Saturday, July 31, 2010

Spotted today...

outside the CMAA programs office in Auburn, Alabama. Crumbs on a mattress (behind the dumpster, no less). Can a church musician expect more?

A bird alighted on the feast just moments after this picture was taken.

Third in a Series of Colloquium Videos

Without Chant, the Catholic People Have No Voice

Fr. Ruff posts this fascinating article from Orate Fratres, Feburary 22, 1936. It is called Why People Do Not Like Chant. The author is stricken with grief that everyone but Catholics seems interested in Gregorian chant. Meanwhile, as regards Catholics, "the people have truly no voice at all which can be claimed Catholic." If the situation was improving, which it was, this was interrupted by the ghastliness of the slaughter and upheaval called World War II.

I've attempted an HTML export here. I'm sure it has typos, but you get the drift.

Another Round of Chant Mania

The news that Decca has signed a recording deal with the cloistered nuns of Abbaye de Notre-Dame de l'Annonciation in France has gone viral (the current phrase meaning spreading wildly through every communication medium). 

The album will consist of 100% Gregorian chant, and I look forward to knowing the selections. Whether chant hymns, ordinary chants, or propers, it is sure to be beautiful. The company in question has backed the biggest recording stars of our times. The last recording of Austrian monks became a top seller all over the world.

Google (as of this writing) reports more than 600 news items about the recording deal. More than 600 blogs have mentioned it or commented on the news. It is not possible to buy this sort of publicity. If anything can be known for sure in this world, this is one of them: this CD will be be huge and important for this current generation of music listeners.

Striking, isn’t it? Here we have music that is organic to the Roman Rite liturgy that was assembled and codified over the first millennium of Christianity, and yet it still retains the ability to be news, to create globally popular collections of music that people listen to in their cars, their homes, on the iPhones and MP3 players - everywhere of course but in the typical Catholic parish. 

The irony is intense. Throughout the Catholic world, the debate is ongoing, every day, on blogs, forums, emails, journals, and everywhere else. The core of the debate is all about whether this music really meets the spiritual needs of the people. Doesn’t unison music from a different millennium and in a dead language alienate people from their faith, and so should not music at Mass be tuneful and rhythmic and provide a link to popular culture? 

Choosing Bricks, Part the Last

In the Breaking Bread hymnal section denoted “Gathering” there are many songs whose musical and lyrical content has and will continue to be debate fodder from the “aptus” qualification. Of the more recent additions in this decade, again I defer to Janet Sullivan-Whitaker’s “HERE AT THIS TABLE,” the title of which might cause apoplexy to not a few folk. But given the preponderance of triple metered, sing-song offerings most typified or vilified by Haugen’s “Gather Us In,” I feel a true gravitas in her original text (aided by her son.) And that is solidly set to a compelling melodic and harmonic architecture that happens to also suit a congregation’s alto/baritone singing range.

She also deftly uses two distinctly different motifs for certain verses, both of which have cadences with great inertia back to the refrain, particularly in vss. 3/5 that uses a hemiola as they are intended: for propulsion. I don’t relegate the text to the Entrance procession exclusively. I’ve employed it at the other two on occasion. In the same section, Michael Joncas’ “WE GATHER HERE TO WORSHIP” (with Vicki Klima) seems to mitigate the contention that “gather songs” are inherently insufficient in expressing worship towards God by clearly defining the purpose in the first verse’s opening phrase, “We gather here to worship You, O God.” T

his is also an original text that, if nothing else, outlines the structure of the liturgies within Mass. The melody does not evoke the common notion of Joncas cum Sondheim, but falls into the recent trend of many composers to stay formulaic, strophic and often pentatonic.

In the next section, “Communion,” I would give brief mention of Fr. John Schiavone’s “AMEN: EL CUERPO DE CRISTO” as its text and melody present an authentic and orthodox “feel” to a bilingual song. And, as many have found out over the last decade and a half, Hurd’s UBI CARITAS has a stand alone integrity as well as it provides the opportunity for young people and adults to “step up” to the plainsong version in the hymnal.

In perusing this year’s issue, I was greatly perplexed by the inclusion of Steve Angrisano’s paraphrase of Ps.34, “Taste and see.” I know that it presents a clear nod to the LifeTeen demographic, but the syncopation off the page is pure helter skelter, it yanks the singer off the beat so unremittingly!

How many modern settings of this psalm can one publisher afford to include out of respect for the composer’s Q rating, yet not give space to chants published in another organ, “Laus et Tibi?”

On the other hand, a tonic of relief is the inclusion of the great “I RECEIVED THE LIVING GOD.” It is purely pentatonic with one quarter note exception, and has the Southern Harmony credence “feel.”

I have just mentioned that for every new work implanted into BB and other subscription hymnals, it is likely that other things, worthier pieces are retired or never considered such as “Ave verum corpus.” But I would also mention that seminal works by early pioneers such as Lucien Deiss have fallen by the wayside, save for “All the Earth” or “Keep in Mind.” Of course, copyright issues likely are part of those omissions. But I would easily endorse losing “How great thou art” or “Companions on the Journey….” if some of Deiss’s early gems were given a resurrection in the 21st century.

I have avoided addressing the issue of employing true secular folk songs such as “O waly waly” or “Kelvingrove” as pleasant dwellings for new texts. But short of “Londonderrierre” (sorry, couldn’t resist) I think that folks ought to reconsider using every melody found in Stanford’s compendium of Britannic folk songs to couch “new” texts; Chris Walker’s appropriation of “Skye boat song” for a fairly benign Pentecost lyric seems particularly irritating to my tolerance levels. Sullivan-Whitaker’s “CHRIST BEFORE US” to “Suo gan,” is a much more substantial text.

In terms of original voices, I’ve already overstated my appreciation for Sullivan-Whitaker tunes. Her paraphrase of Ps.90, “IN EVERY AGE” I believe to be truly poignant. But just for balance, I don’t have the confidence in her original song “THIS IS OUR CRY” despite its very direct and didactic text and melody. Speaking of didactic, does including Carey Landrey’s “WOMEN OF THE CHURCH” mitigate something very un-PC by balancing “Faith of our Fathers?”

Benedictine hymnist Harry Hagan’s “THOSE CALLED BY CHRIST” set to “Detroit” is another worthy new text set to a melody Americana. In the chant emulation mode, OCP editor Barbara Bridge’s “WE WALK BY FAITH/IN TIMES OF TROUBLE uses “Jesu dulcis memoria” for the antiphon, and then a newer, more complex chant for the verses whose accompaniment is harmonically solid and unique.

With the brouhaha regarding some of the programming of former “St. Thomas More” composers for the upcoming papal visit to the UK, I would like to commend one hymn by Chris Walker for consideration: “LAUDATE, LAUDATE DOMINUM” has proven to this author a worthy successor to the Vaughn-Williams/Holst tradition of Anglican High Church hymns. His use of not so subtle modal shifts melodically propels the hymn forward. And Walker’s paraphrase of Ps.27, “THE LORD IS MY LIGHT” has much more heather and peat in its melody that anywhere to be found in his Celtic Mass.

