Thursday, September 30, 2010

Magnus technologica diei nuntius

Est iuvenale ut Google translate potest aliqua ex contextu Latino. Forte technology gratias magno errore MCMLXX nunquam iterantur. Sed hoc non superfluum reddere Patrem nobis daret Z accurate translations emancipatus.

Fantastic News from Baltimore

This entire parish is going Roman Catholic and maintaining Anglican Use, with music centered on the wonderful Palmer-Burgess Gradual, books that can be used in any ordinary form parish. It's English chant set to Gregorian melodies. They are certainly worth owning. They are very affordable. Get them here.

And think of this. With the magnificently corrected Roman Missal coming out this time next year (that's a long time of nights sleepless with anticipation), the now far-apart worlds of the ordinary form and the Anglican Use will draw more closely together. We are looking more and more at the lovely ecumenism we should all favor, namely a universal sound and feel of the Roman Rite, whether the ordinary form, extraordinary form, or Anglican Use.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Banished Heart

Geoffrey Hull's argument in The Banished Heart (expanded and refined from the 1995 edition) is a complex one, with a vast apparatus that is difficult to summarize. The book jacket says the following, just to intrigue the reader: "he present mainstream Catholic Church, with its modernistic and secular aura, grew directly from the official conservatism of the Church as it was before the Council."

How so? I'm reading it now, so I can provide more information later, but my quick summary is as follows. Long before the Second Vatican Council, and developing even from the time of Trent and after, two forces came alive within the conservative camp: rationalism and imperialism. Imperialism is the assumption that the center must always dictate to the outer edges what should take place in liturgy, and hence any deviation from the appointed rubrics and style must bear the burden of proving its orthodoxy. The rationalist assumption is related: it presumes that everything that takes place in liturgy must have some reason for happening that can be explained by virtue of argumentation hence comprehended from the point of view of logic or history or theology. Lacking such a basis, practices come under grave suspicion.

When you transfer these two proclivities to a secular time, in a world of pop media and intellectual hubris, you set up a disaster-in-waiting for any liturgical structure of ancient origin. The imperialist assumption guarantees that whatever happens occurs universally. There can be no local experimentation with reform. Reform is an all-or-nothing, everywhere-or-nowhere proposition. The rationalist assumption is also a special problem for a liturgy that developed over many generations and hundreds of years, something that cannot be comprehended by a single intellectual, committee, or even one generation.

Hull's argument is that it as the conservatives at Vatican II who carried around the baggage of both points of view, without understanding the dangers that lurked therein. Once the process of reform was opened up, there was no longer any possibility that it could be contain to one region or affect just one part of the liturgy. The entire structure went through upheaval all over the world. Professor Hull recounts this history by way of showing how it came to be that the Council documents would say one thing while the practice ten years later came to be precisely the opposite.

It is a provocative argument, one that he argues with great erudition and understanding. Even if you initially do not accept the thesis and even if you resist the thesis to the end, you can certainly learn from the detailed history he present here. It's my own view that the book can do great good in helping conservatives and traditionalists question their own assumptions about what went wrong and why. Incidentally, he seems very optimistic about the manner in which the current Pope is undertaking reform: with liberality and with studied attention to the need for the Roman Rite to always remain connected with the micro-culture in which it exists.

Music for the New Missal, Now Completed

The music for the new Missal has been completed, archived at and also reposted on the Cafe. Every blog, every website, every parish, no matter what institution or publisher, is free to post these embeddable videos online, on facebook, on email, or however. You can use them in parish tutorials or in any other manner you choose. They are a free gift of the CMAA to the whole Church and world.

Here is a sample: Eucharistic Prayer 1

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

National Catholic Youth Choir Convenes, June 2011

A press release from the National Catholic Youth Choir

Simple Propers for the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C

Download them here

Thank you all for participating in the "beta" of our "Simple Propers" project! With your feedback you are helping work out a system of production that utilizes open source software, public domain and creative commons material, and organized volunteer efforts; what we are able to achieve so far with these resources alone seems rather remarkable. The project is building steam, and we're excited for the new possibilities that it may open up for Catholic liturgical music resources.

Tutorial Videos on the New Missal Chants

Chant Settings from the Roman Missal 3rd Edition (Ordinary Form), courtesy of the CMAA. The sheet music from ICEL is here. These videos are published into the commons for purposes of evangelizing. You are free and encouraged to embed them anywhere, show them to anyone, email them, or otherwise use their contents in any way that you see fit, with no restrictions whatsoever.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Ken Canedo's Great Work

This evening, I once again turned to Ken Canedo's book on the 1960s folk Mass revolution. I'm again impressed at his treatment, so I'm republishing from NLM my review:

For years I've search for the missing link to explain what became of Catholic liturgy by the time I came to know it. One finds old Missals in bookstores or attends the Extraordinary Form or looks back at old instructional books in music or catechesis and it is overwhelming to consider the lost knowledge, the immense chasm that separates what was from what is today.

I've gathered that we've been through the worst of it and Pope Benedict is taking many steps to heal the great pre- and postconciliar divide. But the mystery remains, at least in my mind, as to what happened and why. The answer is not found in the documents of Vatican II where we find ringing endorsements of Gregorian chant and stern warnings not to change the liturgy in unnecessary ways. I've long examined the world of the 1970s and found interesting clues about what drove that lost generation.

But with Ken Canedo's wonderful book, Keep The Fire Burning (Oregon: Pastoral Press, 2009), I feel as if I've found the missing link. This is the only book I know of that looks in depth at the Catholic music of the 1960s to provide an excellent empirical account of the rise of the folk music movement in the Church, a movement that was about much more than music actually.

All about Sarum

This looks to be a fascinating conference: American Sarum: Our Anglican Liturgical and Musical Heritage. The place is Christ Church Bronxville, New York. Dates: January 14-17, 2011. It begins with the best possible opening: a concert of medieval music by the choir of Trinity Wall Street.

A Plea from Leuven

This morning, we had Mass for the opening of the school year at St. Peter’s Church, preceded by a procession of faculty in academic garb through the streets of Leuven.  The Mass was almost entirely in Dutch, with one reading, part of the Eucharistic prayer, and a few of the “people’s parts” in English....  At the time of the Lord’s Prayer (during which we sat), the program indicated that “everybody can pray in his/her own language”.  That’s nice—but wait! We have a common liturgical language which can and ought to be used! This is a prime example of why and when the Latin language should be used; after all, we are Latin Rite Catholics! Despite our many languages (Babel), we could have been praying together in a common tongue (Pentecost)!

More here

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Up with Mass X

Mass X is called Alme Pater. My first exposure to its haunting melodies came from a polyphonic setting written by Wilko Brouwers, presented at the Colloquium some years ago. I fell in love with that piece, but it was another year or two before I encountered the foundational chant on which the polyphonic piece was based. Then it was love at first listening.

