Saturday, July 30, 2011

I think, there and thenceforth, I laugh!

A huge H/T to "The Crescat"

and a chaser

H/T to "American Catholic"
I don't know about you, but I needed these this morning.

Question for EF Rubricists

Here is a question that some of us have been batting around for awhile.

Where in preconcilar legislation is it expressly forbidden to sing Latin propers at EF Low Mass?

I ask because many books presume that doing so is forbidden, while it is clearly permitted to sing motets, hymns, or other music, even in the vernacular, at the entrance, offertory, and communion. But I've yet to find an explicit citation to liturgical law to back this widely held view that it is not permitted to sing the proper texts from the Graduale Romanum. Surely such a statement from the Church is to be found somewhere, but where?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Much-Anticipated Missal Now Available for Pre-Order

The Roman Missal, Third Edition, is now available for pre-order from the Midwest Theological Forum.

Msgr. Wadsworth Profiled in the Catholic Herald

Msgr. Wadsworth has been profiled and interviewed by the Catholic Herald. He explains the importance of the sung Mass, the role of the new Missal, the problems that we have to overcome, and much more. It is a very good and candid interview with the man who has done so much to bring us a Missal that more music in it than any previous Missal. The full interview and profile can be found at the Catholic Herald.

The Prince and the Music

Adam Wood's Musical Manifesto

Over the last few years, I've come to be very impressed with Adam Wood, proprietor of MusicForSunday, as a writer, thinker, and musician. His musical intuition is outstanding, and his love of chant is growing. However, his way of thinking on issues broader than music has always been something of a mystery to me. He describes himself as a thoroughgoing progressive in the conventional sense.

The blog PrayTell picked up on this interesting combination and asked him to write up his own biographical sketch as an effort toward reconciling what many people would regard as a odd mix.

The results are predictably articulate and intellectually challenging.


I started to wonder: If my progressive ideas are true, and I arrived at them through engagement with the Blessed Sacrament and deep prayer – how much more might that truth spread and be understood if there was greater engagement with the deep spirituality of traditional liturgical forms?

I have come to believe that these texts – the propers, the traditional Latin hymns and prayers – are as important to our communal liturgy and spiritual journey as any portion of the Ordinary (which most of us would hardly think of omitting), and in fact am increasingly baffled by the widespread ignorance of them. As is common practice with the congregational acclamations in the Ordinary, I would like to see contemporary and diversely-styled settings of these chants, hymns, and prayers. I understand the CMAA’s preference for chant-style, but I think calypso propers would be a vast improvement over what happens in many parishes.

And aside from the text, there is something about traditionally sacred musical styles. As a musician, I cannot deny the incredible beauty of well-performed Gregorian chant. I’ve always been curious about it (I bought a Graduale Romanum when I was in high school… didn’t know what to do with it). I am still a little bitter at my various music teachers and training programs for not introducing me properly to the music which forms the foundation of every other style of Western music. As I became more experienced in chant, I started to notice that my musical abilities – even with regards to contemporary and pop styles – improved. And even moderate amounts of polyphony (singing, studying, and directing) has had noticeable impacts on my homophonic choral part-writing. The simple fact is: traditional sacred music makes you a better musician. Once I realized that, I was hungry for more. And, as someone who cares about the future quality of musicianship in the Church, it made me want everyone to be exposed to these genres.

But it’s not just about liturgical music as conservatory for culture, although that is an important side issue. The beauty of chant teaches us something about the beauty of God. The quietness of chant gives us a peace which passes all other forms or styles, a peace which music of the world simply cannot provide.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

More from the Children of St. Mary's Norwalk

Silly Search Request

Digging through analytics, I just bumped into a very funny search phrase entered into Bing: Terrible Volunteer Catholic Musicians

Christus Vincit!

This is indescribably thrilling. A complete story about these kids from St. Mary's, Norwalk, CN, and their concert is right here.


The audience could sense the magnitude of their mission, as the singers processed down the aisle toward the sanctuary to a solemn organ processional. Nonetheless, as the children and sisters took their places, their faces reflected nothing but joy. The processional then immediately segued into the anthem, Virgin Great and Glorious a traditional Catholic hymn, conducted by Sister Mary Concepta, SV, with David Hughes at the organ. To begin with this pure, beautiful, yet expansively powerful hymn left no doubt that this work is consecrated to the patron saint of the parish, and Queen of all saints.

The combined voices of Sisters and students were a strong and flawlessly unison blend that was never overpowered by Hughes prayerful accompaniment. As David Hughes then took his place at the podium, the rapport between singer and conductor was evident, with all eyes riveted on him in anticipation, and there they remained.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Can you hear the difference?

This is a very instructive video that illustrates the difference between plainsong chant and metrical renderings of the same text.

August 27 Workshop, East Lansing

You know what's really great? When a parish contacts you about doing a workshop and everyone there is so excited about it that you can sense it in the emails and phonecalls, so much so that they take care of all details from schedule to food to promotion - even developing a website! Here you can also register - and you should.

This is what what happened to me and to Arlene Oost-Zinner. We'll be conducting a workshop on English chant and reading square notes at a parish that is ready to move forward with its music program, in cooperation with all the parishes in the community. The parish is St Thomas Aquinas in East Lansing, and the date is August 27, 2011.

This is a one-day crash course that will teach all the new Missal chants, plus get the local choirs ready to sing the Mass with the Simple English Propers. One person who has already registered said she couldn't sleep last night because she was so excited! That's pretty neat.

The Catholic music world seems very happy these days, doesn't it?

Anyway, we hope to see you there. Good things are ahead in the future.

Let the People Find Their Voice

A beautiful message appeared on the
Many years ago GIA had buttons that said "Let the people sing!" meaning turn off the microphones and don't carpet the Church buildings.
I have introduced the SEP for Communion and Offertory now for about 6 months. After Easter season, I shut down the organ and use it only for the Entrance (cough, cough) hymn and the closing hymn. I decided to sing the Responsorial Psalm acapella, (I have been using the Chabenal Psalms), the Gospel acclamation, Kyrie, Gloria (in English) Holy, Mystery of Faith, Lamb of God and the Appropriate Seasonal Marian antiphon without benefit of organ. If the priest sings the doxology we answer him in like kind, if he speaks it, we create a unity with him and proclaim in speech the Amen.

After quietly doing this for almost a half a year (with some exceptions) I am finally hearing the people's voice, AND it is their voice. I don't have "lead through the microphone" the response the Great Amen, or the Alleluia. The people know. Little by little they are discovering that they can sing as one voice where they are. As a people, we have become consumers of music through electronic devices and function more as voyeurs than participants. I see this in my students as young as Kindergarten sometimes.

When the Fall season begins and we look towards the changes, especially for the people, I am going to approach my pastor and ask that all the dialogs be sung, "the Lord be with you" the doxology, the sign of the Cross. I intuitively think that as we move slowly and gently through this change from being held hostage to meter and major and minor, and loud blaring artificially generated and amplified sound that as a congregation we are beginning to "miss" the dialog portions being sung which are ours to respond back.

I think that most people are afraid of the sound of their own natural voices, especially in Church and part of my job is to restore what has been devoured and taken from them in the process of the last 50 plus years. It is very gratifying to be part of a singing humble congregation where I don't force my expertise but lead by example, or so I hope.

I think that by Advent some of my masses will sung in just this way. It isn't grand and glorious, but it is reverent, simple and intimate.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Case for Sharing Singers

In normal times, it should be possible for singers in Churches of the same tradition to share singers. The repertoire would be the same, and because music requires some degree of expertise, not just anyone can step into the role should one need a part filled or a substitute cantor.

This is not often done in the Catholic Church today because not even parishes in the same community share the same basic material. It's not that singers can't handle the material. It is that traditions are now hyper-localized and singers fear that they can't really get a handle on it or it is not worth trying just for one Mass.

