Friday, December 31, 2010

It Didn't Turn Out that Way, Did it?

I’m reading the 1976 issue of Pastoral Music, then a brand-new magazine devoted to ushering in a new dawn for Catholic music, sweeping away the old and bringing in the new age of participation, fresh sounds, and excellence.

This first issue appeared not long after the old publishers of the preconciliar era went belly up, the old conductors and directors were toppled from their posts, the parish collections of the Liber Usualis were hurled into the dumpster, organs were mothballed, and dinosaurs who liked Palestrina and Gregorian chant were declared extinct.

Now and in the future, said the editor Pastoral Music on page one, “the musician will be concerned with increasing repertoire, improving technical skills, evaluating and upgrading the total music life of the parish.”

In the bad old days, wrote Edward Murray, Mass was “a static ritual observance. There were some blanks to be filled in, like the name of the deceased at a funeral or the name of the current pope or local ordinary. But, basically, Mass could be ‘said’ like some lines of a play at a side altar with no one there but the priest.” Now, “the music will be worked into and around the ideas of the group: their visuals, their dance, their prayers, processions and meditations. The task of the music minister is to be true to the faith meaning discerned by the group.”

Another writer in this issue, James M. Burns, bemoaned the old days when Church music “was locked into a theology that stressed the transcendence of God... Today, however, with existential theology and philosophy being the intellectual ground for many of the scholars in the Church, a tendency to reduce the transcendental aspect of worship to a more ‘realistic’ concept has appeared. The stress is on the human, the real, the ‘non-God-talk’ approach.”

This is fantastic, he wrote, because the old way “was a veritable dead-end street in terms of artistic development” whereas in the new way “new and inventive planning are manifold, and the truly inquisitive spirit of the church musician has a larger sweep today than ever before.”

Another writer, Stephen Rosolack, celebrated the dawning of the new age for musicians. “The great strength of a musician at the present time may be to recognize that he is involved in all of the styles, but still free to develop personal excellence within a community in the style that he loves the most. The quality of our work will convince our people that we care for them as well as ourselves.”

Lewis McAllister, music director at Mount Saint Mary’s, was just wild with excitement at what the changes swept in. “We are faced, then, with what must surely be the greatest offering of music in the history of the church, and most of it within easy listening access through performances on recordings! Such an opportunity!”

Another editorial said: “The quality of music in our assemblies is the great priority among the reforms. Many people are talking about it; and many are translating their talk into the work of searching, studying and sharing.” Still another imagined that the new dawn affords “the opportunity for enlightened courageous leadership to lay the groundwork for musical skill.”

So on it goes, on page after page, and this is just one issue. The spirit, the anticipation, the optimism, is pervasive, the sense that by wiping out the old and ushering in the new, we would experience a new renaissance of musical quality, competence, and enlightenment across the land. The themes are repeated in nearly every article.

Whatever problems exist in the music program at the parish are due to the atrophied ritual of the past, the stultifying air created by tradition and its supporters, while the guitar-strumming youth will bring a new passion and energy that will end in new heights of musical accomplishment and vigor.

(Not that the magazine didn’t draw attention to what it regarded as the most serious problem: “the present copyright laws are being flagrantly violated by many, many parishes in the United States is a scandal,” wrote the president of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians. This is “to the detriment of good liturgy and good music”)

I revisit this history here for some context to evaluate the present moment. No knowledgeable Catholic today can read the above without a sense of bemusement and incredulity. In the future, thanks to the revolution, there will be new quality, excellence, skill, accomplishment, and vigor? It didn’t quite pan out that way, did it?

I can recall the first time that I walked into a Catholic parish and looked at the music resources. Having an education in music history, I was aware of the patrimony: the greatest choral and organ works ever produced, plus 15 centuries of glorious chant. What I found instead was a floppy missallete on news print with a bunch of pop-like songs. There weren’t even scored parts for singing. It was all in unison. The group that led the singing had less musical ability than the average member of a high school marching band.

Sadly, as I later discovered, this was not an exception but the norm. In musical terms, the Catholic Church was a windswept house. The serious people had evidently given up, fleeing to other worship communities or just deciding that Church was just too much trouble.

When I finally decided to start a choir, I will never forget what a soprano I was trying to recruit said to me. It ran into her in the grocery store and asked her to join, assuring her that we were doing quality music. “I’ve been there and done that, she said. “As soon as you get something of quality going, your group will be pushed aside to make room for the Willy and the Poor Boys.” Ouch!

You don’t have to take my word for it. David Haas, a leading composer in the Catholic world today, a man who struggles to provide marketable music in today’s parish environment, has provided one of the most despairing commentaries on the state of Catholic music that I’ve ever read. He was commenting casually on the prospects for Simple English Propers project of Adam Bartlett, the CMAA, and the Chant Cafe. Even though they are formulas and plainchant, he judged them too difficult.

“I certainly am happy that the amateur choir at your parish is capable of this,” he wrote concerning Adam’s success with his own choir. “I am certain however, that much of its success has to do with your leadership, and your competence in this genre. I am thinking of the average choir director who comes to many workshops that I present, volunteer, not a great musical background, can sometimes barely stumble through “Holy, God We Praise Thy Name.” I see very little possibility of her, and many others in a similar situation being able to even read the chant notation that you provide, let alone present in a way that would be pleasing at all, let alone possible for this assembly to join in.”

So there we have it. The exuberance of 1976 has led us to 2010, a time when a man who is probably more knowledgeable about the nation’s parish choirs than any living musician, says that the average choir director can barely stumble through the most famous Catholic hymn in the English speaking world.

I cannot say whether his judgment is correct here. But I will say this. The right way to address the problem is not by continuing to “meet people where they are” but rather must begin by inspiring them to be more than they are. That is impossible without ideal musical models in mind. I don’t mean abstractions like “arouse the community into a new awareness” or something like that. I mean exactly what the Second Vatican Council said: the Mass itself should be sung with Gregorian chant having first place. It is this chant tradition that is our treasure, the most beautiful gift that Catholic musicians have been given to preserve and make ever more beautiful.

The musical experiment of the 1970s and following threw out the archetype of liturgical music, brutally drove out those who believed that and strove to reached those ideals. It was an experiment that has failed and miserably so, even by the standards that its champions laid out in the 1970s.

If I were to describe the music situation in the average parish today, I would use language very similar to how these writers from Pastoral Music described the preconciliar world: static, uninspired, lacking in competence. It is ritual observance: pick four songs from the Missallete, and, if in doubt, sing the Mass of Creation. That’s about it. Change will not happen by continuing to cater to this level. That only creates the race to the bottom that we’ve seen in operation now for decades.

A new era for Catholic music will require the cultivation of serious choirs that have an important role beyond merely leading the congregation. It will require attracting real talent and inspiring existing singers to upgrade their abilities and challenge themselves to be willing to change. It will require that excellence is newly valued. There will need to be a new dedication to training. There must be stability in the parish music program, guarded over by pastors who are dedicated to solemnity and excellence. And there must be new resources such at the Simple English Propers that make it possible for choirs to take their jobs seriously, contributing in a real sense to ennobling the Catholic liturgy.

I’m so grateful to be living now, especially with a chance for a new beginning in Advent of 2011, with the new Missal translation and a new generation that is not naive and not caught up in the goal of banishing transcendence but rather understands the sacred music ideal and is working toward going as far as possible toward realizing that ideal in our times.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Interview in the National Catholic Register

Special thanks to the NCReg and Trent Beattie who seems to have put all this together, but I'm pretty pleased with the interview that appears in this paper this week and also online: Singing the Mass.

I'm talking up the Simple English Propers and chant generally here, and discussing the new Missal among other things. They had lots of biographical questions too. I've emailed the editor to make sure they change my title from editor of Sacred Music to managing editor. The editor is William Mahrt and is responsible for its consistent high quality and excellence.

In any case, an excerpt:

Of course my fascination with it began as purely artistic, but when I realized that there was a reason for its structure and sound, my appreciation grew. I realized that it is all a form of prayer, and the musical structure amounts to an attempt by mortals to touch a realm of immortality. It was all an attempt to somehow capture and characterize what the ancients called the “music of the spheres,” which is something like a heavenly sound that might be worthy to be presented by angels at the throne of God. The composers and the tradition heard something true and beautiful and the liturgy absorbed it as its own.