For those who wonder why it took so long to hear the original Mass X and find a copy, we have to remember that Gregorian music was not really available then as it is now. There was no Liber online, no Kyriale, no Parish Book of Chant, no thousands of youtubes of chant settings, or anything else. Most of this music was obscure and hard to come by, or expensive and difficult to acquire. Today all that has changed, with resources dancing all over the web, begging for attention.

In any case, this morning at Mass, our schola resurrected the Sanctus of Mass X to great effect. It strikes me that this setting is extremely parish friendly, mostly syllabic but with a profoundly affecting theme.

Here are some scores of the full setting. Be careful of the first MP3 on the Sanctus because the singer actually sings a wrong note in the second phrase. The second MP3 is correct but not a great recording. It seems that there is still work to do in making this material even more accessible.

Thinking My Way Through Anglican Difficulties

Before I could find my way to the Tiber to cross through its waters to the Eternal City of Rome, in whose embrace I found the land of milk and honey, I paused for a bit at the Thames. I discovered the existence of liturgy and sacraments in the Anglican tradition, and I thought for a while that coming home to Canterbury might be an option a little bit less extreme in the eyes of my fundamentalist family than going off to consort with what I was taught as a child was the Whore of Babylon.

I grew very fond of the Anglican patrimony: the Prayer Book and the Anglican Missal, the Hymnal, chanting the psalms, cathedrals and boys’ choirs, the poetry of John Donne. I knew there to be Anglicans who considered themselves to be Catholics, even more so than the Romans. Could a life within Anglicanism be a way for me to live as both a Christian and a Catholic, combining the faith of my childhood with my growing love for the ancient and the traditional?

Those Gorgeous Willan Introits

No music for the Roman Rite is preferred to true Gregorian melodies for the propers, though alternate settings can be useful for provided new textures and variety. It is especially difficult to find English material that really works as a viable replacement. So when one does come across a collection of high quality, something that impresses time and again, it is cause for true celebration.

For this reason, our own schola continues to return to the wonderful book Gradual and Introits by Healey Willan. They are expertly crafted. The voicings are exciting for every singer. They are beautifully composed to highlight the text. They can be worked up quickly with great effect. A director and singers can feel very confident with them. I'm just thrilled to have found these and I highly recommend them for any schola - not as a permanent replacement for the Gregorian but as an interesting substitute.

Here is the wikipedia entry for the composer.  This particular set of propers seems to have been prepared for Lutheran use, as striking as that seems.

The CMAA created a helpful index to the book for the ordinary form of the Catholic Mass. They are provided by as a free download for the whole Church.

Here is the entrance for today.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Those ICEL Chants and Their Status

The Authentic Update has it right that ICEL is putting a very strong push behind the Missal chants. No question that their use would amount to a vast upgrade in most parishes, and represent a big improvement over the current missal. Whether they are what they should be, and what effect their use would have in a parish that is already singing the Latin, is another issue.

St. Basil School of Gregorian Chant

A note from M. Jackson Osborn on upcoming chant educational programs from the St. Basil School of Gregorian Chant:
Beginning Saturday, the 2nd October St Basil's School of Gregorian Chant will conduct an eight week course in chant at St Basil's Chapel at the Univ of St Thomas. The course will cover basic reading of chant notation and solfege, the development of chant from ancient cantillation, and its progress through the Gregorian and Carolingian periods, as well as chant in the ordinary and proper of the liturgical seasons. Guest faculty will offer lectures on the history of our liturgy, chant in mediaeval and illuminated manuscripts, and chant in the thought of Vatican II and successive Popes. Chant in both English and Latin will be taught, with emphasis laid on repertory and singing. Also, the new translation will be discussed. The course consists of three hour sessions on eight Saturday mornings and all day for the last Saturday, culminating in the solemn vigil of Christ the King. The mass will be all plainsong, featuring the Burgess-Palmer propers and Mass XII (Pater cuncta) according to Fr Columba's adaptation. All readings and the prayers of the faithful will be sung.

This, following a winter workshop with Fr Columba, a post-Easter 8 week course, and a summer 8-week course, will be our last offering for this year. We resume next year with another winter workshop with Fr Kelly on the three days preceding the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday.

Please pray for the success of our continuing efforts at satisfying the great thirst among Catholics for the genuine music of our faith–and for experiencing the Roman Rite in its inalienable integrity.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Introducing "LiturgiCal"

Christopher Berardi, lead developer of the Sacred Music Project has just released an early beta of a new piece of software, LiturgiCal. Find more information here.

LiturgiCal will be the feature that drives the forthcoming Sacred Music Project web platform that will organize Public Domain and Creative Commons sacred music resources, scores, recordings, catechesis, and much more. LiturgiCal is a 0.1 beta release and additions will be made each day, possibly several times a day. Be sure to check back often as it develops. It is sure to be a very useful tool for Catholic musicians.

You could think of the new SMP platform as a sort of "liturgical CPDL", or a liturgy planning resource that organizes and makes available musical scores that are proper to or pertinent to a given liturgy. It is our hope to have a "complete parish resource" available in the form of a web resource in time for the implementation of the new translation of the Roman Missal. Look for a beta release this Fall.

Please use your imagination when considering this project. A vision has been put forth and a team effort has begun to move forward in realizing it. These are signs of early beginnings, but we have great hopes that this will soon become a resource that could provide to a parish everything that they need to run and organize a music program, and much more.

If you would like more information or if you would like to participate in some way please contact us.

It's "New Translation Thursday"

Liturgy geek that I am, I look forward every week to Jerry Galipeau's addition to his series called "New Translation Thursday." As far as I can tell, everyone is still in a period of waiting for the final translation and permission to go ahead and publish new musical settings for the Mass text. Jerry confirms this and offers a post exhibiting  admirable rhetorical restraint.

Looking for free audio books?

How about the Book of Wisdom, Douay? LibriVox is making thousands of audio books free to the world.

This can happen in any parish

Here is "a typical suburban parish" with a chant program that didn't exist several years ago. Now it thriving. They are singing the real propers of the Mass straight from liturgical books. If you think big, work hard, dedicate yourself to the task, this can happen. If, on the other hand, you settle for a weekly hymn roulette and just getting by, this will not happen. 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Super flumina Babylonis

My only regret about the Papal Mass at Westminister was the loss of the Gregorian offertory, which too often slips away from the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, probably because the text is not printed in the Missal for peculiar historical reasons. Nonetheless, the Offertory proper is just as much part of the Mass as the Introit or Communion chants. Specific reference is made to it in the GIRM actually. Even in the praxis of my own parish, the offertory is probably the last on the list of chants we learn, mainly because it is a lower priority from a pastoral point of view, and also because it tends to be more difficult and time consuming in rehearsal.

And yet, there are masterpieces here. This Sunday's offertory is an example. It is Super flumina Babylonis: Upon the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and we wept, as we remembered you, O Zion. The chant is incredibly evocative of the text. One has the sense that one is precisely where the chant describes, by waters, weeping, remembering. See the way the chant itself looks like what it describes. The singing of such phrases requires voices of practice fluidity and expression. The word accents play a special role here, intertwining with the musical phrase with dazzling complexity.

