Sunday, January 30, 2011

The King's Speech, and Ours

The King’s Speech is a extraordinary movie ostensibly about a stuttering King George VI who overcomes a disability to deliver an important radio address to a nation faced with war. That might sound like the most boring plot ever, but when you consider the broader theme, you can see why this film has penetrated so deeply into the minds and hearts of viewers.

Actually, the film is not really “about” a particular historical case. It is about everyone who has ever found himself or herself thrust into a position that calls on particular talents that he or she does not possess. If you have been there, you know what it is like to stare off into the abyss, that sense that the zone you are about to enter could lead to personal humiliation - which is, in some way, the most terrifying fear that we experience on this earth. To face it requires unusual determination. It calls on work and steadfastness of spirit. It means having to learn new skills and face the difficulties that come with all personal upgrades in life.

If someone has not faced this problem, that person just hasn’t lived long or broadly enough. The time will come. That such a time came for the King of English rivets our minds and imaginations - and brings some measure of comfort too. And his manner in overcoming the problem - seeking help and calling upon every internal resource one can find - is truly an inspiration. No one is born into this world without limitations, and sometimes the greatest thing we can accomplish in this world is achieved not because of our inherent abilities but because we overcame a disability.

There is another similar story like this as found in the body of Gregorian chant. It is the offertory Precatus est Moyses in conspectu Domini Dei sui, which tells of a prayer to God by Moses, who, we will recall, objected to the idea that he could have any real leadership role because he has a stammer. The stammer appears in the chant itself, repeating in music and words the whole line: Precatus est Moyses in conspectu Domini Dei sui et dixit - one of the rare times in all of chant where this happens. Many scholars believe it is to underscore and reveal the stammer that followed him his entire life.

Musicians who sing in parishes at Catholic Mass understand this feeling all too well. Most of us - professionals exempted but not necessarily - have a profound feeling of inadequacy. There is a moment before a chant begins in which the room is completely filled with silence, that most beautiful thing. Our voices must break that silence with a pitch, a pitch we have mostly imagined or perhaps heard on a pipe blown very quietly. Then we must already imagine the intervals we must sing, and we know that if we miss a half step, the entire piece can be blown to bits.

No matter how many times I do this, no matter how well I know the chant, there is that feeling that occurs just as I open my mouth to sing, a feeling of insecurity, a fear that this will be the time when it won’t work and I will fall apart. And at that moment, we fear, it will be obvious to one and all that all we are and all we do is a fraud. And yet we must face up to it and do it, time after time, again and again, and the better job we do at this, the easier it appears to outsiders who can’t even imagine just how tricky, difficult, and angst-inspiring this really is.

Why don’t more people step forward and sing in our choirs? For the same reason the King would rather not have given the speech. For the same reason that Moses would have preferred to remain in the background. For the same reason that most of today’s singers in Gregorian chant choirs sat on the back pew in the parish for years and stayed completely silent. In fact, I would say that this reluctance, this fear, is good and healthy: it shows that the singer is not in it for fame or glory but rather because of an inner sense of a duty to serve and do the right thing.

We all know that there are too many singing groups in parishes today who are there precisely because they enjoy the opportunity to perform. They are using the liturgy for their own purposes. There is a way to change this motivation and turn their egos toward service: give them a real challenge but asking them to sing not pop music but genuine liturgical music that is bound on all sides by the demands of the liturgical text. They will be asked to sing without instruments and sing music of a different sort. This demand will test their devotion to the cause - and one hopes that they will rise to the occasion and feel that sense of caution and awe that chant musicians feel every week.

It is something we are all being challenged to do every week. In some way, actually, the Catholic Church is asking for something truly impossible - impossible in the sense that all miracles are impossible but still realizable. The Church is asking for beautiful, holy, and sacred music to appear at least once every week in every parish in the world. How is this possible? Only by virtue of a widespread acceptance of a mandate, and a widespread overcoming of disability, through hard work and dedication.. We need more people to accept the challenge that Moses accepted, and that the King in the film accepted. Despite our limitations, despite our stammers and fears, we must face the challenge and sing.

The Reform of the Reform: It is Happening

Much to my own delight and, to some extent, shock, the reform of the reform has become the most exciting and operative movement in the liturgical world today. After having been in the planning stages for longer than a decade, and even several, the reality has swept upon us with an astounding speed. The most conspicuous sign is the new translation that is to be implemented this coming Advent, but there is even more to it than this. The reform is touching every aspect of the liturgical face of the Roman Rite.

Let me take a step back and explain why this has come as quite the shock and why it represents the fulfillment of something seemingly impossible.

Since the first days of the first liturgical reform, the reaction has been mixed and contentious. Some were happy, some so disgusted that they walked away, some were indifferent, and there was a last group that stuck around but has been very disgruntled. Among those in the last group, there were two warring tribes: those who believed that it was possible to do better within the context of the reformed liturgy and those who saw no choice but to completely revert to the previous release from 1962.

These two sectors of people who saw the profound problems associated with the first reform were seriously at odds. Within Catholic punditry throughout the 1980s and 1990s, it was a complete war zone. You had to choose sides, landing firmly in one camp or another. The split occurred down family lines, and Catholic magazines and institutions had to decide one way or another. Very few in those days had the vision of Benedict XVI, who imagined a peaceful coexistence between the camps, which is the vision embodied in Summorum Pontificum. Such a possibility was just not an option in those days.

For my own part, living in what is now called the ordinary form world, I was pretty sure that the traditionalists were correct, and my judgement was based on personal experience with the way bureaucracies work. For years I had heard arguments about how the reform of the reform should take place. Some imagined the re-institution of the Last Gospel while others say that portion of the liturgy to be completely unneeded. Others surmised that the real problem was just that celebrants were improvising too much; if they would just stick to the books, all would be well. That same time of argument persisted in nearly every aspect of the reform, from the choice of language to the choice of vestments.

Given this situation, I figured that a consensus would never arrive. I imagined a room of liturgists arguing about these finer points and never coming to any kind of agreement. The result would be deadlock and a decision to just keep the current structure and also translation in place as is, simply because the status quo is always the result of bureaucratic deadlock. To my way of thinking, the reform opened the can of worms and they multiplied to the point that no one would ever get them back in again. Hence, the only way forward was the way backward: straight to 1962 as the goal.

I can recall the moment when my thinking began to shift. It was about eight years ago when I first sat down with William Mahrt who asked me a very pointed question. “Is it your view,” he asked, “that Gregorian chant and polyphony can never be restored within the reformed liturgy?” I said, yes that is my view and cited a host of sociological and structural reasons. He paused. Then he said bluntly: I disagree. That got my attention! He proceeded to explain how had had managed to do this in his own parish and how he sings the full propers of the Graduale Romanum with his choir in a regular parish, and how the congregation sings from the Kyriale, and how he also uses full Mass settings in Latin from the Renaissance. And he showed me his repertoire list to prove it.

