Why does Gregorian chant sound spooky?

Gregorian chant belongs at Mass…precisely because it sounds other-worldly! It’s a far cry from Mozart or Brahms, Bob Dylan, or even the Rolling Stones. Why is that?

Join me tomorrow night and begin to discover the simple theory behind its mysterious sound. Learn to identify the hallmarks of the major and minor modes in these online classes.   Each class begins with a short review on reading basic Gregorian notation and is followed up by hands on experience with simple chants. A very small investment of time will open up a new world to you!

Sight, Sound, and Music in Hand

Noel Jones, of Frog Music Press, has discovered over the years that blind musicians are not just people who have no vision, but sometimes are sighted and see with varying degrees of difficulty.  Here is his interview with Catholic music director, Teresa Haifley:
Could you give us an idea of how to understand this?
 There are several different things that can be wrong with the eyes which means there are varying degrees of vision.  One person might have central vision but no peripheral and can read with magnification, while another has no central vision so is unable to read or recognize people.  Normal vision is 20/20 while legally blind” is 20/200 and someone with very low vision might have 20/500 or less.  Then there is total blindness which means a person may be able to see light or may not.  When I was a very small child I had 20/200, could read large print  and could walk unguided but sometimes didn’t see an object in front of me.  By the time I went to college I had 20/400, could read some with strong magnification, recognized faces closer up, used  braille for most things, and used a seeing Eye dog or long white cane to travel.  When my children were small I could see objects in contrast to their background but no detail.  Now I have only light perception on a good day.
How do you, yourself, read emails and pages on the internet?
I  have a software program on my computer, a screen reader, which reads everything on the screen .  I use a regular keyboard and control it with keystrokes.  The screen reader gives me access  to all my software
What makes it hard for a Catholic singer or organist to participate in a church music program?
There is a total lack of braille sacred music available.  Individuals have to either braille the music and/or words themselves as someone dictates it or try to get it all by ear, which isn’t a good thing.  I have had to resort to that on occasion and it makes it bad when the person next to you keeps singing a wrong note and you have no way of knowing for sure what the right note is.  I much prefer having the music in hand so I can read all the details for myself; dynamics, rests, etc.
You teach piano and play the organ.  What kind of special training was available to you to do this when you were growing up?
I learned to read braille  music when I  started piano lessons in 2nd grade.  That was the only “special” training I had.  I then learned the saxophone and played in the band; later adding flute, marimba, multiple percussion and organ.  In 4th grade one of the teachers stayed after school to teach me the folk guitar.
Has teaching Braille music changed since then?
Not really, but now I have the capability of teaching braille music classes via the internet.   
How is Braille choral  and organ music written out?    Can you explain in simple terms, how it is written in Braille? 
Print music is written vertically on a staff.  In braille, there is no staff and it is written horizontally.  For instance, in keyboard music the octave sign is given, followed by the note, followed by the interval(s) for the right hand with the left hand written on the line below it and the pedal below that.  All other information is included, like accents, accidentals, dynamics, etc.  For voice the words are on one line with the notes on the line below, though not lined up with the words as in print.
What kind of device prints the music?   
A  braille embosser embosses the music from a file in much the same way a printer would print the file.
In singing polyphonic music, are the vocal parts in Braille all together like printed music, or does each part have its own page? 
 Each part is generally on it’s own page for polyphonic music.  For simple 4-part harmony as in hymns, it works well to write the words on one line with the 4 SATB lines beneath them.  When I direct something polyphonic I have a system that works for me so that I can quickly find a voice if I hear a wrong note or weak spot.  Of course, I have to memorize all parts since I can’t read and direct with my hands at the same time.
How does a director tell a singer using a Braille score where they are when stopping and starting on a chant or choral piece?
 Rehearsal markers, measure numbers and print pages are included in the braille score. 
How can the sighted community help involve blind musicians in Catholic music programs?
 By directing them to our Catholic Braille Music email list.  We are there to share music files and to assist each other in obtaining music.  My dream is to make braille sacred music available to all who need it.  I have struggled for years to get my music in braille and I want to make it possible for blind singers, directors and organists to serve the Mass without the struggle.  We have the ICEL Chant Mass in braille, Richard Rice’s Simple Choral Gradual and a few other pieces available so far.  We are starting a project to put together a braille hymnal which includes all the voice parts and accompaniments.  The only braille hymnal which includes everything that I have ever been able to find is the St. Gregory Hymnal, copyright 1922.  There is a partial hymnal with words and melody line and two that only have words, and that’s all.  