Actually the situation is even stranger for the Catholic Church today. Even within parishes, singers are typically attached to a single Mass time and do not venture out of it to sing another one. This is a matter of keeping the peace, but it is also a matter of taste and competence. Singers are hyper-specialized one Mass to the next, one parish to the next.

This creates a serious problem that we don't often think about simply because we are not the habit of substituting for each other. Quite simply, it is hard to find replacements during absences for vacations or sicknesses. Priests do this all the time but not so with singers and instrumentalists. They repertoire is just so different and the the practices are so varied. We end up being isolated in our liturgical performance techniques.

So let me explain why I'm bringing this up, a subject that had never really occurred to me before. I received a call from a priest in medium-sized town where there are five parishes with seven priests, all of whom are friends.

This priest told me that his experience with the Simple English Propers has been mind blowing. For many, many years he has wanted to implement chant in his parish but he could never find the singers who could start and inspire stability in a chant group. But now the SEP has made all the difference. The singers spend the same time in rehearsal as they did before but now they have the rewarding experience of singing the liturgical text itself plus singing chant in the way they all know, in their hearts, they are supposed to sing.

And much to this pastor's astonishment, he has been able to implement this book at all the Masses in his parish - finally providing blessed relief from the "stodgy" Mass where they sing 19th century classics, the hip youth Mass where experimental garage bands try out their wares, and the single-cantor Mass where the singer fumbles around looking for the right note for an hour. Now, within his parish, any singer can sing at any Mass, and each is glad to do so because the experience is so rewarding.

He now has a glimmer of hope that at least the communion chant from the Graduale Romanum can actually make an appearance in time, and, from there, it is straight up into the normative chant propers of the Roman Rite.

So lately, all the pastors in this community have talking about strategies for implementing the new edition of the Roman Missal. They all talked about how they love, love the SEP, and how this book holds out the prospect of finally doing something about the music problem in their parishes.

Now to the really cool idea: they have all decided to implement the SEP as the standard music of all five parishes. And then one of them hit on the key idea here. This means that they can share singers! Obviously all the singers live within quick driving distance of each other. They can put together a database of them with contact information and this way the director of music can easily call for substitutes when one is needed.

There would be no need for an additional meeting or a rehearsal even. They can just show up and sing because they will already know the music. It will be the same music that the singer will have sung in the prior Mass or the same music that will be sung at a later Mass.

This also has advantages for the priests, so that they are not alarmed at the puzzling selections of music when they are substituting for the friend across town.

These are the advantages of standardization. We get to pool resources within a single parish and now within a single town. This improves the programs of everybody, and we even get to experience that thing that everyone talks about but hardly anyone really experiences: unity. And unity in form should surely be a feature of the Roman Rite.

Just as importantly, the Simple English Propers help to form people in how to sing, which permits us to begin to build up the musical capital that is a first step toward instituting solid music programs in our parishes. The children can hear them and aspire to sing them. New singers will be recruited from among the adult population. The celebrants will begin to have a higher respect for music and its contribution to the liturgical life of the parish.

To me, this is just a brilliant scheme, and a testimony to the appeal of chant across everyone demographic. Instead of fighting over the radio dial, they all agree to turn it off and make universal and completely different music themselves. Instead of being competitors or even enemies, the musicians can cooperate together and be friends, working together in the great project.

The Missal chants, which aspire to be the fundamentum of the liturgical repertoire, also help here. Everyone can count on these chants as the core on which everything else is built. If there is ever a question about what to sing, the answer can come easy: sing what is in the Missal. And now to add to that, the answer concerning what else to sing no longer inspires fist fights and ignorant statements about how toe-tapping something is. The answer is the Simple English Propers.

Even for parishioners, this is a blessing. Choosing a Mass to attend is no longer a dangerous undertaking fraught with fears of aesthetic shock and awe. It is simply a matter of finding out the Mass times and attending.

It’s remarkable to think that one book can make such a difference, but it underscores a point I’ve made many times. We cannot solve our problems until we have the tools to solve our problems.

The Mass Finds Its Voice

Carol Zalesky, professor of world religions at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, offers a very beautiful tribute to the new Missal translation, writing at the website of the Christian Century.
If reception of this new translation is as generous as it should be, the period of adjustment will be a chance to rediscover the shape of the liturgy and the essentials of Christian belief and hope. The biblical concreteness of the liturgy and its humbling, exultant, awe-inspiring notes, muted in the old translation, are about to be restored. Thus, for example, when the celebrant echoes the angelic and Pauline greeting, "The Lord be with you," the congregation responds, "and with your spirit," a more vivid and theologically interesting translation of et cum spiritu tuo than the functional "and also with you." In the Gloria, "We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory," replaces the tepid abridgment to "we worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory," so that the summons to adoration may come across as clearly as in the biblically based original. Threefold petitions and rhythmic repetitions, once stripped from the English in the interest of simplicity, evoke a sense of mystery that surpasses prosaic speech.

The Credo duly begins "I believe," spoken in unison to convey at once the individual and corporate character of faith. In the account of creation, "all things visible and invisible" maps the material and spiritual cosmos more adequately than "all that is seen and unseen." Speaking of Christ as "consubstantial with the Father" and "incarnate of the Virgin Mary" plumbs the divine-human nature more deeply than the abstract "one in Being with the Father" and "born of the Virgin Mary." In "Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts" the angels return, having been exiled for no fault of their own from the English Sanctus. Just before communion, the centurion's voice rings out again: "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof"—living words that transport the worshiper into the gospel environment. Best of all, we get to reclaim the beautiful and dignified word soul from the dustbin to which a passing fad in theological anthropology had consigned it; "only say the word and my soul shall be healed" universalizes the centurion's petition and intensifies the communicant's prayer.

Change can be unsettling, but in this case the change is right and just. The postconciliar Catholic mass has found its English voice. The best response I can imagine is a Hebrew word that survives intact in all tongues, the final word of the New Testament—Amen.

The Byrd Festival 2011

The schedule to this amazing event is online and reprinted here.

Friday, August 12, 2011 at 7:30 P.M.
Opening Concert:
St. Stephen's Church, $20 general admission, $15 seniors & children

Saturday, August 13, 2011 at 11:00 A.M.
Opening Lecture
St. Stephen's Church, free-will offering

Sunday, August 14, 2011 at 8:00 P.M.
Compline, featuring Byrd's music for the Divine Office
Directed by Blake Applegate, Cantores in Ecclesia
St. Stephen's Church, free-will offering

Monday, August 15, 2011 at 7:30 P.M.
Pontifical High Mass (1962 Missal) for the Feast of the Assumption, featuring liturgical music from Byrd's Gradualia (1605)
Directed by Kerry McCarthy, Duke University
St. Stephen's Church, free-will offering

Saturday, August 20, 2011 at 11:00 A.M.
Second Lecture
St. Stephen's Church, free-will offering

*Saturday, August 20, 2011 at 7:30 P.M.
Solemn Pontifical Mass (1970 Missal), featuring Byrd's Mass for Five Voices
Cantores in Ecclesia, directed by Mark Williams, Trinity College, Cambridge
St. Stephen's Church, free-will offering

Sunday, August 21, 2011 at 11:00 A.M.
Solemn Pontifical Mass (1970 Missal) featuring Byrd's Mass for Three Voices.
Cantores in Ecclesia, directed by Mark Williams
Holy Rosary Church, free-will offering

Sunday, August 21, 2011 at 4:15 P.M.
Organ Recital at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral: "Byrd and Bach, an organ recital celebrating the music of two giants of keyboard composition," performed by Mark Williams, Jesus College, Cambridge
Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, free-will offering

Sunday, August 21, 2011 at 5:00 P.M.
Choral Evensong featuring Byrd’s music for the Anglican liturgy
Cantores in Ecclesia, directed by David Trendell
Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, free-will offering

Saturday, August 27, 2011 at 11:00 A.M.
Third Lecture
St. Stephen's Church, free-will offering

*Saturday, August 27, 2011 at 7:30 P.M.
Solemn Pontifical Mass (1970 Missal), featuring Byrd's Mass for Four Voices
Cantores in Ecclesia, directed by Mark Williams, Trinity College, Cambridge
St. Stephen's Church, free-will offering

Sunday, August 28, 2011 at 7:00 P.M.
Pre-Concert Lecture by William Mahrt
St. Stephen's Church,

Sunday, August 28, 2011 at 7:30 P.M.
Final Choral Concert
The Festival Choral Concert given by Cantores in Ecclesia, directed by Mark Williams, Trinity College, Cambridge
St. Stephen's Church, $20 general admission, $15 seniors & children

Monday, July 25, 2011

More on the Duruflé Requiem in Mobile, Alabama

This story provides a sense of the necessary foundations that need to be in place to put together something like a polyphony Requiem at a Cathedral. For Mobile, this is big event.