That one conversation made realize something important. As I had become more “hard core” on issues of liturgical politics, I had become gradually less able to envision opportunities for reform within the reformed liturgy. Maybe I had been making excuses for myself to do nothing? For all the differences in the new rite, it is still the Roman Rite and hence it embeds a sensibility that is crying out to be united with its native music. The relationship had been broken asunder mostly due to cultural convention and convenience; we had a job to do in going forward. I gradually began to see the light here and began the hard work of making some contribution to the effort.

Also, I began to realize something about any long-standing choice with regard to reform: dreaming of some idyllic past can be easily coupled with a casual despair to create a kind of gloss on lethargy. The real hard work comes with embracing a realistic hope and committing time and energy to make it happen.

Apparently much smarter minds than mine had been thinking along the same lines and for a much longer time, and I thank God for this. For in our own time, we are about to experience the biggest upgrade to the reform yet. The new translation is absolutely thorough and pervasive from the first words to Mass to the end. It is dazzling to compare what we’ve lived with for so long with what we are about to experience.

For one thing, if you look through the critiques of the reformed rite of 1969/70 - some profoundly sensible and some unnecessarily vitriolic - you find that a major portion of them deal with the language that is about to be abandoned in favor of a translation that actually reflects the content of the Latin. Whole libraries of criticisms of the Novus Ordo Missae are about to be made defunct with this one action. That’s not to say that there are not remaining problems in the Latin or the forthcoming English Missal. It is only to say that the most dreadful issues of all are on the verge of being eliminated.

About the current translation of the Missal, I’ve long been a critic, some would say bitter critic. But let me say this. There is a way in which the current translation it is brilliant. It likes the active voice. The sentences are short. It eliminates repetition. It speaks very plainly and is always to the point. It is also humane and connected to our lives. This is good writing, excellent writing. It is perfect for novels, newspapers, scripts, and advertising. Would that more people would write this way. However, as a method of liturgy, it doesn’t work. The idea was to make the liturgy more directly communicative; but the approach did not stand the test of time and, in the end, managed only to make the liturgy tedious. It was a brilliant but colossal error.

The adoption of a new framework for language has already given life to a new approach to imaging new and beautiful things within the ritual structure. I’ve received countless notes from directors of music who are planning dramatic changes with the new Missal, starting with the adoption of the Missal chants themselves. The Simple Propers Projects fits in nicely here. Many priests have written with great excitement about how the new Missal will give them a fresh start with their musicians, liturgy teams, and every manner of lay volunteers. In my own parish, many people have given money specially earmarked to make this transition possible.

In short, one way to look at the current moment is that the reformed liturgy is being given another chance to succeed, and this time it is happening at a time when the ritual of 1962 is more pervasive in the lives of Catholics than it has been in 45 years. Traditionalists have always been correct on this point: the Mass of the Ages must be the guiding framework, the bedrock from whence all reform must flow. In liturgy, there is no such thing as starting from scratch. Many people apparently forgot that somewhere along the way.

Thus are we experiencing the reform of the reform even as we are seeing a flourishing of the old rite. The ordinary and extraordinary rites are living side by side in a way that hardly anyone really imagined could happen back in the 1980s. More than that, the ordinary form is on its way to being worthy of being held up as a legitimate expression of the Roman Rite, and recognizable as such to any generation. As to people like myself who doubted that this could ever happen: we should all take note of our onetime lack of faith and observe that glorious things are possible with work and prayer.

Simple Propers for the 9th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Download Simple Propers for the 9th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Simple Propers for 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th Sundays in Ordinary Time

Download Simple Propers for 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th Sundays in Ordinary Time:

Friday, January 28, 2011

Introibo ad Altare Dei

Somewhere, I have the communion chant for this following Sunday, ordinary form, printed on a white t-shirt, so that I end up singing it throughout the year. Someone will walk up and say, "hey, that looks like music. How does it go?" Then I can sing the whole chant, looking upside down, because of course no one ever cuts you off if you are singing a Gregorian chant, even if it is in the middle of baked-goods part of the grocery store.

Also, this chant has an exuberant youthfulness about it, and I'm especially appreciative of it because it reminds me of the opening words in the order of Mass in the extraordinary form - words I first heard when I would listen to Bernstein's Mass as a young child. Writing in the early sixties, Mr. Progressive Bernstein put the words in English, not knowing just how progressive people would become less than a decade later when it was cut out of the order of Mass entirely.

In any case, the text survives in this communion chant for a week from Sunday, and appears in the same way in the extraordinary form for sexagesima (the link for us unfortunate souls for whom this day has been eliminated).

Pre-Lent - Sexagesima: Communio from Corpus Christi Watershed on Vimeo.

One of the Greatest Living Organists

Jonathan Ryan might be so described. He has a new website.

Four New Settings Approved for Liturgical Use

We just heard from the USCCB that these Mass settings have been approved for liturgical use:
I link my favorite portions:

Free Glory To God using the new ICEL translation (Roman Missal) from Corpus Christi Watershed on Vimeo.

ENGLISH CHANT MASS • Richard Rice • CREDO (Creed) from Corpus Christi Watershed on Vimeo.

The "Easy" Life of a Lay Clerk (Musically speaking)

Every so often, as a "Gentleman of the Back Row" you come accross that breed of professional musician called the "Opera Singer". Most of them are perfectly nice, but the odd one or two seem to look down on us church musicians. I have to say, as a former Army officer, it's not a situation I'm entirely unfamiliar with. I was commissioned into the Royal Logistic Corps, and every so often when the banter and the beer were flowing the cavalry types would pass a snarky comment on the infantry types about their superiority, and the infantry types would pass a snarky comment looking down on us combat service support types, and we'd remind the infantry types of exactly how long they'd last as cannon fodder without us (less than 5 minutes usually). And so it is in music. The opera singer who rocks up to "Panis Angelicus" his/her way through the signing of the Register at a wedding thinks we have an easy life trooping in and out of our churches and cathedrals in our cassocks doing the same thing day in and day out. Well, if you really want to see an opera type sweat, put them in a proper service where you have 20 mins to rehearse 40 mins of music and make them sight read! (Harsh, but ultimately fair!)

Now what I'm about to say comes from my persepctive as a singer utterly incapable of conducting a choir if my life depended on it. Those of you who conduct regularly may well pick holes in some of what I'm about to say and utterly debunk me. Some of you may accuse me of trying to teach my grandmother to suck eggs. I hope I'm not. What I'm suggesting are a few things to consider about giving singers the experiences of what it takes to be a lay clerk in the hopes of raising your game.

The first "skill" is deportment. The "opera singer" debunks the Lay Clerk on the grounds that their singing is highly choreographed and they act/dance as well as sing. The Lay Clerk isn't that much different actually, we process in and out and we move around Quires and Sanctuaries with the precision of a Guardsman. We have to. Some choirs sit up in lofts out of sight, but even if you do, a little precision of movement is an important thing. It reminds you of your purpose and dignity, and even subconsciously, it teaches you to move, operate, and think as a team. It used to really annoy me, 5 mins before mass, when the Brompton Oratory choir would cross the nave in a "gaggle" on their way to the choir loft. On the occasions when they would sing in front of the Lady Chapel it would take them forver to get organised because they were so used to not being seen. Precision, deportment, movement are all important. Teach your choirs to move as a body, to walk upright, to be dignified. Train them to move around the church to sing from different positions when required to do so.

