a member who regularly donated and brought the cake.
The choir library has been built over thirty years, and I would miss access to that library were I not working here. Besides standards, we have numerous out-of-print works, as I find it interesting to research in this area. The church has been generous in supporting purchases, and we have also received gifts from several other churches as well as individuals.
In 1986, we began presenting concerts. Since then, we have had 25 annual Christmas Lessons and Carols programs, 28 annual Ecumenical Palm Sunday Concerts with combined choirs and orchestra, and 28 annual Spring Choir Concerts at the end of the year. We have participated all thirty years in the Festival of Carols at the First Baptist Church in Malden, a city-wide musical event now in its seventieth year.
Some of our standard anthems and motets are-Ave Verum, Mozart; Christ to Thee be Glory (St. Matthew Passion) Schütz; Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart-Dirksen; I Will not Leave you Comfortless, Titcomb of Boston; Dextera Domini-Franck; and God so Loved the World-Stainer.
Some of our unusual and out-of-print repertoire includes By the Rivers of Watertown, Billings of Boston, (sung following the Boston Marathon bombings), A Christmas Folksong, Audun Ravnan (a former choir director of mine); Benedictus Es Domine, (for women’s voices), Sowerby; O For a Shout of Sacred Joy, Hovhannes of Somerville, MA, and Shout for Joy, Peloquin of Boston.
Here is a sampling of our Christmas repertoire-A Modern Medieval Carol, Colin Mawby; Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow, Spiritual, arr. Jack Schrader, Huron Carol, arr. Paul Halley, We Have Seen His Star, Everett Titcomb of Boston, Gabriel of High Degree (A Day for Dancing), Lloyd Pfautsch; and pieces by women composers from Boston, Through the Dark the Dreamers Came, Mabel Daniels, and Star of Bethlehem, Margaret Ruthven Lang.
These are the cantatas and oratorios we have done-The Seven Last Words of Christ, Dubois; Olivet to Calvary, Maunder; The Redemption, (excerpt) Gounod; Stabat Mater, Rossini; and Messiah (Parts II & III), Handel. We have received seven grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council for these performances, which over the years have involved singers from thirty-nine churches.
Beyond the parish, we have sung the TV Mass, for the Jingle Bell Festival in Medford, MA, which helped to break a Guniness Book record for caroling, at the Stoneham Zoo, for an Ordination at the Cathedral, for a First Mass, and twice yearly for the Memorial Mass at the Holy Cross Cemetery Mausoleum in Malden.
In addition to music, I have managed the readers for twenty-eight years, which is a different atmosphere from working with musicians. I conduct meetings four times a year, work out four schedules a year, and train new readers. I have also written a good number of articles for our weekly church bulletin.
The organ in Immaculate Conception Church was built by William Patchell, a local builder (and politician) from Malden. It is electro-pneumatic action, 3 manuals, 26 ranks, and sounds well in a 1200-seat building from 1964 with good acoustics. Celebratory organ concerts were held for the 150th anniversary of the parish, founded in 1854, and on the completion of my 25 years of service.
On the occasion of my having completed 25 years as Director of Music/Organist, a Mass of Thanksgiving was offered. That was the first time the congregation sang the entire Mass Ordinary in Latin, and the choir three of the Mass Propers in English chant. The parish presented me with a beautiful window of St. Cecilia, made in Germany and dating from around 1925, taken from a set of windows removed from a now-closed convent chapel. It hangs in my living room bay-window, and serves as a reminder that all the trials, struggles, and problems are in the end surpassed by the joys of being a church musician.