Monday, January 30, 2012

No Great Composers Since Purcell---Part 6,431

Some music commentators have been given to say that England hasn't had any great composers since Henry Purcell. I often think of this strange sentiment every time I happen upon a new English composer who is fantastic, if not frankly downright great. A more recent discovery of mine is Francis Pott, who is part of a whole movement of composers from that country who are continuing its tradition of choral music, the tradition that introduced the European continent to the major third as a consonance in the fifteenth century.

Here is his setting of Ubi Caritas:

Contemporaries never have the final say on a given work of art, and that's as it should be. As for Purcell, however, I don't remember the last time I was in the mood to listen to his music.

Archbp. Wenski to Celebrate Solemn Pontifical High Mass Feb.2

News item as part of a CMAA conference:
On Thursday February 2nd, at 7:30 PM EST His Grace Archbishop Thomas Wenski will celebrate a Pontifical Solemn High Mass for the feast of Candlemas at the Church of the Epiphany, Miami, Florida.

The Liturgy will include the distribution of candles for the Feast, as well as a procession of the clerics around the interior of the church.

The assistant clerics will be Very Rev. Msgr. A. Wadsworth (Westminster, England), Rev. Fr. Guy Nicholls (Birmingham Oratory), Rev. Fr. R. Vigoa, Very Rev. Fr. C. Marino, Rev. Fr. J. Fishwick and Very Rev. Msgr. J. O’Doherty (Archdiocese of Miami), Rev. Fr. C. Saenz (Society of Jesus), Rev. Fr. J. Fryar, Rev. Fr. J. Nolan and Rev. Fr. B Austin (Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter).

The Florida Schola Cantorum, under the direction of Rev. Dr. Edward Schaefer will sing Wadsworth’s Missa Brevis, and the Women’s Schola Cantorum will sing the Gregorian Chant propers for the Mass and Terce, under the direction of Dr. Jennifer Donelson.

The Pontifical Mass will broadcast on, and also on iMass (app for iOS devices) LIVE, starting at 7:30 PM EST. Rev. Fr. C. Goodwin FSSP will be joining us as commentator for this Liturgy.

Epiphany Catholic Church:
8235 SW 57th Ave.
South Miami, FL 33143

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Præter rerum seriem, Josquin

Incredible piece. CPDL lists the text as

Præter rerum seriem
parit deum hominem
virgo mater.
Nec vir tangit virginem
nec prolis originem
novit pater.

Virtus sancti spiritus
opus illud cœlitus
Initus et exitus
partus tui penitus
quis scrutatur?

Dei providentia
quæ disponit omnia
tam suave.
Tua puerperia
transfer in mysteria.
Mater ave.


This is no normal scheme of things:
God and man is born of a virgin mother.
She has known no man;
the child's origin is unknown to the father.

By the Holy Spirit's power
this heavenly work has been brought about.
The beginning and end of your giving birth
who can really know?

By God's grace, which orders all things so smoothly,
your childbearing confronts us with a mystery.
Hail, Mother.

Missa Pange Lingua, Josquin

To restore a suitably chanted ordinary to Mass is a high enough goal for most parishes, but we should never lose sight of the possibilities for the vast repertoire of polyphonic Masses as well. In an ideal world, every parish would have a choir with a solid number of settings like this to sing.

This from Saint Clement's Church, Philadelphia (Anglo-Catholic), is fantastic in an EF context but it can be done in the OF as well.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Paul Westermeyer on Church Music

Professor Westermeyer at the Luther Seminary argues that music drawn from the popular culture, designed for emotional manipulation, can be divisive and unsettling for congregations. He pushes instead for a plain singing of the Word. Though his priorities are more community-centric than anyone working in the Roman Rite should be, Catholics will recognize many of the features he speaks about within the Lutheran context.

Thank you Kathy Pluth.

Sing Propers with the Android

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Friday, January 27, 2012

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, SEP

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

William Mahrt on Kevin Allen

Here is William Mahrt's introduction to Kevin Allen's new collection of SATB motets Cantiones Sacrae Simplice

Many have been enchanted by the performance of Kevin Allen’s Tantum Ergo, which introduced the video of the Sacred Music Colloquium, Sacred, Beautiful, and Universal, produced by Corpus Christi Watershed. This is sacred music in continuity with the tradition and yet in a beautiful modern idiom. The Second Vatican Council encouraged composers to produce new music for the liturgy, music that is genuinely sacred, with texts drawn from liturgical and scriptural sources, including some music suitable for small choirs: Composers, filled with the Christian spirit, should feel that their vocation is to cultivate sacred music and increase its store of treasures.Let them produce compositions which have the qualities proper to genuine sacred music, not confining themselves to works which can be sung only by large choirs, but providing also for the needs of small choirs and for the active participation of the entire assembly of the faithful.The texts intended to be sung must always be in conformity with Catholic doctrine; indeed they should be drawn chiefly from holy scripture and from liturgical sources. (Sacrosanctum Concilium ¶121)After the Vatican Council, the liturgy, and especially its music, experienced considerable instability.

Indeed, choirs were disbanded and Gregorian chant was replaced with music that can only charitably be called ephemeral. In ret-rospect Pope John Paul II and after him Pope Benedict XVI attributed this to a “hermeneutic of discontinuity,” a sense that everything from before the Council was obsolete and must be replaced with something new. In contrast, they asserted that the proper interpretation of the Council must be a “herme-neutic of continuity,” following the prescription of the Council itself, which maintained that “there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them, and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already exist-ing.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium ¶23)Music for the liturgy is a matter of culture, and music after the Council had perforce to interact with several cultural factors. The first is the musical cul-ture of the secular world, which finds itself with a great split between what is deemed popular and what classical. “Popular” music is dominated by commercial interests, and most often seeks the lowest common denominator; this does not always promote any kind of excellence.

Moreover, what passes for “folk” music is subject to the same commercial interests, and rarely achieves the sense of commonality that genuine folk music should have. On the other hand, “classical” music tends toward academic and esoteric interests, which have become detached from the patronage of intelligent connoisseurs of music; its compositions are excellent, but often only other composers are their most appropriate listeners. The respite seems to have been to maintain traditional concert repertories more extensively than has ever been done in the past. New music which attempts to bridge this gap rarely succeeds in attaining excellence and avoiding sentimentality.

There is, in addition, the musical culture of the Church itself. Here, traditional music has been almost totally eclipsed by Protestant hymnody and music in popular styles, promoted by commercial interests. A few major publishers have dictated what music is performed throughout the Church, with little supervision by ecclesiastical authorities. When church musicians attempt to imitate popular styles, best known in recordings produced at great expense through the use of complex and sophisticated technology, they cannot compete, and their music appears amateurish. Yet, attempts at composing for the liturgy in serious styles run the risk of being out of reach of most choirs, or being trivial
because the canons of composing in a simple style have been forgotten.

Kevin Allen’s Cantiones Sacrae Simplices provide one model for the solution of the present dilemma. They are in continuity with the tradition of sacred polyphony: they follow classical polyphony in being in an essentially imitative style; their texts are all Latin texts from the liturgy—Mass propers, four offertories and eight communions; they make a link with Gregorian chant by providing chant verses, both in Latin and English, which can be alternated with the polyphony. They are simple enough to be accomplished by a moderately good choir. Yet they are also in a modern idiom: their polyphony shows colorful dissonances which yet are justified by good voice-leading, and their sonorities,
while basically triadic, are rich and original. And so they fulfill the Council’s recommendations for the composition of new liturgical music. May the publication
of these Cantiones be an inspiration for other composers to make similar contributions; may your singing of these motets contribute to the enjoyment of
your choirs and enhance the beauty of your liturgy.

