John Tavener, requiescat in pace.

Why these bitter words of the dying, O brethren,
which they utter as they go hence?
I am parted from my brethren.
All my friends do I abandon and go hence.
But whither I go, that understand I not,
neither what shall become of me yonder;
only God who hath summoned me knoweth.
But make commemoration of me with the song:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

But whither now go the souls?
How dwell they now together there?
This mystery have I desired to learn; but none can impart aright.
Do they call to mind their own people, as we do them?
Or have they forgotten all those who mourn them and make the song:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

We go forth on the path eternal, and as condemned,
with downcast faces, present ourselves before the only God eternal.
Where then is comeliness? Where then is wealth?
Where then is the glory of this world?
There shall none of these things aid us, but only to say oft the psalm:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

If thou hast shown mercy unto man, O man,
that same mercy shall be shown thee there;
and if on an orphan thou hast shown compassion,
the same shall there deliver thee from want.
If in this life the naked thou hast clothed,
the same shall give thee shelter there, and sing the psalm:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Youth and the beauty of the body fade at the hour of death,
and the tongue then burneth fiercely, and the parched throat is inflamed.
The beauty of the eyes is quenched then, the comeliness of the face all altered,
the shapeliness of the neck destroyed; and the other parts have become numb,
nor often say: Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

With ecstasy are we inflamed if we but hear that there is light eternal yonder;
that there is Paradise, wherein every soul of Righteous Ones rejoiceth.
Let us all, also, enter into Christ, that we may cry aloud thus unto God:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

(h/t Aristotle Esguerra)

Five Ideas for Church Music Publishers

This is an exciting – and scary – time to be in publishing.

Mainstream booksellers and record labels have been feeling the crunch for some time, and even they have been slow to adapt to the reality of a world where a vast amount of alternative content is available freely and instantly. Publishers of sacred music, and choral music generally, have not yet experienced the full brunt of these global trends, but they will. That’s the scary part.

The exciting part is that the thing causing these changes – the technology and culture of the internet age – also offers unique opportunities and possibilities for reaching an audience.

Here at the Cafe, and in the relatively small world of “CMAA and friends,” we’ve seen a number of small (and not so small) publishers push the boundaries of traditional music publishing, to great success. Broadening our view to look at other publishers, we can find even more examples of innovative changes to the publishing paradigm.

For the benefit of our readers in the publishing industry, and for those of you (usually composers) who are thinking about self-publishing or joining a smaller publishing co-op, here are a handful of ideas for how to succeed in sacred music publishing.

1. Video

With almost 600 videos on YouTube and over 800 videos on Vimeo, Corpus Christi Watershed has been a real leader in this regard, posting sample videos of music, practice recordings, and behind-the-scenes coverage of the publishing process. I know some of us first discovered CCW through one of their online videos (I did).

It is not remarkably difficult to take example recordings (which many publishers are already making) and turn them into YouTube videos, and it really surprises me that more publishers (especially the established ones) aren’t doing this.

It completely transforms the relationship and the experience of buying music- musicians discover a video, have a chance to enjoy it on their own terms, and then come to the publisher to buy it. This is much more pleasant than sifting through endless stacks (or PDFs) of octavos and trying to guess whether a piece of music will be any good.

2. Instant download

One of the major concerns of music publishers is illegal copying. Regardless of your opinions about the nature of copyright (and I certainly have some), there is no doubt that for a publisher to make money, people need to pay for music one way or another.

Because of the ease of printing multiple copies of a PDF, many publishers have been wary of making their music available in a downloadable format- preferring to require choirs to purchase multiple printed copies for their singers.

But the logic here is pretty silly, because scanners and photocopiers are basically ubiquitous.

I’m of the opinion that more illegal photocopies are made to save time than ever have been made to save money. That is- I am convinced that paying a few extra dollars to obtain legal copies is NOTHING compared to the need to wait around for printed copies to arrive by mail.

Most musicians understand that paying for music supports other musicians. Giving them the ability to pay for a download (at a premium which covers the royalties for multiple copies) would give consumers of sheet music the ability to easily “do the right thing” without the hassle and inconvenience of waiting for shipping.

Also, since the marginal cost of a downloaded score is zero, the full purchase price goes back into composer royalties and publisher profits.

I should mention that OCP has been a leader in this regard among the mainstream music publishers, and has made most of their music available in this manner.

3. Creative Pricing

Related to “getting people to pay for things,” one of the more creative ideas I have encountered comes from Chris Mueller, the incredibly talented composer of the Missa pro editione tertia.

Rather than charging a few dollars and cents on individual scores and hoping no one photocopies them, he charges a single license fee to a parish who wants to use one of his compositions ($75 for tertia, $45 for other Mass settings, $10 for smaller individual works) and allows the purchaser to make as many copies as are needed.

