Thursday, December 11, 2014

New York's New St. Cecilia Academy for Pastoral Musicians - Educating Those Working for the Church

How does one work for excellent music in the parish? One answer is to educate those working for the Church as musicians in the principles of sacred music and liturgy. 
A few months ago, I announced the inaugural academic year of the St. Cecilia Academy for Pastoral Musicians, a new initiative of the Office of Liturgy in the Archdiocese of New York, offered through St. Joseph's Seminary (Dunwoodie) in Yonkers. The initiative, brought about through the work of the director of the Office of Liturgy, Fr. Matthew Ernest, is a
four-course, fully accredited program offered through St. Joseph’s Seminary in the field of liturgical music for the purpose of introducing musicians to the history, theology, and pastoral principles of liturgy and sacred music.
The new St. Cecilia Academy for Pastoral Musicians is an ambitious program, aimed at “the troops in the trenches” — parish music directors.
The course offerings are: 
  • Introduction to Liturgy (3 credits)
  • Liturgical Music: History of Sacred Music, Principles of Sacred Music,Liturgical Music Planning (3 credits)
  • Liturgical Year/Art and Environment in Worship (3 credits)
  • Principles of Chant – Theory and Practicum (3 credits)
Courses are fully accredited Masters Level Courses and may be used toward the pursuit of the Master of Arts Degree in Theology or the Master of Arts Degree in Pastoral Studies from St. Joseph’s Seminary.

As the new Director of Sacred Music and associate professor at St. Joseph's, I'll be teaching the course this spring semester—Liturgical Music: History of Sacred Music, Principles of Sacred Music, Liturgical Music Planning.  The course is offered on Monday nights at both the Yonkers location (Dunwoodie, in-person) and Huntington (Long Island, remote conferencing).
There is a 50% discount on seminary tuition for those music directors sponsored by their parishes.
Why does the Academy exist? Here's what Fr. Ernest had to say in his interview:
In the New York area, some parishes are able to hire trained musicians as parish music directors. Other parishes rely on dedicated volunteers to provide music ministry. While these individuals are talented musicians, they often come to these positions, both salaried and unsalaried, with limited or no formation in the principles of liturgy and sacred music. For many years, there has not been a comprehensive formation program for pastoral musicians offered in the greater New York area. Numerous requests have been made by pastors of the archdiocese for a program wherein musicians can receive the education they need to effectively serve as pastoral musicians. With the support of Cardinal Dolan, the staff of the archdiocese’s Office of Liturgy and the faculty of St. Joseph’s Seminary began to discuss ways in which this need could be met in our area. The result of these discussions is the St. Cecilia Academy.
While classes in the spring will be term-length, on-ground classes, the Academy is looking forward to diversifying its offerings and modes/formats of delivery/scheduling.
In the short term, I look forward to our summer chant intensive, which will offer a week-long, three-credit introduction to the history, spirituality, and reading of chant. Currently, we are looking to accommodate those interested students who live outside of our area and who may wish to travel to New York for this course. It is anticipated that this kind of outreach to musicians outside the tri-state area will continue through online offerings.

With respect to more long-range plans, I would like to see any expansion of the academy always retain a focus on educating and assisting parish musicians in their crucial work of leading the People of God in sung prayer. I believe that the academy’s success and future offerings should be evaluated primarily by the quality of sacred music and worship provided by our graduates in their parishes. With this in mind, it is my hope that the academy’s offerings can have a direct and positive impact on the life of the church in New York. 
I am excited to begin my work at Dunwoodie and look forward to helping musicians offer their best work to the Church and to Our Lord through excellent and beautiful music for the liturgy. 

For more information about the St. Cecilia Academy, go to or send an email to

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