Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Best Introduction to Chant as Music

There are many types of Gregorian chant books out there. There are theological books, pedagogical books, historical books, detailed scholarly studies, and more. But what if you want a book on chant as music, the same type of book that might be written about the opera or about the symphony, something that covers history, purpose, and practice? Here is a wonderful choice: Gregorian Chant by David Hiley, appearing in the Cambridge Introductions to Music series. I can't remember enjoying a book on chant more. It is sober without unnecessary academic apparatus, practical and clear without being overly focused on practitioners only, and historical without demanding vast prior knowledge. The prose is lovely and even charming, but one can be confident about its arguments and conclusions simply because Hiley is probably the world's leading expert. The price is also right. This book filled in many gaps in my own knowledge, and clarified many questions. For college classrooms, it is ideal! But everyone interested in the subject will benefit.

The Dierschow Recordings of Colloquium XX

They have begun to appear!. There is so much to say, but rather than go on and on, I'll just encourage you to listen. They are all in the commons, so please take them and post them wherever you can.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Video of Usus Antiquior Mass at Southwark Cathedral, London, UK

I hope readers will enjoy this short video of the opening of the Solemn High Mass for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception at St George's Cathedral, Southwark.


video

A Universal Song

From one person who could not attend this year:

I am one of the - I'm sure - many people who wanted to be at the CMAA colloquium this year, but couldn't get away from my work and home this time. I have been a regular at the colloquium for the past few years, and have been abundantly blessed. I've made wonderful friends who share my passion for sacred music and Catholic orthodoxy, learned so much about my faith and it's rich musical heritage, and have been emboldened and empowered to take what I've learned and improve the liturgical life in my own parish.

On Monday, June 21, I felt a little sad - sad that I would not be greeted by the bright shining smiles who always make me feel welcome at the colloquium. I sat down to dinner that evening, imagining what charming wit from "the bow-tied one" I would not get to enjoy. I lamented in knowing that all that beauty of prayer and music was happening in Pittsburgh, and I was stuck in Piqua, Ohio. I was surely there in spirit.

Then on the evening of June 24, we were celebrating the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. As we chanted Tu Puer at Communion, I was filled up and overwhelmed with the revelation that many miles away, fellow Catholics were singing/praying the exact same words with the exact same melody for the exact same occasion. My CMAA friends were worshiping in the Extraordinary form, we were in the Ordinary form. The Communion Proper reminded me that around the globe, Catholics were united in mind, heart, and spirit. Sacred music is a wonderful outward expression of this unity.

The CMAA is more far-reaching than the 250 of it's participants each year. It is helping to lift up worship and worshipers in many small towns, just like mine, and it is truly strengthening the Body of Christ at a real grass roots level.

Thank you so much for your tireless passionate work, your excellent online presence, and your absolute devotion to all things authentically Catholic. We are all blessed to have such a faithful group of people working for the CMAA, and for all the stewards and students of the Sacred Liturgy around the world. You work is saving souls!

After the Colloquium, Exuberance

Left to right: Wilko Brouwers, Arlene Oost-Zinner, Jeffrey Tucker, Scott Turkington, William Mahrt.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Music Liberated by Colloquium XX

Several important pieces have been liberated from the prisons of obscurity and copyright for use at the Colloquium, and, by tradition, now put into the commons of the faith for your free use.

Here is the entire packet. These have not been previously available.
  • John Taverner's Ave Maria
  • Ne reminiscaris Domine by Orlando di Lasso
  • Inclina Domine by Johannes Verhulst
  • A Catholic performance edition of Schubert's Mass in G (prepared by Msgr. Schuler and redone by Jonathan Eason) with orchestra parts and organ reduction (not in the packet but available later this week).

Pictures of a Past

We've heard constantly for decades about how unredeemed the preconciliar past is, and yet sometimes I receive correspondence that remind me of what was and what might have been. An example:
Regading the congregation singing the Orsinary, when I was the organist and school music teacher at St. Rose chrch in Meriden, CT, the whole congregaiton sang the chant Ordinary, my 40-boy-choir processed, vested, with the celebrant, and the junior high school girls choir sang the Propers.

You have given me fond memopries of what Dr. Clifford Bennett, president of the Gregorian Institute of American was trying to do around this country in 1948 when I joined him as his New England Representative.

By the way, the Gregorian Institute of America is now generally described as the GIA, a for-profit publisher that gladly sells chant books but publishes next to nothing that touches on Gregorian themes and is now charged with collecting money for the right to sing the Psalms in English.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Women Clothed with the Son


Sunday evening, post-Colloquium- Wendy and I are happily exhausted. Finished Pittsburgh proper the way we began, with a dinner at the Pittsburgh Steak House on Carson,Southside.We cannot conceive of what it takes for Arlene OZ to "decompress" from one of "these." I might propose that AOZ is one of the greatest people breathing air on this planet at this moment; she reconciles the Martha/Mary dichotomy with a smile and a couple of hairpins. Make no mistake though, she knows that every glass of the assembled is clean, then filled, then washed. And all the while she's never left His side, absorbing every graceful word from His heart. And as Frogman eloquently opined, she don't take a backseat to anybody when it comes to lovingly, nurturingly letting her baby doves fly with the wings of plainsong. She would shy away were that said in public from a dais microphone. Well, Arlene, I'm seconding Noel here and now, you're front and center, enfolded in Christ's arms.

And now the then: In the last three years, if there needed to be a clear sign that the tide is turning, it was attested to in this last week. "Then" is to be thought of as "what is to come," not "what has gone." "Then came......"

Jessica Happold is 25. In this era 25 doesn't equal a quarter-century as we all know that the infected media Fr. Pasley spoke of at the final Sunday Mass have mitigated the concept of 25 as a "quarter-century." Jessica, in any case, comprises all we need to know about the future of the liturgical leadership of our beloved Church. She hails from a one stop-sign (they had a blinking red-light, but then determined it was exorbitant) little burg in Nebraska containing less than 400 souls, some who attend the one Catholic parish, the others a Methodist church. She was born a golden child, according to her mother, who prayed for and received her musician when Jessica emerged singing in the delivery room. (Okay, I made that up.)Cut to Colloquium XX. It's almost "incontheiveable" that the ripoff, tres cool slogan, 'Stay Churchy, my friends,' is actually attested to by this young woman from a town that Google Earth has trouble locating.

She is finishing her MMusEd at UNebraska, Lincoln while teaching at the parochial school personally overseen by Bsp. Bruskewitz. Jessica was "deemed" to assume the duties of "Choir Director" of Bsp. Fabian's cathedral as soon as she returns to Lincoln. And, that may not have even yet happened of this writing; her flight was delayed by the Murphy's Law of modern Air Travel this morning. She could've stayed for the final Mass if all the dominos of the chaos theory of travel had fallen her way. But I digress.

Jessica wasn't quite sure what she was in for when her principal sent her to Colloquium. She knew it couldn't be bad, but she also knew that she was going in the midst of summer session classes for her MMusEd. She took at least two online exams in the midst of the impossible scheduling of Colloquium, and came out smiling. I think that is the point: she, like AOZ, will always come out smiling.
We, Jessica, Wendy and I, mutually adopted each other Monday morning as parents/child when we checked into Vickroy. She'd arrived Sunday and had gotten the lay of Dusquesne Land. We saw her in the little commons room after getting checked in, and she offered to guide us around campus. The rest? 'Twas and 'tis a "God-thing."

Basically, Wendy was her wing-gal when it was obvious she had to sing with Wilco. I just got to be funny-Dad all week. But I assure you, in the wee small hours of the morning, Jessica can hold forth about "being Catholic" with the likes of her sisters and brothers of the post-Resurrection church of people, followers of The Way. She faces challenges, both professional and personal, that she will navigate only, by her own confession, with the Light of Christ.

