Tradition and Ideals

I recently wrote a rambling and somewhat poorly structured essay exploring some thoughts I have been having regarding “ideal” liturgy and the nature of liturgical tradition. I wanted to get the ideas out, since the ideas are more important than literary quality, but I won’t have time in the next few days to really give it a good once-over for editing and coherence. So, I’m not publishing it here, but rather posting it at my own blog.

The basic idea is this: There is no such thing as ideal liturgical praxis, only a lived tradition. This means that rather then theorizing about what is the essential aspect of the ideal (the Proper texts, the original melodies, the Latin language), we rather must live with and live into the received tradition (Gregorian Chant, the Graduale Propers, Sacred Polyphony, etc) before we can even begin to think about what new treasures should find a place in the storehouse.

To speak of an ideal form of the Mass suggests that either there is some original source for the Mass music which we need recover, or that there is some etherworldly quintessential Mass which we must strive (failingly) to emulate, or that the celebration of Liturgy developed to its intended apex at some time in the past and the job of all liturgists since that time should have been the preservation of that climactic style. None of these is acceptable, though that last one seems pretty common among various branches of tradderrie.

The first-source of the Mass, the “ideal” which all celebrations of the Divine Liturgy point to, is the sacrifice of Calvary- a decidedly unmusical event.

Read “Tradition and Ideals” at my (other) blog…
(And if you do read it, feel free to offer any suggestions on tightening up a bit.)

THURSDAY WITHIN THE OCTAVE OF BLACK FRIDAY- Sympathy for Victims of Poorly-Publicized Hate Crimes

Thursday within the Octave of Black Friday is traditionally a day to stand (or sit, even) in solidarity with victims of hate crimes (and “strongly dislike crimes”) who belong to groups not recognized by any particular color of ribbon or car magnet. This includes those who have suffered for their movie preferences, Jenga skill, or inability to tell the difference between dark navy blue and black.

It also, sadly, includes victims of anti-organist crime.

Over the summer, Phoenix area church musician Ryan Dingess was the victim of this all-too-common form of musical discrimination. His laptop was stolen. Most likely by someone who hates organs. Or at least strongly dislikes them.

Since Mr. Dingess is a Catholic musician, he is unable to afford a replacement computer.

This would be a sad enough tale if it happened to any Catholic musician, but Ryan Dingess is not just any Catholic musicians. He is the selfless composer of accompaniments for the Simple English Propers.

Like many Catholic musicians, Ryan’s wages are barely above the level of subsistence wretchedness, and yet he has refused to restrict access to his SEP Accompaniments, an act of principle which is costing him the opportunity to become a wealthy commercial success and further inhibiting his ability to afford a replacement laptop.

In this festive season of the year, it seems appropriate that we should all dig deep into our couch cushions and help out a fellow musician. Do it quickly, before they pick a colored ribbon and your ability to make an actual impact disappears forever.

CLICK HERE TO HELP RYAN PURCHASE A NEW LAPTOP

Feria Three in the Octave of Black Friday – A Tradition of Thankfulness

As we continue our Chant Cafe observance of the Octave of Black Friday, some of our history-minded readers may be interested to know that Black Friday is actually based on an older holiday tradition.

Much like the ascent of Christmas over the older pagan rites of Saturnalia and the Winter Solstice, Black Friday’s origins lie in a once-popular holiday commonly called “The Thanksgiving.”

Now celebrated only by the most devout “Old Believers,” The Thanksgiving, or Blackfridayseve was a festive time of family gathering centered around a large meal of roasted fowl and carbohydrates (see speculative recreation in image below). The primary purpose of The Thanksgiving Day, according to popular accounts, was to memorialize the culture’s mythical ancestors and to meditate on those things which we are thankful for today.

In all the preparation for the modern celebration of Black Friday, we at the Cafe neglected to mention this more ancient celebration, even though it is a part of our mission here to preserve and promote knowledge and learning about older and more traditional liturgical forms. THANKFULLY, observance of the full Octave of Black Friday gives us time, once the main holiday is over, to go back and visit some of the traditions and practices associated with Blackfridayseve.

To that end (and I realize this a highly adapted use of the traditional form), I’d like to recommend that we all take a minute (or less, you know, if a minute is too long) to think about those things we are thankful for.

Here at the Cafe, and in the CMAA community, I’m incredibly thankful for the amazing work being done by so many dedicated servants. We have composers writing traditionally-styled Sacred Music to fit the needs of today’s parish reality. We have entrepreneurs starting publishing ventures to bring Sacred Music to a wider audience. We have people giving their time and expertise to offer advice about running a music ministry. We have people donating money to help important projects take off. We have people scanning and transcribing hard to find and out of print books. We have copyright holders releasing their creations for free use and adaptation. We have philosophers and theologians (and jesters like me) writing astonishing essays on liturgical and musical theory. We have informal curators finding amazing but little known works at CPDL and on YouTube and bringing them to our attention.

