Friday, March 30, 2012

Magister: Here We Go Again

Sandro Magister, who might be a wonderful journalist in some ways but who knows absolutely nothing about music and so he becomes vulnerable to being manipulated by his blustering contacts in the Vatican, is at it again, slamming the director of the Sistine Chapel choir. You are welcome to read his rant.

But notice this sentence: "It is not enough, in fact, that the selection of composers and songs is today more in line with the desires of the pope."

Hold on a minute there buddy. What it means is that the SisChap choir has embraced B16's musical desires. And that's not enough for Magister?

I'm sorry but we've been down the road before. Magister is playing politics in the well-known way of this world. He has a horse in this race -- Bartolucci will be grumpy and disgruntled until the end of time -- and he is using his column to push for the one on which he placed his bet.

It is an indisputable fact that the music at the Basilica in general is VASTLY better than at any point in half a century. They are singing the propers in chant, real Gregorian, and often the music you hear in the Basilica is wonderful, particularly the chant. This has not been true in our lifetimes!! What's more, no more goofy visiting choirs that sing American pop music. That was an incredibly gutsy move that ended decades of noisy corruption. Can we please give some credit where it is due?

As for the SisChap choir, the problem there appears to go back to the beginnings of the paleolithic period. No news here. Not even PX could fix this problem.

I took apart the last column by Magister on this subject, and don't much feeling like doing it yet again.

Palm Sunday Resources and SEP

Watershed has what you need.

Compare with

Embrace the World of Sacred Music

Just about every Catholic I know is interested in this idea of re-introducing sacred music in their parish. The musical conventions are worn and tired, no longer fresh as they might have seemed when they came along decades ago. Meanwhile, there is all this vast amount of sacred music that has been sitting on the shelf, waiting to be incorporated into Mass. The trouble is finding the inspiration and means to make the change and doing so with some degree of competence and knowledge about what the change really means.

There really are no shortcuts to a thorough experience such as what the Sacred Music Colloquium provides. You can find out more at

This year it run June 25 through July 1. It is being held in Salt Lake City at this city’s stunning cathedral. It is a full week of teaching, lectures, training, socializing, and participating in a liturgical life that is hardly available anywhere else. All your questions will be answered. You will discover the theological rationale. You will learn to read and sing chant. You will discover how polyphonic music fits in with sacred music.

In some ways, it is like learning a new aesthetic language. This requires rethinking the purposes and culture of Catholic liturgy itself. This program makes doing so fun, enlightening, and even life changing.

This year we are trying something new. We are trying to make the conference a friendly environment for people who do not think of themselves as musicians. For those who don’t want to sing complex polyphonic Masses, they do not have to. There are several beginning classes on chant that face no pressure to perform at any point in the week. You can just be in the classes and learn.

A major advantage of the venue this year is that it is very family friendly. Spouses, even those without the slightest interest in singing, can come and enjoy large parts of the program, attending the lectures and events they want to attend and otherwise enjoying the amenities of this great city.

In the past, the colloquium did actually require a commitment to attending rehearsals all day. For those who want to do this, that’s great. Nothing has changed. But for others who want to attend chant classes just to gain an exposure, attend the day’s liturgy to experience something amazing, go to a dinner or an afternoon lecture, those are available without the expectation that it will be “all music, all the time.”

At the same time, we’ve changed the program so that professional musicians feel very much at home. They can come to be with colleagues, attend one of many break-out sessions on a topic of their choice, or go to concerts of the best performers. They can spend time with the top experts who make up the faculty. This change was made because we are ever more aware that a large community is developing now and it includes people who are very sophisticated and sing chant and sacred music every week.

It is no small feat to put on this program at all -- and the CMAA is a volunteer organization with a tiny and vulnerable budget (please support us: we need it!). It is even more of a trick to put together a program that serves beginners, professionals, and just interested attendees. But with much thought, time, and attention to lessons learned from past years, we think we have accomplished that this year.

As for the effectiveness of the program, it is beyond doubt. People are left changed by it. To live in and breath this culture for a solid week leaves a permanent mark. You come to realize just how remarkable the opportunity for beautiful liturgy really is. Every week when we forgo it in favor of something else is a week when sung prayer does not happen, and when, in a literal sense, an important part of the Church’s liturgy is left to languish. On the other hand, there is no one who cannot immediately understand the merit of true liturgical music upon hearing it.

There are many reasons why some people choose not to attend an event like this. There are those who think “I’m not a musician” and so they decline. This can no longer be an excuse. I’m thinking in particular of pastors and priests who are fascinated by the prospect of improved liturgy but don’t see how they fit into the picture. This time, they can come and learn so much and take this knowledge back with them to inspire change.

Also, there is often a confusion about the kind of people who inhabit the world of sacred music. The caricature is that we are snooty, stuffy, distant, dogmatic, and do nothing but sneer at popular music and every amateur attempt to do music at the parish level. This perception -- and I’m not even sure what it is based on -- is incredibly and wildly wrong.

Contrary to the caricature, the people who love this music are fun, warm, engaging people. There is no room for intellectual snobbery here because the chant itself is humbling -- and not one attendee or faculty member knows all that he or she should or could know. There is a real sense in which we are all discovering this wonderful music together.

Nor is there an entrenched loathing of popular music on display at this event. Most of the musicians have sung other styles. We’ve played in jazz bands, rock bands, and sung every kind of music one can imagine. What makes the difference is that we’ve come to to realize that liturgy itself requires something special and unique -- something “set apart.” The music especially suited for liturgy is unlike any other music in the world, with its own beautiful and own purpose. Once we discover that beauty and purpose, we fall in love with what could be, and we work hard to see it realized.

Once discovering chant, we don’t suddenly become stern and cold, disapproving of the state of the world and all that it is in. Sometimes the opposite happens. Sacred music is so fulfilling that we become more fun, more joyful about life, more liberally minded, more expansive in our outlook. To discover this music is like discovering a new sector of life itself, like learning philosophy or travelling to a new country that helps you see the whole world in a new way.

Another point here: it is not the case that an event like this preaches only one approach to music at liturgy. Every year the options grow. There are now so many varieties of chant, so many different ways to sing it, so many options for singing the liturgical text, so many beautiful choices that are presented before us. What makes the difference is that sacred music is using the actually liturgical texts and doing so in a balanced way that doesn’t exaggerate one truth (e.g., the people should participate in singing) at the expense of other truths (there really is an exclusive role for the choir!).

Many Catholic musicians I know (and actually this applies to many Catholics in general) are seeking inspiration and liturgical goals. We have a new translation of the Missal. What is next? Or is our experience at Mass just going to be the “same old” forever and ever? Sacred music provides a fresh start, something new and dazzling that helps us understand our faith and its liturgical presentation in a whole new way.

If you have ever considered coming to an event that deals with Catholic music, it is very likely that you are being called. Answer that call, and come to the Sacred Music Colloquium, June 25-July 1, 2012, in Salt Lake City, Utah. It is more exciting than any adventure you have ever experienced. This conference is for you, and it is only left to you to take that step.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Propers once a year...progress (I guess)

From the latest Pastoral Music as published by NPM:

"We all know the description of liturgical music's importance from the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC): 'The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as sacred song united to the words, it forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy' (SC, 112). But how have we appropriated that description of 'sacred song united to the words . . . of the solemn liturgy'?

"Consider this example from the Chrism Mass: Diocesan liturgies often are unique, once-a-year (or even once-in-a-lifetime) events. They have particular needs and often require a specific repertoire. For example, the appointed text for the procession with the oils at the Chrism Mass is 'O Redeemer.' This text has no other liturgical use, but when done at the Chrism Mass its rich text helps reveal another layer of the mystery of the sacraments.