Here is a gorgeous rendition.

Colloquium Video on Canadian Television Tommorrow

Friday, September 24th, 2010 (8pm Eastern Time, 5pm Pacific Time, 7pm Central Time) on SALT & LIGHT TELEVISION

Msgr. Wadsworth of ICEL Attends Papal Mass

Here is an image of Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth at the Papal Mass at Westminster. He is the head of ICEL who delivered this fantastic speech in Atlanta only last month. He is second from the right in the red vestment, looking forward.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Papal Mass at Westminster

If you haven't watched the Papal Mass in Westminster Cathedral, I strongly urge you to do so some evening when you have time. This is the archived footage.

At long last, and the wait was very long, the world has seen an example of a magnificent Papal Mass, celebrated by the Pope Benedict XVI in the Westminster Cathedral, with glorious decorum, perfect music, and holy dignity all around. We have so long been used to other things that it seem to take a while to fully settle into the reality that this was truly a Papal Mass fully worthy to be written up in the history books as a model and ideal -- even in the ordinary form of the Mass and even before the Mass translation is upgraded this time next year.

ICEL's Music for the New Translation

If you do not have this page bookmarked, you must. Everything on this page will ascend in importance as time goes on. This is the core music of the forthcoming Missal, only a year away from becoming the only English Missal used in every parish in the English-speaking world.

Chant Training in Houston, October 21-23, 2010

I hope to see many readers in Houston, Texas, for a chant practicum, October 21-23, 2010, featuring the instruction of Scott Turkington, William Mahrt, Arlene Oost-Zinner, and Fr. Robert Pasley. This will be an unusual event, with groups divided by voice and level of advancement (no try outs; you can choose which is best for you). It will be held at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. Tuition is $165 for all sessions and materials. More information here.

Bartlett's Setting of the Gloria in English

Adam Bartlett of the Chant Cafe has composed a setting of the Gloria in English. I'm personally crazy for this. It is beautiful, bright, and very intuitive. I can easily imagine that this could become the standard setting for any parish. It is also free for you to use and copy.

Adam Bartlett Gloria from Corpus Christi Watershed on Vimeo.

A special thank you to Jeffrey Ostrowski of Watershed for the presentation.

That Winning NPM Mass Setting

You can see PDFs and hear a rehearsal of the Mass of Renewal here. If you had hopes that the new translation would inspire new ways of thinking about the structure and style liturgical music, you might be disappointed.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Simple Propers for the 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C

Download simple propers for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

The method for producing these simple propers is really beginning to come together. A team of diligent workers are putting together much of the source material for the project, but we need more hands. At least 75% of the time and effort that goes into producing this resource involves the compiling and formatting of texts. These tasks are what we need help with in order to put together a resource like this covering the entire liturgical year. The fruits of this labor will be available beyond this project–an online source for the singing of the psalms, with texts pointed, psalm verse designations for all proper antiphons, antiphon source texts, translations, incipits, scripture sources, and much much more.

If you see value in this project and can help in some way please contact us!

A Look at the Work of the Newman Library

The Practice of Open-Source Music

Two remarkable websites have opened up Gregorian chant as never before, in both the old and new forms.

The first is, a site that provides full access to all Gregorian chant propers with scores and recordings of these chants. It is designed for the ordinary form of the Mass. This is both the music, fully public domain, and masterful audio presentations of these. This surely must give chant a big boost in parishes.

The second site is It provides the chant, audio, organ score, and sometimes even video. Both sites cover the full Church year.

Here is an example of a video that presents the EF introit, which was the introit last week in the OF.

18th Sunday after Pentecost: Introit from Corpus Christi Watershed on Vimeo.

The full books from which these chants were derived are also available for free download at the Church Music Association of America ( What a lovely thing for technology to be used in service of the ancient liturgical arts.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Inspiration in Chant Workshops

Do you know how the Gregorian Chant revival got started and has taken hold? What means were used? Here is the key: the small parish workshop, just like this one covered in the local LaCrosse, Wisconsin press.

In the last five years, there might have been as many as one hundred or more of these around the country. Turkington has been the main teacher but there are many others. These have been supplemented by week-long training courses and colloquia. It's also been helped by hundreds of training resources online.

An art historian might look at this and wonder: which billionaire is bankrolling this movement to make this possible? Herein we find the miracle. There is no billionaire. There is almost no funding at all. There isn't even a paid staff working behind the scenes to coordinate any of this. Not a single full-time employee anywhere is dedicated solely to pushing this movement forward, as remarkable as that seems. Every one of these events has been funded at the local level, with small donations and very thin margins on tiny budgets. It's been a sacrifice for everyone at every step.

This is regrettable in many ways, and yet not other ways. The energy here comes entirely from the grass roots. It springs spontaneously from the people themselves and their passion for good liturgy and beautiful art. In a strange way, the model here finds a structural parallel with the 1960s folk music revival, though it is of course dedicated to different ends.

What's important is what this implies for the future. Movements funded by billionaires can evaporate in an instant. History provides many examples. Movements that spring from the people working where they are tend toward greater longevity because there is more integrity and authenticity at their roots.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Mass at Westminster with the Pope

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Turkington Does Wisconsin

A wonderful report on a chant workshop here.

Friday, September 17, 2010


Perhaps you noticed the addition of MusOpen to the sidebar. Here is an article explaining what this site is up to.

The World Since Summorum

Three years ago, Pope Benedict XVI issued Summorum Pontificum, a motu proprio that liberalized the older form of the Roman Rite that had been brutally suppressed in 1970. This suppression was accomplished not by legislative design but intimidation and pressure coming from every quarter. It took courage to resist that pressure and those who did paid a large price.

Strikingly, they were not the only ones who paid a price in those days. Priests who celebrated the reformed liturgy was attention to rubrics and with strict adherence to the words of the Second Vatican Council -- people like Msgr. Richard Schuler at St. Agnes -- also suffered derision and marginalization simply for using the Latin language and Gregorian chant. The atmosphere was so poisoned that even quoting the very documents of the Council was enough to get you labelled as a troublemaker.

Cardinal Newman on Music

It's the time to revisit this wonderful piece by Susan Treacy: Cardinal Newman on Music.

See also his introduction to Hymni Ecclesiae

You think your parish has politics?

Sandro Magister today offers a biting polemic against the appointment of Fr. Massimo Palombella, director of the Interuniversity Choir of Rome, as director of the Sistine Chapel choir. Magister, who is close to the former director Domenico Bartolucci (the director for life who was "tossed out in 1997") writes that "the quality of [Palombella's] conducting raises merciless criticism from many, including the one who taught him to no effect, Valentino Miserarchs Grau, president of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music, Bartolucci's successor as choirmaster of the basilica of Saint Mary Major, and another prominent interpreter of the Roman school of polyphony."

In Magister's telling, the appointment would be a disaster, and a far better choice would be to leave the current director in place. And is this because Palombella rejects Benedict's liturgical and musical aims? Apparently not, at least not from what I can tell from his wikipedia entry. He has extensive training in music and theology, and specializes in Roman polyphony - at least according to his public biographies.

