STURGEON BAY — Theologians study the doctrines of the church, but musicians can set them to music.
Brian Fogarty, 35, music director at Corpus Christi in Sturgeon Bay, just finished his original Mass of the Communion of Saints.
“As a Catholic, I’ve always thought the Communion of Saints was a beautiful piece of theology,” Fogarty said, seated in the comfortable home he shares with his wife Amy and four children.
“I like knowing that even when people die, they’re still part of the church, and we can pray for them and to them to intercede for us.”
It’s a belief he puts into practice. He talked about the time he was working on a difficult plumbing repair project in his home, and remembered that his grandfather was good at that sort of thing.
“I asked him to help me,” he said. The project turned out just fine.
Fogarty’s Mass reflects the idea of the church militant (on earth), triumphant (in heaven) and suffering (in purgatory) by having various entry points in the Gloria for the choir, the congregation and the cantor. At the same time, the entire Mass could be sung by the congregation alone.
“I wanted to keep it as versatile as possible,” he said.
The Corpus Christi church choir members got the music for the Mass at their last practice before summer began so they could listen and become familiar with it. Since practice resumed in September, they’ve begun rehearsing it. Despite the name of the Mass, Fogarty expects to debut it this winter during ordinary time, rather than on Nov. 1, the feast of All Saints.
“I don’t want its introduction to be hurried,” Fogarty said. “I’m still thinking of ways to gradually introduce it to the congregation.”
Fogarty, whose father teaches band and orchestra and has been a church musician since eighth grade, has been involved with music since he first took piano lessons in the second grade. In high school he decided he wanted to major in music composition in college. He was already writing music for the school bands.
“I think I wanted to do something different than my dad, but I never thought I’d be involved with church choirs,” he said. “As a kid, I envisioned writing musicals or movie scores.”
In grad school he had the opportunity to teach, but at the same time he became involved with the choir at the local church.
“I loved it,” he said. “In my experience, working with choirs is more fun than teaching because the choir members really want to be there, even though their musical backgrounds vary considerably. And most choirs are usually tight-knit groups.
“It’s fun to work with professionals occasionally, but I get the most enjoyment out of church choirs,” he added.
Being a church musician has also been a big contributor to his own spiritual life.
“Working in the church has given me a deeper appreciation for the Mass,” he said. “I can’t imagine doing anything else because I love the Mass so much.”
Although he plays for three Masses each weekend, he works to keep it from becoming rote, and tries to consciously focus on the words. It was the reference in the preface to praising God along with the heavenly choirs that helped inspire the name and theme for his Mass.
Fogarty had spent most of his composing time writing music for weddings for family members and friends, and the occasional song for a church choir. It was when he and his family moved to Sturgeon Bay in 2009 and he became music director at Corpus Christi that the inspiration to write a Mass began to take shape.
“That’s when the changes in wording were coming up for the liturgy,” he said. “I was reading through the new adapted materials for existing Masses (and) started thinking it would be a challenge to write a Mass with the new words.”
Since the biggest translation changes occur in the Gloria, he started with that, getting most of it finished in 2010. Then he put it away for a while to work with Corpus Christi’s choir on musical changes in existing Masses.
It was Corpus Christi’s pastor, Fr. Carl Schmitt, who was the spur to hauling out his own Mass again.
“Fr. Carl likes to sing the eucharistic prayer, but there isn’t one for the Heritage Mass, which is what we were using at the time,” Fogarty said. “So I challenged myself to write one that could be adapted for the Heritage Mass, and for the Mass of the Communion of Saints.”
The choir members didn’t know about Fogarty’s project, and when they got the music last spring, they found a surprise. The Gloria had been dedicated to “the choir of Corpus Christi Parish.”
“I had our choir and its capabilities in mind when I wrote it,” he said.
Although the Mass is ready to be learned, Fogarty said he still wants to revise and perhaps simplify his own accompaniment. He may eventually write separate parts for piano and organ, and parts for other instruments. After that, he’ll send it in to publishers and competitions, and see what happens.
“The best advice I got about publishing music was to send it in, and then leave it in their hands,” Fogarty said. “Now, I just want our own choir and congregation to be able to sing it.”
The Corpus Christi Parish website features a sampling of the choir music. Visit www.ccparish.net/parish-ministries/music-ministry.