Friday, May 29, 2015

"A Revival of New Catholic Initiatives"

I attended a fascinating lecture the other day about a junior naval officer, later an admiral, who really knew how to make waves. (¡Hagan lio!) The solution was simple and obviously important, a technological and tactical improvement that would revolutionize the accuracy of naval gunnery. The trouble was, how to make a change in a bureaucracy?

It's always the same in war, isn't it? Generals fight today's battles with tomorrow's technology--and yesterday's tactics. Ranking officers would prefer not to hear suggestions. Junior officers are afraid to speak. Losses due to a simple lack of candor can be astonishing.

In the Church, since apostolic times, there has been a tension--often ultimately fruitful--between structure and charism. Both structure and charism are God's will for the Church and the work of the Holy Spirit. In fact, administration is itself a charism. And Jesus Christ personally instituted the hierarchy.

In light of these structural realities, it is often necessary to take deliberate steps to open up listening processes. New initiatives will at first seem impractical or even impossible, and due to the inertia inherent in institutions, quite likely undesirable.

In his interview book Light of the World with Peter Seewald, Pope Benedict spoke in a way that might at first glance seem more, shall we say, Franciscan:
"Less clearly but nevertheless unmistakably, we find here in the West, too, a revival of new Catholic initiatives that are not ordered by a structure or a bureaucracy.The bureaucracy is spent and tired. These initiatives come from within, from the joy of young people."
Ironically enough, one of the first things that can happen with a fresh initiative is that it can become a new rule, a new codified structure. This is what has happened with ecclesial music, for example. Once the first fellow got out on stage with his guitar, it was basically all over for chant.

And thus today's fresh new initiatives are often recovery efforts, finding the best kinds of service and evangelization, the best sources and methods of Catholic teaching, the best kinds of art, architecture, and music, and bringing them to new life. Often this happens with a certain struggle. A parish or diocesan initiative having to do with chant will have an infinitely more difficult time getting started than one involving a guitar and piano combo, despite the obvious failure of Elvis-era outreach, and despite the clear teaching of the Second Vatican Council on chant's primacy in our Liturgy.

So the way forward, it seems to me, has a lot to do with thinking. We want to do what is best and most appropriate for both "vertical" and "horizontal" reasons, without a lot of inertia.

What are the next steps?

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Meeting people where they are; leading people to where they are not yet

It's ordination season, a time of great joy in the Church as dedicated young men are called forward and consecrated for conformity with Christ and priestly service to all of us.

As is usual on intergenerational ecclesial occasions, something of a generation gap is in evidence.

  • Current and recent ordinandi are likely to process in a reverent and calm way, looking straight ahead, perhaps with a slight smile but with a certain recollection.
  • Older priests are likely to wear large smiles in the entrance procession, looking for friends in the crowds and waving.

Standing outside this phenomenon and only being able to guess at the reason for the difference, I believe that there must have been a time when a particularly extroverted interpretation was given to the Pauline ideal of being "all things to all men."

According to the General Instruction on the Roman Missal, the goal of the Entrance Antiphon has four specific aspects.
47. When the people are gathered, and as the Priest enters with the Deacon and ministers, the Entrance Chant begins. Its purpose is to open the celebration, foster the unity of those who have been gathered, introduce their thoughts to the mystery of the liturgical time or festivity, and accompany the procession of the Priest and ministers.
This fourfold goal would not be met in any way by individual greetings or casualness. It is well addressed, however, by an attitude of recollection and prayerfulness on the part of all, ministers and people.

As we have often noted here before, we're still in the middle of an awkward, upside-down time in the Church, when the young are more formal than their elders. As we continue to think through these matters together, it helps to keep an open mind.