William Mahrt
Stanford University
O Oriens, 2011

Esto mihi, 6th Sunday of the Year

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Heinrich Isaac's Missa Carminum

This past weekend at St. Paul's in Philadelphia we sang Heinrich Isaac's Missa Carminum. It's a bit of a strange piece but lovely nonetheless. For one thing, the voicing is tricky, at best. As far as I can determine, this should really be sung STTB. The high tenor part can be done with a countertenor, but even transposing as high up as A-flat would still make it an acrobatic part that crosses over many singers' breaks. It's probably better to have two tenors in general. We sang it in F# (we have a courageous and competent countertenor) but the next time we do it, I just might take it up another full step. I'm also tempted to make my own version with the note values halved. The one recording of this Mass on iTunes features a men's choir with a children's choir, which might be one of the better ways to mind the gap between the top two voices. As unusual as the voicing is, it gives the piece a fantastically rich sonority, warm and delicious and yet workaday.

Isaac was a contemporary of Josquin's, but this isn't entirely obvious from the music itself. He organizes the sections of his Mass in much the same way that many late Medieval and early Renaissance composers did, using full cadences a bit more often than a later Renaissance composer would use. At times, too, he gets long winded, but then at the last minute treats the last few words of a phrase in businesslike fashion. The third Agnus Dei is a good example of this.

All the same, the harmonic language is practically straight up F major, and the melodic figures are not as challenging as they'd be in a Mass by Josquin, Taverner, or Dufay. In fact, there is a great deal of homophonic writing. Moreover, the Mass isn't nearly as long as many others from the same time period. In short, it seems that Isaac was composing a bit ahead of his time. This Mass is a good choice if you're looking for accessible repertoire from a period that's a little earlier than most ears can handle. Maybe it's even one of those bridge pieces that opens up doors for people (if I may be permitted to mix metaphors).

This Mass looks scarier than it is, and I promise to let everyone know if I ever get around to making a more practical version. (If someone else wants to do it, by all means, I won't stop you!) If a choir has the right voices, that is the biggest hurdle. Beyond this, the Mass pretty much sings itself.

The Big Five Catholic Music Books

I’ve been receiving an unusual number of emails recently that are asking fundamental (or rudimentary) questions.This is probably a good sign because it indicates an ever widening number of people who are interested in reforming Catholic music in a more liturgical direction. One yesterday asked for a basic tutorial in the main books of chant music for the Catholic liturgy. This seems like a reasonable request.

By the way, I’ve picked the number five here for no apparent reason. It could be shrunk to two or expanded to ten. These five are the ones you are most likely to encounter today.

1. The Graduale Romanum. This is the book of music for the Catholic Mass. There is an edition for the preconciliar form and the postconiliar form (the differences are adapted for the changed calendar). That is the book is normative and foundational was reinforced by Paul VI in his introduction to the 1969 Missal, reprinted in the new Missal. It is the one book that provides all you need for Masses throughout the year. It is entirely in Latin, even the front matter. If you are in Catholic music and plan to stay there awhile, you have to have this book.

One indispensable feature, for example: it lists the Psalms attached to each antiphon.

It is called the Graduale because of the name of the chanted Psalm for Mass, which is also called the Graduale. This gets confusing. Someone says “Graduale” and you don’t know if he means the song or the book. The other problem with this book is that because it is all in Latin, it can be the most intimidating book among them all. And if you want to really ramp up the intimidation factor, have a look at the Graduale Triplex, which contains 9th century signs that were in use before the invention of the staff!

Even though this book is at the core of the whole universal Catholic music experience, it is probably not the book you need to get first or even at all. You can get most of what you need from this book in an edition that is specifically made for the English speaking world. Still it is a great book to have because it is the one that is the musical equivalent of the Latin Missale Romanum.

2. The Gregorian Missal. This is the book to have. It is all the chants from the Graduale Romanum for Sundays and Feasts, plus English translations. The instructions are in English. The calendar is in English. It is the book that I credit with my first enlightenment to the reality that Catholic music is not something we select liturgy to liturgy but is rather part of the Mass itself. To see it for the first time can be mind blowing. Absolutely every Catholic musician must have this book. So should every priest. And Bishop. This is the book that opens up a new reality. You might not be able to sing from it, but it gives you the ideal, and that’s hugely important.

3. The Graduale Simplex. This was a book that came out in 1967 to fulfill the suggestion of the Council that a simpler book be produced for parishes. It was a missed opportunity for several reasons that I won’t go into here. It contains proper chants that can be used for entire seasons. It can still serve a purpose even though it is hardly ever used. Another version of the Simplex is Paul Ford’s By Flowing Waters, which puts the chants in English. This was probably the first book to enlighten the broader Church about the existence of Mass propers. It is also contains many other useful chants in English. I’ve have my own doubts about the long-term viability of the “seasonal propers” method but these doubts are mostly irrelevant actually. If people are singing such propers, the parish is a happy place.

4. The Parish Book of Chant. This is a project of the Church Music Association of America, compiled and typeset by Richard Rice. I would say that this book can be credited with saving chant in our time. Nearly all the books of basic Latin chant had gone out of print, leaving only the most difficult. The traditional “chant hymn” repertoire was buried in books from the 1950s and earlier. This book brought it all back to life, and, as a post-Summorum work, it actually put on display the relationship between the old and new form. It is more a pew book but is most often used by beginning choirs so they can get going with all the tunes and words that previous generations took for granted. It contains chants for the ordinary and lots of seasonal pieces, but not propers as such.

5. The Simple English Propers. This book (forgive repetition) gets parishes going on chant. It has reduced English versions of the Gregorian propers for Mass for entrance, offertory, and communion. The Gregorian mode is preserved, and every chant has Psalms. It is designed for parish use above all else. It is hassle free. The chants follow easy-to-learn formulas. I believe that history will record that this book, more than any other, made the biggest strides and bringing back the proper chants to the Mass. The book was put together by Adam Bartlett. It is a stepping stone, one that should have existed back in the 1960s but did not. It is selling so much that we are struggling to keep it in print.

There are many other important books, such as Offertoriale and Communio that provide Latin Psalms with propers. There are dozens more, depending on need. If you have a hopeless parish situation, at least consider Compline.

I sincerely hope this overview helps!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted on the Church's Role in "Preserving and Fostering" Sacred Music

Bishop Olmsted presents part two in his series "Singing the Mass":

In the first part of this series on sacred music, I described the meaning of sacred music, the music of the Church's sacred liturgy, as distinct from "religious music." In this second installment, I shall explore, from a historical perspective, the Church's role in guiding and promoting authentic sacred music for more fruitful participation in the Sacred Mysteries by the clergy and lay faithful alike.
The Second Vatican Council proclaimed that "the musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 112). This led the Council fathers to decree that "the treasure of sacred music is to be preserved and fostered with great care" (ibid, 114).
Sacred music in Judaism before Christ
The dual task of preserving and fostering sacred music remains a crucial one for the Church today. But to understand what the Council is asking of us, we must not only know what sacred music is in general (as we explored in the previous installment in this series) but also how the Church has carried out this endeavor in history.
The Church inherited the Psalms of the Old Testament as her basic prayer and hymn book for worship. With these sacred texts she also adopted the mode of singing that had been established during the development of the psalms: a way of articulated singing with a strong reference to a text, with or without instrumental accompaniment, which German historian Martin Hengel has called "sprechgesung," "sung-speech."
This choice in Israel's history signaled a concrete decision for a specific way of singing, which was a rejection of the frenzied and intoxicating music of the neighboring and threatening pagan cults. This way of singing the Psalms, traditionally viewed as established by King David (cf. 2 Sam. 6:5), disrupted only by the Babylonian exile, remained in use at the coming of Christ. Sung with respect to and during sacrifice in the Temple in Jerusalem, the early Jewish Christians assumed this tradition into the sacrifice of the eucharistic liturgy.
Sacred music in the early Church
After Pentecost, the first centuries of the Church's life were marked by the encounter of what was a Jewish-Semitic reality with the Greek-Roman world. A dramatic struggle ensued between, on one hand, openness to new cultural forms and, on the other, what was irrevocably part of Christian faith.
For the first time, the Church had to preserve her sacred music, and then foster it. Although early Greek-style songs quickly became part of the Church's life (e.g., the prologue of John and the Philippians hymn, 2:5-11), this new music was so tightly linked to dangerous gnostic beliefs that the Church decided to prohibit its use. This temporary pruning of the Church's sacred music to the traditional form of the Psalms led to previously unimaginable creativity: Gregorian chant — for the first millennium — and then, gradually, polyphony and hymns arose.
In preserving the forms which embodied her true identity, the Church made it possible for wonderful growth to be fostered, such that centuries after that original restriction, the Second Vatican Council boldly proclaimed that her treasury of sacred music is of more value than any other of her artistic contributions.
. . .