"Now while 'O Redeemer' may never be sung in a parish, this model of using specific (proper) texts from the Roman Missal or the Gradual can be of great benefit, for this processional hymn indeed weds the sacred song and the words of the liturgy. We have tended to get away from the 'propers' (texts assigned to specific days or liturgical actions), yet these can aid the people's participation.

"If you have gotten away from using proper texts, consider following the cathedral's example and add one or two a year. Chants for these texts can be found in a variety of sources (in both Latin and English), or they may be sung to another musical setting. The onees that seem easiest to find for congregation or choir (or a combination of the two) occur during Holy Week--Palm Sunday's 'Hosanna to the Son of David,' Holy Thursday's 'Mandatum novum' ('I give you a new commandment'), the Good Friday reproaches, or the sequence on Easter Sunday. You'll be surprised how much easier (and beloved) these become as you return to them year after year."

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Musica Sacra Florida, Now Is the Time

The registration deadline for the 4th Annual Musica Sacra Florida Gregorian Chant conference is this Friday, March 30th.

If you haven't registered yet, find out more and register.

You and your choir are cordially invited to attend the 4th annual Musica Sacra Florida Gregorian Chant Conference, to be held at Ave Maria University on April 13th and 14th. This year's conference will have two new features.

First, there will be more intensive workshops on the following subjects:
* Semiology (Study of the ancient chant notation)
* Chironomy (Gregorian chant conducting)
* Chant in English
* Church documents on sacred music, and history of sacred music in the 20th century
Second, both forms of the Mass will be offered:
* Latin Mass in the Extraordinary Form
* English Mass in the Ordinary Form
Participants will get to sing Latin and/or English chant in the closing Mass of the conference, which will be on Saturday, April 14th, at 5pm. This will be an anticipated Sunday Mass for the 2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday).

The conference is open to musicians, clergy, and parishioners. All are welcome!

Exsultet - large font edition

Here is a wonderful edition of the Exsultet with large fonts in four-line staff. I found this edition the easiest to read of any I've seen.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

News From the Front

I know that it has been a long time since I have made a contribution to Chant Café. But I continue to check in every day on what is going on in the chant world! One of the amazing things of changing gears from academic life to pastoral life is seeing how the things we discuss on blogs such as Chant Café as desirable actually translate into the life of the parishes.

I just wanted to share what we have been doing at my new parish, Prince of Peace, since I arrived in December, and would love to hear your feedback on similar things in your parishes as well. Check us out at

I arrived in the new parish just as the new translation was getting underway. We have been using the ICEL Missal chants for the Ordinary, except for the Gloria, which we are doing according to John Lee’s new version. We are talking about using Schubert’s Deutsche Messe according to the new ICEL texts for the summer. And I am anxiously awaiting the Canons Regular of St John Cantius’ new ICEL version of Healy Willan’s Missa Sancta Maria Magdalena. I just found, however, in the 1960 something Hymnal a version which we can use, with the Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus already new ICEL-compliant.

We have started to use the Chabanel Psalms, which have been lovely, and at the 10am Solemn Mass we have been doing the Simple English Propers for the Entrance, Offertory and Communion.

The church building is very unique: it is a modern interpretation of Romanesque, so it has some interesting challenges: a very, very high roof with a butler building ceiling, unpolished concrete floors, and not a right angle in the building. The Choirs are up in the gallery, and there is a large digital organ, which makes some impressive sound for such a large space.

Even though the organ has been virtually silenced for Lent, we have been having everything from Gabrieli to Vierne, so the people are getting quite a taste of some excellent organ repertoire. Improvisations on hymn tunes and chant pieces have become a regular feature of our worship.

The weekly School Mass has evolved as a teaching tool for the Reform of the Reform. We have a Novus Ordo Solemn Mass every Wednesday morning. We have not introduced propers yet, but the same hymns are sung which will be sung the following Sunday at Mass. We also are doing the Latin chant Ordinaries associated with the liturgical seasons, and the kids have been doing very well learning Mass XVII for Lent. While everything at the Sedilia and Ambo is in English, everything at the Altar is in Latin. I taught the kids all of the sung parts of the Latin OF as well as the responses from the Orate fratres forward. And the kids have learned to tell the difference between an ictus, an episema and a quilisma. They really like the quilisma for some reason.

The parish had the Extraordinary Form every Sunday for about seven years, and we are now doing it every day at Noon. The Sunday Mass is a Missa Cantata at noon, right after the 10am English Solemn Mass. So singing two high masses in a row with incense makes for a grueling task for me and the musicians, but it is something to see our very tall church, with its numerous glass windows, replete with heavy clouds of incense every Sunday!

After a seven week sermon series on the sacred liturgy at the EF Mass, the Curate and I have been doing an Adult Education series on following Latin Mass and Vespers. While our EF congregation (which numbers anywhere between 150-200 each Sunday, as opposed to up to 1000 people at the 10am Mass) for some reason is still reticent to sing much at Mass (they love listening to the Schola), they are all about Vespers. We will begin Sunday Vespers and Benediction in Paschaltide, alternating men and women in the congregation, and the 30 or so people who have been coming to the classes are doing a fine job of struggling their way through Vespers. I am amazed at how quickly they have caught on! We always do the seasonal Marian Antiphon after the EF Mass.

Some time ago I was approached by the Director of Music who said that some of the kids from the High School Youth Group wanted to sing at the Sunday evening Last Chance Mass. I was skeptical, fearing that they wanted some kind of Christian Rock/Lifeteen thing. Imagine my surprise when they debuted as a Choir singing Kevin Allen’s Desidero mi Jesu, and sounded better than the college music majors we have on as Choral Scholars at the Solemn Mass!

We have added a lot to the musical program already existing in the parish. We did a Latin Missa Cantata for the Purification sung by a men’s schola entirely in chant and an English Mass for St Joseph with the Litany of St Joseph from the Cantus selecti in procession to the Parish Hall.

Holy Week is coming. Orlando Gibbons and Palestrina for Palm Sunday along with the chant music. Josquin des Prez’ Missa Pange lingua for Maundy Thursday with Durufle’s Ubi caritas and Tantum ergo by Bruckner. And we are already planning for Corpus Christi, with a Procession with lots of fun music.

Of course, all of this is possible because of the leadership over thirteen years of my predecessor, Msgr Steven Brovey, who introduced both Reform of the Reform and Extraordinary Form ideas into Upstate South Carolina when it was still considered a no-no. The music team of Alan Reed and Dewitt Tipton has been phenomenal, and continues to be so. The only thing I regret is losing the irreplaceable Loraine Schneider, who taught the Ward Method in our parish school and is now at Holy Rood in New York, on to bigger and better things.

I love sharing all of this, because we are a 1200 family (more or less) parish in the buckle of the Bible Belt in South Carolina. We are an ordinary suburban parish with ordinary people, a debt of $1,000,000 from the building of a now 8 year old church. There has been some small outflow of parishioners not amenable to the liturgical culture of the parish, but there has also been an amazing outpouring of generosity of current parishioners and new ones who have chosen Prince of Peace. And this in a small Southern city that has other fine liturgically centered churches as well! I am proud to be the shepherd of such a church. A parish modeled on Pope Benedict XVI’s vision for the sacred liturgy and music is possible. If we can do it down in South Carolina in an ordinary parish with ordinary people, it can be done in other places as well. I would be fascinated to hear how your parishes are coming along with the re-enchantment of the sacred! Check out a video from our Solemn Midnight Mass for Christmas done by one of our friends!

