Saturday, June 26, 2010

Vespers of the Holy Cross

Our own beloved Frogman Noel Jones sums up the Vespers service, which combined chant, polyphony, and hymns from several choirs into an overwhelming experience that was surely a first for most everyone present:

This Colloquium service, sung in the church where Fr. Carlo Rossini was choir director and organist (Thanks for that information, Fr. Frank Phillips, CR!), was full of chant and polyphony.

Jeff Ostrowski's chant choir set a high standard that was met then by Wilko Browers as he directed his Intermediate Women's Chant choir chanting O Crux Gloriosa,their sound soaring through the building, as if the building were on fire. It was a performance that made you wish it would go on and on....and it did, getting better and better.

It was amazing.


Then Dr. Mahrt conducted the Vexilla Regis by Tomás Luis de Victoria.

The dynamics of the mens and womens parts created waves of sound, the men on the left and women on the right, that were like floodlights of different colors washing around the entire church.

It was not better than the chant version, it was equally stunning, both raised goosebumps.

Amazing. Hearing two known Masters conducting and one on his way up there.

And the entire faculty were in attendance.

For my part, it was easily the most challenging musical experience of my life. It lasted one hour and twenty minutes, and perhaps one hour of that involved chanting and singing. The amount of Latin was overwhelming even for someone with experience. The navigation between the chant and polyphony was never anything but extremely tricky. One had to always be intensely focused on the mechanics.

The eyes had to be super disciplined the entire time. If you lost concentration for an instant, it was all over. So, for example, you had the first verse in chant and you had to focus on the pointing, which different tones for each Psalm, but in the very next verse you were singing polyphony, a piece that might be SATB, SAT, or ATB, depending, but you had to know in advance and get it right immediately. There were transposition issues throughout. Just singing the right notes at the right time was a challenge enough, but then you add style and text plus standing and sitting and bowing rubrics and you have a serious job here.

The pressure intensified given that we had only 3 days to prepare, a total of maybe 5 hours of rehearsal time. In my own tenor section, the level of excellence was so high that I certainly developed a lower opinion of my own skills. One wrong note, one missed accidental, and everyone knew it.

What did I gain beyond this musical experience? I had something of a dawning of consciousness about the sheer massiveness of the apparatus of the Roman Rite and its place in history -- the moving parts, the fitting together of such a vast tradition through the ages, the coming together of so many countries and places. There is just no way for one person to "compose" what we sang last night. It was composed by the passage of sacred time. And now we come to the point really: my experience really demonstrated to me what it means to pursue the sanctification of time.

The loss of the Divine Office in the lives of Catholics is deeply tragic. I understand that now better than I ever have.
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