Christmas time at St. Mary’s Cathedral cannot be considered without also including the season of Advent. The music during the Masses highlights the themes of hope and expectation. Gregorian Chant is very prominent in our choices. During this season, our children’s choirs are busy visiting senior residences and caroling for them. Each year, we also collaborate with St. Mark’s Lutheran Church across the street in an Advent Lessons and Carols service. This year, the service was at St. Mark’s and featured works by Tavener, Moore, Britten, and Tschesnokoff. An entertaining highlight is our annual Cookies and Carols fundraiser, involving all cathedral choirs. A small part of the evening includes caroling for about 100 homeless men who are sheltered in our conference center for two weeks over Christmas. The weekly concerts included Vytenis Vasyliunas (Germany), organist; Lyle Sheffler, classical guitar; myself on the organ; and Angela Kraft Cross, organist.
With the organ freshly tuned and the cathedral amply decorated, we arrive at Christmas Eve. Our children’s choirs present a caroling concert at 5:00 pm, followed by the 5:30 pm. The adult choir follows with carols at 11:30 pm and then sings at the Midnight Mass, presided over by Archbishop Cordileone. Musical selections include “Hymn to the Virgin” by Britten, “Salvation Is Created” by Tschesnokoff, “The Virgin’s Slumber Song” by Reger, “O magnum mysterium” by Victoria, and Rutter’s settings of “Go, Tell It on the Mountain” and “O Holy Night.” Ordinary parts are taken from the Missa brevis by Palestrina. The Schola Cantorum sings at the 9:00 am Gregorian Chant Mass on Christmas Day, featuring a fairly complete proper and ordinary, and also including Victoria’s “O regem caeli.” The adult choir returns for the 11 am Mass, repeating some of the selections from the previous night.
A highlight of the Christmas season is our annual Epiphany Lessons and Carols, sung by the Cathedral Choir of Boys and Girls, the St. Brigid School Honor Choir, and the Golden Gate Boyschoir and Bellringers.
This may look very busy, and it is. As music director, it is important that I find time for myself and for my family, so that I can celebrate these seasons in the right spirit. The music of the season does a lot to prepare me spiritually, but I also try to find extra time for prayer and reflection, and to spend quality time with my wife and children. It is only in the combination of the professional with the personal time that Christmas finds its fulfillment in my heart.
Dr. Christoph Tietze
Professor of Sacred Music
Dr. Tietze began his organ studies at age 10 in his native Germany. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in music from San Jose State University, Master of Music and Master of Musical Arts degrees from Yale University's Institute of Sacred Music, and the Doctor of Sacred Music from the Graduate Theological Foundation, completing his coursework at St. Benet's Hall, Oxford University, and Sarum College in Salisbury, England. (Read Dr. Tietze's full GTF Faculty Profile.)