Read the rest here.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Inside Look at a Chant Class

Here are a few minutes of the several total days of drilling and teaching chant at the Chant Intensive. The class is taught by Arlene Oost-Zinner.

Memento mori

It has not been a particularly good week for musicians. First Gustav Leonhardt died, and then Etta James (what a voice!) and now, sadly, word has gotten around that Gerre Hancock, long time organist and choirmaster at St. Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue, died today in the arms of his wife and colleague, Judith.

Hancock was world-famous particularly for his great improvisations; he is a figure who will likely still be emulated in a hundred years alongside Pierre Cochereau, Olivier Messiaen and others. He wrote a book on improvisation which I confess I have yet to look at. Perhaps his most notable saying is that "salvation is a half step away." In improv, it's easy to get into a rut, and the way out of this is to modulate. More than once my somniferous doodlings have been rehabilitated by remembering this advice.

I never met Hancock and only heard him live once many years ago in an Anglican Evensong given by the St. Thomas Choir. It was one of those unforgettable performances, where the music is so beautiful and makes you feel so ecstatic that you feel like you've left your body. Time stops. Now time has stopped for Dr. Hancock, and we hope he will meet a Great Reward for a life well-lived.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Special Message for Priests

Here is a special message for all priests:

The CMAA Colloquium and the Priest
By Father Robert C. Pasley, KCHS
Chaplain of the CMAA
Rector of Mater Ecclesiae, Berlin, NJ

The annual CMMA Colloquium has been an overwhelmingly wonderful experience for over 20 years. It has been open to anyone interested in the Catholic Church’s official understanding of Sacred Music and its proper use in the Sacred Liturgy. Most of the attendees have been lay people with a small smattering of priests each year. In the last 5 years, a class on the correct tones for the celebrant has been added for priests and seminarians. The problem, however, is that most of what was taught was not printed in the liturgical books. Well, with the new Missal, this has now changed. The priest’s chants are printed from cover to cover.

I would like to extend a special invitation to priests and seminarians to consider attending the Sacred Music Colloquium XXII at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City, Utah. June 25-July 1, 2012. If the Liturgy is to be restored, if chant scholas are to be formed, if the people are to learn to sing the Mass and not just sing at Mass, if we are going to be faithful to our tradition, then of all people, bishops and priests, must once again learn to sing the Roman Rite according to the tones of the Roman Rite.

Just recently I was watching the Mass on EWTN. The Franciscan priests of EWTN have done a superb job learning the chants of the new Missal. One day, a guest priest said the Mass, a good priest and a great preacher, but when he opened his mouth to sing, a Syro, Byzantine, Anglican, modified Roman, with a modern interpretive touch chant came out of his mouth. It was jarring and distracting and it was wrong.

It was not the priest chant of the Roman Rite. It was either what he was taught in the seminary, or what he heard another priest sing and liked, or his own invention, but it was not the proper chant of the Roman Rite. I am not trying to tear this priest down but just make a statement of fact, and he is not alone. So many priests mean well. They want to sing the Mass, but in the last 45 years they were taught nothing or next to nothing. There has been a breakage with our Catholic, liturgical, priestly musical traditions and it must be corrected. Now is the time for every priest and seminarian to buckle down, force themselves to unlearn bad habits, and learn the right way to sing the Rite.

The CMAA wants to help seminarians, priests and Bishops. We have many resources on We have Sacred Music Magazine and we have the magnificent Colloquium. Many priests might be intimidated by the Colloquium. “But Father, Father, I would like to come but I am not a musician. I can’t read music, and I’ll feel self-conscious around all those professional musicians.” First, you don’t have to be a musician but someone who wants to learn. If the priest doesn’t sing, the Sacred Liturgy can never be celebrated to its fullest extent. You are absolutely necessary, not only sacramentally but musically.

Second, to sing the Mass you will have to have some basic knowledge of chant notation. This year, all first time clergy and seminarians, unless you are a musician priest, will have to spend each morning in the basic chant scholas. This is necessary for a good foundation and it is a good way to see how greatly people will sacrifice to give glory to God. Third, there is no place for self - consciousness. Priests are the servants of God, His people and the Sacred Liturgy. They must do everything possible to learn how to pray and sing the Mass according to the mind of the Church.

The class on the chants of the Missal will be offered each afternoon. Not only will the new Missal be covered but the basic principles of music for the priest found in the Liber Usualis will be discussed. Orations, readings, prayers, the Eucharistic Prayers and chants for the Ancient Form of the Mass will be covered.

The highlight of the day is Holy Mass in the Ordinary and the Extraordinary Forms. The chants, the polyphony, the organ, and the variation of great styles of the sacred treasury of Catholic Music will be at the service of the Liturgy. These liturgies are meant to be paradigms of liturgical practice, musical excellence and moments of the most intense and uplifting prayer. You will be immersed in all things Catholic.

Finally, there is the social part of the Colloquium. You will meet priests, seminarians and people from all over the country and the world, who are filled with zeal for Sacred Music. You will network with priests, seminarians and people who want to do what is right. You will hear inspiring stories. You will be uplifted by the talks. You will be exhausted from the liturgical Opus Dei. You will laugh, be inspired and come away a better priest or seminarian and person.

Most dioceses offer their priests a stipend for further education. Check into it. Use that money for the Colloquium. You will not be sorry. I long to see many more priests and seminarians at the Colloquium this June. God Bless You!

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.

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Simple English Propers

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Treatise We’ve Needed

The phone rang last week, and it was a man upset about the music in his parish. I listened patiently but I already knew what he was going to say. I’ve heard it all a thousand times before. The music seems unCatholic. It has nothing to do with the season or the day. The performers are self indulgent. It’s too loud and pop sounding. And is the hymn (fill in the blank) really permitted?

Then the question came that I’ve learned to dread: what book can I give to the pastor and the musician to help them better discern what is appropriate for the Mass?


I know it sounds crazy but there has not been a single work that really mapped out -- historically, theologically, musically, and practically -- the musical framework of the Roman Rite. There are great books on theology and history. There are several books of journalism and witty commentary on the state of Catholic music. There are much older books explaining rubrics.

But, if you think about it, there is no a single book that integrates it all, rises above it all to provide new insight, and gives a viable plan going forward that is rooted in the ritual structure, the traditions, and the legislation of the Catholic faith.

Now, at last, I can say that such a book exists. It is called The Musical Shape of the Liturgy. It is published by the Church Music Association of America. It will appear in print next month. Right now you can buy it on Kindle.

The author is William Mahrt, and, I can tell you, that he is the only person in the world who could have written a book like this. In addition to being the president of the Church Music Association of America, he is a professor of music at Stanford University. He is old enough to remember the change in the Mass from old to new. He was directing a parish choir the entire time, and this was in addition to his academic duties. He was researching old manuscripts and writing scholarly papers presented at academic forums.

This combination of duties led him to develop something unique: a mind that lives and thinks in the two and usually separate worlds of academia and parish life. His research is heavily informed by practical concerns. And his practical concerns are heavily informed by his historical, theological, and musical interests. It all flows together in this mind that has the patience to do over a lifetime what no one else has done.