Maybe Magister is right and maybe not. It is impossible to tell from this distance. But Magister's piece has the ring of a polemic that is more about internal politics than it is about music as such, at least from my reading.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Commercial Publishers vs. Retired Protestant Minister

Most of us Catholic musicians are familiar with the copyright policies of the major Catholic music publishers. We are told in copyright warnings, in annual reprint licenses, by the support staff of these publishers that we are absolutely not allowed, ever, to make a photocopy of a hymn from a published hymnal (without paying a licensing fee). The reason for this, it is said, is to protect the publisher's financial investment in the musical engraving of the hymn. It doesn't matter if this hymn, text, and harmonization have been in the public domain for 200 years. Even if only the engraving is all that the publisher can legitimately claim copyright on, this is enough to assess reprint licensing fees which often begin with a $20 base fee.

Well, it seems that the weighty "financial investment" that warrants these reprint licensing fees is somehow able to be avoided by individuals, such as a single retired protestant minister and organist who has put together

This website is not flashy, it is not perhaps meeting Web 2.0 standards of design, but it does currently contains 3260 public domain mp3 hymn recordings, 2270 free pdf hymn scores, 3110 hymn texts, and 610 downloadable midi files–all of a remarkably high quality. And did I mention that these are available for free download? That reprint licenses are not required?

So how is that a retired protestant minister can share freely with the world the best music of his tradition as a result of a personal project that amounts to not much more than a hobby, when for-profit corporations cannot afford to lose the return on their financial investment in the typesetting of a public domain hymn for one of their hymnals? Perhaps the reason is slowly becoming clearer.

I wonder how the world of Catholic liturgical music could be affected if a bunch of similarly devoted individuals pooled their time, energy and resources to produce something of a similar nature for Catholic liturgy?

10,000 people saw this live!

This video was seen by 10,000 people at the Qwest Center in Omaha on Saturday September 11th, as part of the event at which Fr. John Corapi was the key speaker. The event raised money for renovating St. Peter Catholic Church in Omaha and the video is a celebration of the parish.

What is the Best Second Mass Ordinary to Try?

Here is a letter that echos a question I often receive:

Let me begin by indicating how much I enjoy the Chant Café site. Thank you. The small collegiate Chapel where I attend Sunday Mass has a tradition, if that word is applicable to a practice that has only existed for a year, of singing the Mass Ordinary, with the exception of the Credo, congregationally to Gregorian chant. Currently we use: Kyrie xvi, Gloria in excelsis viii, Sanctus xviii, Agnus Dei xviii.

The director of the Chapel music is interested in learning a different set of chants, perhaps from a single one of the numbered settings. The plan is to sing the new chants until the beginning of Lent. Based on your experience, would you mind recommending a setting of the Ordinary for us to learn, one that would be a good second step on the road to a general familiarity with the Gregorian Ordinary repertoire? One that you feel is especially rewarding. The congregation has the Parish Book of Chants at their seats.

My own suggestion would be to replace them one by one, starting with Sanctus XIII. Kyrie XI, Gloria XV, and then Agnus XVII. I know this is a bit of mix and match but these are the ones that strike me as the best for transitional purposes.

What do others think?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

James MacMillan at Work

It is worth a few minutes to watch this fascinating interview with James MacMillan, the composer of the Mass with the Pope tomorrow in the UK. H/T Pray Tell

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

America Magazine Draws the Line

It was all too much for Jim McDermott, SJ

I swear, if you had told me that the choir’s water bottles had been dosed with amphetamines, it would have made perfect sense. Imagine the energy (and even more the naivete) of the Partridge Family or the Brady Bunch – actually yes, imagine the Brady Bunch singing "It's a Sunshine Day", but then instrumentalized for Vegas (i.e BIG). Everything extremely up tempo all throughout the Mass, choir members not only swaying but sort of dancing along at times, repeated calls to “clap along” and a soloist during the presentation of the gifts doing American Idol style trills. (Being in LA, I said a prayer that Simon Cowell might be in the congregation, and might an end to Miss “I want to be Mariah Carey but all I can really manage are the ‘trilling now’ hand gestures.” My prayer was not answered.)

It was not, as they say, a buena vista. Actually, it was a poster child for everything the organ and chant Catholics fear from the likes of me – jumbo jets of ALLELUIA, and very little “And let us pray”.

Simple Propers for the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C

As a continuation of our experiment in sacred music resource production here are a set of "simple propers" for this week:

Download simple propers for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

This work is the fruit of a collaboration between a host of Catholic musicians who have discerned a need in the Church for very simple settings of the propers, which are aimed at the current ordinary state of parish life. A team of volunteers is going to work on the compiling and formatting of source texts for this project and potentially many others, the collaborative effort can be followed by clicking on the links on the sidebar under "Open Source Projects".

Help is still needed! If you would like to contribute some of your time to the project, even if it is small please, email me.

As noted last week, we are experimenting with various approaches to the "simple propers" idea. What seems to be working well, as confirmed by feedback from parish musicians of many stripes, is an approach where two antiphon settings are offered: One in the ultra-simple form of a St. Meinrad Psalm Tone, and a second in the form of melodic formulas that seek to meld the nature of a psalm tone with certain features of through composed Gregorian antiphons. These formulas are being developed by the writer of this post under the guidance of Fr. Columba Kelly, a known master of English chant. The challenge in this approach is to find a melodic formula that will work consistenly with all of the textual variations that are found in the English language (compared to the greater consistencies found in Latin), all while remaining intuitive to the amateur singer.

Here are two formulas that were developed for this week (note: these may change still and are still in a process of refinement)

The first is a Mode 8 setting of this weeks offertory:

This formula draws some inspiration from the Mode 8 "solemn" Gregorian psalm tone", uses a 4-part structure, and is slightly more ornate in its intonations and terminations than the introit formulas that have been used thus far, which are of a similar nature. The goal here is to have a set of 8 formulas (one in each mode) for each genre (for the Introit, Offertory, and Communion--a total of 24 formulas). And the result, it is hoped, is that the formula is learned once by singers and thereafter the melody will be intuitively anticipated when it is used again and again.

The second example is a Mode 5 setting of this week's Communion:

The formula here is essentially taken from the Mode 5 Gregorian psalm tone, with enough variation to set it apart from it, with needed adaptations to work well with English texts.

Be sure to look a the rest of the chants and please share feedback! Our hope is to be able to share the fruits of this work two weeks in advance to make it easier for use in liturgy–for now we're doing the best we can!

There is still much help needed. If you would like to contribute some of your time to the project, even if it is small (no specialization needed) please email me.

Lutherans Sing Gregorian Chant

As sent in by Noel Jones. Meanwhile, many Catholics parishes are using Lutheran settings of Mass propers because they are beautiful and in English.

