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Episode No. 33: Christmas at the Cathedral 2022 – Pt 1

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL! Enjoy this two-part show featuring excerpts from Christmas at the Cathedral 2022 – the very first Christmas music in Christ Cathedral to include the newly restored Hazel Wright Organ! Highlights from the first half include appearances by the Diocesan Children’s Choir, and an extra special performance on the Hazel Wright Organ by Fr. Christopher Smith, Rector-Emeritus of Christ Cathedral who plays some of his favorite Christmas Carols on the mighty organ! Also of note is David Willcocks’s famous setting of Hark! the Herald Angels Sing featuring a rarely heard Brass OCTET (for EIGHT Players instead of the normal five) setting of its well-known brass fanfare introduction.






Originally broadcast on 12/31/22


History was being made on the evening of Friday, Dec. 6, when arguably the largest gathering of Vietnamese Catholics in Orange County took place at Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove, to participate in or attend a Vietnamese Christmas concert.  

“This is history in the making: the first time ever we have so many (Orange County Vietnamese) together on one program,” said Jennifer Yen Pham, executive assistant to the Most Rev. Thanh Thai Nguyen, auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Orange (who incidentally gave the evening’s only English-language speech).  

 “And most of the conductors here are conducting for the first time an orchestra this large (45 musicians),” continued Pham, who was part of the organizing committee spearheading the event and who credited Bishop Nguyen with coming up with the idea in the first place–the purpose being, according to Pham, “to create unity in our community.” Except for San Jose, Orange County—especially the area in mid-county known as Little Saigon—has the largest population of Vietnamese in the U. S.  

Titled “Emmanuel,” a name that translates to “God with Us,” the concert featured more than 1,000 choir and solo singers from 16 Catholic parishes around the Christ Cathedral area in nearly a dozen choirs and choral combinations, singing two dozen seasonal selections, most (but not all) in Vietnamese.  

 “It’s a chance for the Vietnamese community to work together and pray together,” said Huy Doai Le, director of Vietnamese Music Ministry at Christ Cathedral and conductor of the cathedral’s 120-voiced Vietnamese Cathedral Choir, which performed one of the few non-Vietnamese pieces, a Latin-texted “Ave Maria” by Philip W. J. Stopford, a 42-year-old English sacred-music composer.  

 “I noticed the program had a lot of Christmas carols but few on the events leading up to the Nativity, so I wanted to cover one of those events: Gabriel the Archangel announcing to Mary she is to bear the Son of God,” said Le in explaining his decision for choosing the 2017 work, which he had the choir perform while processing down an aisle in the back that led to the stage.  

 The concert, subtitled “Night of Sacred Music,” was colorful, both aurally and visually, especially with many of the women dressed in traditional Vietnamese gowns and a nun’s chorus in traditional habits.  In general, whenever the singers were not performing, they spread out over the three main seating areas of the cathedral (ground level and left and right balconies), easily filling up the former Crystal Cathedral. It got so it was difficult to find anyone in the audience not a participant or not watching a family member or friend sing but being present simply to watch a concert. 

But they were there. 

 “My wife,” said Sean Patterson, when asked what—or who—was responsible for his attending the concert. “But this is just excellent: so many voices blending together and sounding beautiful. The whole production is amazing and very coordinated. They’ve had to have put in a lot of time. I had no idea there were so many nuns directing choirs. And I’m very impressed with the young man who played ‘O Holy Night.’”  

 Patterson referred to Evan Li, a young boy who played a solo piano arrangement of the 1847 Christmas carol by Adolphe Adam (of “Giselle” fame) officially titled “Cantique de Noel.” Li played with a grace and maturity well beyond his youth. His performance provided one of the highlights of the evening—an evening which, with long introductions before every work, lasted almost four hours (including intermission). That, however, is typical for a Vietnamese concert.  

 “I really enjoyed this concert,” said Patterson’s wife, Thuy Do, who is Vietnamese. “The whole concert reminded me of Vietnam. I couldn’t ask for more.”  

 “I’m not disappointed at all,” Patterson agreed, “even though it’s not your traditional Christmas concert.”  

One sign that this, indeed, was not your traditional Christmas concert (besides the language) occurred when the “Hallelujah” Chorus from Handel’s “Messiah” was performed: no one in the audience stood up. No doubt they haven’t heard of King George II (who started the practice). Oh, yes: it was also sung in Vietnamese. 

The program had a few other familiar tunes, such as “Adeste fidelis”/ “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “Silent Night! Holy Night!” and “Gesu Bambino.” Occasionally, these were sung in English but then always followed by a Vietnamese version, to stay true to the theme of this being a Vietnamese Christmas concert—the first such in Orange County, but by no means the last. 