Reaction to SEP

If you want a dose of parish reality, have a look at this CatholicForum thread on the SEP. If you are among those who think that the SEP is really too simple, this forum is enlightening to say the least. If it is your view that parishes should just jump immediately from contemporary songs to the Liber Usualis, read this thread. What we learn here is that there are vast barriers (too many to list) that stand between the existing reality and the sacred music ideal - and that the SEP has offered up a serious challenge to Catholic parish musicians. But at least the challenge is there.

Also keep this in mind: at the recent NPM convention attended by 3,000 plus Catholic musicians, the opening speaker invited everyone to join him in the most common non-strophic hymn in the Catholic world: Ave Maria. Only about 1/4 of the people in attendance could join in. This is pure speculation but I would suggest that this represents progress over 10 years ago, a time before the Parish Book of Chant and the many youtubes and digital resources that have been evangelizing for the chant. What this means is that among Catholic musicians who care enough to attend an event on the subject, only 1 in 4 know the most basic chant popular in existence, one that uses a core text of the faith.

This is represents not only a loss of a sacred tradition but a loss of Catholic musical identity. This is where we are today. The good news: there's nowhere to go but up.

Never Fear, the 18th Sunday is here

I gather that people are really hooked on these practice videos for the Simple English Propers (in stock again, btw). Just a reminder that you can figure out this stuff very easily by looking at the clef, which is the first thing you see on the line. It marks either the C or the F and then you can easily find the pitches on the white keys of the piano. Once you understand the relationship between the notes, you can sing it on any starting pitch.

INTROIT A • 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time from Church Music Association of Amer on Vimeo.

OFFERTORY A & B • 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time from Church Music Association of Amer on Vimeo.

COMMUNION • 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time from Church Music Association of Amer on Vimeo.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Mass of Blessed John Henry Newman, by James MacMillan

Randolph Nichols has reviewed the Mass of Blessed John Henry Newman, which is available from Boosey & Hawkes.  Of course many of us wished that MacMillan had access to a different distribution model; this paper and ink from afar model is anachronistic. The reviewer had to wait six weeks for it to be delivered. Seems like Mayflower time. In any case, we put up with this because of who MacMillan is and what he has done for Catholic music:

Among the initial music settings of the revised Ordinary translation, none generated more interest than the "Mass of Blessed John Henry Newman" by James MacMillan, first heard within the Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI at Bellahouston Park on September 16, 2010, in MacMillan’s home city of Glasgow and repeated on September 19th at the Mass celebrating the beatification of Cardinal Henry Newman at Cofton Park in Birmingham. The allure of the new Mass stems from its being by a composer whose impressive stature rests on contributions made outside the narrow confines of liturgical music.

There is an abiding misunderstanding that “serious” composers can’t or don’t write music for congregational use and that simplicity and craft are mutually exclusive. Sometimes this holds true, but it is hardly a rule of thumb. Ralph Vaughan Williams’ hymn "Come Down, O Love Divine" and Healy Willan’s "Missa de Sancta Maria Magdalena", composed by men respected in the concert field, are among the most enduring congregational compositions ever written. Furthermore, Stravinsky’s "The Five Fingers" and Bartok’s first volumes of "Mikrokosmos", not to mention Bach’s "Anna Magdalena Notebook", demonstrate that a composer’s stylistic essence can be distilled in the simplest forms.

MacMillan’s new Mass for congregational use, published by Boosey & Hawkes, is certainly a high-brow meets low-brow offering. While accommodating utilitarian demands the work nonetheless reflects a subtle harmonic complexity and lyricism that departs from the clichéd predictability often associated with congregation-friendly liturgical compositions. Though there is some angularity to the vocal writing, it is no more difficult to sing than the music one encounters on a weekly basis in parishes trying so hard to be culturally au courant. Though each movement has an individual character, recurring motifs and harmonies give the Mass a formal cohesion. The organ is designated as the accompanying instrument but a piano could suffice. Unfortunately there are no manual-pedal designations to guide the organist in playing the lower line.

With the exception of the "Kyrie" (MacMillan uses Greek and Latin titles) and the "Great Amen" each movement has a four-part chorus to supplement the congregational vocal line. The chorus vocal range goes from a low F in the bass to an upper G in the soprano. (I see no reason why the Mass cannot be sung without the presence of a choir.) Rental arrangements for two trumpets, two trombones and timpani are available from the publisher.

"Kyrie" is the simplest movement and uses the same harmonic and melodic material as the "Agnus Dei". Being the most immediately accessible of the Mass movements, it would seem wise to introduce these two movements first. The opening harmony (a sustained A minor chord underlying a melody line beginning on f-sharp) is reminiscent of the first chord of "On Eagles’ Wings" with it’s non-chord c-sharp resolving to the subdominant chord tone b. In this case, however, the f-sharp resolves a half-step upward and the singer has the advantage of hearing it introduced by the organ. Thus there should be none of the painful intonation offenses that so frequently plague that OEW c-sharp. At the final “Lord have mercy” there is an engaging harmonic turn that momentarily establishes the subdominant “a” as the tonic ending; the organ steps in, however, to reaffirm "e" as the true tonal center.

For the "Gloria" MacMillan has composed a rather exotic Eastern sounding intonation but wisely provides an easier ossia which I expect will be the favored option. As with the "Kyrie", the "Gloria" introduces motifs that bond it to other movements. For example the opening four-beat eighth note pattern in the organ bass line reappears in the "Sanctus" and the Acclamations. At first hearing I was drawn to the effective use of the major subdominant (B major chord) within the key of f-sharp minor and the striking modulation at the words “you take away the sins of the world.” The ten measures that comprise this change in key provide a lesson in the distinction between a skilled craftsman and a mere composing enthusiast. The deft use of chromatically moving inner voices is hardly representative of what liturgical music usually offers.

Unlike most "Holy, Holy" movements, MacMillan gives us an eight bar introduction whose purpose seems to be to set a mood of almost joyous whimsy. It’s a bit “new-agey” and the one moment that seems to reflect the composer’s national origins. Perhaps sensing that some will find it disruptive of the flow of the Eucharistic prayer, MacMillan places it in brackets with a note that it can be omitted. I’m guessing most will. This is an intriguing movement that will never lend itself to autopilot performance. Rhythmic accuracy and precise articulation are required in the repeated eighth-note “Hosanna” section. Most intriguing is the peculiar ending in which the choir continues after the congregation has finished. Also, and this happens as well in the "Kyrie", the congregation’s vocal line does not end on a resolved tonic but must wait for the organ to wrap things up.

The three Memorial Acclamations, introduced by the pedal passage heard in the previous movement and briefly presented in the "Gloria", are set to the same music and employ the unusual ending of the "Sanctus". Music to the "Great Amen" is lifted directly from a passage in the "Gloria" (“with the Holy Spirit”) and restates that distinctive B major chord, this time within the key of A major.

