December 8, 2023

Archdiocesan vocal ensemble gives new life to Church’s treasury of music

Andrew Motyka conducts Vox Sacra in rehearsal at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis in preparation for its upcoming concert on Dec. 16 at St. Luke the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis. (Photo by Ann Margaret Lewis)

Andrew Motyka conducts Vox Sacra in rehearsal at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis in preparation for its upcoming concert on Dec. 16 at St. Luke the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis. (Photo by Ann Margaret Lewis)

By Ann Margaret Lewis

In the Church’s long history, sacred music, specifically vocal music, was an important element in the Mass from the earliest years of the liturgy’s development.

In fact, Western music notation and theory grew out of the need to proclaim the words of holy Scripture and prayer at Mass in a way that elevated those words above those used in the secular world.

To further that tradition of proclaiming Scripture in song, the archdiocesan schola cantorum (“school of singers”) Vox Sacra, whose name means “Sacred Voice,” was formed to present sacred music from all eras of Church history—from the earliest pieces of Gregorian chant to complicated, contemporary, sacred pieces that glorify God in new and original ways.

Currently, the group is preparing for a concert for the Advent/Christmas season called “How Far is it to Bethlehem?” The concert will take place at 7 p.m. on Dec. 16 at St. Luke the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis. The free concert will include the music of Anton Bruckner, Domenico Bartolucci and Gerald Near.

The concert—as well as a new CD called “Hail, True Body”—are the latest offerings in Vox Sacra’s eight-year history.

‘Catholic music is a treasure’

In 2015, Vox Sacra director Andrew Motyka, who is also the director of archdiocesan and cathedral liturgical music, thought it would be useful to have an archdiocesan choral group that performed often unheard pieces from the Church’s treasury of sacred music for Masses and events outside of regular Sunday liturgies.

He noted that, in paragraph 114 of “Sacrosanctum Concilium” (“Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy”), “Vatican II says that Catholic music is a treasure of inestimable value to be carefully preserved. [The Church has] done that with varying degrees of success and failure since [the council]. That treasury needs to be cultivated.”

Motyka added that Pope Francis said tradition and the liturgy should not be museum pieces.

“Some people take that to mean we should not be doing too many old things because that makes [the Church] a museum,” Motyka said. “But I turn that around and say, ‘No, it’s actually that our traditional things should be used in the liturgy because otherwise they become museum pieces and relics that you only hear in concert outside of the Mass.’

“Our [music] is a living tradition and one that we should continue to use at Mass,” Motyka continued. “It is something that belongs to all of us. I mean, these older composers from every nation in the world don’t simply belong to that nationality. They belong to the Church as a whole.”

‘A little more versatile of a group’

To that end of sharing and performing great music from the Church’s history, Motyka thought initially he’d form a larger, volunteer archdiocesan choir like those assembled regularly to sing at priestly ordinations.

But then he realized a bigger ensemble might be difficult logistically. What was needed was a smaller, more flexible choir that could adapt easily to unique occasions. He put out a notice that he’d be auditioning for a 12-person group of experienced singers that could tackle these often-difficult works.

Motyka was pleasantly surprised at the response he received and impressed by the talent of those who auditioned.

“It was really good, and I had some hard decisions to make as far as who was going to be in the group,” he said. “The group now has 16 members, all of whom are highly skilled singers. Many are also music directors at parishes around the archdiocese.”

Being active in one’s own parish music ministry was important in Motyka’s selection of Vox Sacra’s members. “I never wanted Vox Sacra to be a group that pulls away from any of our parish music groups,” he said.

While it was created to perform at archdiocesan special liturgies and events, one of Vox Sacra’s additional efforts is making recordings.

In early 2016, the group recorded an album of Christmas music called “With Heart and Soul and Voice.” In 2018, the ensemble released a second album titled “Ave” that highlighted music celebrating the Blessed Mother.

Now the group has produced a third album as a nod to the National Eucharistic Revival called “Hail, True Body” that features music thematically centered on the Eucharist.

“Of course, we do a lot more than just recording,” Motyka said. “We’ve sung for ordinations and other small and larger events, like when [the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops] came to town in 2017. [We] were a big part of that because [we’re] a little more versatile of a group than the larger archdiocesan choir is.”

‘A third choir that’s somewhere in between’

The group also presents regular concerts. Its Advent and Christmas concert has continued every year, except for the years of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, they sing yearly for the tenebrae services during Holy Week at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis.

Motyka found preparing the group to perform complicated pieces as much of a challenge for himself as it was for the singers.

“I have to work a little bit harder to stay ahead of some of these really talented people who come to rehearsal,” he said. “They come in and they’re ready to go. They know their music, and it makes me dig more into that artistry to develop pieces and take them to the next level.

“I think [the group members] push themselves, and even unconsciously push each other. … If I know that everybody is going to know their part when they come to rehearsal, I had better be ready too, because I don’t want to be the weak link.”

While the ensemble challenges the skills of its members, Motyka sees the group’s role as inspirational as well, for other church musicians in general.

“I think my main goal with the group was to create something that musicians can look at and say, ‘OK, we may never be able to sing that, but [then again] maybe we will.’ … [I say] here is an example of what you can do with Catholic music. And there are plenty of things we sing that our regular church choirs could certainly handle.”

Vox Sacra is especially unique in that there are few ensembles like it in the United States, according to Motyka.

“Many dioceses have either a semi-professional or entirely amateur cathedral choir, where they will have a larger choir just like we do for archdiocesan events,” he said. “But how many have a third choir that’s somewhere in between? I know Detroit has a very large archdiocesan choir which gets a lot of buy-in from their music directors, and that was something that was inspirational to me in forming this group.”

Motyka said parishes are welcome to invite Vox Sacra to sing for special events they might have. They primarily perform Masses or concerts at parishes around the archdiocese rather than in secular venues.

Of special note in their upcoming Dec. 16 concert is the presentation of Francis Poulenc’s Quatre Motet pour le Temps Noël (4 Motets of Christmas). The group’s CDs will also be available for purchase at the concert.

(For information on this and more of Vox Sacra’s upcoming events or to hear clips or download their recordings, visit their website at

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