I can't really go on further describing the miracle that Jessica is. I can promise that she will be a brighter star among the galaxy of disciples I mentioned as regards Jeff O.

But she, like AOZ and all the wondrous women of CMAA that were here this week or couldn't be, save in spirit, represents not only the discipleship of the Magdala, and Mary and Martha, but also the bond between Naomi and Ruth, "faithful to you is my name."

Votive Mass for the Blessed Virgin Mary

Saturday of the Sacred Music Colloquium is the day on which the Mass occurs earlier in the schedule, at 10:30m. This year the Mass of Saturday celebrated the votive Mass for the Blessed Virgin Mary, in the extraordinary form. The music was of a very special character. It used polyphonic Mass propers written by William Byrd, creating one of the brightest and most revealing aesthetic and spiritual experiences of the entire week.

The usual structure of High Mass with a polyphonic choir is to use Gregorian chant on the Mass propers (Introit, Gradual Psalm, Alleluia, Offertory, Communion) and set the ordinary parts of the Mass (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus) to a beautiful polyphonic composition whether old or new. This is the standard mix throughout history; indeed, this is the structure that, more than any other single genre of composition and performance, gave rise to Western music as we know it.

But what if the two roles are reversed? What if the propers of the Mass are sung to polyphonic settings while the ordinary of the Mass is sung in Gregorian chant? There is nothing in the rubrics to prevent it. Many Renaissance composers wrote large settings of Mass propers. To use them at Mass becomes a bit impractical for most choirs, who are not often able to learn five large works of music to sing only once in the course of a year.

But this year at the colloquium, and for the first time in history of the colloquium, this is precisely what was done at this Mass on Saturday. The choice for polyphonic propers set against chanted ordinary has a dramatic effect on the texture of the Mass itself. It's almost like taking a picture and inverting the colors: the shapes and meaning remain the same but one sees them in a completely new way.

The Mass began with a dramatic organ prelude played by Benjamin Cornelius-Bates, an organ student at Duquesne University (and a student of Professor Ann Labounsky, who has hosted us this week). Then the introit began, Salve Sancta Parens by Byrd, as sung by Wilko Brouwers's choir. This music at this point in the Mass was a revelation in every way.

The music of Byrd stands alongside that of Brahms or Bach for its technical brilliance and beauty. This motet in particular was written for 5 vocal parts, which equally dependent on the other for the overall effect. It is bright and sparkling music written to honor Mary with all the qualities of Marian music throughout the ages. It lifts up the heart in joy.

The Kyria and Gloria following according to the Cum Jubilo setting of Mass IX. This is a setting that is somehow less familiar to me and it was a stunning, particularly the Gloria, which I don't recall ever hearing before. The entire congregation of singers sung it all beautifully without having rehearsed it even once. But here again, the juxtaposition of these chants with polyphonic propers made for striking contrast and an intriguing interrelationship.

These pieces by Byrd should have a very special place in the hearts of Catholics. Clearly, they constitute some of his best work. But consider the circumstances under which they were written and published. Byrd was the court composer to Queen Elizabeth, whom he delighted with settings of the English Anglican service during times when to be a practicing and faithful Catholic was to commit a crime. Byrd, a devout Catholic, was tolerated only because he had so much talent to offer the court.

His books of Gradualia were therefore written and circulated in secret, to be used in the Masses held in private estates and castles. This was politically subversive music written not for professional purposes but as pure acts of heroic piety. In some way, he was actually risking his life by doing this - part of the double life he lived as England's most important composer of Anglican music by day and England's most prolific Catholic composers on night's and weekends.

The reversal of the traditional roles of propers and ordinary has an interesting consequence for the role of the people and choir. When the proper is chanted by the schola and the ordinary is sung by a specialized choir, the role of the people is to sing only the dialogues with the priest. Unlike today's "participation" fanatics, I don't have a problem with this: just as we gain by listening to a great sermon, we can benefit too by being attentive listeners throughout the entire Mass. The music adds nobility to our prayers.

However, when the propers are sung to polyphony, and the ordinary is chanted, there emerges a very important role of the people's singing during the main parts of the Mass. As a singer in the pews, one feels a special sense of inspiration to sing the Mass ordinary once having heard the Byrd propers at their appointed times. Mass IX, then, was sung by the entire congregation with great enthusiasm.

The results was the brightest and most brilliant of the Masses of the colloquium (this is written before Sunday's Mass that features Schubert's Mass in G with orchestra). One stands in awe at the flexibility of the structure of Catholic liturgy, one day solemn and contemplative with a focus on the Cross and the next day joyful and bright with a focus on the life of Mary.

Talking with participants and what they are doing in their parishes, it turns out that the Choral Propers of Richard Rice . They are easily managed by any parish choir that has four parts. Many Catholic music directors have been using them in the ordinary form as a way of re-introducing the Mass propers to their congregations after their tragic loss in the confusion in the year's following Vatican II. This structure that emerges from this choice has much in common with the structure given to us by the compositions of Byrd.

This is also a wonderful way to begin to foster choral singing in liturgy. And that choice has major implications for parish life. There were some fanatics around in the years following the Council who disparaged choirs and their role. With an exaggerated emphasis on the "people's song" many choirs were left with nothing to do other than become group-based cantors singing the melody along with the congregation. It is not surprising in light of this that choirs in parishes entered a long period of decline, and musical literacy plummeted at the same time. The typical parish today, then, has no music program to speak of - an astonishing fact in a Church culture that gave us the likes of Byrd.

This is one of the problems that the Colloquium seeks to address. It is designed to give people skills of singing and develop those skill in service of the liturgy. It is also designed to show these people how these skills can be effectively used in service of the faith. Singers and musicians come to have a highly valued place in the social structure of Catholic culture.

The sermon by Fr. Robert Pasley offered special thanks to the musicians for their role in inspiring the priests to undertake the hard work and sacrifices necessary for their ministry. He said that he wished all priests could come to the colloquium so that they could see the level of dedication of the musicians and come to place a higher value on their role. Truly, people like William Byrd made monumental contributions to the faith and the world by applying their talents in he hope of lifting up the liturgy.

One participant told me that he knew that the colloquium would give him training in chant and polyphony. What he had no expected was what would happen to his own temperament and outlook by spending a week deeply immersed in such an environment of beauty. He said that he feels personally transformed by the whole experience. In some ways, it is indeed a mystical experience unlike any on earth.

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.

But.

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.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Vocation as Vacation?

This is the enigma of Colloquium. “To spend exorbitant amounts of personal funds, time, and energy that one might gain opportunity to endure the queues and petty torments and rituals of the TSA/Airline/Airport politburos, to sing “I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain, I’ve seen humid days that I thought would never end….” (©Jeffrey A. Tucker), so as to increase one’s abilities and skills in an ancient form of G*dspeak which provides great joy to yourself, your peers and the tired, meek and lowly PIPs at home, knowing that you will return to the bosom of the parish, ennobled and emboldened to “push back” the nattering nabob sheep when they attack, or to nudge the elephant in the room that is clerical disinterest or resistance………………………..or not?”

That is the question, dear Yorick!

But yet, “here we are, altogether as we chant our chants, joyfully!” (Even though some might wonder if we don’t “take off” from an isolated punctum with absolute perfection in all concerns of musicality and ritual meaning, will the top of Jeff Ostrowski’s perfect Marine’s buzz-cut head pop off like an animated feature in “Monty Python?”) Yes, here we are!