The next skill is sight reading. So many choirs rely on "note bashing" and in a rehearsal devote no time to sight reading exercises. The ability to sight read is what Eric Whitacre included in his reasonsing as to why British choirs are amongst the best in the world. My sight reading ability isn't perfect, but it doesn't usually take too long for me to work out where a piece is going and for me to be able to predict with accuracy. A lot of amateur church choirs over here also devote time to teaching singing technique on a 1-1 or small group basis and are able to do this because they don't have to spend hours note-bashing until the choir has memorised the piece. Like I said, if you really want to make an opera singer sweat, make them sight read. Many of the best opera singers in the world can't do it because they are so used to memorising their roles.

Following sight singing is repertoire. A choir will have it's own personality and with it a standard faire of repertoire that they are used to. Now I'm not suggesting that you only sing the same 5 pieces week in week out but that the chorister will feel most comfortable knowing that the majority of what he/she sings falls into a discrete category of music with the odd bit and piece that is unusual. Singing in Poscimur means the bulk of the rep is 19th and 20th Century English composers and Anglican chant. Every so often we get some Byrd or Palestrina, but the bulk of our work is Sumsion, Blow, Bairstow and the likes. It means with experience comes confidence in knowing what I'm doing when I'm with that choir. If it suddenly vered towards a choral diet of Gesualdo and Des Prez (and I frankly wouldn't mind if it did), it would rattle the choir because it's not the core of what we do. Having a "house style" means that you become good at what you do because you mix skill with experience.

The next skill is liturgy. It's no good just tipping up to sing without knowing the context you are singing in. It's worth doing joint workshops with the altar servers to learn how the liturgy goes together, what prayers are said when and why. A deep understanding of the liturgy helps you understand what's going on when something needs to change, or when there's a curve ball, like the sudden need to dig out a "potboiler" motet at short notice. A good Lay Clerk will understand the workings of all of the liturgies that he sings, the meaning and significance of the actions, and the way in which the prayers and readings go together.

The final one is professionalism. It's a skill that doesn't always translate too well in amateur terms and one that when singing with amateur choirs so many of them struggle with. When I'm paid to sing and I have a call time, I'm there 10 minutes early. When the rehearsal starts there's quiet and we follow instructions and mark up accordingly. We sing what we are asked to sing. When the Director speaks we are quiet. In the amateur choir it's hard when Betty and Doris start chatting away whenever the Director speaks akiing it hard for others to listen, or when Albert's 5 minutes late and then disrupts everyone else by rumaging through his bag for the music or his pencil, or his brain! It's annoying to hear Derek pontificate about how he did this motet with the cast of thousands in the Chipping Sodbury Choral Society and how it was so much better with the trembling voices of the countless octigenarians when he should be concentrating on the direction being given by this director of this choir. It's hard instilling discipline on people who willingly give up their time to sing, but want to do so on their own rambling terms. I'd suggest the way to move around this is to act professionally. I sing in a choir at a church in St Albans. It doesn't pay a fee, but the Gentlemen each have a pigeon hole with their names on it (Mr Fraser in my case, not "Keith"). Each week the music is left in the pigeon hole. In the song school the boys and girls are expected to keep silence once rehearsal starts. The adults are expected to set the example. It's the little things like this which means that the entire choir pulls together "professionally". In the deputising cathedral choir I sing with Cathy, the Director of Music rules with a gentle iron rod. What it achieves is a mentality that strives for excellence and a real sense of achievement at a job well done.

I don't really have it in for opera singers by the way. I bumped into Bryn Terfel once, literally, outside of the Wigmore Hall in London where he was in the audience. Being a bit shell-shocked at having barged into the 6'6" baritone I said to him "'re Bryn Terfel!". He just smiled and said "Yes, I suppose I am".

Tu es Petrus

In his earlierpost Jeff gives us a pointer to the PapalMusic YouTube channel, one I discovered a while ago. And fantastic it is too!

I wanted though to pick another piece of music from that channel that I had wished he'd selected.

Imagine this. You are the Pope. You've come to England and Scotland on a State as well as pastoral visit. The "Magic Circle" of liberal bishops have put together a prayer vigil in Hyde Park that looks like a combination of televangalist kitsch meets sci-fi movie set with more kum-by-ya than you can wave a pontifical crozier at. Westminster Abbey has pulled out all of the stops and threatens to be the liturgical highlight of the visit. You are saying mass at Westminster Cathedral and you want it to be the exemplar of how the Ordinary Form should be said, you want to make your point to the bishops by example. It has the potential to go quite horribly wrong.

Or does it?

At Westminster now is an ArchBishop, who in spite of his leftist leanings on social teaching is the product of his time as Cardinal Hume's Auxilliary and has been schooled in the late Cardinal's appreciation for dignified liturgy. Assisting him is the Administrator of the Cathedral Canon Chris Tuckwell, a former Grenadier Guards officer with an understanding of "occasion" having been involved in state occasions as a soldier. With him is a highly intelligent and orthodox Sub-Administrator Fr Slavomir Witon. The Master of Music, Martin Baker, is a fine musician with an ear for the right music in the right place. In the background of this small group is Msgr Marini the Papal Master of Ceremonies.

A decision was taken, and it was a fine decision. Before the introit would be a motet, Tu es Petrus, and it would have to set the tone for the occasion. There are many fine settings, but it was fitting and proper to commission a new setting. The Cathedral commissioned James MacMillan.

James is a committed, orthodox Catholic. He (in spite of being a world famous composer) conducts his little church choir in Glasgow. He loves this Pope. He understands liturgy, he understands that when the Pope enters the Cathedral, the Mother Church of England that his music must say something about who the Holy Father is. And so he writes his piece. As Fr Z would say, MacMillan "gets it", he really, really "Gets It!"

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Will the Mystery Mass Setting Please Sign In?

Name That (Source) Tune! Can you name it in a tetrachord? Actually, this shouldn't take anyone longer than a phrase.