Monday, March 26, 2012

And (will) the walls come a'tumblin' down?

In reply to Kathy Pluth's great observation in "Brick by Interminable Brick" Randolph Nichols offered a very astute counterpoint to someone's comment:
They've been laying down heavy amounts of fertilizer for nearly 50 years, and the grassroots have still not taken hold. Nichols: "It seems to me it very much has taken hold. Where do those enthusiastic 24,000 LA Religious Education Congress attendees come from if not individual parishes across the nation. Brick by Interminable Brick indeed."

+1 Mr. Nichols. Quite right you are to point out the obvious. I think we underestimate the hermeneutic of consumerist convenience and overestimate, probably for psychological self preservation, the rapidity and progress of CMAA/NLM/RotR advocacy in our own local and internet domains. I will advance an analogy, using a favorite medium of mine: films. It's called "The Gracchus Theory" from the Ridley Scott film, GLADIATOR. Gracchus and an ally senator, Gaius, are sipping wine when Gaius bemoans Caesar Commodus' instituting of  months of gladiator spectacles at the Collosseum under pretense of honoring Commodus' late father, Marcus Aurelius, upon whom Commodus committed patricide to boot.The senator derides Commodus' leadership as inept. Gracchus reminds his fellow that, au contraire, Commodus knows exactly what he's doing catering and pandering to the true spirit of what Rome "is," namely "the mob." Gracchus observes that, right or wrong, a leader's ability to read and satisfy "the mob" reflects and indicts the moral or ethical vacuum of both the leader and the people. Here is the actual dialogue:
Gaius and Gracchus are at a restaurant, discussing the games which Commodus revived to lure the mob. Outside can be seen a juggler, merchants calling out their wares (wine), and the crowd visiting and moving about.]
GAIUS: Games! 150 days of games!
GRACCHUS: He's cleverer than I thought.
GAIUS: Clever. The whole of Rome would be laughing at him if they weren't in fear of his Praetorian.
GRACCHUS: Fear and wonder. A powerful combination.
GAIUS: Will the people really be seduced by that?
GRACCHUS: I think he knows what Rome is. Rome is the mob. He will conjure magic for them and they will be distracted. He will take away their freedom, and still they will roar. The beating heart of Rome is not the marble floor of the Senate, it is the sand of the Colosseum. He will give them death, and they will love him for it.

I haven't read it, but I believe this is also the premise of Anne Coulter's latest book as well. What astounds me, and I'm a broken record about this, is that all that glitters and is gold in Anaheim is celebrated by the same folks who then decry pontifical EF Masses and j'accuse good and faithful bishops such as like  Cdls. Burke, Arinze and  Bp. Slattery for "mincing and prancing" like Florentine Doges in Cappa Magnas and the like.
Oh yeah, "LAREC's got rhythm, there's division, have we schism?  WHO would ask for anything more?"

For Lady Day

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Brick by Interminable Brick

Like a commuter passing a car wreck, I can't help but look at every liturgical livefeed that Rocco Palmo tweets, even the LA Religious Ed Congress. Egads. Everything sounds exactly like We Are the World, even the (why? why?) trilingual troping of the Agnus Dei. Is there some reason people can't just sing "Lamb of God" in Vietnamese, Spanish and English?

We Are the World was a hit in 1985. That was almost 30 years ago, well before the featured soloists were born. And that music is dated, while chants written a millennium prior are not. The reason is: the earlier music was not ephemeral. It was not written to satisfy a perceived (usually hopelessly outdated) current theological or musical trend, but to give expression to the deep faith that can truly sustain a Christian.

Not only the music, but the words too, sound exactly like We Are the World, which, with admirable clarity, expresses secular humanism.

The one exception to the We Are the World sound is the the Congress' theme song, which may be found on this page, and which sounds exactly like the theme to The Love Boat, except with maracas.

During what decade did The Love Boat air, again?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Reproaches

Bruce Ford of The American Gradual has done a marvelous job setting the new translation of the Good Friday Reproaches to the traditional chant. Download the pdf file here.

Several other settings may be found on this thread of the MusicaSacra forum, the most useful community-authored internet website for the serious Catholic liturgical musician.

If You Care, Make a Difference

It’s been the grace of my adult to watch as the sacred music movement has gone from near obscurity to near mainstream in the presence of American parish life. The momentum has been headed the right way now for five or more years, with scholas popping up in parishes week by week, seminars multiplying, and attendance at teaching events increasing on an ongoing basis.

When people look back at this time, they will see it as the period of change, the time when Catholics finally began to come to their senses, stopped rejecting their wonderful heritage, and finally integrated music with the liturgy after some 50 years of treating music as a cultural backdrop in the relentless attempt to update the liturgical experience to our times.

Catholics conventionally assume that such change comes from the top down. Surely some Bishop in the United States led the charge. Maybe the USCCB came out with a stern statement that required change. Maybe Rome intervened to ban non-liturgical music and insist that music of the liturgy truly followed the guidelines -- letter and spirit -- of the Second Vatican Council.

Some of that has happened. The USCCB finally repealed a terrible 1970s-era document called “Music in Catholic Worship” and replaced it with a much better (but still a bit confusing and meandering) “Sing to the Lord.” That was a relief - but it will be years before the damage done by MCW is fully washed out of the system. It is also true that some Bishops are working in a wonderful way to make a difference. The International Commission on English in the Liturgy has done extraordinary things to bring chant to the English liturgy. And of course Rome is speaking with an ever more clear voice on matters of music.

All of this has been wonderful and great, but it doesn’t necessarily make the difference at the parish level. In the end, you need singers to sing. You need pastors who regard sacred music as making a valuable contribution to parish life. You need publishers who provide music that people can get easily and sing every single Sunday. And most of all, you need someone at the parish level who makes the decision to take a step outside the status quo.

It is the last point that is absolutely crucial. You can have everything in place for change but the status quo can persist for an indefinite amount of time by sheer inertia. Someone needs to make it happen. Someone has to be in a position to pull the trigger. It can come in many forms. It can mean the addition of a communion antiphon based on Mass propers. It can mean introducing unaccompanied chant in the ordinary of the Mass. It can mean that dramatic step of replacing the processional hymn with an entrance.

Even before that, education at the local level is essential. It doesn’t matter how many articles I post on the, how many books come out, how many national newspapers run articles on sacred music. All of this is valuable and useful, but, in the end, the only way to reach the parish is by having someone explain to the relevant parties that actual case for making the change.

Here is my central point. In every case I know about where wonderful things have happened in parishes, there is one or two people who have stepped forward to push for change. This does not mean that these people need to rail against the silly youth group that plays bad music. Nothing is gained by denouncing the existing hymnals. All the hectoring of priests to institute Gregorian chant is for naught. That kind of negative approach doesn’t actually accomplish anything, and it introduces painful divisions in parish life. It can even harm the cause.

What makes the difference is positive action. There are many things one or two people can do. Let me draw attention to a case that happened close by where I live. A layperson in a small parish had a long heart-to-heart with his pastor about holding a parish workshop. The pastor wasn’t against the idea but he want to make sure that such a workshop would actually add value to parish life. He finally agreed to do this and to commit real financial resources to making it happen.

This priest and this layperson (who is not even a musician) invited me and Arlene Oost-Zinner to present a 4-hour workshop on English chant. We laid out the rationale for sacred music. We gave the history. We cover the legislation. We drove home the point that the Roman Rite has a musical structure that needs to be understood and deferred to. It was all supremely enlightening for the musicians and others who came.

