Monday, April 30, 2012

An Aggregated Review of Ten Glorias

This is not an indictment of GIA, but of the whole culture of Gebrauchtmusik that has infected the US publishing industry, and the composers who write for them, in the past twenty years. The Church deserves music that respects the integrity of the text and the education of the people. Even more, the Church deserves music that lifts it up out of the banality of the culture.

Read the entire review.

Announcing the Feast: Why Antiphons?

From Jason McFarland's book:

Without a doubt, responsorial or antiphonal singing is especially suitable for processions because such songs have an open musical form and thus a variable length that can accommodate the infinitely variable length of an entrance procession. Repeated antiphons also facilitate active participation because the gathered faithful can sing them from memory, in contrast to singing a hymn from a book, and thus engage more fully in the entrance procession. (p. 110)

Indeed, antiphons are a unique liturgical-textual genre. Their purpose is neither to proclaim nor to allude to the ancient Christian textual tradition, but to appropriate it. In so doing, antiphons reflect and pass on a tradition of textual interpretation. This occurs through the way a specific antiphon text employs the textual tradition and relates to and interacts with its verses to produce a particular Christian meaning, and then how the antiphon and verses together relate to and reveal something about a specific day of the liturgical year, thereby announcing "the mystery of the liturgical time or festivity" (GIRM 47). (p. 167)

Improvisation on a Cosmic Scale

Watch full video here. The organ is featured at 11 minutes through the end of chapter 2.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Colloquium 2012 Poster

Wassim Does It Again

Following up on a spectacular success in Michigan, Wassim Sarweh is taking his show on the road to New York!

Gregorian Chant Workshop

Learn the history, rhythm, notation, vocal techniques, modes and psalm tones of Roman Chant. This course will include discussion of both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Rite, as well as use of English and Latin in the Liturgy.

Advanced- accompanying chant ( how to accompany or follow accompaniment)
Chironomy- directing chant and following the director
How to improvise on modes
Isons - establishing mode
Old roman - how to...
and more!

4 & 5 May 2012
St. Patrick's Church
235 Glen Street
Glen Cove, New York 11542

News from Melbourne


From The Reform of the Reform:

The promulgation of the new translation of the Roman Missal of 1970, invites us to reflect further on the "hermeneutic of continuity" articulated by Pope Benedict XVI, and the importance of this being demonstrated consistently in the celebration of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite.

Beginning Saturday 12th May (at 6 pm), in response to the requests of the Faithful, a weekly Vigil Mass in the Ordinary Form will be offered at St Aloysius' Church which will aim to exemplify "sacredness in continuity".

The Mass will be celebrated in English, "ad orientem" at the High Altar, with both the Propers of the day and the Ordinary being sung. Communicants are invited to kneel at the Altar rails to receive Our Lord on the tongue 'under both kinds' by intinction. Books will be provided containing all the readings, Mass Ordinary and Propers, and music including hymns.

The inaugural Mass, at 6 pm on Saturday 12th May, will be offered for the intentions of Pope Benedict XVI.


Friday, April 27, 2012

Promoting Sacred Music

Two years ago, we made a movie that was one of those media events that happens only once and will never be repeated, mainly because its brilliance rests most fundamentally with the delightful naivete of all of us who were involved in its making. We had no idea just how difficult such a task would be, or what the results might be when we started out.



The credit belongs entirely to Jeffrey Ostrowski who shepherded from the beginning. The goal was to do something, anything, to convey to the world just how exciting and thrilling the world of sacred music truly is. It was also designed to advertise and market the Sacred Music Colloquium (which this year runs June 25 through July 1 in Salt Lake City).

It seems odd to use the language of marketing here since no one makes a dime from this event and the sponsoring organization runs on a shoestring budget. If it were not for periodic (but rare) benefactors that picked up some of the bills, we would have shut down long ago. The truth is, that everything needs marketing at some level, something to convince people to interrupt the regular course of their lives and try something completely new.

This has been the great challenge in the world of sacred music. The problem in our parishes is not unknown. It goes something like this. Our music is not serious, not substantial, not liturgical, facts which drive off serious people and talented musicians; but without the serious people and talented musicians around, there is no real hope for improvement down the line. It becomes a vicious circle that digs a deeper hole every year.

This happened only recently to a top-notch musician who moved to a college town. She went to a local parish to offer services. Then she found something amazing. The parish was large but had no musicians at all. There was no budget and no talent. They scraped by on the usual terrible music from the 1970s, sort of singing and sort of playing a few things. But otherwise there was nothing.

She began to ask around as to why this was so. The answer came quickly. No musicians are involved because the music is so bad. And the music is so bad because no musicians are involved. How do you break out of such a disaster? And by the way, this is not at all uncommon. Musicians have been fleeing the Catholic world for decades, and only recently started to return very slowly.

The only way out is find people who have an ever so slight interest in doing something about the problem, training them to read and sing the chants of the faith, and inspire them to get to work in saving the liturgy and the world. It's not so easy to do this. You have to inspire even that much interest. You have to get people to believe that it is worth their time and effort. And, let’s face it, Catholics aren’t much for making serious commitments beyond weekly Mass attendance. They imagine themselves to be consumers not producers of services. It is pathetic but true, and I wish I understood why.

Still, we have to offer opportunities for those who feel the call. If we do not, there is no hope at all for change.

The Colloquium goes many steps beyond that toward total immersion in heavenly beauty for a full week. Yes it is life changing. Every year the Colloquium has attracted more people. This year will be the biggest and best ever. I would suggest that nearly all progress in the Catholic musical arts in this country and beyond are due to this one event.

The really big change this year is that we have opened up the program on both ends: you can be a non-musician, non-singer, and not read a note, or you can be an advanced professional with a conservatory degree. Absolutely everyone can benefit. We wanted to reduce the intimidation element that keeps people away while always increase professional networking opportunities. We hope that we've done both.

It is an uphill struggle and it is certainly not lucrative. But here we are with the job that has fallen to this generation. We must rebuild. We must work. We must leave Catholic tradition for others to pick up and appreciate in the next generation. If we do not, we have not fulfilled our mandate.

It only takes one generation to make this turnaround happen. With enough commitment and sacrifice, it can happen. It also involves non-musicians. We need donors. We need attendees. We need people to talk this up. We really need prayers.

There have been dark times in the past for sacred music. But the light can come if we take the right steps. Please join us.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

RIP, Fr. Cody Unterseher

Please remember in your prayers Father Cody Unterseher, an Anglican Priest, who contributed at the Praytell Blog who died as a result of an aneurism he had over a week ago. Eternal Rest grant unto him O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him. Comfort his family and friends. Amen.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Are We Chanting or Singing?

