Samuel F. Rowe
Samuel Rowe is the Director of Music at the Basilica, a position that he has held since February of 2020. Originally from Maine, Mr. Rowe is pursuing a Master’s of Music in Choral Conducting at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where he studies conducting with Timothy McDonnell and organ with Ronald Stolk. Prior to relocating to the Baltimore-D.C. area, Mr. Rowe received his Bachelor of Music degree in organ performance from the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University in New Jersey in 2016, where he studied primarily with Renée Anne Louprette. As an active freelance keyboardist and conductor in the New York City/Northern New Jersey area, he accompanied and directed several choirs throughout the region, and, as a ballet pianist, served for three years as a staff accompanist for the Cecchetti International Summer School in Holland, MI. He was the pianist for the Newark Boys Chorus in Newark, NJ, from 2017 to 2019, a group with whom he performed across the country and internationally on a concert tour of Argentina and Chile in the Spring of 2019. More recently, he has served as an Assisting Organist at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., and as Assistant Organist at the Church of St.
Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Fredericksburg, VA.
The premier choir of the Basilica, the Schola Cantorum consists of 4 professional singers that sing mainly for the 10:45 am Sunday Mass from the second Sunday in July to Corpus Christi. This ensemble, made up of accomplished professionals in the Baltimore area, sings polyphonic repertoire from the entire canon of Roman Catholic Church art music, from late-Medieval repertoire up to music of the present day, in addition to the Gregorian Chant Introit, Offertory, and Communion antiphons for each Mass.
Surprising though it may seem, the Catholic Church has always had professional singers in its employ over its millennia of existence. As a matter of fact, outside of monastic environments (in which the monks and nuns would do almost all of the singing), nearly every church choir up until the 19th century would have comprised primarily of professional singers. There are, however, often several valid concerns that come up regarding their use in our day and age. Questions such as “Do the professional singers even believe the words that they’re singing?,” and “Why spend the money on professional singers if we have volunteer choristers who do just fine?” come to mind, all legitimate concerns. While one of the goals of the Basilica Music Program is to foster a culture of amateur singing, there are several reasons why it is important to maintain a culture of professional singing here. Foremost among these is the question of excellence and how that lends itself to beauty in the liturgy. A truly excellent choral singer is one who is deeply formed and studied in the rendering of the music of the Church in a way that is technically refined while also understanding the role of this music as being intimately bound up with the liturgy and all that lies therein. It is indisputable that excellent music making makes the liturgy for beautiful. Expending church resources on this sort of thing is not only worthwhile, but essential for creating liturgical music in the most beautiful way and at the highest level possible. Singers go through a detailed audition process and I endeavor to employ the singers who are of both the highest professional caliber and have the deepest understanding of their role in the liturgy and as members of the Basilica community. Such high standards, however, command no small fee. The Basilica currently employs 5 staff singers who sing every Sunday throughout the year, each of whom costs around $6,200 annually. Over the next few years, I’d like to raise the number of staff singers to 8 and raise the spending-per-singer to $10,000. This will allow them to participate in a greater number of liturgies and will give the Basilica Choir (a group comprising both professional and amateur singers) the funds to rehearse every week during the year.