And as we’ve broken bread with three squares-a-day during this week at Dusquesne, I’ve informally determined that this event amounts to the only substantial “vacation” time most of us will afford ourselves for the entire work year! Who else does this? Do the illuminati and plebes of the corporate world go down to Hilton Head or up to Cape Cod to hob-knob for brief moments with the Clintons and Kennedy’s on their official retreats, and then plop down into their clubhouses, pencils in hand to pour over the writings of Fan Li, Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes, Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan? Heck, who knows? Maybe they do. Or maybe they’re out on the links, or flaying their squash racquets, or worse, blurrily watching the vagaries of the Dow Avg. with their little friend, Ketel One, nearby. Who knows? Who cares?

In my dictionary, you look up “Passion,” you see an icon of Christ collapsing a third time under the weight of the crux. Now, in my revised dictionary, you look up “passionate,” you see zoetrope sequences of the various facial expressions of one Jeffrey Ostrowski!
Those CMAA folks who know me, know I’m partial to great movies. “Whaddya mean “great movies?” Well, mostly weird stuff. “Whaddya mean “weird stuff.” Uh, off-beat, compelling, sometimes life-altering, sometimes off-the-charts bizarre. Okay, Jeff Ostrawski IS…..the “Buckaroo Banzai” of our life and times in chant. (You have to do the cinema math, one can’t explain “Buckaroo Banzai.”) This whipper-snapper (and I DO MEAN “whipper-snapper!) probably pulled out the Excalibre of chant at age five, found the peep-stone spectacles which compelled him towards endless libraries of autographs, manuscripts, facsimiles and uhrtexts at age nine, and so forth until now we have the chant version of the offspring of Stephen Hawking and Indiana Jones.

For you partial to cartoon caricatures, Jeff could be likened to a cross between the Tazmanian Devil and that Enfante Terriblé kid in “Family Guy.” I simply think he’s our own Buckaroo Banzai in a barong, performing brain salad surgery one moment, choosing well the true Holy Grail among many the next, and taking the chant world into the eighth dimension, despite the contrariness of the many evil Dr. Emilio Lizardo’s around the world. (See the film, I ain’t got time to ‘splain.)

Still and all, Jeffrey Ostrowski is a serious, devoted, and reverently earnest man. And he has, among others in leadership roles, literally transformed the notions of many other serious…..earnest chant proponents of how to effect the chant from conception to acquisition to rendering to its spiritual culmination. If I had to liken his methodology to a sport, I’d say that would have to be Mixed Martial Arts, or MMA to you cage-fighter enthusiasts. On Monday we’d learn via TaiChi; Tuesday it’d be Karate, Wednesday-Kung Fu, today more like Leonides versus the whole of Persia! One moment he will liken a chant phrase to an airplane’s takeoff, cruising and then landing, and the next he might stomp a foot and aim a death stare off into space should our schola not intuit a cadence in the manner which he had already drilled into our brains a great many times. It was funny today when Jeff mentioned Msgr. Bartolucci in passing. I remember distinctly thinking to myself on our second day’s session, “Bartolucci wishes he were Ostrowski!” (Though, of course, that would be a cultural impossibility.)

Well, our band of real men in tights may not achieve the elegant thrust and effortless landing of a stealth jet fighter, but we’re awfully close to singing with the precision of a really good metro train moving from station to station. You know, that clean whoosh of initial thrust, the smooth ride between terminals, and the perfectly measured braking into the next stop, ahhhhhhh. And Jeffrey smiles, somewhere between Dennis the Menace and the Dalai Lama, knowing that he charted the course and his matey’s brought her safely to harbor.

But Jeffrey, according to his own testimony, has difficulty sleeping through the night. One night he claimed the declamation of the word “are” kept him awake. He was serious! And many other perplexities vex his REM time. So, what do you think Jeffrey and his beautiful bride do for vacation? COLLOQUIUM I’d wager; in a heartbeat.

Sundown in Pittsburgh on a Friday peers through the skyscrapers from my dorm room.

That was almost as bad as, “It was a dark and stormy night….”

And coming from a Vesper Service to almost literally die for, all I can think of about these wonderful vacationers, every one of whom likely gives more time, talent and treasure to their parishes, and who receive the ack-ack of flak cannons from all quarters with a side dose of grace now and then, is “Well done, good and faithful servants.” Oh, and “when you get back you have three funerals and a wedding that Father’s fitting in on Friday night after confessions. You okay with that?” Sure, you think?!? I sang with Jeff Ostrowski. I can do anything!

Archbishop Chaput: Evangelization and the Renewal of the Liturgy

I had the privilege last night to attend a lecture given by Archbishop Charles Chaput, a part of the Hillenbrand Lecture Series of the Liturgical Institute of the University of Our Lady of the Lake, Mundelein, which followed a solemn celebration of Mass and Vespers, with the Archbishop, for the liturgy on the Feast of St. John the Baptist. Music for the Mass was offered by the participants of the Liturgical Instutite "Sacred Music Retreat" under the direction of Kevin Allen.

It was an inspiring lecture, and was very honest and forthright, as is Chaput's style. He takes up the question asked by Romano Guardini, 75 years ago: Is modern man capable of the liturgical act? Of course, his answer in the end is yes, but he offers some very keen and practical insight into the task of liturgical renewal in our day in age.

In taking up Guardini's challenge, Archbishop Chaput offers reflection on four points as a contribution to our next task of liturgical renewal:
1. We need to recover the intrinsic and inseparable connection between liturgy and evangelization.

2. The liturgy is a participation in the liturgy of heaven, in which we worship in Spirit and truth with the worldwide Church and the communion of saints.

3. We need to strive to recover and live with the same vibrant liturgical and evangelical spirituality as the early Christians.

4. The liturgy is a school of sacrificial love. The law of our prayer should be the law of our life. Lex orandi, lex vivendi. We are to become the sacrifice we celebrate.
He concludes:
"The liturgical act becomes possible for modern man when you see your lives and work in light of God’s plan for the world, in light of his desire that all men and women be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. The mystery we celebrate with the angels and the saints must take root deep in our lives and personalities. It must bear fruit. Each of us must make our own unique contribution to God’s loving plan -- that all creation become adoration and sacrifice in praise of him."
That Chaput is typically not seen as being as liturgically focused as he is focused on cultural and pro-life issues, it was good to hear him agree that "in the post-conciliar era, the professional Catholic liturgical establishment opted for the former path, trying to adapt the liturgy to the demands of modern culture... [and] that time has shown this to be a dead end. Trying to engineer the liturgy to be more “relevant” and “intelligible” through a kind of relentless cult of novelty, has only resulted in confusion and a deepening of the divide between believers and the true spirit of the liturgy."

Let the liturgy speak for itself, he seemed to say. Let us conform ourselves to Christ and live the life of the Church's liturgy. Amen!

Here's the complete text of the lecture.

Yesterday's Events at the Colloquium

There is far too much happening to even begin to provide comprehensive coverage but let me first mention the extraordinary form Mass yesterday that celebrated the Feast of St. John Baptist, one that ended with the great hymn Ut Queant Laxis as the recessional. The Mass setting was Palestrina's Missa Brevis, as sung by Kurt Poterack's choir, along with motets by Tallis (sung by Brouwers choir) and Guerrero (sung by Horst Buchholz's choir).

St. John has a special place in the hearts of all musicians because all scholarship indicates that it was he (not Cecilia) who was long considered the patron saint of music in the first millennium (the job was handed over to St. Cecilia after St. John's long service).

The Mass was of course very beautiful, complete with all sung readings and the most solemn sung parts.