Or are they the same thing?

Don't you hate essays that begin dictionary definitions?  "According to Webster, ..."

Well, I'm going to use the same old trick but I'll update it a bit. According to the Free Online Dictionary,  a chant is:

a. A short, simple series of syllables or words that are sung on or intoned to the same note or a limited range of notes.
b. A canticle or prayer sung or intoned in this manner.
c. A song or melody.
 
And here's the definition of chant as a verb:
 
1. To sing or intone to a chant: chant a prayer.
2. To celebrate in song: chanting a hero's deeds.
3. To say in the manner of a chant: chanted defiant slogans.

It has struck me again and again just how confused people are about what chant is, and what it means if we say we are chanting.  I was charged with teaching all of the kids in my parish the Missal Chants last fall.  Kids had no trouble understanding that "to chant" meant "to sing."

But what surprised me - well, not really - what struck me was that a number of the adults involved in the CCD program. i.e., teachers, volunteers., etc., didn't understand that chanting means singing.  It became clear in my many conversations with them that they thought chanting meant only one thing:  a string of words, repeated over and over, on one tone.

Maybe it is because I live in a football town.  Everyone knows the "chants" or "cheers" that are exclaimed game after game, year after year, in a football town.  I'm in Alabama.  "War Eagle;"  "Roll Tide," and what have you.  There are longer ones, too...simple, rhythmic phrases - akin to Rap - that people utter and scream in order to affect some outcome of the game.  It is supposed to encourage the ball players.  And I think it does. 

This is what a lot of people think "chant" is.

Over the past year, I've been especially aware of people who say to me: "I can't sing a note.  But I can sure chant." 

Has it occurred to anyone else that we should start using the verb "sing" a lot more often?  Let's "sing" the Missal chants, and not chant them.  Let's "sing" Gregorian chant.  Let's "sing" the Simple English Propers, or the Weber propers, or what have you. 

The chant, as we know it, IS in fact music.  We sing it.  It is not something less evolved than a more modern form of music or song that is "sung." 

I am never going to use the word "chant" as a verb again.  Unless I am at a sporting event.

The Music of the Spheres


Organ pipes, like the sun, are filled with sound-waves. Find out more on the NOVA special tonight at 9 pm EDT. Film footage of both the sun and organ pipes (the latter filmed at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception) will be featured.

Beautify the World!

Learn how at the Colloquium




New Year's Resolution: Beginning to Sing the Propers

If your parish is considering using the proper texts of the Mass, and if you are not sure how to make the transition from hymns to propers, Hymn Tune Propers might be the solution you are seeking for the upcoming liturgical new year. Charles Giffen and I have worked together to produce this booklet of Advent propers. The texts are my adaptations of the daily and Sunday Entrance Antiphons, rhymed and metered in 8.8.8.8. iambic (Long Meter) verses. Charles has set these verses to familiar Long Meter tunes: Conditor Alme Siderum (Creator of the Stars of Night), Winchester New (On Jordan's Bank), and, for December 17-24, Veni, Veni, Emmanuel (O Come, O Come, Emmanuel). Optional Psalm verses are provided, in traditional Anglican chant, except for the days of the O Antiphons, and Dec. 24, when the antiphon is followed by the refrain: Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

The Hymn Tune Propers project is envisioned as a "first step" in parish music renewal. It offers an easy and accessible way for parishes accustomed to singing hymns--a majority of parishes--to sing in their familiar musical style, but using the Church's universal texts. Parishioners on a wide scale can have access to the liturgical texts that are often hidden from them by the custom of singing hymns in place of the processional chants.

In my opinion, this is not a long-term solution for any parish, for both musical and textual reasons. The musical style of hymnody is not flexible enough to foster true cantillation of the liturgical text. In my versifications I have made small compromises in meaning and imagery in order to accommodate meter and rhyme. But it is a useful, easy, non-confrontational first step in helping parishioners become familiar with the existence of propers, to know and love the liturgical bounty they represent, and to have a chance to become more deeply immersed in "the mystery of the liturgical season or festivity" (GIRM para. 47).

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Special Invitation to Priests

From Reverend Robert Pasley, CMAA Chaplain:
We send out a special invitation to all seminarians and priests. Please consider attending the 2012 CMAA Colloquium in Salt Lake City, Utah, from June 25 through July 1. Pope Benedict XVI has called for a hermeneutic of continuity in interpreting all Catholic teaching. There is no greater need for continuity than in the Sacred Liturgy. If we follow the official musical program given by the Church, we will immediately begin the process of restoring our Catholic Identity and revivifying the Sacred Treasury of our musical heritage. Priests, however, must be at the forefront of this revival. If they do not sing their chants, then the solemn sung Liturgy can never be realized, no matter how magnificent the parish choir is.

Mother Church has always kept the chants of the priest very simple so that the Mass could be sung by almost any cleric. Seminarians all learned the chants of the priest by just hearing them sung them year after year. The problem is that the sung Mass, especially with the celebrant chanting his lines, has, for the most part, been dead for the last forty years. If we are going to foster continuity, then every priest must know how to sing his chants. We have lived through a forty year span when there were no set melodies for the liturgy in English. Priests made up their own chants or sung what they may have heard from this composer or that composer. There also has been a mixing of Anglican, Byzantine and other chants. Just as they would never sing Roman chant in their Liturgies, so we should never sing their chant in our Liturgy.

If you are going to sing the Rite, sing it right! That is where the Colloquium comes in. We have a new Missal and the chants are now standardized in our Roman Tradition. You do not have to be a professional musician. You may not even know how to read music. You will have seven days to begin the process of understanding what you have to do. We can never cram everything into seven days, but we will give you a start and give you resources to take home with you. You can then get your local choir director to help you on your way. If your own music director needs a brush up, consider sending him or her to the Colloquium as well. Fathers, you not only are absolutely necessary to consecrate the Holy Eucharist, you are also absolutely necessary for the Mass to be sung properly according to our Tradition!!!!!

Please consider attending. It is a wonderful event and you will not be disappointed.

Father Robert C Pasley, KCHS; Chaplain of the CMAA; Rector Mater Ecclesiae, Berlin, NJ

Chant Sale at Paraclete

Use coupon code PRChant at checkout for 20% off all Paraclete chant books and recordings.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music

Singing Alone and Making Mistakes

We've all known what the blogger below describes. We know the chant perfectly but when we sing alone, we end up making mistakes anyway. We need the numbers to help us through those tiny moments of insecurity. It's true that Gregorian chant really is for groups.

