Early Registration Won’t Last Forever!

Are you on the fence about the XXIV Summer Colloquium?  Well, if you hop off on the right side, you can save some lettuce for your Easter basket with Early Registration

$60 in fact – and that will buy a lot of chocolate bunnies.  Or it’s money you put toward another cool chant book at the Colloquium.

Yesterday was the Ides of March – not a good day for Julius Caesar.  However, you can make today a good day for you and sacred music wherever you live by registering for the Summer Colloquium in Indianapolis.

But you only have until March 31st.  And my experience is that the second half of the month always goes by faster.  So do it today – and you don’t have to think about it tomorrow.

Join us – and all the lovers of chant, polyphony, great organ music, and fellowship that make this a wonderful week! (And did I mention the 4th of July fireworks?)

St. Bridget’s Day

I can’t let this day pass without a song in praise of the Mary of the Gaels, beautifully performed by Claire Roche.

If the video doesn’t appear for some mysterious reason, head over to YouTube and search for Gabhaim molta Bride – I give praise to Brigid.

The Uninvited Guests at Your Choir Rehearsals

If you have 15 people in your choir, chances are that you should set out 30 chairs. 

Those empty chairs are for the “uninvited guests” who come along each week with your singers.  They are the little ghostly voices chattering away at them – while you’re talking, while they’re singing.  All the while they are scolding, correcting, intimidating, offering up memories of past mistakes – sometimes bringing even the most talented individuals to the point of melodic paralysis.  And seriously limiting the effectiveness of your direction and your singers’ abilities and happiness.

What’s a director to do?  You can’t undo the damage of a failed jury exam, an ill-tempered high school choral director, a missed note during last Christmas Eve’s solo, a mother who always pointed out how your sister was the one who could really sing, etc.  No, you can’t shoo other people’s ghosts away. They can be quite powerful and there are very few musicians who don’t carry at least or two around.

Sometimes we get so used to our ghosts’ constant grumbling and kvetching that we just assume they are regular background noise.  And the noise can get so loud that we don’t hear what’s really happening in terms of direction or our own vocal production.

What you can do is remind your singers of their existence and corrosive influence on their happiness and their singing. 

Devise a gesture that will let each choir member chase them away, scoot them out of the choir room or toss them out of the loft.  Tell those ghosts to be gone! Be imaginative, be a little physical.  If nothing else, laugh them away for the moment.  If you do this on a monthly basis, it will clear the air of those infernal spirits.

Then enjoy a rehearsal with the “real” folks in the choir!  (And don’t forget to chase your own ghosts away as well.)

Risking the Wrath of Khan – Rethinking Praise Music in the Right Place

Anyone who knows me knows what my opinion of “praise music” – awful, worse than your boyfriend’s garage band in the 60s, etc., etc.  And in 90% of the places this music appears and for 90% of its performers – at Mass, poorly rehearsed, over-amplified, with poor singers – that judgment holds.  It lacks the depth of Taize or the complexity of Margaret Rizza in the realm of contemplative music.  It is hopelessly adolescent.  And I have a pretty good idea that most readers of this blog think that as well.

Now for the great exception that I experienced last weekend.

It was time for the annual March for Life in little St. Augustine, Florida.  The evening before was a Holy Hour for Healing and Hope.  And I only went because a friend I hadn’t seen in ages was going to be there.  Exposition started. There was a Gospel reading and a quite good homily.  Then there began a procession where people knelt at the Communion rail (yes, there is still one in this church) and the priest passed along with the monstrance and they were able to hold the humeral veil briefly while the priest prayed over them individually.  And for many, this was deeply moving.

Out of nowhere in the back, this woman began to sing a cappella in one of the most lovely voices I’ve heard in years – a clean, supported straight tone – always right on the money and with a sure range that never wobbled or wavered.  She continued singing for over an hour – mostly those simple praise refrains, sometimes with a good keyboardist, sometimes alone.  And this singer “owned” this music – or better, the music “owned” her. 

In this context, what I had always heard as banal bleating had a remarkable transformative power that matched the moment.  I may never be so fortunate again, but it did give me a taste of what that music can be – in the right place with the right voice.

I may never hear anything quite like this again, but it also made me think about all of my snap judgments – and maybe I should think again. 

Time for the Te Deum

I’ve played organ reductions of the Prelude to Charpentier’s Te Deum innumerable times, but this one is wonderful for a listen.  The tempo is over the top and you get to see a serpent, among the other period instruments.  And the rest of the performance is a pleasure as well.

Listen to as little or as much as you please.  And have a Happy New Year for 2014!

Kontakion of Christmas

Christmas simply erupts into the calendar of the Eastern Church with the shock of the Transcendent One’s arrival.  Here’s a well-sung kontakion – and my best wishes to all for a bright Christmas and a joyful New Year!

Music of Clifford Boyd

Clifford Boyd was an Australian Anglican choir director, organist, and composer of sacred music who died in 2002.  Several years ago, I used one of his simpler pieces as an anthem with a small choir quite successfully.  Yesterday I heard by email from his widow who remembered my contact with her and was happy to report that, thanks to the Internet, she knows that her late husband’s music is performed around the world.

If you’re looking for something in the way of an anthem, why not check out these works?  You can find them listed under the composer’s name on www.cpdl.org or by going directly to www.cfboyd.com. The site is not easy to navigate, but it’s worth the trouble.

When I heard from Merle Boyd, I was reminded what a wide and wonderful world of music this is – and I was very grateful.  Memory Eternal for Clifford Boyd.

Out of the Loop and Back In a Bit

Circumstances put me out of the loop for a bit, but I thought I’d come back with an interesting version of the Ave maris stella.  I think every composer took a crack at this Vespers hymn, even though the chant is hard to beat. This one is by Dunstable.  And if you’re not in the mood for music, you can go over to my recently reconstructed Mary Jane Ballou and let me know (nicely, of course) what you think.

And I hope to be more prolific, in a thoughtful sort of way, soon. 

O Gladsome Light (Phos Hilaron)

One of the oldest hymns and one of the best, here sung in English is a setting from the Monastery of St. John in the California foothills.  Watching the video in its 4’30” entirety is a wonderful and restful experience.  If you’re just such a hurry-up bunny that you can’t wait, the music starts at 2’40”.

And if you’re working your way through a series of Masses today, this will be a pleasant respite come evening.