Friday, January 20, 2012

A Tribute to Adam Bartlett

This is really great

Several years ago, I met an aspiring young musician and recent college graduate who had an ambitious vision for the renewal of Gregorian chant in the Catholic Church of Phoenix and beyond.  The internet gave him access to hundreds of years of scholarly musical literature and chant books, the kinds of things one once had to travel to Swiss monasteries to look at; he was apprenticed to an elderly Benedictine monk and chant master in Chicago who was conveying the skills and wisdom necessary to reanimate chant in the 21st century; he had contacts with a number of willing and able singers thanks to his parish life and his connections at ASU’s highly regarded school of music. 
There was just one problem: he didn’t have a music job in a parish.  It’s kind of difficult to start a revolution without even a camp in the jungle.  But fortunately, his employer was allowing him to set up a music studio and rehearsal space in a vacant old building he owned and was redeveloping right on Central Ave., a tiny, gutted former retail store with wires and pipes sticking out of ceilings and walls and a concrete slab floor splattered with the paint, glue, and plaster of decades.  In this rent-free urban chant lab, Adam Bartlett assembled and rehearsed a number of small choirs and chant scholae over the next year.  The intricate modal lines of chant, developed in the resonant acoustics of medieval churches, sounded unbelievably good in the echo-y space of this gutted old building, and it wasn’t long before Adam’s guerilla campaign to re-animate sacred music gained first a toehold in the Diocese, and then a foothold at St Joan of Arc parish.  (His recent editing and publishing ventures in the global community of church musicians have advanced of late: read about them here and here.)
Ancient Gregorian chant in the heart of an urban redevelopment: I can’t think of a better example of the kinds of things that happen in Phoenix because of Sloane McFarland, entrepreneur, re-developer, conceptual artist, landlord, and, not accidentally, a daily Communicant in the Catholic Church.  His company, Martha + Mary, does in its projects what its name suggests: create spaces within the active-practical sphere (read: businesses) for the reflective-contemplative activities without which human life is empty.