Other pricing ideas I have run across include pay-what-you-can (essentially a donation-based system) and subscription/membership models, which require a bit more effort to maintain but have the benefit of guaranteeing steady income.

The idea here isn’t creativity for its own sake, or giving up on traditional copy-based pricing for no reason, but rather figuring out the most efficient, effective, and profitable way of getting music into the hands of people who want it.

4. Back catalog

Traditionally, one of the limitations to the number of individual pieces of music a publisher could offer was the cost of creating and storing physical copies of scores. It made no sense to publish and print a piece of music that may only be purchased one time- a large volume of purchases would be needed just to break even.

With the advent of print-on-demand publishing (which often includes drop-shipping capacity) and downloadable content, there is no reason for a publisher’s catalog to be limited in size.

Dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of scores which only get purchased rarely adds up to a large volume of total purchases. This is an idea called “The Long Tail,” and is a concept particularly responsible for the financial success of companies like Amazon, Google, and Netflix.

Established publishers tend to have huge libraries of out-of-print scores, languishing in filing cabinets or old floppy drives. Given the trend towards traditionalism in current church music, a lot of this music would be quite welcome to a small, but growing, audience.

5. Open Source

This might be the most radical of the ideas presented here, and it’s true that, to date, no publisher of sacred music has launched a serious Open Source initiative. Corpus Christi Watershed’s Chabanel Psalms project may be the closest thing I have seen, and it has been wildly successful. I’m of the opinion that going further would yeild even greater results.

(Obviously, CPDL and IMSLP – among others, have proven the viability of Open Source music as an end unto itself. But the point of this article is to discuss ideas for increasing the effectiveness of commercial publishing models.)

Now, my strong support of Open Source technology and techniques does not mean that I think publishers should abandon closed-source or proprietary music publishing. I think the world is big enough to support many different approaches to music production. But I do think that support for some strategically selected Open Source projects can benefit the music community and the sponsoring publisher.

Commercial producers of software discovered this, after initially fighting and bad-mouthing the Open Source software movement. Today, while there are still partisans of Free and Open software who balk at the motives of for-profit software companies, the Open Source and proprietary software worlds coexist quite peacefully, supporting each other. A number of major Open Source software projects are funded and sponsored by companies that produce and sell closed-source software, and a number of highly successful businesses have been spawned from the work done on Open Source projects.

For publishers of sacred music, I can imagine a number of potential Open Source projects which could be launched, coordinated, or sponsored by commercial publishers. The benefits, besides simply making the world a better place, would include excellent PR (more valuable than anything you could purchase), the development of ongoing relationships with leaders throughout the music community, and the opportunity to be a leader that sets standards and expectations for music publishing.


What innovative approaches to publishing have you seen? Do you think smaller publishers are better able to be innovative because of their agility, or larger publishers because of their resources? What do you think stops publishers from pursuing innovative changes to their business model?

Congrats! A community actively participating

After the posts last week, I’ve been musing a bit over the nature of participation- what that means in a possible Thomistic sense, and how that conception affects what we do and how we do things.

One thing I have been turning over in my head and in conversation is the idea of community participation in the liturgy in and through the (ostensibly) non-liturgical actions and work of the parochial church as an organization and also the actions and of a parish’s members, individually.

There was a time when the substance of liturgical celebration came directly from the community: the baking of bread, the vinting of wine, the pressing of oil, the cutting of stones, and the working of precious metals were all done by craftspeople and artisans whose guilds supported the local cathedral, basilica, monastery, or parish church. Even the luxury goods that had to be imported – silk from China, dye from Turkey, incense from Arabia – represented not just a monetary expense but moreover the labor and cunning of merchants and traders.

I believe that a critical part of the new liturgical movement is the discovery or invention of new ways to re-establish a liturgical participation of the parish community in this traditional sense – a sense in which the day to day business of living, the work and labor of the people, is a part of the journey upward and flowing outward within which the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Mass is truly “the source and summit of the Christian life.”

By this I do mean the simple “participation” in which everyone “gets to do something” or “is encouraged to contribute.” I don’t (just) mean an environment wherein a kind leader finds a way to use the contributions and hobbies of parishioners for some ostensible good, and liturgy is a showcase for “what people are interested in.” I mean, rather, a sacramental culture, wherein the work of the people is fundamentally ordered to and formed by the Eucharist.

Obviously, the difficulty here is that we are not, for the most part, a culture of people who make things. While I do think there could be an important role for the Church in re-orienting our society towards the inclusion and development of a strong artisinal culture, we must still – today – find ways to connect the economic life of the people with the sacramental life of the Church.

I had been thinking about all of these things in a vague philosophical way recently when, thanks to Facebook, I found a perfect living example of just this very thing. And no surprise, it came from the Cafe’s own Fr. Christopher Smith.