Episode No. 64. Saturday, July 6, 2019. Maestro Carl St. Clair of the Pacific Symphony and All Things Beethoven!


Get ready for a spectacular concert with Maestro St. Clair, The Pacific Symphony and The Pacific Chorale in the sonic splendor of the newly renovated Christ Cathedral. This will be the first of many for this new partnership between Carl St Clair and Christ Cathedral. As well approach the 250th Anniversary of the first of the genius, Ludwig von Beethoven, there will be many concerts honoring this great composer. The pacific Symphony is performing Symphony 7 and 8, all of the Piano Concerti, and even an Overture….BUT Carl saved the Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (Choral) for the opening of Christ Cathedral. Don’t miss this concert, Thursday, August 1, 2019 at 7:30 PM. Tickets Available:

All of the music on Today’s show is from the 9th Symphony of Beethoven, recorded by Carl St. Clair conducting the Pacific Symphony and the Pacific Chorale.

Movement I. Allegro ma non troppo; un poco maestoso Beginning – m. 35. m. 74 – m. 107
Movement II. Molto vivace Beginning – Letter B (m. 77). m. 396 – m. 491 (First Ending)
Movement III. Andanto molto e cantabile Beginning – m. 18. Upbeat to m. 25 (3/4 Andante moderato) – m. 42 (fermata)
Movement IV Finale m. 92 ( Allegro assai) – m. 115. m. 216 – m. 236 (Baritone Entrance). m. 541 – m. 594 (Chorus). m. 851 – End


WASHINGTON (CNS) — More than 2,000 people attended an April 26 organ concert at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington to benefit restoration and rebuilding efforts of Notre Dame de Paris, the famous French cathedral severely damaged in the April 15 fire.

The 90-minute concert was performed by Johann Vexo, a Notre Dame organist who was playing at the time the devastating fire broke out at the cathedral. Titled “Together with Notre Dame de Paris,” the concert was broadcast on the Eternal Word Television Network and streamed on the internet.



“This concert brings us in solidarity with that great church, which is a symbol or faith, a symbol of peace and a symbol of God’s presence among us,” said Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Washington, who noted “we all remember with horror the sight of Notre Dame Cathedral in flames.”

Vexo said the program for the concert was planned “in a way that makes sense.” The concert’s first piece was Johann Sebastian Bach’s dramatic “Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir,” (“Out of Deep Anguish I Call to You”), a sweeping organ cantata meant to symbolize distress and sorrow.

“This dramatic music demonstrates what we feel,” Vexo explained to reporters the day before the concert.

The concert also featured works by French composers Cesar Franck, Jean L’Heritier and Louis Verne, who served as organist at Notre Dame in the early 1900s. Also included was a piece by 15th century English composer John Taverner and several antiphons performed by the basilica’s choir.

The concert ended with “Resurrection” from “Symphonie-Passion, Op. 23” by Marcel Dupre.

The concert “displays an artistic progression from grief to prayer to hope,” said Peter Latona, director of music at the basilica, adding that it was “fitting we pay tribute to Notre Dame with music in a sacred setting.”

Among those attending the concert were Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the papal nuncio to the United States; Ben Carson, the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development; Callista Gingrich, the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich; and members of the diplomatic corps.

Prior to the concert, Vexo recalled how he was playing the organ for daily Mass at the Paris cathedral when fire alarms began sounding. “I switched the organ off and went to the sacristy, the priest was still there,” Vexo recalled. “At first no one was worried. We thought it was just a dysfunction or a mistake because the alarm stopped, but then it started again.”

Vexo escaped the cathedral and stood with others who had gathered nearby to watch firefighters battle the blaze. As the church was burning, they sang and prayed and watched as flames destroyed the church roof and caused its iconic spire to crumble.

“I was totally devastated by this absolutely terrible fire,” Vexo said. “It was really something I couldn’t imagine. I spent hours and hours, days, nights there. Sometimes I spent more time at the cathedral than I did in my own apartment.”

“The people who work at the cathedral have a special relationship with the place,” he said. “It was like a second home to me, and as a matter of fact, I have keys to the cathedral.”

Eventually, more than 400 firefighters spent more than 15 hours to put the fire out. Destroyed by the fire were the cathedral’s main roof, steeple, statues of saints, its choir loft, and nave. There was also extensive smoke and water damage.

Firefighters were able to save the cathedral’s famous 13th century stained glass rose windows; relics believed to be Jesus’ crown of thorns, one of the nails from his crucifixion and a piece of wood from the cross; other important artworks and treasures, and the cathedral’s great organ.

Vexo said he was relieved when he discovered the cathedral’s famous organ survived the fire. The largest organ in France, it has 8,000 pipes and five keyboards. It was built in the 15th century and restored in the 18th century.