The Musical Shape of the Liturgy is the first general treatise on music in the Roman Rite, one that can inform audiences of all types, whether parish musicians, academics, or Church officials. In some ways, this book is the culmination of a lifetime of experience. No, it wasn’t written all at once. Many chapters have appeared in other places. But when you look at the sequence of chapters, one is amazed at how they form a beautiful whole.

How can I summarize the thesis? Mahrt’s book demonstrates that the Roman Rite is not only a ritual text of words. It is a complete liturgical experience that embeds within it a precise body of music that is absolutely integral to the rite itself. This integration is not only stylistic (though style does matter). The music is structured to provide a higher-level elucidation of the themes of the Mass ritual itself. In other words, the music at Mass is not arbitrary. It is wedded to the rite as completely as the prayers, rubrics, and the liturgical calendar itself. Everything in the traditional music books has a liturgical purpose. When they are neglected or ignored, the rite is truncated and the experience reduced in potential to reveal and inspire.

These claims will amount to a total revelation to most all Catholic musicians working today, most of whom are under the impression that it is merely a matter of personal judgement whether this or that is played or sung. As Mahrt points out again and again, genuine Catholic music for Mass is bound by an ideal embodied in the chant tradition. This tradition is far more rich, varied, and artistically sophisticated that is normally supposed. More importantly, it is the music that is proper to the Roman Rite.

The opening section of the book, then, provides a four-part course in the musical structure of the liturgy. Here we discover the origin, history, and liturgical purpose of the ordinary chants. We discover the propers of the Mass and their meaning, and why they cannot be replaced by something with a completely different text and music without impoverishing the liturgy. We find out that the Roman Rite is really a sung ritual with parts for the celebrant, the schola, and the people. Everything has a place, purpose, rationale. It’s all part of a prayer. Even the tones for the readings are structured to signal themes and fit into an overall aesthetic and spiritual tableau.

The second section explores the particulars with detailed commentary on chants and their meaning. He covers entrance chants, offertory, communions, Psalms, alleluias, and sequences. Mahrt helps the reader understand their intricate structure and theological meanings, and provides a commentary that only a musicologist on his level can provide. The reader begins to appreciate the extent to which chant is far more profound than is usually supposed.

Further commentaries reflect on the polyphonic tradition that became part of the ritual experience of Mass in the middle ages. He explains how this music is an elaboration on the chant tradition and why it is included by the Church as part of the treasury. He writes on all the great composers of this period from Josquin to William Byrd. He moves on to cover the issue and question of the Viennese classical Masses, explaining why they continue to be appropriate for liturgy despite their apparent stylistic departure from the pure chant tradition. He covers the use of organ in Mass as well.

The third section turns to the specifics of putting all of this into practice in the contemporary world. He deals with English chant, offers specific commentaries on the case for “praise music,” investigates the meaning of inculturation and musical taste, and tackles pressing problems such as what to do when a parish has no budget and no singers. This section is the one that is of the highest practical value for pastors and musicians today, so much so that it would be tempting to read it apart from the rest. I think this would be a mistake. What is missing most from today’s Catholic world is the awareness of the the musical shape of the liturgy - that essential structure of what is supposed to take place in the Roman ritual itself.

When this manuscript was sent around prior to publication, there were widespread sighs of relief from everyone from parish musicians to Church officials. Finally. Finally! Finally we have the book that has been missing in all the literature on the liturgy. This is the book that fills that gigantic hole, the one that provides that insight into the liturgy that only a musician can provide and also elucidates the purpose and structure of the music itself. In addition, it provides a path forward.

This is the book that millions wish they could have read and thousands wish they could have written. It is finally here. I can see that this book will become a classic and will continue to be so long after this generation leaves this earth. It will resonate for decades and even centuries into the future.

Congratuations to William Mahrt. Thank you for this gift to the Church. These words will be repeated by many people long into the future.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

SOPA and Sacred Music

It should go without saying that I'm all for the protests against the proposed legislation in Congress that would effectively end free information flows on the web. The sharing of content has been the key to the renaissance of sacred music in our time., CPDL, and many others, have provided the music that has inspired a generation. It was all provided for free and put into the commons.

Having been deeply involved in this process, I can tell you that very little of this would have happened if the burden of proof over copyright and piracy had shifted against the institution doing the sharing. There are always deep pockets ready to make a claim of ownership, whether true or not and however ambiguous the claims. The legal tangles and possible penalties alone would have been enough to keep the entire library off line.

Even our daily posts here make use of material in a manner consistent with the fair use doctrine. But that would end too because in a future of government control, no one could know for sure what does and does not qualify. Generosity, sharing, and collaboration would be replace by possessiveness, isolation, and fear. We are already seeing signs of this.

Think of how the chant tradition made its way from the ancient to the early Christians, through the fall of Rome and the rise of Christendom, from the oral to the written means of transmitting, from monastery to cathedral to parish, and how this came to create the universal and beautiful liturgical art. None of this involved the thoroughly modern notion of "intellectual property." If it had been in force, not only would the chant not have spread; scripture itself would have remained imprisoned on scrolls and not copied and preached to the ends of the earth.

Steve Jobs on Gregorian Chant

I got eight books for Christmas, so I've been trying to get through them as quickly as possible so that I don't lose momentum and neglect any of them. Last night I stayed up until I finished the exceedingly lengthy biography on Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. It is at turns highly informative and inspiring, not to mention a tad bit repetitive and gory, I must say, but a worthwhile read.

It's no secret that Jobs operated with a mindset that quickly cast people either as geniuses or bozos, and that a person could go from one category to the next in an instant. He was the same way with products and ideas: It could either be the greatest thing ever, or a useless pile of garbage, and verdicts were often rendered within microseconds. This is a value system based exclusively on competence and incompetence, which I'm not necessarily judging, at least not in blanket fashion, but just want to point out, because there is one paragraph where that paradigm seems to be suspended. In March 2011, after the iPad2 came out, Isaacson sat with Jobs as he scrolled through some of his favorite music. From page 413:

"We went through the usual Dylan and Beatles favorites, then he became more reflective and tapped on a Gregorian chant, 'Spiritus Domini,' performed by Benedictine monks. For a minute or so he zoned out, almost in a trance. 'That's really beautiful,' he murmured."

Jobs goes on to discuss Bach, his favorite classical composer, and the differences in the two famous recordings of the Goldberg Variations made by Glenn Gould. I'm fascinated that Jobs seems to simply be sitting at the feet of this music, just taking it in. I was kind of surprised by this paragraph, because in other parts of the book Isaacson documents how Jobs owned a historic mansion that he wanted to tear down to build a modern house. He was resisted by preservationists, and by the time he won the court battle he had lost interest in the project, but he clearly didn't care about a beautiful historic house. So here is this guy with a revolutionary, possibly even iconoclastic, spirit who liked to call people bozos and products garbage who listens to a Gregorian chant and just says, "That's really beautiful."

I wonder which recording he was listening to. I actually prefer the work of the Cistercian Monks of Stift Heiligenkreutz, who put out a recording a few years ago, which includes a number of the chants for Pentecost, Spiritus Domini being the Introit for the feast. These monks have a light and airy but full-blooded sound (ok, I need to knock it off...starting to sound like a wine-taster) and it is really head and shoulders above the recordings from some more famous monasteries.

In a way, it makes sense that such a revolutionary character as Steve Jobs would like chant. Chant is so different from what we're used to hearing that it forces us to actually listen. Music ceases to be ear candy or entertainment and becomes art.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

"Restoration of the Propers of the Mass" Chant Workshop with Fr. Columba Kelly, OSB

St. Basil’s School of Gregorian Chant offers a three-day chant workshop with Fr. Columba Kelly, OSB, from Wednesday, Feb. 15th through Friday, Feb. 17th at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. You can register for the workshop here.

