Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Okay, now we're talking. Dear John,....

A few days ago I wrote about how we ought to give the big publishers some straightforward advice about the songs that aren't worth reprinting for next year, and also about the songs and composers that deserve to be heard more.

Well, here's what I would and will send to the editor at OCP. Feel free to use this as a template or reconfigure yours in any manner you like.

Dear Mr. Limb,

I have been a music director in three parishes and a cathedral since 1977 that have, without exception, utilized OCP resources exclusively as worship aides. Much thanks is due to the founders of the Oregon Truth and Tract Society that eventually evolved into Oregon Catholic Press, and was transformed through the efforts of fine folk like Owen Alstott into the pre-eminent supplier of musical and liturgical worship aides not only for the USA, but in many other English conferences.
As you likely aware from the adjustments OCP has made in its flagship products (Music Issue/Breaking Bread/Flor y Canto) over the decades such as the licensing and then ultimate acquisition of the former NALR catalogue, the agreements with other major RCC and other publishers for reprint permission for emergent repertoires of significant value to congregations, change as well as innovation is not to be unexpected in liturgical matters.

One of the most noticeable changes promulgated both independently and in concert with the infusion of the third edition of the Roman Missal and the earlier advisory document SING TO THE LORD from the USCCB has been a resurgence of interest in following through with the full spectrum of objectives and legislation clearly articulated in the conciliar documents, namely the CSL, MS and GIRM. These documents themselves owe a large measure of allegiance to the goals of the century old papal motu proprio, Tra le sollecitudini of St. Pope Pius X.

As a Director of Music that has relied upon OCP for over thrity five years, what has become clear is that though the interest of an emerging and younger demographic that, as Catholic seekers, are very aware of the great heritage, unique and profound effect of what is generally called "Gregorian Chant" (for our purposes I'll refer simply to "chant") upon their worship experience as Roman Rite Catholics. OCP has not been remiss in accomodation of that demographic with specific publications, but as of yet has not evinced its commitment to inclusivity of that demographic in its flagship pew publications.

I would ask you to consider consulting with your editorial board and ask them, regardless of the standard methodologies of the annual survey and their editorial guidance, have they given a thorough and critical analysis of the content of the BB/MI/Heritage line of products as regards "chant?"

I would suggest that a significant portion of the subscription volumes have not only stagnant and unused repertoire that escapes attention year to year, but also some material whose textual content is clearly at odds with the needs of authentic worship with the rites. There are likely a substantial number of songs, hymns and ordinaries whose musical content has seen its sunset realistically and take up valuable page space that other much more vital and necessary content could resuscitate OCP's waning perception as a viable, all inclusive and orthodox service provider.

The following examples of what I would consider as "defunct" pieces would likely not be missed by significant numbers of parishes:

WAITING IN SILENCE/Landry-both lyric and musical content is very pedestrian. The scriptural allusions are better set elsewhere in other songs.
ASHES/Conry- poor theology throughout the entire lyric that reflects a more anthrocentric impetus and modus operandi than a penitential expression.
ROLL AWAY THE STONE/Conry-inarticulate allegorical verses, overtly dramatic and combative by comparison to the psalms they paraphrase, and an oblique and obscure message in the imperative refrain text.
BREAD, BLESSED AND BROKEN/Lynch- even if for children, the lyric is so puerile that dilutes the Eucharistic theology to young minds. The single most damaging element is the naming of the Eucharistic host as a "symbol" of God's love. That must be remedied by elimination, not alteration.
LOOK BEYOND/Ducote- incomprehensible verses in that there is no coherency between 1 to 2/3, 4 to 5. A stale mess of snapshot references.
BREAD OF LIFE/Cooney- again, massive anthrocentrism failing to expiate properly a solid Eucharistic theology. "I, myself, am the bread of life" is an augmentation of John 6 that is condescending to the Faithful, too confusing and self-referential to "us" as Eucharist.
SING A NEW CHURCH/Dufner- a well-intentioned but extremely flawed abstraction of ecclesiology.
GATHER AND REMEMBER/Alstott-another well-intentioned but inappropriate and didactic homage and paean to an ecumenical council, and some very incendiary assessments of church history and traditions. The Vox Dei component is poorly employed as well.
HERE I AM/Booth- another Vox Dei that has some indiscriminate notions, or inarticulate at best, added to the typical syncopation that dissuade participation rather than invites it.
HOLY SPIRIT/Misetich, SNJM- tired, dated, banal text and melody
THE SPIRIT IS A-MOVIN'/Landry- see immediate song above.
ALL I ASK OF YOU/Norbert/Weston- incredibly saccharine content in lyrics.
ANTHEM/Conry- of all the Conry pieces dropped (I will lift up my eyes...I will not die...") in the past, the fact that this jarring, confrontive theology remains is a huge mystery. We are....not amused.
I WILL CHOOSE CHRIST/Booth-besides having some motivic elements that are too close to popular hits of the secular past, it can't be really defended as viable to all cross sections of worshipping communities.
'TIS A GIFT TO BE SIMPLE/Shaker trad.- a novelty that has no value in a Roman Rite context.
LET THERE BE PEACE ON EARTH/Miller&Jackson- tired, dated, a courteous nod and association with "God" that is minimalist. A commercial.
PEACE IS FLOWING LIKE A RIVER/Landry- have we checked the pulse of the world lately?