I haven’t even tried to mention the names of all the people, but even that list of broad categories is surely incomplete. If you aren’t constantly amazed at what goes on around this tiny little corner of the internet, then you clearly are not paying enough attention. (Or you need to be visited by the three spirits of Blackfridayseve.)

On a personal note, aside form all the amazing and inspiring work being done, I’d like to say how thankful I am for the people I have met and the friends I have made through my (entirely online) activity with CMAA.

Thank you all for the wonderful work you are doing. Have a blessed Black Friday season.

Christmas Gift Ideas for Church Musicians and Liturgy Geeks

Continuing with the Cafe’s observance of the Octave of Black Friday, I thought some of you might appreciate a bit of Sacred Music consumerism.

(If you are tired of all the consumerism, you can go here to spend money on a good cause instead.)

According to all the online shopping sites, “Cyber Monday” goes on all week, but in the spirit of “Giving Tuesday,” I’ve written the rest of this post as if it’s about things you might want to buy as gifts for other people. (So you can pretend that brand new Renaissance Polyphony CD is totally not for yourself.)

Gifts for the Church Musician who Hates Christmas Music

Carol Curmudgeon Level: Grinch

For your friend who complains about all that noise noise noise noise noise constantly blaring out of every commercial establishment from October 15th until noon on December 25th, this CD of traditional (and traditionally performed) Christmas music from the British Isles is sure to make the heart of anyone who listens to it grow three sizes.

Carol Curmudgeon Level: Scrooge

Let the musical Spirit of Christmas Past visit the Ebenezer in your life with this (amazing!) CD of Medieval Christmas Carols and Motets performed by Anonymous 4.

Carol Curmudgeon Level: Grumpy Cat

We all know, deep down, that Grumpy Cat is probably an Anglican Use Catholic. That’s why the Grumpy Catholics in your life need Christmas music from the richest period of the English Catholic Music. Of course, I mean the Tudor era, and composers like Tallis, Byrd, and (extra ‘r’ for ‘renaissance’) Taverner. This CD of Tudor Christmas music from Stile Antico is sure to make even Grumpy Cat smile (but only on the inside).

and speaking of…

Gifts for Anglican Use Catholics (and related subcultures)

Anglophile Level: “Read a book by Chesterton once”

Another one from Stile Antico, but not specifically Christmas music (because you need to listen to polyphony at other times of the year), this CD of the music of Tallis and Byrd is just heavenly.

Anglophile Level: “Catholics could learn a lot from the Anglican approach to translation”

Know a Roman Catholic who is constantly comparing Cranmer to ICEL in a way that totally ignores the fact that he was a damned heretic? Your friend probably already has this book, but if not, gift them the complete texts of the first three editions of the Book of Common Prayer. (This one is on MY wishlist this year. You can email me for a valid shipping address if you’re feeling generous.)

Gifts for the Church Music Geek

Geek Level: “Almost went to the colloquium. Almost.”

CMAA President, and Guido of Arezzo’s left-hand man, Dr. William Marht is the most amazingly informative human being in the world, and is one of the main attractions at CMAA events. For anyone who pines over a lack of Colloquium, his master work The Musical Shape of the Liturgy is a must read.

Geek Level: “I always wear bowties while conducting my schola.”

I can not say enough good things about The Christian West and Its Singers, the gigantic and exhilerating history of liturgical music through the first millenium. Anyone who is serious about the musical heritage of the Roman Rite needs to read, and own, this book.

Geek Level: Basically if Rainman went to Rome instead of Vegas

If I could pinpoint one single book that has changed by thinking about the nature of liturgy more than any other, it would have to be After Writing: On the Liturgical Consumation of Philosophy. Catherine Pickstock’s extraordinary treatise on the role of liturgy in society, told through an intensely close reading of the Tridentine Rite, is a mind-changing (and life-changing) book. Be warned: it’s a tough read. But worth the struggle.

Gifts for the Budding Composer

Composer Skill Level: Ben Yanke

The youngest rock star of the Traddie music scene is NLM intern Ben Yanke. While he is definitely getting a handle on the whole monophonic chant thing (and word is, he just got Organ Shoes), I’ve seen his attempts at part-writing. Not pretty, folks. The Ben Yankes of the world need a good solid dose of old-time pedagogy, in the form of Fux’s Gradus ad Parnassum, the most well-known and widely used manual of species counterpoint. The Dover edition, translated by Alfred Mann, is your best bet if you don’t read Renaissance Latin.