Fr. Smith’s parish, Prince of Peace, just recently finished paying the debt service on their building. The video below is a celebration of that milestone, a celebration placed firmly at the center of the community, honoring the work and sacrifice of the people who contributed to the parish and its building fund over the last decade.

Congratulations to Prince of Peace parish on this amazing milestone! May God bless your continuing ministry and witness.

What is this Participation?

Dr. Jerry Galipeau’s recent excursion to a Mass in the Extraordinary Form has sparked some interesting discussion and reactions. Perhaps the most interesting is his attempt to reconcile the experience of an “unreformed” Low Mass with the notion of “active (actual) participation” called for by the Second Vatican Council. There are interesting and worthwhile ideas to explore here, and I hope no one simply dismisses this out of hand with some version of “Vatican II doesn’t apply here!”

One related point I have been pondering a lot recently is- just what do we mean by participation?

I have written some of my thoughts on this matter in the past, and we all know that the ideas of participation range from the “active doing” advocated by many (so-called) progressive liturgists all the way to the “passive meditation” advocated by many (so-called) traditionalists.

But I wonder…

Both conceptions of participation – whether active or interior – seem overly focused on the individual person, and on a modern definition of “participation.” It’s as if we all agree on what “participation” means, we just have different ideas about what actions/activities rightly constitute appropriate participation in the liturgy.

But I’ve been reading Thomas Aquinas recently (this is a new experience for me). And I’m struck by how often he talks about “participation.” God is good absolutely, but we are only good inasmuch as we participate in God’s goodness. Fire is hot by nature, but something that isn’t fire only participates in heat.

I don’t have any conclusions yet- but I wonder what difference this theological conception of participation would make to our understanding of both the nature of liturgical participation and also the will of the Council in calling for participation of the faithful to be fostered.

Off hand, it seems to me that NEITHER active doing nor interior prayerfulness are “participation,” but rather are contributing causes: things we can do in order to help foster participation or to better dispose ourselves to participation.

I ask the rest of our community of readers here – particularly those with a better understanding of Aquinas than me (which I have to think would be almost anyone) – to chime in here and help develop these thoughts a bit further.

The Pope’s Liturgical Example – and our response to it

PrayTell blog has a short post covering different views about the relative importance of the the liturgical example set by the Bishop of Rome.

The (somewhat cynical) thrust of the post is stated at the end:

It appears that we have a new principle of liturgical renewal: our theology of the importance of the pope depends on whether or not we like the pope in office.

This might be a bit unfair, as the pro- and anti- quotes don’t just come from different papal periods, but come from different people. Nevertheless, I think it is likely there is some truth in it, as I have said before:

Everyone’s an ultramontanist when they like the guy.

To me, the question isn’t quite so theoretical. These issues of what people “should” do (as in- “Should people look to Papal liturgy as an example?”) are pointless: the FACT of the matter is:

  • Some people DO, and ALWAYS WILL, see Papal liturgies as an example to follow
  • Most people will continue to do whatever they like, and either ignore Papal exemplars (when they disagree) or invoke them as cover (when they are in alignment).

The more important influence seems, to me, to come from the whole operation of liturgical culture- which the Pope has a big hand in swinging one way or the other – not in the actions of individual priests and liturgists deciding to copy one aspect or another of a Papal liturgy. (Fanons, anyone?)

In that way, the influence of Benedict – who influenced liturgical culture both actively and passively – will be long with us, whether any of us like it or not. Since Francis seems somewhat less interested in liturgical matters, it strikes me that his influence is less in some particular direction, and more like a loosening that allows a return to the “natural” development and habits of liturgical culture and practice (both good and bad).

All that being said: I think the worthwhile questions are not “What should people do in reaction to Papal exemplars?” (as the prescriptive fussbudgets in every age declare), or “What should the Pope do, since he ought to know that everyone is watching?” (as so many papal pundits seem to be blathering on with), but rather:

What should I do? What should we do?

The All Night Vigil

I just ran across an amazing description of a Russian Orthodox All Night Vigil that was undertaken, in its entirety, in 1911. Apparently, the All Night Vigil is usually truncated to some extent, but this particular celebration was organized specifically as an attempt to undertake the complete liturgy.

Much of the musical detail described is opaque to me, but what I was really struck by was the passion that the organizers had for the celebration, and the effect the liturgy had on its participants. A few examples:

On the following day, the majority of those who participated in the service described themselves as almost intoxicated all throughout the all-night vigil. No one mentioned having been tired.

One student, a lover of sleep, left the church several times, undressed and lay down on his bed, but, unable to fall asleep because he knew that a few steps away such an original, unheard of service was taking place, he returned to the church.

