Franciscan professor discusses music history in the church, encourages support for the arts

Prof. Nicolas Will
Prof. Nicholas Will
Visiting professor discusses the importance of music in the Western world.


“We, the church … must do everything we can to support the arts,” said a visiting assistant professor of sacred music at Franciscan University on March 31 during his talk, “Music and Culture in the Western Church.”

Nicholas Will began the talk with a general basis for music in the Western world during the Renaissance in the 14th-16th centuries and continuing through to the 18th and19th centuries.

“This liberality of the Western church in allowing these musical styles for worship did create tension, as you might imagine,” said Will about the combination of orchestral and sacred music. “When you open yourself up to the world, sometimes mistakes are made, lines are crossed. At various times in the church’s history, as you can see, she will tend to say ‘we need to take a step back and look at this’ because not all styles of sacred music were appropriate.”

Will continued his talk with history and discussion about the organ, chant and chromaticism. Will gave a history of the organ itself and then introduced Gregorian chant as an accompaniment to the organ as well as a solo.

Will also spoke about the importance of support for sacred music in the church today.

“We, the church – bishops, priests, and laity – must do everything we can to support the arts,” Will said. “Particularly, (we must support) those involved in sacred music. We have to remember that since time immemorial, Christians have felt that only the finest fruits of labor are worthy of offering in divine praise. We must dispense with the holiness that is often in our church’s arts and music.”

In addition to teaching classes, Will is the director of the Schola Cantorum Franciscana, the liturgical choir of Franciscan University. He will be showcasing some of the music he mentioned in his talk later this semester.

Senior Ellienne Planchet, a Schola Cantorum Franciscana member, who attended the talk, said, “Since I am singing this it was nice to hear the historical context of what I am singing. To understand the context better, the history of what I am singing is really great.”

The schola will be singing this music at the final Latin Extraordinary High Mass of the semester in Christ the King Chapel on April 19.

“I liked how the purpose of why I am doing this is for God and knowing the purpose of organists is to give glory to God is a high vocation,” said Maura Goodwin, Schola Cantorum Franciscana member. “We need to get back to that. Also, just knowing the meaning of what I am singing makes me even more excited to sing it.”

Will’s presentation was sponsored by the Dietrich von Hildebrand Legacy Project.