Then we gave the people an opportunity to sing and sing. They sang chant. We practiced chant intonations, going around the room person by person. We gave them music and showed them how to read it. We worked and worked all the way up to a demonstration liturgy that showed all all this music works. Not once did we use a piano or organ. The instrument ws the human voice alone.

And who came? People not only from the parish but also from many other parishes in neighboring towns. Some came from other states. We ended up with as many as 50 people, and while that might not seem like a vast amount, it is enough to plant a seed in every parish that was represented.

The pastor of the parish was very pleased with the results. The musicians were happy to find out all these things that no one had ever told them before. They suddenly realized just how important they are to the Mass. They began to have a different view of their responsibilities. Over the coming weeks, they began to implement the changes. Now several new parishes on on their way toward beautiful and integrated liturgical music. Success!

But think how it happened. It wasn’t the Bishop. It wasn’t the pastor really. It wasn’t even a musician or the director of music. It was one person who really wanted to help, generously and with a deep commitment to charity and the well being of the parish.

In every case, the situation is different. Each situation of change takes a different shape. It is probably not possible to copy exactly from one experience to the next. But they all have in common that intensely human effort of one or two people who dedicate themselves, with genuine love, to improving the liturgy and making it more of a reflection of the heaven on earth that it is.

There is no one who can’t make a difference.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Hilarion Alfeyev: St Matthew Passion. No 1

Readers will love this fascinating interview in Crisis Magazine with Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, and also this moving clip from his own St. Matthew Passion:

...we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground.

Apart from the occasional slipups on the part of the celebrant (prevenient grace?) the choir (better learn those chant responses before Holy Week--and look out for the Showing of the Cross and the Lumen Christi!) and certain bad habits of some of the people (and also with your spirit), adapting to the new translation of the Mass seems to be going rather well. And how easily the change of diction has already elevated the entire atmosphere of the Mass!

However, there is one particular liturgical moment that does not seem to be going well. At a spoken Mass, such as many daily Masses, the first line of the Sanctus isn't making sense. In the old translation, it was spoken like this:

Holy, holy, holy Lord,/ God of power and might.
Now, it seems to be often spoken like this:

Holy, holy, holy Lord/ God of hosts.

We may be missing something important here, which perhaps the translation intended to resolve. In the older translation, the pause between Lord and God had a grammatical effect. "God of power and might" functioned grammatically as an apositive, effectively a description, of Lord.

In the new translation, it seems much clearer now that the words are meant to be invoked as a proper name, "Lord God of Hosts," "Adonai Elohim Zabaoth," as we read powerfully in the prophetic Books and the Psalms, or "Dominus Deus Sabaoth" in Latin, which also comes across, phonetically, as a name of power.

I think that in our spoken Masses, we can reclaim a liturgical sense of this revealed power by simply following the punctuation. The rhythm is like the passage from the Gettysburg Address quoted in the title of this post:

Holy,/ holy,/ holy Lord God of hosts.

"Northern," no wait..."Southern Exposure"

Father Allan, ala in Rose, at St. Jos.'s Hall
Deep readers of this blog will already be familiar with this priest (pictured nattily this last Sunday afternoon after Sunday Mass and during his city's Cherry Blossom Festival!). I must admit that I've so identified with his perspectives for two reasons. First, he approaches the profound issues facing the Church and her liturgies with an almost unbridled optimism. Second, he channels that optimism often in an unfettered and ironic iconoclasm while still respecting his philosophical opponents' integrity and opinions.
This is my way of introducing and recommending Cafe visitors to also frequent Father Allan McDonald's blog SOUTHERN ORDERS. You can read his bio and the sundry articles and take in his passion for life and all things liturgical there.
He came to my attention during the advent of our fellowes over at Fr. Ruff's PRAY TELL BLOG, where Father Allan has attracted quite a share of detractors as well as supporters. Too many of the former likely regard him as the southern Fr. Zed, but I would debunk that by simply saying Father labors and chronicles pretty much in his own vineyard, and applies the "global" perspective to what matters in Macon!
I don't know that he is a gastronome of Fr. Z's stature, but he is tons of fun.
What is it about the South and the Catholic renaissance in the US? Auburn, AL., Macon, Raleigh, Charleston, Naples.... I keep telling m' bride that if I go to the market and am not back in an hour to phone North Carolina!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Beautiful Images of the Cathedral of the Madeleine

You will love this incredible image gallery of the Cathedral of the Madeleine, which is hosting the Sacred Music Colloquium.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Talk by James Macmillan

Here is the canonical link to a talk by James Macmillan

Faux-Tribalism in Catholic Music

Adam Wood offers an explanation as to why major publishers keep rendering prose texts as awkward metrical songs with a beat. He is speaking as someone who once thought this effort was kind of cool.

I'm not sure I follow the thinking but I trust that he knows what he is talking about.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Exultet: Can We Just Chant this Please?

Compositions like this are just beyond me. I don't get why anyone would want to do this instead of just chant the thing.

Six Days that Will Totally Transform Your Catholic Life

There is a world of treasures in the Catholic music world, and they are all there for us if we are willing to take the step. You can discover this whole world and bring your discoveries back to your parish, so that it can become a place where heavenly beauty has a home. Come to the Sacred Music Colloquium in Salt Lake in June. It's one week that will change your life forever, and provide benefits to your parish for decades to come.

Registration is now open.

A Case for Hymns?

First Things has tried its hand at the music controversy, with an article by Nathaniel Peters, but it comes up short. I agree that hymns should be good (who doesn't agree?) but he brushes over the Mass propers almost as if they don't exist postconcilar or can only exist in Latin. He says: "the Tridentine Mass had chants for particular days—the propers of the Mass—not hymns." And then he stops.

Can we agree that the ordinary form also has propers and that they are the primary text of the liturgy that ought to be sung? It's not obvious to me that Peters really gets this point.

Looking for Simple, Four-Part Music for Holy Week?

There are some wonderful gems in Richard Rice's Simple Choral Gradual. His Holy Week material is so creative, so liturgical, and sticks exactly to the proper texts. I've long believed that this work is unjustly neglected. There is still time to get a set for your choir for Holy Week. Then your choir can be dazzling and also contribute to the actual liturgy, as versus just providing background mood music.

Laetare, Simple English Propers

Laetare, Graduale Romanum

SEP for Holy Week

From here and Joseph Antoniello

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Vespers. Just Do It.

In every parish, there are people who are hungry for the Psalms, and if a service of the Liturgy of the Hours is held, people will attend. This has been my experience in a number of different parish settings, on both coasts, and in campus ministry. While it would be wonderful to chant the Office, a mere reading is nourishing. People will attend and eagerly participate.

The internet has made resources available that take all of the guesswork (and a lot of page flipping and ribbons) out of the process. The Liturgy of the Hours is available online here. I find it helpful to mark the text when working with a new group, so that everyone knows when to speak: Leader, Reader, All, etc. Other groups mark up a breviary with ribbons. If a breviary is used, the parish hymn board can be changed to a Morning Prayer board during the week, with breviary page numbers posted in the sequence in which they will be used, so people can mark up their own books.

Expect a small but stable group, whether meeting before or after the morning Mass, or at Vespers time. Some parishes have Sunday Vespers just before the last Sunday Mass, which might draw a larger crowd and can be done with greater solemnity, perhaps with a deacon or priest presiding. However it is done, the Liturgy of the Hours is a prayer experience that can be provided for very little trouble, is almost certain to be successful in a small way, and is properly liturgical.