(interlude: You might notice I've avoided any of the major bogeyman titles that are commonly flogged horses here and elsewhere, OEW, MoC, GUI, IATBOL, etc., precisely because the psychological pushback would likely kick in immediately. Those are the golden eggs of the golden geese. One has to think strategically, tactfully and tactically.)
Mr. Limb, there are, as you likely know, many more titles that others have taken up as a cause celebre for post-conciliar examples of musical anathema. The "de gustibus" factor will always be in play in such critical discourse, deconstruction and deliberation. But I hope to move you to more attentively call your editors' discretion towards the best and beautiful, not the easiest or most popular.
Please relieve this glut of ineffective and insufficient pieces from further occupancy in publications that are supposed to be responsive and responsible. You have given credence to the chants found in Columba Kelly's collection and other chant books in your own catalogue. You have composers such as Barbara Bridge and others who've had chant-emulative pieces extracted from the hymnals. This is contradictory, in fact, to conciliar philosophy that encourages new compositions to flourish within our own traditions.

Thank you for your kind attention,
Charles Culbreth, Director of Music and Worship
The Catholic Church of Visalia (California)

Does this give you any ideas about your own advice for
OCP/GIA/WLP/TLP/ILP, etc.? What are you telling them to keep or toss?"

Adoro Te: Gregorian Chants & Marian Antiphons

I rarely write reviews, but this is the exception that breaks the rule.  When people offer to send me their music (and they do when they realize I can get it on the air), I brace my listening ears when I first play the sample track.  Oh, what a delight it was to hear this!

When most of us think of a chant CD, we think of a "group effort."  That may be a choir of monks or nuns, perhaps a professional ensemble or even a gifted church choir.  We don't think soloists, the exception being teaching and enthusiast recordings found on YouTube.  Donna Stewart's new CD, Adoro Te, is just that - a solo woman's voice singing a range of chant hymns and antiphons.  And it is quite effective.

Stewart is best known as a singer of Renaissance lute songs, as half of Duo Mignarda. In fact, she met the lutenist while they were singing in a 5-voice schola for a weekly Tridentine Mass.  She has also recorded with the baroque ensemble Apollo's Fire.  So she is both professionally and personally committed to the genre.

Recorded live at the Church of St. Stanislaus in Cleveland, Ohio, Stewart makes full use of the church's reverberent acoustic.  Each phrase gets a chance to resolve itself into silence. And she doesn't hesitate to use a judicious amount of rubato in her singing - never schmaltzy - just the right amount of plasticity that beautiful vocal lines demand.  Importantly, Stewart has the beautiful voice equal to those melodies; it is seamless and rich.  Not an imitation boy-choir white tone, but a restrained and attractive adult woman's voice.

The 15 selections begin with the solemn tone Salve Regina and conclude with the Adoro Te Devote. In between are classic chants from all parts of the liturgical year: Creator Alme Siderum, Jesu Redemptor Omnium, Ave Regina Caelorum, Ubi Caritas, Crux Fidelis and Pange Lingua, Veni Creator Spiritus, and Ut Queant Laxis, among others.

Is this the model for your schola's singing?  Probably not.  At the same time, this is the album to give to folks who might find it a window into understanding the chant ethos.  And it's an album worth listening to yourself because its very different style can open an experienced singer to new ways of thinking about both text and melody.  Further, if we insist that chant has to be "my way or the highway," we may find more on the on-ramp than driving along with us.

The album is available directly from the artist at Mignarda or at the usual download sites.  As a proponent of women's voices, especially in a genre that is often regarded as exclusively male, I cannot praise Donna Stewart's Adoro Te, highly enough.  

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Musica Sacra St. Louis Conference October 23-25

Flyer for conference: Musica Sacra St. LouisThe fifth annual Musica Sacra St. Louis conference will explore "The Beauty of the Mass Ordinary" and "English Language Adaptations of the Mass Propers". Instructors include Dr. William Mahrt, Associate Professor of Music at Stanford University; and Dr. Horst Buchholz, Director of Sacred Music, Archdiocese of St. Louis.

