Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Café Never Closes

While considering what exactly I wanted to say in this post, I remembered reading an amazing essay I believe was composed by young Marc Barnes, the purveyor of BadCatholic Blog that typified virtually all of the traits and aspects that are most toxic about the Catholic Blogospheres. If someone can locate this article and provide a link, I’d be greatly in your debt. It needs to be read by any habitués, casual or calcified, of cyber-Catholicism.

Recently, Jeffrey provided me a golden opportunity to review a Mass setting that crossed his desk that caught his eye, Mass of the Mediatrix by Dr. Patrick O’Shea. And that was a gift that is going to keep on giving, as we read it thoroughly in rehearsal last week, and it confirmed that yes, Virginia, there are great Catholic composers out there not named Kevin Allen. (Joke, just a joke.) But as Jeffrey, myself and others took note, this setting’s pedigree line is tenuous, at best, to the chant ethos; it is decidedly a choral Mass, an incredibly worthy, singable and beautiful choral Mass.

In my review of the Glory, I made a very slight observation that I didn’t quite understand the necessity in the very opening phrase to have the soprano/alto sections singing “Glory to God in the highest,” while the tenor/bass voices omit “in the” ostensibly to set up the suspension in the tenors cleanly. I get that. I’ve done that in my composed companion Gloria to Proulx’s Oecumenica Mass with the women declaiming “You are seated at the right hand of the Father” and the men following in canon, but with “You are …. at the right hand of the Father.” These are the oblique concerns involved with multi-part text setting that, as Jake (Tawney?) pointed out below composers have had to figure out how to parce out since polyphony made its- (choose one) 1. ruinous; 2. miraculous- debut, doubtless first in what is now “France.”

Now to the point. This enterprise, the Chant Café, emerged onto the LitBlog scene to be a forum for the sharing of experiences, methods, repertoires, mentoring, events of interest and whatnot, mostly for those who subscribe to a pretty well-articulated body of beliefs about how well “chant” functions as a servant to liturgy. In the intervening years, the Café has been remodeled any number of ways, and I’ve always tried to do my part to uphold the aspect of it openly and firmly remaining a safe haven for those who live the words of St. Augustine, "Cantare amantis est."

When we venture far from the hospitality and charity that are intrinsic and self-evident in the world of “chant,” we need to carefully tread because the forms of music that other folks prefer does not, per se, eliminate them from among those who also believe “to sing is to love.” And we must also recognize that should we engage in dialogue, criticism or derision of other musical forms within this “café” environment, that logically it follows that we are unwittingly allowing those forms to be legitimately named “cantus,” or we are opening ourselves up to be decried for duplicity or hypocrisy when it is publicly known that we chant adherents also make “accommodations” within the scope of liturgical rubrical precision on a weekly basis, and in banner “event” Masses as well.

I’m not advocating that we habitués of the café stand for nothing, or should refrain from advocating that which is best and brightest to help all interested parties, not just stereotyped encampments we casually dub “reform2” or “ex-liberal, nee conservative old hippies,” pursue a greater interest in plainsong, Gregorian and other chant forms. I am advocating that we present a welcoming face to any and all who cross the threshold of our little shop, and that we make every effort to insure we never become a “little shop of horrors.”
 Pax Christi et Soli Deo Gloria.