In another part of the world, some folks have pondered the direction of Filipino contemporary liturgical song as having given way to saccharine tendencies rather glaringly. Of the contributions of Fr. Ricky Manalo, one I would like to mention that incorporates an Asian flavor in both text and melody is his “MANY AND GREAT,” an original song. And I, for one, regret the loss of his Maundy Thursday Introit “We shall glory in the cross” versus the version by Schutte.

Well, I’m not sure if I have adequately portrayed any specific methodology in these posts that clearly make the case that those pieces I have positively mentioned really constitute the sort of masonry envisioned by those who subscribe to the “brick by brick” reformation of our repertoires.

But what has been very obvious to me from conversations at colloquia and elsewhere is that CMAA members more likely than not still must deal with divergent interests and the ever-present dilemma of “personal taste” on a weekly and seasonal basis in parishes that have multiple Masses and a wide spectrum of musical resources, personnel and repertoire-wise. The one criteria that I, without fail, fall back upon is that a worthy hymn or song will demonstrate that immediately off the page by virtue of a worthy text and a melody whose integrity is obvious without harmonic adornment.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Madison, Wisconsin, seminar, October 1-2

Fr. Robert Skeris will conduct a chant seminar at the Bishop O'Connor Catholic Pastoral Center, Madison, Wisconsin, October 1-2, 2010. This should be a great event! See the diocesan page created for the event.

Discovery of a new Stabat Mater

Fr. Augustine Thompso writes of a newly discovered Stabat Mater tune from the 13th century.

And the Winners are...

The Foundation for Sacred Arts is premiering the works of the winners of its composer competition on August 14, 2010. This is certainly something to attend! It's a great thing to see the rise of a new generation of serious Catholic composers, most of whom have come out of the ranks of the Church Music Association of America.

The winners this year are

Category I: Non-liturgical Sacred Choral Works
1st: Amen, Alleluia (Revelations 19:4-9), Daniel Knaggs
2nd: Credo, Frank La Rocca
3rd: He Who Eats This Bread (John 6:54-55, 58), Daniel Knaggs

Category II: New English Mass Settings
1st: Mass in Honor of St. Maximillian Kolbe, Jeffrey Quick
2nd: Mass of St. Theresa of Avila, Daniel Knaggs
3rd: Missa Sancti Johannes Apostoli, Daniel Knaggs

Honorable Mention: Mass, Paul Ayres
Honorable Mention: Mass of the Resurrection, Audrey Faith Seah
Honorable Mention: Mass of the Blessed Virgin, Mary John Henderson
Honorable Mention: Mass, Amanda Jacobs

The website of the Foundation is really growing and so are the activities of the Foundation. This is precisely the sort of support that Catholic musicians need to make a difference.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Choosing Bricks, Part the Second

A current thread topic at the MS Forum asks “What contemporary hymns do you like?” And, per usual, the responses meander through the semantics of “what is contemporary?” to “define the word ‘like’.” Everybody from Messiaen to Bob Hurd and in between, presumably answers both those queries. But earlier in the year I posted a column, “How I go about choosing bricks.” The content of the first part was mostly a ideological rant. And before I could compose a practical compliment, I stupidly dislocated my shoulder twice in nine days. I’m still in the sling until mid August, but I thought I could tackle completing the article that illustrates my strategies (I’m not sure they could be called principles) regarding what musics of recent vintages are solid enough to be considered bricks whilst we rebuild the foundation that will establish chant as having principal place at the top of our structure. Or at least make it darn sure chant is not the “stone which the builders rejected.”

The Chants of Holy Week

Holy Week from Palm Sunday to Easter is a fantastic time for the most extended use of Gregorian chant in Catholic liturgy. Whole books or shelves of books could be written about the chants that pertain to these days, for they are among the most emotionally varied and stylistically impressive melodies ever written. They range of vibrant hymns for the people, to epic narratives, to soaring melodies on single syllables that suggest prayerful improvisations inspired by unforeseen awe and wonder.

Sadly for musicians, these are among the busiest days of the year, and probably the worst time to attempt something new. As choirs and directors approach Holy Week, the musicians dig through their hard drives and their stacks of binders in the choir room and pull out the agenda from last year, which so happens to be the same as the year before and the year before that, going back twenty and thirty years. It's not great, and they know it, but it gets the job done. They are pleased enough with themselves just for getting through it all. It truly is an overwhelming experience. This is why you will find Catholic musicians all over the world in a full meltdown on the Monday after Easter Sunday, decompressing and sleeping in and otherwise doing as little as possible as a means of much-deserved rest.

The tragedy is that it is almost always the case that the season's most impressive music is not sung or even attempted. In fact, it is not even known today. This music comes from the Gregorian chant books. We are supposed to give chant first place at Mass every week, but one might say that this principle is all the more important to apply during Holy Week.

Alas, this has not been the case. And yet another factor is part of the calculation here. This is a week that draws people to the parish as never before, with visiting families and a heightened consciousness of the need to draw more closely to the faith. The pews are packed. Musicians might feel an intensified pressure to use music that pleases people ("meets people where they are") rather than letting the music of the ritual speak for itself and thereby inspire a conversion of heart and an embrace of a new way of thinking, praying, and living.

We should be singing a new song and yet we do not.

It remains true that even for those musicians (and pastors) who feel the need to upgrade their Holy Week music, and see the need to give chant first place in these times above all else, they might not even know where to begin. The Gregorian books provide far more music than appears in the missalletes (which can be oddly sparse, leaving out whole sections of music with text that appears in the Roman Missal, as if they should just be skipped).

What to do? How is one to begin? To answer these questions, we have ever reason to celebrate the appearance of the CD Cantemus Domino, and its masterful production and presentation by the Oregon Catholic Press. The OCP has brought its legendary capacity for teaching and marketing to the cause of Gregorian chant for Holy Week, using the greatest choir that one can imagine for such work: Dean Applegate's Cantores in Ecclesia of Portland, Oregon.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Video with the Nuns

Monday, July 26, 2010

Dom Saulnier's Guide to Chant online

Dom Daniel Saulnier's Gregorian Chant: A Guide is online. The entire world of Catholic music is grateful to Edward Schaefer for doing the translation and also putting the translation into the commons through a gift to the Church Music Association of America. Gratitude also goes out to Solesmes and to the author himself for granting permission for this fantastic development.

There is something of a history here that I would like to share, with details that to me suggest a providential hand at work. In the background of this important monograph is that splendid reality that all the great intellectual and spiritual writings on chant are now in the commons: Dom Mocquereau, Dom Gajard, Dom Johner, and so many others. There are hundreds of texts available now, and many books too, including the Ward books and so many others. We owe this to the fact that many of these works were written before the age of outrageous copyright restrictions and also the wonderful reality that most publishers didn't care enough about these books to renew their copyrights before the deadline. They thus landed in the commons, and we are all better off for it. They can now teach the world.