We Pursue Chant Because…

Because of its inherent worth in the liturgy.  Because we seek solemnity and genuine worship.  Because it is robust and fragile, difficult and effortless at the same time.  Because it consumes us.  Because it is the right thing to do.

Waiting on my flight out of Dallas after a two-day workshop at Mater Dei Catholic Church, one of the first, if not the first, FSSP Communities in the US, and now a parish in its own right in Irving, TX.  The crowd was eager and wonderful.  Everyone sang and learned, and sang more.  The crowd included curious beginners, members of the parish choir and schola, more children than you can imagine, and people who drove hours across the Lone Star State to be there. It was tiring, but glorious. I’d love to be present in the morning to hear the first evidence of the fruits of the workshop.   And I’m wishing this wonderful parish all the musical best for the future.

I’ll be back home by midnight if all goes well.  And back at my own parish in Auburn, AL before 7:00am for the first Mass of the day.  Here’s the front and back of the program from which we’ll be singing tomorrow…ordinary form; only myself and another singer.  But it will be wonderful to be home.  The beat goes on.

Mass with a Menu

Though we put together a Mass program every week, I’ve often wondered about its value.  The Gregorian notation is beautiful to look at, and it gives Mass goers the information (including translations) that our pastor feels the congregations needs. Is anyone really looking at it?  Also, when it comes to polyphony, it bothers to me to include the names of composers, their dates, and any other information about the pending “performance.”  I’ve always thought that this distracts from what the Mass is all about.  Seems I’m not alone.

I’ve been going through past issues of Sacred Music, and have come upon this piece from 1992, by Karoly Kope. On the “worship aid” that many Catholic parishes are in the habit of printing:

“Here we go again, aping Protestant ways!” Imitating something good is commendable and should not disturb me. But I felt that what was being imitated here was not a good practice at all. It was a practice adopted by those who have no Mass and who made the most of what was left of their service: a reading of scriptures and a sermon, encased in a musical setting. Remove all music from Protestant services, and there is not enough left for a true religious ceremony. That being the case, it is understandable why Protestants have always taken their church music more seriously than Catholics (the Mass remains intact even without a single note of music), and it explains, at least to me, why the Protestant congregation, rather than following a missal, follows a bulletin “program” with all that information about the music performed and the performers.”

Kope continues…

“To a Catholic like myself this in not only very foreign but also very disturbing. As a churchgoer I want to be absorbed in prayer and lost in the proceedings of the Mass. I don’t care to be told what the next “anthem” will be or who will play what on the organ. In fact, I prefer not to know. When something particularly beautiful strikes me and I want to know what it was, I simply ask and find out—after Mass.”

 Have we reached a point in time where printing a program is necessary, however?  Is the notion of “ritual” so foreign to worship that no one knows what is means any more?

Things can convey spiritual realities

I have asked Rev. Robert Pasley, CMAA Chaplain, to give a bit of an explanation of something we will be seeing at this year’s Sacred Music Colloquium, June 17-23 in Salt Lake City:  the catafalque at the Requiem Mass.

Each year at the Colloquium, we offer a Requiem Mass for the deceased members of the CMAA. Since the Motu Proprio, “Summorum Pontificum” in 2007, we have had the option of offering the Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Liturgy as well. This year we will celebrate a Solemn Requiem Mass with Absolution at the Catafalque. This practice was prescribed for All Souls Day as well as any Solemn Mass for the dead where the body was not present. This practice could be somewhat unsettling if one is not used to it, or doesn’t understand it.

