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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

An Interview with Peter Carter



Gordon: What interested you in a career of Sacred Music?


Peter: My family was a musical family, and we would often sing hymns together, especially for night prayer. I started taking piano lessons when I was seven years old and really loved it and felt inspired to work hard at it. I continued until I was sixteen years old when I switched to studying the organ. I had joined my parish choir when I was fourteen and loved seeing how the artistry and beauty of music could be used as an expression of faith and worship.

 

Gordon: Who is your favorite Sacred Music composer and why is that composer your favorite?


Peter: My favorite organ composer is Maurice Duruflé. His integration of chant with 20th century harmonies and colors is really stunning and shows Gregorian chant in a whole new light. My favorite choral composer is much more difficult for me to pinpoint but I could probably say that it is William Byrd. His music is incredibly beautiful and musically intricate, showing himself as a true master of his craft. I also love his story of being a Catholic writing music during an incredibly difficult time for Catholics in England when many were put to death for his faith. He was a favorite of Queen Elizabeth, and so was mostly exempt from the anti-Catholic laws, but he did not sacrifice his faith despite certain pressure to do so.


Gordon: Where are you employed as Director of Sacred Music and what are your primary responsibilities?


I serve as the Director of Sacred Music for the Aquinas Institute of Princeton University where I lead the student choir and play the organ for the 4:30pm Sunday Mass during the fall and spring semesters. The Aquinas Institute is the Catholic Chaplaincy of Princeton University.


I also serve as the Director of Sacred Music at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Allentown, New Jersey. There, I manage the music program which includes a 24-voice semi-professional Schola Cantorum which sings for the 12:30pm Traditional Latin Mass every Sunday and feast day. There is also a chorister program for the children of the parish, and I also manage all of the music for the Novus Ordo Masses, weddings, and funerals and special services that take place at the parish.


Gordon: What is the Catholic Sacred Music Project and what is its purpose?


Peter: The Catholic Sacred Music Project is a non-profit organization I founded in 2021 with Dr. Timothy McDonnell to provide high-level musical training for musicians working in the Catholic Church. We have had annual summer programs which have included Choral Festivals, Composition Institutes, Conducting Institutes, and new to this year, a Choral Institute with Gabriel Crouch, a former member of the King’s Singers. We have been fortunate to partner with many recognized musicians and include them in our faculty.


Sir James MacMillan has been a regular faculty member, as well as Dr. Timothy McDonnell from Hillsdale College, Dr. James Jordan from Westminster Choir College, and Gabriel Crouch from Princeton University. We are also blessed to have the patronage and blessing of the former-prefect for the Dicastery of Divine Worship, Cardinal Sarah, and of our local bishop of the Diocese of Trenton, David O’Connell. The website to the organization is sacredmusicproject.org


 Gordon: What defines a piece of music as Sacred?


Peter: Beauty is one of the transcendentals present in a particular way in music. This beauty reflects the beauty of God which is one of the most important aspects of the sacredness of music. Liturgical sacred music however must also be in harmony with the liturgy of the Church, following the liturgical rubrics, especially when the music is a setting of the liturgical texts of the Mass. St. Pius X teaches that liturgical sacred music must be sacred in all its aspects, which of course includes its sacred text, but also includes the style and structure of the music as distinctly sacred or set-apart from non-liturgical music.


 Gordon: Does Sacred Music bring us closer to God? And if so, how?


Peter: Music expresses and mirrors the emotions of man, disposing him toward, or against, certain behaviors. Musical marches dispose towards movement and march with the beat, swing music disposes us to dance and sway with the music, and sacred music disposes us towards prayer, recollection, and praise. When King David sang and played on the harp, the anger of King Saul was assuaged, and so when the organist and choir make music in the liturgy it likewise should form us, disposing us towards prayer and praise of God.


Gordon: Thank for an exceptional interview.

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