Choir members at Yale University’s St. Thomas More (STM) Catholic Chapel and Center no longer need to rifle through pages of music scores or balance heavy hymnals to sing at Mass. They simply pick up their iPhones, iPads or other digital devices, connect to the Cloud Hymnal (www.cloudhymnal.org) that is stored on the internet cloud, and perform.
The Cloud Hymnal that launched in January was the vision of Richard Gard, director of music at the nearly 80-year-old STM chapel since 2000. It enables users to create liturgies, find Scripture readings, practice music and use newly composed works and English-language Masses.
“Anyone can use it,” said Mr. Gard, a professor at the Yale School of Music since 2003, who noted that communities throughout the United States as well as in Japan and Holland already have signed up for the Cloud Hymnal.
Users, such as choirs and their directors, prayer groups or individuals can join the Cloud Hymnal at no cost, and put it to work as a worship aid to create music lists, gather readings and hymns for Mass — and in five minutes or less can bring up accompanying music, personalize settings and even share or print it in a booklet.
By partnering with the Choral Public Domain Library (CPDL.org), the Cloud Hymnal also offers access to the world’s largest library of 25,000 pieces of free sacred music; invites composers and others to share their library of composition; and has a “practice room” for users to listen to music, as well as to learn to sing a hymn and its harmonies accurately.
“I love it,” said choir member John Janeiro. “It’s a dream come true to have the world of sheet music without having to carry every book around.
We’re able to mix different books and keep everything together. It’s amazing. I hope it catches on everywhere.”
Natalie Plaza agreed. “It’s really helpful, especially for non-professional singers,” she said. “It’s very straightforward and easy to understand.”
The free music and worship resource was designed for public worship, private prayer, singing and music practice through STM’s Center for Music and Liturgy (CML), founded in 2014 with Mr. Gard as director and Julian Darius Revie as composer-in-residence.
The center is a major STM initiative to create and nurture excellent music and musicians for the global Catholic Church. Its mission is to create and disseminate the finest sacred music; and to train future cantors, composers and Catholic music leaders through free internships.
Mr. Gard said the Cloud Hymnal is a tool for the times that wouldn’t have been possible 10 years ago.
He explained that the idea came after Yale graduates returned to their home parishes following years of attending the rich liturgies at the STM Center and called him to ask what they could do to improve their local liturgies. In response, he emailed his planned liturgies and directed them to an app he created (www.choirprodigy.com) for accompanying music.
But it wasn’t enough.
“When you look at the Church in general, the trend is that fewer people are attending Sunday Mass,” acknowledged Mr. Gard. “But it makes a huge difference when people can come together as a community.”
“There are plenty of churches, and not just Catholic churches, that either don’t have the financial resources or the right person to build a music program,” he said. “And that is so important because when you have good music, you will fill your church, and when you have terrible music, you will empty it.”
The trend, he said, begs the question: “What can we do to make this a meaningful community that people want to be part of? How can we make our liturgies more engaging, and encourage full and faithful participation at a certain level of quality and in a way that is inviting?”
One answer, he asserts, is music. So the STM Board of Trustees also began to explore, as he put it, “How can we export or replicate this on a worldwide scale at a reasonable cost?”
One component of the Cloud Hymnal is free internship training for Yale students to develop both skill “and passion for good liturgical music” that they can take home with them after they graduate, said Mr. Gard. Designed for cantors, composers and music leaders, it includes voice lessons with professional cantors and participating as a music leader at STM Masses.
If a church doesn’t have a music program but has a cantor, “you don’t even need an organist,” Mr. Gard insisted. “Just have somebody who sings and you’re good to go.” An experienced cantor can plug an electronic device into a speaker, select appropriate music and sing in any church.
Although the Cloud Hymnal is still in its infancy, Mr. Gard already is looking to the future. “I’d like to see a Mass attended by a million people who sign on with the Cloud Hymnal,” he said.
“I’m hoping that because this makes it so easy to put a liturgy together and so easy to learn new music and rehearse that it will help people in places around the world who don’t have access to resources like this.”
Center aims to provide finest music and liturgy to global Church
The Center for Music and Liturgy is a major initiative of the St. Thomas More Catholic Chapel and Center in New Haven to create and nurture excellent music and musicians for the global Catholic Church. Its mission is to create and disseminate the finest sacred music; and to train future cantors, composers and Catholic music leaders through free internships.
In 2015, the center held a sold-out gala and benefit concert called “Alleluia!” with 600 performers from around the world at Carnegie Hall in New York City. The honorary patrons were Archbishop Leonard P. Blair of Hartford, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport and Bishop David M. O'Connell of Trenton, N.J.
Showcased was the world premier of composer Julian Darius Revie’s Mass of the Divine Shepherd, the first orchestral setting of the revised English Order of Mass instituted by the Vatican in 2011.
In recognition of his talent, his work “The Love of God,” adapted from the seventh movement of the Mass of the Divine Shepherd, was selected and performed as the Communion antiphon at the 2015 Papal Mass in Philadelphia. And, on Good Friday last year, the composer premiered his “Blood of the Lamb, Saint John Passion” at St. Thomas More Chapel for the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
Last September, the Vatican awarded Mr. Revie the 2016 Francesco Siciliani Prize, the top award in the International Competition for a Composition of Sacred Music for his “Kyrie,” which was chosen from among 120 submissions. The contest was presented by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture and held in Perugia, Italy.