The New Awareness

How long will it take before Catholic musicians are universally aware of their responsibility to sing the propers of the Mass? How long before they begin to look with skepticism at the massive hymnals they’ve been using for decades, realizing that the contents therein provide very little actual liturgical music and instead offer mostly substitutes for given Mass texts that they ought to be singing?

This new dawning of consciousness could take many years. Or perhaps it will happen much sooner.

There are two important developments that could speed this process up very dramatically.

The first is William Mahrt’s wonderful book The Musical Shape of the Liturgy, as published by the Church Music Association of America. It is available on Amazon, as you will find from a quick search. In the first day it went on sale, its ranking soared up and it quickly became a Catholic bestseller. We even had to rush an extra 500 copies to the seller to keep up with the demand.

No surprise here. This is the first complete explanation of the role of Catholic music in the Roman Rite to appear in the postconciliar period. Actually, as I thought about it, I don’t think any book has ever appeared that so fully explains this gigantically important topic -- a fact which helps account for all the problems that exist in the Catholic music world. Until this book appeared, we had historical treatises, large books on the structure and meaning of chant, books like my own that are collections of short pieces, and plenty of manuals for liturgy that only gloss over the musical topic.

What makes Mahrt’s book different is that it is theoretical, historical, and practical. It is by a world-class expert. Its prose is accessible and yet still scholarly. It draws on the vast history of liturgy and scholarship on chant to make an impressive argument for a coherent musical structure for the liturgy. I say “argument” but it is not argumentative. It is more descriptive. It is like a guided tour.

Imagine that your have seen a beautiful cathedral and you know its look and its details very intimately. You know how it was built, the materials, the names of the architects, the struggles and difficulties, its purposes and uses through the ages. Now you meet some people who know nothing of cathedrals and their place in the history of civilization. You have to describe it to them in great detail with the goal of inspiring everyone to appreciate the institution and perhaps visit the one you know.

This is Professor Mahrt writing on sacred music. He understands the reason, history, and meaning of just about everything that happens in the Roman Rite as it pertains to music. He is able to write about the subject without being needlessly controversial. It is more descriptive than rhetorical, and all the more compelling for being so. He takes us far away from the disputes about style and rather deals with the intentions and structure of the music that is intimately related to the rite.

What makes this book especially important is how he links theory and practice. It is not possible to read this book and not come away with inspiration to change the music program at the local level. For priests, the takeaway is the need to sing the Mass because this is what is intended and encouraged by the Church. For the people in the pews, there is a compelling rationale to sing the parts of the Mass that belong to the people. For the schola, the message is inescapable: if you do nothing else, sing the propers of the Mass!

If you feel a sense of frustration at your parish, this is the ideal book to give to the pastor and the director of music. More often than not, inferior music programs are not a result of malice but simply the result of inertia that continues on the wrong track. The entire basis of the program needs to be rethought. The musicians need to realize that their job is not to provide background music or set the mood or perform in a way that delights the audience. Their job is, above all else, to lend their assistance to the liturgy itself. The liturgy needs deference and respect so that it purposes can be fulfilled.

This is a very inspiring message for musicians, who often despair because they sense that they do not have an important job to do. They try to ward off that despair by resorting to ever more fancy tricks or by goading people to sing with them or by using other methods drawn from the culture of entertainment. Mahrt’s book wipes away all these impulses by describing the extremely close connection between what is in the Missal and what is in the Roman Gradual, which is the music book for the choir.

You will note as you read that Mahrt makes no strong distinction between the musical demands of the extraordinary form and those of the ordinary form. That’s because the demands are identical: sing the liturgy. The chants are in a different order and perhaps the extraordinary form is more hospitable to a sung polyphonic Mass than the ordinary form usually is. But behind that, the musical demands are the same. From the point of view of singers, there is only one Roman Rite.

It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of this book on the future. We’ve never had anything like it before, never had one book that we could point to and say: this is a full-scale description of the normative form of music for the Catholic liturgy. This has been a gap in the literature that has been present for as far back as we can see. At last we have that book.. It will be decades before anything comparable is produced.

It comes along just in time. We are starting to see signs among the American Bishops that change is happening. Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix, Arizona, has written a four-partt series on sacred music that concludes with a wonderful case for singing the propers of the Mass. I will conclude by quoting from his final article:
The Proper of the Mass, comprising the chants of the third degree, form an integral, yet often overlooked part of the sung liturgy. The Proper of the Mass consists of three processional chants and two chants between the Lectionary readings. These parts of the Mass, contained in the Roman Missal and Graduale Romanum, are unlike the Order of the Mass and the Ordinary of the Mass in that they are not fixed and unchanging from day to day, but change according to the liturgical calendar, and therefore are "proper" to particular liturgical celebrations.

Here we find the Entrance Antiphon, Responsorial Psalm (or Gradual), the Alleluia and its Verse, the Offertory Antiphon, and the Communion Antiphon. While the Proper of the Mass is subordinated in degree of importance to the Order of the Mass and the Ordinary of the Mass, the texts of the Mass Proper form perhaps one of the most immense and deeply rich treasure troves in the sacred music tradition. Because these texts change from day to day, they were historically sung by the schola cantorum, and, because of their demands, are sometimes replaced today by other seasonal or suitable options.

The texts of the Proper of the Mass, especially the Entrance, Offertory and Communion chants, are comprised of scriptural antiphons and verses from a psalm or canticle. This is the form of the texts given in the Roman Missal, the Graduale Romanum, and the Graduale Simplex, the Church's primary sources for the Proper of the Mass. The GIRM also allows for the possibility of singing chants from "another collection of Psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop" during the three Mass processions, and, lastly, allows for the singing of "another liturgical chant that is suited to the sacred action, the day, or the time of year, similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop" (Cf. GIRM 48, 87).

The texts of the Proper of the Mass, while of lesser importance than the texts of the Order of the Mass and the Ordinary of the Mass, form a substantial and constitutive element of the liturgy, and I encourage a recovery of their use today. We are blessed to have in our day a kind of reawakening to their value. In addition, many new resources are becoming available that make their singing achievable in parish life. I strongly encourage parishes to take up the task of singing the antiphons and psalmody contained within the liturgical books, and to rediscover the immense spiritual riches contained within the Proper of the Mass.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Basilica Series of Sacred Music

Among the many blessings that have accompanied the recent English translation of the Roman Missal is a flowering of beautiful compositions of the Ordinary of the Mass. From Richard Rice to Deacon Br. Michael O'Connor to Aristotle Esguerra to Jeff Ostrowski to my own writing partners C.H. Giffen and Colin Brumby, along with so many others, an historic creative explosion has occurred, in the specific musical area of English Ordinaries.

It was not a revolution I saw coming, but I once spoke with someone who did. In a chance conversation several years ago with Msgr. Rossi, the Rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, he mentioned that new Mass settings were an urgent need. However, like many others at the time I was content with the high-church sensibility of Richard Proulx. I did not foresee that the future of the Ordinary lay in vernacular chant.

Under Msgr. Rossi's leadership, the Basilica has produced two outstanding Mass settings under its own imprint, The Basilica Series of Sacred Music. Like many of the newer Masses, these are not grand but quiet, not high-Church but supple, musical, melody-centered, and ethereal, like the noble simplicity of the chant itself. They were composed by Peter Latona and Russell Weismann, the Director and Associate Director of Music at the Basilica.

It is a truly remarkable time. Vernacular chant has somehow become the new "normal" for the Mass Ordinary, replacing louder settings that might disrupt the recollection of the Eucharistic prayers. The sound is very much like our Liturgy's native idiom, Gregorian chant, but the language is our own, accessible to all.

