Honours for Glasgow composer and parent

Sir James MacMillan
Sir James MacMillan

Earlier this month, composer and former Glasgow parishioner James MacMillan received his knighthood from Prince William at Windsor Castle and became Sir James MacMillan. He was also named as Catholic of the Year 2015 in the Catholic Herald.

Sir James and his wife, Lynne, are lay Dominicans and their children have been educated at St Aloysius College in Glasgow. He has expressed his delighted at being involved in the school and at seeing their children over the years grow in the Jesuit charism. “It’s been very beneficial for us, personally, to see the different charisms and expressions of the Catholic Church. But the idea of doing things For the Greater Glory of God (AMDG) which so saturates the life of the school is extremely impressive and it leaves its mark in many unknown and unexpected ways. My children have benefited greatly from their time here and they’ll never forget the formation that they’ve received.”

Last March, as part of the celebrations to mark the 400th anniversary of the martyrdom of St John Ogilvie SJ, Sir James composed a new composition – the Ave Verum Corpus – that was performed by singers from Jesuit schools in Britain at St Aloysius Church in Glasgow. He said at the time: “The parish asked me about the texts that I wanted to use, whether I wanted to write for the Vespers or for the Mass and we eventually settled on a text very much associated with the Eucharist, the Ave Verum Corpus. I know it’s been a huge undertaking for the school to put all of this together, but to commission a piece is big step into the unknown as you can never be sure what you’re going to get.”

In addition to musical compositions of his own (perhaps most memorably the Tu Es Petrus that he wrote for the visit of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s visit to Britain in 2010), Sir James is an internationally-renowned conductor and lobbies for more and better music education in British schools. After his investiture earlier this month, he said that “music is not the priority it should be for various governments. That should change, because a child’s music education affects his or her ability in other subjects as well.” His Fourth Symphony was performed at this year’s Proms and was described in the Catholic Herald as “not only a stunning piece of music but also an extended meditation on being at Mass”. In honouring him as its Catholic of the Year, its editor said that Sir James MacMillan is “one of the custodians of Britain’s Catholic heritage”, praising him for revitalising the musical liturgy in ordinary parish churches.

Our spiritual and musical heritagePupils from Jesuit schools in Britain perform Sir James MacMillan's 'Ave Verum Corpus' at St Aloysius Church, Glasgow

This is a view he expressed in March in an interview with the Jesuits in Britain when he said: “Music is central to what it means to be a worshipping community, and it takes an awful lot of thought. Sometimes we get it wrong, but sometimes we get it wonderfully and beautifully right. We should never forget that at the centre of musical heritage, but also of our own spiritual and liturgical heritage is a huge wealth of sacred music, and particularly chant."

"In the wake of the Second Vatican Council," said Sir James, "it’s important not to lose sight of that, perhaps learning from our Protestant brothers and sisters about how to adapt chant to the vernacular. It’s also very important to value the richness of the ancient languages of the Church, Greek and Latin. So there’s a multiplicity of ways that we can move forwards, but at the core, because we’re Catholics, tradition and a love of the tradition has to animate what we do. This requires a certain amount of activism on our part, but it’s vital because the liturgy needs music, the liturgy needs good music, and the liturgy needs Catholic music.”