Okay, okay! Tyler (of course!) and Adam (ditto) nailed it, with the Pres chiming in on their heels. But Ron, the pride of Utah, more or less called into question the point of this exercize by simply declaring it "tedious."
Coming on the heels of Jeff Ostrowski's marvelous new Gloria that has already orbited the world in about, say, a nano second, I tried to fathom the depths and distances and variances of understanding among those composing "new" sacred settings  to adhere closely to the culture of chant. Many of us have briefly and/or seriously examined both the revised ordinaries available at the Big Three websites. And I was somewhat surprised that the marketing blurbs for a number of them ascribed "chant" or "chant-like" as a selling point.
And, of course, many of the revised and new settings staunchly use the heavily metered, nee syncopated melodies that are S.O.P. for the liturgical ensemble. So coming off of the joyful success of teaching and praying the ICEL (Mass XV) English "Glory to God" with my parochial school classes, I just took literally five minutes to concoct a metrical quote of it. Just as the ICEL setting references the original Latin XV inexactly, I immediately decided that a metrical retrofitting of it in its original mode 4 wouldn't stand a chance of getting a hearing from the local strummer or piano-bar player. So, using "E" as the tonic/final, I simply decided to set in in E Major, but to try to maintain as much intervallic data authentic within a time signature. I also tried to keep a rhythmic similarity to the values indicated in the ICEL chant, but not slavishly so as to have general chaos in the movement and at cadences.
To what end? Well,  for me, a banality and connundrum. Whether it conjures up an "O when the Saints" or Rogers and Hammerstein association or not, I'm pretty convinced that the Church wants new composition to contain honest and real "invention" in relation to chant, rather than concoction and convention. Assigning meter to stressed/unaccented syllables within a chant melody isn't all that difficult. Changing said melody's modality to tonality, same. But, using this Edsel-like retrofitting strategy, can it stand up to scrutiny as a melody alone? If not, then why go another step and gussy it up with some nebulous chord assignments such as EMaj9, F#m/E, G#m/E, AMaj7, Bs7/E etc.?
That we will be soon auditioning perhaps hundreds of new settings, I tend to think that congregations ought to be given the opportunity and relief of singing non-metrical ordinaries, propers, hymns and sequences. As we have seen with my mentor, Frank LaRocca, and the prodigious talent of folks like Kevin Allen, the melodic and harmonic vocabulary of chant does not inhibit or constrain true artistic invention. And I have a local, new friend up the freeway in Fresno who has set the new ordinary texts exquisitely, and have encouraged him to network with CMAA/Cafe colleagues.
But whether the forces that resist the inculcation of more traditional and native Roman Catholic musical art forms relent and create space and respect within weekend Mass schedules for both traditional and newer forms of chant-based music to be planted and flourish remains a dubious question.

The Beauty of Fr. Joncas's Salve Regina

You can follow the sheet music here or purchase the octavo from OCP.

Simple Propers for the Presentation of the Lord

Download Simple Propers for the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

And for a deeper penetration of the riches of this feast, following are the Collect and Prayer after Communion from the Revised Translation of the Roman Missal:


Almighty ever-living God, we humbly implore your majesty that, just as your Only Begotten Son was presented on this day in the Temple in the substance of our flesh, so, by your grace, we may be presented to you with minds made pure. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.


By these holy gifts which we have received, O Lord, bring your grace to perfection within us, and, as you fulfilled Simeon's expectation that he would not see death until he had been privileged to welcome the Christ, so may we, going forth to meet the Lord, obtain the gift of eternal life. Through Christ our Lord.

PapalMusic Youtube Channel

There was a time when a channel so named might not have been a place as wonderful as this.

Extremely Rare Passion Books, Liberated

Thanks to a very special donor with a far-seeing vision, three fantastic books from the past have been digitized and thereby liberated into the infinite sector of the global commons. Many, many priests who celebrate the extraordinary form will rejoice at this news. These books that cover chants for Holy Week have been nothing short of impossible to obtain. You see them sometimes in choir lofts that miraculously escaped the great gutting of the late 1960s. Now they are back. If you print them, they appear on 8.5x11 sheets. I decided to forgo the color for load speed and convenience.

Cantus Passionis (1952): Volume I, Volume II, Volume III

Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit; the Kingdom of Heaven is Theirs

Setting the Psalm antiphons to something dignified and singable for the congregation is one of my ongoing projects, as many of you know. I'm doing them in real time, and Jeffrey Ostrowski is kind enough to post them over at Chabanel. I've gotten almost all the way through the three-year cycle. Even so, I will be going back and revisiting those I did almost three years ago. My process has evolved quite a bit, and is still settling in.

Sometimes the antiphons are so short, it doesn't seem that anything recognizable, much less memorable, can be made of them. This week we have the opposite problem: Blessed are the poor in spirit; the kingdom of heaven is theirs. It's long. Yet it is going to have to be something something that the congregation will be able to repeat back after one hearing only. Here is what I've come up with this week.

I guess there are lots of approaches. What seems to work best to me is to look at the rhythm of the words. What will make most language sense to the English speaker? Where are the word accents? What does the sentence sound or feel like? Where are the vowels? Which are the consonants that stand out, and where is there beauty?

My next step is to take this string of words, which I've presumably analyzed for accent, clarity and beauty, and find a simple melody that arises from it. The melody should seem to flow from the words, be pleasing to the mouth, mind, and ear, and according to my self-imposed rule, should fit into a modal structure.

Even if I find something that meets my criteria I stop right there: what if I am going to run into trouble with the Psalm verses? What if the words accents at the ends of phrases don't lend themselves to the particular office tone (because those are the ones I use) endings that are available to me based on the mode I've selected for the antiphon?

So I scroll forward and look through the verses. Mode II almost always works, or I can make it work. Mode V usually works, or I can make it work. Mode VIII works well. Mode I is fun, and so is Mode VII. Mode VI is pesky. But which one works best? Sometimes I decide to go back and rethink the antiphon and mode, and start all over again. There must be an easier way, right?

Everyone acknowledges the problems with making English conform to the Gregorian tones. Bruce Ford has studied and dealt with the problem for years. And the Meinrad tones and Fr. Weber's adapted versions are more suited, by design, to the English word accents. Some prefer to use these, for example, Adam Bartlett with the Simple English Propers project. But I have chosen to stick with Gregorian tones for numerous reasons, which I won't get into right now. I'll save that for another discussion.

And with your spirit

For me personally, the least controversial aspect of the new translation is the restoration of "And with your spirit" as opposed to the street-talkin' "And also with you." In fact, I was disappointed that we are not to say, "and with thy spirit" because this is the phrase one hears most commonly in literature and legend. In any case, the transliteration of the Latin is most welcome.

But does it make sense? This is the question that got us in such trouble in the first place, for it implies a kind of liturgical rationalism and a mandate to come to understand and thereby approve -- construct -- every aspect of the liturgy. The rationalist project requires that we throw out as ancient cruft all that strikes us as odd and only retain that which makes sense to us in our generation. Here we have a serious problem because the liturgy itself is larger than one generation. It stretches back into a history the details of which grow foggier the early we go. More than that, there is an element of the divine at work in the development of liturgy, and this means that ultimately it might include words, rubrics, and even music that is beyond human comprehension. This is why a good rule is: defer to tradition. Changing things risks doing violence to a divine thing.

In any case, and understandably, people do want an explanation for the modern move to "and with your spirit," and Fr. Austin J. Milner has provided a beautiful one today. The phrase is an ancient greeting, unique to Christianity, and intended to underscore our conviction that the spirit of God exists in every human person. This is certainly in contrast to the belief in the ancient world, which lacked this kind of mystical universalism at its ethical core.

This is such a beautiful explanation, one that helps underscore ideas that we too often take for granted: the dignity of the human person, the universality of human rights, the breath of God as the source of rationality, and much more. All of these were the great contributions that Christianity made to the world. I'm happy to read this explanation so that I can say these words with greater appreciation - and this is precisely the best use of these kind of studies, not to call into question a tradition but to shed light on its meaning and implications.