So much for suppressing the 1962 Missal

The greatest error of the liturgical reform of 1969/70 might not have been the flattened and linear structure or even the bad translation but the illiberal method that was used to impose it as against a stable Missal that had been in place for 500 years.

If the new Missal had been an option, something to be used to not based on parish preference, history would have turned out very differently. As it was, the use of force to overturn in a matter of months a ritual known by countless generations all over the world caused unprecedented devastation to the Catholic world, with people fleeing their parishes, priests and religious sisters leaving their vocations, and average people losing heart for the entire enterprise. It was a shocking and brutal act of ecclesiastical power, and surely one of the most un-pastoral events in Catholic history. We are still in recovery mode.

If the goal was to suppress the conciliar (and preconciliar) Mass, it didn't work. To me the failure of this generation's methods are best illustrated by this most wonderful iPad and iPhone application: iMass. It shows daily Mass (with a homily!) on your digital device. But even if you are not interested in watching the daily Mass on an Apple product, the application offers something that I personally find of great value: it provides the text of the daily Mass with all prayers including daily propers (according to the old calendar of course).

I think we can probably say that the exposure of the world to the Tridentine form has never been more universal than it is today. Let this be a lesson to anyone who would be tempted by the belief that force is a more effective tool than persuasion to bring about reform!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Vivaldi's Gloria like you have never heard it

Let's Just Say It: The New Translation is Vastly Better

What you will not likely hear from ICEL and the USCCB is something terribly obvious: the forthcoming translation is a vast improvement on the old. There are reasons why you won't hear this. No one in an official position wants to be seen as putting down the translation that has been in place for forty years.

In fact, the truth is so shocking that hardly anyone wants to utter it: the existing translation is hardly deserving of the name. It is more like a loose paraphrase that embeds the theological and liturgical agenda of one generation (think 1970!) and its departures from the Latin are so extensive and so egregious that the truth discredits those involved in making it happen.

This is a very painful reality, so painful that one has to give credit to everyone who was involved in effectively admitting the error and moving forward to the new one. We all know that it is hard to say "Ok, I was wrong," and it is even harder for institutions to do this. For this reason, we can expect that the USCCB will do its best to treat this the way a software company treats the rollout of its version 2.0: "even better than than version 1.0 that you already loved!" Of course everyone knows otherwise.

In some ways, then, this new translation is a miracle, even if it had to be more-or-less forced by Rome. It is to the great credit of both ICEL and the USCCB that they made the turn around and did the right thing. Yes, the casualties of the past 40 years are immense. It is frightening to think of them. It is best to just look forward to new day, which will be here before we know it.

If you are interested in reviewing all the details, see Fr. U.M. Lang's article in the new Adoremus Bulletin. If you don't know what is wrong with the current translation and why the new one is an obvious improvement, this is a piece for you. It is marvelous.

One of my favorite passages:
In the older version, there is a remarkable tendency to leave out certain qualifying adjectives: beatae passionis is rendered as “His passion” (new: “the blessed Passion”), in caelos gloriosae ascensionis as “His ascension into glory” (new: “the glorious Ascension into heaven”), plebs tua sancta as “your people” (new: “your holy people”) and Panem sanctum vitae aeternae as “the bread of life” (new: “the holy Bread of eternal life”).
An amusing sidelight is that the new translation will immediately date and make irrelevant 40 years of attacks on the "Novus Ordo" by traditionalists who think along the lines of crackpots at The Remnant (and its now affiliated magazine Latin Mass). If you look carefully at their often-valid criticisms, they are very much bound up, not with the normative edition of the Mass, but with its unfortunate translation to English. If nothing else, this will require the traditionalists to make stronger and more robust arguments than they've been accustomed to making all these decades.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Anglican Use Gradual to the Rescue

I'm in frequent correspondence with parish music directors who are doing their best to move us from an age of pop songs to an age of Mass propers, with greater solemnity, dignity, and stylistic integrity. One resource keeps being mentioned again and again: the Anglican Use Gradual.

It really is a marvelous resource for directors who face constant pressure of preparing chants for the Mass. For them, one Gregorian chant per week is as much as their choirs can handle, so for offertory chants and entrances, there needs to be a resource available to provide dignified music in a pinch.

Adam Bartlett and his team are working hard to put together a plainsong Gradual for the year. Others are working on similar projects, including Fr. Samuel Weber. I feel sure that we are going to see an outpouring of these over the next few years - and it is long past time for this to happen.

In the meantime, it makes sense to have the AUG on your shelf. The book is easily criticized for its repetitive modes and patterns. But, to me, that's not quite the point: these are not to be used for every proper, every week. They work best for occasional use. When you need them, they are there. Even if you use it only once every two weeks or once per month, it serves its purpose.

The additional issue concerns the language, which is not modern. I don't really have a problem with that at all, and I actually like it simply for the reason that liturgical language should be more elevated that casual speech. It's primary purpose is not communicative cognition. Even so, I grant that it can be a bit obscure at times.

I doubt many people prepared the Moses offertory this week. In this case, it works really well to do this piece alternating cantor and choir.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Musicians Ask for Help

See the petition to the Holy Father.

The New Generation of Directors of Music

There is a wonderful story in the Chicago Catholic newspaper about a young director of music who was inspired his chosen path by attending the Sacred Music Colloquium of the CMAA. Jacob Bancks is highly trained, an expert composer and all-round musician who is working in a real-world environment to move the parish toward ever more solemnity and reverence.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Freedom through Statute: Tu Mandasti

Next weekend's communion chant for the 25th Sunday of the Year is Tu Mandasti, and we worked on it last night in our schola rehearsal. I just have to confess that it is one of my absolute favorites, and for two reasons.

First, the chant is about how we've been commanded to keep God's commandments, which you might think would yield a chant that is solemn and stern, since we are being told about law.

But look: the chant is in mode 5, a major mode, a joyful mode, a mode that evokes a sort of carefree celebration of life. Why? Why did the monks choose a happy mode in which to set this text from Psalm 118? Well, if you know monks, you know that they are the happiest of people, quick to laugh and light in their demeanor. It must have always been that way. What liberates them from the cares of the world? The law of God, the order of their day, the rule.

The rule and the guidelines is what grants the sense of freedom: one of the greatest paradoxes of the Christian life. It is something we can all enjoy provided we cling to the rule. The law is what gives us freedom. Here it is in song.

Second, look at the second half. "That I might be firm in the ways of keeping your statutes." Now look at the way the notes are arranged on the last line. It looks like a path, doesn't it? It sounds like a path, the way you might arrange stones in your backyard, one stone this way, another one that way. It covers very little ground side to side (see the repeated use of the la te figure) but the motion is always forward, in a way that is comfortable to walk on, one foot in front of the other, sometimes almost as if skipping with glee. Here is the musical path, all the way to the end.

Wonderful, isn't it? You can say that this is my wild imagination at work, but once you see it and hear it can you forget it?

Here is a hard copy. And here is a book of communion antiphons with Psalms.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

NOLA Chant Intensive- don't forget the "intensive."

