Music Minister (Part Two) To live, breathe and have one’s being in….

This is a continuation of reflections upon a reprinted article from 1972 currently in the Summer 2014 Issue  of SACRED MUSIC, authored originally by Fr. Ralph S. March S.O.Cist. I’m only remarking upon catch-phrase quotes excerpted in the current issue.

Part the third. The music minister must live, breathe, dream sacred music.

I believe that if that sentence was mounted on a large billboard outside of both the CMAA Colloquium and the NPM National Convention, you’d have absolute positive consensus were you to take a poll about it. But, as in all things, there are layers and depths of meaning and implications of how that imperative ought to be made manifest. Giving the benefit of the doubt to all regarding dreaming of sacred music, could it ever be possible for David Haas and Peter Kwasniewski, or Mary Ann Carr Wilson and Janét Sullivan Whitaker to share the same dream called “sacred music?” All of us, amateur and professional alike, must be publicly immersed in our vocation as a minister of music, but to whom or what are we held accountable for all that entails, particularly as articulated by Fr. March above?

My experience of over four decades has almost been premised by my early formation as a musician/student exposed at a very early age in the classics, big band jazz, true American folk music (Stephen Foster), some church music (in an unchurched family) and the big kahuna, rock ‘n’ roll from day one. So, by five I could (as Mr. Rogers asked) say: “That’s Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, ooh and that’s Moonlight Serenade by Glenn Miller, that’s Swanee River by Jolson, or Have some Madeira, my Dear by the Limeliters, oh, oh, oh, that’s Peggy Sue by Buddy and the Crickets, and Lucille by Chuck Berry. Well, how is that germane? Probably because it’s the quintessential American thing to do, absorb lots of cultural stuff. But by the time I finished high school and entered college, my actual pedagogical achievements enabled me to be able to play, and even more important at the time, gig with instrumental and vocal skills any type of gig thrown my way. And because of that, I landed the most important gig of my life at Oakland’s late, and by some, lamented St. Francis de Sales Cathedral. I would have added another patron, “Our Lady of the Holy Eclectics.”

Though essentially I wasn’t part of a church-going family, and only mildly a “seeker” during my high school years (uh, I was 15 in ’67, The Summer of Love in Oakland across from San Francisco) in 1970 as a college frosh music major I discovered the beautiful scaffolding (then I called it the “skeleton”) of the liturgy, the rituals, the mystery and yes, the joy that worship can provide the soul. And from then on, basically, my whole life re-oriented around loving, learning about, discovering and evolving in my faith life alive in the traditions, rites and catechisms of the Church Christ Himself founded. Now four decades later I could paraphrase our British friend Paul Inwood, “Sacred music, as well as Our Lord, is indeed the center of my life.” However, I have often come to the two paths in the woods of my musical journey, and by comparing and contrasting the exemplars of Mr. Inwood versus Mr. Salamunovich, have had to face the reality that though both roads may prove worthy, one of them is the better path.
Dr. Kwasniewski has written extensively* on the theology and aesthetics that can guide us towards the better, nee holier way that edifies our personal souls that we may best serve the faithful. But, from the composite of my association with CMAA, I think the guiding principle boils down to “When you hear this music, do you automatically associate its qualities as ‘sacred, universal and beautiful,’ in other words- music one would hear in a church at worship?”

I rarely actually dream of music. Would that I could and then, as apparently some do, write it down upon awakening. But when I first heard the Vierne Mass in Salt Lake City, was I not dreaming in the midst of its glorious expressions? Then through that, I am led to other works such as Missa Pulchritudo by Menotti (thanks to Fr. Jim Chepponis for sharing that dream.) I dream to conduct this work one day. I dream to conduct or sing the Monteverdi Vespers of St. John Baptist, I dream to…