And my favorite:

The two leaders of the service, who can recite by memory the entire second chapter of the Typicon, after the vigil service lost their minds

There’s even a short discourse on the nature of Psalm-singing that touches on themes mentioned in my recent essay on the mediant pause.

Read the full description of a “real” All Night Vigil.

The best we can do?

Which low-paying job would you prefer?

We would really love to have your talents and experience here, but we’re such a small parish and can’t afford to pay you anything close to what you’re worth. We’ve talked about it, and we can stretch to paying you $175 a week- and of course weddings and funerals and Holy Days would all be extra on top of that- if you’re available of course. We know it isn’t much- but we promise to support your vision for this ministry, and to try not to create too many hassles for you. We’re hoping, since you have a day job already, that you’ll be able to take this on and make it work for you and your family.


The comittee talked about it, and you play the organ pretty well, so we want to hire you for the job. Since you only really have to work on Sunday, we’re sure that $200 a week is a very generous offer- especially since you already have a full time job and, anyway, you can earn extra money at weddings and funerals.

And for those of you out there (who probably don’t read Chant Cafe anyway) who still think that liturgical praxis isn’t a big deal as long as we’re all (you know) nice to each other and everything (or – to describe that position more charitably – think that ritualism isn’t important and that only “relationship” matters):

Have you ever thought about the connection between how we approach liturgy and how we treat each other in our relationships?

Compare the “least we can get away with” to the “most we can manage” intentionality in liturgy. A tin cup chalice and a tiny scrap of bread can become a beautiful sacrifice of praise in a prison or concentration camp. In an average American parish, the same would be downright insulting.

And we learn from our experience in liturgy, I believe, how to exist in the world. We also learn, even more clearly, how to relate to God.

I don’t know whether this minimalist liturgical legalism is primarily a product of rationalist modernism, or primarily a contributor to it, but it seems to have been going on for quite some time and finds its logical conclusion in a particularly cold version of Protestant fundamentalist puritanism that asks only, “what must a person do to be saved?” and never “what is my response to that salvation.” But it isn’t a “Protestant” phenomenon- it’s a human one, and the difference between “what’s the bare minimum needed for a sacrament to be effective?” and “what’s the bare minimum needed to escape eternal damnation?” and “what’s the bare minimum needed to retain an employee and get them to do what I want?” is a matter of context, not of essence. They are all completely inappropriate questions, and they reveal a completely perverted understanding of our relationship to God and to each other.

Or, as a friend of mine put it:

Rhapsodic Theatre

I’ve been pondering writing an essay or series on the linkages between theatre and liturgy, looking particularly at Peter Brook’s conceptions of “Deadly Theatre” and how that relates to what I consider an analogous “Deadly Liturgy.” As of yet, I have not had time to properly organize my thoughts on the matter, or go back re-read Brook’s early theoretical writing, which had a profound influence on my own theatrical work (back when I did that sort of thing) and my later liturgical philosophy.

(I’m all too aware, of course, that even mentioning a link between theatre and liturgy sets off all sorts of bizarre and shallow mental associations in most people. This has to do in equal parts with serious misconceptions about the nature of theatre and with the hi-jacking of liturgy that has perverted its theatricality towards either entertainment or agit-prop, neither of which has anything to do with what I’d like to say on the matter. I only mention this because I would prefer not to get jumped all over by conventionally-liberal commenters who think I agree with them or conventionally-traditionalist commenters who think I do not.)

Anywho…

I say all that as prelude to an interesting story from the Institute for Theology, Imagination, and the Arts at the University of St. Andrews.

A post on their Innovations Blog is the first in a three-part series looking at two Polish theatre companies from the 20th Century- The Laboratory Theatre of Grotowski (a philosophical forerunner of my own hero, Peter Brook) and The Rhapsodic Theatre, a word-oriented company founded by (among others) Karol Wojtyła. Yes, that Karol Wojtyła- the future Pope John Paul II.

I’m not sure where the series is going, or if the essayists conclusions will be sensible or not (fair warning), but it certainly makes interesting reading so far.

In 1941, 21-year-old Karol Wojtyła (later known as Pope John Paul II) joined director Mieczysław Kotlarczyk and a group of other young actors in the foundation of the Rhapsodic Theatre, an underground theatre company which engaged in ‘cultural resistance’ against the Nazis.

This company, also known by its theoretical stance as the ‘Theatre of the Word’, was committed to a theatrical style that emphasized the text, spoken aloud with dignity and clarity, and contained a minimum of stage movement or spectacle. This emphasis on the text rather than visuals was partly a product of the Rhapsodic’s underground existence – if their productions, held in private homes, had been discovered, all the participants could have been executed on the spot. However, the Rhapsodists continued their emphasis on the spoken word even when they became a professional theatre in Kraków after the war. For the Rhapsodists, the word was preeminent, because the Word was the beginning and end of human existence.

Read the full post here.