Massive site upgrade from Corpus Christi Watershed

So many things have been added over at Corpus Christi Watershed, it is hard to know where to begin. Here are just a few:

• Mass by Kevin Allen added

• Gloria by Richard K. Fitzgerald added

• Complete accompaniments to St. Anne Line Mass added

• Additions to ICEL chants added (Van Nuffel, Peeters, and others)

• Five (5) versions of the Pater Noster (Latin & English) added

• Improvements sent by Fr. Weber for his Mass (including Sanctus III)

Vespers at the Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

Come out to support great liturgical music!

Solemn Gregorian Vespers 4:00pm March 18

St Matthew’s Cathedral presents the Office of Vespers for Laetare Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Lent. The Office will be sung entirely in Latin. In addition to the chanted hymns, psalms, and responsory, the sung Magnificat will be Palestrina’s canticle on Gregorian Tone I for eight voices. The choir will also sing the Introit for Laetare Sunday which gives this feast its name; the motet Vere Languores of Tomas Luis de Victoria; a contemporary chant-based motet Deus, Qui Illuminas by Spanish composer Julio Dominguez; and a setting of the responsory, Attende Domine by John Osterhagen. The liturgy will be presented according to the Roman Liturgia Horarum, complete with the censing of the altar during the singing of the Magnificat. Complete texts and translations will be provided. The annual celebration of Gregorian Vespers led by the Schola Cantorum is one of the most beloved musical events at the Cathedral each year. Join us and deepen your Lenten experience with the timeless beauty of Gregorian chant! Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, 1725 Rhode Island Ave NW Washington, DC 20036.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Bishop Olmsted teaches on the Propers of the Mass

His Excellency Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, bishop of Phoenix, has been teaching on the topic of sacred music for the past four months in his column in the Catholic Sun. The four-part series, entitled Singing the Mass, has considered sacred music from the standpoints of liturgical theology, historical development, and inculturation. And now, in his final installment, he offers to his diocese and to all U.S. Catholics clear and practical points on how to sing the Mass.

The following are the four parts of his series, Singing the Mass:

In the final installment of his series, Bishop Olmsted describes the parts of the Mass that are meant to be sung according to their degree of importance, as they are described in the 1967 instruction Musicam Sacram.

Here are a few excerpts, although you should read the entire thing, and encourage all you know to do the same: (emphasis added)

The Order of the Mass is the fundamental and primary song of the liturgy. It forms the part of the Mass that is of the greatest importance, and therefore it should be sung ideally before any of the other parts of the Mass are sung. When the Order of the Mass is sung, the liturgy becomes most true to itself, and all else in the liturgy becomes more properly ordered. The Order of the Mass is set to be sung in our new English edition of the Roman Missal. I strongly urge all priests and deacons to learn these chants and to encourage and inspire the faithful to join in their singing with love and devotion.
The recent English edition of the Roman Missal itself has given us a "standard" musical setting of the Ordinary in the form of simple English and Latin chants, including musical settings of the Creed. While the Ordinary of the Mass may be sung in the vernacular, the Second Vatican Council mandated that "steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them" (SC 54).
The Proper of the Mass, comprising the chants of the third degree, form an integral, yet often overlooked part of the sung liturgy. The Proper of the Mass consists of three processional chants and two chants between the Lectionary readings. These parts of the Mass, contained in the Roman Missal and Graduale Romanum, are unlike the Order of the Mass and the Ordinary of the Mass in that they are not fixed and unchanging from day to day, but change according to the liturgical calendar, and therefore are "proper" to particular liturgical celebrations.
Here we find the Entrance Antiphon, Responsorial Psalm (or Gradual), the Alleluia and its Verse, the Offertory Antiphon, and the Communion Antiphon. While the Proper of the Mass is subordinated in degree of importance to the Order of the Mass and the Ordinary of the Mass, the texts of the Mass Proper form perhaps one of the most immense and deeply rich treasure troves in the sacred music tradition. (...)
The texts of the Proper of the Mass, especially the Entrance, Offertory and Communion chants, are comprised of scriptural antiphons and verses from a psalm or canticle. This is the form of the texts given in the Roman Missal, the Graduale Romanum, and the Graduale Simplex, the Church's primary sources for the Proper of the Mass. (...)
The texts of the Proper of the Mass, while of lesser importance than the texts of the Order of the Mass and the Ordinary of the Mass, form a substantial and constitutive element of the liturgy, and I encourage a recovery of their use today. We are blessed to have in our day a kind of reawakening to their value. In addition, many new resources are becoming available that make their singing achievable in parish life. I strongly encourage parishes to take up the task of singing the antiphons and psalmody contained within the liturgical books, and to rediscover the immense spiritual riches contained within the Proper of the Mass.

I do not believe that we have received so clear a teaching on sacred music from a member of the U.S. Episcopacy, and on what we should be singing at Mass, in perhaps 40 years, maybe longer.

Thanks be to God for Bishop Olmsted's clarity on the musical structure of the Roman Rite, and on the hierarchical nature of the music that is proper to the sacred liturgy. In times when there seem to be many missed opportunities to address more fully the music that is sung in the liturgy, we have here a clear and authoritative statement from a member of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops who seems to be stepping forward into a leadership role in the US episcopacy on matters of liturgy and sacred music.

Let us pray that the Lord will use Bishop Olmsted's teaching to bring clarity to the liturgical and musical lives of parishes in the US, and further the ongoing liturgical renewal that clearly moving forward in the life of the Church.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Christus Factus Est - Stift Heiligenkreuz

It is a bit intimidating to hear the masters sing the chant you know so well and have sung many times.

Yikes, this is amazing.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Friday, March 9, 2012

Ghent Manuscript explanation

Hendrik Vanden Abeele, artistic director of chant group Psallentes, embarks on a project in which he will walk you through each and every page of a 1481 antiphonary from Ghent (B-Gu Ms 15). This is the opening video.

A Look at the Council of Trent

From the Web Gallery of Art, a painting by CATI DA IESI, Pasquale (original link)

This Rehearsal Seems to Be Going Rather Well

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Chant Doesn't Really Mean Chant?

The new translation of the General Instruction changed the translation of the Latin word “cantus” from song to chant. This led to a flurry of questions to the liturgy office US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Perhaps musicians had a sudden sense that there was some appointed music that they were supposed to be singing that they weren’t singing. Perhaps, many wondered, there is more to Catholic music at Mass than just picking four hymns out of a commercially produced product and using them as filler music? Perhaps there is something serious and substantive associated with singing at Mass?

Well, the USCCB took on the question and gave the following Q&A in the January 2012 bulletin of the liturgy office.
Does the use of the word "chant" in the Roman Missal forbid hymnody during the Entrance and Communion processions?

No, the use of the word "chant" is a title for all sung pieces. The Secretariat has had numerous inquiries regarding the significance of this change in translation and its implications in liturgical practice. The 1985 edition of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) explained the "entrance song" in terms of antiphons, psalms, or another song. In the revised 2011 GIRM, no. 48 and nos. 86-87 now refer to the "Entrance Chant" and "Communion Chant," respectively, and give as musical options: antiphons, Psalm chants, or other liturgical chants. While the 2003 GIRM rendered "chant" in lowercase, the new version has capitalized the word.

