Margot Fassler & Peter Jeffery

World-renowned scholars of sacred music, Professors Fassler and Jeffery have been instrumental in making Notre Dame a research and performance center for this multidimensional, centuries-old art form. They also happen to be married.

Margot Fassler
Peter Jeffery

Margot Fassler

Keough-Hesburgh Professor of Music History and Liturgy, Director of the Program in Sacred Music

Margot Fassler

Teams and teamwork are a defining element of my life as a scholar and a teacher.

As director of Notre Dame’s Program in Sacred Music, I look for ways to build strong and productive teams. The central questions for us are: How can the Church develop its artistic and musical gifts for the greater good in the present age, and how can Notre Dame form the leadership for this to happen? If there are to be the kinds of transformation Pope Francis is calling for in the Church, we know it will not occur without sacred music, without children and youth trained through and in music to be able participants, and without the kinds of gifted leaders formed here at Notre Dame today. 

Our students are the greatest inspiration for everything I do. Choral conductors who compose, organists who teach congregations through their great breathing instrument, and inspired singers who train young choristers, they are singular talents who together build the whole sounding enterprise.

The other side of my work in music and culture in the United States involves musical theater. I see community theater groups as the able counterparts to and collaborators with vibrant church music programs. In my view, every town needs both, and the musicians to make them happen are being formed here, and now, in our Program in Sacred Music.  

I am also a medievalist, a specialty that, as one might imagine, easily lends itself to solitary pursuits. But even there, I am compelled to work on and with teams. Right now I am finishing a book with three colleagues from different disciplines and countries exploring a series of extraordinary manuscripts produced by Dominican nuns in the 14th and 15th centuries. We have used them as windows onto the women’s lives as liturgists, scholars, poets, artists, designers, and composers, always working collaboratively, our team encountering theirs, across the pages of time. 

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Peter Jeffery

Michael P. Grace II Professor of Medieval Studies, Associate Director of Academics for the Program in Sacred Music

Peter Jeffery

One of my main research interests is the early history of Gregorian chant, an art form I first learned about from my devout Catholic parents. They met each other at Friendship House in Harlem, a community of Catholics dedicated to living the social encyclicals as a challenge to American racism and poverty (this was before the now-familiar events that launched the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s).

Thomas Merton spent time at Friendship House before he became a monk. My father, in fact, went in the opposite direction: He had been inspired by Merton’s books to enter a Trappist novitiate but then went to Friendship House after he’d learned the Trappist life wasn’t for him.

Shortly after he arrived a member of the community died, and he met my mother while they were rehearsing the Gregorian chant for the Requiem Mass. She knew more about Gregorian chant than he did; she had studied with the Trapp family whose story is told in the movie The Sound of Music.

In the decade before the Second Vatican Council, we were a Liturgical Movement family, celebrating the feasts and seasons of the liturgical year, actively participating in daily Mass, studying the readings of the lectionary and singing Gregorian chant at home.

The liturgical renewal that sprang forth from that landmark council brought many blessings and advantages, but we still have work to do today to accomplish everything the council and the Liturgical Movement envisioned.

In the medieval period, in both the western and eastern rites, liturgical chant served to integrate an entire series of dynamic relationships between liturgy, Scripture, theology, education, and sacramental formation, presenting a holistic model of the Christian life that is difficult to achieve in our modern world. But my dream is that the music of our liturgy today, in all its diversity, will once again harmonize all the disparate elements of Catholic tradition and spiritual life, as if into one seamless garment.

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