A week ago I was asked to sing the Proper for an Extraordinary Form Mass today because the regular cantor was going to be away. Rather foolishly I agreed, but I had no options. I obtained good clear copies of the music, rehearsed well, and was note-perfect an hour earlier whilst sitting on the train on the way.

I ended up singing the Proper on my own. The sparse congregation joined in the Ordinary of the Missa de Angelis, though I sang alternate verses of the Kyrie solo. The Vidi Aquam, Introit, Kyrie and Gloria were fine. Then I messed up the Gradual and Alleluia verses, though I am not sure anyone noticed. Credo III went all right, and the Offertory was done to a psalm tone, which was not a problem. I started the Sanctus much too high, the Agnus Dei went all right but I bungled the Communion verse, again I am not sure that anyone noticed.

What went wrong? I have near perfect pitch and had a tuning fork with me as well. I was a bit nervous and there was a lot to do besides, keeping an eye on the priest and following the text carefully so as to see when to come in with the sung portions.

What is there to learn from this? First, to get a pitch pipe and write down the starting note on the music itself. But more important is to go mob-handed - in other words we need to set up a Schola who can provide at least four voices whenever they are called for. For a start, I want my own funeral done properly.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Saints and their Hymns

     "The church of Milan had only recently begun to employ this mode of consolation and exaltation with all the brethren singing together with great earnestness of voice and heart. For it was only about a year -- not much more -- since Justina, the mother of the boy-emperor Valentinian, had persecuted thy servant Ambrose on behalf of her heresy, in which she had been seduced by the Arians. The devoted people kept guard in the church, prepared to die with their bishop, thy servant. Among them my mother, thy handmaid, taking a leading part in those anxieties and vigils, lived there in prayer. And even though we were still not wholly melted by the heat of thy Spirit, we were nevertheless excited by the alarmed and disturbed city.

     This was the time that the custom began, after the manner of the Eastern Church, that hymns and psalms should be sung, so that the people would not be worn out with the tedium of lamentation. This custom, retained from then till now, has been imitated by many, indeed, by almost all thy congregations throughout the rest of the world." St. Augustine, Confessions

Click here for Blessed Henry Cardinal Newman's hymn, Praise to the Holiest in the Height

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Music for Private Devotion, Not Liturgy

There are two errors people make concerning popular religious music: 1) the belief that it represents something revolutionary and new in modern times, 2) the perception that it poses a serious threat to liturgical worship.

Neither is true. Devotional music is as old as the faith itself. It is not a problem in any sense provided that people do not mix it up with liturgical music, which is always tied to the liturgical text. The great problem of our time is that people have mixed this up, and terribly so. Somehow we need to find our way back to the liturgical text so that we can put devotional music in its proper place.

There are new attempts to recover devotional music from the Renaissance past and put it on display. Here is a fabulous example.



The choir school!

Get to know this group by coming to the Sacred Music Colloquium.





Friday, April 20, 2012

Doing Something About It

Ignatius Press is a leading publisher of Catholic books, including many by Pope Benedict XVI. I’ve been in parish libraries before to see hundreds of this publisher’s editions. They are loved by priests and laypeople. They market online and in a print catalog. They are even releasing ebooks today. None of this is news to anyone reading this. Ignatius has been part of the Catholic landscape since 1978, so much so that people just take the company for granted.

Think of the date of 1978. That was more than a decade after a wild and unexpected turmoil swept through the Catholic Church in all lands. The publishing house was founded to recall our roots, to firmly root Catholic teaching in tradition and history and truth. It received little or no support from the Bishops. It had no sugar-daddy funding. It was a struggle from the beginning and still is.

But, my goodness, look at the difference it has made. This is what makes the difference between complaining and doing. Or to use the old cliche, it the difference between cursing the darkness and shining a light.

Why did it take so long to do this with music? Music was among the most contentious area of Catholic life after the Council. The propers of the Mass faded away. The Gregorian chant became controversial because of the language change. Pop music was all the rage. It shoved its way into liturgy. It took over the publishers. It became a juggernaut. If you stood in the way, you were destroyed.

One of the earliest efforts to provide an alternative was Cantica Nova, a publisher of excellent work for parishes. It was started by Gary Penkala, and on a shoestring budget. But he did it and he did a great job. Still does.

This effort was picked up and joined by the Church Music Association of America. It is wonderful to see what is happening now. The Parish Book of Chant is an institution. We’ve published the first widely distributed book of English propers. And, my goodness, have a look at William Mahrt’s The Musical Shape of the Liturgy. Here is the high-powered stuff, the real and full explanation of the framework of music at Mass.

What’s next? In a few weeks, you will begin seeing some announcements for two books we are now finishing up. The first is Words With Wings, a program for children’s chant with a workbook and teacher’s manual. It was first conceived of by Netherlands conductor Wilko Brouwers. Then it was translated and adapted for English by Arlene Oost-Zinner.

It is the first modern curriculum for schools and parishes to use to build up children’s choirs. It takes the great wisdom of the past and renders it in contemporary language. It permits kids to learn how to sing using chant, and forms them and shapes them into real singers who can sing at Mass. These books are short, lucid, easy to use.

It’s a new beginning for children’s voices in Catholic liturgy. We dare not neglect this task. There can be no real future for the chant until children are heavily involved in the project. But until now, all the material we’ve had to work with was dated and a bit dusty. Worse, they presumed a world that does not exist, one in which kids were in school in dedicated choir programs every single day of the year. This is not our world, as we well know.

Words with Wings has been long in the making and now it is about to become a reality. It will be affordable and accessible. Any teacher can learn to use the book in the course of a very short training session. So long as she stays one step ahead of the kids, the learning and progress can take place in every parish.

So, if you are pastor or a education director in your parish, prepare ye the way! Musical improvement and progress is at hand.

The translator of this book is also the composer of the most-downloaded Responsorial Psalms on the Internet. These Psalms are all being collected in one volume called The Parish Book of Psalms. It will be the clearest and most accessible way to sing this portion of the Mass according to a Gregorian tradition in English. All the verses are written out and notated. All the antiphons can be immediately sung by the people. They are solemn and dignified.

The idea of this book is to provide a viable competitor to the usual books that are out there. I believe that this will work and work brilliantly.

These will be the latest addition to a suite of books that provide real-world answers to the problem of what to do about the pervasiveness of pop music liturgy. These are lights in a dark world.