The "Agnus Dei" is perhaps the loveliest movement in the Mass and will undoubtedly be the choice of parishes that might otherwise forego the rest of the work. This begs the question of whether the Mass will be widely programed in the United States.

There are a couple reasons to suggest it will not. One is the matter of its being published by a firm that neither specializes in liturgical music nor markets in the manner of OCP, WLP, or GIA. Most parish personnel are conditioned by and dependent on major liturgical publishing houses, so committing themselves to a foreign publisher devoted primarily to concert music will require unusual initiative.

After placing my order on-line at the Boosey & Hawkes website, it took a month and a half to receive my copy of MacMillan’s score. That does not bode well for increased recognition. Furthermore this is a work requiring repeated listening to appreciate its worth and the decision to implement a new Mass setting will probably be made by several staff people favoring immediate accessibility. Another obstacle is the modest level of music leadership in so many parishes. For this Mass to be successfully implemented, competent and confident leadership from cantor, choir, and organist is essential. If your parish meets this criterion, then by all means give this Mass setting a try.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Oh How We Love Tallis

Here is the piece we are working on right now in our parish choir. The lines are long, the drama intense, and the text somehow emerges above it all thanks to some very clever voicing.

Honor, virtus et potestas et imperium sit trinitati in unitate,
unitati in trinitate, in perenni saeculorum tempore.
Trinitati lux perennis, unitati sit decus perpetim.
Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto.

Honour, strength and might and power be to the Three in One,
the One in Three, throughout eternal ages.
To the Trinity be endless light, to the Unity be perpetual glory.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

New SEP link and other points

The Simple English Propers page at MusicaSacra has a new and memorable URL:

Amazon is not offering such clarity but at least the book is now consistently in stock.

There are no public records to compare sales of Catholic music books across time but you might have noticed that this book has been as high as 2,000 on the list of bestsellers and not dipped belong 20,000. These are amazing numbers, and we are already preparing for the second printing. We don't want to come up short on inventory (which is possible) but neither are we in a position to print before we can pay for it, which we can't right now.

I've heard wonderful reports of fantastic and even heroic work by Dr. Paul Ford who is attending the NPM convention. He spoke glowingly about the book in front of 2,000 people, waving it around and putting a picture on the big screen. You know, this kind of generosity of spirit is a rare thing in the music world. Bless him!

Finally, I was struck by what Gavin wrote in the MusicaSacra forum: "What amazes me about the SEP is their versatility. They can be sung by choir; by soloist; cantor on verse, choir on antiphon; alternatim men/women; the psalm sung by the congregation(!); in some communities, it may even be possible to teach the congregation certain important antiphons. Musically they can be sung in unison, octaves, with improvised organ accompaniment, with vocal/instrumental drone, with percussive instruments, etc. The melodies are even worthy of a skilled organist improvising upon them."

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Fr. Ruff on the NPM convention

Fr. Ruff summarizes the music selections at the national meeting of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians (3000 plus attendees) and asks: "Where’s the Latin chant in this? Hello?!? Not even a little line somewhere?"

The Kids at St. Mary's, Norwalk

The Hartford Catholic Examiner runs a wonderful story on the children of St Mary's, Norwalk, Connecticut, and their plans to go to World Youth Day in Madrid and sing Gregorian chant. They are under the direction of David Hughes, who needs no introduction on this blog. He is a fantastic musician and choir director. You can hear the choir in concert this Friday evening. Details at the link above.

Alonso Lobo and the Missa Simile est regnum caelorum

One of many fascinating aspects of the Catholic music world is that it is possible to live and breath in this world for decades and still be constantly surprised by hidden treasures - not only within the chant world but also from the polyphonic repertoire.

This feature also instills a bit of humility since it is just not possible to "know it all." There will also be gaps in one's knowledge, so let me just admit one right now. I have never heard of Alonso Lobo(1555-1617) - a late Renaissance composer and successor to Vitoria whom Vitoria himself considered his equal.

Atrium Musicologicum writes:
Lobo's musical language is detectably of a later generation than that of Victoria, even though Lobo was only seven years younger. The difference between them was probably the training Victoria received in Rome, where he studied Palestrina's compositional method, learning how to control long spans of music without relying on constant changes of texture and harmonic speed. The rhapsodic calmness of this style has led many commentators to attribute an intensity and mysticism to Victoria's music which is equated with the essence of Spanish Catholicism. In fact Lobo also had a style which it is possible to say was typically Spanish, since the compositions of several of his contemporaries, including Vivanco and Esquivel, resembled his; yet it relies on different ingredients. Beauty of contrapuntal line is certainly there (Versa est in luctum is pre-eminent in this respect), but sometimes, where expressiveness seems to require it, it is coupled to quite angular lines. And the relative lack of Palestrinian smoothness carries through to the separate sections in Lobo's music, which are often built on contrast, fast then slow, not usually to paint the superficial meaning of each word but rather to induce in the listener's mind the conflicting emotions behind them. Lobo's style was never purely madrigalian, but a halfway point between it and the calm order of strictly imitative counterpoint.

Here is the Gloria from Lobo's amazing Missa Simile est regnum caelorum - a perfect choice for this coming Sunday where that is the text of the communion antiphon. Certainly I would count this Mass among one of the priceless pearls that the merchant was seeking.

The Modal Connection: Gregorian and SEP

In these comparisons, you can see the relationship between the Simple English Propers and the Gregorian chant as it pertains to the propers on the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

The introit is in the major mode V, which provides an effervescent quality to the text: God in His holy place;God who maketh men of one mind to dwell in a house: He shall give power and strength to His people. (Ps. 67: 2) Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered: and let them that hate Him flee from before His face.

The offertory is set in the minor mode II.

The communion is absolutely one of my favorites, and here we are back in a major mode VIII.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Fr. Samuel Weber Leaving St. Louis

From the St. Louis Catholic, a report from the seminary rector Fr. John Horn, SJ:
Fr. Samuel Weber, O.S.B. who has blessed us with the beauty of teaching Gregorian chant departs amid family needs to care for his sister Diane who is suffering in the final stages of Lupus. I learned just a week ago that his Archabbot, Archabbot Justin, is providing a situation where Fr. Samuel's other sister Marie can serve as a housekeeper while Fr. Samuel serves in parish ministry. Together they can then more easily attend to the health needs of their sister Diane. We bless Fr. Samuel, in a grateful return blessing, for all of the good that has come from his labors with us at the seminary. We promise him our intercessory prayers for his new parish assignment and for the needs of his family.
Fr. Weber is truly one of the greatest and most inspired Catholic music scholars, composers, and practitioners of chant in the English-speaking world. Pray that his remarkable gifts will continue to be used to serve the faith. 

The Past and Future of the Graduale Simplex

One of the more common arguments in the Catholic music world concerns what the Second Vatican Council intended as regards music. In its words, the Council elevated Gregorian chant, a reality that many refuse to accept because many other of the Council's liturgical statements seem to lead not to a "higher" form of liturgical expression but rather toward a more "pastoral" approach of calling for more participation, accessibility, and clarity in liturgical expression. ("The rites should be distinguished by a noble simplicity; they should be short, clear, and unencumbered by useless repetitions; they should be within the people's powers of comprehension, and normally should not require much explanation.")

This has led many commentators to imagine that a fundamental tension exists in Council liturgical documents. It recommended complex Latin music at the same time it suggested simplicity and clarity. This seems like a contradiction if we are intellectually mired in an Anglican-style focus on high and low liturgical styles: high is Latin chant whereas low is vernacular hymnody.

But why should we think this way? The Council makes no reference to issue of class and style, high or low or whatever; this interpretative hermeneutic may have nothing at all to do with of the issues at hand.