It has been a source of frustration to me that Dom Saulnier's book has been the exception. The publisher of the book is to be commended for their existing beautiful edition but the publisher's model exclusive the progressive methods of making books free online, and hence this one work was trapped behind the bars of exclusivity and caged in paper, with seemingly no end in sight.

Something remarkable happened only a few days ago. Dr. Schaeffer called to reveal that he had done his own translation of this work back in 2003 and that this book was published by Solesmes. Later, however, an American publisher had arranged a different translation that was still very similar and made it available with the cooperation of Solesmes (which is mercifully free with its permissions these days). That left this first translation in a limbo state that Schaeffer himself only noticed a few weeks ago. He immediately saw the opportunity and arranged to have the rights to the translation transferred back to himself. He turned out and gave the translation into the commons. This is why you can now read this book for free online.

To me, this is just a thrilling sequence of events, something I imagined was hopeless just came into being without any notice. It happened out of the blue - thanks to generosity and prayer. Because of this gift, this text now belongs to the ages and can now begin educating the entire world.

The CMAA will produce a print edition in a matter of weeks (at most) but, in the meantime, please begin now to benefit from this modern treasure of the chant literature. 

Denis McNamara applied to Sacred Music

Just this past week I finished a course at the Liturgical Institute of St. Mary of the Lake University, Mundelein, with the Institute’s assistant director Dr. Denis McNamara. Dr. McNamara just recently published the groundbreaking book Catholic Church Architecture and the Spirit of the Liturgy through the Institute’s ‘Hillenbrand Books’, which was the main text for the course.

Ultimately, Dr. McNamara’s book is focused on the practical issue of new church architecture and church renovations, but he sets out to achieve it in the first place by means of an applied study in liturgical theology, architectural theology and a theology of beauty. This first part of his book provides a lens, a hermeneutic, for the rest of his study which journeys through the scriptural foundations of church architecture, the timeless applicability of the Classical tradition, the eschatological nature of iconic images, and a historical survey of modern church architecture.

McNamara’s perspective for the study of sacred art is sacramental (small “s”), according to the Church’s classic definition of a sacrament: “a visible sign of an invisible reality”. This means that sacred art, in this case architecture, uses visible signs to reveal the building’s ontology: its nature, its reason for being. (Dr. McNamara loves to use the word ontology in the classroom, it’s sort of as a catch phrase. One day, in a prayer led by one of the priests in the class, the word ontology managed to show up twice! When we finished the sign of the cross and opened our eyes we saw Denis smiling ear to ear.) Ontology: “What makes a church a church?” “What does sacred art say about its reason for being?”

I heard at one point in the course the axiom coined by the theologian Fr. Edward Oakes, SJ “art doesn’t lie". In other words, seen from a sacramental perspective, art always signifies some reality: beauty is not in the the eye of the beholder, dependent on the viewer’s subjective state and experience in order to give it meaning. Art always says something about its intention, it communicates, it reveals something, it signifies something; the question is “what reality does it signify?”

Sing Like a Catholic, Workshop in Charlotte, NC

The Charlotte Observer reports on an August 6-7, 2010, workshop at St. Ann Catholic Church. Arlene Oost-Zinner is directing the chant. I'll be lecturing.

Atlanta Symposium on Sacred Music

A fascinating line up that includes Jerry Galipeau, Will Breytspraak, David Haas, Fr. Andrew Wadsworth, and this writer. What I liked most about last year was getting to know all the regular parish musicians who attend. I learned so much from my conversations with people! Hope to see you August 21.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Why do we always repeat the Psalm antiphon between verses?

The most common way that the Responsorial Psalm is sung has the congregation repeating the antiphon after each verse, so that the antiphon is sung three, four, or even five times in a short period of time. Most choirs think nothing of this and never question it. They do it ever Sunday. However, last week, the Psalm was as follows:

R. (1a) He who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.
One who walks blamelessly and does justice;
who thinks the truth in his heart
and slanders not with his tongue.
R. He who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.
Who harms not his fellow man,
nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor;
by whom the reprobate is despised,
while he honors those who fear the LORD.
R. He who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.
Who lends not his money at usury
and accepts no bribe against the innocent.
One who does these things
shall never be disturbed.
R. He who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.

I've printed it here precisely as it appears on the USCCB website. And this is the way it is usually sung. But consider the text. Does it make sense this way? Or does it make more sense this way?:

R. (1a) He who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.
One who walks blamelessly and does justice;
who thinks the truth in his heart
and slanders not with his tongue.
Who harms not his fellow man,
nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor;
by whom the reprobate is despised,
while he honors those who fear the LORD.
Who lends not his money at usury
and accepts no bribe against the innocent.
One who does these things
shall never be disturbed.
R. He who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.

Our schola director, Arlene Oost-Zinner, who writes Psalms for Chabanel, immediately observed that the second makes more sense, and so, perhaps for the first time, we shifted so that we sang the antiphon once alone and once with the congregation, sang the verses straight through, and then concluded with the antiphon. In other words, we sang it the way the Psalms are sung in the office. I must say that it was an enormous success. I thought so anyway. I was not left with a sense of: wow, I really missed interrupting this text every 10 seconds with an insistence that people sing again! Not at all. It flowed beautifully and was very effective.

What does the GIRM say about this practice? "The entire congregation remains seated and listens but, as a rule, takes part by singing the response, except when the Psalm is sung straight through without a response."

I know that you might be thinking: here we have the classic exposition that we've come to expect from the ordinary form: a rule that is advanced and followed by the exception that isn't really depreciated but merely given as a choice. Yes, this approach is pervasive throughout the GIRM, and remains one of the most troubling aspects of the ordinary form. In this case, however, the presence of choice really is a benefit. Sometimes we really should sing the Psalm all the way through.

Why don't we? I'm not entirely sure. My off-the-cuff theory is that the usual practice is an extension of the paranoia that we've all imbibed that if there is anything that we can plausibly expect the people to sing, we must demand that they do so, else the choir will be seen as elitist and forbidding, usurping the people's role - and whether people actually do sing or want to sing, or whether it makes any sense for them to constantly sing, is totally irrelevant.

There might be a more substantive reason behind the conventional practice. Surely someone can enlighten me. Regardless, I do see a point behind singing some settings all the way through. It certainly made sense to me in this case.

Finally, I would like to say something about what it means to be a successful Psalm. To my mind, it means that it should be integrated with the Liturgy of the Word as much as possible, and certainly not stand out as something like a conspicuous musical interlude between the readings as something separate. The beauty of the Gradual from the Gregorian books is their stillness that call forth reflection, a sense of timelessness and beauty that instills an absolute quietness of deep prayer.

I would never expect a parishioner to come up after Mass and say: "hey, that was one heck of a Psalm today!" Not at all. It should be so much part of the fabric of the experience of this portion of Mass that it should leave an impression close to the perception that no performance took place at all.

