Sunday, September 4, 2011

September 4 in the USofA. Casualities?

" Day is done, but Love unfailing dwells ever here;
  Shadows fall, but hope, prevailing, calms ev'ry fear.
  God, our Maker, none forsaking, take our hearts, of Love's own making;
  Watch our sleeping, guard our waking, be always near."
  Ar hyd y nos. James D. Quinn, S.J. copyright 1969

One of our dearest elderly friends, the mother of a former folk choir leader had some sort of coronary event during our mid-morning Mass. Knowing her as I do, the continuance of the liturgy and music ministry during the time she was tended to by paramedics was a comfort to her. Our vicar informed us she was stable, "fine," after Mass concluded. In Southern parlance, "It wa'n't the missal texts, then. Well, okay then."
Here's the skinny, Jack Webb-style, "just the facts."
Prior to three Masses at which I directed music, deliberately selected portions of the Glory, Holy and Memorials were rehearsed. This is highly unusual at our "joints," (Spike Lee reference) as we take our silence seriously. But as I made mention, this was a momentous Sunday in our contemporary evolution as a Church in English-speaking lands.
Two of those Masses, the setting of the St. Ann Mass by CCM musician Ed Bolduc was rehearsed and sung. The other saw likely the only rendering (to my knowledge) of The Mass of St. Therese of the Little Flower (Liseux) by my friend (on sabbatical) Royce Nickel in the entire eleven English conferences.
Nickel: we had rehearsed this Mass twice in earnest, a great first SATB sight-reading and then, last Wednesday, a strategic rehearsal alternating SATB with unison. In reality, I made the even stronger strategic decision to have the schola sing the Kyrie/Glory/Holy/Memorial entirely in unison melody (soprano.) What we experienced- a significant number of congregants rehearsing it with positive effort. I could then hear them trying to negotiate, by memory, those portions rehearsed during the Mass. We also, having never really sung the melody only, that Royce's setting lies very neatly, comfortably between chant and an Anglican choral setting. The primary duple and occasional triple metered phrases melted into chant declamation in unison, but without any artifice such as semiological concerns. After all, even without time signatures, Royce's quarter and half notes are half-earnest and half-implied indicators.
After effect: I was heartened by our vicar's encouragement to the congregation to take up these new melodic contours, or as Wendy pointed out, very intuitive constructs that are more friendly to even the unmotivated pew singer. The only comments we heard afterwards were positive: "beautiful....flowing....Catholic."
Bolduc: this Mass was given much more rehearsal time among our leadership and the groups I personally direct. I firmly believe (as our good friend MatthewJM testified via his NPM experience in July) that this Mass will become the MR3 MoC. Upon my first reading it, I had immediately connected to the Australian phenomenon of Hillsong P&W compositions and their characteristics of honesty, community (versus individual piety) and harmonic/melodic simplicity which could be dubbed elegance because of its inspirational effect. Bolduc's setting evokes that "ethos" without breaking either a sweat or an ounce of pretense.
The pre-Mass rehearsals went easy and obviously were taken up quite a bit more easily than Royce's choral setting. The opening melodic motive of 4-3, 4-3-1, 4-3-1, 3-2_____, in 6/8 proved not to be at all sing-songy to these ears, and apparently the congregants, despite the prejudice against triple meter with the Glory. And, as there's been a fair amount of criticism of late of the motivic coherence among ordinary movements of many post-conciliar settings (which was a virtue two decades ago!), Bolduc's setting is not overwrought with that demand. Like Janco's "Angels and Saints," the reiterations of certain motives in the Glory are sparingly used in the other movements. I attribute this to Bolduc's awareness of how they best serve the text. I don't know, he could have just guessed. But, I think it will prove to be a pre-eminent, non chant/choral setting for the next decade.
Disclaimer: the only "aid" the congregations had at our four parishes with any of the new (we're doing ALL NEW, no re-treads) settings was a Mass card with the texts. Based upon the reports I'm getting about all of our fourteen Masses in English indicate that rote still makes right.
Now, I made a journal of this weekend's experience as a testament to a number of concerns that have been (at time excruciatingly) exacerbated on this and other forums I frequent. To whit-

The SEP propers were still chanted at Introit and Communio at the three Masses at which I lead music . They don't contradict or contrast poorly with either hymnody or religious song.
The congregation was not visibly or otherwise disturbed before or during the Mass by the text or music changes.
We who would prefer that a great majority of our own personal worship experience was expressed within the media of chant and polyphony do not inflict our personal preferences as a dictum upon those whom we serve. And we also recognize that to do so in an abrupt, non-consensus manner (by mandate by a pastor/celebrant or an overly zealous and tunnel-visioned DM) without the sensus fidelium on-board would likely prove injurious and an injustice. But, we do not thus, by our pragmatism, deny the primacy of chant and its closest heir as the supreme, not sole, expression of our Catholic cultural faith.
So, that's that, and to our detractors I say: "Get a grip on yourselves."
No one died.