September 4 in the USofA. Casualities?

Day is done, but Love unfailing dwells ever here;
  Shadows fall, but hope, prevailing, calms ev’ry fear.
  God, our Maker, none forsaking, take our hearts, of Love’s own making;
  Watch our sleeping, guard our waking, be always near.”
  Ar hyd y nos. James D. Quinn, S.J. copyright 1969

One of our dearest elderly friends, the mother of a former folk choir leader had some sort of coronary event during our mid-morning Mass. Knowing her as I do, the continuance of the liturgy and music ministry during the time she was tended to by paramedics was a comfort to her. Our vicar informed us she was stable, “fine,” after Mass concluded. In Southern parlance, “It wa’n’t the missal texts, then. Well, okay then.”
Here’s the skinny, Jack Webb-style, “just the facts.”
Prior to three Masses at which I directed music, deliberately selected portions of the Glory, Holy and Memorials were rehearsed. This is highly unusual at our “joints,” (Spike Lee reference) as we take our silence seriously. But as I made mention, this was a momentous Sunday in our contemporary evolution as a Church in English-speaking lands.
Two of those Masses, the setting of the St. Ann Mass by CCM musician Ed Bolduc was rehearsed and sung. The other saw likely the only rendering (to my knowledge) of The Mass of St. Therese of the Little Flower (Liseux) by my friend (on sabbatical) Royce Nickel in the entire eleven English conferences.
Nickel: we had rehearsed this Mass twice in earnest, a great first SATB sight-reading and then, last Wednesday, a strategic rehearsal alternating SATB with unison. In reality, I made the even stronger strategic decision to have the schola sing the Kyrie/Glory/Holy/Memorial entirely in unison melody (soprano.) What we experienced- a significant number of congregants rehearsing it with positive effort. I could then hear them trying to negotiate, by memory, those portions rehearsed during the Mass. We also, having never really sung the melody only, that Royce’s setting lies very neatly, comfortably between chant and an Anglican choral setting. The primary duple and occasional triple metered phrases melted into chant declamation in unison, but without any artifice such as semiological concerns. After all, even without time signatures, Royce’s quarter and half notes are half-earnest and half-implied indicators.
After effect: I was heartened by our vicar’s encouragement to the congregation to take up these new melodic contours, or as Wendy pointed out, very intuitive constructs that are more friendly to even the unmotivated pew singer. The only comments we heard afterwards were positive: “beautiful….flowing….Catholic.”
Bolduc: this Mass was given much more rehearsal time among our leadership and the groups I personally direct. I firmly believe (as our good friend MatthewJM testified via his NPM experience in July) that this Mass will become the MR3 MoC. Upon my first reading it, I had immediately connected to the Australian phenomenon of Hillsong P&W compositions and their characteristics of honesty, community (versus individual piety) and harmonic/melodic simplicity which could be dubbed elegance because of its inspirational effect. Bolduc’s setting evokes that “ethos” without breaking either a sweat or an ounce of pretense.
The pre-Mass rehearsals went easy and obviously were taken up quite a bit more easily than Royce’s choral setting. The opening melodic motive of 4-3, 4-3-1, 4-3-1, 3-2_____, in 6/8 proved not to be at all sing-songy to these ears, and apparently the congregants, despite the prejudice against triple meter with the Glory. And, as there’s been a fair amount of criticism of late of the motivic coherence among ordinary movements of many post-conciliar settings (which was a virtue two decades ago!), Bolduc’s setting is not overwrought with that demand. Like Janco’s “Angels and Saints,” the reiterations of certain motives in the Glory are sparingly used in the other movements. I attribute this to Bolduc’s awareness of how they best serve the text. I don’t know, he could have just guessed. But, I think it will prove to be a pre-eminent, non chant/choral setting for the next decade.
Disclaimer: the only “aid” the congregations had at our four parishes with any of the new (we’re doing ALL NEW, no re-treads) settings was a Mass card with the texts. Based upon the reports I’m getting about all of our fourteen Masses in English indicate that rote still makes right.
Now, I made a journal of this weekend’s experience as a testament to a number of concerns that have been (at time excruciatingly) exacerbated on this and other forums I frequent. To whit

The SEP propers were still chanted at Introit and Communio at the three Masses at which I lead music . They don’t contradict or contrast poorly with either hymnody or religious song.
The congregation was not visibly or otherwise disturbed before or during the Mass by the text or music changes.
We who would prefer that a great majority of our own personal worship experience was expressed within the media of chant and polyphony do not inflict our personal preferences as a dictum upon those whom we serve. And we also recognize that to do so in an abrupt, non-consensus manner (by mandate by a pastor/celebrant or an overly zealous and tunnel-visioned DM) without the sensus fidelium on-board would likely prove injurious and an injustice. But, we do not thus, by our pragmatism, deny the primacy of chant and its closest heir as the supreme, not sole, expression of our Catholic cultural faith.
So, that’s that, and to our detractors I say: “Get a grip on yourselves.”
No one died.