One final word about journalism. The Wanderer deserves a great deal of credit too. In times when nearly every Catholic publication went with the time, The Wanderer has chartered a course of truth and courage. Even now, I’m deeply grateful for this venue because it runs my article on music every single week without fail. This takes guts. And it is making a difference.

In their own way, each of these institutions has decided to do something about the problem. The future is much brighter as a result.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Evaluating Hymns: the Verbs

In one of the main theaters at the historic Mt. Vernon Estate they show a video about Washington's key Revolutionary War victory at the Battle of Trenton. It's never boring, though I've seen it a hundred times, and until today I'd attributed this to the special effects. There are big soap-bubble snowflakes that fall from the ceiling during the Crossing of the Delaware, for example, and the cannon fire makes the seats shake like a 32" contra bombarde in a clapboard church. But they've just installed a caption screen for the hard of hearing, and as I read the narration for the first time, I realized why the movie was never boring: the verbs. Screen after screen passed without a single form of the verb "to be." Instead, there were real verbs: marched, refused, surprised, attacked. There were only a few "was"es and "were"s to slow down the action.

A similarly vigorous use of verbs characterizes many of our greatest English language hymns, like those of Charles Wesley and Isaac Watts, and of other great hymn writers. In the five common-use verses of Watts' Jesus Shall Reign, for example, there is one use of "be," and in all eight verses of Watt's original hymn, there are only two. In two popular versifications of the Te Deum, Clarence Walworth's translation of Grosser Gott and Christopher Idle's God We Praise You, action verbs predominate and the use of "be" is very limited.

Limiting verbs that merely function, that merely link together nouns  with other nouns or adjectives, and instead choosing true action verbs, greatly increases verbal density. This is hugely important in poetic forms such as hymns, which are meant to be dense speech. The tongue delights to trip through the rich forest of verbs in Jesus Shall Reign: reign, run, stretch, wax, wane--and that is just the first verse.

There are exceptions, of course. In Wesley's epic hymn Wrestling Jacob (which Watts said was worth all the verses he himself had written) the verb "to be" is prevalent, and yet highly meaningful, because Jacob's own question "What is your name?" makes the verb "to be" into a real verb. It is God's own Is-ness that Jacob seeks. The same can be said of all four uses of forms of "be" in Holy, Holy, Holy: they refer to God's I Am-ness, God as Being. They are not linking verbs but real verbs.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Archdiocesan Choir of Philadelphia in Concert this Sunday




Dr. John Romeri, who for many years ran a spectacular music program at St. Louis Cathedral, had barely landed in Philadelphia when he had already lined up a concert series at the Cathedral-Basilica of Ss. Peter and Paul. This past year has seen concerts by the Choir of Westminster Cathedral and Tenebrae, among others.

This Sunday, the inaugural year of this concert series wraps up with a performance of the Mozart Coronation Mass (K. 317), along with works by Gabrieli, Handel, Beethoven, and Philip Stopford by the Archdiocesan Choir of Philadelphia. The concert will be at 3:30 in the cathedral. Here's ticket info.

If you can't make this weekend's concert, a whole new year is right around the corner, complete with a repeat appearance of Tenebrae. These concerts are an exciting addition to the lively choral scene here in Philadelphia.



Oases of Chant: the Monasteries

During the post-conciliar period there have always been oases of chant, including some of the contemplative monasteries throughout the world. One of them happens to be in the parish I serve, in Alexandria, Virginia. The Poor Clare nuns daily chant a novus ordo Mass, usually with Latin propers, almost always with a chanted Gregorian ordinary. It's a special blessing to have the nuns with us, and not only for the music but because of their life of unceasing prayer.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Early efforts to produce English Propers

I'm a collector of efforts to sing the propers in the postconciliar period. I'm completely thrilled to receive this original and privately circulated work from the early 1980s. It is a real piece of history.

The composer/author Pat Cunningham explains:
Between 1980 and 1984 I did a collection called Chants for the Church Year, using the Ordinary form propers for years A, B and C in standard notation. It was reviewed positively by Msgr. Schmitt in American Organist. His choir at Fr. Flanagan’s Boys Town used them for a while before he was ushered out as music director.

I attach the Palm Sunday propers, as they exist. Msgr. Schmitt questioned at the time my use of stems and flags, which I agree now were not necessary and may be distracting.

The music was originally suggested by Col. Roger Darley, when my wife and I were organist and choir director at the Main Post Chapel, Ft. Sam Houston. Later, when the Anglican Use parish, Our Lady of the Atonement, was formed in San Antonio, we assumed the same posts there, and, week by week, set the chant to the Anglican Missal words (generally). The work was published between 1982 and 1984.

The text was typed on a typewriter and the music hand-engraved.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Wow...It Is Raining Registrations!

This week has seen a huge rush on registrations for the Sacred Music Colloquium in Salt Lake City. It might be because Easter has arrived and people's liturgical commitments have lightened up a bit. That means time to catch up on other things. Or it could be because a paid registration this week (before midnight tomorrow night, i.e, Sunday night) means you will be receiving a free gift in the mail: Dr. Mahrt's The Musical Shape of the Liturgy.

Whatever the reason, today and tomorrow are a great time to register. The deadline is May 22, 2012.

Friday, April 13, 2012

2nd Sunday of Easter, Simple English Propers









Thursday, April 12, 2012

Christmas Morn on Easter Monday!

Were it April 1, 2012, this last Resurrection Sunday, and I were to say these two words, “Christmas and Easter,” what word association would you most likely first make? Most likely something like “Twice a year Catholics” or “Chreasters” or some such reaction about the high holy day obligations.
Well, that’s not where I’m-a goin’ with this here post.
On Easter Monday I went to our office and found three cases of the CATHOLIC CHOIRBOOK ANTHOLOGY by Noel and Ellen Jones eagerly awaiting my attention. And using the nearest key on my holder I vorasciously sliced into the tape of the top case like it was a Caspian Sea sturgeon hiding twenty pounds of Beluga caviar! And yay, verily, it was literally CHRISTMAS MORNING at EASTER. This first volume of motets, ordinaries, hymns and chants is unlike any other compendium for choirs  and scholae that I’ve ever come across from a Catholic publisher.