For those who have not had the opportunity to study chant with Fr. Kelly, you have been missing the opportunity to learn from arguably one of the greatest authorities on Gregorian chant interpretation in the English speaking world. I am personally convinced that the work of Fr. Kelly will be widely rediscovered in the coming years and decades, and many will one day grieve the missed opportunities to learn from this immense scholar and selfless servant of the Church and her sacred liturgy.

I have not known of a single scholar and practitioner of Gregorian chant who integrates sound chant scholarship and pedagogy with liturgical and sacramental theology (primarily of Ratzinger) in a way that is so seamless and truly integrated as Fr. Columba Kelly. You will not want to miss any opportunity to learn from this veritable master.

Here is a description of the workshop from the directors of St. Basil's School:

The Theme of the Workshop is Restoration of the Propers of the Mass - The Seminar begins Wednesday evening with an open-to-the-public-address by Fr Columba in Jones Hall from 7.00-9.00 pm. The public are invited for this event, and Fr Columba’s address will again be very educational, useful, and informative by weaving the fascinating journey of chant throughout history, from murky first centuries, to the questionable involvement of Gregory himself, to Charlemange, Middle Ages, Renaissance, XIX. century, and our own day.

The three days of classes will address the mass propers and their role in everyone’s liturgy. These are the propers of the Graduale Romanum, which can be sung with equal power in Latin or in English, to the Gregorian chant music or to more modern composition. Much of the chant for the English we will be doing is brand new chant, composed by Fr Columba for this workshop mass.

You will learn about the repertory of Proper Chants and their place in the liturgy, and how they can, if one wishes, be combined with hymns and other music. You will, though, experience their unique contribution to the mass, to which they are part and parcel, and to which they would restore a rich repertory of scripture to the mass, a repertory which belongs to, is a part of, the mass, but for various reasons was allowed to fall by the wayside 40 years ago. Our starting point is GIRM, which states first, and state plainly that the prefered musical embroidery of the mass are the propers from the Roman Gradual, whether Latin or English or to other music. So the thrust of this workshop will be one of education as to how the propers may be used, encouraging musician to restore these ancient chants with are part and parcel of the Roman rite. While other music is purely ancillary, extrinsic to the rite, the propers and a integral part of the mass.

Fr Columba is one of the worlds greatest authorities on Gregorian chant, and has studied and taught it for sixty years. He not only teaches old chant, but composes new chant which is superb in its relationship to the words be expressed. His examples and insight will bring you into experiencing chant as the living tradition that it is.

Do plan to attend this workshop sponsored by St Basil’s School of Gregorian Chant and experience mass in a greater richness that you can take home to your parish.

For further information contact our website at, or view the flyer at the link given at top, before the ‘comments’.

Also, E-Mail:
Tel.:713-376-0289, or 713-526-1248
Facsimile: 281-858-5016

Lowell Davis –
Executive Director

M. Jackson Osborn –
Choirmaster and Lecturer in Chant Studies

Monday, January 16, 2012

Kyrie and Gloria from the Chant Intensive

Chants of the Roman Missal

The new Roman Missal is historic in many ways - and a remarkable relief for so many Catholics who have prayed for something to be done to restore dignity and solemnity to the Mass - but a major feature of the Missal is the music itself. It has rendered traditional Gregorian chant into English in a way that is very beautiful and provides a way for real sacred music to be part of every parish life. In this way, the new Missal is a large upgrade over the previous edition.

Until now, you had to buy the entire Missal to get the music in a book. The Liturgical Press has provided an excellent service in pulling all the music out of the Missal - and not all editions have contained all the music written for the book - and putting it into a very beautiful single volume. The book is Chants of the Roman Missal. It is called a study edition and it is indeed that. But it is also useful for use in liturgy itself. Any priest who is seeking to learn to sing the Mass will find this edition extremely useful. It is a good book to have for musicians who are in a position to teach priests the chants. It will be great for seminaries and seminars too.

The binding is great quality and the print of the music is very clear and crisp. It is very much worth the $50. It would make an excellent gift for any Catholic musician or priest. The book is Chants of the Roman Missal.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Great Work Is Here

The CMAA is pleased to present the great book of our age on Catholic music: William Mahrt's The Musical Shape of the Liturgy. I would go further to say that nothing like this has ever appeared in print.

I know that it is rather unusual to distribute the book this way even before it is available in Kindle (next week) and in print (next month), but, in this case, the book is just too important. You will be able to buy the epub edition and the hardcopy edition soon enough. But for now, here it is. If you appreciate what the CMAA is doing, please consider supporting this work.

The Musical Shape of the Liturgy

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Simple English Propers

The book from which these are taken is finally back in stock.

The Entrance to Mass

Laetare, Gaudete, Requiem: even now, these words exist as part of the Catholic lexicon. We hear them but most Catholics have no idea where they come from. They are the first words of the entrance chants for, in order, the fourth Sunday in Lent, the third Sunday in Advent, and the funeral Mass. But there’s no particular reason why we should focus on these days instead of others throughout the year. Every Mass has an appointed entrance chant - and these chants have been largely stable since the end of the first millennium.

The new book by Jason McFarland, Announcing the Feast (Liturgical Press, 2011) makes the case that by dropping the text and music, replacing it with something else, we are removing an integral part of the Roman Rite. The entrance chant is not there merely to foreshadow the readings of the day; it is there to build a theological and aesthetic foundation for the entire liturgical experience of the particular Mass that is being celebrated.

The book is hugely significant in many ways. It comes to what might be called “traditionalist” conclusions but does so within the contemporary liturgical context. He points out repeatedly that the Missal is not the only liturgical book for Mass; there is also the Graduale Romanum, which is the musical framework for the Mass. It cannot be neglected. It is not up to us to make up the music we use. The music is given to us in an official book. We need to rediscover it.

The McFarland book covers vast history and offers detailed and subtle arguments for the entrance (or introit). For many people, especially Catholic musicians, this will be the first they have heard of this issue. It will be a surprise. And certainly its use would amount to a dramatic departure from the existing practice of most parishes.

How practical is it to use the entrance? For a parish with a schola (trained or in training), and a community that has already warmed to the depth and meaning of the Latin, it is extremely practical. From my own experience in using it, I can say that it really does prepare the space for the mysteries that follow, and that nothing else quite achieves that precise result as fully and effectively. But how many parishes have the proper groundwork laid to make this possible? I would say: not that many. Perhaps 5%, maybe 10%. Most have no schola. Most congregrations are nowhere near prepared to be hit with a big Latin text upon arriving at Mass.

McFarland is aware of this. But he cautions: anytime you change the Latin to English, or you departure from the given melody in favor of something else, you are losing something important. He understands that singing the Gregorian introit is not really an option for most parishes right away. It is not merely a matter of turning a switch or pushing a button. There is much work to be done. So a large part of the book also involves the exploration of viable alternatives. He does a fine but incomplete job here. Even since his work was completed, several wonderful collections of alternatives to the Gregorian have been published, and right now many people are working on more. Some of the names involved: Adam Bartlett, Richard Rice, Adam Wood, Kathy Pluth, Samuel Weber. There are many others. The time of the introit may have finally arrived.

But what of the pastoral considerations? Can it really be so easy to replace the familiar “gathering hymn” with a real piece of liturgical music, even it is in English, even if it has a modern feel to it, even if the people are welcomed to join in the singing? The truth is that many pastors are very afraid to do this. They fear a kind of uprising. They worry that it will put people in a bad mood for the remainder of Mass. Just the prospect introduces anxiety for them and so they decide against it. This is very common.

The other day, I was visiting with a priest who has a very serious music problem in his parish - and I’ll spare you the details because you can probably guess. Hint: it’s the usual problem. In any case, he is ready for a change. He told me that he wants to be begin with introducing an English chant at communion, then move to offertory.

