Thursday, June 24, 2010

Reasons for Peace and Contentment at the Colloquium

After many years of attending the Colloquium, I've noticed what many people have noticed about the special environment this year: there is a blessed peace and contentment at this year's event, one that is supportive of learning, productivity, good singing, social happiness - all preconditions to the most generous occasion of  grace. I've been trying to think of the particular sources of this special environment this year, and I have a few theories.
  • The organization of this year's event, led by program director Arlene Oost-Zinner (who is also leading the intermediate women's schola), is truly a marvel. The hugely complex machinery of scheduling, events, rooms, music, along with a thousand details at each time slot, from morning to night, is humming as never before. The assistance of many volunteers has been inspiring. 
  • The Duquesne University staff has been pleased to have us on campus and has been extremely helpful at every turn. The same is true of the Church of the Epiphany, which has welcomed us, even to the point of making special physical accommodations for the extraordinary form in the sanctuary.
  • Issues that usually split liturgical musicians and Catholics have settled down to a civil coexistence, most especially the old struggle between partisans of the new vs. the old liturgy. The new consensus was nicely framed by Ed Schaefer: the preconciliar structure of Mass and the Divine Office is the elder brother from which the structure of 1969/70 can learn. 
  • Remember the rhythm debates that dominated the chant scene during a huge part of the 20th century? There was a time when ever singer had to take a side in the great debate and defend it and organize one's musical colleagues around it. At this event, I suspect that most people just aren't that interested in some kind of battle or taking a side. Each conductor is different. Each singer has a special appreciation for one or another way of singing. We are all glad to learn from various perspectives and approaches. Even at individual Masses, the chant propers come across as musically unique events. Seeing how this works, one wonders what all the fuss what about. 
  • Even on issues of contemporary vs. traditional music, there is a sense of peace. Everyone now knows what the Second Vatican Council meant by giving chant first place. And yet most of the musicians here are working within parish reality, which is to say, they are all transitioning from one place to another, but with direction and purpose. I've heard very little in the way of put downs toward the problem music in the Catholic world today (even I've controlled my tongue!); rather, energies are all focused toward doing more to achieve the ideal.
  • One final area of peace concerns the old cultural split between academic musicologists and parish-based practitioners. There are many of both types here but they aren't arguing. They are talking to each other and learning from each other, working to build bridges between the world of scholarship and the world of relentless parish schedules.
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