It goes without saying that secular music doesn’t attempt this at all. It is designed to flatter the performers, indulge the composers, entertain the audience, or whatever. There is a place for this approach in the culture at large, but sacred music has a different purpose. To me, to begin to understand liturgical music is to realize this central point that appears in Christian writings from the earliest age: There is a difference between sacred and profane. Many people deny this today, which just amazes me. I consider it so axiomatic that it is not worth debating, only explaining.

Why do people deny it? It has something to do with an embedded agnosticism born of deconstructionist thinking. There is no intrinsic meaning in anything, this view says, so how can we really make such distinctions between what is sacred and what is not?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Unfinished Vespers of 1170


A fascinating note from Jeffrey Morse:

Some years back, Mary Berry released a brilliant recording of the "Unfinished Vespers of 1170" on the Herald label, contemporary witnesses relating that it was during the singing of Vespers (Christmas Octave Vespers) when Thomas of Canterbury (Beckett) was martyred.  The monastic office is sung as it would have been on that day, when the chanting of the capitulum/little reading breaks off, about the time of the martyrdom, and then the great bell of Canterbury Cathedral is rung.  Very dramatic- I've heard thiis presented on NPR at least two times.  Also on the CD is Lauds, written perhaps by a contemporary of the events.  It was diificult for Mary to find this office as even before the liturgy changed, Henry VIII excised by royal decree the celebration of the feast of St Thomas of Canterbury.  If the pages are not just ripped out in service books of the time, then they are blotted out with red or black ink.  Eventually Mary found a copy with just the thinnest line though the pages- all of the text was legible!  Nearly a miracle. Wonderful liner notes as well.

The CD is called something else now I noticed, but available in this country from Archive.  As tomorrow is Saint Thomas' feast day, I thought perhaps you might find this interesting....  Here is the link for the Archive page of the CD. Here is the page for the recording from HERALD with a lovely sample that comes up automatically when the page comes up.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Simple Propers for the Rest of the Christmas Season

Download Simple English Propers for the rest of the Christmas Season here:


As a side note, I think that the Introit for the Second Sunday after Christmas is one of my favorites in the entire Simple Propers collection. This text is just one of the most stunning and evocative texts in the the entire Proper of Mass in my opinion (Dum medium silentium). The imagery in this foretelling account of the incarnation is so compelling and vivid. It's too bad that this liturgy is almost always superseded by the Epiphany!

Lastly, I would like to share a very encouraging testimony from "WJA" of the CMAA web forum on his use of the Simple Propers in the realities of parish life. If you are like me, these situations happen all too often. I am glad to know that the Simple Propers are helping us get through realities like this one:

So, it's 7:45 a.m. on Sunday, Holy Family, and the cell phone rings. Father says the organist can't make it to the 8:30 a.m. Mass and can I and any of my schola handle the music.

"But of course! Think nothing of it. See you in a bit, Father."

Then I hasten to my computer, point my browser to chantcafe.com, scroll down to the post where Adam Bartlett has uploaded the simple English propers for Holy Family, download the pdf, and print three copies. Then it's out the door at 8:10, in the church doors at 8:20 and up to the choir loft.

At 8:25 two schola members run up stairs; my wife snagged them in the narthex and told them to ascend to the choir loft, post haste.

We learn the introit at 8:27, the offertory at 8:29, and the communion -- very quietly -- during the homily. Ordinary is Missa jubilate Deo, which everyone knows, and we recycle Puer Natus in Bethlehem, which we'd sung on Christmas Eve, for an extra communion.

We sang them well, not as well as we could have had we had a full practice and some time to breathe, but well. It was as lovely and liturgical a Holy Family as one could have asked, all thanks to the Simple English Propers project.


Monday, December 27, 2010

Guido Marini, Hero

This Washington Post story has really made the rounds, so if you are seeing this for the first time, the ChantCafe.com must be the only blog you visit. In any case, it makes me proud to have named my own puppy after the Papal MC and the inventor of the music staff.

The Glorius Christmas Music at St. Agnes

This article details the absolute glory of the St. Agnes music program, which featured Mozart's Coronation Mass this Christmas. I'm so grateful for what this parish continues to do to uphold Msgr. Schuler's great legacy. He was nearly the only practicing champion of serious sacred music in the 1970s and 1980s. As I've said many times, they called him a dinosaur and a reactionary; it turns out that he was a prophet of progress.

Periodically I do a youtube search for presentations of orchestral Masses at this parish. I've never found one. Perhaps I'm overlooking something. There should be hundreds available by now. Imagine the evangelistic opportunities here! Just imagine how wonderful it would be to have a full online archive of all the great music at this parish. It would not only help the parish recruit parishioners and choristers. It would promote the use of this music in a liturgical context - a Catholic liturgical context. We could watch and listen see the great legacy of Msgr. Schuler spread all over the world.

Well, what seems to be the problem? The short answer can be reduced to two words: union policies. Thanks to union policies, nothing can be recorded or distributed because they believe that if you do this, the demand for their live performances will go down and their standard of living would fall. That's what the unions believe, based on their zero-sum, take-what-you-can-when-you-can attitudes.

It never seems to dawn on these people that demand for services is not somehow a fix part of nature but rather something that has to be cultivated, marketed, promoted, elicited from within the structure of society through inspiration and persuasion. Of course there is no scientific way to guarantee this (there are no controlled experiments in the social sciences) but a good entrepreneurial instinct would suggest that posting rather than withholding performances would actually help the musicians themselves by drawing attention to their work and the beautiful liturgy here.

Msgr. Schuler believed in paying musicians well. I completely agree. This is a wonderful policy. It should be adopted in every parish. Sadly, as a reflection of his times and his outlook, he tied his goal with a policy of deference to music unions and their demands for salary and terms. This is the core problem at the parish that may eventually harm his legacy, unless there is unlimited money in the budget, which I doubt, and an unlimited tolerance for keeping obscure what should be globally famous, which I also doubt.

It mainly makes me sad that the world is denied any access to the glorious music at St. Agnes and hence a wonderful evangelistic opportunity is lost. I also belief that it is a very short-sighted policy. It would be a terrible thing to see St. Agnes get caught up in some kind of labor struggle here but the parish should really consider recruiting musicians from outside union ranks and also explain to the unions that whether they like it or not, the performance at Mass will be posted online for universal distribution. If the unions boycott or harass any musicians who continue to perform, that might suggest something about their actual dedication to the cause of liturgical excellence and the Christian mission.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Steven First after Christe

Perhaps because in the UK the 26th December is a bank holiday, that like this year sometimes falls on a Sunday and liturgically then becomes the 2nd Sunday of Christmas, the celebration of the feast of St Steven has fallen largely into disuse.

In medieval times it was a feast of some significance , especially in continental Europe, yet surprisingly there is little music dedicated to the feast. Of the pieces I am most familiar with are masses composed by the English composers Ludford and Sheppard. Of the first composer, Missa Stephanum Lapidaverunt, is one of his festival masses, and a wonder to listen to but with a 12 minute long Gloria and at times almost impenitrable polyphony of 10 parts hardly practical. Sheppard's mass is perhaps more accessible in as much as the movements are around 4 minutes a piece, and therefore more liturgically useful and textually audible.

Sheppard's other work to accompany the feast is the motet Steven First After Christe, a piece of contrafractum. For those unfamiliar with contrafractum, they are compositions often considered parts of a longer piece, which was often sung antinphonally and the contrafrtactum itself is the verse to which the response is sung, and many of them are the only parts that have survived becauyse they stand as short mnotets in their own right. Usually composed for 3 voices, it would likely have been written in a time signature refered to as "Perfect Time" and indicated not with the usual 3/3 time signature but by a small circle next to the key signature. All of this use fo the "3" of course was a reference to the Trinity, hence the allegory with perfection and continuity.

Steven First After Christe of course refers to the proximity of the feast to Christmas Day, but also has the double meaning of the signifcance of the feast in some territories, and it would be nice to see it once again be a feast of porominance.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Reflections on Whether Gregorian Chant Is Pastoral

This morning at Mass, at a very mainstream parish packed with visitors from all places around the country, the entrance song was Puer Natus Est, from the Graduale Romanum. It was sung by two women's voice alone, without any accompaniment. They sang the antiphon, the Psalm, Gloria Patri, and the antiphon again. The procession of the celebrant and servers took place during this time, along with the incensing of the altar. An amazing stillness settled over the entire place, to the point that one sensed not a single muscle movement from among the hundreds of people in the congregation.