We would never discourage any progress and these are fine ideas. But there is a real problem here. Why are we waiting until the end or the middle of Mass to actually introduce music that is genuinely liturgical?

After a popular and bouncy entrance about some other topic (one or another version of “we are a happy people”), a popular and bouncy Gloria (“here is our happy song”), and probably a nice performance piece stuck into the intermission between the homily and the Eucharistic prayer, it can be jarring and strange to suddenly introduce something serious and meaningful. In fact, I can imagine that this is potentially dangerous from a strategic point of view. You put the chant at risk when you try to sneak it in as if you are adding medicine to soup you are serving a child.

Consider that the entrance might be the best way to begin the reform process. For the most part, people do not arrive at Mass prepared to reflect, pray, and experience the mysterious touch of time becoming eternity. They arrive carrying a gigantic satchel of emotional and mental baggage from the affairs of the week. They are carrying secular concerns in their head, secular tunes in their head, secular thoughts and ideas.

A poorly chosen “gathering song” only says to the congregation: hey, don’t worry about it. Nothing here is really different. This is pretty much the same kind of thing that has happened to you all week. This is more of the same: just another meeting, just another thing to do, just another place to be as you carry out your tedious obligations in life. You are doing this for the kids or maybe to reinforce some religious identity that your parents attached to you from birth. Otherwise, nothing is expected of you and nor should you expect anything to happen to you. It is all going to be over in an hour and you can go about your business.

These are the messages send by the very first piece of music that is heard at Mass. If this is so, how can you expect the homily to penetrate? How can you expect people to really listen to the prayers of the priest? How can you expect people to take the sacrifice on the altar seriously? How can you expect people to get serious about receiving the body of Christ?

It seems that there is wisdom in the Church’s idea to the introit. From the very outset, we hear the words of Christ in the Psalms proclaimed to us. From the Sunday forthcoming: “Let all the earth worship you and praise you, O God. May it sing in praise of your name, Oh Most High.” Then the Psalm verses follow. “Cry out with joy to God, all the earth; O sing to the glory of his name. O render him glorious praise. Say to God, ‘How awesome your deeds!’ “Because of the greatness of your strength, your enemies fawn upon you. Before you all the earth shall bow down, shall sing to you, sing to your name!”

Now imagine this text set to chant so that the text is very clear, proclaimed with confidence. No mixed messages, no yadayada about the community, no dance beats, no forced rhymns. Now, that’s an entrance. Does it produce some degree of discomfort? Probably it does. Thinking about God and eternity tends to do that. But it works as a kind of stimulus to the spiritual mind and to the soul. It gets us on the right track. It prepares us to understand and be changed by what follows. Why would we ever decline to open Mass with this goal in mind?

There is the issue of whether people will sing along or whether this is a schola chant only. I happen to believe that this whole issue is overwrought. Most people do not arrive at Mass with an itch to belt out a pop tune or sing much of anything immediately. This is why the opening hymn is notoriously undersung by people. There is nothing wrong and much right about letting people just stand and watch the procession without having to fiddle with a book.

But even if this is an issue, there is absolutely nothing wrong with having the people join in to sing the chant, even the Gregorian chant. There is nothing forbidden about that. But neither is there anything wrong with not making it a religious obligation.

The entrance might be the perfect way to begin the reform process. The beginning is sometimes the very best place to start.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Group Image of the Chant Intensive

Beautiful Image from 1470

This arrived as part of a new edition of Due antifone mariane "Salve Regina" and "Te decus virgineum" by Antonio Caldara, as published by Libreria Musicale Italiana. I just love how the chant master is showing off the great treasure of the monastery, the book with the music. The ability to write music this way had only been invented a few hundred years earlier. The staff was the greatest innovation for the arts in a 1000 years or maybe ever. And the book itself, the work of dozens of scribes and countless hours, was worth more than the building pictured here. This work he is pointing to was the internet of the late middle ages, the thing that transmitted the essential information and the sound of the faith from place to place.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

2nd Printing of Simple English Propers solidly in stock

Announcing the Feast, Jason McFarland

The book just came today but I would like to highly recommend Jason J. McFarland's outstanding new book Announcing the Feast: The Entrance Song in the Mass of the Roman Rite (Liturgical Press, 2012). I'm unaware of any book like it in terms of focus, argument, and evidence. It is engaging and straightforward but clearly the result of many years of in-depth research.

The central point is that the entrance antiphon (or introit) is an integral part of the Roman Rite and should not be casually replaced by something else, such as a favorite hymn with a different text. For most Catholic musicians, this claim will seem to be completely new, even a revelation. He covers the history in detail, with a full look at the historical evidence. He explains the theology behind the entrance antiphon and its musical function. He begins with the major mistake that people tend to make today: choosing the opening song based on the readings alone. This, he argues, is methodologically flawed and even contrary to the instructions for the ritual itself. The Graduale Romanum provides the proper text and the proper music.

Thus does he deal with the core of the musical issue: the centrality of Gregorian chant as the fullest expression of the message and meaning of the entrance. But he is also a scholar of the really existing liturgical environment, so therefore he speaks to the practical issues that every parish faces in dealing with the issue of the introit. Most do not have Gregorian scholas, of course, as ideal as this would be. So McFarland proceeds to spell what he considers to be -- in light of tradition, legislation, existing resources, and parish realities -- viable ways to achieve the goal of singing the entrance proper in the current context.

The manuscript was completed before the Simple English Propers had been printed, but reading the book helps me understand anew just what an achievement the Bartlett book really is. And there are others: Weber, Ford, Rice. McFarland covers some but not at of the existing options, but that is absolutely fine. The purpose of the book is not to provide a full guide to music that you can download or buy. Its purpose is to promote a new way of thinking about the entrance of Mass. It achieves that brilliantly.

The book is significant on its own terms, but it is also interesting to note that McFarland is the assistant editor at the International Commission on English in the Liturgy. He is working in the liturgical vineyards every day, and also every week as a singer for the Basilica of the National Shrine. More credentials: degrees in both music and liturgical studies. All of this heightens the importance of this work.

In talking with many young pastors today, you often notice a tendency to begin the parish musical reform effort by taking on the Offertory or the Communion chant. This is a fine thing, to be sure, but more recently I've come to be persuaded that this approach might signal the wrong priority: the choice of a more solemn mood (which is fine) over the re-invigoration of the integrity of the ritual itself (which is a better way to begin). Announcing the Feast makes a major contribution toward helping us understand just how crucial is the entrance to the Mass itself.

On a personal note, I warn you that if you are a liturgy geek like I am, this book is not something you want to have arrive in your mail box while you have other things to do. I found myself wildly distracted by its contents and argument, and nearly unable to put it down.

St. Noel Chabanel Responsorial Psalms (B)- a review

If you're reading this post, you're likely aware that we are in the midst of a significant renaissance of sacred and liturgical vocal composition that purposefully is crafted to adhere to a trio of criteria, "sacred, beautiful and universal," in manners more focused than the previous trio of "artistic, liturgical and pastoral" advised in the now-abrogated advisory document, Music in Catholic Worship.
Just within the last few months, at CMAA media organs alone, we have been introduced to the much anticipated new settings of the Psalter of Responsorial Psalms composed and compiled by Arlene-Oost Zinner, Aristotle Esquerra and Jeffrey Ostrowski. I recently received my copy of the "Chabanel" settings for Lectionary Year B and would like to offer some brief reviews and reflections of select contents.
Before I begin that, I would like to set a particular perspective for the reader to keep in mind. I'd personally be extremely surprised were there an actual census taken of whose psalm settings are being used by the vast majority of parishes which would NOT verify that OCP's English "Respond and Acclaim" (Owen Alstott). So, as I auditioned Jeff O's settings, I purposefully kept in mind how his treatments of certain psalm settings that are likely branded into the minds of musicians and congregants from decades of its use would compare. contrast and otherwise beckon those constituents towards Chabanel, and thus away from the convenient default of R&A.
First things first: as in all things Chabanel, Ostrowski's whole compositional lexicon stands in contrast to R&A- modality versus tonality, metered melodies that almost eschew the use of a metronome marking versus "strict" pulsation of the time signatures and which in many cases beg to be chanted, more complex and alternative accompaniments versus a "comfortable" diatonic emphasis, and of course melodies that are at once accessible, even without a visual example at hand, but yet not prone to becoming cliches for their ease of use. Mention of these differences (are mine) and do not reflect any disrespect whatsoever for the great contribution that Owen Alstott and R&A has made.

