In perspective: the departure of Collegium Cantorum


Patsy Craig is a senior classics major and member of Collegium.

Without a doubt, Marilyn Walker has contributed tremendously to the University of Dallas as a whole and its music department in particular in her 32 years of dedication here at UD.   As the director of the a capella liturgical choir “Collegium Cantorum,” which she founded, Walker has striven to make the tone of the music prayerful by setting high standards for its members.

We have been taught to pray the music and to know its meaning; we may not “just sing.” Walker has worked tirelessly every day to teach students how to use their voices to their full potential. Each day, she has given voice lessons from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., when choir rehearsal would start on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On First Fridays and other holy days, she has directed the choir at Cistercian Abbey, along with Fr. Ralph, the long-time director of the Gregorian Chant Schola.

Despite this very full schedule, Walker has always been brimming with more energy and enthusiasm than I or any Collegium member has!

Her love for the beautiful music and for teaching students how to sing it has been so apparent. I know that my voice has improved each year that I sing with Collegium. Whenever I return to my hometown, where I occasionally cantor for my church, the priest and parishioners comment that my voice sounds better or more mature. Since my freshman year, I have learned so much from her, both about voice and about living life.

With the resignation of such a dedicated person, the University of Dallas will be losing both a superb voice teacher and a true example of elegance. Her dedicated work in the music department has made it the respected program that it is today; not only Collegium Cantorum but also the string ensembles and the Crowley concerts hosted on campus are a result of her planning and expertise. She has been a gift to UD and will be deeply missed.

Joe Swope is a senior philosophy major and member of Collegium.

I think the University of Dallas will lose a great asset when Collegium Cantorum moves away. For me Collegium has always been a reminder of what’s noble and beautiful. As a freshman, it was easy for me to become forgetful of what’s really important in the midst of my new life of independence and freedom, trying to have lots of fun and become popular and be a successful student. Collegium always brought me back to reality. Singing motets from the Renaissance and chant from the Middle Ages was a sobering reminder of my small place in history, and the sheer beauty of the music became the higher standard by which I could judge the relatively meager pleasures of a beer in “Old Mill” or a Saturday night out with friends.

Walker’s reverence for the music and the high standards that she demanded of us, for the music’s sake, reminded me of the seriousness I should give to other studies. It also reminded me that being in college is not just about getting good grades or some certification or degree – it’s about finding what’s good and true, like sacred polyphony and chant, and devoting oneself to it wholeheartedly.

Walker deserves our deepest respect and gratitude for what she has done, both for the members and for all the listeners of Collegium Cantorum.

Louis Hannegan is a junior politics major and the commentary editor.

The news of the future separation of the Collegium Cantorum and its long-standing director Marilyn Walker from the University of Dallas has likely cast a shadow over many students, and rightly so. Collegium and its figurehead have become a veritable tradition at UD with their decades on campus. In these years, friends have become accustomed to gather at the Cistercian Abbey for First Friday Masses sung by their classmates. In addition, the musically-inclined have had the opportunity to participate in the same choir in which perhaps their older siblings sang.

With the move to the Cistercian Abbey and the plan no longer to recruit UD students, both of these traditions will sadly come to an end. Collegium will certainly sing as beautifully as ever – but not with the voices of classmates and friends. In a few years, students attending First Friday Masses will not recognize anyone in the choir since few, if any, of their fellow students will be a part of it.

As well as tradition, this move and membership change eliminates a musical possibility that is attractive to many UD students: singing more traditional liturgical music for Mass. As most UD students know, Collegium sings music of a more traditional flavor than that heard at the Sunday Masses in the Church of the Incarnation. Though some may participate in the latter, the number of students in Collegium suggests a strong preference among many students for the former.

With Collegium closed to UD students in the future and the Church of the Incarnation’s existing choir being as it is, it is not clear where these students will have the opportunity to sing such music for Mass. Gone would be the opportunity to sing Latin polyphony during the Holy Thursday liturgy or Good Friday services in the beautifully austere Cistercian Abbey. Certainly students or the Music Department could organize their own choir and sing the same music on campus – but Upstairs Haggar is a far cry from the Cistercian Abbey as is a recital or concert from the solemnity of the Mass.

Surrounding these gloomy clouds, however, is something of a silver lining. The uprooting of one tradition leaves a fertile and sunny plot of soil in which many new traditions can take root. At some point, Collegium and its future tradition sprouted. Now we have the opportunity to plant and water our own traditions at UD. Perhaps we could form a jazz group or a barbershop quartet. The options are many, the choice is ours.

Given the challenge of planting a new tradition, the plan not to recruit more students for Collegium may actually prove helpful. Not having the option to join Collegium, the musically-inclined will focus their time and talent on the musical groups which will likely begin to bud on campus in the void left by Collegium. With this protection from competition with Collegium, such groups will have a far greater chance of gaining support amongst the talented singers at UD.

With the presence of this talent and the absence of previous competition, UD students today have both the opportunity and the challenge to plant the seeds of future traditions today. And though we should lament the loss of the Collegium as a tradition for the choir and congregation alike, let us not allow this sadness to spoil our efforts to inaugurate today the new UD traditions of tomorrow.


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