I, of course, skimmed through the extremely well-organized instructions and introduction by William Mahrt and got to the first motet, and started turning pages with a joy and velocity that is apparently reserved mostly for Harry Potter novel afficianados. Sure, I knew that the revolution of Creative Commons 3.0 and the digital industry of musical software accessibility could allow for such endeavors, but even though one would never expect a “pastiche” job from the Frogman(!) and his wonderful bride, I could not have expected the breadth and beautiful organization of this first volume, as well as having my hopes for a volume of something, anything….that would make my job as choirmaster just a skosh less demanding in terms of organization of literature.
And the sheer breadth and variety that is in this first volume alone took my breath away. Sure, every setting of Ave verum corpus (except mine! But’s that’s my bad…) and Tantum ergo (except Kevin Allen’s now universal setting) is there! O wait, Kevin’s IS in there, too! But who would have expected Henry Ley’s PRAYER OF KING HENRY VI? Who would have expected to find the Byrd Mass for Three Voices set for mixed choir? Who could have thought to include John Goss’s “See amid the winter’s snow” carol that among many others, have never crossed the pond into “popular” Catholic hymnals dating prior to the Sts. Gregory, Basil and Pius X editions?

We will be facing some serious decisions in the next two generations of rebound from the Liturgical Industrial Complex monopolies' stranglehold on congregational worship books. Discussions comparing and contrasting the merits of the emerging new hymnals from their publishing fortresses such as Worship IV versus Adoramus II, St. Michael and the Vatican II Hymnal are already ongoing. Music directors and pastors will have to face some serious, far-sighted and enlightened decisions about where to expend budgets with so much product line, whether in Latin or vernaculars such as the Parish Book of Chant editions, the Simple English Propers, Lumen Christi Missal or other specific volumes such as Richard Rice’s Communio or Arlene Oost-Zinner’s upcoming Psalter. And, of course, one cannot put to rest the hope that the use of the sanctioned volumes, the Gregorian Missal, the Graduale Romanum or Kyriales might find their way into the galleries and pews of mainstream Catholic parishes and cathedrals. But in future scenario it remains no small comfort that, finally, seriously compiled and edited collections of noble music for all will steadily encroach from the niche market into the mainstream of parish use. But for resuscitating the library with veritable oxygen of proven choral music from the chronology of master Catholic composers in one fell swoop, Noel and Ellen Jones have crafted a mother lode and miracle for any and all RCC choirs, novice to professional.

The Singing Priest

Everyone knows that the Catholic people in the pews have a singing issue. For the most part, they don’t dig it. It doesn’t matter how many lectures they are given, how much a cantor waves his or her arms, how loudly the organist or pianist prays, the singing in a Catholic parish, even when it does take place, is seriously subdued as compared with just about any protestant congregation.

I’m not among those who think that this issue is the central issue of the liturgy that needs to be fixed. For my own part, I do find it annoying that when I visit a new parish and sing out, I get stares and glares from people as if to say: “hey, we don’t do that here!” But in the end, what matters about Mass is not that everyone is belting out songs at the top of their voices but rather the interior work of prayer and contemplation.

As regards singing, a much more serious problem concerns the celebrant. His parts should be sung, as often as possible and as much as possible. On this front, we have a serious problem. When the parts are not sung, the people are not singing the dialogues (“The Lord be with you; and with your spirit”) and those are the parts that are easiest and have traditionally been most commonly sung. When the dialogues are spoken, the liturgical structure is destabilized because the only singing then comes from the choir, and that reinforces the sense that the music is merely for background effect or for entertainment and performance.

In 2007, the USCCB released document called “Sing to the Lord.” It says the following about the need for the priest to sing:

“The importance of the priest’s participation in the Liturgy, especially by singing, cannot be overemphasized. The priest sings the presidential prayers and dialogues of the Liturgy according to his capabilities, and he encourages sung participation in the Liturgy by his own example, joining in the congregational song.... Seminaries and other programs of priestly formation should train priests to sing with confidence and to chant those parts of the Mass assigned to them. Those priests who are capable should be trained in the practice of chanting the Gospel on more solemn occasions when a deacon may not be present. At the very least, all priests should be comfortable singing those parts of the Eucharistic Prayer that are assigned to them for which musical notation is provided in the Roman Missal.”

The language is stilted and unimaginative but the message is correct. And yet, once again, the exhortation has no effect. Why? Here is my theory. Our culture treats the notion of “singing” as something done by specialists, entertainers, recording artists, pop superstars, and all for the sake of delighting the audience. American Idol. That is what singing is. The priests notes the contrast between himself and these people and comes to the inevitable conclusion: I’m not a singer. Believe me, you don’t want to hear my voice. I can’t carry so much as a simple tune. Therefore I will not sing the liturgy. I’m sparing you the pain.

You know what’s awful? This whole mistaken view of what singing is tends to be reinforced by pop music at Mass. Pop music encourages the performance ethos. Music with a beat reminds us of recording stars. Jazzy chords and head-swaying sensibilities pushes this idea that singing is only for those who want to be loved and admired for their great talents. Music groups who do this kind of music -- and this is the mainstay of the music pushed by mainstream publishers -- are only entrenching the non-involvement of the priest in singing.

There is a reason that only a few Bishops in the entire national conference of the United States sing their parts. It’s because they are very much used to pop music and the pop ethos dominating the Mass. In the same way that a very talkative person won’t let you get a word in, this style of music doesn’t like the celebrant get a note in. This music crowds out simple chanting. The celebrant comes to believe that there is no place for him in the production of Mass associated with liturgy.

There ought to be a different word for what the priest is actually be asked to do. He is not being asked to become a star or to entertain anyone. He is not seeking a channel on Pandora or looking to sell downloads on iTunes. He is not trying to win a competition. In the Church’s conception of the singing a priest does, there is not a very great distance in physics between the speaking and singing. His singing really amounts to speaking with a slightly different kind of voice, one with a pitch that takes it off the ground and out of the realm of conversation and puts the words in flight. It is a simple shift that makes a gigantic difference in how the words come across.

I’ve personally never heard of a priest who cannot, in fact, sing all the parts he is being asked to sing. I would go further and say that the priest who is most qualified to do this is precisely the one who thinks that he cannot do it. That implies a certain humility, which is what is required to sing at liturgy.

The first step, which any priest can start this week, is to find any pitch and enunciate the words of the Mass on that one pitch rather than simply speak it. Maintain the rhythm of speaking. There is no need to work on changing pitches at the start. Just pick one random note that feels good and proceed with the text of the Mass. This one step makes him a singing priest. He has already fulfilled the goal of the Church in doing this one thing.

I know a priest who went all the way through seminary and his first years of priesthood without singing a single note. He was convinced that he could not. He was surely that was “not a singer” and thus refused to do so. There was no negotiation on this matter. It was just the way things are.