The evening's events broke new ground. The idea was initially proposed by William Mahrt and carried out by Arlene Oost-Zinner: a panel on the growth of sacred music programs in academia. The panelists included Kurt Poterack (Christendom College), Paul Weber and Alanna Keenan (Franciscan University Steubenville), Ann Labounsky and Sr. Marie Agatha Ozah (Duquesne University), Susan Treacy (Ave Maria University), and Peter Jeffery (Notre Dame University).

Each talked about the program of his or her institution and commented on the dramatic change in the attitudes of students today as compared with the past. The interest in sacred music and chant is very intense, to the point of representing a serious paradigm shift. Professor Jeffery in particular spoke of the support he has received from the administration to forge a program that will have national influence, and he looks forward to working with student groups in the year's ahead.

To see all these panels and here their comments struck many people as very significant, for it demonstrated that the change we are seeing at the parish level is being mirrored in higher learning as well.

Here is an image of Professor Jeffery buying a colloquium tee!

The Privatization of Liturgy and the Suffering of Publishers

One stands in amazement at what the USCCB and ICEL - in fact, it is rather difficult to locate the center of responsibility here - are forcing upon publishers as they frantically attempt to provide musical settings of the Mass for the forthcoming new English translation.

I do not deny the right of the national conferences to regulate the texts of the Mass but the policies in place to keep this text and its music under wraps defy all good sense. No one has explained why it is so absolutely necessary that no publisher on the planet be permitted to distribute full Mass settings of the upcoming translation, even though the texts are widely available and many efforts are underway to educate the faithful. Is having music available not part of education?

ICEL has even opened up a website to explain why the new translation is necessary and wonderful (and I agree): http://www.becomeonebodyonespiritinchrist.org/. I've enjoyed these videos (which feature Vivaldi's Latin settings as background music!) but I still find no instructions concerning what may or may not be published and under what conditions. Nor does the USCCB website seem to explain this.

The instructions must be arriving via private email. But here is the bottom line in the words of World Library:
We have been asked by the United States Bishops' Committee on Divine Worship to remind you that no publisher may take orders for Mass settings until the final text of the Missal is issued. We have also been asked to remind you that the musical settings are for preview only and not yet approved for liturgical use. In addition, we are not yet being allowed to share any complete settings.

Moreover, it is not even clear what power is being invoked in order to prevent production and distribution. Is it a matter of copyright or a matter of religious obedience? It is hard to say.

Nonetheless, the publishers are doing heroic work, trying to be obedient while attempting to preview their music without giving full versions or permitting you to buy it: WLP, OCP, GIA, and Liturgical Press (which doesn't seem to have a special section on this set up yet).

You will enjoy touring the WLP site. I appreciate the efforts puts into this strangely truncated preview, even if the settings conform to the convention of metrical songs that are dependent on accompaniment and are based on tunes regarded as catchy in a popular sense. The Richard Proulx Gloria is of high quality, and Lisa Stafford's Mass of Grace has potential, and surely we cannot place blame on either the composer or the publishers for attempting to turn the Gloria into an antiphon/response structure; the root of the problem is really deeper here.

I would love to understand the thinking of those who are so emphatic about keeping the texts from being released until the last possible minute. If the goal is to put as much financial pressure on the publishers as possible, that surely must be counted as success. But how this approach is helping to prepare the way for the new texts is unclear.

Crochu and Gatté Officium Nocturnum

Andrea Sanguinetti sends the following:
Hi, i suggest that in your page of latin chant books you put the following link: http://www.gregofacsimil.net. In that page follow the link 'RESTITUTIONS' (in the left part of the page), and you'll find the whole responsories of officium nocturnum in square notation in pdf files in a transcription according to Hartker manuscript made by D. Crochu & D. Gatté. I think it's a very important and good work. Regards. Andrea Sanguinetti.
Following the instructions, with my navigation complicated by language and many non-standard characters that do not render properly on my windows laptop, I do find many beautiful PDF files. Perhaps some can explain more about the origin and goal of the project. 

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.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

That Requiem Mass



Ten years ago, it was exceedingly difficult to hear or experience the Dies Irae of the Requiem Mass. That was before the age of Youtube (where there are dozens of recordings and performances) and also online editions, as well as ever more use of this grand and glorious Sequence in the Catholic Mass. For reasons that seem very unclear at this late a date, someone apparently had an issue with this chant and discretely failed to list it for the Requiem Mass in the post-1969 liturgical books. But that doesn't mean that it cannot or should not be sung, for one of the blessing of the new liturgy is its liberality and openness to a wide range of traditional experience. So while the chant it is not printed in the books, it can still be used in the Mass, and so it has been at the Colloquium for many years now.

This year was special in many ways.  The chant was never rehearsed ahead of time. We had a plan for alternating low and high voices but we did no dry runs before Mass. But it was hardly necessary. The intonation began, the low voices picked up the song, and then the high voices took over at the double bar. On it went through the haunting melody and text from first to last, with 250 singers spread randomly throughout the large parish space. It was an amazing sound, all encompassing. It is a long chant but it was strangely disappointing when it ended. I think everyone wished it could have gone on longer.

It was not in the interest of an "authentic" performance that the air conditioners and fans had all been turned off in the parish. It was to keep down the static noise level. But, to me, the temperature of the building was nearly sweltering, and grew hotter throughout the Mass. To sing this stunning music of the Requiem Mass in that temperature did lend to the experience something approximating authenticity. I didn't hear a single complaint about it. It would have seemed unseemly, given the subject matter, which the fiery Gradual from Brouwers's high-voice schola seemed to capture perfectly. 

Fr. Pasley's homily was absolutely brilliant. He reminded us that the purpose of this Requiem was to pray for the departed souls of the deceased members of the CMAA. He told of their trials and struggles and all the sacrifices they had made professionally and personally for the cause, at time when telling the truth about the music of the Church and keeping it alive was to write yourself out of the history books. Of course the trends of history have changed, and now the current generation looks at people like Msgr. Richard Schuler and the others as prophets who saw the future. They did not live to see their cause victorious. Maybe we will not either. We must think beyond our time and time itself - and isn't this the very point of the liturgy?

Following the Mass, we made our way to the next sessions. To everyone's amazement, the clouds began to darken suddenly and sheets of rain came pouring down on Pittsburgh, trapping hundreds in porticoes of buildings and under canopies. The rain did not let up for a long time and many had to make their way to dinner and become soaked along the way. But we greeted a great crowd in the dining hall, ate fresh Southwestern food, and listened to a gentle and erudite talk by William Mahrt on the structure of the Psalm in the Divine Office. As is usually the case with his lectures, people listened with amazement and a growing sense of humility in the face of the marvelous theological structure given to us by our history and liturgy.

Explanation of the Ceremonies of Holy Mass Part 2: I will go to the Altar of God

Today there is an option to sing man-made hymns chosen by the priest or a parish staff member during Mass. But the Church has always appointed texts from the Psalms to accompany ritual actions at Mass. The Introit, or Entrance Antiphon, is taken from the Psalms and other scriptural texts to proclaim the theme of this particular celebration of the mysteries of divine life. The Church has never believed in singing at the Mass or praying at the Mass; the Church sings and prays the Mass. At the beginning of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the sacred ministers and those who serve them make their way in a dignified procession to the altar. A thurifer leads the procession with a smoking vessel of incense called a thurible. The smoke of the incense symbolizes our prayers rising to God and has since antiquity been a sign of homage to holy people and holy things.
 