"Chant" (the translation of the Latin cantus) is intended here to refer not to a particular musical form (e.g., Gregorian chant), but as a general title for any musical piece. This is seen most clearly in the Missal itself. During the Good Friday celebration, the Missal has as a heading for one section, "Chants to Be Sung during the Adoration of the Holy Cross." The "Chants" that follow include antiphons, the Reproaches, and a hymn. Similarly, in Appendix II, the Rite for the Blessing and Sprinkling of Water, a rubric states, "one of the following chants… is sung." There follows antiphons and a hymn. From these examples, it is clear that the Missal in no way forbids the use of hymns or songs for the Entrance and Communion processions.

Now, what you might take away from that exchange is that there is nothing at all wrong with the 4-hymn convention, that musicians have no need to change anything that they are currently doing. Moreover, you would be left with the impression that there are not appointed chants for these times in the Mass but rather any song will do.

One supposes that perhaps the translators of the GIRM were just ignorant of the English language actually. Does iTunes famously charge 99 cents for a download of every song or “chant?” When you are shopping at the store and hear music by the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, do you think that those are really nice songs or “chants?” When Lady Gaga sings, do you think “that’s a very upbeat chant.”

Obviously, in English, these words are not interchangeable. If chant just means “any musical piece,” the translators must have been really mixed up and are probably incompetent to be in charge of such a translation.

Before we go on and explain the meaning and implications of the word chant here, consider how the phrasing of the question is tailored to match the question. The question is rendered as whether hymns are “forbidden” at the entrance, offertory, and communion. The answer is no. Of course hymns are not forbidden. And guess what? There is not a living soul on the planet who knows the first thing about the ordinary form of the Mass who would argue otherwise. Anyone who thinks hymns are forbidden by law is confused.

Nonetheless, that alone says nothing about what is preferred and its says nothing about hymns replacing the propers of the Mass. Now, there’s a phrase that doesn’t seem to be in the vocabulary of the writer of the above Q&A! The Mass does indeed feature proper texts for the entrance, the offertory, and the communion. You can read about them in the GIRM itself. The first three suggestions for music during these points of the Mass are that the proper text be sung.

And what is the music for these proper texts? It turns that such music does exist. It is found in the Graduale Romanum. This is the music that has been attached to the Mass since the earliest years. There is an entrance, an offertory, and a communion chant for every Mass of the liturgical year. Each has a special text and a special melody. That is an interesting fact. But one would know absolutely nothing about that reality by reading the USCCB’s answer to this question. In fact, you would be led to believe that there are appointed chants but rather that every time the GIRM referred to chant, it was kind of like a typo or translation error. It really means a “musical piece.”

And the appointed chant does in fact have an appointed text. Those texts are the proper texts. They are found in the Graduale and/or the Missale. You can find English chants based on Gregorian melodies. You can find hymns based on those texts. There are whole collections of sung propers in every form you can imagine. When you are singing them, you are singing the Mass texts. Surely that is better than singing any old “musical piece.” In fact, the GIRM clearly seems to favor the appointed text over some random hymn, which is why it repeatedly says to sing the chant.

Makes sense? Of course it makes sense. That does not mean: 1) that a hymn cannot be sung in addition to the chant, or that 2) a hymn cannot licitly replace the appointed text and chant. We know both of these things. This is not news. The news that the USCCB somehow failed to report is that chant actually means something substantive, historical, integral to the rite, and is currently available to be sung by any choir that seeks to sing the actual liturgy rather than just sing something or other.

What a missed opportunity!

But let’s address the paragraph from the USCCB in which the writer marshals evidence from the Missal to support that claim that chant means any musical piece. The chant called Crux Fidelis is traditionally sung during the veneration of the cross. That is a chant. That is in the Missal. It is real chant, with a real history. It is a Gregorian hymn that is very beautiful.

The same is true of the sprinkling rite. The text for Vidi Aquam (inside Easter time) and Asperges (for the rest of the year) are clearly in the Missal. The music for Vidi is even in the Missal for those who want English, and Solesmes has provided a beautiful Asperges in English. These are chants. They are in the Missal. These are real chants, with real histories. They are familiar and very beautiful.

In short, it turns out that chant means chant. To repeat, when the GIRM says sing the chant, it means sing the chant. Such chant does exist. It is not a myth, not made up, not a bad translation of song. True, you can sing a polyphonic setting of the chanted text, and you are permitted to replace the chant with something else, though it is obvious enough (from the whole of legislation including the Vatican Council itself) that doing so is less ideal than singing the actual liturgy itself.

In sum, you have to really stretch the meaning of plain English or not fully understand the history and repertoire of liturgical music in the Roman Rite to claim that there is nothing at all to the word chant. It is true that the the answer above to the question above is technically correct, namely that other hymns are not forbidden. But is that really enough? Have we really done what we ought to do providing what we are doing is not technically banned? Surely liturgical musicians need a higher standard.

When the Church says “sing the chant,” it turns out the Church really does mean sing the chant.

Again, why do you not like the extraordinary form?

Peter Schineller, S.J. offers a detailed report on a Tridentine Mass he attended. I found nothing particularly objectionable about anything he reports. Then he strangely concludes:

In my mind I could not but think back to the Second Vatican Council, and all that the Council and subsequent documents tried to bring about – active participation, emphasis on the important things, vernacular, elimination of accretions and repetitions, etc. It was sad and disheartening. What happened? Why would the Catholic faithful seek out and attend this older form of the Mass? Is the Tridentine Mass an aberration? What does it say about the reforms of Vatican II?

After the Mass, I was tempted to talk with some of those present. But I decided not to as I feared I would have been negative and perhaps controversial. My feelings were still very raw. One thing I know: I myself will never freely choose to celebrate the Tridentine Mass.

I don't really know what to make of this or what to say in response. It's not really an argument and it is vague enough so there is no real response. But "raw feelings?" That just seems over the top.

As for talking to people, he might have just walked up to anyone and said, "hello, my name is Father Schineller, and I'm intrigued that you attend this Mass. What draws you to it?"

There would be nothing "controversial" about that.

The Boston Choir School has new site and more

The Choir of St. Paul's, affiliated with the Choir School, has a wonderful new website!

To get a sense of what's going on there, listen to this...and prepare to have your breath taken away.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Oliver Hayes's Audi Benigne Conditor

Yesterday Jeffrey posted a nice video of the Vespers Hymn for the first four weeks of Lent, Audi Benigne Conditor.

I get a lot of mileage out of the Office Hymns at Mass, particularly during the Penitential seasons, when organ improvisation is not an approved method of filling time. Oliver Hayes has written a nice alternatim setting of Audi benigne Conditor which I have used for two years now. As with so much good music these days, it's available for free online.

It is simple but vigorous, modern but accessible, and connected to tradition without being all style and no idea. Only two verses are polyphonic, and musically they are identical, but that's just enough to make a musical event.

Hayes has a number of works available here. A chorister at the Birmingham Oratory, he also has his own website.

Reminder Post: Weber Chant and SEP organ accompaniments

The organ accompaniments for the Simple English Propers are being posted weekly, and on time, here.

Meanwhile, be sure to see this folder for all the newest propers by Fr. Weber.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Audi Benigne Conditor

Stick with this and hear how vigorous and familiar chant can sound when set in this medieval strophic hymn. Very nicely done!

Fabulous Amazon Bump Here

Since yesterday's release of The Musical Shape of the Liturgy, by Professor William Mahrt, the Amazon ranking has soared from 2,000,000 to 900.

It is of course thrilling to see this level of interest, and it is a testament to the high value of this comprehensive look at the relationship between music and Catholic liturgy, one that is both scholarly and immediately practical.

Your purchase today can draw even more attention to the work by making your purchase today and thereby adding to the book's momentum.

