Missa Luba [From Mark Laubach]
Many of you have commented to me since diocesan convention with your enthusiastic reaction to the Missa Luba which
St. Stephen’s Choir sang at the Eucharist on Saturday morning. A number of you asked for more details,
so I thought I would post something here about what we sang, how we came to do it, and who were our wonderful guest
musicians (conductor, tenor soloist, percussionists) that morning.
What we sang was the Missa Luba (I believe Luba refers to the language of that part of Africa), which was arranged
and composed by Fr. Guido Haazen (d. 2004), a Franciscan Friar from Belgium, who arrived in the Congo in 1953 as a missionary.
The Missa was first performed and recorded in 1958, and uses traditional Congolese music. Bishop Paul has been eager to have
this sung at a diocesan liturgy for as many years as he’s been our bishop, and finally this seemed to be the right time
and opportunity to do it. I’m sure we’ll do it again in the future, and I hope to have more of my singers here for it
(too many of my choir members had unanticipated conflicts with this weekend, unfortunately) and fix the spots that didn’t
quite go 100% well! This music is not exceedingly demanding of the choir, though it goes better with more singers, and it’s
so very different from what a group like ours is accustomed to singing. So it was a bit of a stretch for us, both in terms of
numbers and stylistic awareness. But I think we felt as though it went quite well, and that the hours of preparation were all
very much worth the experience.
In Missa Luba, the greatest musical demands fall on the shoulders of the tenor soloist and the percussionists, all of whom
need to have some sensitivity to stylistic idiosyncrasies in performing traditional African music. We were supremely blessed
with a tremendous tenor and talented and knowledgeable percussionists. Our tenor soloist was Lazaro Calderon, a native
Puerto Rican who is now based in Manhattan and studies at Juilliard. (BTW, Lazaro will be making his Carnegie Hall debut
in a month, singing the lead role in Cavalleria Rusticana, I believe!) Lazaro came on the recommendation
of Andrew Krystopolski (a former organ and church music student of mine at Marywood University, class of 2005 – now
full-time organist & choirmaster at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Essex Fells NJ), who ended up conducting the mass
at my invitation. I thought Andrew would enjoy doing it and would “get” that style far better than I ever could, and I was
absolutely right. He was thrilled to be asked, and I was relieved to have one less job to do in a very busy weekend.
Lazaro was a joy to work with, as were the drummers, Monica Spishock, Robert Burns, and James Curtis. Although the choir
and I had been preparing the Missa Luba since late August, we put it all together with Andrew, Lazaro, and the drums after
Evensong on Friday night.
I am truly proud of the St. Stephen’s Choir members who worked so hard in putting together both Friday’s Evensong
and the Saturday morning Eucharist, all the while preparing the Duruflé Requiem for November 1st here at St. Stephen’s (5 p.m.)
and again on November 8th (4 p.m.) at the Cathedral Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and while preparing for the
Presiding Bishop’s visit for Evensong on November 11th! In this past week alone, our singers were here for 2½ hours on Thursday
evening, about 3½ hours Friday evening, about 2½ hours Saturday morning, and then again for about 2 hours on Sunday morning!
Their dedication and enthusiasm inspire me – they truly do model discipleship in action!
I would also like to thank all those from throughout the diocese who were here for the convention. Speaking for Fr. Daniel Gunn,
our wardens, vestry, staff, and parishioners, it’s a great privilege and honor for us to host convention and other diocesan events
here at St. Stephen’s. For me personally, it’s a particular joy to reconnect with so many “old” friends and make “new” friends,
and to accompany such enthusiastic congregational singing. (This means I can let the organ “wail” just a little louder
(perhaps a “guilty pleasure”?), and together we can create some uplifting moments in our corporate worship. As Bishop Paul often
says, “Church can and should be fun!”)
And finally, my deep thanks to Bishop Marshall, Archdeacon Stringfellow, and all the members of the Liturgy and Music
Commission who worked so hard on so many fronts to make the convention liturgies so well planned, smoothly executed, meaningful,
spirited, elegant, and reverent.
Canon Mark Laubach, Organist & Choirmaster
St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
Pro-Cathedral of the Diocese of Bethlehem
35 South Franklin Street
Wilkes-Barre PA 18701