This article should certainly be shared with all Catholics.

By the way, this was apparently Fr. Milner's last article that he wrote before he died.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sacred Notation, Sacred Music

Thanks to Pray Tell for this pointer to Lorenzo Candelaria's wonderful piece appearing on--get ready for it--Huffington Post. Candelaria is a professor at the University of Texas, and a wonderful scholar and person, in so many ways. He has written for Sacred Music in the past (I'm constantly leaning on him to write again) but one suspects that it is a better use of his insight and talent to post articles like this in unexpected places.

The musical arts of the Roman Catholic Church rank among its greatest contributions to contemporary culture. Music existed outside of the Church, of course. But it was the Catholic Church that first truly cultivated the art as we know it. In the service of praising God, it fostered a number of innovations -- such as musical notation -- that inform the ways we create and transmit music even today. READ MORE

So enormously beautiful, coming up soon

Perosi and Gigli Meet

A charming and peculiar story from the June 1933 issue of Caecilia:

A pleasing story comes from the Vatican regarding a carefully planned meeting between Maestro Don Perosi, the celebrated composer of sacred music, and the tenor, Benjamin Gigli. Perosi is very hard to approach, refuses visits by persons unknown to him, and often enough will not admit even his old friends. The tenor, Gigli, long had wished to pay a visit to him and the meeting was prearranged by Advocate Adriano Belli in the following way.

Lives with Monks

Maestro Perosi lives with the confraternity of the Brothers of Mercy just outside Vatican City. He has two rooms where he spends his time composing and praying, for he is very devout.

A pianoforte was brought into the ante-chamber of the composer's apartment and Gigli sitting down at the piano sang one of the composer's most famous pieces.

Amazed to hear the world famous tenor's voice outside his door, Perosi opened it and understood the surprise that had been prepared for him. Perosi was touched by the act, shook Gigli by the hand, and promised to write a special piece of religious music
for him which the tenor in turn promised to sing.

Survey Chart

With 130 responses and counting, here are the trends. This chart will update automatically.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Oh Wow, A Poll on Chant!

Changes for Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time


Lord our God,
help us to love you with all our hearts,
and to love all men as you love them.

Grant us, Lord our God,
that we may honor you with all our mind,
and love everyone in truth of heart.

Prayer after Communion

Lord, you invigorate us with this help to our salvation.
By this eurcharist give the true faith continued growth
throughout the world.

Nourished by these redeeming gifts,
we pray, O Lord,
that through this help to eternal salvation
true faith may ever increase.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Simple Propers for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Download Simple Propers for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

A few strategic changes (can you tell which?) have been applied to the Simple Propers Project, which will allow our production pace–until this point a steady week-to-week crawl–to now push forward in a much more accelerated way. You can look for the the remainder of the next stretch of Ordinary Time, including the Presentation of the Lord, by the end of the week. And you can begin look for propers for the Lenten and Easter Seasons next week.

We're primed now to push forward and complete this book!

Thank you to all who send notes on your progress with singing Simple Propers in your parishes and cathedrals. We look forward to helping you be more prepared for your singing, and, most importantly, to getting a completed collection of propers in your hands in the very near future.

What Do We Mean by the 60s Culture?

It is frequently said that Vatican II started and ended at the worst possible time. The whole intent of the Council was devoured by the ethos of the 1960s. Cultural upheaval is what caused its meaning to be wildly distorted. An attempt to bring the Church to the world ended up bringing the world into the Church, devouring its substance and causing a major rupture between the past at the present. An agenda designed to update became one that ended up overthrowing. The reasons are complicated but somehow, in all discussions of this topic, the idea that the 60s culture had much to do with it always figures into the equation. 

Now, to young people today, to speak of the 1960s conjures up no lived context. One might as well be talking about the War of the Roses. So in an effort to figure out the meaning here, I pulled up an issue of Time Magazine from 1966, the year following the close of the Council. The Person of the Year: Young Generation. Let’s see what it says. 

The magazine speaks of people under the age of 25. This was a gargantuan group, and this was wholly unusual. There was birth dearth during World War II, but the dam broke immediately following the war in 1946 and ending in 1957, causing what is called the “baby boom.” Pastors looked out over the flocks of faithful and saw, for the first time, far more kids than adults. To a great extent, this was a numbers game. The kids had the disproportionate influence. 

Read this and ask yourself what might happen if you attempted liturgical reform in the midst of this.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Note Reflects Most Common Opinion

Believe it or not, and I know that this fact is deeply regrettable, but not everyone reads or hangs around on the forums, or otherwise keeps up with what is going on in the Catholic music blogosphere.

From among this less-connected sector of life arrives a note about once per day, and today is no exception. We usually don't blog these but I thought you might enjoy seeing what I regard as a very, very common view among mainstream Catholics.
I may be a lone voice crying in the wind, but is there a big chance that our liturgical music/hymnals will change (be required) with the Liturgical updates that are to come here in the US? Please tell me "Yes," because I am dying of monotony at Mass.

You know, the Catholic Church could take pointers from Orthodox and some Anglican (I used to be a member) churches when it comes to music/art/architecture/priestly robes. Visually/musically, it is uplifting. I don't get that in our churches. Has the Vatican noted this??

Don't misunderstand me when I say the Catholic Church has everything spiritually with the 7 sacraments and it is of prime importance, but everything else is anemic.

I also wish every parish had a Gregorian Chant choir, which I would LOVE to join. We wouldn't have to sing in Latin, but just capture that beautiful sound.

Can you give me a ray of hope in regard to our music? I'm ready to drop from folk song. Thank you so much!

I of course told her that she should move ahead and START a Gregorian schola now, and that the Catholic Church is a large ship that turns slowing but that we are fortunate enough to be living through times when the direction is starting to change.

Bath Abbey evensong

Available until Wednesday 26th January, Evensong from Bath Abbey on BBC Radio 3 iPlayer juxtaposing Whitacre's Lux Aurumque, Piccalo's Responses, and an Atwood psalm with one of the best performances of Arvo Part's Beatitudes I think I have ever heard.

Sheer esoteric bliss!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Suffer the children? Hardly.

Dr. William Mahrt offered a treasure trove of historical, liturgical, theological, and anecdotal information to those of us fortunate to be in his sessions at the NOLA Chant Intensive. Some of the gold glimmered immediately, and so many of the gems will refract and challenge us to examine them with reflection for years.
One of the most compelling notions for me was his depiction of how the oral/aural transmission of chant melodies, associated with specific psalm texts succeeded by their inculcation with very young children in monasteries. Basically, Mahrt explained, the innate capacity of pre-adolescent children to permanently absorb environmental input by rote experience was capitalized upon by generations of monks, who as children themselves, were vessels storing vintages of chant, and ultimately transmitters of the continued progression of the repertoire necessary to celebrate the hours of each day, and each week.
After coming home from NOLA, one of my fellow teachers at our parish school who is also our accompanist for our Friday school Masses, as well as for weekend liturgies relayed to me that, as I was absent for our Friday Mass that week, the celebrant had his wires crossed, and recited the Kyrie, and as it was the feast of St. John Neumann looked over to her to initiate the singing of a Gloria, which is normally not part of the school's repertoire.
In my mind I instantly linked that need to what Mahrt had said about the capacity of young children to easily learn, and decided to teach the ICEL MR3 Glory to God chant to the entire student body in one week. This was certainly not their first experience with learning chant. That's been part of the curriculum for years. But this was a matter of intent and purpose from my perspective. I even created a score for our Bell Choir, knowing it would take them longer, as they are the 8th grade, outside of the "sponge" maxim.