The conference is open to all who have an interest in the history and application of music in the liturgy; music directors, choir directors, singers, liturgists, priests and deacons, religious, seminarians, etc. 

For more information, click on the image, or grab the flyer, or read more at the Archdiocesan Office for Sacred Music, or call 314-614-7702.

Can We Talk? With OCP?

About a week ago, there was a brief lull in my work day when I was reconfiguring an old laptop to serve as a supplementary computer in my school office. I needed something to do that wasn’t a real project as I needed to monitor the computer processes. So I decided to look at the upcoming issue of OCP’s “Today’s Liturgy” periodical. Normally the amount that we receive is parsed out to music leaders with about half remaining unused and round-filed. So I opened it up, skimmed through the pages looking for any title that might be interesting (self-fulfilled prophecy: none) and then noticed, “Oh, the annual survey is in this issue.” Over the years I’ve done due diligence and not only checked off boxes thoroughly, including my assumptions about what other leaders under my management are likely still using, but I’ve often exceeded the survey by attaching reams of attached notes of why do you cut this out and let this in, or what is the real process you use to create the next Frankenstein’s creature known as “Breaking Bread” or “Music Issue?”

In reaction to my excessive responses, OCP has always kindly sent a letter stating their appreciation for my “sharing” and will take them under consideration. Most of us who’ve had a job (outside of ecclesial) know that “appreciation” is 99% code for the exact opposite, though courteously mannered, reaction, i.e. the round file.

Personally, I don’t believe that OCP (the “Hidden Hand”) of the Liturgical Industrial Complex will soon disappear from the landscape of pew racks in any foreseeable future. If the books do, then the images from them will be projected upon walls and screens. Feh and meh, so what? Over decades I’ve dreamed of various schemes to get their attention, or someone else’s attention that they really need to pay attention and serious heed to the evolving reform of liturgical paradigms, particularly as regards musical responsibilities and repertoires of the Roman Rite. Those would include my grandest idea: the boutique hymnal, designed by local See’s and their music gurus, specified and forwarded to Portland, and mocked-up by the mainframe servers on East Hassalo Avenue within a day, printed and shipped like Amazon for arrival next Tuesday. This idea is premised upon the obvious “anything Bartlett/Ostrowski/Rice” can do, we can do bigger, faster, better!” I don’t want to debate that little bon mot.

So what am I now proposing that is of interest to a chant-inclined readership? How does the lamb expect to approach, much less to lie down with the Lion whose leash bears the inscription: Supply, meet demand?

Well, the readership of the Café, MSForum, NLMovement, CCWatershed and other like minded sites, though maybe no more than 10-15% of the demographic size of NPM, comparing Colloquium to convention, is still a very powerful and influential voice in the RCC sacred music community. And as is often mentioned, demonstrably growing in both clerical and lay constituencies. So, how do we flex muscle and influence to the seeming hard-hearted mercenaries (joke, people, joke!) of Big Three editorial boards?

Up close and personal is the answer. And nicely, by the way, not “in your face, talk to the hand” style.

What I propose is this- if your parish subscribes to any pulp hymnal product (save the new Missal I saw in Indy which Noel Jones first brought to my attention), consider allotting some time for a thorough auditing of its entire hymn/song/chant/ordinary/Psalter contents. Select at least 10 and perhaps no more than 25 titles that you know in your heart of hearts, mind of minds that fail the most basic criteria for appropriateness of use at worship. Then list them, each having just a minimum number of sentence descriptions of those failures. Use clinical and direct but polite rhetoric. Then, complete your list.

Compose a brief letter of introduction of yourself as an authentic, endorsed staff member in charge of music for your parish/cathedral, and what music resource of the publisher from which the list was culled. Then copy and paste in your list to the letter. Perhaps you might want to preface the letter after the introduction with some “happy talk” expressing your own appreciation for what the publisher does, and the dedication we all expend together in helping the Faithful, etc.

Then before summarizing, here’s the kicker- make sure you then suggest what specific items you would find most beneficial that would replace those 10-25 pages of “system-fail” pieces with items from resources already in the catalogue of the publisher. For example using OCP, if I were to list every song from Carey Landry or Tom Conry as defunct, I would offer that the space allotted those would be filled by the Entrance and Communion Propers by Fr. Columba Kelly, OSB already typeset in modern notation and, more importantly, in their mainframe servers! Or, the entire contents of “Laus Tibi,” OCP’s little pamphlet of round note chant greatest hits. If you are a little more daring, you could mention that so much chant (in Latin, English and increasingly Spanish) is now freely available in the Commons 3, that if they were so inclined, the editors could contact the author/composers for reprint permission that is already gratis.