To be sure, this is not entirely what people might have expected. The usual fare is a familiar carol, perhaps gussied up with trumpets and flutes and various other things played by the musicians who mysteriously emerge to be featured at these splashy holiday events, and then vanish once it is over.

This is did not happen this Christmas. Instead, what the people  heard was woven into the fabric of the Mass as thoroughly as the celebrant's part. As just as the people do not say everything with the celebrant, they did not sing with the schola; they stood and listened instead.

But did they participate? Most certainly. The environment and the music itself nearly compels it. How so? A floating chant this beautiful, and yet strangely minimalist in this world filled with incredible noise and racket at every turn, does not provide the complete experience with its notes or words alone. It is so pure, so comparatively sparse, even stark but full of movement, and where? It is moving toward something and upwards to something not found outside these walls. The chant's very remoteness elicits something from within us, drawing on our hearts and minds and asking us to provide something to complete the picture.

And what is that something? It is a prayer. That prayer can be for something very personal, for something or someone that has been causing us pain. It could be about terrible things we've done or opportunities we've missed to do good. It could be a prayer of thanks for the wonderful blessings that surround us. It might be even more vague: perhaps just a sense of having some connection to the transcendent for the first time in a very long time. It gives us a sense of peace and safety even in times of turmoil.

The chant lasts a surprisingly long period of time but somehow not long enough, because this peace we feel is luxurious. It feels right, perhaps not at first but after a few minutes as time itself begins to fade in importance. The discomfort we felt at the outset, when we heard those initial notes that seemed so isolated, has given way to comfort and a realize we are surrounded. We are now used to the sound of still voices singing one line and we realize that there is only one place and one activity that provides us with this sense of transcendence. We have entered the presence of holy things. God is with us. Christmas is not just a history; it is a reality and this reality is being lived in the liturgy.

We don't sing chant only because it is what is being asked of us; we sing chant because the liturgy loves it and the faith loves it and because it is, speaking from the purely pastoral point of view, exactly what we need and want. Hearing it and experiencing it is a challenge and it does ask something from everyone; and that something is the humility to listen to the Word and to dare to allow our hearts to be changed.

Benedict XVI on the Gloria

“Saint Luke does not say that the angels sang. He states quite soberly: the heavenly host praised God and said: “Glory to God in the highest” (Lk 2:13f.). But men have always known that the speech of angels is different from human speech, and that above all on this night of joyful proclamation it was in song that they extolled God’s heavenly glory. So this angelic song has been recognized from the earliest days as music proceeding from God, indeed, as an invitation to join in the singing with hearts filled with joy at the fact that we are loved by God. Cantare amantis est, says Saint Augustine: singing belongs to one who loves. Thus, down the centuries, the angels’ song has again and again become a song of love and joy, a song of those who love. At this hour, full of thankfulness, we join in the singing of all the centuries, singing that unites heaven and earth, angels and men. Yes, indeed, we praise you for your glory. We praise you for your love. Grant that we may join with you in love more and more and thus become people of peace. Amen.” —Pope Benedict XVI, Homily at Christmas Missa in Nocte, 24 December 2010

H/T cantare amantis est

Puer natus est nobis

Friday, December 24, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Proclamation

An alternative Christmas Proclamation in English. It's wonderful.

I Love My Choirs

We've had quite a week out here in the Central Valley of California. Not everyone would regard our once parched and now deluged farmlands as having been the result of "rorate caeli," but I tend to see His handiwork in all things. At our parish, from a week ago to now as I type, the students of our parochial school performed the annual Christmas Musical twice, our Festival Choir presented a concert "commissioned" by our pastor to commemorate the 150th anniversary of our parish, and we had one helluva rollicking final rehearsal last night before tomorrow night's Midnight Mass.

And, as it should always be, the magic of what choirs are and do, was omnipresent in last night's rehearsal which prompts me to post this reflection. The fulfillment and joy of what choirs do at performance testifies to the beauty and grace of God's creation and creatures and that it is offered back to Him in the form of a gift to His people is a most natural endeavor. But, who we really are is the essence of rehearsal, a pilgrim band.

For my friend RedCat I will try to keep this as direct and concise as how one lovingly strokes the downy spine of a beloved pet. (Spoiler! I fail miserably at the attempt.)

The Best Choirs

Jenny Donelson at the forum draws attention to the Gramophone list of the best choirs (none in the U.S.!). I must say that I find the list pretty much in keeping with my own sense of this.

She also points to this interesting comment from the story:

Susanna Beiser: "It's not necessarily some vague Britishness' either, that makes their choirs so good. I think it's worth pointing out that it's the Church of England. The Anglicans rule choral music. The Catholics, on the other hand, to whom much of the repertoire rightfully belongs, have not sustained their music traditions as well, and their choirs mostly sound bad when they're not doing some guitar mass or something. But even before Vatican II, I don't think they were keeping up. From what I hear, the Church of England is in terrible shape, attendance-wise, and now with the move by a growing number of conservative Anglicans to reconcile with Rome, the choral tradition may end up being the primary contribution of 500 years of English Protestantism."

The English "Play" Carols

We are almost (technically at least) into the carol singing season. Now I know that many of you will have been O Christmas Tree-ing to the point of praying for death for weeks now, but in England we have a tradition of carols quite unlike many of those that find popular acclaim.

Many of our carols are not the happy “yeah, Jesus is born of a babe in Bethlehem” type, but foretell of the passion and suffering in years hence. One of the most famous of these is the Coventry carol. First written in the 16th Century, it is part of a mystery play called the Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors and depicts part of Matthew’s Gospel and the Massacre of the Innocents, in which Herod orders the murder of all male children under the age of two on hearing of the birth of the Messiah.

The lyrics themselves are first thought to have originated from around 1534, written down by playwright and poet Kenneth Croo and the melody is slightly older. The story is told from the perspective of the maidens of Jerusalem on hearing of the birth of Christ and their hope that he escape. As the oldest surviving manuscript (of the time) was lost in the 18th Century, some of the meaning of the translations has been lost to time and is cause of speculation, the meaning of "And ever morne and may For thi parting Neither say nor singe" is somewhat unclear for example, but that doesn’t detract from the aesthetic of the piece. The harmony is a prime example of the picardy third, or the use of a major chord of the tonic at the end of a musical sentence that is either modal or in a minor key, and this device was quite common in creating a “medieval” sound.

Another of the traditional carols that come from a play setting of the gospel story is the Shropshire Carol, recently re-arranged by Stephen Cleobury. The lyrics are again from the perspective of the women of Jerusalem foretelling the sorrow of Mary as Christ is Crucified and the carol consists of a dialogue between the soprano/treble narrator and the bass Christus leaving John as his beloved disciple to care for his mother as he dies on the cross.

Perhaps one of the most famous, as it is sung quite often in the Kings College Cambridge Carol service and arranged by David Wilcocks is I saw three ships, which tells the tale of ships sailing into the Dead Sea with pilgrims on their way to Bethlehem to find the relics of the magi in the 12th Century. The Sussex Carol is also worth a mention, though it is considerably less pensive than some of its place-named companions I do enjoy it immensely.

If you have never discovered these carols before they are well worth a look and make a fine antidote to some of this season’s more saccharine music




O Magnum Mysterium

Another submission from Keith Fraser:

On the night before Christmas we sing of the birth of the Saviour, but who should have been the first to gaze on this wonder? Certainly the Holy Family of Our Lady and St Joseph but also the Ox and the Cattle present in the stable. Many visual depictions of this scene include the stars and the angels standing guard over that most precious of new-born sons.

The piece of music that depicts that moment is the motet O Magnum Mysterium, translated as

O most awesome mystery
and sacrament divine and most wondrous:
that animals should look and see the Lord a babe newborn
beside them in a manger laid.
O how truly blessed is the Virgin whose womb was worthy
to bear and bring forth the Lord Christ Jesus.
Alleluia!

Composers have set this text in many ways, but recently it has been composed in a number of ethereal motets. The text itself is taken from the Matins of Christmas Day but has become a setting more commonly heard at Midnight mass and I have to confess that while the liturgical purist may not agree with me, I actually like it in that context. Perhaps the more commonly known settings are those of Byrd and Palestrina, but last year the setting everyone was doing was Morten Laurisden’s with it making an appearance at Carols from Kings College Cambridge, and both Westminster Abbey and Cathedral.