Another way to understand these two ambitions of the Council might be to postulate that the Church hoped for more participation, clarity, and accessibility precisely so that the true music of the liturgy would assert itself with greater confidence and with a great integral relationship with the rites themselves.

It isn't a matter of class or style; it is a matter of authenticity and truth. Gregorian chant is the true music of the ritual, and therefore a liturgy that is truer to itself would naturally grant the chant primacy of place. This might be hard to understand with the English-world focus on class hierarchies and their relationship to style preferences. But that is not the best way to think of these matters. Thinking liturgically, there is no real contradiction here but rather an ideal being expressed, one that transcends prevailing cultural biases

A strong piece of evidence in favor of that interpretation has long been before our eyes but is hardly ever discussed. The evidence is the Gradual Simplex of 1967. This interesting but ill-fated book appeared two years after the close of the Council. Based on proximity to the Council alone, it has a strong claim to providence evidence of the Council's wishes.

It also came before the earthquake of 1969/70 when a new Missal emerged that took a form and structure that hardly anyone at the Council itself would have imagined. Moreover, the appearance of the Simplex represented the fulfillment of the words of the Council itself from Sacrosanctum Concilium: "117. The typical edition of the books of Gregorian chant is to be completed; and a more critical edition is to be prepared of those books already published since the restoration by St. Pius X. It is desirable also that an edition be prepared containing simpler melodies, for use in small churches."

This is important: the purpose of the Graduale Simplex was not to replace the Graduale Romanum, which was and remains the music book of the Roman Rite. The purpose of the Simplex was to provide a bridge to the fully Mass: a means by which chant can be more readily embraced by all parishes. The Council fathers fully understood that the Graduale Romanum was not being used in parishes or even Cathedrals. Instead, people mostly experienced English hymns with Low Mass and Psalm tone propers with the sung Mass. Vatican II wanted to leave this model and inspire universal sung Masses.

The answer was not simply to preach more about the wonders of the Gregorian chant, banging the Graduale Romanum on everyone's heads forever. Instead, the Church was offering a practical means for getting to where we needed to be. The Church hoped to provide a tool for parishes that were not singing chant to make it possible for them to go forward. Toward this end, the Simplex provided what were called "seasonal propers" -- four or five antiphons that can be sung throughout the year -- along with some easy composite Mass settings of the ordinary chants that anyone can sing. In addition, the Simplex provided reduced versions of other chants for the ritual throughout the year.

It seems that the very existence of the Simplex alone should be decisive in terms of setting these debates about the Council's intentions. Did the Church desire chant? Absolutely. There can be no doubt. The Church desired chant so much that it invested resources into their practical realization. This book is proof of that. It is also proof that the best-laid plans can still fail.

The year was 1967, a highly confusing time to say the least. By then the liturgical breakdown had already begun. Few people showed much interest in the Simplex project. Moreover, two years later the new Mass was promulgated and the widespread impression was that everything old, even a book that had come out two years earlier, was now defunct. After new wholesale vernacularization, hardly anyone was interested in Latin chant, whether complex or simplex. The book intrigued the specialists but otherwise went absolutely nowhere.

As László Dobszay writes in the Restoration and Organic Development of the Roman Rite, the Graduale Simplex is "the history of a fiasco." It ended up being used in some Papal Masses -- the precise place where the editors least imagined that it would or should be used -- but hardly anywhere else. Today, the book hardly exists as a living liturgical resource. Most Catholic musicians know nothing about it.

The concept and strategy were not terrible. The core problem was the execution. If parishes were interested in Latin in the 1970s, they were interested in the Graduale Romanum - and there were only a few in this category. The rest were experimenting in new directions most of which amounted to the complete abandonment of the chant tradition.

This one little, poorly-bounded paperback made no dent at all in parish practice. It was neither schola book nor people's book. It was too expensive to be generally distributed, and it was unclear what one would do with it if it were generally distribution. The intellectual property of the book itself was unclear so people were reluctant to take the chants and adapt them for their own use. And, moreover, it was not even clear that the book was actually, in fact, simpler than the full Graduale in any case. The prevailing assumption was that syllabic chant was easier to learn than melismatic chant but there is no real proof of that contention; many music directors report that the opposite might actually be true.

Today the book has only a few champions. Paul Ford who wrote Flowing Waters is one of them. His book is an English version of the Simplex and offers chants for the full year - seasonal chants, not weekly propers. This book has been met with more success than the Simplex itself, and I've known perhaps a dozen or so musically progressive pastors who have implemented the book and thereby gotten their congregations away from their hymn addiction. It is a good attempt to revive the dream of providing a stepping-stone to the fully sung Mass that Vatican II hoped to inspire.

One thing we've learned from this experience is that execution is as important as concept. New resources are pouring out right now that get the execution right. The new Missal is an example, with its chanted melodies built right into the fabric of the liturgy. The Simple English Propers is another example: we carefully chose which propers to set, provided enough Psalms for the fully liturgical action, put the book in the commons, bound the book beautifully, and priced it low. Going into this project, we thought hard about the market and the strategy here. The same is true of the Simple Choral Gradual. The same with be true of our forthcoming book of Simple Chanted Responsorial Psalms. All of these book provide beautiful music now but also lead to and train for something else in the future.

What is yet missing? Critics might say that we have yet to provide a pew book that goes beyond encouraging the people to sing the ordinary and the dialogues. If that is true - and I'm not granting the criticism so much as acknowledging that it exists - what might the people sing under conditions where there is no schola at all, or where the pastor insists that the people sing the procession, and yet the propers need to be sung? The Simplex's idea of seasonal chants might in fact have a purpose here. Perhaps the idea can indeed be revived in some form. Just imagine if people were singing simple seasonal chants instead of hymns for the processional. Would this be an improvement? Certainly yes. Flowing Waters is in print but it is hard to imagine that book in the pews.

There is still work to be done and perhaps the Simplex points the way after all.

Symposium on Charles Tournemire

Jonathan Ryan and Jennifer Donelson are collaborating on the conference "Gregorian Chant and Modern Composition for the Catholic Liturgy: Charles Tournemire’s L’Orgue Mystique as Guide." It will be held February 2-3, 2012 at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. See the conference link for more information and a call for papers.

Fr. Cekada on the Mass of Paul VI

Today on NLM, Alciun Reid reviews The Work of Human Hands: A Theological Critique of the Mass of Paul VI. I've not read this book by Anthony Cekada but now several important thinkers have said that he offers a serious challenge to the structural and theological foundations of the 1969/70 Missal. That said, I really appreciate Reid's conclusions:
Peter holds the Keys, and whatever prudential errors he may or may not have made in the liturgical reform following the Second Vatican Council, he cannot have committed the Church to an intrinsically invalid rite of Mass. Given its theological deficiency, Father Cekada dismisses the efforts, led by Pope Benedict XVI, to celebrate the modern rites in more visible continuity with liturgical tradition. We disagree here: the Mass of Paul VI is a valid rite, and its better celebration is all to the good. One may even prefer it in good conscience―as do many generations who have known nothing else. We can argue (and I think quite convincingly) that we can and ought to do better that what is in the Missal of Paul VI, but to worship according to the modern rite is not of itself sinful.

Monday, July 18, 2011

What is the BIG PICTURE for the BIG HYMNAL?

The following is a brief response to a review over at PRAY TELL BLOG written by GIA artist Chris Angel that comments upon GIA's release of the third edition of GATHER.

The little ear wig that causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble….is the very future and viability of “hymnals” per se. My concern over hymnals and worship books in general remains the same whether one is considering the efficacy of GATHER III, ADOREMUS II, BY FLOWING WATERS II, or the SIMPLE ENGLISH PROPERS; in other words, the problem I portend remains the same no matter from which side of the musical spectrum comes one’s perspective. In the vibrant economy of the post-conciliar musical palette, there is no single comprehensive volume that has culled the best of both past and contemporaneous composition intended for congregational, choral and schola(stic) use at worship. The only acknowledged “universal” volume(s) remain the Latin books, GR, GM, LU, GT, AR etc. And that just isn’t in the cards for universal acceptance, as ideal a solution that more and more voices argue for.