Then one day he was given the above advise, that singing liturgy isn’t like singing Broadway or trying out at an audition. One note will suffice at the beginning. He finally tried it at liturgy. Guess what? He was perfectly brilliant. He was fantastic. The words were very clearly and the text was ennobled and elevated. He loved it because he could immediately tell what taking this one action did to the liturgy. It changed the whole environment to become more solemn and beautiful. The choir and the people were all inspired. And this was just the beginning. Over the coming weeks, he tried more and more. Pretty soon he had overcome all his fears and he redefined himself and his skills.

The Mass where I heard him do this was otherwise filled with chant from the schola and the people, who chanted the Mass parts without accompaniment. This made his first attempt easy to integrate into the existing aesthetic structure. It might have been different if the choir was singing jazz or rock or had some amazing soloist seeking to delight an audience. Sensing that a simple chant would be out of place, he might never have attempted it.

So the solution: the choir should chant. That’s what gives the priest the confidence to attempt to sing his parts. And he can. He really can. Then we will start to see a change in the people in the pews as they join in the song.

Wonderful Article on Professor László Dobszay (1935-2011)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Music and the New Evangelization

For normal spiritual reading, I usually take up the work of a saint or some serious theology. But when I'm on retreat, having just a few days to become reinvigorated, I reach for C.S. Lewis. Perelandra is my favorite (Lewis said it was worth 20 Screwtapes) but there are others that I find just as helpful, including The Great Divorce and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

More than any other author, Lewis fuels my Christian imagination.

The rational arguments of the doctors and apologists are wonderful. They can bolster faith and do away with doubts. But, for me at least, they cannot reframe my world, and, in my opinion, reframing the world for believers must be goal of the new evangelization. And it will not be a hard sell. One senses a world-weariness, an information overload. People are looking for meaning, something more, something new--and Catholicism has this to offer.

The Second Vatican Council teaches that music is the most important liturgical art because it is wedded to the words of the liturgy. This is true, and words do become more alive, more urgent and delightful, when set to music. And yet it is also true that music is one of the liturgical arts that can penetrate the imagination to the point of restoring hope to a weary world. Music stirs the emotions, potentially making believers more committed and courageous. It aids that most precious gift of recollected silence. It can provide a sense of unity and coherence with past ages and with all the other believers in the universal Church. It is this kind of coherence that people long for in our age, and try to find in the most inadequate places. The Church has in itself truth and unity and concord, and music can help express this and make it attractive.


Monday, April 9, 2012

Heretical Hymns, World Music, and Keeping Your Job?

Below is a sneak peak at some of the morning breakouts we have to look forward to at this year's Sacred Music Colloquium in Salt Lake City. Remember that if you register during the Octave of Easter a copy of Dr. William Mahrt's The Musical Shape of the Liturgy will be on its way to you in the mail.

Sister Marie Agatha Ozah, HHCJ, Ph.D.:

Gregorian Chant and World Music: Tensions and Solutions for the Liturgy

Chants are some of the oldest religious music genres of the world, and their centrality in Buddhist, Hindu, Judaic, Christian and Islamic worship cannot be over emphasized. In the Christian Church alone, one can name Byzantine, Ethiopian, Anglican, and Gregorian chants, for example, as indispensable vehicles of religious worship. This lecture explores the significance and uses of chants in some world religions. It will focus specifically on Gregorian Chant in the Roman Catholic liturgy.

The traditionalism and canonicity that Gregorian Chant enjoyed for centuries was disputed by the Second Vatican Council, which encouraged the use of other forms of world music as backdrop in the liturgy. The introduction and use of world music in the liturgy has fostered the continuous decline of the use of Gregorian Chant, an issue that has become a cause of concern among sacred music scholars. The dilemma of whether or not the Roman Catholic liturgy is a common ground where tensions can be resolved persists today.


Kathleen Pluth:

Vernacular Hymns: The Good, the Bad, and the Heretical

Although sung Propers are always the best choice for the Mass, parish musicians are still often called upon to select hymns for Mass, devotions, and the Liturgy of the Hours. Choosing among the various options can be a daunting task. This lecture begins with an examination of the importance of hymns in the Church from apostolic times, preceding the Reformation by many centuries. Then, individual hymns will be sung and analysed for their usefulness in teaching and evangelization, focusing primarily upon textual and theological considerations.


Matthew J. Meloche:

Maintain and Strengthen Your Position and Program

This practical course will show you how to maintain and strengthen your current position and program, whether you are music director of a large parish or direct a small choir. Special emphasis will be given to changing the direction of a program, with positive advice for how to do so while keeping your leadership role secure.



See the complete list.

This Joyful Eastertide

The logic of the Cross is much more plain than the logic of the Resurrection. The logic of the Cross is repeated throughout the synoptic Gospels and throughout the letters of St. Paul: if we want to follow Him, we must carry the Cross as He did. If we die with Him, we shall also live with Him. We have been baptized into His death.

The logic of the Resurrection is quite the reverse, as we read in the stunning theological high-water mark of St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians. In Chapter 15, St. Paul expounds the necessary connection between Jesus' resurrection and our own. "If the dead are not raised, then Christ is not raised." There is such a cause-and-effect link between Jesus' resurrection and our own that if our resurrection is not possible, then Jesus' resurrection is not true. "And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied."

St. Paul makes an argument ad absurdum, demonstrating that our resurrection is really possible. Otherwise, Christ's never happened--and that is absurd, because it did happen. "But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man."

This passage of 1 Corinthians is the inspiration of one of the many cheerful hymns of the season, sung here in Charles Wood's arrangement, This Joyful Eastertide: Had Christ, that once was slain, ne'er burst his three-day prison, our faith had been in vain;but now hath Christ arisen, arisen, arisen, arisen.


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Et Ecce Terrae Motus

Out of the blue someone contacted me to thank me for an old review I had written of Brumel's Et Ecce Terrae Motus at NLM.

I think I'll repost it here:

One listen to the "Earthquake Mass" of Antoine Brumel might lead you to believe it is a 20th century composition--perhaps something modern that looks back but nonetheless employs modern harmonies and musical patterns of our age. So it can be disconcerting to discover that Brumel (1460-1512) was actually a contemporary of Josquin, a pre-Reformation composer who had achieved stunning heights of sophistication.

It is the kind of piece that causes you to seriously wonder about the conventional version of history itself, that somehow we became ever more sophisticated from the 16th century and beyond, marching forward into the light. In fact, what we here in this stunning work is the musical equivalent of the most elaborate and majestic cathedral. It suggests a time of advancement in civilization in every way. But what makes this piece different from other signs of advancement in, say, science or technology, is that focus, which is so clearly on transcendence. Every note, every phrase, reaches and stretches, sometimes painfully, to touch a timeless reality.