I am, among other things, "Charles in CenCA." A few folk know or remember that despite being born in a laconic little town in the middle of California in 1951 I was raised in Oakland, California.

Yes, that OAKLAND. Oakland formed me, mothered me, made me, made me CATHOLIC. Oakland is, to me, the New Orleans of California minus Mardi Gras, the French Quarter, the mystique, a recent football championship, and natural and man-made disasters (unless murdering one's neighbors is factored in.)
Wendy and I have the SAINTS/VIKINGS game on. We've only visited NOLA once, a month before Katrina. It was lovely, lovely like Jack London Square in Oakland only a whole city. A month later, NOLA was 9/11 all over again. But, like Pogo, it took a while to recognize that the aggravating enemy wasn't trained terrorist pilots, but the enemy was "US."

 New Orleans has weighed upon my mind, and I suspect most of our minds, for these last five years. I'm happy for the Saints and the saints. I have wanted to return and take the trolley to Treme and the Ninth Ward. I don't even know if the trolley goes there.

When AOZ posted that the Chant Intensive would be held in NOLA this January, I didn't have a moment to share that info with my better half. We were in the midst of effecting the first Solemn Vespers (Sept.8, Nativity of the BVM) at our parish in at least 40 years. But, when I told Wendy tonight about the Intensive, she decided she had to attend. My beloved wife, lyric soprano who is gifted with a voice beyond measure, wants the torture (kidding) of the Turk for twelve hours a day in NEW ORLEANS! We'll be there. I may be the director/composer of the family, but she is the voice and the accountant! She scored a 94 on an insane, one day Notary exam in the "state" that is known as California. This opera woman wants to freakin' chant. Got it?

But I've done an intensive. I've jokingly, haltingly recalled it as akin to doing another Masters. It wasn't easy for me. Fifty brains in the room, mine the smallest! But I have the "diploma" on my office wall, it meant that much to me. So, I'll accompany my crusading wife, but I'll go to New Orleans with another attitude. The first time was Pre-Katrina; second will be post-Katrina/BP.

There's been a lot in the media five years after Katrina, and the summer of unending oil. I don't know what to expect of me as I accompany my wife to NOLA this January. But I have to see and feel that what CMAA represents with the Intensive resonates in concert with our Matthew 25 mandatum.

There is little surety in this musing. But, there must be a tangible, visceral connection with G's slogan, "Save the Liturgy, Save the world," that is represented by the trials New Orleans has endured in this new century. And I hope to find it.

Sorrowful is my soul even unto death.

Sheet music here (SATTB)

Sorrowful is my soul even unto death.
Stay here, and watch with me.
Now you shall see the mob that will surround me.
You shall take flight, and I shall go to be sacrificed for you.
The time draws near,
and the son of man shall be delivered.

 Tristis est anima mea usque ad mortem:
sustinete hic et vigilate mecum.
Nunc videbitis turbam quæ circumdabit me.
Vos fugam capietis, et ego vadam immolari pro vobis.
Ecce appropinquat hora, et Filius hominis
tradetur in manus peccatorum.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Fr. Weber's Simple Ordinary for the New Texts

They are excellent chants. You can download them and use them in your parish at no charge, making copies at will. You need only to send a note to Fr. Weber's email, printed on the paper. In my own view, these should be in the Missal itself.

That Stuttering Moses

The first phrase repeats in this weekend's Offertory chant. Fr. Kirby comments:

Moses’ compelling prayer became one of the most poignant Offertory Antiphons of the Mass: Precatus est Moyses in conspectu Domini Dei sui. “And Moses besought the Lord his God” (Ex 32:11). Listen to a recording of the piece or sing it through for yourself if you have time today. Do it as lectio divina. All the intensity of Moses’ prayer passes into the melody. Listening to it, one has the impression of being right there next to Moses, face to face with God on Mount Sinai. In the prayer of Moses one hears already the accents of the prayer of Jesus crucified to the Father: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).

Upcoming Events Announcement

Many have asked...

Winter Chant Intensive: January 3-7, 2011; New Orleans, LA. Details and registration information forthcoming.

Sacred Music Colloquium XXI: June 13-19, 2011; Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA. Details and registration information forthcoming.

Simple Propers for the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C

As promised, here is another experimental set of "Simple English Propers" that are aimed at the average parish situation.

Download simple propers for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.

The processes in use here were described in great detail last week. The same processes were applied to this weeks proper texts. Antiphon translations are taken from the Gregorian Missal, and psalm verses are taken from Douay Rheims, although slightly modified to reflect a more modern English.

We at the Chant Café would love to see a conversation about these settings spring up in the comment box. As I said before, these are "experimental", and there is nothing that can advance an experiment like review and critique. Please don't be shy. No one's feelings will be hurt. We really want feedback from all walks. Many of the more "expert" opinions have already been discerned, but feedback from people who are considering the needs of their parishes who don't sing the propers at all would be most valuable!

Music directors and schola directors–Ask yourself: "What would I do if I found myself in a parish that didn't know what propers were, and had no exposure to chant in any form, whatsoever." How would you bring them along? What would you recommend to a parish musician across town that would like to begin singing the propers at Mass? With no experience in chant, with virtually nothing but a humble interest? Where would suggest they start?

This is the sort of need that this project is seeking to address. Please share your thoughts, especially while we're still in "experimental mode"!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

New Shipment from Paraclete

They usually don't last long.

The Latin Mass and a Great Hat

Thanks to the Fr. Hermeneutician for this wonder clip from Christmas Holiday (1944), based on a novel by Somerset Maugham. If they had asked me, I would have suggested saving the carol for the social after Mass :)

Are you drawn in?

Some of you will remember Fr. Cizcek from the Colloquium. Look at this:

What is going to strike most of us is the choice of music in this video. I was puzzled at first. I am liking it more and more and here's why: This is a video. It is a popular medium. It is not the Mass itself. If it were Mass, I don't think Father would have allowed this pop, Euro sound. Coupling this music with beautiful shots of the priest, his actions, and the altar is startling and edgy and exciting. That's what videos are supposed to be.

What do you think?

Chant Settings of the 2010 Order of Mass from Fr. Kelly

Fr. Columba Kelly, OSB, has offered a selection chants for the revised Order of Mass in the new English Translation. These are settings that differ from those that will be found in the forthcoming Roman Missal, but are offered as a supplement to those chants, or perhaps as alternatives. Of particular interest are English settings of Gloria X, Credo I, and Sanctus XV. Find them at the Sacred Music Project.
"Francis Cardinal George, President of the USCCB, has recently announced that the new Missal translations will be implemented for liturgical use on the First Sunday of Advent, 2011. Therefore, the new texts are not yet approved to be used in Mass–not until November 27th, 2011. In the mean time, the task at hand is catechesis and preparation for the use of the new texts.

Fr. Kelly’s settings of the Order of Mass are provided here in modern notation, according to the convention found in the forthcoming Missal. We hope to soon offer them also in chant notation."
You can download these settings in modern chant notation here.