“This is a very important instrument historically, and it is a great instrument with a lot of power,” Vexo said. “Thankfully there were no burns and no water damage, but it does have to be cleaned because there is now a lot of dust inside.”

He added that organ music “is an important part of worship. I think you cannot have services without music — it is important to the liturgy, to the clergy and to the people.”

The organist also expressed his gratitude for the generosity of so many around the world who want to donate to help rebuild and restore the cathedral.

“The cathedral is very important to so many people — 40 million visit each year,” he said. “I know that everyone was really touched by this fire.”

Earlier, Cardinal Wuerl had announced that the archdiocese had donated $25,000 to support the rebuilding effort for the renowned cathedral.

In addition to organizing the concert, the basilica launched the website — — a special online collection to support Notre Dame’s restoration.

Nathalie Broadhust, the charge d’affaires of the Embassy of France in the United States, said she was “very delighted, very honored and very moved” by the concert.

Noting that “Notre Dame belongs to humanity,” she said she was thankful that “here in the U.S., generosity and many acts of friendship have been directed at France in this difficult time. I thank you for your generosity, for your friendship and for your support.”

At the end of the concert, Vexo was rewarded with a two-minute standing ovation. After the concert, he made his way to the front of the basilica where he greeted concert goers and signed autographs.


Editor’s Note: Christmas at the Cathedral, set for Dec. 16 in the Arboretum, will lift the hearts of Orange County Catholics. For more information:


VATICAN CITY (CNS) — ‘Tis the season for a huge assortment of holiday concerts and carols to choose from, making Advent and Christmas a unique period for reminding people of the evergreen beauty of sacred music.

And music can be that gentle lure that helps welcome and embrace those who have become distant from the church, said one liturgy and music expert.

Like weddings and baptisms, “Christmas is a great time” to reach out and offer people an experience that encourages them to return to church more regularly, said Paul Inwood, a British composer and former director of liturgy and music for the Diocese of Portsmouth.

“When it comes to Christmas, I’m always very aware of the people who perhaps come just once or twice a year” to church, he told Catholic News Service by phone in early December.

For that reason, he said, the music that parishes program should be “beautiful and magnificent,” but also “hospitable” and “accessible” to everyone.

Because “you can’t find anything more religious and more joyful in sacred celebrations than the whole congregation expressing its faith and devotion in song,” Inwood said.

Msgr. Vincenzo De Gregorio, who heads the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music in Rome, told CNS that accessibility means respectfully matching the complexity of the music to the abilities of the congregation so that everyone can participate and feel elevated by the music.

Inwood said before the Second Vatican Council, liturgical music was performed by choirs and the people in the pews were spectators.

“After Vatican II, the kind of liturgy that we had changed its nature and went back to the traditions of the earlier church when participation in the liturgy was the norm,” he said.

Music was now seen “as a ministry, rather than a performance, and it serves the people and helps them lift up their voices and praise to God,” said the composer.

This push for musical reform was already well underway before the Second Vatican Council, Msgr. De Gregorio said, which is why the pontifical institute was founded in 1911 by St. Pius X. The institute was established to respond to the growing belief that “the people must sing,” he said.

The institute teaches religious and laypeople from all over the world about liturgical music as well as giving them the practical skills to include and promote new forms of artistic expression appropriate to the present culture and people.

The tendency toward inclusion is a unique characteristic of the Latin-rite Catholic Church, said the monsignor, who is an expert in the pipe organ and Gregorian chant, and has degrees in sacred theology and modern literature.

Roman Catholicism was heavily influenced by “the ancient Roman mentality,” he said, which saw that expanding into new territories and spreading its influence meant including and assimilating all that was good and useful from the local cultures.

This history of inclusion “is the secret of the development of music” and all arts, he said.

The Latin-rite Catholic Church “never chose one style. It never said ‘no'” to new developments and allowing instruments, which “for around 1,000 years were never used in (Christian) worship because they stunk of paganism.”

Instruments first used by pagan Greece and Rome — like the organ, flute, trumpet and string instruments — are today considered by many to be uniquely sacred instruments, the priest said.

“In her wisdom,” he said, the church embraces appealing local traditions and elevates them, finds a way to fold them into the sacred.

That’s why the institute is so important, he said, because the desire for inclusion was never about “wanting to lower the level” of standards, but to skillfully elevate the music of the people to a higher plane.

“Here then is the reason for our school, to create and form people who can make music of the highest level,” he said.

He said he thinks the debate over “folk” versus “traditional” forms of music stems from an “ignorance” about music in general.