The second week back, I prepared the school Liturgy of the Word for today on Monday, and having explained the "why" of singing the Gloria on the feast day of a saint during the previous week, was further motivated by knowing we would celebrate the life and sainthood of St. Agnes at the week's end. So, refinement and practice, along with context was heavily accentuated in this week's classes.

So, all I want to share is that likely for the first time in decades, students from our parochial school prayed, not performed, the Glory to God in the unique language of chant. I had provided all with half-sheet scores, but I know they could have sung the new translation even without them, and will likely do so next time around. They sang earnestly, some imperfectly, but most of them in a very solid, tuned unison. They phrased knowingly, keeping the text moving effortlessly and cadencing at full bars through listening together.

This is not about verifying Dr. Mahrt's cognitive theories of learning modalities, or my ability as a teacher, or their ability to acquire a fairly formulaic setting. This was about their understanding, from the adolescents down to the primary first grade level, that this is how we best pray and praise God. It is not at all like some of their favorite songs or hymns, or akin to the "hiccup" style of recitation of the Lord's Prayer or the Pledge of Allegiance. I felt the joy of the angels as my baritone flowed with their treble purity. And they know that the Gloria was a hymn given us by the angel choirs upon His birth, and a foretaste of unheard-of musics that attend our singing praise to our Creator and Father in the heavenly Kingdom.
I don't think I want to think in terms of bricks anymore. Child by child, no matter what their age. Yeah, that works.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Rock on, Rock on...

Over on the Musica Sacra site, I promised to write something about a recent experience that I had while attending Mass at another parish. It was a strange experience but I ended up feeling very optimistic.

I had reason to attend another parish's mid-morning Sunday Mass a couple of weeks ago. I glanced at the music schedule and noticed that the Contemporary Ensemble would be serving, but my reasons for going outweighed any reticence I might have about the music. I arrived a few minutes early and noticed that this Mass was packed to rafters (I found out that all of them are. It's a huge parish). I also noticed the drums and amplifiers and a few young singers checking microphones. Nothing new to me. I expected the usual OCP-style fare, but as the musicians set up, the director announced that they were going to teach the Responsorial Psalm. It was an original composition (I think) and very funky, something like you might hear on Bourbon St in New Orleans (I know this style very well, mind you). The director played piano and sang and the choir was mostly used for backup vocals. On the other hand, I will admit that it was played very well. These guys really had their act together and were fine popular-style musicians. The balance was good, the time was on and they were tight. The singers were good, too, but in an American Idol sort of way. I'm afraid that I am quite incapable now of actually praying the Psalm with music like this. It is just too distracting for me. Another aside... I find that most of the assembly at any Mass kind of dreads the Responsorial Psalm. There are many and varied reasons for this.

The preparations over, the Mass commenced with a Contemporary Christian classic that extolled how awesome God was and how we were going to praise him all the time. No real problem there. Many entrance songs and hymns have this sentiment, BUT no one sang. Again, for me the style of music really seemed out of sync with the liturgical action. The Kyrie was spoken and the Gloria was by Matt Maher, I think... I think some folks sang, but I really couldn't tell. There was one woman behind me that must have been in that "choir" at some point. She knew it well, but the exception proved the rule here. The next musical item was the Responsorial Psalm that, even with the practice, no one sang along. The Alleluia was another great rocker that I did not know (and neither did the congregation from the sound of them). Offertory was another "You're a great God and I'm gonna praise you all the time" CC song. No one sang along. The other Mass parts were again some contemporary setting I've not heard. Communion featured a new-age-style piano solo and then a ballad about, you guessed it, how awesome God is and how much much I'm praise him. The concluding song that the group played and sang was on the very same topic and true to Catholic form, most of the folks were headed for the parking lot, long before it was over (at least they don't discriminate). By the way, did I mention this was the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. One would never know from the music selected.

By the time Mass was over, I felt like I needed to go to Confession, so I stayed for a bit to pray and calm down. While doing so, it hit me. I recalled that no one was singing. I'll bet they really liked the musical style and many may have actually made the trip just for it, but by and large they didn't sing. In fact, I notice that folks will sing more at Masses that use the usual old-school popular style. For those of us who truly believe that there IS a "church music," the OCP and GIA material is the biggest barrier to reclaiming a higher level of musical worship. The music I heard at this Mass was so much better than most of that stuff, but no one sang along. My friends, I believe that this might provide the necessary opening needed to reintroduce chanted prayer in the Catholic Church. At some point priests are going to notice that this new music is not accomplishing what music is supposed to do. They will be receptive if shown how a congregation can really fill a room with very simple chant (like the Snow Lord's Prayer setting). This move to "real" contemporary music might just be a blessing in disguise. I have hope.

Chant Conference in Novia Scotia


A conference organized by
The Gregorian Institute of Canada
August 4-7, 2011
Dalhousie University
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

More information on the conference at

The deadline to submit papers or workshops is February 1, 2011. Please send your proposal to igc.gic AT

Collect for 3rd Sunday of the Year is just a bit...different

Father, direct your love that is within us,
that our efforts in the name of your Son
may bring mankind to unity and peace.

Almighty ever-living God,
direct our actions according to your good pleasure,
that in the name of your beloved Son
we may abound in good works.

Composers and the Catholic Inspiration

I write as a musician, but one who has never had an original melody be generated from within. A song is always on my heart but it is always someone else’s song. I can’t think of a song myself. I’ve tried. It doesn’t work. The patterns of notes and the shape of the sound of something original and new are not part of my internal wiring. I don’t know why. It is just the way it is. All songs that I know already exist.

So I can only marvel at other musicians who think of new phrases, melodies, and while compositions seemingly out of thin air. They hear them in their head, new things that didn’t previously exist, and then they feel this burning passion to put them on paper and give them to the world.

How marvelous is that?

Just as some people have a “sense of direction,” some are good at math and others at reading, some people are drawn to detailed work like accounting and others like to run and jump in a sport, so it is with music. Even great musicians are not necessarily good composers, not matter how much training they . The capacity for conjuring up a melody is something very special. It surely must be some kind of gift from God. I don’t know how else to explain it.

How did Haydn dream up so many fantastic melodies that seem like real objects with three dimensions? Or consider Schubert’s songs, each of which seem to preexist when you hear them, as if the singer is revealing something that has always been there but you only now see. Where did Brahms get the structure of his melodies that he are already developing beyond themselves even after the first notes?