Laurisden was the composer in residence during the tenure of Paul Salumanovic at the Los Angeles Master Chorale. It’s worth noting that some of who I consider the best amongst contemporary American Composers, Leo Nestor, Laurisden, and Julian Wachner, all have had an association with Mr Salumanovic somewhere down the line, and all have developed in their style this ethereal resonance in their writing that builds and resolves tensions with subtly, and dissonant clashes that one could imagine the likes of Bruckner (himself a master at evoking a certain liturgical mood using similar devices) being quite taken aback with.

I can only leave it for more accomplished musicologists than myself to consider this piece in detail, suffice to say if I had to imagine the choirs of angels above the manger I could do worse than let myself become lost in Laurisden’s work of awe and wonder. I leave you with the choir of Westminster Cathedral singing it as the offertory motet at Midnight Mass last year and in doing so, I wish you all a joyful, peaceful, and blessing filled Christmas and new year.

This is hard to do!

Congratulations to Jeffrey Ostrowski who sang this entire Graduale alone for this video and did an amazing job at it. Doing something like this is exceedingly difficult. I've variously attempted even short communion chants and never been happy with the results of the recording.

Benedictus Dominus is sung at the Baptism of Our Lord, ordinary form. Yes, you read that right. Check the Gregorian Missal if you don't believe me.

Benedictus Gradual from Corpus Christi Watershed on Vimeo.

Catholic Music in Exile

The irony is ever present, especially at this time of year: Catholic music is being heard in concert halls and in Protestant Christmas specials but not in the Catholic Church (for the most part, in any case). Here is a nice note underscoring the point.

Many of us with choral experience in pre-council times have found little of the church music in the vernacular since then inspiring in any way. That said, as a child I was exposed to some dreadful Marian hymns. Lent was my favorite musical season since we sang "O Sacred Head." Who can resist Bach even when you have no clue who he is? I salute your most active ministry in promoting our cultural heritage. It's definitely an uphill battle as it is for all classical music. It's very difficult to recruit members who are not seniors for a traditional church choir. Compounding the problem is often a lack of funds to enable hiring of professionaly trained directors and accompanists.

I have been singing with a fine concert choir for over 40 years and am always inspired by the religious music we perform. For the same reason I'm privileged to join a local Presbyterian church choir for their concerts with organ and orchestra. I quite realize how blessed I've been to have been continually inspired by so many great composers. It's just sad that it has taken place outside my church rather than in it.

I believe that this is starting to change, however.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

EF Training in Scranton

The Knights of Columbus Council 14829 in Scranton is offering a one day informational seminar Saturday, February 19, 2011 featuring an introduction to the extraordinary form of the Mass, according to the 1962 Roman Missal. The seminar will be held at St. Michael the Archangel Church, 1703 Jackson Street, Scranton, from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM. The presentation will begin with an explanation and overview of the traditional Latin Mass by Father Justin Nolan, FSSP, of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, followed by a question and answer period. A “sung” Mass, or Missa Cantata, will follow at 11:30. After lunch, Father Nolan will provide two additional presentations for a more in depth understanding of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.

The seminar’s objective is to provide an educational, interactive, friendly and prayerful experience to inquirers of the traditional Latin Mass through talks on history, theology, and spirituality. The day includes participation in a Missa Cantata with Gregorian Chant and other forms of sacred music.

The seminar is free, including lunch, and open to the public. Interest in the traditional Latin Mass has grown in recent years, especially since July 2007 when Pope Benedict XVI issued the Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum, permitting priests to freely celebrate the older liturgy.

One of the Pope’s objectives in issuing the Motu Proprio was to clarify that the Traditional Latin Mass and the Novus Ordo Missae, or new Mass, are part of the “same rite.” Like his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI has made unity a major goal of his pontificate. The Church, he said, must make “every effort” to achieve unity, adding: “Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows.”

For more information, please email knights14829@gmail.com or call the rectory at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church at 570-961-1205.

What did Jesus Sing?

Geoffrey Clarfield has a wonderful article in the National Post today about 20th century scholarship that reinforces an ancient supposition that Gregorian chant grows out of Jewish cantillation.

Clarfield provides a great account of the core argument, but we do need to remember that the idea of a connection between Jewish and Christian chant is hardly a 20th century one. In fact, in the 20th century and even very recently, many people tried to debunk the idea, with the hope of severing the attachment of Catholics to chant. Even today, we read flippant comments to the effect that Gregorian chant is mostly a 19th-century innovation. If it is just another form of art music, why bother with it?

What Clarfield shows is that the chant is integral to Christian worship as it evolved from the Jewish tradition. He is also right to draw attention to the parallels between various forms of chant. The discovery of the relationship between the present chant and the singing of the early Church is yet another case in which the tradition knew more than the scholars, and the best scholars end up discovering the truth of tradition.

This oral tradition of synagogue cantillation has survived unbroken among the Jewish people for more than 2,000 years and still flourishes today. Over the centuries communities in Spain, Eastern Europe and as far away as Iraq, Persia, Yemen and Uzbekistan have developed their own unique styles of cantillation. One would think that after 2,000 years there would be no more "family resemblance" of a musical nature among these traditions. But there is.

At the start of the 20th century, communities from all over the Islamic and Western world began immigrating to the land of Israel, which had become a mandated protectorate of Great Britain after the First World War. A European-born Jewish musicologist by the name of Idelsohn made it his life's work to record and compare the full range of cantillation of these newly ingathered communities of Jews in their homeland. Apart from the great service of musical preservation that he carried out for the Jewish people, and for the national archives of the future state of Israel, he also conducted the first comparative studies. He found that despite the relative historical separation and isolation of Jewish Diaspora communities, much of their traditional repertoires had similar melodic motives, especially when chanting the Psalms.

In 1938, a young Jew by the name of Eric Werner was allowed to come to New York as a refugee from Hitler's Germany. He was by then already a well-known musician and composer and one of Europe's finest musicologists. During that acme of European anti-Semitism, he asked himself a most counter-intuitive question. Was Gregorian Chant based on the cantillation of the Jewish synagogue?

He spent more than a decade trying to answer that question. In 1959 he published his landmark study on the relations between Jewish cantillation and Gregorian chant. It was called The Sacred Bridge and in it he argued that Gregorian chant was indeed a direct descendant of Jewish synagogue music. He never discovered a definitive medieval or early Christian text that bluntly announced that Christian cantillation was based on Jewish cantillation, but that is not how new religions develop. They adopt and adapt, and the evidence for adoption is circumstantial and comparative.

The Sacred Bridge was published in 1959. In 1974 Werner published an updated second edition with more data.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

An Applied Course in Gregorian Chant

We finally got around to doing what so many have been asking us to do. We've put in print Joseph Robert Carroll's wonderful 1957 book An Applied Course in Gregorian Chant. This is the fruit of generations of experience in pedagogy, an attempt to reduce the teaching of chant to the essentials so that a person can sing or direct well at the parish level.

The language is super clear and precise. It avoids unnecessary complications. It is not the end of studies but it goes a very far distance down the path toward expertise without losing the reader. It is probably the single best introduction. It is also ideal for the classroom in a school of music.

A Pretty Version of Kevin Allen's Tantum

Whole collection of such treasures here.

Kevin Allen's TANTUM ERGO (vocals by Matthew J. Curtis) from Corpus Christi Watershed on Vimeo.

English Mass Setting by Richard Rice

Richard Rice has adapted the setting he wrote on commission for the 2010 Sacred Music Colloquium so that it works with the new text. The entire setting is available for free download, offered in both modern notation with accompaniment or in traditional chant notation.

Here are some wonderful practice videos offered by Corpus Christi Watershed:









Monday, December 20, 2010

150 Indispensable Catholic Hymns?

A Chant Café poll:

Imagine that you are in a parish that is slowly and gradually transitioning from "4-hymn sandwich" liturgy to singing the proper antiphons of the Mass. You are doing catechesis on the nature of the proper antiphons as being integral to the liturgy, and are helping your parishioners understand that singing hymns in place of these proper texts is ultimately a substitution for something that is a substantial part of the liturgy. You realize that hymns will not likely disappear from your parish's liturgical celebrations any time soon and you need a small collection of congregational hymns that can serve you through this process of transition, and can serve as supplemental congregational material for liturgical and devotional use even after the propers have been restored to their rightful place.

