The Schola Cantorum from Edmonton has just released its Into Light album. Photo courtesy The Schola Cantorum

Choir breathes sacred musical life into Advent

  • December 20, 2022

“I will sing of steadfast love and justice; to you, O Lord, I will make music.” 
-- Psalm 101:1

King David authored Psalm 101, a lyrical commitment to honour and follow the Lord as the shepherd boy readied to become king of Israel. The prodigious harpist, lyricist and composer possessed the intuition that music could be used to powerfully praise the wonders and majesty of Almighty God. 

It is evident The Schola Cantorum (Latin for Song School) at St. Joseph’s Basilica in Edmonton embraces this maxim too. Under the guidance of Director of Music Roderick Bryce, this eight-member vocal ensemble released an album entitled Into Light on Nov. 16. The 19 tracks of sacred music are meant to help prepare the hearts and minds of the faithful during the Advent season. 

Into Light is a successor to The Schola Cantorum’s first album, Alpha & Omega, a compilation of contemporary and traditional Christmas choral arrangements, which came out in 2020. Bryce described Alpha & Omega as “their COVID miracle” as the recording process at Newman Theological College barely wrapped up before pandemic restrictions became operational in mid-March. The team adapted and completed the post-production during the lockdown. 

Figuring out what songs to include or exclude is a difficult procedure considering the wealth of spiritual music written for the Christmas season. Christian holiday albums often present a blend of Christmas and Advent music. Bryce decided to exclude Advent music from Alpha & Omega to make the song selection process less overwhelming.

“By natural extension, I wanted to explore Advent music this time,” said Bryce, who is also a professor at Newman Theological College. “These two albums are partners if you like. They are almost sort of one project.”

The Schola Cantorum vocalists completed the recording of Into Light at the college in June. Bryce was eager to see how his ensemble would tackle some of the songs unfamiliar to them.

“Some pieces were in our repertoire for years and others were brand new. You go into a recording process like that, knowing that you have very limited, finite time to rehearse and that recording time is precious and costly. You are anxious about not having time to fully learn these pieces, but it is such a great group that it quickly dissipated. They managed to sing it as if they have been singing it all their lives.”

A couple of the new “harmonically challenging” works mastered by The Schola Cantorum were “A Tender Shoot,” an Isaiah text adapted melodically by British performer Kerensa Briggs, and “O Radiant Dawn,” penned by Scottish Catholic composer James MacMillan.

These two tracks were memorable to this reporter’s ears because of the emotive power generated from the ensemble largely singing in unison. Meanwhile, a piece such as “Hymn a la Vierge,” penned by late French composer Pierre Villette in the mid-1950s, is interesting because of the melodic interplay between the sopranos, altos, tenors and bass. 

Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith is credited by Bryce as an inspiration in the conception of Alpha & Omega, and later Into Light.

“A number of years ago Archbishop Smith wrote a pastoral letter called Living in the Word of God, which is about making sure we have access to Scripture in all things,” he said. “My response was let us record some music, which is very often the words of Scripture, if not directly then a very close paraphrase. Let people have an opportunity to take that sound, the musical sound of the Church, into their own lives. They can imagine they are in the basilica while they are on their commute to work.”

For much of 2020 and 2021, The Schola Cantorum experienced the fate of Church choirs throughout the world: an outright ban from sharing their talent because of COVID-19 restrictions. 

This past year has been a breath of exhilarating fresh air. 

“We are delighted to be back doing what we would do in a normal year — I would say we are at 90-per-cent normal,” said Bryce. “It’s funny, because we now do this without taking anything for granted. I think most performers would admit we used to take a lot for granted. We are now conscious of how privileged we are to perform. 

“It seems like December has been extra busy this year because performers are maybe giving a little bit extra of themselves because of this feeling of not just going through the motions and taking it for granted, but in actual fact we are really delighted back to doing not just what we love to do, but in a lot of cases what we need to do. It expresses our musical souls.”

The members of The Schola Cantorum are: Carole Kube, Jessica Wagner (sopranos); Wendy Grønnestad-Damur, Sarah Thomsen (altos), Ian Bannerman, Anthony Wynne (tenors); Tim To, Josiah Maxfield (bass).

To learn more about Into Light, visit

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