The process surely involves the intellect but not mainly. To dream up a beautiful melody or something as complex as a piece of polyphony and make it real mainly involves what is called the imagination. But it is an imagination of a particular sort, directed toward a particular end.

My father had this gift too. He wrote all kinds of songs, but he had a special passion for hymns. Some ten years after he died I was in a Baptist Church in Texas and the entire congregation sang one of his hymns at the conclusion of a service. Not one person who sang who knew or knew who he was, and hardly anyone even noticed the name of the composer. And yet there was evidence of the mark that my father left on the world, right there in the context of a community’s worship experience. To me, this is a very impressive legacy.

I think too of the thousands of composers of what is now called Gregorian chant. It is nearly always the case that once I get to know a particular chant really well, I find myself marveling at the melody that’s been created and how it is so beautifully crafted to not only serve up the text but also provide additional enhancements.

Look no further than two weeks ago when we sang Omnes qui, in which the high and low jumps seem to me to so beautifully characterize baptismal waters. Or consider the Omnis Terra introit from last Sunday, which offers such a pretty and expansive melody just as we are singing about singing. And two weeks from now, we experience something similar with Bonum est, in which we are offered during offertory the chance to “sing in honor of your name” with a steady stream of high notes that become more elaborate with each phrase.

If we think of music that has “stood the test of time,” these chants are the archetype. They sound as fresh and thrilling more than one thousand years, and perhaps much longer, after they first made an appearance. There is genius behind this. And the genius is not only due to its longevity but also the inspiration that the chant has provided for others. Countless composers in our history have drawn from the art of chant to influence their own creations, and the Church has always encouraged this.

I’m a consumer rather than a producer when it comes to new music, so I’m especially impressed at the floods of composition that seem to be appearing in the sacred music tradition. One wonders if we are in fact entering into a new Renaissance of Catholic composition today.

Jeffrey Ostrowski, a musician in Texas, woke up only last week with a new gloria in his head, one based on the new text that will become part of our liturgical experience beginning in Advent. He thought of this beautiful melody, wrote it up very quickly, and, thanks to technology, was able to post it later that day.

The structure is plainsong, just like Gregorian chant, but the melody is crafted to make the English especially beautiful. But because it avoids a strict metric, it has a floating and prayerful quality to it. It is in a major key but dances around the third of the tonic, and here it also ends with a strong suggestion that there is much more coming during the liturgy.

The responses to his posting were exuberant. “Very well done!” “It's a smooth, naturally flowing, interesting melody, well suited to the voice, and accompanied by a rich sort of contemporary harmony on the organ - yet it achieves a sense of continuity with the historical treasure of Church music.” “Absolutely beautiful. i just want to listen to it over and over and over.”

The next day, a cathedral musician was giving a workshop to priests and musicians and he made 150 copies of this Gloria and passed it out to everyone. They all sang it together and loved it. The experience of this composition, from the imagination to the singing in workshops, occcurred in less than 24 hours, revealing how the most modern technology has given flight to the most ancient of arts.

And this is only the beginning. Adam Bartlett has an entire book of propers on the way. Richard Rice has composed a Mass setting. Jacob Bancks of Chicago composed a Mass and is giving it away free online. Kevin Allen’s polyphonic music in Latin is being published and distributed at long last. Chabanel Psalms is offered 5 or 6 Psalm options per week for free download.

The new Missal text seems to codify a new seriousness about liturgical life. This means that serious musicians in the Catholic world are being drawn back into applying their gift to making our liturgical life more beautiful. This has been a dream of mine for a very long time, for it is obvious to music historians that most great musicians essentially stopped looking to the Mass as a vessel for their talents sometime in the 1960s. Those who stuck around were burned and burned again by constantly changing texts and fashions. We lost so much in these years.

But these are new times, and technology makes instantaneous sharing with the entire Catholic world a real possibility. The developments in this area are going to be proceeding at a breakneck pace in the years ahead. If we look at the new Missal chants as a foundation and build from them, we can get a fresh start with serious sacred music and look forward to the day when the Catholic Church leads the world in the creation of serious art.

God gives people gifts for a reason and the gift of the talent for composition is one particularly close to my heart, even though I do not possess it, or perhaps especially because I do not possess it. It is a glorious thing to experience the creation of something both new and beautiful, and even more so when that something is offered up as praise to God.

Teaching chant in France, 1760

The forward vision?

Following Charles's post on the book Rock a my soul, I thought I'd share some early footage of a liturgical music workshop from the ArchDiocese of Liverpool that took place some time in the mid-1970's.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Our History in New Orleans

The Diapson carries a lovely interview with Joe Hoppe, the now-retired organist and director of music for over 40 years at St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in New Orleans. It is very interesting to read about his life and work there (the CMAA just held a chant intensive at this parish).
When I was in grammar school, beginning in the fifth grade, the whole student body was taught to sing Latin by rote. We sang a Missa Cantata (High Mass) every morning during the week at 8 am. The Children’s Mass was at 8:30 am Sunday, and all the students sang; on Saturday morning at 7 am individual classes were assigned on rotating schedule. During the summer months, individual classes were assigned to sing the 7 am Mass six days a week.

In 1953, when I was 15 years old, the nun who was the church organist—and also my first organ instructor—hired me to play for all the High Masses in June, July, and August. I was thrilled when at the end of the summer I was paid $150 [$1,225 in today's dollars, ed.] for my services. The time I spent at Notre Dame was before the Vatican II changes went into effect. All the liturgies were in Latin. Even the philosophy courses had Latin textbooks.

When I started the choir at St. Patrick’s, it was with men who volunteered to sing a Latin Gregorian chant Mass for what in the old days was called Passion Sunday (two Sundays before Easter) 1987. In May I had volunteer women sing a two-part Mass. We called this a “Mary Mass” in honor of the Blessed Virgin. Then in September of that year I put the two groups together and St. Patrick’s Concert Choir was formed; some of these people assisted with the repair of the Möller.

All of the original members of the choir had sung Latin when they were in school, so Latin was not a problem. Most of these people knew how to pronounce Latin, but had a very limited knowledge of the meaning of what was being sung. As the years went along, there were very few members who had not been exposed to Latin, and the few who were not familiar with it were helped along by the older members of the group.

In Keeping with the Embrace of Tradition

Adam Bartlett offers this interesting Gloria:

(If you don't get the joke, don't worry about it)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

More alternative Mass settings for free download

We are trying to keep up with the releases of new Mass settings with the new text, the ones available for free download and use.

Here is a helpful list:

Note that none of these are approved for liturgical use, but we are working on that.

And Now For Something Completely Different!