Which 150 hymns do you want to have in the pews of your parish? Based upon consistency with Catholic doctrine and Church teaching, sound tradition, beauty, dignity, effectiveness, and so on and so forth, which hymns should every Catholic be familiar with and be comfortable singing?

Here is my current working list at my parish. What is missing? What should be removed? Why? Please share your thoughts in the comment box!

(all chant hymns listed by their Latin title presume a singing translation in English in addition to the Latin text)

Spem in the Quad

From Keith Fraser:

Spem in the Quad, Worcester College Oxford

It’s not often you get the opportunity to perform Tallis’ masterpiece “Spem in Allium” at all these days, let alone in the quad of Worcester College Oxford with a group of music students dedicated to performing works such as this for the sheer fun of it. I was delighted then to be invited to join Christopher Ku in this particular performance on Friday 28th October.

I have to confess, I have a wonderful recording of the Spem in Allium by Jeremy Summerly’s Oxford Camarata and have even listened to it on occasion. It’s one of those ironies, I suppose, that anyone with an interest in early music will be familiar with Tallis’ motet for 40 voices but like many I’d never even picked up a score let alone actually sung it. Arriving an hour before the performance (which included a Lassus madrigal and Holst’s Nunc Dimittis which was commissioned by R R Terry for Westminster Cathedral in 1914 and was for many years lost) the notion of singing one per part in a piece of music that can at times appear fiendishly difficult was a bit daunting, but as we got into it, the composition did actually start to make some sense.

I don’t know if it is an urban myth that Tallis composed the piece as a bet or a dare after hearing of a 40 part motet written by Alessandro Striggio to outdo him, but somehow I could almost believe that. It has also been suggested that the piece was composed to honour Elizabeth’s 40th birthday, but I expect any canny composer would dedicate a piece to the monarch to ensure publication and patronage. Either way, I’m glad he did write it. The piece itself spans about 10 minutes and is written for 8 choirs of 5 voices (SATBB) and the grandeur of the scale allows for moments of imitative counterpoint, homophony, dialogue between the choirs, rhetorical text-setting, and bold harmonic changes. Tallis himself would have likely considered it a significant achievement because musically he signed his name within it. The very length of the piece is a cryptogram for his name: 69 Longs (a “long” being two breves) being the same value as “Tallis” when the letters in the Latin alphabet are converted to numbers and added (19+1+11+11+9+18).

It is believed that the first performance of the Spem took place at a dinner party in the octagonal banqueting house of Nonsuch Place where half of the performers would have stood on the ground level surrounding the guests while the other half would have sung from the first floor gallery overlooking the hall creating a revolving pillar of sound. The logistics of the quadrangle at Worcester didn’t quite allow for that (the gardeners refused to allow anyone to stand on the grass precluding us singing from under the cloister) and so we had to make do with an arrangement whereby the choirs were stood at the top of the cloister steps and the audience around the quad. It worked, though not helped by a bracing October wind that at times could be quite loud, but which also carried the sound into ever corner. It was, for me at least, a wonderful experience that I would hope to repeat and I would encourage anyone thinking of embarking on a Spem project to do so with gusto. Tallis would most definitely have approved!

Boston Choir School's New Director

Here is the article and the video:

Another Missing Director

I'm liking this trend to just jettison the director and just sing.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Kevin Allen's Larger Motets

Well, many people have waited years for this. Kevin Allen is one of the greatest living Catholic composers. His music is as thrilling as it is pious, as passionate as it is peaceful, as ancient as it is modern. Many people heard it for the first time in the Tantum Ergo at the documentary about the Sacred Music Colloquium.

Watershed is the reason for his emergence from unjustified obscurity into the spotlight. They've now published a second volume of his work, Cantiones Sacrae II. You can and should get this here. Sometimes people think that the sacred music movement is all about old music; it is really about timeless music that can emerge at any point in time. This is a fantastic example.

This book contains 1. Oculi Omnium • 2. Sepulto Domino 3. Intellige Clamorem • 4. Hodie Scietis 5. Hoc Corpus • 6. Sanctificavit Moyses 7. Jerusalem Quae Aedificatur 8. Qui Meditabitur • 9. Juxta Vestibulum 10. Scapulis Suis • 11. Gustate et Videte 12. Ave Regina Caelorum • 13. Tota Pulchra Es 14. Tristis Est Anima Mea • 15. Tantum Ergo

If you are not a leader of a choir, you might just buy some copies for your parish. Give them to the director and say: here is some new music you might consider. Watch what happens.

SATB Hodie Scietis • Kevin Allen (Cantiones Sacrae II) from Corpus Christi Watershed on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Simple Propers for Christmas

Here are Simple English Propers for the Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord:

Thank you to everyone who has waited so patiently for these scores. I can assure you that we are working as hard as we can on these. Over the Christmas holiday we hope to pull ahead substantially so that we can end the weekly fire drills that we have been inflicting on anyone who has hoped to be able to prepare these proper settings with their choirs in advance. Thank you all for your kindness and patience.

Blessings to you all as we eagerly await the coming of our newborn King!

View the Simple Propers Master Index

Ordinary of the Mass in English, 1933

Winfred Douglas was the brilliant musician who set the Mass ordinary to English. His editions became the standard chant for Anglicans. His book is now online. It is regrettable that the text is different enough that it cannot be used in full in Catholic parishes with the new texts.

But there are enough chants in here that are useful and essential to make this a book not to be ignored. Ideally, ordinary form parishes would rediscover, for example, the Sprinkling Rite. See page 92. Also, the Requiem chants would be fully usable in the ordinary form. In addition, it is useful to study his method of setting English to chant - a subject of perennial debate and discussion.

Ordinary of the Mass

Sarum Rite Breviary Now Available

William Renwick just dropped me a line that the first installments of the English translation of the Sarum noted Breviary are now available on-line. It is absolutely thrilling to look through this edition in English or Latin. This is truly work for the ages. He deserves every congratulations on this massive project.

Simplified Graduals, Alleluias, and Tracts

In 1926, Solesmes assisted in the production of Chants Abreges, a book of simplified versions of Psalms and Alleluias plus Tracts for Lent (ordinary form musicians have probably never even heard of the Tract).

Here is the PDF and here it is in print. People are now using these the world over, ever since the CMAA made them available.

The even more rare update to this book has been discovered and is now posted. It came out in 1955. Both volumes illustrate to me just how dedicated Solesmes really was to parish-based chant performance, consistent with real-world demands.

These are not ideal obviously, but the point was to provide materials that are suitable and get us pointed in the right direction. This is the goal. It should be the goal today, in my view.

Graduels Versets Alleluia Traits

Chant Like Me

There was a famous book called Black Like Me. The author, John Howard Griffin, posed as a black man and documented the indignities to which he was subjected.

But who knows the rest of the story? A new documentary, discussed here, says that "Griffin was drawn to the Catholic faith while studying Gregorian chant at the Abbey of Saint Pierre in Solesmes, France. It was there that he began taking his first steps from agnosticism to conversion to Christianity. He entered the church in 1951."
Griffin died in 1980 from complications of diabetes. He was just 60 years old. At the time, he had only $50 in his bank account. But as Atkinson's documentary reveals, Griffin left an incredibly rich legacy of social activism, spiritual wisdom, and artistic achievement.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Singing is Rather Fashionable

Phillburbs reports on a large group of high school singers who meet after school to sing unaccompanied medieval music and chant. It is particularly charming how the writer of this story takes it for granted that chant is part of Catholic liturgy.
Whether it’s a Gregorian chant sung during a Roman Catholic Mass, or a barbershop quartet harmonizing on a neighborhood street corner, the popularity of unaccompanied vocal music has persisted through the ages.

And the New York Times further reports:
After “American Idol,” “The Sing-Off,” “America’s Got Talent” and the coming “X-Factor,” can anyone come up with still another way for singers to compete on television?

Sweetly Lord, by my father

I hope you will permit me a personal indulgence. "Sweetly Lord" is my father's song, one I remember especially well because he sang it to me when I was little and it was sung again at his funeral. He was a great musician and a great man, and I miss him. No, he wasn't Catholic and this song probably doesn't belong at Mass, but it is very pretty and sincere.