Catholics and Nationalism

The National Catholic Reporter runs a puffy review of a recent conference held in Trent: "Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church: In the Currents of History: From Trent to the Future." The article goes on to explain how speaker after speaker condemned the national impulse in Catholicism and how we need to change that in light of the new demographics of Catholicism.

At the start of the 20th century, there were 266 million Catholics in the world, most in Europe and North America. Today there are 1.1 billion, with two-thirds living the global South. This means...."greater attentiveness to diversity of all sorts in the Church" - which in turns means...something or other.

These articles (this is one of thousands along the same lines that appear in "progressive" circles) confuse me in so many ways. Nationalism is indeed a terrible problem for Catholics. We are not and have never been about the nation-state. Our universalism has always defined us. It has been a source of our growth, a characteristic that sets us apart in an age of nationalism. We've never had anything to do with nationalism, and this has gotten us in deep trouble in every country, especially in the U.S. where we were subjected to appalling violence in the 19th century. Our loyalty was questioned throughout the 20th century. Especially in wartime (worlds wars one and two), Catholics were treated as traitors to the state and its mission.

But we must ask ourselves what forces have been at work that have given rise to nationalism within Catholic circles in our own times?. The two most obvious changes that have done so are: 1) the power of national conferences, which was dramatically enhanced by the Second Vatican Council, and 2) the change in the primary language of liturgy following the Council, from Latin to the vernacular.

The second force is decisive here: there are schools of thought that establish a near identity between nation and language. Taking away Latin was devastating for the cause of universalism. The first issue of national conferences gave rise to a Catholic political identity within the Church, one so intense that there are even Bishops who imagine themselves to be shepherds of something called the "American Catholic Church" rather than a universal one.

So I have no problem with seminars that seek to address the problem of nationalism. What I do not understand is why these seminars seem to avoid the obvious solution, which is not to go on endlessly about the merits of diversity but to restore Latin as the primary language of liturgy and to reduce the national power of the conferences to establish national identities that fracture the universal Catholic identity. These are changes that many Catholics in the "global South" would cheer! In fact, these very regions were among the most skeptical of vernacularization in the 1960s - and that is a well-documented fact.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Kyriale in English

I'm excited to send this little treasure (1933) off to the scanner. Look for liberation soon.

Correction: It looks like this work is still under copyright protection, set to expire in 2028, simply because it was renewed in 1961 according to this database. I've seen this so many times: a family member thinks he or she is doing a good thing by renewing but it ends up killing the work. Most people would just bail out of the project at this point. However, I suspect that the work might be available with permission. I suspect that this institution has something to do with rights management, so I'm contacting them.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Why am I So “Into” the Extraordinary Form of the Mass?

I was having a delightful meal recently with a bishop whom I love and respect as a father, and who has been extraordinarily kind to me. My personal policy never to even mention the extraordinary form of the Mass at the dinner table was circumvented by one of my brother priests whom I also esteem as a friend and colleague. “So what do you think of the Tridentine Mass, Bishop?” Sweat began to form on my brow as my stomach churned and the previously delectable filet mignon on my plate suddenly revolted me. “Not again,” I said to myself as I began to drown out what I knew would be an deluge of verbiage against the Missal of Pius V/John XXIII by reciting the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar from memory.

It is a scene which has happened to me many a time, and which is very familiar to young priests all over the world. All of a sudden, I was no longer just one priest among others. I was a marked man. I had committed the not very original sin of being one of “those priests,” the kind who celebrated the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. I was an enigma to the many friends I had made in the communities who enjoy exclusive use of the pre-conciliar liturgical books, who could not fathom how I could wake up every morning and say the detestable Novus Ordo, aka Nervous Disorder. And I was a mystery to my brother priests and even some of my parishioners who couldn’t square the man they knew as their friend, who seemed so jovial, fun-loving and open-minded, with a liturgy which was caricatured by many as the hobbyhorse of the Chosen Frozen, the Walking Wounded, the Integristes, and the Rigid Frigid.

Why? is the question that so many Catholics in pews and rectories all over the world have on their lips after Summorum pontificum unshackled a particular historical form of the Roman rite to work its magic (or wreak havoc, depending on your point of view) on the Church. And it is not an unimportant question.

The Importance of Public Manifestations of Faith

Except for a few ethnic enclaves in the big cities, English-speaking Catholics are not used to public manifestations of their faith. The history of Catholicism in the Anglo world, persecuted and controversial, led many Catholics to be uncomfortable with what are often derided as “Latin” customs such as processions through the streets of statues, relics and images. Many Catholics of English and Irish heritage saw their faith in terms of the Mass, which was what was most virulently attacked by the Protestants. All of that other “stuff” was window dressing or frippery and foppery of various forms.

One thinks of the contrast between those two great figures of English Catholicism, John Henry Newman, whose faith was marked by intellectual orthodoxy and English understatement, and Frederick Faber, whose enthusiasm for Italian Baroque devotions led him to call the Virgin Mary Mamma from the pulpit in such a way that surely raised the frissance of his compatriots. Newman, like many English-speaking Catholics today, preferred sound preaching, rubrically correct liturgy, and orthodox teaching to what seemed like an overwrought emotionalism innate in Romance-speaking Catholic cultures.

This anti-devotional and anti-processional mentality has been aggravated in the last century by several factors.

Friday, September 3, 2010

So long as we are bailing out of dated translations

Here is a Wisconsin monk who would like to see the New American Bible retired and replaced. Hear hear!

His article really is hilarious:

In Hebrew, this passage is one of scripture’s most complex pieces of poetry. In the King James, it is one of the best-known texts in the English-speaking world. In the text which most American Catholics hear each week at Mass, the creation story sounds a bit like a set of IKEA instructions.

Chant with Guitar, and the contemporary style

We've been talking recently about instruments at Mass, what is preferred and what is ideal and what is permitted. This subject is inseparable from the issue of style, since every instrument carries with cultural associations. With contemporary styles - pop music really - pervasive in liturgy today, it is very possible that the pathway to purely vocal chant, sung with decorum and discipline, might lead through the styles of contemporary music.

I've heard several people make this claim, and I can't entirely discount it, though it is not an issue we struggle with in our own parish. The current situation is probably an unprecedented in Church history, so the pathway toward the pure music of the Church could take some unpredictable directions.

One blog that is struggling with these difficulties, transitioning from one approach to another, is, which has a forum, a store, and a podcast as well. The blogger here is working his way toward chant, and below is an example of some of what he is doing in earnest.

My own reaction in listening to this is to imagine how his vocal inflections might change if the guitar were to be removed altogether. For my own part, I associate these vocal inflections with a degree of egoism that is certainly not intended. As Mary Jane Ballou is fond of saying, less is more and simple is often just better.

In any case, you will find this instructive.

Earnest Commentary about Chant from an Evangelical

I found this commentary interesting as a window into how an evangelical might think about Gregorian chant. To most Catholics, this commentary will seem silly or naive or historically inaccurate, but, as I say, it is helpful to understand how other faith traditions regard this music.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Joy of Chant

Ave Herald:

Ask a kid what's fun to do and it's unlikely you'll get the answer, "Learning Gregorian chant." But about 40 kids in Ave Maria are having a ball learning to sing the medieval liturgical music.