I received an email advert from The Liturgical Press touting a number of new releases. One one these, a short (184 pages) treatise entitled "Rock-a My Soul" was featured, though it won't be released in book form or online until February 1. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I have purchased an online version which contains an acknowledgement section and the author's introduction. I perused the introduction, but I won't reproduce any of that here, as the book is not formally "out." However, the following was gleaned from existing reviews, from the publisher and a prominent review agency.
Why mention this at Chant Cafe? Well, as I chatted with Dr. Mahrt on the way back from NOLA, when one hears anecdotes about what actually goes on musically or otherwise at St. Perpetual Motion, the stark reality of just how far from center our philosophies and practices can stray from one another is breath-taking.
For your consideration:

Rock a My Soul

David Nantais is the director of campus ministry at the University of Detroit Mercy. He lives in Detroit, Michigan, with his wife Carrie and son Liam. Dave, a former seminarian in the Society of Jesus, has played drums in several rock bands for over twenty years and has attended over 150 rock shows since 1986.

"David Nantais is, hands down, one of the best young writers on Christian spirituality: inviting, inventive, and insightful. In Rock-a My Soul, he offers a fascinating look at how rock music, often thought to be a threat to faith, can actually support and nourish one’s spiritual life. If you’re a music fan, Nantais, a rock musician himself, will show you how the music you love can draw you closer to God. If you’re a believer, Nantais will serve as an experienced guide to modes of experiencing God that you might never have considered. And if you’re a music fan and a believer, well, then this book will, as the band said, rock you."-James Martin, SJ - Author of The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything

...the review from "Publisher's Weekly"

"A tension between the worldly and the spiritual has existed in “rock ‘n’ roll” since its foundations in African-American spirituals, gospel, and blues music. But for Catholic drummer (and PW reviewer) Nantais, the very music often feared by religious folk has served as both balm and outlet to help him understand God. In this short, first-person musing, Nantais argues that “theology can be done through music,” encouraging Christians to see “rock ‘n’ roll”as a “mode of theological expression.” Setting aside contemporary Christian music (which he says is not the only way to marry rock and religion), he argues that mainstream rock has many virtues: community building and transcendent elements, meditative qualities, expression of emotion. Nantais admits to some less edifying aspects of rock (e.g., segregated crowds at rock music venues, ties to consumerism). He also chooses not to address a major sticking point for some--offensive lyrics--and so may not be able to convince every reader of rock’s merits. Despite that, his enthusiasm for mix tapes and chord progressions is infectious. Christians will learn to find God in a rock concert, and lovers of all things drum and guitar will find spiritual validation."
...the advert review from The Liturgical Press

"Rock music and organized religion have suffered a tense relationship for over sixty years. Rockers accuse religious people of being too rigid and irrelevant. People of faith have labeled rock "the devil's music" and say that nothing good can come of it. But what if both of these groups are wrong? What if rock music can actually aid one’s religious faith and spiritual life?
Few styles of music engage the human body as much as rock and roll. From toe tapping to air guitar, listening to rock music, like religious ritual, requires attention to the present moment and can help the listener (or believer) reclaim a sense of identity as a creature of God. In addition, several social causes include both rockers and religious advocates. During some of the most tumultuous times the world has experienced, both groups have given succor and hope to millions. No matter what side of the religion/rock debate you are on, perhaps it is time to bury the hatchet (or pick up your axe!) and start rocking your religion!"

I remember thinking back around 1976, after about five years of being a parish choir director that "Whoa, wouldn't it be righteous to be able to do music that sounds like BOSTON or TOTO at Mass. More than 30 years later, I can reflect that I simply mixed my desire to perform, innovate, inflict my enthusiasm via the megawattage of effects-pedal power and volume, and ultimately my ego upon a captive audience, sincerely believing the whole while that they'd get it or come around because I was ever so sincere!
I won't comment further, because I believe I ought to read the book when it shows up on my laptop.
But another reality is also worth pondering. How did the editors at The Liturgical Press come to agree this was a serious enterprise to ponder for RC musicians and pastors?

It's like peeling back a layer of paint and finding treasure

Roma locuta est continues the job of comparing current with forthcoming translation, this time for the Collect (don't you love how the word has been rescued?) for the Fourth Sunday of Advent.

fill our hearts with your love,
and as you revealed to us by an angel
the coming of your Son as man,
so lead us through his suffering and death
to the glory of his resurrection,

FORTHCOMING Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord,
your grace into our hearts,
that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son
was made known by the message of an Angel,
may by his Passion and Cross
be brought to the glory of his Resurrection.

Who knew that the concluding prayer of Angelus was there? See how the new translation stitches our Catholic lives back together again?

New Gloria from Jeffrey Ostrowski

One wonders: are we about to enter into a new Renaissance for Catholic composition? Now that the dust is starting to clear, and the vision of what is sacred is becoming ever more a part of the thinking of informed Catholics, perhaps we will see more and more of wonderful pieces like this.

Free Glory To God using the new ICEL translation (Roman Missal) from Corpus Christi Watershed on Vimeo.

Here is the free PDF, but please contribute to Watershed's work.

Simple Propers for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Download Simple Propers for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

See You in Chicago, April 2, 2011

I'll be speaking on "Music and the New Missal" at Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church, Chicago, Illinois, Saturday, April 2, 2011, from 1:30-3:30pm.

Actually I'll be there from noon on for a "meet and greet," followed by a presentation. We'll discuss the history of Catholic Music from its beginnings to the Second Vatican Council and following, and examine the musical opportunities presented by the new Missal.

The address is 5212 West Agatite Ave., Chicago. I don't think you need to RSVP but it might be nice to drop the parish a note if you are bring crowds of 100 or more. Kidding, but seriously: this could be a fun and educational time for everyone, and we'll take some time to sing through the new chants and discuss the future of Catholic music in the United States.

Ego Sum, from the National Youth Choir

Make It Simple, Make It Clear

I'm not of the opinion that the Responsorial Psalm is the ideal way to sing the Psalm between the readings. I'm grateful that the GIRM grants permission to use the traditional Gradual with its long melismatic phrases that inspire peace and contemplation.

However, the Responsorial Psalm is very deeply embedded into the practice of ordinary form liturgy today, and it is a reality for most parishes. Given that situation, I like what Arlene Oost-Zinner has done with the text. She provides a simple antiphon in plainsong followed by verses set to Gregorian tones, all of it sung by voices alone without accompaniment. To me, this is just about the best way to make something contemplative and beautiful out of something excessively minimalist. Here is her Psalm for this Sunday, for example.

Her Psalms for the entire three-year cycle can be found at Chabanel Psalms.

Excitement Over Missal Leads to Early Adoption in England and Wales

The new translation of the Roman Missal can be used as early as September in England and Wales, say reports. The official webpage is fine but not nearly as elegant as the USCCB's own site.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Full Text of Final Missal!

It is at Wikispooks. Thanks Pray Tell.

And now we can compare Collects (which are actually called Collects in the new Missal!). Let's look at the Second Sunday of Lent, as just one example of how the world we know is about to undergo a dramatic and glorious shift.

CURRENT: God our Father,
help us to hear your Son.
Enlighten us with your word,
that we may find the way to your glory.

FORTHCOMING: O God, who have commanded us
to listen to your beloved Son,
be pleased, we pray,
to nourish us inwardly by your word,
that, with spiritual sight made pure,
we may rejoice to behold your glory.