In reviewing each of the responsorials, which will receive most of the review's atttention, I noticed that JMO (Jeffrey Mark Ostrowski) trusts cantors/choirs/congregations to be able to negotiate certain aspects such as entrance pitches, unexpected or unique intervallic movement that might seem counter intuitive at first blush, but after closer examination elicit an "Oh yes, I get it!" sort of satisfaction. And he does this while AND because he often provides multiple accompaniments that make those distinctions clear. We have options on the page (as opposed to innovating them on the spot at the console keyboard!)
For example, Baptism of the Lord- "You will draw water..(pg.26)" has a major third fall and return rise at "draw WA-ter" whose ease of approach seems easier for a congregation with the B accompaniment to my ears. This may or may not be a challenge to seasoned singers, but the fact that there are often many options provided by JMO per Sunday/HDO, gives organists and  choir masters who might be inclined to provide SATB versions their own choice of preferred harmonic options. And of course, the verses are chanted, period. And for those Psalmists who are bound by meter, this will provide them (ala the SEP propers) a platform to finally "get" declamation. But I can envision (again, I think outside the box often) an informed Psalmist/Organist being able to ornament JMO's chanted verses melismatically, ala the Gradual practice, within reason and purpose.
Another aspect of JMO's compositional vocabulary is to "tone paint" his melodies with discretion and, more to the need, without affectation or obvious drama. Fourth Sunday of Lent, "Let my tongue be silenced..."(pg.34) , the aching lament of Israel in Babylonian captivity- JMO has the congregation terminus on a deceptive cadence that doesn't resolve until a final ending. More to the point is the verse melody which has a sighing quality to "sat and wept" moving then downwards to "remembered Zion" with regret. Then he ascends in scale wise motion with "to that land" (hope?) which then drops in alternative thirds with "we hung up our harps." Very moving. And that melodic formula continues to express the rest of the verses with that affect.
This sort of "tone painting" becomes even more important a factor when comparing one of JMO's settings to an Alstott version that is somewhat anthemic and pervasive, such as his Ps. 23 or Passion Sunday's "My God...why have you abandoned me?" With JMO's (pg.38/39) his responsorial melody over "My God, my God..." is set with an anacrucis A (My) A-Bb (God) Bb-C (my) G (God) which is clearly plaintive with the tonal portrait of halting steps. And accompaniment settings "A" and "B" are simply exquisite, with his penchant for purposeful (in "B's" case) bass note descending movement working sublimely. Another one on one comparison between R&A and Chabanel B occurs with Easter Day. Does anyone not immediately have that internal smirk upon hearing Owen's "This is the day..." cleverly, if not blatantly reminding of "Lasst uns erfreuen" with its requisite "alleluias"? Again, no criticism for how that works with the folks so well, but if an antidote would provide relief from that setting becoming an ear worm, then JMO's is what the Doctor ordered (pg.66). And interestingly enough he uses the same stair-step ascending melody device, but as exultant as the text requires. JMO also has (knowing or inadvertent) a knack for clever linkage, as the stair-step motive occurs above "Lord has," as if in direct response to "God, my God." And I like his use of the Aeolian mode which keeps a sort of implied tradition of "minor" modality associated with Easter, rather than the simplistic notion that every thing's got to be major, or "happy!" He does cadence with a clean 4-3 suspension to VII, but the approach is still classic. I preferred accompaniments A, C, D. But that's irrelevant, again we have OPTIONS!
Lest the reader think I'm a cheap date for JMO, I'll offer up one minor example of a symptom that's bound to be present (as it is in abundance with R&A) in any one's compilation: the perfunctory setting. One such of these is 3rd Sunday, Easter (pg.70), "Lord, let your face shine on us." The only illustrative quip I can repeat is like Gertrude Stein's infamous assessment of my beloved home town, Oakland, CA.: "There's no there, there." Well, that's to be expected; not every setting is "jacked out of the ballpark." Base hits generate runs after time. So, be a manager, explore options. Maybe Aristotle can get JMO and Owen to second and third base and load the bases for Arlene's grand slam! Who knows?
"I will praise you, Lord..." (5th, Easter, pg.74) Jeff has crafted in a humble yet handsomely wedded union of text and melody. It simply bel canto's "stay Churchy, my friend." And a reminder, again, that adhering to metered pulse is not absolutely necessary, especially with this setting. It's overall arsis requires a sense of momentum, and doesn't really relax until the last two measures.
Sometimes we've all likely encountered one of Owen's settings that we deem just too obtuse for use. I think one of those is Ascension's "God mounts his throne..." It's one of the rare occasion I've turned to an Inwood setting or its like. Now, JMO (pg.78) offers us a nobler, simpler setting than either of those in OCP. It doesn't have the "tone painting" aspect implicit to my ear, however in that JMO uses common time in all but one measure lends an opportunity to render this in strict meter, as if processional. And befitting the day, he gives the response SIX optional accompaniments (nothing's too much for the King of Heaven!)
I hope I've tantalized the reader to invest in, at least, an audition copy of this Psalter. I'm going to leave the review with one last example that is clearly mindful of the axiomatic differences between R&A and Chabanel approaches: Pentecost. As much an ear worm as Easter's setting, the R&A is so well-worn in its friendly ascending major scale, relieved by the great major sixth interval which then clunks out on the repeated V's over "face of the earth." Arggh, that's always be a little weird- as if the world was mapped by the Flat Earth believers! So, JMO's opening motive is an austere and welcomed relief, low tessitura, starting on essentially a G6 chord ("E" being an appogiatura-like suspension to the "D") which then rests upon the lower fifth (D) with "-it" of "Spir-it." And then from the tonic we're propelled up to the plagal C on "re-NEW" descending to "earth," but not before the surprising intevallic leap from "A" to the expected tonic, but to "ti or an F#" as if "face" is being pointed upwards. Not clever, but well-crafted. I preferred the "A" and "C" accompaniments for this one.
Well, that's enough for me now. I hope you're motivated to explore the rest of the year as I did. And I've already mentioned this collection to my pastor, who's an staunch and knowledgeable supporter of R&A, that the occasional use of these to give a spell to the over-Alstott-ed ear at our principal choir Mass would pay dividends. Of that I have no doubt.

Fr. Weber in the Groove

People who are looking for English chant will be very impressed by the intermediate-level offerings of Fr. Samuel Weber, which we are posting week by week in this file directory:

As for the magic appearing and disappearing act of the Simple English Propers at Amazon, I can only apologize. We keep underestimating demand and shipping them too few and find ourselves catching up. This is a very popular item.

Monday, January 9, 2012

More on the Madeleine Choir School

The Sacred Music Colloquium will be held at the institution of this choir school. Be sure to reserve your place.

We Must Not Forget Our Past

This page of folk music for Mass should be bookmarked and listened to often, so that we can always remember the mistakes of the past.

I post just a few examples.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Chant Training in Southwark

You won't want to miss this event at the St. George Cathedral, Southwark, February 11, 2012.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Great Success for Chant in Ann Arbor

Big turnout for this event!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Lent is all about liturgy

And who better to explain this than the director of the Liturgical Institute? Fr. Martis is an outstanding speaker, and this program in Atlanta next week looks like something really special. Sign up here and experience Lent in a few way.