Another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth.[1]

Behind the thurifer comes the crucifer, who holds aloft before our eyes the image of Christ who came to save us. Just as the Israelites wandering through the desert looked upon the image of a bronze serpent and were healed of their illnesses, Christians gaze upon the likeness of the Crucified and are stirred to devotion, to reverence and to prayer. The crucifer is accompanied by two candlebearers, who carry lights that symbolize Christ, the light of the world who pierces the darkness of sin and death, lights given from candles blessed on the Feast of the Presentation of the Infant Jesus in the temple on 2 February, made from the wax of bees who work diligently like Christians at their appointed task. Other servers, representatives of the faithful at the Sacrifice, process as so many saints to the Throne of Grace. A deacon, the servant of the priest and the Church, clad like the priest except for his dalmatic of joy and gladness, enters, holding before him the beautifully bound Book of the Gospels to place upon the altar. The priest enters the church as Jesus rides into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, amidst great joy and Hosannas, always mindful of the awe-inspiring events which will take place in this holy place.

 The priest arrives at the foot of the altar. In ancient times, he did not enter the Holy of Holies, the sanctuary of the Church, until he had taken off his biretta as a sign of submission to God and genuflected to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the sanctuary. He would recite with the ministers the words of Psalm 42, I will go to the altar of God, to God the joy of my youth and then recite a formula for the confession of his sins.

The priest then, right foot first, enters the inner precinct of the sanctuary. In the temple of Jerusalem, only the High Priest could enter the inner sanctum once a year, and say the name of God. Now the minister of the Eternal High Priest, Jesus Christ, enters into the holy place another Christ, so that God may become present amongst men and dwell within their hearts.

In the sanctuary there is a table. This is no ordinary table for an ordinary meal; it is an altar of sacrifice and the table of Passover. The Jewish ritual of the Passover meal and the sacrifices in the temple of Jerusalem find their fulfillment on the altar of the wood of the Cross on which was sacrificed the Lamb of God. The altar of the Mystical Sacrifice of the Mass is of wood or of marble, but it represents Christ in His tomb.

The altar is covered with three fair linen cloths, which symbolize the winding sheets in which Christ was placed in the tomb. Christians from earliest times celebrated Mass in altars raised over the remains of those who gave their lives as witnesses to the faith, sacrificing their lives because of their belief in the sacrifice of Christ. Today the Church places relics, physical remains of or objects belonging to the saints, to remind us of the connection between the sacrifice of the Eucharist and the sacrifice of those who are nourished by the Eucharist.

Behind the altar is always to be found an image of the Crucified Christ. This image is a powerful reminder of the unity between the sacrifice of Calvary and the sacrifice of the Mass. When Christ died on the Cross, he faced outward to the West. Since the beginning of the Church, Christians have prayed facing east, facing Christ who died gazing at them and whom tradition holds will come again at the end of time, from the east. The universal custom of the Church has always been for priest and people to face, if not directional East, at least liturgical East, at Mass, indicated by the image of the Crucified. Only two exceptions are known: in Rome, the ancient basilicas were built westward facing, so the priest stood behind the altar people actually turned their backs to the altar to face East during the consecration of the Mass; and now, in many places in the West, where Mass is celebrated facing the people so they may see the rites on the altar. The eastward position is not so that the priest can have his back to the people; on the contrary, it is so that priest and people may be together on the same side of the altar, worshipping the LORD together and awaiting His Second Coming.

In the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, also referred to as the Old Latin Mass, the priest prayed as he approached the altar,

Take away from us our iniquities, we implore Thee, Lord, that with pure minds we may worthily enter into the holy of holies: through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Now as then, he kisses the Altar, the symbol of Christ. In the Extraordinary Form he prays,

We implore You, Lord, by the merits of all Thy Saints, whose relics are here, and of all the Saints, that thou wouldst deign to forgive me all my sins. Amen.

The Mass is not just a celebration for the men and women physically present in the church; it is a celebration of the entire celestial court, and the priest calls on the saints to assist him in his ministry to the People of God. He kisses the altar to make reparation for the traitorous kiss of Christ. He kisses the altar to remind us all of the intimate relationship between God and the soul professed by the Beloved in the Song of Songs, Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth. The Mass is more than an act of worship; it is that intimate kiss of love between Christ and His Bride, the Church, a kiss by which new life is generated and death overcome by the Resurrection.

In the Extraordinary Form, the priest-celebrant assists at most of the Mass from his position at the altar. Only a Bishop would preside from a throne set off to the side. In the Ordinary Form, after the priest or bishop reverences the altar he goes to a special chair off to the side. Chairs in the ancient world were a symbol of authority. When Jesus explained the scriptures in the synagogue where the Jews gathered to study the Word, he sat and taught from a chair. A bishop’s church is called a cathedral because the Bishop teaches sitting in a large throne-like, called a cathedra in Latin. Today, priests have smaller and less ornate chairs than Bishops, but the principle is the same: the one who is seated has authority to teach.



[1] Revelation 8.3-5

Though he may be insufferable, LEND ME A TENOR!


That is the only association with Broadway musicals that might be considered appropriate for Colloquium 2010. At the conclusion of the always expected, yet ever fresh and invigorating, extemporaneous welcome address given by the ever erudite Bow Tied One Monday evening, necessity called him to don his gym teacher whistle and clipboard, and do the S-A-T-B headcount for each of the five polyphonic choirs. And, of course, the headcount eventually turned into a cheery auction- “Can we get a few more tenors for the Palestrina? Howabout a few more tenors for Vespers, guys? Guys?” Of course, it seems that by Tuesday every choir had a requisite, if not ideal balance.

I have tried to describe my first two colloquiums to my choristers, to internet fellow travelers and friends, and per usual my words (the oh-so-many and run on words) have failed. But, maybe this comparison, outlandish as it may be at first blush, might just clarity my feelings and experiences. When the great John Paul II returned as the Holy Father to his motherland, the streets and main square of Warsaw overflowed with three million catholic souls, and by all accounts those 3M souls were of one mind, one heart, one spirit and of one purpose. That being the relentless truth that Jesus Christ is Lord, He alone, with His Mother and countless saints and angels points the Way, the Truth and the Life that is here and to come with His Father through the power of the Spirit. And those Poles gathered that day with a dignity, integrity and will exemplified by our Lord’s Vicar.

Here in sultry Pittsburgh, CMAA has convened an assembly of a mere 250 souls. And we, too, are one with Christ as on that day in Warsaw. Our purpose is apparent and really never needs explanation. We are to honor God, we are to share in his suffering and sacrifice at the altar of remembrance and reminiscence. And we are one by explicitly and implicitly recognizing that by bringing to the table only that which is, of its nature, sacred, beautiful and universal, we are honoring the truth through submission and humility to the worship traditions of Christ’s Church. Dr. Ed Schaefer brought this to the fore in his address last evening: those who stubbornly decree that to restore musical and liturgical legacies that are fifteen centuries proven amount to nothing more than museum worship cannot comprehend (ineffably?) that by traveling along this organic path, we cling lovingly to our Church’s apostolic succession. “This,” Schaefer says, “frees our souls (priests and lay alike) from the licit, understood but nevertheless, self-oriented possibilities that vary from parish to parish around our country and world. If Christ is Truth, and the Truth sets us free, then we can only be free by submission to His Will.”

The Polish faithful hoping to catch a glimpse, or hear a phrase, or take up a chant that day in Warsaw were a truly persecuted people under the thumb and scrutiny of Polish Communist authority and its Soviet masters. But on that day, nothing could starve those millions from rejoicing, from prayer and praise, from thanks and renewal, and eventually from freedom. And, as Dr. Schaefer, Dr. Mahrt and so many have echoed before them, “the continuity of tradition includes the realization that we are a persecuted church.” And all of us baptized, not just R2’s or SoV2’s, or others between those enclaves, constitute the body of this persecuted church. We are, or should be, celebrating the joy of being counter-cultural, according to Dr. Schaefer.
Well, the up-and-down-and-up-and-down again geography of Dusquene has this soul’s arches, blisters, quads and knees profoundly suffering. But, this year, exactly as it has been over the last two years, finds me joyful in extremis!