The main trouble with Psalm singing today at Mass is that it is too often just a huge stylistic interruption, so that people feel bounced from words to a real toe tapper and back again. This can't be good for the overall import of this portion of Mass. This observation leads me to think that when the text really doesn't want to be interrupted, it should not be interrupted.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Nuns Sign Recording Deal

From the Guardian today:

A group of Benedictine nuns who live in complete seclusion in the South of France are set to become divas of pop after signing a deal with Universal Music, the leading record company behind Lady Gaga and Amy Winehouse.

After a worldwide search for the finest exponents of the art of the Gregorian chant, the Nuns of the Abbaye de Notre-Dame de L'Annonciation have signed a deal with Universal's Decca Records label. The enclosed order still communicates with outsiders through a grille to avoid intrusion into a life of religious devotion. As a result, the nuns in the abbey will have to photograph their own album cover, as well as provide the footage for their television advertisements.

The order, based near Avignon, dates back to the 6th century and follows a strict tradition of living behind closed doors once novice nuns have taken their vows. Sisters then remain inside the convent until death.

"We never sought this, it came looking for us," said the Rev Mother Abbess. "At first we were worried it would affect our cloistered life, so we asked St Joseph in prayer. Our prayers were answered and we thought that this album would be a good thing if it touches people's lives and helps them find peace."

Spring 2010 Issue of Sacred Music

Again, please feel free to post this anywhere and everywhere, whether the whole thing or parts and pieces. This is the point of Creative Commons.

Sacred Music Spring 2010

Why They Love Sacred Music

Sacred Music Colloquium (CMAA) from Corpus Christi Watershed on Vimeo.

A translation of Saulnier's Introduction to the New Antiphonale Monasticum

This new translation was sent to me by Sr Bernadette of Ryde Abbey in the UK. It was translated by Mike Whitton with the assistance of Sr Bernadette.


A few words of explanation are well worthwhile for a new book of Gregorian chant just published after decades of anticipation.


The project got under way in November 1998, when Father Abbot of Solesmes entrusted the Palaeographic Workshop with the work of producing a monastic antiphoner in keeping both with the Benedictine tradition and with the requirements of the liturgical reform of Vatican II.

However, the project was not born ex nihilo. Some of the research carried out between 1975 and 1996 for the Antiphonale romanum[1] (which, sadly, is still awaiting approval today) proved to be of use in the preparations for this new book.

A team was formed, a method of working agreed upon, and some invaluable assistance obtained; they will be acknowledged at the end of this article.

The project’s terms of reference were fixed by a commission under the presidency of Father Abbot of Solesmes, together with three abbots of the Congregation and three monks from Solesmes[2]. The work consisted on the one hand of preparing an Ordo cantus Officii in keeping with the Benedictine tradition and with the Liturgia horarum; and on the other of restoring the corresponding melodies. The Benedictine Ordo cantus Officii received the Abbot Primate’s approval in 2001 for the daytime offices and in 2002 for vigils.

Since confirmation of this approval by the Congregation for Divine Worship on 6 February 2004, preparation of the book has passed into its final editing phase.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Future of the Ordinary Form

Some data recently posted on the traditionalist blog Rorate Caeli caused something of a furor. “Since 2005, the number of every-Sunday New Masses in Latin in the U.S.A. has fallen from 58 to 39,” the post said. “The number of dioceses in the U.S.A. offering this Mass every Sunday has fallen from 36 to 28.” Further, the ratio of old Masses to new Masses in Latin is 9:1. So the blog claimed.

This data would imply that the Latin ordinary form is dying out and that the demand for Latin in the liturgy is increasingly becoming the exclusive province of the extraordinary form. The great worry here, from my point of view, is the rising impression that the new Mass is for the vernacular and the old Mass is for Latin - total obscurity the reality that the normative form of both is Latin, and certainly the normative form of the music for both is Gregorian chant in Latin.

I had fretted about this data for a full day before it was finally brought to my attention that something is fishy about the report. Unless the author is withholding his source, there seems to be no scientific basis for these statistics at all. Indeed, there is no reason to believe a word of it.

In fact, my strong impression is that Latin in general received a strong boost from Summorum Pontificum’s liberalization of the older form of the Roman Rite. Certainly the sales of Latin chant books for the ordinary form reflect that. Most all musicians working in the Catholic Church sense the change, the opening up of possibilities for singing music from our heritage in Latin.

My evidence is anecdotal but my own inbox has served me well as a barometer on these matters, and I hear of ever more cases of parishes moving to all-Latin ordinary settings and more choirs singing the propers, and even cases of all-Latin dialogues and Eucharistic prayers. To be sure, most progress takes place within a context of a mixed-language liturgy, neither all English nor all Latin.

Now, one might say: it’s fine to sing a Sanctus but what about the rest of the Mass? My answer is this. If you are looking for a direction of change, and hoping to characterize the future of the ordinary form, looking only for all-Latin-language Masses misses the point in several respects. For example, it is actually very common for low Masses in the extraordinary form to include vernacular hymnody.  Are traditionalists unwilling to call these “Latin Masses?” Of course not, even though one might even say that a sung ordinary form Mass with Latin propers is a closer approximation of the Roman Rite ideal than the the case of a four-hymn low Mass in the old form. .

Latin is surely part of progress toward the ideal, but not all progress can be defined in terms of the language alone. A mainstream parish that moves from four pop songs every Mass to using chanted propers in English and a chant-based ordinary setting in English is making great progress. This can happen without ever venturing into Latin. So far as I can tell, this is the kind of progress that Rome is currently urging with the new translation in English and the mandate that all missalette publishers include English chant from the Missal in their worship aids. It is not an end state but it is a step in the right direction.

As I think about these data in retrospect, a red flag should have gone up at the mere reporting of specific and seemingly scientific information about Masses and their forms in the United States. The parish experience is famously difficult to quantify. Many parishes have all Latin ordinary forms as one Mass on Sunday, and they may or may not advertise this fact, not because they are hiding it but merely because the parish convention can settle in without specific identifiers that subdivide parishes along demographic lines.

Who Can Decide the Language Question?

Assuming that the objective of many readers is transitioning to singing the propers at Mass, can we decide on one approach when it comes to the words we actually sing? Of course there will be a different solution for every parish and every situation. As many solutions as there are pastors, music directors, and congregations, really.

I sometimes wonder if antiquated English, like that found in the Communio Jeffrey posted on yesterday, presents more of an obstacle than meets the eye. If preserving a tradition is the goal, is using older language that is not native to the Gregorian melodies always the best choice?


1. The English in this case is understandable, whereas the Latin might not be.

2. The Gregorian melody is preserved (give or take tiny things)

3. The language is dignified and worthy of use in the liturgy


1. The English is understandable, but far removed from the English we use today. Most parishes are used to modern translations (not making a qualitative judgment about either here - yet). In using an old translation (there is a lot of "ye", a LOT of "ye," in the Plainchant Gradual version of the Petite), are we drawing more attention language use itself than we should be? Put another way: the music should illuminate the Word, but are we really getting to the core of things if the translation is so different from what we normally use that we take special note of the language's pedigree?