A Pre-Mass Rehearsal from the Winter Chant Intensive

Press Release from College of Saint Mary Magdeline

Students Sing the "Simple English Propers" at the College of Saint Mary Magdalen
Beginning this year, students at the College of Saint Mary Magdalen ( are supporting the Holy Father’s renewal of the liturgy by singing the Propers of the Mass in newly composed English settings by Adam BartlettThese settings appear in the Simple English Propers, a collection of chant published in 2011.
Dr. George Harne, the College’s president explained why this initiative is so important:  “The introit, offertory, and communion chants of the Graduale Romanum have largely disappeared from the celebration of Mass.  These chants have remained the ideal, being advocated in all magisterial documents concerning the liturgy in the past one hundred years, including those following the Second Vatican Council.  Restoring the singing of these chants to our celebration of the Mass is another step toward fulfilling the Holy Father’s call for a reform of the reform.”
The College of Saint Mary Magdalen has always striven to celebrate its liturgies with great reverence and beauty.  Beginning with fall 2011, all Masses at the College are now celebrated ad orientem.  Students kneel to receive communion and sing the ancient chants of the Church.  In addition to the Simple English Propers, Latin plainchant, sacred polyphony, and congregational hymns all contribute to the rich liturgical and musical patrimony cultivated in the College and embraced by the students.
The spiritual lives of the students at the College are nurtured through a variety of sources:  chapels with the reserved Sacrament stand at the center of each residence and give students convenient access to the Lord’s Eucharistic Presence throughout the day and night.  Students also have the opportunity to pray the rosary in common daily as well as Lauds and Vespers in the main chapel. 
The collegiate community structures its days and academic year around the liturgical calendar:  Mass is offered throughout the week and Holy Week, the Sacred Triduum, and the Easter Octave are celebrated as a community in the fullness of its liturgical and musical splendor. 
Graduates of the College, through their catechetical, theological, and, most importantly, liturgical formation received as students, continue to carry out the Holy Father’s liturgical renewal in their own parishes after graduation.
The College of Saint Mary Magdalen remains one of only 20 colleges in the U.S. to be named to the Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College ( ).   The College offers a classical liberal arts education—through its Cowan Program and its Great Books Program—rooted in Catholic social teaching and loyal to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.

Simple English Propers, Epiphany

Much to our astonishment, the new printing of the Simple English Propers has seen its stock depleted by nearly half in only one week. Consider this another heads up on inventory. Right now, Amazon has none but we are rushing many cases there now. They should be available later today or Monday.

Again, I sorry for the trouble but a tiny organization like ours just hadn't anticipated this level of growing demand.

Gregorian Chant Workshop, January 28th, 2012, Fort Thomas, KY

Mr. John Schauble, director of the Holy Family Parish and Cincinnati Latin Mass scholas, will be offering his first of two Gregorian Chant Workshops for 2012 on this coming January 28th in Fort Thomas, KY, at St. Thomas church. The workshop will focus on the music for Holy Thursday.

The workshops are designed to be accessible to all levels of experience, and are open to anyone who is interested in learning Gregorian chant. They are particularly useful for choirs seeking to polish their technique or choir directors seeking to introduce their choirs to the venerable tradition of Gregorian chant. MORE HERE

Thursday, January 5, 2012

More images from Chant Intensive

Women's Schola at work

Women's Schola practicing in chapel

Seminary chapel

The Other Choir School

I tell you, sometimes the implausibly wonderful happens and it seems like a miracle. This is the best way to describe the Madeleine Choir School attached to the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City. It opened it doors in 1996 and today is a full-scale K-8 school. It stands as a thriving, growing, principled, and brilliant educational institution that is educating a generation of singers and musicians for true performance in Catholic liturgy in line with the oldest tradition and entirely in keeping with the highest ideals of the Roman Rite.

The miracle part is surely due to the intense prayers of all those for whom this is a dream come true. But in addition to the prayers, there is the wonderful support of the Bishop and the intense work of a great staff. There is of course a central hero to the story, and his name is Gregory Glenn. Simply put, this institution would not exist without his incredible dedication. He was trained in organ and then gained experience at the Basilica of the National Shrine.

Glenn came to what must have seemed to be an outpost in 1990. Since then, he has been wedded to this institution the way people embrace a deeply held and passionate vocation. He is there for every liturgy, every situation, every decision, every selection of music, and knows every student by name. He has overseen every improvement in the physical structure, is on-call 24/7 to handle every problem, and stands constantly ready to teach, play, and sing. He embodies a level of commitment that an institution like this has to have to get off the ground.

But look what he has built over this twenty-one years! The Madeleine Choir School is the only other institution of this sort in the United States outside of Boston. The kids are singing and reading music from the earliest grades, and are always at liturgy for Mass and the sung office. They are singing complex polyphony from all ages of Church composition and know the Graduale Romanum like monks. Just like other kids, they learn reading, math, history, and all the rest, and play soccer at recess, but the very core of the art program is the music of the Church.

It’s both old fashioned and completely new and fresh - a beautiful thing to behold. Any Catholic parent who would see this institution in person would think exactly what I thought: these are the luckiest kids in the country. Surely they are.

I received an email just as I was writing this article that reads as follows: “All of the work of the Church Music Association of America, the journal Sacred Music, and the are important. But why are we all waiting until people are 30 years old and reading this material to be inspiring them? Imagine children attending a school in which they studied these things in class while, interspersed through the day, the Mass and the appropriate Office hours were chanted. Things would make sense to these children in ways that I don't believe are widely experienced (if at all) in today's world.”

This is of course precisely right. The children are the future. Children’s choirs are great and important. Every parish needs such a choir. But even better is the idea of the choir school itself. At Madeleine, the kids are doing exactly what the correspondent suggests. They are leaning, living, breathing the musical life of the Church. The payoff for the Church is gigantic even if years down the line. This institution is going to be sending out the best singers and musicians throughout the country to populate our parishes, and they will be incredibly skilled and focused on doing liturgy the right way.

What’s fantastic too is the model that Gregory Glenn provides for them. What strikes me about him is his super pleasant demeanor, his upbeat spirit, his effortless charm, and his very authentic humility. Here is a real servant of the Church. He is not a complainer. He is not the type who demands “his way or the highway.” He is a realistic doer who thinks about the long term, and is willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. If that means talking to prospective donors for hours, day after day, year after year, that’s fine. If that means going early to unlock the doors for workers who are painting the room, that’s fine too. If it means giving up vacations and breaking other engagements to organize an unexpected funeral, that’s just part of the job.

Of course it helps that he is directing music and running the school from one of the most beautiful cities on the earth, and in one of the most impressive cathedrals in this country. The interior is not vast but it is extremely well done. The colors are dazzling and bold, reflective of real spiritual imagination. The organ is excellent. The facilities for the school itself are fine and getting better all the time. The town itself is super supportive: Salt Lake is one of the most artistically minded cities in the country. He has even managed to build outstanding relationships with other faith communities in the city without giving up that core Catholic mission.

In this type of work, the schedule is packed from morning to night, essentially forever. It’s Mass every day, plus lauds, vespers, and benediction on Sunday and holy days, and there are many events in between. And then there are the concerts that the choir provides for the donors and the entire community. The repertoire is vast and constantly changing. The core is of course Gregorian chant, and Glenn is very broad minded and liberal about its performance practice. He sees chant as the Word of God expressed in the most beautiful possible way.

Of course the children sing beautifully too.

The annual Sacred Music Colloquium of the Church Music Association of America is taking place in this Cathedral, June 25-July 1. It will feature concerts by the Choir School, tours, and close engagement in this wonderful world that has somehow not been entirely noticed by the national scene. Everyone who attends is in for a great treat, even a life-changing experience. This seems like this right spot for life changes. The Madeleine Choir School is already changing many.