Friday, May 17, 2013

How and why The Chant Café was in Wired

At the risk of looking like I am trying too hard to cling desperately to whatever fame I have recently garnered  (which I would totally do), I thought I should tell this story for at least three reasons not having to do with my own narcissism:

  • It's funny (well, I think so).
  • It demonstrates the value of modern technology for the spread of Sacred Music
  • The article does not mention any of the other people involved in this sort of work, which makes me look like a either a hero (if you don't know any better) or a publicity hog (if you do).
You probably know that about a month ago I wrote an article announcing that we have created a CMAA account at GitHub, and that I am hopeful it will become a useful tool for collaboration on larger projects (like an Open Sourced set of the Propers, or something...).

I had (and have) high hopes for this, but it's still just an idea- a first step. I have some plans, I hope some other people have some plans- but the whole thing is just an unrealized potential.

Then, last week, I got an email from Bob McMillan at Wired. Wired has something of a thing for GitHub (I know the feeling). Somehow or other, the people at GitHub (I am told) had read my article here at the cafe (they must Google themselves prodigiously) and thought it was a good explanation of how GitHub might be used in a non-software context. Also, I guess they thought it was cool. (Gregorian Chant is very cool, if you didn't know.)

So Bob gets in touch with me, asks me some questions about what we're trying to do. He thinks it's cool, but- there's really no story if there's no active project- which at that point there wasn't. Oh- and he's got a deadline.

I rush around trying to find something worthwhile to post to Github with just a few hours notice. The only thing I have access to and permission to use is a handful of Lilypond transcriptions from the Nova Organi Harmonia. Forum user "cantorconvert" (who I still haven't heard back from...) had posted these a couple weeks ago and had already given me permission to post them on GitHub.

I sent a quick email to Jeff Ostrowski, asking him to call me. I had no idea about the copyright status of the NOH, and I didn't want to make a major blunder here. His words: "You couldn't pay people to care about this stuff." Apparently back in 2008 when he and some others worked to get the set online, they tried without success to track down anyone who might have a copyright interest in it, or even anyone who might know who did. I gathered from our conversation that they found no one.

So I posted what I had, which wasn't much. I tried to explain to Bob the significance of the NOH and Gregorian Chant generally. ("Do you know anything about church music?" "Not really.") We talked about the general reception Open Source philosophy has had among the community around CMAA. We talked about the nature of text-based music engraving.

I sent him the only decent pictures I had of myself (the one he used is over six years old, and my wife thinks its ridiculous... but I like it), some links to the NOH and as much background info as I could muster together quickly.

And now there's this article over at Wired.

I'm particularly excited that we've managed to open our weird little church music echo chamber enough to get some outside attention. I really believe that the beauty and power of Sacred Music can change people's lives and be a source of grace for them.

The not-great part of this 15 nanoseconds of fame is that the article, by it's nature as a narrative profile, didn't address the fact that I just happen to be the current moment's loudest voice on the matter of Open Sourcing sacred music. I'm an evangelist, not a pioneer. People have been working on making this music ever more available and free for a good long while now- even a few who have already been using tools like GitHub.

Jeffrey Tucker has been beating this drum for awhile, and a growing number of composers, editors, and publishers have been contributing to the Open Culture movement, which itself is a continuation of the long history of social sharing at the heart of Gregorian Chant's history.

It's all very exciting, humbling, and not a little ridiculous. Ah well... back to work.