2. If we want to preserve the Gregorian chant and are not doing the Latin, shouldn't we be finding a way to make the Gregorian melodies as accessible as possible? In other words, as few obstacles as possible. Gregorian melodies in combination with antiquated English might be complicating things unnecessarily.

3. Is old English more dignified than modern English? We have associations with it in our culture - the King James, Shakespeare, etc. It signals permanence, quality, and dignity. No one will argue with this. But just because it is older does that make it better? Isn't part of the beauty of language its flexibility and adaptability? Modern English can be beautiful, too. It's all in how you put things together. Is one English better than another if neither is native to the musical tradition in question?

Thursday, July 22, 2010


A quick email from Jeffery Tucker convinced me to give this blogging thing a go, and I thank him very much for considering my thoughts on sacred music to be worth sharing. I'll certainly do my best, but for now I will simply introduce myself to the fine readers here.

I won't bore you with a list of my musical credentials, but I probably should say that I have a PhD in Historical Musicology from the Florida State University, where I spent a bit of time the fine early music ensemble. I remember my first graduate seminar paper topic. I had no idea what to write about, having recently decided to "try out" musicology at the master's level. I told my professor that I spoke a little Spanish and might want to look in that direction. Long story short, I produced a paper on the only named composer in the Las Huelgas Codex, one Johannes Roderici (aka Johan Rodriguez). Little did I know that this paper would become my first conference paper and lead to an entry in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd Edition. More importantly the research prompted me to think a bit about the liturgy of the Middle Ages and how different it was from the Mass I attended near the university.

I was playing bass guitar in the "choir" and having a pretty good time. I even took my future wife to church on our first date! Well, I recall playing along one day, but before Mass ended I recalled thinking "This isn't right." I was more concerned with how people appreciated my playing than what I was playing for. Within a few weeks I quit the contemporary group and began attending the music-less Mass. There was no other option to escape the GIA material that was presented at all the other Masses.

It wasn't until I got my first DM job in a little town in SE PA that I began to really see the issues in our sacred music. Whenever I tried to make things a little more dignified, I was cornered by someone who did not like it at all. It didn't matter that the choir was sounding better than it ever had and that I could hear people singing the more traditional hymns and the chanted Lord's Prayer. Everyone was deathly afraid that the young people would leave en masse. Well, I learned that they were going to leave in any case since it was traditional to stop attending Mass after Confirmation, since parents felt they had done their jobs and wouldn't drive them to church anymore. Needless to say, I was appalled. I tried to put together a contemporary group for Saturday Masses, but it didn't seem to help much and I hated doing it. I eventually moved to Gettysburg and took the position at the historic church downtown and was heartened to have only organ and choir or cantor. Still, there was only so far we could go before resistance cropped up. I thought I might be crazy, but it was that year that I attended my first Colloquium. Needless to say that I saw what "could be" and met fellow travelers on the road to reforming church music. It truly was a glimpse of heaven. I also realized that my academic work and my spiritual life could work together.

So, the point of this ramble was let you know that I will focus my comments on a few matters. In particular, I want to look at the Divine Office in the usus antiquior. This is particularly on my mind these days as I write about Spanish practices in the Renaissance. I am currently working on a collection of essays contributed by the top scholars of historical hispanic music -- chant and polyphony. I also want to present my thoughts on some of the excellent recordings of polyphony that I run across.

I hope what I have to offer is interesting. It will be fun for me. I would say more, but I hear a baby crying and must run.

Random Images from the Colloquium

Mary Rose Garych has been posting hundreds of images on her Facebook page, and I've copied a few here. All are from the Sacred Music Colloquium 2010, Duquesne University. None capture the entire group of 250 because there was no (tedious) "group photo" time - although one regrets that in retrospect. Obviously the are all cell-phone quality, which is fine.

Ask Ye, Communion chant in English

I wondered if the Palmer-Burgess Gradual had a version of Petite in it and how it might turn out in English. Sure enough, it appears, and it preserves the structure of the Latin! How it might turn out in modern American English is another question.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Comments fixed again

In the course of seeking the perfect comment system, I made a mess of the code. Now we've reverted to plain old comments in this lacrimarum valle. At least they work and are reliable.

Ask, Seek, Knock: The Structure of Petite

This weekend's communion antiphon "Petite, et accipietis" does not appear on Sunday in the old ordering of Mass music, so this is a musical treat that can only be experienced in the ordinary form for this Sunday.

It is drawn directly from the Gospel reading. "Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you: for every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened, alleluia."

Here is the antiphon (and here is a sound file that you can listen to as you watch the music):

Now, for those who might say that there is no real relationship between the music and the text in Gregorian chant, consider this wonderful musical structure and how it beautifully reflects the symmetry of the prose here.

We begin with three actions: ask, seek, knock. These actions are embodied in the musical phrase that form the pillars of the first half of the chant, which we see in petite, quaerite, and pulsante. Each is structured to be a unique musical phrase, each with its different character.

The first half of the chant ends at the full bar. Then we pick up with the answer: he who asks, receives; he who seeks, finds; he who knocks, it is opened. The words in Latin are now grammatically different (petit, quaerit, pulsanti) but the unique musical structure of each of those words is preserved from one phrase to the next, and then extended upon to signify the universality of the relationship between the reach for God and the granting of grace, consistent with the text (for everyone).

The parallels between the words in the first phrase and the repeat in the second phrase are beautiful, creative, and unmistakable. The chant then closes with great drama, an alleluia more elaborate than anything series of notes before, all coming together to form a perfectly crafted composition and unity of music and text.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Unprohibited, Uninhibited Praise

I am doing some research for a parish project [hat tip to eft94530] and happened upon an article in "Dwight's Journal of Music," Volume V. No.11 June 17, 1854. It can be found on GoogleBooks-

I am not certain whether Editor John Sullivan Dwight composed this essay (excerpted) that follows, or it was from a book, The Atheneum, by one "Canon Proschke." In any case, I thought it poses an interesting counterpoint to AOZ's post in that the author waxes on lugubriously regarding the corrective agent to the prohibitions of works by Lassus, Ockeghem et al.

(This was a) sonorous noise, which drowned the Latin of the liturgy; a loss the more to be lamented, since no musical interpretation of the words took its place. Things went on worse from day to day, till finally, about the middle of the sixteenth century, the patience of the hearers was worn out, and reason bad begun to be awake. All cried out against a music of this sort, excepting those who made it. Away with the Canon, was the cry, and probably musicians thought to themselves, Away too with the Choral Song ! But the Choral Song was nearly as old as Christendom; the Canon also numbered many years. Could men for several centuries pursue a scientific path, which was to be without present profit and entirely fruitless for the future? That (would be) admitting that Humanity could lose its time, like a single man, which is not possible. In the collective striving of the human mind there is nothing absolutely unprofitable; but we often pronounce false what passes before our eyes and ears, judging like the reader of a book without the conclusion, or the spectator of the drama without its denouement. If the book appears unintelligible, or the drama absurd and immoral, it is because the last chapters or the last acts are wanting, which would explain and justify the whole; and therefore is contemporaneous history, whether it treat of music or of other matters, always hard to write. He who should have undertaken as a lover of music to judge of the merits, the productive energy of the Roman Choral Song before Palestrina, would certainly have very much deceived himself; he, whom a professor of Aesthetics should have undertaken to weigh the significance of the fugue before Handel and Bach, or without knowing them, as J. J. Rousseau has done, would have deceived himself not less; and these errors in judgment would appear the more gross, the better judge the man might be for his own century.