Sweetly Lord

Mary Berry and Alma Redemptoris Mater

From a facebook update, we find one of thousands of such stories about Mary Berry, evangelist for chant and the great bridge between the Second Vatican Council and today's revival of chant the world over (every schola in Eastern Europe today owes its existence to her efforts, for example):
In about 1993 I, and a friend from my choral group, Ecclesia Consort, picked Sister Mary up at Community of Jesus and drove her to Providence Rhode Island's Blessed sacrament Church where she gave Ecclesia a brief 2-hour lecture on Gregorian Chant personally. it was one of life's most amazing things. We then drove her to Boston's Logan and I asked her her favorite chant, which she proceeded to sing gently in a very crowded terminal. She began the Alma Redemptoris Mater with head bowed. She began despite the cacophony around her. When she got about half through, the room was completely silent...no lie. It was a transforming moment for me and one I hold dear forever. She was first a loving nun and woman of faith, and second a dedicated and passionate intructor of the Chant. I felt as if she was placing a mantle upon us that afternoon. We have continued to sing the Chant in every service since. Not like Community of Jesus, but we still sing it with love and joy.
Here she is conducting Puer Natus

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Musica Sacra Saint Louis

It's thrilling to see the movement expand with Musica Sacra Saint Louis, and also to note their conference February 24-26, 2011.

How Accompaniment for Gregorian Chant Works

Our friend Jeffrey Ostrowski has written a nice piece on various strategies for organ accompaniment for chant. Most chant experts say that it is far better not to accompany chant. A minimum amount can help in particular cases, such as when the room is so dead that the sound will not carry. This is sadly common in parish life today, due mostly to the presence of carpet (if there is carpet in your parish, pull it up right now and the sound will dramatically improve).

Another reason for organ backup is to stop the pitch from falling. I'm a bit dubious about this solution because it doesn't teach anyone how to sing. It gives them a crutch and arguably makes people more dependent on externals. It doesn't fix the problem except in a temporary sense, and this approach can cause the quality of singing to decline due to laziness and dependency.

The worst reason to favor chant is actually the most common one: it makes the music less liturgical and more accessible to modern ears. I'm sure we've all been in a situation in which Gloria VIII was sung gussied up with chords that it hardly sounds like chant at all anymore.

So the demand for accompaniment is real, despite all the failings, and Ostrowski has done the world a favor by posting vast amounts of it in many styles. His piece below explains the various strategies used by the composers.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Time to Sing the Mass

From the Times of India

As one involved in church choirs here and elsewhere for the last forty years, I must say I too believed we were spreading "the spirit of Vatican II" when we introduced catchy innovations during Mass.

I was told "the people's participation" was all-important. We choir types were pleased when members of the congregation came up after Mass and said, "Oh, we really enjoyed it!" as though it were a show. We concentrated on four hymns, thinking that was our bit. No one ever told us in 1970 to sing the Mass, to aim at inner participation, helping people enter more fully into the meaning of each liturgical action.

In the last few years, especially at weddings and funerals, I have often heard choirs do devotional and profane music at various parts of the ceremony, even interrupting the liturgy with so-and-so's favourite song.

Almost invariably, some schmaltzy number replaces the precious Psalm chosen from the hymnal Jesus himself used. Then again, there is a habit of singing prayerful words to plagiarised pop tunes. When a choir of seminarians erupted into an Alleluia to the tune of 'Oo Oo Ah Ah Sexy Eyes', I was surprised the congregation remained solemn. Alas, we have stuffed our ears with cotton wool. Now is the favourable time to change all that.

Starting this Advent season, we have a year to settle choral scores.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Prepare the Way for Simple Propers

I know a high school group of liturgical singers and strummers that might mean well but makes a terrible mess of the music at Mass, week after week. There are thousands of such groups around the country. I’m sure you too know of a few.

The archetypes are common. There’s a drummer, a singer, a backup singer, a pianist, and a guitar player. None of them can play their instruments well. The singer can’t sing without being heavily miked and without musical emoticons strewn throughout. The repertoire is bubble-gum pop ballads with a Jesus theme. People fear going to Masses where they play, and they are the constant brunt of negative mutterings, though the players themselves are not aware of it.

Of course they have no idea what they are doing. No one has ever discussed with them anything about the musical demands of the Roman Rite. They know nothing about the proper orientation for making music at Mass. The liturgical calender is an abstraction. Terms like propers or dialogues are gibberish to them. Most of the players can’t even read music. To them it is an opportunity to see and be seen, a weekly talent gig, and they probably don’t mind it that people give them credit for their service to the parish.

The pastor and celebrant don’t like it any more than anyone else. But the parents of these kids are important people in the parish. The band doesn’t charge any money for their services, such as they are. The director of music has nothing to do with them, and no adults are really involved at any level. At least that teen Mass slot is covered, so, in the balance, it seems to make more sense to tolerate them and endure. Again, it is well known that they mean well, and surely that is enough.

I’m looking at this situation and it seems like an impossible nut to crack.

Some people might look at this and say that the answer is obvious: toss these ill-educated, amateur noise makers out on their ears. Well, that’s an interesting proposal if not exactly pastoral. In fact, I don’t think this approach really works. It does not foster a stable parish environment. It’s not realistic. It doesn’t draw on the existing talents in the parish - and they are thin indeed - and there remains the question concerning who or what would replace them. The Catholic world isn’t exactly crawling with Gregorian choirs waiting in the wings to sing.

So let’s say you had the opportunity to reform them. Keep in mind that this group is not particularly inspired to do more than show up once per week. I’ve thought about this quite a bit and even after all my writing and experience, I’m not entirely sure I would know where to begin. There needs to be a complete reestablishment of musical priorities. They have no idea what they are. And there is a precondition even to that stage: they need to get away from all the microphones, guitars, pianos, and drums, and come to understand that it is not their machinery that makes the music but their voices.

Once we establish the preeminence of the voice in liturgical music, there is another immediate problem. We need sheet music and we can hope that this would not just be yet another collection of junky hymns in a slightly different and stodgier style. We need real liturgical music that is connected intimately to the ritual. Otherwise, they will never come to understand the weightiness of their responsibilities or feel the satisfaction that comes with providing music for Mass.

Now, let’s say that I marched up to this group and handed them the Graduale Romanum and said: sing this! I don’t think I have to explain to readers that this approach is pretty much dead on arrival. In fact, I would suggest that this is true of any music in Latin. This material is absolutely terrifying to this generation. As tragic as this sounds, Latin might as well be German or Russian to these kids. They are nowhere near prepared for it. They barely speak English as it is. What need, then, is music in English, for starters.

Let’s see where we’ve come so far. We’ve led them to see that their voices are more important than their external equipment. We’ve seen that they need to apply their talents to singing not just any Jesus songs that they like but rather music actually connected to the ritual. We realize that this music must be in English.

Now what? If I worked at it I could probably cobble together enough resources to make it possible. I could print out this proper written in 1956 and this choral offertory written in 1992, plus this communion chant someone uploaded last week, and then also this responsorial psalm from a different website. They would all be 8.5X11” printouts from different files online, hard to find and hard to repeat week to week because the resources are so scattered. And let’s face it: a series of random links to scattered material here and there is no substitute for a coherent musical program.

Can you imagine how these kids eyes would glaze over at my explanation? How long would it take these kids to bail out of my great plan here and revert to their fun garage-style music making that everyone else hates and drives people to avoid their Mass time like their plague?

Readers who have been keeping up with the ChantCafe.com know what I’m getting to. I’m getting to the Simple Propers Project of Adam Bartlett and his coworkers. This is music in English in free rhythm, meaning that it does not play to that secular beat approach to music. It is liturgical chant. The editions provide enough music to cover the entire liturgy. They are propers of the Mass so it means that the kids will be contributing to the Mass structure, not behaving as a side show act. This makes their role more important. The music is entirely vocal. It can be sung by one person or twelve. It is a coherent and integrated program.

I’m absolutely beside myself in anticipation of their completion. As I’ve told many people, my dream is to hold that final book in my hands. With this book, at last there will be something to hand to groups like this and say: this is music that is appropriate for you to sing at Mass. It does require a bit of teaching. But how much? I think I could prepare even the kids I describe above to render all this music competently in a single teaching session, and perhaps one followup. This is essential for short-attention spans.