I used to cite that one of the more efficient hymnal compilations a couple of decades ago was the ARMED FORCES HYMNAL (USA). Perhaps I felt that way because its editors seemed to cover enough ecumenical bases, and that its intent was purposefully broad by necessity. But we don’t enjoy that same luxury of having another political entitity commission, compile, edit and mandate the usage of a hymnal for parish and cathedral use in regular society. I don’t think the CBW would qualify as a shining example of cumulative success. On the other hand, folks that offer up the Brompton Oratory hymnal as a standard really don’t come down from the gallery often enough, IMO.
So, if not the BIG HYMNAL model, what else? The homegrown HULA Hymnal on demand tailored for one or two generations of a specific parish or diocese? Dunno.
But the notion of the USCCB/BCL not tabling agenda items such as the “white list” regarding texts, the exhortation towards including propers among hymns, polyphony, chant and sacred song, and other types of guidance seems to me an urgent necessity.

Psalms and Canticles for Worship

Adam linked a performance of the SEP offertory with some harmonized verses. His harmonizations are very pretty and contemporary sounding. Everyone has encouraged him to write them up, which is great. There were once dozens of books in print with such harmonizations that can be easily adapted to a Psalm text. In my own parish, we use these about every second week, just to mix things up a bit. The Hymnal of 1940, as I recall, has many pages of these in the back.

I've just uploaded another book - again, maybe not the best one but it is one - from 1934 called Psalms and Canticles for Worship by J. Todd Ferrier. It contains many dozens of such harmonizations that you can use depending on the Psalm in question. It does take time to set these for choir but the performance does provide rich textures that can be a nice addition to chant.

Nearly any text can be so set, even the weather report, as shown in this famous example.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

What do the SEP sound like in Real Life?

This morning I led a student schola in a liturgy at the Liturgical Institute, where I have been studying for the past 5 weeks. The student population at the LI is very diverse and most are studying or writing in every spare moment that they have, so our singing this morning was probably a pretty fair representation of what a parish is able to achieve. This is not a professional group, but a collection of lovers of the sacred liturgy who wanted to lend their talents in what little time they have to a solemn celebration of the Mass.

Here is a rendering of the Offertory for the 16h Sunday in O.T. from the Simple English Propers conducted by myself. We sang the chant as it appears in the book up until the middle of the first verse, where we added a 4-part harmonization of the psalm tone used in this proper setting. The tone in the book continues in the lowest voice, but we thought we would have a little fun with this and also show what else can be achieved with this resource, although singing the tones as-is is no less beautiful. Please pardon the drop in pitch from beginning to end. We sang this perfect in rehearsal, but again, this is real life folks!

Here is the score for this chant, and here is the harmonized psalm tone we used with the verses:

Incidentally, here is the post-communion motet that we also sang this morning, Byrd's Ave Verum Corpus:

Requiem Mass for Otto von Habsburg

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Back to the future?

Over the last year plus, our parish has been holding events in celebration of the 150th anniversary of its founding. As part of those activities, we have published a series of tabloid inserts in our local newspaper describing various aspects of our history and catholic traditions in general. I have authored all of the articles on worship and specifically music. This is the last of those contributions that will be published in our paper in August before our September 8th anniversary date. Just thought I'd share this with....

For the final musical installment of our anniversary tabloid series I’ve been asked to “portend” the future of Roman Catholic sacred music practice. Even though I just returned from a local meeting of diocesan musicians I won’t confine my prognostications to the future locally in Visalia or the valley parishes, but in a more universal, “catholic,” sense. I’ll do this off the cuff with only God as my co-pilot!

I remember Pastor Harry Wood (a much revered, now retired Methodist pastor) publicly remarking the most vexing and contentious issue facing his church was….. The Music Wars! How true, pretty much for many Christian communities, that remains. But I do see, after forty plus years, that reliance upon musical elements whose origins are “of the world” and continuing to integrate and add more popular forms into the worship paradigm will diminish, not improve the prayerful intent and relationship of the Faithful to God. If we insist, for emotional need or a rationale that as we are in His image, so must our worship music reflect “us,” then we will lose all interest in aspects of worship that point to the “otherness” of God, and that is integral to why we worship God in the first place: we must strike a balance between Christ at the door (Mt.25) and the “I AM” Moses encountered on Mt. Sinai in the manner in which we praise and worship the Lord.
First of all I already see the most compelling instrument changing the “economy” of musical worship is the internet. Though the sinister web is a playground for evil and malice, it also serves as a virtual infinity of historical, philosophical and practical resources by which church musicians ought to consult, communicate and continue their own understanding of their stewardship of their worship traditions as they lead their communities in sung prayer. Inasmuch as most parish musicians cannot take a busman’s holiday on Sunday’s (or Saturday’s), they certainly can have many other sacred music worlds opened to them by one mouse click.
Next, for my Church, I see that the “ship of state” of liturgical music, Gregorian and vernacular (English, Spanish, Portuguese, etc.) Chant will be saluted and finally re-admitted to its titular role as the primary musical “tongue” in which we sing. But that doesn’t necessitate an abandonment of many valid other forms of music: the strophic hymn, or the liturgical song, or even the praise and worship chorus. But those forms must sail alongside and, hopefully, more in the manner and style of the mother-ship. Because the music must serve to transcend and dispose our souls towards a music known only to angels and saints, not merely musical theater arias and pop-star megahits.
And lastly, the forthcoming of a new English Missal this Advent (a missal contains all the ritual language of the Church’s daily and Sunday calendar Masses over a three year cycle this written for non-Catholics) provides us the greatest mandate: to be faithful to the texts handed to us by the Author of Life, the Lord God, and the psalms of His chosen people’s King David, and the gospel of His only begotten Son. Music that unflinchingly serves the Living Word, and avoids ego based intention or emotional outcome in worship, will thrive on the vine. Music that is only randomly associated with the source of the vine, will become entangled in thorns and wither away.

Yes, you can sing

Paul Simon did an amazing thing at a recent concert. He invited a fan up to play his guitar and sing. The video is really inspiring as is the liberality of Simon who sees that the music isn't really about the performer. It is about the spirit that everyone shares. I think there are lessons in this for those of us who love Gregorian chant and want to see it spread through the whole Church in every single parish. The music isn't really about the schola but about the spirit that we all share, and we share it not only in that physical space but throughout time and into eternity. The people can sing if they come to see that the ordinary and dialogues of the Mass truly are their sung prayer. They are reluctant at first but once the spirit catches on, they feel a sense of having done something important and meaningful.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Requiem High Mass, 1962 Missal, Mobile, Alabama

Musica Sacra Choir and Chamber Orchestra of Mobile, Alabama, announces a High Requiem Mass (Missa Cantata) and Absolution at the Catafalque for deceased singers and benefactors, Friday evening, July 29, at half past seven o'clock at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Mobile, Alabama.

Mass will be sung by the Very Reverend Stephen Martin, V.G., Cathedral Rector Musical Setting: Maurice Durufle.  Christopher Uhl is the Music Director and Conductor (of Musica Sacra; he is a former Music Director of the Cathedral; in addition to his work with Musica Sacra, he is Director of Music of the Hoosac School, Hoosick, New York), and Jeff Clearman, organist (Organist-Choirmaster, All Saints Church, Mobile)

The public is invited and there will be a book at the door to enter the names of a departed loved by anyone who attends.

