Friday, June 18, 2010

Progress in Whole and Half Steps is still....Progress

I am approaching the seventeenth anniversary of accepting the duties of Director of Music for my parish. As I retired from teaching choral music at one of our four excellent public high schools (excellence in choral programs particularly) in 2005, I have served the parish as a full-time director for five years now. In the last two and half years our parish and pastor articulated the merger of three other local parishes and missions into the only clustered parish I’m aware of in our diocese. And we’re scheduled to open a fifth, large capacity parish worship facility sometime next year. Because of our central geographical location in the diocese, both the bishop and pastor have articulated plans that will designate the new parish to serve as a venue for diocesan liturgies.

In the last two years plus, my job description has been augmented greatly. And in the last two weeks, after consultations with the pastor, it now has expanded to include being the director of liturgy as well. Our parishes’ administration and organizational flow chart have, out of necessity, been reorganized into departments with cabinet members; Liturgy being one of six departments, and myself as the top of that “food chain” who reports to the pastor.

What has been a striking result, to me, of this administrative change, is that it has already provided me with more substantive collaboration time not only with the pastor, but our parochial vicars and deacons than I’ve ever enjoyed prior. For example, I casually initiated a conversation with “the boss” about various concerns- the progress of fixing a faulty PA system here, the development of new and younger organists and cantors there, Spanish-language music ministry needs, etc., pretty standard stuff. In the conversation I had mentioned to him I had posted an article in our parish website about the Proper processional antiphons that we employ at three of our nine Vigil/Sunday Masses at our “mother” parish. The pastor, who’d previously expressed much appreciation for the choral homophonic settings in English by the great Richard Rice, mentioned his interest in my other Proper sources for the Introit and Communio. He commented that he noticed occasionally that the tessituras and “ornamentation” of the melodies seemed “complex.” And he contrasted that thought by mentioning his personal appreciation for the Owen Alstott Respond and Acclaim “method.” (I’m sure if we’d had Chabanel 17 years ago, he’d have the same sort of appreciation for those.) The importance of this, to me, is that my pastor was opening channels of conversation that previously were taken for granted. He and I discussed other approaches, such as “By Flowing Waters” (he went to seminary with Dr. Paul Ford) and “Psallite” (not a favorite for me personally.) My pastor is not in the least a disinterested liturgist, nor musically prejudiced or under-exposed to all forms of sacred/liturgical music. His regard for Respond and Acclaim’s ethos doesn’t clash with his appreciation for our choir’s performance of the Allegri “Miserere mei” or the chanted Reproaches by Bruce Ford.

What I’m most encouraged by is that we both seem much more at ease with engaging in specifics. From that informal talk yesterday I was provided an opportunity to show him sources of English chant that we use by Fr. Kelly, Fr. Weber, Bruce Ford and the Anglican Use Gradual. I was able to demonstrate their distinct qualities and approaches by comparison to the Latin originals from the GR. He was interested in systematically understanding the different approaches that are evident between Bruce Ford’s text and melodic interpretations and those of Fr. Kelly. He was similarly struck by the “new chant” modalities of Fr. Weber and the AUG. From there we discussed the future of all of our merged parish Masses utilizing Propers, not only from these sources, but by teaching our congregations the basic Psalm tones, and perhaps by the creation of a home-grown gradual that is utilitarian, accessible upon hearing and not banal, such as how he regards much of the Respond and Acclaim product.

We also discussed in these last two days an upcoming Solemn Vespers on the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He showed great enthusiasm when I showed him Byrd’s “Ave maris stella” for three voices, and an “Ave Maria” by a Philadelphia composer who lived and worked there at the same time our parish’s founder was in seminary and then assigned to St. Ann’s, Philadelphia, before he emigrated west and founded our parish in 1861. And we “sketched” out some musical approaches within the breviary framework together.

This is almost a totally new experience for me, this “freedom” that invites collaboration that reflects more of the “paradigm” ideal that I first heard explained by Professor Mahrt in my first colloquium three years ago.

Of course, I’m supremely aware that there will be many colleagues who would rightly challenge the very notion that Respond and Acclaim is even viable, much less worthy in practice and concept. But this post is not about merit, it is about two veterans (the number of years of my marriage are the same as those of his ordination) who’ve been working with each other for over six years, but have now entered a new, nascent relationship that can only bode well for the “brick by brick” future of our parish worship.

Te Deum laudamus!
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