Friday, September 25, 2015

Busy busy B's: from Beauty to Bartolucci to Brutal to Buffo

What can be said about our vocations? What needs saying? What should or shouldn't be said out loud in the public square?
I've been a conductor since the age of 18. Forty two years later I haven't changed my choral philosophy after decades of real study of both the physiology and the craft of beautiful singing, as well as how to acquire, prepare, perform and expand the repertoire base of what sacred choral music serves. When I first returned to the Central Valley in '87 as DMM of the Fresno Cathedral I had the opportunity to sit front row at a concert by Capella Sixtini under then Msgr. Bartolucci in my hometown. My rector, my wife and I winced at the excruciating (think about that word, think Lotti's magnificent "Crucifixus for 8v) bellowing of the men, the little boys strained and squealing tone like little fledgling birds screaming at momma bird for a piece of the worm, and lastly the wild gesticulation of the conductor, the ferocity and tension of his body magnified a hundred-fold on his face.
Our beloved Pope Emeritus obligingly provided Bartolucci not only the honor of finishing his pilgrimage as a Prince of the Church, but also a renewed platform to express his views about his disdain for effeminate (his words) interpretation of sacred choral works, and that if the choral world was his, all choirs would sound like opera choruses, in other words: muscular and manly. Singing in the Tudor style, or the Christiansen/Noble Lutheran manner, the Swedish style of Erickson, or any other refined and tested pedagogy was an insult and ignoble to properly rendering to God this most perfect art by which we worship.
But back in '87 I knew I was completely out of step with the other 99% of that concert's audience. They had just listened to two hours (Palestrina Song of Songs) of a Bugs Bunny parody (Bugs as "Leopold" torturing the tenor soloist into exploding) and then rose to their feet cheering, whistling and hollering. All of that dissonance came back to haunt me again yesterday at the nominal Vespers Service at St. Patrick's Cathedral. Why does everyone, from Raymond Arroyo to pastors to PIPs in the pews actually love the amplified (in so many different ways) bel canto, volume knob at 11, pushed pedal to the metal brutality of an opera chorus in the quire gallery, and mean it when they swoon "It was so beautiful, ahhhh."? Is it a knee-jerk reaction to the reality that most of them go to their home parishes and they have to endure a thin-voiced little ingénue singing a Sarah Hart or Maher tune accompanied by whatever instrument(s) are handy? So, when they hear this ROMAN CATHOLIC MUSCULAR PROWESS ENSEMBLE in this magnificent Manhattan sonic venue, the only reaction can be "Wow. Was that good for you too? Wow!"

I fear for my soul, literally, feeling that something is dreadfully wrong. And, as said earlier, this odd differentiation of mine predates my involvement with CMAA by three decades. It's nice to know via forum and FB, that there are many other Catholic choirmasters in my lonely little boat who share my frustration and concern.

Our dear Richard Rice put it nicely on FB responding to Jeffrey Morse's eloquent initial critique by simply saying that faced with a papal Mass, music directors tend to get all wonky and discombobulated, and thus throw convention into the window, caution to the wind and everything else into the kitchen sink of planning the ordo. (Can't help but think of Richard Dreyfus in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" throwing garden soil, plants, trees, wood and metal garden fencing through his kitchen window into the sink in order to build his vision, his Devil's Mountain.)

I suppose this last question will never receive a proper answer: Who is the buffo in all of this?