Through the labors of the Belgian and Flemish masters, the contrapuntists had at length acquired that certainty and mechanical facility, which allowed them, in spite of the enormous weights, which seemed to clog their every step, to move with a certain ease and grace. Already had Counterpoint become more pliant and Harmony somewhat purified and in a condition to cooperate toward the true end of Music. The hour had struck of a glorious new birth for Music, but above all for the Choral Song; that was best and had waited for it more than a thousand years was no more than fair.

Prohibited Music

Below is an abstract of what looks like a very interesting article, sent along to me by CMAAer Patrick Bergin. (I don't know the DiLasso motet mentioned in the abstract, but of course now I want to go look it up.)

I'm sure the article will provide interesting reading. But makes me wonder even more about just how much of what we hear and sing at Mass is "circumstantial." I got myself involved a thread on NLM the other day in which I brought up the following point: just how easy is it to throw out music? Of all art forms, isn't it the most dispensable? A painting sticks around and makes for a lot of smoke in a bonfire if you want to dispose of it. A stained glass window? Pretty hard to get rid of and have no one notice. Music? It's in the air! It only exists in time - for a time - and then it's gone. You can hire a hit man to take care of your organist or choir director, burn a few books, and that's it! It's like it never existed.
"A Sixteenth-Century Catalog of Prohibited Music"
David Crook
Journal of the American Musicological Society Apr 2009, Vol. 62, No. 1: 1–78

In 1575 the Jesuit general in Rome issued an ordinance governing the use of music in the order's rapidly expanding network of colleges. Motets, masses, hymns, "and other pious compositions" were to be retained; indecent and "vain" music was to be burned. Sixteen years later the Jesuits' provincial administrator in Bavaria drew up a set of supplemental instructions, to which was appended a catalog of prohibited music as well as a complementary list of approved compositions (D-Mbs Clm 9237). Verbal texts treating drunkenness and erotic love account for the majority of banned pieces, but in some cases—a setting of the first verse of Psalm 137 by Orlando di Lasso, for example—the sound and style of the music led to its prohibition.

Although intended for all colleges within the Jesuits' Upper German province, this catalog apparently derives solely from a review of the music collection of Munich's college on the occasion of its move in 1591 to a magnificent new building financed by the duke of Bavaria. Like the architecture and curriculum of the college, the music catalog reflected Bavaria's new understanding of its role as principal post-Tridentine defender of the true faith. And, like the formal confessions of faith, catechisms, and service books promulgated by Europe's Churches during the late sixteenth century, Bavaria's catalog of prohibited music gave expression to an ideology of difference and exclusion that lies at the very heart of post-Reformation Christianity.

Live blog of St. Colman's Society for Catholic Liturgy conference, UK

I've just seen that Jubal's Review offers a model of live blogging for the St. Colman's Society conference, July 10-12,, 2010 ("Benedict XVI and Sacred Music") with papers by William Mahrt, Archbishop Burke, Fr. Uwe Michael Lang, Kerry McCarthy, James McMillan, Ite O’Donovan, and many other stars of the sacred music world. Here is the complete conference program. The live blog offers a daily summary.

Wonderful Review of Page

It's thrilling to read this erudite review of Christopher Page's Christian West and Its Singers, by Dom Alban Nunn of Ealing Abbey in London. The review helps alleviate my own worries that this book would not get the attention it deserves.

Page dares to go where few have trod before. Certainly there is some cross over with James McKinnon's final offering The Advent Project. That earlier work, a decade ago, cast considerable light over the darkness of the late 7th century in musical terms. Page goes much further creating a coherent history across the first millennium. I say creating because the size and breadth of this work means that many of his conclusions will be the basis on which future work will be done.

Next Year in Jerusalem, Or is It Gaza? Detente in Action

Damon: I've already decided that all of this "both/and" nonsense is just that, and that my scorn and highly-placed suspicion of the Peritus Musical Society of America (PMSA), its leadership and its many followers who don't seem to be interested in expanding their horizons in any direction but toward the more and more liberal, is justified. If anyone who associates with PMSA can refute my perceptions (perhaps by sharing a positive experience of the use of chant within the context of a convention-wide event such as a liturgical celebration), I'm more than willing to be chastened. Otherwise, I'd like to know just what position the PMSA truly takes with respect to the re-introduction of chant into the liturgical life of the average parish church.

Arthur: Certainly there are many friendships and relationships between PMSA and CMAA folks, perhaps even at leadership levels. Does CMAA even attempt to make an appearance at PMSA conventions? A vendor table? Applying to run workshops or sessions? Volunteering to help plan even a single liturgical event? A large contingent of traditionalist roaming the halls and wreaking havoc? Just a thought for next year.

Garrett: I'd think a booth would be a good idea. We don't need to evangelize or be jerks or argue or insult. Just say, "here are some free musical resources you may consider," and, "in addition to the convention, perhaps next year you will consider the Colloquium as a supplemental training in chant and polyphony?"

Kilroy in Athens: I think my problem with PMSA is the lack of musical and theological standards. Yes, there are lots of fine musicians in PMSA, but for every well-trained musician, there are countless others with a real lack of foundations. PMSA entertains those folks, plays on their emotions, feeds them with music cranked out by the publishers who virtually run the show and shores up their positions. Yes, I know there are small entourages of informed folk, but I personally got tired of the lowest common denominator approach.

Jeremiah Turkish: Yes, and one problem with the idea of expanding the Colloquium is that it would change. We need to remember that the Colloq is not a trade show. It is a training camp for experience in sacred music. Everyone is in two choirs that sing in services throughout the week. That limits its size and scope, providing we retain this model, which is so necessary. So the cap at 250 seems reasonable. But at this stage of history and given highly regrettable aspects of the role of commercial suppliers of liturgical music, a trade-like environment is probably something that should be avoided.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Optimam Partem and the Optimal Tempo

This past Sunday, the schola in which I sing provided the communion antiphon from the Gregorian books, Optimam Partem. I just love this chant because it tells such a beautiful story of the lesson of Mary and Martha (Gospel reading) in song. Following this chant, we sang the motet with the same text name by William Byrd - which is in a minor key and doesn't borrow much from the chant, but is extraordinarily beautiful.

This morning I was stunned to find a live recording of this very motet by the Cantores Ecclesia, a choir that specializes in Byrd. The choir takes this motet at half the tempo we took it, which changes the sensibility of the piece dramatically. Have a listen. I do not know which is "correct"; in fact, there is probably no answer to that, and therein we find yet another magnificent thing about this music.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Should We Avoid "Over-Fussiness " in Worship?

