The Schola Cantorum Franciscana, translated “School of Singing of St. Francis,” a choir of sacred music at Franciscan University, is renowned for its musical prowess, especially in Latin chant.
Professor Nick Will, schola director since fall 2013, said that while it is not competitive, as is the case with most choirs of sacred music, the schola actively performs throughout the tri-state area.
He also said that the schola has sung for Extraordinary Form High Masses at Franciscan and for other Extraordinary Form High Masses in Steubenville, Wintersville and Pittsburgh.
The schola performs at most High Masses at Franciscan each semester, said Will, and usually performs for other liturgies and para-liturgies such as Lessons and Carols and Tenebrae as well as occasionally giving concerts in Christ the King Chapel or the Gentile Gallery.
Additionally, he noted that the schola will sometimes provide music for Ordinary Form (Novus Ordo) Masses on campus as well as parishes in the greater Steubenville-Pittsburgh area.
Typically, the schola averages 20 members, about half of whom are sacred music majors. Since membership in the schola is mandatory for all sacred music majors, the schola has strengthened Franciscan’s sacred music program.
Will said that he believes that the schola is at the “highest level they have ever been” in his tenure.
Sophomore Liz Tkacik agreed, saying, “(Will) takes what we have; he works with it, and from there, we can be a good choir.”
The earliest scholas, dating from the sixth century, were the ancestors of Gregorian chant, said Will. He continued that although the ancient Roman Schola Contorum was instrumental in the development of Gregorian chant, and the core repertoire of most scholas is chant, a majority of the Franciscan schola’s repertoire is polyphonic repertoire spanning the last five centuries.
Junior Nate Pultorak appreciates that the schola is “getting into the church’s vast repertoire of sacred music.”
Will also said that the schola has had the opportunity to collaborate with similar choirs and ensembles, including the Academy Chamber Orchestra, St. Vincent Camerata and Chatham Baroque Ensemble.
A particular performance that stands out to the schola and to Will, he said, was one such collaborative performance last fall semester. Alongside the Academy Chamber Orchestra and St. Vincent Camerata, the schola performed Franz Schubert’s “Mass in G” plus Ralph Vaughan Williams’s “Dona Nobis Pacem.”
Tkacik said that Vaughan Williams’ piece was “a moving experience for everyone involved.”
Will agreed, saying, “It was a poignant experience for both performers and audience.”
Will offered history on the piece, saying that it was written between the two world wars and is a plea for peace from the composer, a veteran of World War I, in the wake of World War II. The schola sang the piece in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris, pleading for peace once again in this post-war world, he said.
Another outstanding performance for the schola was a Mass sung for Blessed Sacrament parish in Wintersville on the second Saturday in April, said Pultorak.
Pultorak said that he “liked all the energy behind it,” especially the “long-rehearsed Easter music and motets.”
A motet is a chant “characterized by melodies weaving in and out of each other,” said Pultorak.
Will said that he believes that the “future of the group is very bright.”
He hopes to record the schola’s first album in a few weeks, and he also desires “a more extensive tour (for the) schola,” said Will.
Will received a bachelor’s degree in sacred music from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and a master’s degree in organ performance from Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore.
While the Schola will not be performing again this year except at the upcoming Extraordinary Form High Mass May 1 in Christ the King Chapel, Franciscan’s sacred music program will offer a performance of Excerpts from Handel’s “Messiah,” said Will.
Formerly advertised as a schola performance, he said that this showcase of sacred music majors will be held on Monday, April 25 at 7:30 p.m. in the Gentile Gallery.
Editor’s note: The was an inaccuracy in the ninth paragraph and it has been corrected at the direction of professor Nicholas Will. We apologize for this error.