Also, for those people living outside the U.S. who tried to order but could not, we've added a special product class that makes this now possible.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Buying the Musical Shape

If I had any strategic sense, I would have planned the release of Musical Shape of the Liturgy and tried to organize a big one-day buy so that Amazon rankings would soar and we could put this book on the map.

Yes, this is gaming the system in a way but it works.

Fail on my part. But maybe not. If you are thinking of getting this book anytime in the next month, can you please do it today? That way we can see the sales rank move up dramatically and get more attention than we otherwise would if sales are spread out over weeks or months.

Can you help us make this happen? It makes a big difference to buy now as versus later. Also, it is a good time to buy some extra copies for all your priest and musician friends. The price is ridiculously low for a 460-page hardback. If this had been published by an old-line academic house -- and it could have been -- it would be $150 or more.

Thank you to all donors who make this great price possible!

We've waited a century for this work

The Musical Shape of the Liturgy, by William Peter Mahrt, is ready for shipping. It is a $25 hardback.

I'll state this as plainly as possible. This is the one book that we've waited for, the book that explains the structure of the Roman Rite and the place of music within it. As I've written many times, this core knowledge is what is missing in the Catholic world today. This book presents it all.

If you are struggling with an issue in Catholic music, the answer is in here. Every priest you know needs a copy. Every musician too. It is the work that begins the long process of intellectual discovery that is the precondition to a robust recovery of Catholic music.

P.S. Your reviews are needed at Amazon. 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

From Time to Eternity: The Interlectionary Chants

Some years ago a friend of mine was having a drink with friends at a bar in Cincinnati during an NPM convention. Michael Joncas walked in.

My friend asked, “isn’t that the guy who wrote that yoo-hoo song?”

“Well, we don’t know; why don’t you go ask him?”

This friend of mine, a colorful character with a raspy voice from Baltimore, walked right up to him: “Saaaaaaaay, aren’t you the guy who wrote that yoo-hoo song?”

Joncas couldn’t figure out what she was talking about.

“You know. ‘Yoo-hoo dwell…’”

Joncas was, thankfully, amused, and admitted that he really should have revised some parts of that “yoo-hoo song” but just hadn’t gotten around to it. It doesn’t matter, really. It’s popular enough that its continued use doesn’t depend on it.

On Eagles’ Wings is one of those pieces, like the Mass of the Angels, that is popular despite the difficulty in singing it. Why is this? I can only suppose that it’s because of the text. The Psalms in general are stellar, but the ideas in Psalm 91 are particularly appealing, aren’t they? So people sing this song. It’s understandable.

Every year on the First Sunday of Lent, the text of Psalm 91 dominates the Propers of the liturgy. The centerpiece of this arrangement is the Tract, which goes on for five pages or something like that. Last week when I practiced it at home, I timed it at twelve minutes. This always makes me nervous, since the interlectionary chants (Graduals, Alleluias, and Tracts) are in the crosshairs even of many people of a traditional mindset. In a lot of places it’s difficult enough to persuade those in charge to allow the Gradual and Alleluia from the Liber Usualis on an average Sunday, but this Tract in particular, as well as the one on Palm Sunday, seems to be the kind of thing that can constitute a last straw, the event that gets the congregation to complain about the length, and the end result of that is always unpredictable. I have always had support from my pastors in these matters, but given the opinions I’ve heard expressed from some people scattered about, I always get a little bit nervous when Qui habitat comes around.

So why should those parishes that are doing the chant Propers sing the Interlectionary chants out of the Liber Usualis or Graduale Romanum rather than one of the shortcut books? One could say that these are the official chants of the Church, the most historical, but there are better reasons than this.

One could begin by saying that the chants found in the Liber, particularly on an average Sunday, don’t take more than a couple of minutes longer than the microwave versions, but in some ways this seems like it’s conceding the premise that time is of the utmost importance.

I like to compare these chant melodies to rhetoric. This can mean word painting and other such things like ascending lines for questions, but that isn’t all. Sheer beauty itself is a form of rhetoric; it makes the message of the text more attractive and more readily absorbed. The melismas in the interlectionary chants are among the most beautiful melodies in the Gregorian repertoire. Many will argue that this is not necessary; honk through the text as quickly as possible so that the obligation can be dispensed with. Get rid of the unnecessary stuff---and in the rule books of many, what is not strictly necessary is useless.

Do good sermons exclude "useless" turns of phrase and even “useless repetitions,” or do they employ various rhetorical methods that, if held up to the same standard to which the music is often held, would be found inefficient? The latter case seems to obtain. In fact, a good speaker really only makes two or three points and spends most of the time expounding on them in various ways, usually repetition, variation, and exhortation. The melodies of the interlectionary chants dwell on the text the same way a speaker dwells on his message, and this makes the text appetizing so that we want to feast on it. (I watch a bit too much Food Channel.)

Tied into this is meditation. Dr. William Mahrt of Stanford University has often commented that a member of his congregation once approached him and observed that the Graduals were so slow. Mahrt was puzzled, since, rhythmically speaking, this isn’t exactly true. “Oh no, I mean the text,” the man said. The melismatic character of the chant slows down the rate at which the text is rendered. This reminds me of St. Teresa’s advice to say the Lord’s Prayer, but to take an hour to say it. How is it possible to meditate upon a text when it is sprinting by on the tenor note of a Psalm tone?

A few years ago I was in Chicago and wanted desperately to get to the Art Institute to see what they had there. I crammed my trip in to a tight timeslot and rushed through the museum, but I don’t remember a single painting I saw. That was the Psalm tone version of a visit there, and I paid for it with a forgotten experience. In music, it’s not just the hurrying that has this effect; the absence of a memorable melody can do the same thing.

It seems to me that whenever I have been confronted with something really beautiful, it makes time stop. Everything else goes away and this one work of art, whatever it is, is getting my full attention. I am not worried about the time, or about where I need to go next, or even my plans for next week. These experiences are little slices of eternity. When I get too busy, my frantic, mathematically-based efforts to save time only seem to add to my restlessness. I’ve been to many Masses that feel that way. Proper leisure, a space in which eternity can peak into time, requires an investment, a carving out of space that is set aside; otherwise, the experience will be lost.

Of course, different situations require different solutions. My main concern here is with the argument against the interlectionary chants in the Liber on the basis of time---a contention that is limited to a small scope of parishes. Some scholas aren’t going to be able to handle them, and that needs to be taken into account. Maybe a smaller group within the choir can sing them, or maybe the interlectionary chant repertoire can be built up over time, at intervals.

I would only say this: the interlectionary chants are not as difficult as many suppose them to be; there certainly aren’t any octave leaps, and one is never expected to begin a piece on a major 7th chord. These melodies are highly centonized. I like to say, exaggerating only slightly, that if you’ve sung one mode 5 gradual, you’ve sung them all. This idea is even more true for the Alleluias. However, this is not going to be apparent without a commitment to learning the repertoire. Repetition isn’t noticed unless a motive is repeated.

I also find myself as yet utterly puzzled by the temptation to abbreviate the melodies in the Liber. This seems to be for reasons of time, since the essential difficulty level is not changed all that much. As a listener, I find the practice to be jolting, as if someone bumped the needle on a record player. This is a cavalier treatment of the art form. Which third of the triptych above the altar should be removed? Which part of the sermon should be omitted?

The way I see it, there’s an irony here, and it’s that On Eagles’ Wings itself isn’t exactly short. Yet I have played many funerals where it was insisted that all the verses be included. This highlights what I’m tempted to believe rises to the level of an axiom: We always have time for whatever it is that we want to have time for.