It could well be that received wisdom has sometimes overemphasized one aspect of pastoral concern at the expense of others.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Save Me From Myself, or "Why He Left the Catholic Church"

Upon reading this essay my first impulse was to blog about what an idiot how wrong in his thinking the author was.
Oh, my sweet aspergillum, are you being funny? ironic?
Why I Left the Catholic Church
In the end it was art that did it -- or rather, the lack of art.
I'm not angry, like so many other ex-Catholics. I don't have a problem with the Catholic Church's position on sexual morality. I didn't have a bad experience with a priest, or resent any nuns that taught me.
In the end, I left the Catholic Church because as an artist I could no longer hold out hope that there would be a place for me in the church.
Yeah, and a rational man stops believing in the Periodic Table because he doesn't like the approach the chemists he knows take to their work.
My thoughts are so uncharitable I must not even type them.

But beyond what I would think is the sheer impossibility of abandoning the grace of the sacraments, and the unsurpassable gift of the Body and Blood of Jesus --the tunnel-visioned inaccuracy of the charge is staggering.
Have you heard Arvo Pärt?
Have you seen Thérèse? (the French film.)
Do you know of Sagrada Familia? 
(Okay, Gaudi's been dead a while...)
MacMillan, Mitsui, Allen, Jenkins...
Lack of art? Really?

So I thought since so many of you have essentially dedicated your lives to the creation and recreation of beauty in the service of  the Catholic Church, you might have thoughts on this, (as well as the ability to express them more gracefully and graciously than I would do even had I the ability.)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Adventures In Progressive Solemnity

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to attend a Mass in the Extraordinary Form recently.
Generally, although one is offered in my diocese every weekend, the distance and timing, and my own Sunday obligations are such that I instead seek a musicless Mass.

If you care how a lover of music and music-making came to such a sorry pass, you can read  here.

When I've worked in a parish setting, TPTB were always slightly Latin-phobic, so obviously only Ordinary Form for Mass or LotH. Convincing them that what they wanted to sing, or were accustomed to sing weren't necessarily the most important things to sing, and that the Church actually gave us guidance on this, (apart from what our diocesan OoW put out,) was like pulling teeth.

Instead of Progressive Solemnity, we were fortunate to even be able to achieve a sort of Regressive Triviality.

I have taken part in Extraordinary Form Masses with great joy, at Colloquia and when I have found myself in the environs of St John Cantius, or had the opportunity to attend one for which Jenny Donelson's schola sang; and I have even been happy to have the chance to hear the traditional Mass when neither the priest nor the musicians, nor we faithful in the pews seemed very sure of who should do what when.

I even accidentally attended Mass at a schismatic chapel, before I knew there were such people and places, and I give thanks for, and "enjoyed" that.

I have never had any musical responsibilities at these, (other than singing as told at CMAA functions,) so never thought much about what is supposed to be done.

I generally position myself near someone who seem confident of his postures and gestures, whose hand missal looks well-loved, and copy him.

But I have realized that there is very little consistency from place to place.

(The first clue that I had was the PBC notation about "IF the confiteor is said again, turn to pg 25," or some such.)

Some places one priest reads the Lesson and Gospel in English while another reads them quietly in Latin, others the vernacular follows the "real" scripture. Some places the PIPs kneel for the entire time except the Gospel and homily. Some everyone recites the Gloria along with the celebrant. One priest stopped in mid-Pater noster to silence the people who were singing along with him, another practically conducted us to sing along.

I was given to understand that this is all because, in the day, there really were no rubrics for the people.

But the rubrics for the musicians are pretty clear, I had thought, especially the distinctions between solemn, sung and read Mass, a la Musica Sacra.

But even these seem to be a source of confusion.

The organist at one parish told me she and her choir "just do what Father wants," and there are four different "Fathers" who might show up on a moments notice.

The Mass I attended Sunday was lovely, and profoundly prayerful.

I found myself entering into it such that I was saved from playing Liturgy Scorekeeper, (a more passive role that Liturgy Police,) no ticking off boxes, wondering why so and so did such and such.