I'm blogging on this piece in particular since it is common for those who are newly interested in sacred music to focus on and even get stuck in one mode: Palestrina, Victoria, and other Italians of the counter-reformation period. If we get on this path, we can easily overlook the music of people like Brumel, which shows no sign of intimidation by the didactic demands of reformation ideology. We find here a freer and more completely unleashed search for God, with the result of sounds and styles that are, to my ears, astoundingly fresh and even mold-breaking. If you were to compare this 12-part Mass to a more familiar piece, imagine a Mass-length Spem in Alium, with towers of part writing that are built ever higher until the overwhelm you with grandeur.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

If you missed the SUNG Passion

James MacMillan on the Passion

The ritualistic recitation of Christ’s crucifixion probably began in the 4th century, and the singing of the Passion narrative has been going on from the 8th century. Singing has always been central to the Church. St Augustine said that those who sing pray twice. The “song” of the Church, Gregorian chant, can be traced back to the songs of the Temple and synagogue. It is an amazing feeling, knowing that people have been singing the Passion for at least 1,200 years.

It wasn’t until the 15th century that more complex versions of a sung Passion began to emerge, the earliest example of a so-called motet Passion being attributed to Obrecht. Later there were famous examples by Byrd, Lassus and Victoria. After the Reformation, Luther’s friend and collaborator Johann Walther wrote responsorial Passions which became models for the Lutheran church. Within this environment the development of the “oratorio” Passions of the 16th and 17th centuries paved the way for J S Bach.

Read the entire article

John Robinson getting deserved attention

Fantastic report on PBS about the great renaissance of the Boston Choir School.

Watch Boston Boy Choir on PBS. See more from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.


The Bees of the Exultet

A lovely article on the NLM.

Don Roy on Organ

Composer and organist Don Roy is a friend of mine and marvelous presence in the world of liturgical music today. I keep sharing this video with people, not only because it is great music well played but also because it is an inspiring video. It is rather obvious that Don faces extraordinary challenges due to physical handicaps. I think of Don often when people tell me that they can't sing in the choir for various reasons of this or that. Well, Don had ever reason to make excuses for why he could never be an organist. And yet, here he is.





"The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep."


Preserve me, God, I take refuge in you.
I say to the Lord: “You are my God.
My happiness lies in you alone.”

He has put into my heart a marvelous love
for the faithful ones who dwell in his land.

Those who choose other gods increase their sorrows.
Never will I offer their offerings of blood.
Never will I take their name upon my lips.

O Lord, it is you who are my portion and cup;
it is you yourself who are my prize.
The lot marked out for me is my delight:
welcome indeed the heritage that falls to me!

I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel,
who even at night directs my heart.
I keep the Lord ever in my sight:
since he is at my right hand, I shall stand firm.

And so my heart rejoices, my soul is glad;
even my body shall rest in safety.
For you will not leave my soul among the dead,
nor let your beloved know decay.

You will show me the path of life,
the fullness of joy in your presence,
at your right hand happiness for ever.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Celebrate Easter; come to the Colloquium



Ok, today is Good Friday, and it sounds like I am jumping the gun a bit. All of us are busy with liturgies and preparations, both externally and internally, for the great season ahead. The world is waking to new hope, sunshine and bird songs. June will be here before we know it. Preparations for this year's Sacred Music Colloquium in Salt Lake City, Utah, are in full gear. All course descriptions will be posted in the next few days, as well as a sneak previews of a thrilling repertoire and more.

And to help you celebrate Easter and prepare for the great events of the summer, we will be offering a free copy of Dr. William Mahrt's book, The Musical Shape of the Liturgy with all new and paid registrations that come in this week; starting on Sunday, April 8, at 12:00am and ending on Sunday, April 15, at 11:59pm.

A joyous Easter to all.

Beautiful thoughts on Good Friday from Fr. Robert Johansen

"Before I became a priest, or even entered seminary, the Good Friday liturgy was always one of my favorites. After my first experience of the Good Friday service, I rarely missed it. Even in those times when I wasn’t exactly practicing my faith very well, Good Friday seemed to always call me back."

His entire piece is very good. He uses the text of the Reproaches as the starting point. But how many parishes will even hear the Reproaches tonight?


Proper Texts for the Extraordinary Form

This website could save you hours of surfing and typing. It offers sheets for the full year of the propers of the Mass in Latin and English, plus an explanation of the meaning of the particular day. They are for parish use, and I can easily see how they would help people very much.

Improperium expectavit

One of the most magnificent changes that has occurred in Papal Mass in Rome in recent years is the re-addition of the normative Offertory chant. This is an important model for the Roman Rite around the world.



Thursday, April 5, 2012

Ritual Hymnody: Pueri Hebraeorum


Beautiful Polyphony from Lyceum Schola Cantorum




How far do you have to go to hear beautiful, stunning polyphonic music of Catholic tradition? Certainly you can find it in New York. Or Chicago. Or San Francisco and Washington, D.C. It turns out, however, that If you live anywhere near South Euclid, Ohio, you are in luck. There is a co-ed high school there called The Lyceum. This school has a choir that will take your breath away.

I’ve just listened to their new CD, which you can buy at their website or perhaps by writing the school. I urge you to do so. This material is remarkable for particular reasons. The tuning and balance is exceptional, as are the interpretations. But more than that, what strikes me about the singing is the spirit. Spirit is something difficult to put your finger on, hard to describe. It is something you feel and sense. And you really do sense it in a big way here.

What is that spirit? In a word, it is love. These are high schools kids who are unbelievably fortunate enough to be an environment that really believes in this music. Every note is sung with love. It is love plus an appealing freshness, like the spring rain or new flowers in a garden. The colors are bright and enthusiastic about life and art. It comes through in every piece, from the opening chant (Ave Verum Corpus) to the last choral piece.

There is marvelous material here. It shows you what is possible. The dream can be achieved. The living reality of wonderful Catholic music sung by young people is something of our world and our times.

No doubt that the results here owe much to the director, who is James Flood. He must be a very humble man because I had a hard time even finding his name on the schola’s website. It turns out that he is a classical guitarist who studied at the prestigious Peabody Conservatory and runs the Foundation for Sacred Arts. Whatever it is that gives a person that spark of genius to build a great choral program, Mr. Flood certainly has it. He has managed to turn a random group of high school kids into a world-class liturgical choir right in the the heart of America. Incredible.