Composer Skill Level: Adam Wood

Sad to say, I am the compositional equivalent of a 98-pound weakling. That’s why, this year (just like I said last year), I’m planning to finally finish up the species counterpoint exercies and move on to a more in-depth study of counterpoint and fugal techniques, using the rest of Fux’s Gradus ad Parnassum (and related classic theory writings) in Alfred Mann’s The Study of Fugue, also from Dover.

Music for that Special Someone who also happens to be way into Church

Relationship status: Friendzone

That cute pious girl in your mixed-voice schola may think of you as more of a brother than a romantic partner, but the Old Testament is full of that sort of thing, if you know what I mean. Let your “friend who happens to be a girl” know that you think her neck is as stately as a giraffe’s with this CD of polyphonic settings of texts from the Song of Songs, the hottest book of the Bible.

Relationship status: Pretty serious… I think?

If your liturgigeek love interest hasn’t gotten the hint that you reeeeeeally think he’s not being called to the priesthood, up the ante a little with some liturgical source material. If he already has a Roman Missal on his shelf, he’ll definitely appreciate a copy of The Rites of the Catholic Church, with a well-placed bookmark round about page 715.

Giving Tuesday!

According to the recently promulgated Consumer Sanctoral Calendar, today is Feria 2 in the Octave of Black Friday, also known as “Giving Tuesday.” Feria 1, of course, is Cyber Monday and (I am told) the online shopping deals continue through the whole week (and you can bet that the Chant Cafe will be telling you all about them).

The idea behind Giving Tuesday is that (after all the consumerism), you can go online and spend money on various charities and good causes.

Along with the usual large scale organizations that need your support, I’d like to draw attention to a small-scale project that really could use your help, and (when completed) will make a fantastic impact on the English speaking liturgy.

Chant Cafe featured this cause yesterday, but the smallish response (six donors, so far) tells me that you (you, personally, I mean) probably missed it among all the Cyber Monday shopping madness.

Musica Sacra Forum member Ryan Dingess has been composing (for free) organ accompaniments for the Simple English Propers. He has posted these online at the forum (for free) just because he thought they would be useful.

Unfortunately, Ryan’s laptop was STOLEN this past summer, so he has been unable to finish engraving the accompaniments. They are all composed (longhand, on paper), and he just needs a little help to get the equipment he needs to finish producing this project.

The goal is a tiny amount: $1000. I think this community can do better than that, don’t you? This site gets between 2000 and 3000 visitors everyday. Surely almost all of us can chip in a buck or two. Let’s get him his laptop and then some.

I hear liturgical traditionalist constantly bemoaning the loss of the patronage and commission system. Here is YOUR CHANCE to do something about that. Your donation will:

  1. Support a composer and church musician on an amazing project.
  2. Show the world that an old-fashioned community-oriented patronage project can work.

GO HERE AND PLEDGE RIGHT NOW.

A New(ish) Ave Maria

Musica Sacra Forum member and Australian composer David Basden has posted a setting of the Ave Maria composed by him in 2010. It is short, text-focused, and absolutely beautiful. Oh, and free to copy for Church use. And did I mention there’s a recording, too? (What wonderful times we live in!)

If you are still trying to figure out an Offertory or choral meditation for the Immaculate Conception or the Fourth Sunday of Advent… well, first of all shame on you for not planning further ahead. But second of all… try this little gem at rehearsal this week. I think most choirs would be able to pull it together in one evening and it will sound like you worked all season on it.

Ave Maria by David Basden – PDF score
Ave Maria by David Basden – Recording by Matthew Curtis on Sound Cloud

Two Funeral Hymns based on Liturgical Texts

Before November wraps up, I thought I’d post two hymn texts I have written for funerals.


I Am the Resurrection

This is a metrical paraphrase (with interpolation) on the “Entrance Anthem” from the 1978 U.S. Book of Common Prayer (which is really just three short passages of relevant scripture).

There is (to my knowledge) no official music for this text in the BCP, and (even though there is clearly an instruction that “A hymn, psalm, or some other suitable anthem may be sung instead,”) I have provided music and/or been present at a number of Episcopal funerals where the entrance text was SPOKEN during a procession. This gives the service a wildly unbalanced feeling, in my opinion.

So, I wrote the text below, set to THAXTED (the fantabulous hymn tune by Holst).

I hope it will be useful to some of you.

I AM THE RESURRECTION

“I am the Resurrection,” he said, “the Life am I.”
And who in Him have kept faith, not one of them shall die.
For all who trust our Savior, who call upon the Lord,
all they who live for Jesus shall find a sure reward.
O God, in joy and sorrow, we sing our thanks and praise,
to You, the source and ending, the glory of our days.

