In order for sacred music to reach its full stature, composers and musicians need to exercise true artistry, in which knowledge, inspiration, and skill all play a vital role in creating works of dignity and beauty.Paul Jernberg
You may not have noticed, but the past 30 years have seen the beginnings of a kind of renaissance in Catholic sacred music. It has been very slow and has largely gone unnoticed at the parish level, but it’s real and it’s bearing fruit.
Traditional sacred music like Gregorian chant and polyphony is being heard again in increasing numbers of parishes. But just as important, if not more so, is the emergence of new composers who are grounded in the Church’s tradition but are also exploring new territory. Frank La Rocca and Sir James MacMillian come to mind.
In this post, we introduce American composer Paul Jernberg. Never heard of him? Neither had we. But you should know him—he’s one of today’s most talented composers of Catholic sacred music.
Paul Jernberg was born in Chicago in 1955. A convert to the Catholic faith, his career in choral composing and directing took a different trajectory after encountering the Franciscan friars of Gothenburg, Sweden. There he was introduced to Gregorian Chant as well as the musical tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy. From that point on, he has dedicated himself to the renewal of Catholic sacred music, drawing on the tradition of East and West to produce stunning choral arrangements that are transcendent yet accessible. Most of his work is based on the English Mass texts.
His philosophy of composing sacred music is summed up as follows: “… it has been my goal to fulfill three essential criteria, namely, that it have a true sacred character, that it be imbued with the qualities of authentic artistry, and that it possess a noble accessibility will allow it to be received into the hearts of ordinary people of good will throughout the English-speaking world.”
A video featuring one of his “Gloria” compositions is linked below, plus a video of an entire Mass set to his music. We also encourage you to poke around his website at https://www.pauljernberg.com to learn more about him and hear his many other compositions.