Alleluia, Amen.

Uncertainty and the New Translations

Tremendous and ongoing confusion about timing and stability of texts in the new English translation of the Roman liturgy. Fr. Ruff reports.

The Astonishing Isabelle Demers

Isabelle Demers played a recital last night at the Church of the Epiphany in Pittsburgh for the Sacred Music Colloquium XX. Her program was wide ranging, from Bach to Messiaen, but this PhD student at Julliard provided much more than a perfect performance; she brought to that technical perfection a rare spirit of adventure, daring, and deep conviction, seeming to manufacture whole worlds before our eyes and spiritual imaginations. It's as if she took it upon herself to re-establish, this night and once and for all, that the organ remains today what it was in Machaut's time: the reigning king of all instruments. She fully succeeded, prompting several spontaneous bursts of applause and an extended standing ovation at the end.

Here was her program.
1. J.S. Bach (1685-1750). . . Prelude in Eb-Major BWV 552/1

2. Max Reger (1873-1916). . . Chorale-Preludes op. 67
  • 1 – Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr
  • 5 – Christus, der ist mein leben
  • 2 – Alles ist an Gottes Segen
  • 20 – Jesus ist kommen, Grund ewiger Freude
  • 4 – Aus meines Herzens Grunde
  • 39 – Straf mich nicht in deinem Zorn
  • 42 – Von Himmel hoch, da komm ich her
3. J.S. Bach (1685-1750). . . Fugue in Eb-Major BWV 552/2

4. Sigfried Karg-Elert (1877-1933). . . Symphonic Chorale on “Jesu meine Freude”
  • Introduzione (Inferno)
  • Canzone
  • Fuga con Corale
5. Herbert Howells (1893-1982). . . Psalm-Prelude op. 32/2 “But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.”

6. Olivier Messiaen (1910-1992). . . Dieu Parmi Nous

Any program that ends with Messiaen will always exists in a state of extended suspension and excitement for what awaits. His music has this astounding capacity to conjure up images and visions. His music has had presence at the colloquium over the last five or so years, given his status as the leading Catholic musician (and some would say theologian!) of the 20th century. The performance of Dieu Parmi Nous was indeed dazzling and, following the recital, listeners enjoy sharing their impressions.

A note on Isabelle: she is a delightful person, unassuming and personable in every way. She was there to greet people at the front entrance when people arrived and was downstairs after the concert to thank everyone for coming. It did not go unnoticed that she did not carry any sheet music at all with her to the loft. She was just one small-framed person alone who did all of this with a mighty instrument, her hands, her feet, her mind, and her heart.

Once again, please forgive my iPhone images. Here is the loft before the concert and the people gathered, awaiting the first notes. 


And here she is following the recital, sitting with Wilko Brouwers and talking with attendees until late in the night.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Morning breakout sessions and social time

Jeffrey Ostrowski teaching intermediate men


The class gathered for William Mahrt's lectures on Psalmody



Scott Turkington teaches chironomy 


Fr. Pasley in his biretta following the English Mass 

Students studying the mix of chant and polyphony embedded in the Roman vespers scheduled for Friday 

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Scene from Night Prayer, first evening of the colloquium

Explanation of the Ceremonies of Holy Mass, Part I: Before Holy Mass

Sunday is the LORD’s Day. Christians rise with the sun on the eighth day, the first new day of a new age of the Resurrection, and go to buildings which have been set apart for divine worship by the name church. They are called church because it is the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, which assembles there in the presence of God just as the twelve tribes of Israel assembled at the foot of Mt Sinai to receive the Law and came to the temple in Jerusalem to offer sacrifices to ask God to forgive their sins. Christians come to celebrate the sacrament of the Eucharist, a word which means thanksgiving, in the context of a liturgy filled with rites and ceremonies called the Mass.

Every baptized Christian becomes a member of the Church when water and the Holy Spirit are poured over him at baptism. And so the Christian enters the church building just as he entered the Church through baptism, taking holy water as a reminder of his baptism and tracing upon himself the Sign of the Cross which brought about his insertion into the life of the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit whose Name he invokes.

The Christian finds a space in an assembly where there are no divisions between rich and poor, races or social class. When he crosses the threshold of the church from the outside world into the church, he leaves behind all earthly cares to enter into a foretaste of the Heavenly Jerusalem, the place where heaven meets earth at this Mystical Banquet. Jesus Christ reigns in the church as surely as He reigns in heavens, from his throne in the tabernacle, where He waits for us to come and worship and adore Him. We enter the church and gaze at Christ who waits for us in the tabernacle and we touch the right knee to the ground in a simple act of adoration to Him who is worshipped by the angels and saints and by men. At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow. We prepare for Mass by kneeling, a symbol of our own submission to the will of God. We make prayers of adoration, contrition, thanksgiving and supplication. We silently prepare ourselves for the re-enactment of the drama of Calvary, to receive the fruits of the one sacrifice offered to the Father for the salvation of men.

The priest, a man ordained to offer sacrifice for the living and the dead, has no other reason to exist than to make present in the here and now the same sacrifice that the LORD accomplished on the Cross, and to give to us the fruits of that sacrifice. Every day he offers the Mass, so that at every moment somewhere in the world there is the one sacrifice of redemption is celebrated in ritual forms and under symbolic guise, from the rising of the sun to its setting, and throughout the watches of the night.

The priest enters the sacristy clad in his black cassock, a sign of his renunciation of the world and of penance for his sins. He washes his hands and prays,

CLEANSE my hands, O Lord, from all stain, that, pure in mind and body, I may be worthy to serve Thee.

Just as the priests of the Old Testament purified the hands that would offer sacrifices of animals and plants, the priest of the New and Eternal Covenant washes his hands as a symbol of a prayer that he may be worthy to offer the last sacrifice for the People of God. The priest then puts on vestments reminiscent of those worn by the priests of the temple and the doctors of the law. Adore the LORD in holy attire, the Psalmist says, and the priest, putting on these special clothes, reminds himself that what he is doing is no ordinary, everyday action, but the Act by which Jesus redeems and saves us. He makes the Sign of the Cross and picks up the amice, a linen cloth held by strings evoking the prayer shawls of Jewish men, and prays, PLACE, O Lord, the helmet of Salvation upon my head to repel the assaults of the Devil.

Satan hates the Mass, because by that sacrifice commemorated here his reign over the hearts of men was destroyed, and so he seeks to distract the priest from his noble task and draw him into hell with the damned. Undaunted, the priest picks up the alb, a white garment stretching to the feet which reminds him of the pure white robe given to him at baptism as a symbol of his restored innocence. The word alb comes from the Latin word alba, which means white. When St John had his vision of the end of the world, he saw a multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb![1] The priest standing in the place of the people, appears before them a sign of the blessed in heaven praising the Lamb slain for them in this sacrifice, and prays,

CLEANSE me, O Lord, and purify my heart, that, being made white in the Blood of the Lamb, I may attain everlasting joy.

The priest then puts the cincture around his waist,

GIRD me, O Lord, with the girdle of purity and quench in me the fire of concupiscence, that the grace of temperance and chastity may abide in me.