They're doing it using a type of instruction called the Ward Method, which uses exercises and fun to learn music.

At their first practice Wednesday night in the choir loft of the Ave Maria Oratory, it was hard to tell who was having more fun - the kids or their teacher, Jennifer Donelson, who energetically worked the children through a program of both physical and musical exercises to develop their sense of pitch and rhythm.

Dr. Donelson is so enthusiastic about the class that to do it, she's driving once a week across the Florida panhandle from her home near Ft. Lauderdale, where she teaches music at Nova Southeastern University.

Read the article in the Ave Herald


For years, this has been my top favorite Byrd Motet. Here is another performance online.

I'm just not that into chant

Here is a question I was asked this morning:

What if the people (even the clergy) find the chant distracting or boring; then it serves no real liturgical purpose at all.  Chant in this case is not achieving the prime aim the Church has asked of liturgical music - "its proper aim is to add greater efficacy to the text, in order that through it the faithful may be the more easily moved to devotion and better disposed for the reception of the fruits of grace belonging to the celebration of the most holy mysteries"

This critique of chant could also be made of the entire Divine Office and the Mass too. What if prayers they don't move a particular people to devotion? What if a group says that this arrangement of set prayers do not dispose them better toward the sacraments? For that matter, what if someone says that the sacraments aren't so great either? Many people do not like prayer either. Should we consider getting rid of them too? In this case, the entire religion becomes shaped by the community's subjective preferences.

The liturgy knows something that the complainers may not know. No everyone is prepared to appreciate what the Church has to offer in any aspect of its belief and practices. In that case, what is needed is conversion and formation. The primacy of form in the liturgy is wiser than any critic. The suggestion that the liturgy better prepares people presumes that people are properly formed to accept that preparation.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Simple Propers for the 23nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C

Last week the Chant Café began an Experiment in Sacred Music Resource Production with an aim toward the singing of propers. There has been quite a response so far to this call for an open source effort that has the potential to create something "bigger than the sum of its parts" and to perhaps assist in bringing the singing of the proper texts of the Mass into the liturgical celebrations of ordinary parishes.

Click here to download simple settings of the proper for the Twenty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time.

We are calling this an "experiment" for many reasons. One reason is that we are taking a very non-conventional approach to the creation of liturgical music resources–a team of committed voluteers are busy working, at this very moment, on a database of liturgical source texts for the singing of the the Introit, Offertory and Communion chants. (There is still room for more to join in the effort!)

The second reason why this is an "experiment" is because we are not quite sure what the best solution will be for the parish that is beginning to sing propers for the first time.

Last week we posted some sample settings of the precessional propers for the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time.

This week we have a new batch of samples that we would like to present, and we invite you to take a look at them, sing through them, even sing them in this weekend's liturgy, email them to friends, and, most importantly, share some feedback here in the comment box on what you think of them.

If you are in a parish that sings more elaborate musical settings of the Mass proper, even the Gregorian propers, fantastic! But think of the parish down the road that sings four hymns or songs out of the Gather Book, or the Music Issue–Would any of these settings of the proper be a practical solution for them if they were to sing this weekend's communion antiphon? Maybe you could email them this PDF file and see what they think. Maybe they'll give it a shot this weekend.

Here's a quick look at a few of the samples that we put together this week:

First we have a few simple Gregorian psalm tones. Fortunately the English texts this week have mostly Latin-esque terminations. This makes for easy use of the Gregorian tones. When the ends of lines end with words like "God" or "Lord" (i.e. the final syllable carries a hard accent, which is likely 75% of the time in English) then using the Gregorian tones effectively becomes much more tricky. Still this could be a very practical way for parishes to begin singing the propers in a way that is deeply rooted in the Gregorian tradition.

Next we have a few English antiphons using Gregorian "solemn tones".

Kyrie in 1904

IdleSpeculations offers a tribute to Msgr. Perosi, the director of the Sistine Chapel choir back in the day when Pope Pius X issued his Motu Proprio on sacred music. As part of the post, which has some wonderful material, we are given a link to a 1904 recording of Kyrie VIII - not very artful singing but consider the technology - this is not a live space - and perhaps but styles change over time. It is a very interesting audio file - here is a direct link.

A Case for the Voice Alone

Quite often people send me queries about what instruments are permitted and what instruments are forbidden at Mass. This is the way the message begins but then there is often a followup, usually concerning a specific (sad) situation that has come up in a parish or seminary setting. The organ is neglected as the piano is brought front and center. Or a new guitar player is permitted to do his thing during Mass.

These are often cries of desperation, stemming from an intuition that something is going wrong and surely there must be some rules governing this situation, something to cite to say no. It is not always about trying to push music in a more traditional direction. In one case this past year, a leader of a praise team found herself annoyed that a bongoist insisted on joining the group but she didn't want him. She hoped for some legislation that would disallow bongos but permit extended soloing on praise music with piano accompaniment. I could cite no such legislation.

The situation just isn't that simple. It isn't just a matter of placing all instruments in the category of "permitted" or "forbidden." Church legislation is pretty clear that the organ is favored, occupying an exalted place among liturgical instruments. But current legislation does not ban other instruments. Most anything is permitted as a technical matter, but the problem with this focus is that it hones in on the letter rather than the spirit.

I won't comment on the possibilities for the bongos - I seriously doubt that there are any - but I can imagine situations in which the guitar would actually be an improvement on the piano. Now, to be sure, I'm devoted to the piano as a solo instrument. But it is a percussion instrument, with hammers that hit keys, and this sound alone cuts against the style of sacred music which is always toward a constant upward elevation, as modeled by the style of plainsong. Our cultural associations with the piano range from dramatic symphonic settings to lounge environments; liturgy is not really part of that association. While the guitar might have an improved sound over the piano, it too has cultural associations that do not make it a natural partner with the liturgical sound.

There is a strong case for the organ but my own preference is to use it as a solo instrument. This is when its voice is most beautiful and expressive. It is a waste of a great instrument, and a competent musician's talents, to turn the organ into nothing but a instrument to accompany voices, whether the chant or congregational singing. I'm completely unconvinced by the cliche that the organ helps people in the pews sing better; I've experienced the opposite too many times.

Here is what I do not understand about all of these discussions: why is it that people so rarely consider that the human voice alone is the proper and ideal liturgical instrument? I really think that people have a fear of singing without instruments. They believe that it cannot be done without some external thing to give them the notes, rhythm, and groove. This is the first and greatest mistake that takes place within all these discussions of what instruments are permitted at Mass.

One thousand years of Christian song took place without instruments, so far as anyone can tell, and the organ itself had to earn for itself the right and opportunity to be heard alongside that primary instrument of the human voice. We need more of that: voices alone. Only the human voice can bring together those two necessary things at once: the text and the notes. Too often it is not even considered an option.