Wolves and Lions and Sheep, Oh My and “et tu?”

Any of my met friends reading this, and many of you whom I’ve not had the pleasure of yet meeting, I hope would regard me as a “what you see is what you get” sort of guy. For some, I imagine, it’s a difficult visage through the bulk and bilge of my psyche and whatnot. For others, ye saints all, you see just another soul trying to make sense out of daily life, the universe and ever’thing while remaining steadfastly in love with our Lord God, and you forgive the rough edges. A dear priest-friend used to always quip: “Love me, love my dog.”

This post isn’t about me, though I have to start it by saying this morning I was at wits end, literally. Barreling, careening around the administration building getting this ordo done, that phone call made, reminding this priest of that, this staffer of that, all the while gasping for breath, flopped in sweat and singing “Bye, bye, Miss American Pie…..this’ll be the day….” But the pastor’s door was opened, I had business: make sure the General Intercessions for our 150th anniversary Mass were approved and/or revised and forwarded to the typesetter…..get the ordo done for the dedication of our fourth parish on Friday….decide whether we jump the gun on new Mass settings….

And I have to suddenly stop. “It’s all too much,” I say, “I just have to stop for a second.” My pastor’s seen it all, and more than “ALL” has recently taken up personal quarters in his large heart. But he calmly looked me in the eye and reminded me WHO this is all for. I’ve always been a crier, so he hands me tissue and I’m silent. And slowly, gently he talks with me and guides me to a sure, steady path of calm.

So, business concluded, for now, pick m’self up, dust m’self and boots off and back on my way to find a Spanish psalm setting.

And BAM, I get a phone call on the cell from “the man without a foot.”

A good friend, a new friend, a colleague, a peer….. “I called to let you know the pastor fired me. He just called me into his office with no notice and fired me. It was all so, like, political. It didn’t have anything to do with my performance.” BAM!

Our other good friend, Noel the Frogman, knows this tune. “When sheep attack.” Our friend, whom many of you met at colloquium this last June, a real gentleman and follower of the lamb, was eaten by his own in one of the most hallowed parishes of our region.

And here was I, bleating about it all being too much, as if I’d never been through the perils of parish predators, chapters one through seven before. “….(T)he pastor fired me.” Mine consoled me just moments earlier. Then we compared notes about the Zeitgeist. It’s not news that Fr. Zed’s been heralding the imminent presence of the roaring lion, the wolf in our midst, the snake not underfoot of late. But we Catholics, just as we’ve been parodied by the great likes of Monty Python sketches over the decades, are not Dispensationalists, we are above Mr. Lindsey and the “Rev.” Hagee and await, like virginal maids, the real Parousia. Nope, me and my pastor agree. The Enemy is taking huge strides right up the naves of our churches, into the hearts of the unwary and unsuspecting, and doing what it does best: divide and conquer.

Chant an “ave” for our now jobless friend and colleague on this most appropriate feast day. Sing his Mass setting if you have the opportunity. (We’ll open with it in our September re-boot.) And pray for our priests as they pray for us daily. And I say this to myself, more than to anyone else, fürchte dich nicht.

What is the BIG PICTURE for the BIG HYMNAL?

The following is a brief response to a review over at PRAY TELL BLOG written by GIA artist Chris Angel that comments upon GIA’s release of the third edition of GATHER.

The little ear wig that causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble….is the very future and viability of “hymnals” per se. My concern over hymnals and worship books in general remains the same whether one is considering the efficacy of GATHER III, ADOREMUS II, BY FLOWING WATERS II, or the SIMPLE ENGLISH PROPERS; in other words, the problem I portend remains the same no matter from which side of the musical spectrum comes one’s perspective. In the vibrant economy of the post-conciliar musical palette, there is no single comprehensive volume that has culled the best of both past and contemporaneous composition intended for congregational, choral and schola(stic) use at worship. The only acknowledged “universal” volume(s) remain the Latin books, GR, GM, LU, GT, AR etc. And that just isn’t in the cards for universal acceptance, as ideal a solution that more and more voices argue for.

I used to cite that one of the more efficient hymnal compilations a couple of decades ago was the ARMED FORCES HYMNAL (USA). Perhaps I felt that way because its editors seemed to cover enough ecumenical bases, and that its intent was purposefully broad by necessity. But we don’t enjoy that same luxury of having another political entitity commission, compile, edit and mandate the usage of a hymnal for parish and cathedral use in regular society. I don’t think the CBW would qualify as a shining example of cumulative success. On the other hand, folks that offer up the Brompton Oratory hymnal as a standard really don’t come down from the gallery often enough, IMO.
So, if not the BIG HYMNAL model, what else? The homegrown HULA Hymnal on demand tailored for one or two generations of a specific parish or diocese? Dunno.
But the notion of the USCCB/BCL not tabling agenda items such as the “white list” regarding texts, the exhortation towards including propers among hymns, polyphony, chant and sacred song, and other types of guidance seems to me an urgent necessity.