He is reminded that he is a sinful man, prone to the lusts of the flesh as any man, but called to a life of angelic chastity for the love of souls. As Jesus said to the Apostle Peter, he says now to the priest, When you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.[2] Christ reminds the priest that he is promised to an obedience which transcends his own desires, a sacrifice willingly undertaken for love of souls. In ancient times, the priest put on his left arm a maniple, a handkerchief to wipe his sweaty brow during the Mass, and he prayed,

GRANT me, O Lord, to bear the light burden of grief and sorrow, that I may with gladness take the reward of my labor.

The priest’s life is one of hard work and solitude, so he asks for the strength to live the life Christ has asked him to live. GIVE me again, O Lord, the stole of immortality, which I lost by the transgression of my first parents, and although I am unworthy to come unto Thy Holy Sacrament, grant that I may attain everlasting felicity. This man of obedience, this man of sorrows, kisses and places round his neck a stole, a long, narrow piece of cloth. Roman government officials wore stoles as signs of their authority, and the priest, who has the authority from God to teach, sanctify and govern, wears this ancient emblem of office whenever he celebrates a sacrament. But more important than authority, however legitimate, is love, and so the priest covers the stole and everything else with the chasuble, from the Latin word casula, or little house, signifying that charity is to cover all else in the priest’s life. He prays, LORD, who hast said, My yoke is easy, and My burden is light, grant that I may so bear it, as to attain Thy grace. Amen. The priest may then put on his headcovering, the biretta. Having its origin in the Middle Ages as a scholar’s cover, the priest must be learned in the sacred sciences, so it is appropriate that he wear the sign of that learning in church.

The priest spends time in silent preparation for what he is about to do. When the time has come, he bows to the Cross in the sacristy, as just as the Word made Flesh came forth from the body of the Virgin into the world, the Word’s herald comes vested in the ancient garments of tradition from the womb of the sacristy into the Church, the Body of Christ given for the life of the world. He rings a bell as a sign that the drama of Calvary is about to begin, and everyone is ready to witness its power and glory.


[1] Revelation 7.9-10
[2] John 21.18

New Parish Polyphony

I often find myself even more inspired by amateur performances than professional ones, but this recording is very special indeed. It is a group started by a seminarian in a tiny parish in Mississippi. They have only been together for one month. This is the third piece that they have sung at Mass. Their singing has brought new inspiration and life to the parish, with accolades pouring in. At first the pastor was reluctant but, seeing the effects, he is now fully on board with the program. It begins differently in every parish. This is one direction one can take. In most parishes today, there is no choral program at all, so this kind of effort amounts to flowers blooming in a desert. Absolutely thrilling. Have a listen.

Fr. Mark Daniel Kirby

One of the new faculty for the Sacred Music Colloquium for 2010 (it begins tonight!) is Fr. Mark Daniel Kirby of the Vultus Christi blog, and author of the wonderful article in Sacred Music, publish one year ago, on liturgical theology. We met up with him last night and enjoyed talking for several hours about nothing and everything. This image is from my iPhone.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

BBC interview

Readers may be interested in an interview I gave yesterday for the BBC to promote a forthcoming workshop in Lancaster Cathedral. Forgive the inaccurate introduction - much as I would like to be Dr Gale, I am afraid I am plain old Mr!


Lancaster Cathedral

Chant course at Solesmes

I have been asked by Francis Nyan to remind readers of this blog that Dom Saulnier will be running the 7th Annual Advanced Gregorian Chant Week at Solesmes from 19-23 July this year. I'm not sure how many places, if any, are still available, but further details can be found here:


Recordings from the Chant Intensive

These are wonderful sounds files recorded at the final Mass of the Chant Intensive, sung at Church of the Epiphany, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The Christopher Page Book

In recent days, I find myself constantly talking about The Christian West and Its Singers: The First Thousand Years. There can be no question that his account is seminal and, of course, deeply interesting to anyone who sings at liturgy or has an interest in Gregorian chant. I'm thrilled by the intense focus on the subject that I care about most deeply, so the book is a joy from the first to the last. It begins in the Apostolic period and goes all the way to Guido d'Arezzo. The production values are fantastic (thank you Yale University). My only complaint is that the book is so heavy that I could not bring it with my on travels so all I can do at the moment is look forward to getting back to my reading. I aspire, actually, to live blog the book in the Chant Cafe, chapter by chapter. Live blogging a book can be rigorous and draining but it is a wonderful way to learn. This book is certainly worth such a detailed treatment. Perhaps it will happen. In any case, you should get your own copies so we can discuss it in the comments box as we go along. The price is certainly right. I say again to Professor Page: your book is a marvel and you deserve profound congratulations on this monumental work.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Chant Renaissance in Essex

Andrew Wright, Director of Music for the Cathedral and Diocese of Brentwood in the UK, leads the way in restoring Gregorian Chant to its rightful place in the Liturgy.

Until more recent times, Chant featured rarely in the liturgies of Brentwood Cathedral. Typical examples of its use would be the better-known Chant settings of the Ordinary, and the occasions for performance would principally have been the Sunday Choral Mass for the Cathedral/Parish. However, some Chant would be used for diocesan liturgies like the Mass of Chrism. Other examples of the occasional use of Chant would be Credo III, Pater Noster, Victimae Paschali, Veni Sancte and hymns such as the Veni Creator. Some Chant was also used for monthly Sunday Vespers, e.g Psalm 109 – either on its own or in conjunction with polyphony - and the occasional vespers hymn. In terms of the overall scheme of music at the Cathedral, the chant maintained some kind of balance with other forms of music but its role was fairly minimal.

Over the past four years, however, Andrew Wright, Brentwood Cathedral and Diocese's illustrious Director of Music, has instigated a dramatic increase in the amount and frequency of Chant used at Cathedral liturgies. At the Sunday 11.30 Choral Mass he has extended the Chant to include an Introit, the Communion Antiphon is used every Sunday (at the start of Communion, followed by a motet), and the number of Chant Masses in regular use has been extended (for the Kyrie, Sanctus, Agnus Dei). Current plans include the introduction of Gloria XV and the proper Alleluia. The role of the Chant at Vespers has also been dramatically increased and the Psalms and Antiphons are now regularly chanted in Latin to the proper tones.

Andrew claims that the ability of the Cathedral Choir to perform the chant better has been a factor for its increase. He is also aware of a desire to help restore this most fundamental liturgical music of the Roman Catholic Church. “The congregation here is used to a great variety of music and I believe their listening experience has help lead to a greater appreciation of chant. We have also successfully demonstrated that repeating the chant, for example the Sanctus or Gloria VIII regularly on Sundays, gradually builds up the congregational singing and appreciation. The music of course stands much repetition and it’s very sound and construction is a product of its regular prayerful purpose. It is also music which is dispassionate and unifying and therefore good for the liturgy.”

He continues “people are increasingly conscious of the need for greater beauty and the numinous in much of our liturgical music, not least in terms of prayerfulness and deeper spirituality etc. People are more aware today of Chant in terms of art, its history and role and that it must not be lost from the liturgy. Having experienced any other forms of music people can evaluate this today better and more sensibly. However, it is important that any efforts to re-introduce chant are done sensitively and pastorally as not to do so can be counter-productive and have the opposite effect."

“It is important to help people understand that the continued use of the traditional music of the church can find a home within the present day liturgy very successfully. Perhaps this would be true of most venues although in other venues the need and capacity to use much larger amount of chant can and does work depending on the liturgy and ritual employed. In more general venues it helps to introduce Chant with/through young choristers singing.”