Roma locuta est points out that many parishes (a search) print canned snippets on the meaning of the Gospel of the week. The snippet today includes the claim, made by one writer for a commercial publisher, that the Gospel instructs us to avoid "over-fussiness in worship." Seems like a stretch from the Mary and Martha story to a case for sloppiness in rubrics and music. Pastors really should rethink this policy of just printing whatever comes in the mail. In any case, Roma responds to the claims of this week's "lesson."

Choral Gradual now in print

At the Sacred Music Colloquium, there is plenty of time to talk to other directors and singers about what their scholas are using, particular as regards the propers of the Mass. This is a particular challenge in English-language Masses because this is a major area of neglect from mainline publishers. They print the antiphons in the Mass aids and then forget them completely when it comes to music, under the expectation that every parish sings some hymn with a text that is (most likely) unrelated to the Mass.

This tendency has created a major fissure between the music you hear at Mass and the Mass text itself, dividing the attention of congregations and erecting a wall between the sanctuary and the loft at critical points in the Mass: entrance, offertory, and communion. This is not how it should be.

But what is a choir to do about the problem? A resource used ever more frequently is the Simple Choral Gradual by Richard Rice. He offers very easy but very effective choral settings of all the propers for Sunday and major feasts for the entire liturgical year. Once you get the hang of them, they can be worked up very quickly. They can be adjusted according to the sensibility of the parish, and they offer an excellent solution for any schola that is working to transition a parish from the conventions of the day toward a sacred music model. The price is also just right at $19, so that you can buy a copy for each member of your schola.

What We Missed at the Byrd Festival

I surely wished I could have been there this year. This was Friday

"William Byrd, the Euroskeptic: His dedication to English Style and Sensibility", consort songs performed by Oliver Mercer, tenor, and Mark Williams, harpsichord and organ, Friday, August 13, 7:30 PM, at St. Stephen's Church, 1112 SE 41st Ave., Portland.

This recital explores Byrd's setting of texts in his songs, which Byrd scholar Philip Brett described as having “a strong attachment to a native idiom rooted in Tudor court culture” as opposed to popular Italian styles, and distinguish Byrd’s music from other English composers such as Weelkes, Morley and, eventually, Dowland. The program includes elegies written for Mary, Queen of Scots, English-style consort songs in foreign languages, and song settings of poems by Sir Philip Sidney, including the joyful “My mind to me a kingdom is”, and an elegy on the death of the poet “ O that most rare breast.”

About the performers:
Hailed by the New York Times as “excellent” and “particularly impressive”, Oliver Mercer is quickly gaining recognition as one of New York’s most exciting young voices in early music. The 2009/2010 season marked several solo debuts, including Alice Tully Hall under Kent Tritle with Musica Sacra, Houston’s Wortham Center with Le Voix Baroque, 5 Boroughs Music Festival, and Handel’s Messiah with Taghkanic Chorale under Steven Fox. Mercer also returned as featured soloist with the Sacred Music in a Sacred Space concert series, Saint Thomas Fifth Avenue and the Clarion Music Society. A highlight of 2010 has been Mercer’s participation in multiple performances of Monteverdi’s Vespro della beata Vergine. In the summer of 2009 Mercer participated in Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s 75th season in their acclaimed production of Purcell’s The Fairy Queen under the baton of William Christie. Other past engagements include Performances of Bach’s St. John Passion in Korea and Japan with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Evangelist in Bach’s Saint Matthew Passion at Saint Thomas Fifth Avenue and soloist in various Bach cantatas at the Oregon Bach Festival under Helmut Rilling.

Mark Williams took up the post of Director of Music at Jesus College Cambridge in September 2009. Described as ‘the shooting star of the international organ scene’ by the international press, he has appeared in the UK, Europe and America with many of the UK’s leading ensembles, including the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the City of London Sinfonia and the Gabrieli Consort and Players. He is the Principal Conductor of English Chamber Opera, the Organist in Residence at the annual International William Byrd Festival in Oregon, and has given solo recitals, appeared as harpsichordist and organist, and led masterclasses in choral training, singing and organ performance in the UK, the USA, Asia and Africa.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Pope to Celebrate Mass in Latin

The Tablet says that Benedict XVI will celebrate Mass with large parts in Latin when he visits the UK in Sept. Pray Tell says that this is the first time since the Mass went vernacular, which doesn't sound quite right. In any case, even if the decision is tied to the current transition to a new translation in English, this is a very good sign. Vatican directives have long specified Latin for large international liturgical events.

The Scriptures and the Music

All Christians embrace the claim that the Bible constitutes the definitive book of Christian truth. This idea is so ingrained in Christian communities that many people without historical understanding suppose that the earliest Christians had the book somehow handed to them directly from the Apostles or perhaps even from the Heavens.

Catholics have a more refined understanding. Truth came before the text, and this is one reason we revere tradition. The Bible as a unified book emerged from deliberation by learned theologians and clerics over the course of four centuries, as many writings were investigated for soundness and excluded or included based on conformity with Christian truth.

Absolute discipline was required during this process since this was a time of remarkable creativity for heresy as well. Bogus texts, pseudo-prophets, vagrant doctrinal amalgams, counter-churches, peculiar practices, and outright hoaxes were everywhere. Sorting through this textual chaos was a priority for the Christians but it took centuries.

The nucleus of what later became the New Testament is in evidence from the late 2nd century. The earliest dateable inventory of canonical Scriptures is from Athanasius’s Easter Letter of 367. The Council of Hippo of 393 was the first to require a specific canon of scripture to be used for public readings.

It was during this very period when the music of the Christian Church was being codified as well. This is hardly surprising, if you think about it, but while we tend to think and write often about the origin of the Bible, very little of the same effort is put into thinking about the origin of Christian song. We know that the earliest Christians took over Psalm singing from Jewish worship, while eschewing the secular dance styles of Greeks, but in what way was the use of music regulated as text were?

The Council of Laodicea, a regional synod of bishops held in the 4th century in Asia, was the first to overtly regulate the production of music. Given the times and the emphasis on rooting out error, writes Christopher Page in The Christian West and Its Singers (2010), “the bishops at Laodicea could not possibly regard the canonicity and textual authority of materials used by their singers with indifference. The time had come for decisive intervention.”

The council said that music could only be sung by “regularly appointed” singers who could also read from parchment (not merely papyrus, which was cheaper and more likely to include fraudulent texts). The singers, regarded as more than mere hirelings for an occasion, could not visit taverns. Most importantly for our purposes, there could be no singing of improvised or made-up songs in services. Only canonical books could be sung. The ban was emphatic: there could be no singing of Gnostic gospels, hymns celebrating then-popular angel worship, much less poetry made up on the spot by some popular mystic.

Why is this?