Our faith, heavily permeated by the theology of the Incarnation, uses things to convey spiritual realities. The highest realities, of Divine institution, are the Sacraments. The greatest sacrament is of course the Holy Eucharist, where the elements of bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of our Lord. Sacramentals, or blessed objects, are used to dispose us to the many graces that come from God. Finally, symbols, art, music and architecture lift the mind and the heart to God. 
The catafalque is either an empty casket or a wooden form made to look like a casket that is covered by the black pall and surrounded by six unbleached (orange) candles (when they are available); it is a symbolic representation of the deceased. When it is present, the priest sings the absolution for the deceased as if the body was present. The body was the Temple of the Holy Spirit and must be shown the greatest respect, even symbolically.  
The use of the catafalque also calls to mind the stark reality of death and judgment, but in contrast, the hope of God’s mercy and redemption. We offer the absolution for the dead and we pray that we will be prepared for death. We realistically and vividly face the reality of death and just as realistically and vividly we profess our belief in the Resurrection. Our faith is strongeven stronger―by meditating upon the death we know will come to all of us.


Job Opportunity in Indianapolis

Director of Music – St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church
Downtown Indianapolis, Indiana

Position Purpose: The purpose of this position is to lead worship and devotion music for the parish and various other needs of visitors and friends of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church. St. John’s is the oldest Catholic Church in the city and is currently celebrating its 175th anniversary. It is a growing parish with 45% of its congregation under the age of 30. The young adult movement in the heart of the city, combined with an outstanding traditional parishioner base, makes it a wonderful place to minister and serve. Check out the active parish life at http://www.stjohnsindy.org

Major Responsibilities: The Director of Music for St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church will lead all liturgical and devotional music for the parish and various special events of the highly visited downtown parish. Specific responsibilities include:
+ Preparing, accompanying (organ and piano)and leading music for all Solemnity Masses including Weekend Masses, Holy Days and various special Masses hosted throughout the year.
+ Preparing, accompanying (organ and piano)and leading music for special devotional prayer including weekly Adoration, Stations of the Cross, Divine Mercy Sunday, Processions, and special devotional worship during Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter.
+ Recruiting, growing, teaching and leading volunteer Traditional Choir and Young Adult/College Choir.
+ Recruiting, growing, teaching and leading volunteer cantors for all Masses, special liturgies and devotions.
+ Preparing and leading music for all parishioner weddings and funerals.
+ Coordinate music for various special liturgies hosted by St. John’s including but not limited to: St. John Girls Academy Annual Mass, Serra Club Mass for Vocations (September), Archdiocesan Race for Vocations Mass (First Weekend of May), Red Mass (October), Ancient Order of Hibernians (Sunday before St. Patrick’s Day), Equestrian Order of the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, and any other Archdiocesan, Ecumenical or Church related liturgies hosted by St. John’s
+Verify the maintenance and upkeep of the 50-stop Goulding & Wood Pipe Organ and Baldwin Piano.
+ Program and maintain the control unit for tower bells and carillon.
+ Attending Ministry Team meetings and retreats as requested by the Pastor.
+ Serve as a liaison and resource to the Worship and Devotion Parish Commission.
+ Working collaboratively with the Pastor to prepare excellent worship and devotional music for requested events.

Qualifications: St. John the Evangelist is seeking a highly motivated and faith filled member of the Roman Catholic Church to serve as Director of Music. Additional qualifications include:
+ Knowledge and love of the Catholic Church and Committed to all Church teachings
+ Minimum of a Bachelor’s Degree
+ Excellent Musical Skills
+ Excellent Leadership and Organizational Skills
+ Knowledge of Universal Church Liturgical Documents and GIRM
+ Ability to lead choirs in a variety of Traditional and Contemporary Sacred Music
+ Experience in accompanying, singing and conducting
+ Team Oriented and Visionary

Submit letter of application and resumes to:
St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church
c/o Father Rick Nagel
126 West Georgia Street
Indianapolis, Indiana 46225

For questions or more information contact Father Nagel at fathernagel@gmail.com

Last Day to Book Room At Guaranteed Rate

If you’re coming to the Sacred Music Colloquium and you’ve been putting off booking your room, don’t wait.  Today (Friday, May 17) is the last day you will be able to receive the guaranteed low, CMAA rates.  If you stayed at the Little America Hotel last year, you’ll know that it is a spectacular place.  Incredible quality and service. At $72, $97, or $117 a night, these rooms are a steal.  Reserve your room directly with this link.  Register for the Colloquium here.