Andrew has met with a very favourable response to the reintroduction of Chant in the Cathedral and a good number of the faithful have commented in particular about its beauty and prayerfulness. I have been privileged to conduct two workshops for Andrew at Brentwood Cathedral, the first for the Cathedral Choir, the second for the Diocese, and on both occasions I was struck by the wonderful welcome I received, and by the receptiveness of the people who, without exception, have open minds and hearts, and a hunger for prayerful music, the beauty of the Chant and the Sacred Liturgy. I am looking forward to my third visit to the Diocese in the Autumn for a Chant Workshop in conjunction with the local Anglican diocese, with which Brentwood enjoys particularly close ecumenical ties. I feel very honoured to have been asked again by Andrew to participate in some small way in the wonderful work he does in the Cathedral and throughout his diocese, of which he is also the Director of Music.

Andrew speaks of an awareness of what has been lost, musically, from the tradition of the Church, but also an awareness that the Holy Father has been encouraging us to look again and value our intrinsic musical heritage, and there is a real and increasing willingness to support this concern and contribute to its well-being. I know from my visits to this beautiful Cathedral Church, and from my many conversations with Andrew, that the Chant has once more found a home in the liturgy at Brentwood Cathedral, and that its use will continue to grow and flourish there under the inspired leadership of their wonderfully talented, forward-looking and inspirational Director of Music, for whom I have the utmost respect and admiration.

Please pray for Andrew Wright, for his hugely-supportive new Cathedral Dean, Fr Martin Boland, and his equally supportive and visionary Ordinary, Bishop Thomas, who has done so much to promote and encourage music in Brentwood. Please pray too for the Choir and people of the Cathedral and for the Diocese as they continue, under Andrew's leadership and direction, in their wonderful work of restoring the Chant and lifting the hearts and minds of the faithful to God through music.

Qui bene cantat bis orat!

UK Cathedrals - Southwark

I thought readers may be interested in a series on the Roman Catholic Cathedrals of the UK and their musical provision. I wrote an article recently on the Choral Outreach Programme at Leeds Cathedral which seemed to interest readers on NLM, so I will follow this up with a profile of each UK Catholic Cathedral, beginning with my own, St George's Cathedral, Southwark.

St George’s Cathedral was the first Roman Catholic Cathedral to be built in the UK after the Reformation. The original building (1848) was the work of the great Victorian Architect Pugin. Although much of the Cathedral was badly bombed in 1941 during the Second World War, a great deal of his design remains, and is incorporated into the rebuilt Cathedral, which was re-opened in 1958.

The Cathedral seen from the Imperial War Museum

St George's is the Mother Church of the Archdiocese of Southwark, which covers the actual Diocese of Southwark (South London, North Surrey, and Kent), and also the Dioceses of Arundel and Brighton, Portsmouth, and Plymouth.

The Cathedral occupies an historic site close to the Imperial War Museum, a few minutes walk from London's South Bank and the Thames, Westminster Bridge, the London Eye, and landmarks such as St Thomas' Hospital and Waterloo Station. It serves a lively and cosmopolitan community from all over London, and has a strong parish identity in addition to its role as a Cathedral. For example, the vibrant Latin American community is served with a Spanish Mass every Sunday at 1pm, delivered completely in the Spanish language. On top of this, every Mass is attended by people of different ethnicities and ages, ranging from African to Asian to European. The Cathedral is proud to be a religious home to all these people.


The Cathedral nave

The Cathedral’s Music Department was founded in 1848 with a choir of boys and men, thus making it the oldest RC Cathedral Choir in the UK. This Choir still sings the weekly Solemn Mass on Sunday morning, as well as occasional extra services such as Christmas and Holy Week. In addition there is a new Cathedral Girls’ Choir which sings the weekly Family Mass on Sunday mornings. The Cathedral has a Director of Music (Nick Gale), who is also responsible for training the Boys' Choir, an Organist (Nicholas O’Neill) and an Assistant Organist (Norman Harper), who is responsible for training the Girls' Choir.

The Cathedral Boys’ Choir is made up of 18 boy choristers, 6 choral scholars and 9 lay-clerks and sings a repertoire ranging from polyphonic settings by composers like Tallis, Byrd and Palestrina through to works by modern composers such as James MacMillan, Arvo Pärt and Judith Bingham, to name but a few. We are also fortunate to have an in-house composer – Nicholas O’Neill – who has composed 3 Masses and numerous motets for us. Gregorian Chant plays a major role in the Solemn Mass – all propers are sung in full, and the people also sing a Chant Gloria, Credo and Marian Antiphon.

When I took over as Cathedral DoM ten years ago things had reached a point of stagnation. There were four choristers left, no lay-clerks or choral scholars, and the diet of music on Sunday mornings was largely hymns and simple congregational Mass settings. Thanks to supremely supportive clergy and a newly-assembled team of dedicated, enthusiastic, professional musicians, we have managed to restore our great musical heritage and return the Chant to its rightful place in the Liturgy.


The Cathedral Choristers receiving Holy Communion

Now, thanks to the wonderful team of musicians and clergy, a typical Sunday Solemn Mass involves the Introit, a congregational hymn to accompany the long procession down the vast nave, a choral setting of the Kyrie followed by a Chant Gloria. The Psalm is sung in the vernacular in directum (no response) by choir and congregation alternatum, followed by the proper Alleluia with verse. A Chant Credo follows the homily and, after a congregational hymn, the Chant Offertory precedes a choral Sanctus and Agnus Dei. The Communio is sung with psalm verses in Latin (from the CMAA's wonderful Communio books) followed by a motet. After the blessing the seasonal Antiphon to Our Lady is sung, usually to Chant or, occasionally, to a polyphonic setting, such as Robert White's wonderful 6-part Regina Caeli. The organ then leads us out of the Cathedral.

At the Family Mass the Girls' Choir leads a more congregational-style liturgy, with an English Language Mass Setting (John Bertalot, David Thorne and one composed especially for the Girls by our in-house composer Nicholas O'Neill) and vernacular hymnody, with a sparing use of Taizé-style chants. However, they lead the Mass extremely effectively and regularly sing parts of the Mass to the Chant. They have been a blessing and a real asset to the Cathedral community.

As I mentioned earlier in this article, the Cathedral has been blessed with a wonderfully supportive Dean (Canon James Cronin), who has been so helpful and kind over the past 10 years, and a series of Archbishops (most recently ++Michael Bowen and ++ Kevin McDonald) all of whom have encouraged the choirs both spiritually, morally and financially, and it is due to this support that we are able to continue doing the work that we do.


Canon James Cronin (left) and Nick Gale (right)

The Cathedral Boys’ Choir tours every other year – recent destinations include Cologne and Rome – and has broadcast live twice on BBC Radio 4 and once on BBC 1 Television in recent years. The Cathedral also played host to Pope John Paul II on his visit to the UK in 1982. Particularly noteworthy is the recently-dedicated shrine to St Francesca ‘Mother’ Cabrini, a former worshipper in the Cathedral Parish before her emigration to the USA. The Cathedral Choir recently sang for the blessing of this beautiful new shrine.

Archbishop Peter Smith


The original Cathedral Organ (Willis) was destroyed by the bombing during the War. It was replaced by an extension organ by John Compton, an inadequate solution and one that is now in need of serious attention, ideally replacement. However, the Cathedral has recently had to spend an enormous amount repairing its roof, replacing the obsolete and dangerous electrics and rebuilding the condemned Archbishop Amigo Hall, which now looks resplendent outside the West End of the Cathedral. The Cathedral is a poor parish, and the people have already dug deeply and given generously and, at present, funds do not allow us to do anything about the organ situation, which detracts from the otherwise wonderful music-making that takes place in this noble, historic and prayerful building in South London.


Please pray for Archbishop Peter, Canon James and the Choirs of St George's Cathedral for their continued work.