Bringing the Inspiration of the London Oratory to the San Francisco Oratory


Jeffrey Morse with the CMAA Men’s Schola

Bringing the Inspiration of the London Oratory to the San Francisco Oratory
by Roseanne Sullivan

Star of the Sea Church in San Francisco has a new Director of Music, Jeffrey Morse. Morse’s first Sunday on the job was August 24.

From 2001 to 2014, Morse was Precentor[i] and Master of the Choristers at St. Stephen The First Martyr Church in Sacramento, CA, which is run by the Fraternity of St. Peter. Morse has also been active for a number of years in the Church Music Association of America, and most recently, in July of this year, he led the training for one of the men’s chant scholas at the CMAA’s Sacred Music Colloquium in Indianapolis.

On August 7, Morse wrote: “I have accepted the position of Director of Music at Star of the Sea. This is the new home of the Oratory of St Phillip Neri (in formation). I am very lucky that the parish already has a fine and well known musician there, Sven Oblash, who is doing great things and has provided the music for the principle Sunday Mass since the last choir director left. I look forward to working with him. The church also has an elementary school attached, and my main goal will be to start a chorister program there to eventually sing for the parish liturgies. I will also be off to England in late September spending time at the London Oratory there … making sure the new San Francisco Oratory has a good and solid Oratory musical spirit and traditions. Thank you to all my friends and family for your prayers and good thoughts, and please continue them as I take on this new and slightly daunting new position!

Morse had already made arrangements for the trip to England when he received the job offer. He will continue to work at Star of the Sea until he leaves for England September 20, and he plans to be back in late November.

The London Oratory is located at the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, East Kensington, London. It is the home of the London Congregation of the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri. (It is popularly referred to as the Brompton Oratory because of its location on Brompton Road.) The London Oratory is closely associated with the London Oratory School.

Morse’s visit to the London Oratory and the London Oratory School will be guided by fellow-choir director and CMAA member Charles Cole. Cole directs the London Oratory Junior Choir, is Director of Music and schola director at St Philip’s School, and is Director of the Schola Cantorum at the London Oratory School.

Jeffrey Morse sang in the Schola Gregoriana in Cambridge, England, under Dr. Mary Berry, who was also a Canoness Regular of St Augustine and a promoter of Gregorian chant with a worldwide reputation.

Morse credits Dr. Berry for setting him on the path to his career, “Mary Berry (Mother Thomas More) is probably the greatest influence of my life, but for her, I would not be doing what I am doing now. I met her in San Francisco when I was seventeen, and it changed the course of my life.” Morse added that Mary Berry “alone was responsible and missionary about the Chant in the dark ages of the 1970’s. Cambridge and the collegiate colleges there were responsible for my subsequent work with child choristers–notice I don’t say ‘Children’s choirs.’

— Quote from Times of London’s May 5, 2008 obituary of Dr. Mary Berry —–

“Musicologist, nun and don of the University of Cambridge, Mary Berry was hugely influential in reviving Gregorian chant in Britain and abroad.

“Through the Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge she promoted the teaching, study and performance of Gregorian liturgical music within a 2,000-year-old tradition of Christian song and, after the sweeping changes generated by the Second Vatican Council in the mid-1960s, she preserved the chant and kept it alive at a time when the old certainties were falling all around her.”

— End quote ——-

Jeffrey Morse also wrote, “Mary Berry’s musical ‘grandchildren’ through me, are now making a name for themselves. One of my old child choristers, Isabella Burns, is on a scholarship to Westminster Choir College here[ii], and she has just co-authored a book on Gregorian Chant soon to be published by GIA[iii].

“The idea at Star of the Sea will be to establish a similar tradition of child choristers to provide the musical leaders in the Church of tomorrow.”

[i] The title precentor (from the Latin for “first singer”) means chief cantor and facilitator of the liturgy.

[ii] In Princeton, New Jersey.

[iii] GIA Publications is a major publisher of sacred choral music, hymnals, sacred music recordings, music education materials, and other products.

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