Now, you put that into both an email and snail mail forms and forward it to the publisher first, in OCP’s case, John Limb, and then every other editorial board member and others (such as Bari Columbari) and even influential folks like Randy DeBruyn or Chris Walker with a heartfelt salutation, prayers and hope for fruitful consideration.

That’s it, that’s all I’ve got for now. I’ve already done this. Perhaps some of you also have done something like it as well. But imagine if the entire readership of just the CMAA blogs were to send such “Dear John” letters…. The publishers would ignore them at their own peril I like to think.

If you’re pessimistic about all this, that’s okay by me. But I ask you before moving on and away from this proposal, try to imagine all around OCPLand parishes, when the musical Powers That Be open the next year’s “Breaking Bread” and find all sorts of chants mixed in among all the option four stuff that remains, IMAGINE the message that will subliminally be injected into their sensibilities. Can it possibly hurt? Do harm? I think not.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Magnificat Monday: Willam Byrd - The Great Service:

Unfortunately, the video ends prematurely, so the full text is not included here

The World Vernacular Is English, Korean Edition

I've mentioned a number of times here, from points abroad, that English is the world vernacular. As Latin was in the West, and Greek was in the East, so now English is, everywhere.

Our Holy Father's recent apostolic voyage was an opportunity for him to speak publicly in English.

In Korea.

The reasons for historic language hegemonies may not be the most religious reasons, and in fact they often are tied primarily in a rather unsavory way to economic and military realities. And it may not be a great boon for other reasons as well. I spoke about the dominance of English with a priest--himself from New Jersey--who works internationally. His feeling about English is that it is unfortunately too direct for the best kind of dialogue. Romance languages tend to allow for nuance, for mentioning things in a non-confrontational way, touching ideas without committing to them. English tends to aim at "sealing the deal" of meaning.

For better or worse, English is the language spoken by the world. And even more so with music. American pop music is heard across Europe in every shoe or clothing store, and unfortunately in a growing number of cafes as well.

And when the Pope speaks to the young, in Korea, he speaks in English.

This means that the liturgical music resources that are produced in English must be of the highest quality in every way: theologically, musically, and poetically. We can either export shoddy plastic gimmickry, or produce beautiful art that aims towards perfect praise.

There really should be no question about which direction is appropriate.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Chants Abrégés - Fantastic Resource for Beginning Scholas

As people who have sung with and under me probably know, I'm not a fan of the overuse of psalm tones. Chanting psalms in the office? Great use for them. Singing the gloria patri during the introit? Fantastic. Psalm verses during communion? Wonderful. But replacing a gradual? Please no! Psalm tones are great for supporting psalm verses, but not for primary melodies. It is always such a shame to hear propers reduced to psalm tones, especially in the ordinary form where the graduale simplex could be used, or even many english propers.

Don't get me wrong, it is better to hear propers sung than not. If you're struggling to put together a gradual with your choir, you should check out the Chants Abrégés! I don't currently direct a schola, but last year when I was getting one off the ground, we used it frequently to pull together the gradual, when we weren't quite ready to pull off the full versions in a reasonable amount of time. As we grew in skill, we moved beyond it, and only used it occasionally when we were faced with more difficult chants and limited time. It also has simplified alleluias as well, though the verses are set to psalm tones.

Now I do have to give you fair warning, other than the music itself, the book is entirely in french. I have found the easiest way to find a chant is to know the name of the chant you want and use the index to find a page number instead of trying to decipher the french headings. Still usable, just one extra step.

Thanks to the CMAA, this book is now back in print! If you are in a schola who has trouble with graduals, check this book out!

Download or buy a copy for you or your schola

Friday, August 15, 2014

An Extraordinary Parish Mass

Tonight I attended a local parish's Assumption evening Mass. This isn't an FSSP parish, or a "designated" parish for the Missal of Pope John XXIII. It's just a regular, territorial, parish church, and this was a normally scheduled Mass for a Holy Day of Obligation.

The Mass was in the Extraordinary Form, a Missa Cantata, with a Byrd ordinary, a number of motets, and chanted propers.

The very large suburban-type church was packed and overflowing, with families hanging around the vestibule with their toddlers. And while I did see some of the folks who frequent different EF Masses around the DC area, most of the people there looked like they were just regular parishioners.

The church was chock-full of young families.

The children seemed quite happy indeed, and were generally following along in the programs, which were plentifully provided. I don't know if it was the beauty of the music, which was quite well done, or the support of their parents, or just what helped the children to enjoy the Mass. But they did, and afterwards the vestibule was filled with the energy that young people have when they feel happy.