The Simple Propers will acculturate these kids to understand their responsibilities and to come to understand what sacred music feels like and sounds like. This is without long hectoring lectures and treatises and documents on the subject. We teach best by showing and having people do these. This is the best teacher of all. There is another benefit here: the Simple Propers are not an end in themselves. They point to more. They point to the Gregorian tradition because the modality and rhythmic approach is identical. Once having sung propers, choirs will accept no less, so we have here beautifully prepared ground for the re-introduction of the full Gregorian tradition. At some point, the Graduale Romanum will not seem like a book from Mars.

I’ve thought about this whole subject and this book extensively and I’m not exaggerating when I say this: this one book can be bridge for an entire generation to come to embrace the Catholic tradition of music. In this sense, I hardly think there is any more important musical priority for Catholics than this project right now. I’m so excited about it. I’m counting the days until they appear sometime in the summer of 2011.

Thank you again to everyone who has contributed to this marvelous project. We have glorious things to look forward to this Advent.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Psalm for Sunday

Chabanel offers many excellent Psalms for Sundays and Feasts. Our parishes uses Arlene Oost-Zinner's Psalm settings, such as this one for Sunday.

Mass at Notre Dame

Mark Praigg writes:

There's a lovely Mass (musically anyway) from Notre-Dame de Paris with a rather modern (choral) setting of parts of the Ordinary in Greek and Latin. I thought the chanting of the women of the Offertory proper was lovely. The whole assembly sang the De Angelis Gloria and Credo III in alternation with the choir/schola.

I've really enjoyed listening to this. The texture of the hymns reminds me of Charpentier, but maybe that's just the French style I'm hearing. The Gloria is indeed interesting, and I say that as no great fan of De Angelis Gloria. You can see here how adding rich accompaniment and introducing alternating voices changes the character even farther away from the Gregorian than it already is.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Chants of Advent

There is something about the chants of Advent that are particularly brilliant and inspired, something about them that brings a special joy. They are memorable and creative, and when they greet you every year at this time of the year, you have to feel a sense of delight.

The communion for this Sunday is yet another example of this. It is in mode 7, a major mode with surprises. It provides a beautiful melodic rendering of the text: strong and upright with a hint of expectation and wonder.

I'm especially pleased that this year, for the first time, we have the ability to embed both the chant and an outstanding audio, thanks to the work of Watershed and Jeffrey Ostrowski. I hope this presentation will inspire some scholas to try this out.

Dícite: pusillánimes, confortámini et nolíte timére: ecce, Deus noster véniet et salvábit nos.

Say: Ye fainthearted, take courage and fear not: behold our God will come, and will save us.

Advent - 3rd Sunday: Communio from Corpus Christi Watershed on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Digitally Engraved Gregorian Chant Editions: Propers for the Third Sunday of Advent

Some of you may already be familiar with Gregorio, a newly developed platform for the typesetting of Gregorian chant. Gregorio is a free and open source software that was created with the hope that everyone everywhere would have access to free and beautiful editions of Gregorian chant for use in the liturgy. Many projects have taken up Gregorio as the means of engraving Gregorian chant scores. Our own Simple English Propers project uses it, as does Steven van Roode, as do many others around the world in their work of chant engraving.

Although Gregorio is an open and free software, you can still make donations to the project here.

Andrew Hinkley is something of an anomaly in the world of chant engraving. Andrew has a particular passion for making chant editions readily available, scalable, and easily adaptable, and so far has typeset the majority of the Graduale Romanum chants in the Gregorio platform which he has been sharing with the world, in a beta phase, at the Caecilia Project.

Here is a rendering of Andrew's work with the Graduale Romanum propers for the 3rd Sunday of Advent.

Keep in mind that this is simply one rendering of the Gregorio code (GABC) which can be used to create Gregorian chant scores. This code, which Andrew intends also to share freely with all, can be encoded in a variety of ways, easily changing fonts, page size, staff size, margins, colors, spacing, and on and on. That Andrew is producing this raw data is an immeasurable gift to us and to the world of sacred music. He is to be highly commended for his most generous gift to the Church.

What is truly wonderful about Andrew's project is that it is truly "open source", meaning that Gregorian chants have truly been boiled down into source code that can be used in unimaginable ways.

Thank you Andrew for your tireless work for the good of the liturgy.

One More Year To Undo a Huge Error

I've posted the 1988 and 1992 Progress Reports of ICEL on the translation of the Roman Missal, which, according to these documents, seems to have begun in earnest as early as 1982. If you think about it, this is a mere 12 years following the promulgation of the New Mass.

The widespread consensus is correct many times over: it was rushed into existence without problem planing, research, or serious work on the translation. The extent of the problems in that first Missal - the bulk of which is still heard in our parishes on a daily basis - go a very long way toward explaining the probably unprecedented upheaval that followed the introduction of the revised liturgy.

Speaking of musical issues alone - and this blog tends to do that! - there was so much confusion from 1970s onward that musicians themselves had no idea what they were supposed to sing, if there were any rules or rubrics or guidelines. Celebrants couldn't help them because they didn't know either. Confusion reigned and chaos followed.

You can get a flavor of that in these documents. The opening document from 1988 states the issue plainly: the goal of a translation is to faithfully represent the Latin original. It seems very clear in retrospect (and it was clear to many at that time) that the original translation did not embody that spirit. You only need to set the current English Gloria against the Latin Gloria to observe that the first round of release gave us something entirely new, an attempt at a unique product, prepared with a methodological priority of making the English preeminent thing.

This could not stand. As the documents here demonstrate, the criticisms were widespread. ICEL placed the Latin next to the English and offered a detailed critique. Here is just one sample of hundreds, offered as a critique of an oration on the first weekday in Advent.
Fac nos, quaesumus, Domine Deus noster,
adventum Christi Filii tui sollicitos expectare,
ut, dum venerit pulsas, orationibus vigilantes,
et in suis inveniat laudibus exsultantes.
The early Missal rendered this as follows (and this translation is what we heard this year):
Lord our God, help us to prepare for the coming of Christ your Son.
May he find us waiting, eager in joyful prayer
ICEL comments on this:
The present ICEL version (1973) is short and succinct, but is so spare that it scarcely does justice to the Latin original with its wealth of scriptural references. It comprises two sentences, which, if the introductory "Lord our God" is ignored, have respectively eleven and nine words only. The committee felt that it was so short and ordinary that it would be over before it had any impact on the congregation and the second sentence in particular conveys nothing of the thought or allusions of the Latin.
Read that again: Nothing of the thought or allusions of the Latin.

Keep in mind: this is not Michael Davies. This is not Cardinal Ratzinger. This is not some editorial drawn from the pages of The Remnant or some other traditionalist publication. This is the International Commission on English in the Liturgy saying that early attempt at translation - and so much of this survives to this day - conveys nothing of the thought or allusions of the Latin.

The translation of the text coming next year reads as follows:
Keep us alert, we pray, O Lord our God,
as we await the advent of Christ your son,
so that when he comes and knocks
he may find us watchful in prayer and exultant in his praise.
Through our Lord.
Here we have it: blessed Catholicism. It’s coming back!

It will be many decades, I should think, before the reality of what we have gone through will be fully processed in our minds. In the end, the striking irony here is that ICEL will deserve so much credit for having led us toward better language and liturgy.

It turns out that ICEL in 1988 offered tremendous amounts of criticism of the existing translation. That criticism can only be described as blistering. Of another Collect, ICEL wrote: “The Latin prayer is built around the concepts of health and wholeness, which the present ICEL text does not mention. In general it so pares down the Latin that it says very little that is marked or interesting.”

Of the initial attempt at translation, ICEL wrote: “there was little time to do research and detailed background preparation before translating the Latin texts into English. The responsible agencies in Rome were also under great pressure at this time to make the revised Latin ritual books available to the worldwide Church and were as a consequence unable to provide those preparing the vernacular translations with the background research and notes that had been done as part of the work....”

There are many reasons for the crisis of Catholicism in our time. But if you are looking for the cleanest and clearest evidence of any crisis in any public faith, looking at the status of its ritual is a good place to begin to discover reasons. If you find an imposition of a new ritual that bears little in common with everything that came before, you might begin to see the problem.

The great news is that this period of our history is ending. The process of healing has begun, and the biggest milestone on this journey begins one year from now. Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Disaster Is Coming, Warn Musicians in 1966

What did the Second Vatican Council intend as compared with its results? The answer to that question is enormously complex because, as with the so-called American founding, it is difficult to compress the intentions of hundreds and thousands of people, many unnamed, into a single body of “intention.”