Festshrift in Honor of Msgr. Richard J. Schuler

There are some wonderful essays in this newly uploaded book: Cum Angelis Canere, edited by Fr. Robert Skeris (1990), not the least of which are the brilliant pieces by Richard J. Schuler who is the subject of this festschrift. Others pieces by Hayburn, Fowells, Mahrt, and others. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Msgr. Wadsworth news

Now, that's a title guaranteed to draw interest, right? Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth has emerged as one of the most brilliant commentators and scholars in this age of liturgical transition. He has a way of crafting publishable articles just during his casual banter. He manages to combine a scholarly with a pastoral temperament - with content that is at once thoroughly orthodox and unconventional. In addition, in his personality, he reminds one of want a 19th-century diplomat might have been like, a person who is able to say what's true, what's principled, what's wise, all while keeping the peace . I tell you, it takes a person like this to deal with the current environment.

So, with that said, see these three posts at PrayTell: his review of Fr. Cekada's book on V2, part one of Msgr.'s New York talk, and also part two.

Martin Mosebach on Hymns and the Mass

Benedictus Dominus offers a wonderful post with words from Martin Mosebach, author of The Heresy of Formlessness. I hadn't read this before. It is really outstanding.
"I am firmly convinced... that vernacular hymns have played perhaps a significant part in the collapse of the liturgy. Just consider what resulted in the flowering of hymns: Luther's Reformation was a singing movement,and the hymn expressed the beliefs of the Reformers. Vernacular hymns replaced the liturgy, as they were designed to do; they were filled with the combative spirit of those dismal times and were meant to fortify the partisans. People singing a catchy melody together at the top of their voices created a sense of community, as all soldiers, clubs, and politicians know. The Catholic Counter-Reformation felt the demagogic power of these hymns. People so enjoyed singing; it was so easy to influence their emotions using pleasing tunes with verse repetition. In the liturgy of the Mass, however, there was no place for hymns. The liturgy has no gaps; it is one single great canticle; where it prescribes silence or the whisper, that is, where the mystery is covered with an acoustic veil,as it were, any hymn would be out of the question. The hymn has a beginning and an end; it is embedded in speech. But the leiturgos of Holy Mass does not actually speak at all; his speaking is a singing, because he has put on the "new man", because, in the sacred space of the liturgy, he is a companion of angels. In the liturgy, singing is an elevation and transfiguration of speech, and, as such, it is a sign of the transfiguration of the body that awaits those who are risen. The hymn's numerical aesthetics-- hymn 1, hymn 2, hymn 3-- is totally alien and irreconcilable in the world if the liturgy. In services that are governed by vernacular hymns, the believer is constantly being transported into new aesthetic worlds. He changes from one style to another and has to deal with highly subjective poetry of the most varied levels. He is moved and stirred-- but not by the thing itself, liturgy: he is moved and stirred by the expressed sentiments of the commentary upon it. By contrast, the bond that Gregorian chant weaves between the liturgical action and song is so close that it is impossible to separate form and content. The processional chants that accompany liturgical processions (the Introit, Gradual, Offertory, and Communion), the responsories of the Ordinary of the Mass that interweave the prayers of the priest and The laity, and the reciting tone of the readings and orations-- all these create a ladder of liturgical expression on which the movements, actions, and the content of the prayers are brought into a perfect harmony. This language is unique to the Catholic liturgy and expresses it's inner nature, for this liturgy is not primarily worship, meditation, contemplation, instruction, but positive action. It's formulae effect a deed. The liturgy's complete, closed form has the purpose of making present the personal and bodily action of Jesus Christ. The prayers it contains are a preparation for sacrifice, not explanations for the benefit of the congregation; nor are they a kind of "warming up" of the latter. In Protestantism, vernacular hymns came in as a result of the abolition of the Sacrifice of the Mass; they were ideally suited to be a continuation of the sermon. Through singing, the assembled community found its way back from the doubting loneliness of the workday to the collective security of Sunday-- a security, be it noted, that arose from the mutual exhortation to remain firm in faith, not from witnessing the objective, divine act of sacrifice."

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Pop quiz, hotshot! What will you do?

RIP Dennis Hopper!
As my Brit bud IanW called me out last week, I'm in a red phone box with only a few quid and JT needs my post last week... I have only four lines of copy that I can shout to Tucker before the phone goes beep-beep-beep. Here goes:

1. Your pastor wants you to immediately engage the congregation in singing the propers, he insists upon their FCAP access. But he won't switch from using a pulp subscription missal, so you only have the Entrance and Communion antiphon texts.
2. You also cannot publish any musical settings of any propers in either a weekly ordo or the parish bulletin; no $ for ordo, no space in bulletin. (Also, no audio/visual available.)
3. You have the SEP, the Vatican II Hymnal, every Rice choral and chant and short "chant-based" monophy collections, the entire CCW catalogue, BFW, B.Ford's Amer. Gradual, Psallite, Ken Macek's Psallite propers, C.Tietze's strophic settings, and all the rest found at Musica Sacra, and you've composed some propers yourself. And NO PSALM TONES or the Wildcat gets blown up!*
4. How do you fulfill the pastor's demand to get the congregation singing the propers under these strict conditions? (You cannot quote Mahrt!)

"What will you do, hotshot? WHAT WILL YOU DO?"
*Obscure reference from the film whose title remains unmentioned.
And a little personal PS for dance fans- if our scholas, choirs and cantors would take their regimens as seriously as the contestants on the Fox Reality "SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE," there wouldn't be any musical problems in the American Roman Catholic Music scene, at 'tall! These kids are artists!

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, SEP Practice Videos

These chants from the Simple English Propers are now available for this Sunday. I'm enraptured by their structural similarity to the same propers in the Gregorian. The introit is exuberant, the offertory is contemplative, and the communion Mode IV, which always suggests to my ear deep mystery (are all chants about burning things set in Mode IV?).

INTROIT • 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time from Church Music Association of Amer on Vimeo.

OFFERTORY • 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time from Church Music Association of Amer on Vimeo.

COMMUNION A & B • 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time from Church Music Association of Amer on Vimeo.

The New Translation a Flop?

Jerry Galipeau of Gotta Sing offers these words of wisdom to his friends who can't stop attacking the new translation of the Missal:
I want to share something that has been eating away at me for quite some time. Most of those who have been offering scathing critiques of the new translation are counted among my friends. One critique recently went so far as to urge that we should refuse to use the new texts and stay with the current Sacramentary texts. I guess I find myself confused about these critiques. I, too, have spent lots of time with these texts and have discovered some real problems with some of the translations. But I wonder about passing a judgment of condemnation upon them, as some of the critics have done. It's like a theater critic reading a script six weeks before opening night and declaring the play a flop.

When I was working with priests in Davenport, I chose some of the more problematic texts for them to work with. They divided up into small groups and I asked them to share their thoughts about the particular text assigned to the group. The complaints abounded. "This is all one long sentence." "I can't find the antecedent." "The grammar just doesn't look right to me." "What kind of English is this anyway?" "I don't think anyone will understand this prayer."

Then I asked a member of the small group, "Father, would you pray that text for us?" After these priests had spent time visually analyzing the texts and expressings their thoughts about the texts, the actual praying of the texts surprised everyone in attendance. We heard things like, "Wow, despite the fact that it appeared stilted on the page, I think you did a beautiful job praying that prayer." "Good job, Harry, that's a tough text but you conveyed it beautifully."

I was suprised by what occurred, which is why I think we really need to resist the temptation to condemn the text before "the curtain" actually rises.
Amen to that, as they say in some Southern houses of worship. You know, his comments could also apply to those who are panning Mass propers even before they have been tried, among whom...Jerry Galipeau in the post previous to this one! He says in his his post Let's Get Real:
But, to be honest, I just don't think this whole argument about the singing of the propers will ever amount to a hill of beans to these parish people. The people have grown accustomed to singing hymns and songs at the entrance and at communion from a wide variety of traditions at Saint James. When we sing Soon and Very Soon as the opening song in Advent, you would swear that we were "goin' to see the king" right then and there. When we sing "Sweet, Sweet Spirit," you take the deepest breaths you have ever taken, 'cause without a doubt you know that you are being revived. Whether we like it or not, these hymns and songs have become a living part of the Mass for the majority of Catholics. To suggest that these be phased out over the next few years, to be replaced by the chanted propers (or even the propers set to other musical styles) is just not realistic.