I guess what I'm wondering is how there could possibly be anything wrong in all of this. I can imagine that myriads of liturgists, if consulted, would have been utterly scandalized by this thoroughly joyful occasion, and I can't help but wondering: why?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The songs of the angels--and of martyrs

Sometimes the beautiful seems irrelevant, in the face of all that is urgent. When brutality meets us at every turn of the tv channel, how can we possibly make liturgical song the center of our working lives?

Now, more than ever, the Church needs to witness to the beauty of God through the beautiful witness of its source and summit, the Mass.

God is Beauty, God in Whom only we have our hope. And it is this beauty which comes through in the human voice, well-tuned and singing the sacred texts. How can we love the Lord our God with our entire being? Through song, which unites the human mind, heart, soul, and strength, and which rises up to join the song of the angels and archangels--and the songs of martyrs, present and past.

Even in the darkness of a world gone mad--especially in the darkness--we sing with that thoroughly rational exultation that testifies to the Reality, the One who can be trusted, even if all others prove false.

Now more than ever, the Church must sing its Psalms of praise.

By day the Lord will send his loving kindness;
by night I will sing to him, praise the God of my life.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Magnificat Monday: Andrew Carter: Californian Canticles

Thanks to Chuck Giffen to help me find this!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Ubi Caritas - Stephens

Schola Sainte Cécile and the Renewal of French Church Music

If you ask most people what names come to mind when you associate the words church, music and Paris, there are lots of beautiful places that rise up in the imagination: Notre Dame, Ste Clothilde, St Germain des Pres, St Eustache, the Madeleine: the list goes on and on.  It is no secret that the City of Lights has been an inspiration to many a church musician through the ages.  And it is still unparalleled when it comes to organ music.  It's hard to go far on a Sunday afternoon and not stumble into a first rate organ concert.

Many moons ago when I lived in Paris, I used to go to a small little church off of Grands Boulevards which may not be a household name, but it certainly will be someday.  Not far from the Conservatoire, already home to so many promising musicians of the future, this neo-Gothic wonder not too far off the beaten path is home to what in my opinion is one of the brightest spots in the sacred music scene in the world.

The Church of Saint Eugène is twinned with the parish of Sainte Cécile and in this space you will find a home where the liturgical thought of Pope Benedict XVI and Tradition flourishes.  On any given Sunday, you can attend Mass in the French Novus Ordo as well as the Extraordinary Form.  In my day, Philippe Guy was the mastermind behind the whole musical affair, and the Abbé François Poté attracted numerous families and young people to a parish which otherwise might have suffered, as the neighborhood around it changed.

The musical programme is quite impressive, if for no other reason than here you can listen to some of the best of the classical repertoire of French sacred choral music.  It's one thing to hear Charpentier's famed Messe pour minuit de Noël in a fashionable French church.  It's another to experience it alongside sequences from the Parisian Missal, Eucharistic motets from the ancien régime and chant at its finest, Sunday after Sunday in a parish that celebrates both forms of the Roman Rite well.

The parish is itself a veritable vocations factory and a center for traditional Catholic piety.  Every year men and women go off to seminaries, convents and monasteries, and others start Christian homes as married layfolk from the altar of this amazing parish.

Today the Maître de Chapelle is Henri Adam de Villiers, who not only presides over one of the most unique programs of Catholic music in Paris, but much more.  A contributor to the New Liturgical Movement blog, he has not only an encyclopedic knowledge of Parisian church music, he also is master of theory and practice at the Russian Catholic community of Paris.  The Schola Sainte-Cécile runs a blog called Liturgia, which is an impressive place to learn more, not only about the work de Villiers & co are doing in the 9th arrondissement, but also all about Gallican liturgy and music.  Not to mention the fact that the Schola has provided music all over Italy for the traditional Ambrosian Rite.

Saint Eugène is certainly a model parish in its spirituality, liturgy and sacred music.  But, as a parish, its story is not widely known outside of a few cognoscenti who follow the Parisian music scene.  That is about to change.  There is a kickstarter campaign to get the message out about the incredible music being done every day at this remarkable piece of heaven on earth.
photo credit to Gonzague Bridault

There is a great way you can learn more about the project and also donate towards it.

The more the world knows about places like this, the more that other parish priests and musicians may be encouraged as they restore the sacred and bring the fullness of the Catholic tradition alive.  I am very blessed to have been a quiet, discreet member of its flock for an all-too-brief period of time which changed my life.  My hope is that this shining light may go far and wide with this documentary!