In fact, there is no such thing as “intention” that somehow emerges from the back and forth of human agency to become a new and immaculate being. To claim a single clear intention from a Church Council is probably just as fallacious as to assert the existence of a Rousseauian single “social contract” to emerge from the give and take of the political process.

Nonetheless, with regard to music, it is easier to discern the main themes: 1) a strong emphasis on the restoration of Gregorian chant as the people’s music, 2) an emphasis on singing the Mass instead of just singing stuff, and 3) a push to see the liturgy as a prayerful and audible song that elicited the involvement of everyone instead of just a private prayer by the celebrant alone.

It became clear very early on following the close of the Council that other priorities, such as new permissions for the vernacular, were in tension with the musical aspects of the reform. There is a long history of liturgical reforms and their failure to fully appreciate the importance of working out the details of the musical component. And this was a case in point. The Council inspired a conflict between groups of musicians that began immediately and has pretty well continued to this day.

I’m thinking about this as I read through a wonderful compilation of documents from the watershed event called The Fifth International Church Music Congress, held in Chicago-Milwaukee, August 21-28, 1966. Here is a snapshot in time. What we find are many musicians in open protest about liturgical trends that were not appearing from on high; they were coming from within and threatening the very core of what most musicians believed would and should emerge from the Council.

Here are some statements culled from this volume. They represent a wide consensus that something must be done to stop the unraveling of all that has come before and a hope that the words of the Council would be heeded with regard to music. Keep in mind that this is all in 1966, long before the promulgation of what is now known as the ordinary form or reform ritual of Mass:

Statement from England and Wales: “The Church would suffer irreparable loss if the traditional Latin sung Mass, suitably modified to fulfil modern liturgical requirements, were to be allowed to fall into disuse. They earnestly hope that the Latin sung Mass will be actively encouraged in those places where it meets the needs of the people, and where it can be worthily performed, making proper provision both for the participation of the people and for the maintenance in use of the Church's heritage of music. The English form of sung Mass should at the same time be developed on the lines indicated above. In this way it will be possible fully to implement in this country the teaching of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.”

Jacques Chailley, University of Paris, France: “The duty to preserve the imposing patrimony of sacred music, both Gregorian and polyphonic, is laid down in explicit terms by the Constitution (Article 114). This obligation must not be neglected, nor should it be presented in a negative way such as a sterile reticence towards the new and necessary things that are likewise ordered by the same Constitution. We must seek for a harmonious coexistence of the two types of expression that each correspond to a different need, without causing any contradictions unless they are introduced artificially, such as would happen if one were deliberately to reject one panel of a diptych in favor of the other. If one neglects the duty of preservation, one actually compromises the ultimate success of the renewal itself. Any exaggeration in one direction leads to an opposite reaction in the other, creating inevitable divisions that keep multiplying, until one finds that some whom the Church wanted so rightly to attract have finally been left outside. From all this it follows that it is impossible to conceive of the duty of preserving the treasury of sacred music without maintaining in the liturgical functions, in an habitual way and in reasonable proportions, at least some part of the Gregorian repertory... It is obvious that in order to encourage artistic religious composition, especially polyphonic choral works, there must be some assurance given that the choir will be used regularly in the liturgical functions, not just now and then, as has sometimes happened. In other words, there must be a policy for the renewal of choirs and encouragement of them; this is absolutely the opposite of the tendencies that we are witnessing at present. There must not be any brutally excessive elimination of Latin music, since this music will promote the vernacular language, which will inevitably come in due course, but the best way this can be realized is to follow a reasonable, progressively planned program.”

Committee on Musicology of the Allgemeiner Cacilien-Verband: “It is important for congregational liturgical singing that it can be the spiritual and musical possession of the people. At the same time it must be in accord with the laws of art, so that, for example, both the so-called religious ‘pop’ music and the pseudo-Gregorian piece are both excluded from sacred music. Furthermore, with the development of liturgical congregational singing, the characteristics of the various vernacular tongues and lands must always be considered, which means that in the question of forms one is not restricted merely to the responsorial form alone.”

Resolution on Profane Music in Mass: “The present-day, commercially oriented dance and entertainment music is inappropriate for divine services. Music which is directed predominantly toward the sensitive motor responsives of man is not worthy of the liturgy. This music makes its appeal to the performer as well as to the listener only on the level of the purely sensual, even to the possible exclusion of the spiritual faculties. Attempts made up to the present time to combine elements of jazz with the serious music of our Western culture and to use these in the Catholic liturgy have necessarily been doomed to failure, because the audible result offers only music that to all appearances only resembles jazz. The rhythm of this music with its primitive and uniform impulse generates in the listener a sensual, driving excitement. This monotonous, continually repeated rhythm dulls consciousness, but soon even this exciting feature loses its strength and dissipates into mere motor responses which serve to blot out all personal individuality. The prayer of a congregation, which ought to be vivified by the liturgy, is thus rendered impossible by music which evokes in men truly disorderly feelings and serves only to awaken essentially emotional drives. True liturgical community can be achieved only through the participation of the whole man. True liturgical community is accomplished only by impressing the seal of man's spirituality upon it.”

Rt. Reverend Guilherme Schubert, Representative of Jaime Cardinal Barros de Camara, Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro: “We are shocked to witness, in church and even during liturgical services, performances of music which must be regarded as a profanation of the holy place and a heretofore unheard of degradation. This has happened under the guise of alleged implementation of the conciliar decrees, in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, which wished to reform and modernize. Obviously we are dealing here with a misunderstanding and an erroneous interpretation of the official documents. … there is a general and very often quite energetic opposition to exaggerations and abuses, especially when small groups, generally youth groups, attempt to bring music, rhythms, instruments and gestures into the Church which are borrowed directly from contemporary profane music. These protests have very serious consequences in scandal, separations from Church and cult, a diminishing respect for the Church, and increasing religious doubt and confusion.... It is a mistake to think that the faithful would show more interest in the Church if the Church were made to resemble their everyday milieu, their homes, their factories, their offices. It is above all the spirit of religion which must accompany the faithful into the arena of their daily lives. But when they come into the Church, God's temple, they expect to find something else, something special, something which stands above the everyday, something which elevates them, encourages them, comforts and ennobles them.”

RESOLUTIONS FROM SPANISH-SPEAKING COUNTRIES (Spain, Mexico, Ecuador): “1) Fully appreciating the pastoral character the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council attaches to sacred music and in order to stimulate the active participation of the faithful, the national and international commissions are asked to provide for the preservation of existing songs for the people and the creation of a new repertoire in keeping with the characteristics of each of our countries, since songs imported from other places do not always respond to the people's needs. 2) As prescribed by the same Constitution, let the Church's patrimony of Gregorian chant, polyphony and organ music be preserved in our countries with all care, and let scholae cantorum be duly promoted. 3) Taking into consideration the nature of Gregorian chant, and also some experiences with the vernacular which lead to a corruption of Gregorian chant, all adaptations of vernacular texts to ancient melodies are emphatically discouraged. 4 a) Since some Masses written after the Council are inspired by profane dances and tunes, and since they confuse the faithful in the Hispanic nations, and since they are radically contrary to the liturgical spirit and to the letter of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, such Masses should never be permitted in any way. b) The nature of liturgical music requires that composers do not use for liturgical compositions melodies which people associate with situations foreign to the liturgy, even though those melodies may have a religious character. 5) Greater diligence must be used in imparting a musical formation in seminaries and religious institutes, so that clerics active in pastoral work will be qualified cooperators and even leaders in the liturgical movement. 6) Taking into consideration the continuous increase of the number of tourists in many places and the pastoral sense of the Constitution, it is deemed necessary that the Mass in Latin be retained fully wherever required for the spiritual benefit of the faithful.”

PROPOSITIONS SUBMITTED BY THE STUDY GROUP OF THE CHURCH MUSIC COMMISSIONS OF ALL THE AUSTRIAN DIOCESES. 1. Austrian church musicians are filled with the greatest apprehension that with the impending innovations in the area of liturgical singing the polyphonic rendition of the entire Ordinary of the Mass is endangered. They are well aware that every restriction of the use of the polyphonic settings of the Ordinary makes illusory the preservation and fostering of the treasury of sacred music. They stress that the exclusion of the liturgical masterpieces of Austrian music which results thereon will not only harm the liturgical religious experiences of the Austrian people, but in a wider way it will be considered in the international sphere as cultural robbery.