On this CD, the choir sings what a parish schola today might be called “standards” but which are nearly unknown by most parishes today. Palestrina’s “Sicut Cervus” has a calm feel but that brightness of spirit that characterizes all the music here. Mozart’s “Ave Verum” is expertly rendered. the two pieces by Christopher Tye schooled me in how to take this fairly simple music and extract from it a profoundly elevated message. The Pergolesi piece “Surrexit Christus” is new to me but joyful throughout, with that special harmonic spin that only Pergolesi can provide.

Two pieces bear special mention here. The first is William Byrd’s “Ave Verum Corpus,” which is widely and rightly regarded as a true masterpiece from the composer and of this period. It requires a great deal of maturity to manage its long lines, cascading entrances, and shifting moods. I waited to hear this because I knew that it would call on every resource from young singers. It turns out that the Lyceum Schola Cantorum managed this just fine, with great discipline and careful attention to phrasing and dynamics.

The second piece is the one that I initially thought didn’t belong: Handel’s “Hallelujan Chorus.” My first thought was: do we really need to hear this yet again? After hearing it, my answer is: yes! If you can believe it, they bring something new to the piece. The pull back from the over-the-top hysteria that is usually employed here. They are subtle and careful, maintaining an integrated blend throughout. And of all the pieces that exhibit that signature freshness and fun, this is the one that does it best. I’m glad they decided to put it on -- even though it is a piece that arguably comes from a Protestant milieu. The truth is that this is not a liturgical piece; it is a theater piece. And there is nothing at all wrong with putting a theater piece at the end of a CD. It’s like a encore of a marvelous production.

I see now that the Lyceum is private Catholic academy that specializes in classical studies. So we have Latin and Greek and French taught here in many grades. The literary emphasis is classical. No doubt that doctrine is taught with an eye to orthodoxy. The faculty is stable and very impressive. In short, this is the kind of academy that is not supposed to exist today, because the whole of modern education seems to be structure to drive such places out of existence. And yet here it is stands, against all odds, teaching a great group of kids all that they need to know to have wonderful lives of faith.

In so many ways, this CD is a tool of evangelization. It shows what is really possible in our times. Even for a beginning schola, this production provides an excellent model.

I had to laugh when I read this comment from Fr. Samuel Weber: “I really didn't know what to expect when I heard that a high school choir would be providing the music for the liturgy, but when they opened their mouths to sing the Kyrie I was amazed. They were unbelievable. Hearing the Lyceum Schola Cantorum while celebrating the Mass was a very moving experience for me.”

Yes, I can easily imagine that he was shocked!

As for the CD, it turns out to be extremely difficult to produce a good recording. It might seem easy to outsiders, but it is far from that. Every mistake shows up and repeats itself on each listening. You hear imperfections that you don’t hear in live presentations. The digits rendering the sound waves are merciless and unforgiving. But the Lyceum Schola confronted the challenge and conquered it completely, leaving us a beautiful artistic creation that can inspire others.

The director, the singers, the administrators of the school, and all the parents who support these kids all deserve a big thank you from anyone who imagines a world in which such things are more common.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

SEP accompanied

All accompaniments are being uploaded on the musicasacra.com/forum week by week.



Trying to explain why the Colloquium is cool

Please go easy on me. I was winging it here. If you think this is useful, send it to someone who should attend. If it is not valuable, say so!





Why Progressives Should Love Gregorian Chant

I'm completely with Adam Wood in general on his broad point: the musical issue needs to be untied from the political issue. This is not about liberals and conservatives, progressives and reactionaries. Read his post.

Triduum, Simple English Propers

The Simple English Propers for Holy Thursday, Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday.
















Improvisation on Dies Irae


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Christus Factus est, at the Papal Mass



(take that Magister)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Basic Gregorian Chant (GIA, 1960)

This is an interesting find: Basic Gregorian Chant and Sight Reading, by Sr. Maria Demetria, as published by the Gregorian Institute of America (now known as GIA) in 1960. Of all the books on chant to appear in this period, this one is published closest in time to the opening of the Second Vatican Council, at least from what I've seen so far.

I'm curious about these books mainly because I'm interested in just how integral chant was to Catholic culture of the time. My strong impression is that the books that appeared in the 1950s really came out as a "last ditch" effort to save the chant or at least restore the push to the same level it enjoyed in the 1930s before the Second World War pretty well wrecked the stability of American parish life. This flurry of publication were directed toward teaching from the ground up, in the hope of shoring up what was clearly weakening.

This book attempts to explain modern music and then turns to chant by analogy. So there is lots of back and forth between modern notes and four-line staff, keys and modes, modern rhythm and Gajard-style rhythmic theory. This book seems to add an extra element of rhythm theory I had not hear of before: the tallah. This seems to be some pedagogical device to getting singers to give the ictic note an upward movement (the ictus is the lah of tallah) as if the note were thrown into the air.

I tried to read the entire rhythm section with fresh eyes, as a way of evaluating its effectiveness with beginners, but my general impression is that it is extremely confusing and with limited value to the first-time chanter. Especially with the addition of the tallah, it seems like more apparatus than anyone can possibly manage. After all, it is hard enough to sing in a language not your own, sing in a new musical language called solfege, read a four-line staff, learn new rhythm-note combinations, think about word accents, think in terms of arsis-thesis, and then, on top of that, count 2s and 3s and correct the propensity to lean on the ictus by making it an up pulse with yet another pedagogical/language device.

Whew! Chanting is hard but is it really this hard? At some point in all of this, it might be easy to lose a sense of the big picture: the chant is sung prayer, which means that it is more art than machine, more heart than apparatus. It is tempting to look at these very good efforts at pedagogy and gain an insight into why so many were ready to bail out of the whole exercise.

What can the modern chant movement learn from these past attempts? Surely there are lessons here.

Finally, an actual vigil Mass

It is a very bad habit of all Catholics to refer to the Saturday evening Mass as the "vigil" Mass even though most of the time it is nothing of the kind. It is the Sunday Mass said on Saturday. This makes it an "anticipated" Mass.

I was glad to see that the new issue of Today's Liturgy (OCP) actually pointed this out with absolutely clarity. It stated without any vagueness that the practice of calling every Saturday evening Mass a vigil is completely wrong.

There are Vigil Masses such as the Easter Vigil or the Vigil of St. John Baptist. The vigil Mass is a specific thing and it is different from the Sunday Mass.

I'm as guilty of this mistake as anyone. I'm going to try to fix this but more consistently calling the even time slot for Mass the "anticipated" Mass.

Join me in this effort?