It was only after Mass that I thought, hmmm, 2 Latin motets and one English anthem, or that was nice, that little organ filler, sounds like Rossini, and then repeat the anthem, or, gee, only one voice to a part, none of them very strong but sweet polyphony, or wait a minute, they only sang some of the Gregorian Ordinary, and we all spoke the rest together, didn't we?

It all seemed, it felt appropriate.

Were they, perhaps, applying principles of progressive solemnity from Musicam Sacram to the EF, taken advantage of the provision for varying "degrees" of sung Mass?

And why shouldn't they?

That might sound flip, or combative, but it's really not.

IRL I have no access to anyone particularly knowledgeable about this, and I thank God every day for Those InterWebs.

But the internet is full of Facts that Everybody Knows - that aren't true.

And there often seem to be differences of opinion as to what pronouncements are descriptive and what prescriptive.

I thought I had learned that Musicam Sacram does not apply to the EF, (though of course there are some who try to insist it doesn't apply to the Novus Ordo... who, pray tell, would they be?)

I was startled to learn, (but I am ignorant - people who keep up on these things also seemed startled to learn,) in the comment box of  this several month old thread at New Liturgical Movement, which addresses these very questions, that  a book of rubrics for the old Mass is available online. The date of publication is 1960, but would it be in effect for the 1962 Missal?

A lot of the conversation there of course is simply opinion - leaned, informed opinion, but not really helpful for those who might be preparing sing half take baby steps in preparing music for liturgy.

It doesn't matter to me right now so much what the Church should have asked of us as what She does ask.

I want to know what's what, and what ought to be, and what ought not -- because I have a premonition, or at least a hope, that I might need to know.

What “legitimate diversity” is there in the Extraordinary Form?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Francisco Carbonell Wins!

Francisco Carbonell is the Director of Music at St. John the Evangelist in Indianapolis, where last year's Summer Colloquium celebrated its Masses.  And he's a rising star as a young composer.  Carbonell just won the Chorus Austin Young Composers competition. Here's a YouTube of one of his compositions for your listening enjoyment:

Just a Bit of Straight-Tone Women's Singing from the Santa Fe Desert Chorale

I've been a fan of this style of singing since hearing "Les Voix Mysteres" back in the 1970s. Here's a link to a rehearsal video from the Santa Fe Desert Chorale, a professional ensemble, preparing for appearances at the ACDA in Salt Lake City earlier this year.  This full-throated style is probably what most vocal music sounded like for centuries.

The world of choral music is so vast. When I explore it, sometimes I feel like St. Brendan paddling across the sea in his coracle and making remarkable discoveries.

(Apologies for not being able to connect to this more elegantly, but sometimes Blogger just confuses me.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Extension of Regular Registration for the CMAA Summer Colloquium in Pittsburgh, June 29-July 4, 2015

As a special indulgence (not found in the Raccolta), the regular registration period for one of the summer's best sacred music conferences has been extended. The May 15th deadline has been changed to MAY 31ST!

Join us at Duquesne University for mornings of chant instruction, breakout sessions on a smorgasbord of topics, a New Music workshop, afternoons of polyphony practice from Faure to Palestrina, as well as a class in fundamentals of chant and a beginning choir for those just dipping a toe into the waters of the polyphonic sea. Wait - I forgot about the opportunity for private organ and voice instruction.  Splendid Masses in both the Extraordinary and Ordinary Forms, sung by the workshops and choirs, plenary lectures, world-class faculty, fellowship with old and new friends, an opening banquet, dorm accommodations available, a multitude of food plans.

I hope to see you there.  Follow this link to find out more and register:

 So, if you're sitting on the fence about the Colloquium, hop off and come along for 5 days of wonderful sacred music-making.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Aurora lucis rutilat

An Easter hymn by St. Ambrose

The light of dawn is reddening,
The heavens' morning praises spring,
The earth exults: “The morning! Hail!”
While hell’s sad dwellers groan and wail.

Our King, the victor in the strife,
When death was smashed apart by life,
Has trampled hell triumphantly
And captive led captivity.