The Music and the Venue

Here is David Byrne (once of the band "Talking Heads") speaking on how precisely the music is crafted to fit the venue. His treatment of cathedral acoustics is as superficial as his understanding of liturgical music. But his point is still a strong one: the space and the music are one. This is critical to remember when we try to make sense of the historical coincidence of strange church architecture, carpeted rooms, amplification systems, and pop music in liturgy. This issue also weighs heavily on new scholas who are attempting to sing in church environments that have been constructed around the expectation of pop music.

Friday, July 16, 2010

100 Years of Church Teaching on Music

Fr. Lawrence A. Donnelly beautifully puts it all into perspective with excerpts from 100 years of Church teaching. People are always saying that Rome should speak out on the music question and put an end to all the nonsense that is driving people away from their parish and keep the liturgy from singing in its true voice. Well, Rome has spoken out, again and again and again.

Improved commenting

The Intense Debate comment system is the most sophisticated that I've seen - allowing for nested commentaries - and we've implemented it here. If there are problems with the integration, I've not found them yet. The comment widget on the sidebar might not update properly and this will be a work in progress. If you see troubles be sure to let us know. (If you are moderated, we can assure you that it is inadvertent and a matter of software tuning.)

Some Colloqouium Images from Janet Gorbitz

Motu Proprio Mania 1904

Everyone once in a while I receive word from a traditionalist congregation that someone has discovered Pope Pius X's motu proprio on music and insists on imposing it on the parish to the letter, with no knowledge of the long history of controversy in the United States when the document first came out or of any of the qualifiers and conditions embedded in the document's structure. The press, even when the document first appeared, was full of claims that the Pope had banned all music but chant and forbid women from singing in choirs. Neither was true but confusion was everywhere in the days before one could easily look things up online. Why confusion continues to this day is another issue.

In any case, the following interview with the music director at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York appeared in 1904 in the Kansas city Star (June 12) and it helps clarify matters. I have this from Fifth Avenue Famous, a new book on the topic of St. P's. Incidentally, note the matter-of-fact mention that chant has always been central to the liturgy at St. Patricks.

"There is nothing in Gregorian music that women's voices cannot do most effectively," said Mr. [James] Ungerer, the New York choirmaster of St. Patrick's cathedral. "The public seems to be laboring under erroneous ideas of the whole subject of Gregorian music and the purport of the Motu Proprio. It seems to think all figured music is to be abolished, and that church music of the future will in consequence partake of requiem - something mournful and monotonous. Unless there come from Rome explicit orders to abolish women they will certainly be retained at the cathedral.

"The cathedral, in probability, will have no more Gregorian chant than it always has had. The Introit, Gradual, Hallelujah, Tract, Offertory, Communion, which change with the feasts, have always been Gregorian at the cathedral. This has not been the case in other churches in this vicinity and elsewhere, and it is to effect this that the pope evidently wishes to make it compulsory. The Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei will continue, as they always have been at the cathedral, to be figured music, but we trust of a higher order of composition. There is a lot of splendid modern music to displace Haydn, Mozart, etc. -- music that sustains all the simplicity and solemnity of Palestrina. To bring the figured music to a higher standard of excellence, it would seem, is one of the chief objects of the pope's decree, and it has not come too soon."

Fr. Ruff on "Performance" as a swear word

You might be interested in Fr. Anthony Ruff's defense of the term performance in the context of liturgy, which I find persuasive. Too often people use the term performance, always in snarling tones, to music they do not like - and the forbidding of anything at all resembling a performance has been used to rule out anything artistically accomplished from taking place at Mass. See page 383 of Sacred Music and Liturgical Reform (1987).

Thursday, July 15, 2010

An Applied Course in Gregorian Chant

There was once an institution in the United States called the Gregorian Institute of America, and it published some great books among which An Applied Course on Gregorian Chant by Joseph Robert Carroll. If anyone has a clean copy that we can scan and perhaps print, please write me. In the meantime...

An Applied Course in Gregorian Chant

Gregorian Chant, so different from other music

Haaretz runs a fascinating article on the life and work of Pierre Boulez:
Boulez became familiar with contemporary non-European music through his teacher, pathbreaking composer Olivier Messiaen, at the Paris Conservatoire, where Boulez enrolled in 1942 against the wishes of his father, who had wanted him to attend a technical college. It was there that Boulez encountered the music of Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, Igor Stravinsky, Bela Bartok and the highly innovative Edgard Varese. The sudden acquaintance with these composers shook up the 19-year-old Boulez.

"In Messiaen's regular class, we studied harmony, the way one does at any music academy, but he would pick five or six of his best students for courses in composition and analysis that took place outside regular hours," Boulez said, recounting what can now be found in books about the history of new music.

"We would get together in someone's house, and study the evolution of music from Mozart to Schumann to Debussy and the new music of that period," he said. "Messiaen showed us how the genius composers created their own rules. He was the only one; the other teachers were academics, unimaginative, who taught tricks but not the secrets of style and evolution. This is the way I began to understand composition."

Music wasn't something Boulez could pick up at home, though there was a piano in the house. "My family wasn't musical," he said. "I played and I sang in the choir at school. Because it was a religious school, we sang religious music. I mostly remember Gregorian chant, because it was so different from the other music, and I like it to this day."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Magnificent Colloquium Video

CMAA Colloquium XX 2010 from Corpus Christi Watershed on Vimeo.

Copyright: 2010 by Corpus Christi Watershed

Film work by Danny Mendez

The History of Music at St. Patrick's

Fifth Avenue Famous (Fordham University Press, 2010) is a complete history of the music at St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York. A good review of this book appears from Maureen McKew:
I’ve just finished reading a wonderful book by St. Patrick’s Cathedral musical historian and cantor, Salvatore Basile, titled Fifth Avenue Famous (Fordham University Press, 2010). Whether your interest is music, New York history or you simply love an inside story, you will really enjoy this book. And if, like me, you come to the Cathedral regularly, it may explain a few things you have heard and seen.

I have been present for many of those highs and lows as the Cathedral’s music directors, organists, and singers juggled Gregorian chant and polyphonic anthems with the requirements of the post-Vatican II church while, at the same time, responding to the personal preferences of an assortment of archbishops and rectors.

One or two music directors even tried to resist. I recall a Sunday in 1989 or 1990 when longtime conductor John Grady led what had to be the liveliest rendition of the Welsh air, “Cwm Rhondda,” outside of the Welsh Rugby Union. I am not 100 percent certain which set of lyrics Grady used – it might have been “Guide Me Now, O Great Jehovah” with its reference to the Bread of Heaven because this all took place as the congregation received Communion – but I will never forget the sight of Cardinal John O’Connor listening to it. I think I saw steam coming out of his ears.

Until I read Fifth Avenue Famous, I had no notion that the two men had been on a collision course since the Cardinal’s arrival in 1984.

Read the entire review.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Archives of Caecilia

The CMAA's archive of Caecilia has been updated through 1965 (some issues still missing). There is a wealth of material here for anyone seeking to understand the seeming mystery as to what happened to Catholic music in one of the strangest decades in Church history.