I know my saving God lives, the Lord of my new birth,
I know that at on the last day He’ll stand upon the Earth.
And I shall be awakened and from the grave arise,
and I shall see my savior, my friend, with my own eyes.
O God, in joy and sorrow, we sing our thanks and praise,
to You, the source and ending, the glory of our days.

For none of us are living who have our life alone,
and from our birth to dying our lives are not our own.
For if we truly have life we are living in the Lord,
and if we die in Jesus, we find our sure reward.
O God, in joy and sorrow, we sing our thanks and praise,
to you, the source and ending, the glory of our days.

ADAM WOOD
CC: BY-SA

Meter: 13 13 13 (or 76 76 76)
Suggested Tune: THAXTED


Eternal Rest

This text is a LM adaptation of the (Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite) Requiem Propers. Obviously, in an ideal situation, there would be no call for smashing them altogether into on hymn text. But funeral liturgies today are so often less than ideal. I thought, for those who could use it, it would be helpful to have a way to introduce at least some musical setting of the ideas and prayers which are proper to the music of the Requiem Mass.

For the sake of the circumstances wherein I imagine this sort of thing would be needed, I have also included in the text just a tiny bit of sentimentality. If you’re such a purist that this bothers you, you should be using the real chants anyway.

I have used this text in the past with CONDITOR ALME SIDERUM, for the sole reason that it is a well-known LM chant hymn. However, that tune is really proper to Advent. There are hundreds (thousands?!) of Long-Meter hymn tunes in every conceivable style. Pick one you like. (Or scroll down the page for another option.)

ETERNAL REST

Eternal Rest grant her, we pray
and shine the light of endless day.
Appoint for her a place with those
who in You died, and in You rose.

Lord Jesus Christ, our Glorious King
protect her soul from suffering.
Deliver her from darkness deep,
and give the angels guard to keep.

Receive our prayer and offering,
the tears we shed, the songs we sing.
Accept our sacrifice today
to aide the soul for whom we pray.

With her, and with us, Lord be near.
To You we cry, bend down your ear:
For in Your mercy there is light,
You make the darkness ever bright.

Praise be to God, The Glorious King
The Father, whom the angels sing.
Praise be to Christ, His only Son.
Praise to the Spirit, with Them One.

ADAM WOOD
CC: BY-SA

Charles Giffen was kind enough to publish a setting of this text to the tune EISENACH, with an original harmonization.

James MacMillan decides to “stop writing congregational music for the Catholic Church”

I have decided to stop writing congregational music for the Catholic Church. Those who follow these things will be aware that liturgical music can be a war zone in Catholicism. We need not detain ourselves over the reasons and fault-lines in the ongoing debates and struggles, but it is clear to me that there is too much music being created, at the same time as the vast repository of tradition is ignored and wilfully forgotten.

He also praises the Simple English Propers.

The Americans seem to be ahead of the game and are producing new publications which enable the singing, in the vernacular, of those neglected Proper texts for Introits, Offertories and Communion…In taking the shape and sound of Catholic chant, they are creating an authentic traditional repertoire for the new liturgical directions in the Church. They are making simple, singable, functional music to suit the nature of ecclesial ritual for a Church which went through various convulsions after the Second Vatican Council.

It’s an amazing article.

The Old Churchyard

The entire month of November is a time to remember the faithful departed, and (as ever) their ranks continue to grow- a cause of sadness for us, and surely a cause of great joy for them.

Amid all the good, proper sacred music being posted here and on Facebook and elsewhere as tributes, I thought I would post one of my favorite songs about death – a very unliturgical, but intensely haunting English folk hymn. I find the music stirs my soul, and the lyrics resonate with truth.

The Old Churchyard

Come, come with me out to the old churchyard,
I so well know those paths ‘neath the soft green sward.
Friends slumber in there that we want to regard;
We will trace out their names in the old churchyard.

Mourn not for them, their trials are o’er,
And why weep for those who will weep no more?
For sweet is their sleep, though cold and hard
Their pillows may be in the old churchyard.

I know that it’s vain when our friends depart
To breathe kind words to a broken heart;
And I know that the joy of life is marred
When we follow lost friends to the old churchyard.

But were I at rest ‘neath yonder tree,
Oh, why would you weep, my friends, for me?
I’m so weary, so wayworn, why would you retard
The peace I seek in the old churchyard?

Why weep for me, for I’m anxious to go
To that haven of rest where no tears ever flow;
And I fear not to enter that dark lonely tomb
Where our saviour has lain and conquered the gloom.

I rest in the hope that one bright day
Sunshine will burst to these prisons of clay,
And old Gabriel’s trumpet and voice of the Lord
Will wake up the dead in the old churchyard.