As the summer of 2021 was approaching and COVID-19 restrictions were being gradually lifted throughout Europe, we, the Dominican Friars of Kraków, dared to plan our annual liturgical music conference hoping it would be possible again to host some 300 people in our gorgeous medieval priory and to fill this majestic space with sacred song.
Each edition of the Extraordinary Music Workshop (that is the name of the week-long event) receives a particular theme. For 2021 the theme that we picked was “Song of Hope’ (“Pieśń o nadziei”), in part due to a 2005 Dominican liturgical music album under that very title, but primarily because we believed that a world wounded by the prolonged pandemic is badly in need of hope. And raising hearts and voices in song to the Lord is one of the strongest sources of hope that our world knows.
The event was a great success and you can get a glimpse of that exuberant joy of music lovers brought together by Christ’s beauty here:
And yet just a few months later a new wave of coronavirus caused another series of lockdowns and restrictions, challenging that newly regained hope in us. Then in February of this year our weakened world got another fresh blow: the cruel war broke out in Ukraine. In the course of hours Polish borders opened widely to hundreds of thousands of refugees, most of them women with children and the elderly, while their courageous men stayed behind to fight for their homeland. Watching this drama of our neighbors unfolding before our eyes, reading the news of an unspeakable suffering caused by a bloody, conventional war that Europe has not seen in almost 80 years, would have paralyzed us in fear and disbelief if not for those millions of fragile human beings seeking refuge in Polish homes, knocking at our very doors and calling us to act.
So act we did. Without much of the central government support, Polish families and local institutions have sheltered and fed over 3 million refugees. With national and international supplies being delivered gradually we succeeded at providing housing, education, medical care and financial assistance to those forced to leave everything behind and run for their lives. Our eastern borders — NATO’s eastern flank — have since the beginning of war been reinforced by the Alliance’s forces, and even though the actual war in Ukraine is far from over, there’s a new sense of hope and safety returning to Poland after the initial dark weeks of the Ukrainian conflict.
The 2022 Extraordinary Music Workshop
But what should we do about this year’s Extraordinary Music Workshop? Is it reasonable, is it fair to hold a week-long feast of liturgical music when so many people around us suffer? Believe me, the dilemma was not an easy one. Yet we eventually discerned that when humanity is under attack, we have an obligation to employ all means, all diverse strategies in order to uphold human dignity and values against the barbarism of war.
What encouraged us was the example of our brave brothers and sisters in Ukraine, who fight to uphold common human values like community and culture even with bomb alarms still going off around them:
We took inspiration from our own Dominican brothers in Kyiv and Fastiv, who continued their teaching and pastoral ministry. That is how the decision was made to host the 2022 Extraordinary Music Workshop in Krakow. In these dark times we all need light. As Christians, we believe there is one true Light that may guide our steps in the ways of peace: Jesus Christ, living and active in His Church.
The Word we embrace and the Bread we break – the sacraments that give us strength – are available for musicians and non-musicians alike; yet there is something uniquely powerful in the universal experience of singing which, when coupled with the Church’s liturgy, allows the body of believers to experience the beauty of Christ’s life even more fully. This summer, when we seek unity and strength to face our world’s fears, you are invited to the English edition of our program, happening along the one in Polish. Registration is now open for August 15-21, 2022.
There is yet another reason the celebrate. As it has been exactly 800 years since the first Polish Dominican, St. Hyacinth, brought Friars Preachers to Poland, we want to learn zeal for the Gospel from this powerful Apostle of the North. This edition’s theme is “Engendered By Fire” and here you can learn more about the connection among St. Hyacinth, hyacinth the gemstone, fire, and St. Hildegard of Bingen, an association that inspired this year’s artwork. It is our hope that learning and praying with Gregorian chant, early and contemporary polyphony, as well as with Byzantine liturgical music, will give us a powerful spiritual experience of God’s beauty and will set us on fire for carrying God’s transformative Word everywhere we live.
Have a look at daily schedule. Our excellent faculty this summer will include Gregorian chant instructor Dr. Robert Mehlhart, OP (Munich, Germany), choir director Christopher Mueller (Louisville, KY, USA), and Byzantine chant master Andrii Shkriabiuk (Lviv, Ukraine). Along with them you will hear daily homilies and talks on spirituality and sacred art from Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP, acclaimed photographer and Prior of St. Dominic’s Priory in London, UK. Moreover, for the first three days our conference participants will be joining the good people of Kraków at St. Hyacinth’s Triduum, a solemn celebration of the 800 Jubilee, featuring former Master of the Dominican Order and renowned spiritual author, Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, OP.
We, the staff of the Dominican Liturgical Center of Kraków, would be overjoyed to be your hosts this summer.