Fears that “the church has abandoned its great music” find fertile ground “where there is no widespread musical culture” in schools and parishes, and people lack basic skills in reading or understanding music, he said.

Problems and polemics occurred, he said, where the reform of liturgical song was “introduced without the necessary preparation.”

The answer, then, isn’t “creating an aristocracy” of experts, but of increasing awareness and preparation for everyone so they can hold onto, develop and appreciate musical traditions.

Education and formation, he and Inwood said, have to tackle both fronts: the risk that clergy don’t understand music and its proper expression, and the risk that musicians don’t know enough about liturgy.

Inwood said “there’s a lot of goodwill” on both sides to do the right thing, but people need to understand how music is “integral to the rite and not just an optional stuck on top of it, which is how it sometimes comes across.”

“The music needs to fit the ritual like a glove,” which requires people understand not just music, but also “what liturgical action is doing so they can tailor the music to what is going on,” a skill not unlike what composers do when fitting musical scores to action unfolding on film or the stage.

Being respectful of the ritual and sensitive to the congregation mean sacred music can shine anywhere — whether it’s a parish in a poor shantytown or in a monumental cathedral, the two men said.

It doesn’t depend solely on resources like a pipe organ or a professional choir, Inwood said, it’s about “authenticity.”

“You can do wonderful things with what you have,” even just a cantor and assembly, he said. “The music isn’t inferior in any way, it’s just different and reflects who the community is at that particular point” and aims to draw them together in praise.

“It’s much better to do (music) you can manage and do it well than try very hard to do things you can’t achieve,” he added.


On Saturday, Mar. 12, the de Angelis Vocal Ensemble will take its audience back in time to the court of Mantua in Renaissance Italy to experience an extraordinary moment in musical history. The concert at the Christ Cathedral Cultural Center will mark the occasion when virtuoso and composer Salamone Rossi Hebreo bridged the Jewish and Christian communities of Mantua with music, both sacred and secular.

The ensemble will lead the audience across this bridge of shared Jewish and Christian cultures and traditions with sacred songs by Rossi and his contemporary at the Mantua court, Claudio Monteverdi. The program also will include madrigals written by the two composers for the ‘avant-garde’ rulers of Mantua and fashionable courtiers of the ducal court.

The choral ensemble and soloists of de Angelis will sing in Hebrew and Latin, the language of sacred texts and music, and in Italian, the language of the worldly Renaissance. The program will reveal to the audience the significant historical and cultural span of this allegorical bridge with sacred works such as the haunting psalm of exile Al Naharot Bavel (By the rivers of Babylon…) by Rossi, and the sorrowful hymn Stabat Virgo Maria (Stood the Virgin Mary…) by Monteverdi.

De Angelis will complete the journey with lighthearted madrigals that sing of love unrequited more often not, such as the tender Dolcemente Dormiva (Sweetly Sleeping) by Rossi and the wistful Crudel, Perche Mi Fuggi (Cruel One, Why Do You Run From Me) by Monteverdi.

Salamone Rossi Hebreo (circa 1570-1630) is one of the greatest figures in the music of Italy, bridging the Renaissance and Baroque eras. One of the best-selling composers of his time, he was the primary instrumentalist at the Gonzaga court in Mantua, even more famous than his fellow composer, the great Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643).

Rossi, who was proud of his Jewish heritage, was the first to compose polyphonic music to Hebrew texts.

“This program is a unique opportunity for concert goers to step back in time to an era when music, painting and architecture flourished and artistic exchange marked the beginnings of humanism,” says Maestro Matthew Gray.

The Sacred Bridge concert was made possible through the work of the Catholic Jewish Dialogue, an interfaith program of the Orange County Jewish community, and the Diocese of Orange, with the participation of the Orange County Jewish Community Scholar Program.

“It is wonderful to have the Catholic Church invite the Jewish community to join in this unique event,” says Rabbi Larry Seidman. “It links our current interfaith activity with a musical interfaith bridge that occurred four hundred years ago.”

Father Al Baca, Episcopal Vicar Interreligious Affairs for the Diocese of Orange, states, “In so many ways the Catholic and Jewish communities are discovering new ways to strengthen the bonds that are uniquely ours. This concert represents a moment in history when the beauty and power of music serves to bring us together. One can only marvel at the courage and vision of Rossi who could build a bridge between the Jewish and Catholic communities that unfortunately was rare for his time.”

Lesa Truxaw, Director of the Office of Worship for the Diocese of Orange and de Angelis Board of Directors says she is honored to be part of the effort, which brings unique music to Christ Cathedral. “This is a unique way of approaching interreligious dialogue and furthers our understanding of Catholic and Jewish relationships based on history involving professional collaboration as well as the arts.”

For ticket purchase and more information, visit