I must say that my experiences have been completely opposite. No, the people in the pews don't rush up after Mass and say: what a fantastic performance today; that was just what I needed! Instead, they find themselves thinking and praying through the performers and through the music toward eternity. In fact, if people can't wait to tell you how great your rendition of "Soon and Very Soon" was, there is a good reason to suspect a problem. Musicians should not seek that, should not want that. If we succeed in giving a lift to the prayers of the prayers, we have done what we are supposed to do.

(By the way, does it matter that "Soon..." refers not to Advent but to the Second Coming as understood in the premillennial Scofieldite tradition of 19th-century evangelicalism and that this view is rejected by the Catechism of the Catholic Church?)

This does not mean banning "Sweet, Sweet Spirit," even though that song is not my favorite. Even if it were my favorite, I hope I would have the wisdom to see that this is not the right replacement for the propers of the Mass. Whether it can be sung as an additional song after the propers is a matter for discussion. There is a time and a place for everything, and we can argue forever about the kind of music we should schedule at youth retreats, prayer sessions, Church socials, or whatever. About the primary text and music of the Mass there really should be no argument: it should be the music or at least the texts of the Mass!

In any case, as with all these issues, the proof comes in the doing, as Jerry would say. All we are saying is give propers a chance.

By the way, I purchased the WLP Missal for home use and I can't wait for it to arrive! Jerry tells me that they completely reset the music for the Missal chants to make them more beautiful (but without changing any of the structure of course).

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Catholic Youth Catastrophe

Catholic parishes that have a sense that they are losing the young are probably correct. Not knowing what else to do, they are still instituting “LifeTeen” programs that provide an opportunity for young bands to play popular music at Mass, some of it easily mistaken for a teenage jam session. They are also working to further make their educational programs more “relevant” to the lives of teens. ‘

What they do not realize is that it is precisely this sort of pandering that could be the source of the problem. In any case, it is obvious enough that this is not working.

Cause and effect is impossible to prove in social science, but it just can’t be purely coincidental that the meltdown of Catholic youth participation began its total meltdown around the same time that parishes started this trend toward treating them as a special segment within the Church that needed anything but clear teaching, solid doctrinal instruction, and solemn liturgy.

Consider the most detailed survey to date on youth attitudes toward religion. Conducted by Christian Smith of Notre Dame and the National Study of Youth and Religion, and reported in a book called Soul Searching, here is what he found.

He found a relatively lower level of religiosity and laxity of Catholic teenagers compared to teenagers in other U.S. Christian traditions. Among their findings are that when compared with Conservative Protestants, Black Protestants and Mormons, Catholic teens:
  • Have lower levels of attendance at religious services;
  • Would not attend religious services less if totally up to themselves;
  • Report that their religion is less important in shaping their daily lives and life decisions;
  • Substantially feel themselves less close to God;
  • Have somewhat more doubts about their religious beliefs;
  • Believe less that God is a personal being involved in the lives of people today;
  • Believe substantially less in a judgment day when God will reward some and punish others;
  • Believe less in miracles, the existence of angels, and life after death;
  • Believe more in reincarnation, astrology and in psychics and fortune-tellers;
  • Less have made a personal commitment to live life for God;
  • By a substantial margin fewer ever had an experience of spiritual worship that was very moving and powerful;
  • Fewer have shared their religious faith with someone not of their faith;
  • Pray less frequently;
  • Fewer are involved in a religious youth group;
  • Fewer are in congregation that have a designated youth minister;
  • Have less frequently attended Sunday School/CCD, been on a religious retreat, attended a religious conference or rally or camp, or been on a religious mission or service project;
  • Less frequently openly express their faith at school;
  • Less likely to have adults in their church, other than family members, whom they enjoy talking with and who give lots of encouragement;
  • More frequently report that they are bored in church;
  • Less frequently report that they find church a place that helps them think about important things;
  • Less frequently report that their congregation has helped them understand their own sexuality and sexual morality;
  • Less frequently report that their congregation has done a good job teaching them about their own religion.
The survey also reports that only 19 % of U.S. Catholic teenagers attend mass on a weekly basis and that 40% never attend. Truly, these are catastrophic findings. It means the loss of an entire generation, all accomplished in the name of winning them back. Those in charge don’t often see the connection because those who leave are gone and they go without explanation. Those who stay are the ones who don’t mind the pandering, the cheesy music, the fluffy teaching. Intelligent kids who can recognize that they aren’t be treated as emerging adults take off never return.

The researchers summarize: “It appears…that too many U.S. Catholics have through inertia continued to rest assured that old organizational structures were taking care of their children when in fact they increasingly have not been. And so many or most Catholics teenagers now pass through a Church system that has not fully come to terms with its own institutional deficit and structural vacuum with regard to providing substantial and distinctive Catholic socialization, education, and pastoral ministry for its teenagers.”

Of course most of the policies that are driving kids away are being put in place by people in the 40s, 50s, and 60s who can’t remember what it was like to be young and have older people attempt to spoon feed you and attempt to re-create a shoddy version of the secular culture that already envelopes the young. If the Church has nothing different, nothing challenging, nothing intelligent, and nothing fundamentally radical to offer, why bother? The youth see this even if their parents do not.

This confusion is not somehow limited to “progressives” in the Church. Generally conservative groups that place a strong emphasis on Catholic teaching also exhibit fundamental confusion, particularly as regards music in the liturgy. Unless something changed since the last time I checked (a year ago), at any camp sponsored by the group FOCUS, you are more likely to hear trap sets and loud guitars at Mass than Gregorian chant. Further, FOCUS seems to be sending its college missionaries out into the field armed with a vast repertoire of sacro-pop music but virtually no knowledge or experience in true liturgical music.

By the age of 18, kids can understand the difference between real Church music and pop tunes designed to manipulate them. What this approach ends up doing is driving away serious people, leaving only those who participate in the programs because they otherwise lack a social circle. In any case, this music is not accomplishing its goal; quite the reverse. If anyone can get through to the FOCUS leadership about this issue, be my guest. I’ve had no luck.

Is there hope? Absolutely. No group is so hungry for good liturgy as that which has been utterly starved for access to solemnity. Many people who have looked at the Simple English Propers carefully have concluded that the group most likely to feel drawn toward its solemnity and sacredness are the emerging adults. The Lifeteen groups are precisely the ones that will be drawn to the sense of liturgical accomplishment that singing these chants will elicit in their hearts and minds.

We can get the youth back. But it will take a dramatic turnaround in the strategies used over the last decade or so.

Ad te Domine levavi animam meam

Here are two absolutely marvelous renderings of this past Sunday's offertory proper, Ad te Domine levavi animam meam.

Here's a Deal on the Parish Book of Chant

I was thinking about the Parish Book of Chant yesterday, realizing with some alarm that it was published just in time for the revival, and without it, we would be in real trouble.

It contains all the chant hymns that Catholics must know and that gets scholas and congregations going with singing chant. Richard Rice did the design and typesetting. Arlene Oost-Zinner had suggested the inclusion of the complete ordo for the ordinary and extraordinary forms. This turned out to be a brilliant addition because it demonstrates the parallels in a manner consistent with the current emphasis.

Nearly 12,000 copies have been distribution since its publication in 2008. That's really an incredible number in this world. Again, this book was published just in time.

This is a 193-page hardback book. The CMAA has agreed to make it available for $7 each for a box of 40. This is a great book to have for the schola or congregation or just to have for your private evangelistic efforts. If you are interested in this large-quantity deal, write Janet Gorbitz and she can make the arrangements for you.