Music That Keeps Moving

This week I’m in Salt Lake City, where Melanie Malinka, some of the choristers from the Madeleine Choir School, and I will be meeting up in a recording studio to lay down new tracks for a CD to accompany Words With Wings.  Because some other plans I had for Sunday fell through, I had the great fortune of making it to the Cathedral of the Madeleine for the 11:00am Mass. Melanie had told me that the kids would be singing the entire Mass, so I’m secretly pleased my other plans didn’t pan out.

A cursory look at the program before Mass showed me there was a lot to look forward to.  The children would sing the Gregorian Introit, Laetetur cor and the Communion antiphon, Laetabimur.  The ordinary consisted in Credo III, a Proulx Sanctus, and the Gloria and Agnus from the Rheinberger Mass in A major. The program was rounded out by Doug O’Neill on the organ playing a Bach Prelude, a Postlude by Kenneth Leighton, and the children singing motets by Faure and Leighton.

I had been at the Cathedral for the 11:00am Mass before, but this was in the summer time, when school is not in session.  So I wasn’t fully prepared, intellectually, and most surprisingly, spiritually, for what happened during Mass.  The children’s Introit, under the direction of Madeline Choir School director, Melanie Malinka, was exquisitely crafted.  Moreover, it set the tone that would be carried through all the of the music I experienced this morning:  the music moved.  It was never stationary. It always moved forward, like time itself; yet each note, each word, was carefully placed, pure, and eternal.  It was breathtaking. 

I was fully expecting it to be outstanding – despite their tender ages, these are some of the most well trained singers in the country.  Ms. Malinka, as teacher and conductor, is precise and driven.  The Rheinberger Mass, and the Faure and Leighton, as sung by children’s voices, were sung with enviable  volume, control, intonation. and sensitivity.  Beautiful and pure, the repertoire selected was perfectly suited to serve at an OF Sunday morning Mass.  The Gregorian Communio, Laetabimur, was just as spectacular and moving as the Introit.  It accompanied almost all of the Communion procession with numerous repetitions and Psalm Verses.  What a privilege it was to hear these children sing in Liturgy, or, in other words, to sing when and where it really matters.

It wasn’t just the children’s singing or Ms. Malinka’s direction that made the experience so amazing.   The celebrant, the Rev. Msgr. Joseph M. Mayo, did his share of singing his parts of the Mass.  The cantor did a fabulous job of leading the congregation, again, in a way that kept things moving forward through time.  Doug O’Neill is also to thank for his confident and masterful treatment of all things organ – from his solo performances before and after Mass, to his improvisations on the chant, to his accompaniment of choir and congregational singing.  The organ added to the musical progress of the Mass in the most delightful and fundamental way.  Beware anyone who thinks the organ slows things down or makes things stodgy or inaccessible…go listen to Mr. O’Neill.

The Mass I attended this morning was, in my estimation, as close as it comes to what the the second Vatican council intended.  People’s parts were important, and integrated perfectly with the roles of celebrant and choir at Mass.   Timing was impeccable: you often see choral Masses slowing things down to a halt – with the celebrant patiently, and sometimes painfully, waiting until the music was over  to resume his part.  This didn’t happen.  Organ, choir, people, celebrant, people, cantor, choir, organ – sometimes alone, and sometimes layered – all came together in a  Mass that was solemn, inclusive, riveting…and above all, joyous.

The Gospel we heard this morning (Mark 10: 46-52) reads: Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you? The blind man replied to him, “Master, I want to see. Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.”

As a musician attending a Mass that seemed like a modern day miracle, I paid special attention to Christ’s words this morning.   What do we want Him to do for us?  As musicians, what would he like Him to help us do or see? If we open our eyes and look around, we will find beauty everywhere…but mostly in examples of unshaken faith, like that of the blind man. We spend a lot of time lamenting the sorry state of music in parishes, and yes, even at some Cathedrals…but are we stepping off of our soapboxes long enough to look around and see Christ’s love working through those whose faith knows no soapboxes, and remains constant?

Gregory Glenn, founder and director of the choir school, and all who work with him – Ms. Malinka, Mr. O’Neill, cantors and staff, and of course the children – are wonderful examples.  It is because of their faith and dogged perseverance that they have achieved what they have.  It is through their hard work and fidelity that visitors and parishioners of the Cathedral of the Madeleine can come together on a Sunday and worship as the Church – and Christ – desire.