The Lord, whose barricade of stone
The soldiers kept sharp eyes upon
In vict’ry conquers through that gate
And rises forth in pomp and state.

 “The Lord is risen from the dead!”
The splendid angel loudly said.
And hell is evermore left free
To grumble in its misery.

Be this our thought through all life’s days,
Our Easter joy, our Paschal praise:
The grace in which we are reborn
Was won in triumph on that morn.

Jesus, to You let glory rise,
Who vanquished death and won the prize;
With Father and the Spirit blest,
Be endless ages’ praise addressed.

Trans. c. 2013 Kathleen Pluth 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Where Angels Fear to Tread

As someone who produces art intended for the liturgical use of the Catholic Church, I can can testify to the fact that it is a very intimidating ambition.

As Catholics, basically, we've already won the art contest. Any historical survey of visual or musical art makes it perfectly clear that the Church is peerless. In order to maintain "top chef" status, the Church in its art simply has to basically not ruin its own reputation.

It is worth asking whether we are currently meeting the standards that have been set over the two millennia. How is our drawing in the churches, for example? How is our sculpture? Do our churches show a concern for proportion and shape? How are we doing with verbal art, in hymnody?

And of course, how is our music?

My sense is that we've lost a dimension or two over the last century. For a thousand years, the visual quest involved depth: portraying the third dimension as a way for the viewer to enter into the frame.

Often enough now, and disappointingly, this third dimension is missing from liturgical visual arts. We've gone from paintings, which invite the viewer in, to flat cartoons.

Music, uniquely capable of providing a fourth dimension and an artistic representation of life in time, has similarly lost richness and joy. Too often, liturgical music is merely serviceable, barely imaginative, and almost entirely a matter of patching things through from one cadence to the next.

My purpose here is not to cast blame but to suggest that our devotion to God should involve the highest aspirations possible, particularly in our art, which, when excellent, has the power to make one Christian's devotion accessible to another.

What does the present look like--and what would we like the future to bring?

Monday, May 4, 2015

Get On Board with the Colloquium Now!

We're in the 2-week countdown for the CMAA Summer Colloquium.  Regular registrations end on May 15th and after that it will cost you an extra Benjamin (aka $50) to register.
[Correction, thanks to Richard Chonak: - you can only save a Ulysses Grant!  But remember - this is the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War.]

What could you do with that $50?  I can think of lots of musical purposes: a chunk of your meal plan, some of the nifty CDs that you'll find on the book table at the Colloquium, drinks for the new friends you'll make during the rehearsals or breakout sessions,etc.

Join us!  There's no other conference that provides the variety and depth that you'll find at the Colloquium:  chant, polyphony, practical instruction, and uplifting experience, world-class faculty, and the chance to join forces with peers who cherish the liturgical patrimony of the Latin Rite.  And lest I forget - the daily Masses that are so far from the "I-know-it's-valid-but-boy,-it's-painful-musically" world that many of us know.

Come to renew, rejoice, and restore your musicality and your spirit!  And do it now!
I look forward to seeing you there.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Let the feast begin!

This year of Roman-American festivities in honor of Blessed, soon-to-be-Saint Junipero Serra, was kicked off today in a big way at the North American College, our American seminary in Rome.

My friend Rev. Mr. Richard Miserendino had the honor of serving as the deacon of the Holy Father's Mass. Isn't that wonderful?

Looking forward to a blessed year!


New In-Depth Youtube Series on Accompanying Gregorian Chant

An organ score from the Nova Organi Harmonia
Recently, a user of the CMAA Forum began creating a tutorial on the methods of providing organ accompaniment to gregorian chant which many have found useful. His first video can be found below, and the rest can be found here. If this interests you, make sure to subscribe, so that you can continue to receive his new videos as they are released.

While there are collections of scores for this purpose, it is ultimately much more useful and flexible if an organist can learn the methods for improvising accompaniment, which this series attempts to teach.