Back to the future?

Over the last year plus, our parish has been holding events in celebration of the 150th anniversary of its founding. As part of those activities, we have published a series of tabloid inserts in our local newspaper describing various aspects of our history and catholic traditions in general. I have authored all of the articles on worship and specifically music. This is the last of those contributions that will be published in our paper in August before our September 8th anniversary date. Just thought I’d share this with….

For the final musical installment of our anniversary tabloid series I’ve been asked to “portend” the future of Roman Catholic sacred music practice. Even though I just returned from a local meeting of diocesan musicians I won’t confine my prognostications to the future locally in Visalia or the valley parishes, but in a more universal, “catholic,” sense. I’ll do this off the cuff with only God as my co-pilot!

I remember Pastor Harry Wood (a much revered, now retired Methodist pastor) publicly remarking the most vexing and contentious issue facing his church was….. The Music Wars! How true, pretty much for many Christian communities, that remains. But I do see, after forty plus years, that reliance upon musical elements whose origins are “of the world” and continuing to integrate and add more popular forms into the worship paradigm will diminish, not improve the prayerful intent and relationship of the Faithful to God. If we insist, for emotional need or a rationale that as we are in His image, so must our worship music reflect “us,” then we will lose all interest in aspects of worship that point to the “otherness” of God, and that is integral to why we worship God in the first place: we must strike a balance between Christ at the door (Mt.25) and the “I AM” Moses encountered on Mt. Sinai in the manner in which we praise and worship the Lord.
First of all I already see the most compelling instrument changing the “economy” of musical worship is the internet. Though the sinister web is a playground for evil and malice, it also serves as a virtual infinity of historical, philosophical and practical resources by which church musicians ought to consult, communicate and continue their own understanding of their stewardship of their worship traditions as they lead their communities in sung prayer. Inasmuch as most parish musicians cannot take a busman’s holiday on Sunday’s (or Saturday’s), they certainly can have many other sacred music worlds opened to them by one mouse click.
Next, for my Church, I see that the “ship of state” of liturgical music, Gregorian and vernacular (English, Spanish, Portuguese, etc.) Chant will be saluted and finally re-admitted to its titular role as the primary musical “tongue” in which we sing. But that doesn’t necessitate an abandonment of many valid other forms of music: the strophic hymn, or the liturgical song, or even the praise and worship chorus. But those forms must sail alongside and, hopefully, more in the manner and style of the mother-ship. Because the music must serve to transcend and dispose our souls towards a music known only to angels and saints, not merely musical theater arias and pop-star megahits.
And lastly, the forthcoming of a new English Missal this Advent (a missal contains all the ritual language of the Church’s daily and Sunday calendar Masses over a three year cycle this written for non-Catholics) provides us the greatest mandate: to be faithful to the texts handed to us by the Author of Life, the Lord God, and the psalms of His chosen people’s King David, and the gospel of His only begotten Son. Music that unflinchingly serves the Living Word, and avoids ego based intention or emotional outcome in worship, will thrive on the vine. Music that is only randomly associated with the source of the vine, will become entangled in thorns and wither away.

Pop quiz, hotshot! What will you do?

RIP Dennis Hopper!

As my Brit bud IanW called me out last week, I’m in a red phone box with only a few quid and JT needs my post last week… I have only four lines of copy that I can shout to Tucker before the phone goes beep-beep-beep. Here goes:

1. Your pastor wants you to immediately engage the congregation in singing the propers, he insists upon their FCAP access. But he won’t switch from using a pulp subscription missal, so you only have the Entrance and Communion antiphon texts.
2. You also cannot publish any musical settings of any propers in either a weekly ordo or the parish bulletin; no $ for ordo, no space in bulletin. (Also, no audio/visual available.)
3. You have the SEP, the Vatican II Hymnal, every Rice choral and chant and short “chant-based” monophy collections, the entire CCW catalogue, BFW, B.Ford’s Amer. Gradual, Psallite, Ken Macek’s Psallite propers, C.Tietze’s strophic settings, and all the rest found at Musica Sacra, and you’ve composed some propers yourself. And NO PSALM TONES or the Wildcat gets blown up!*
4. How do you fulfill the pastor’s demand to get the congregation singing the propers under these strict conditions? (You cannot quote Mahrt!)

“What will you do, hotshot? WHAT WILL YOU DO?”
*Obscure reference from the film whose title remains unmentioned.
And a little personal PS for dance fans- if our scholas, choirs and cantors would take their regimens as seriously as the contestants on the Fox Reality “SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE,” there wouldn’t be any musical problems in the American Roman Catholic Music scene, at ‘tall! These kids are artists!

J.T. Whatsitworth, It’s MY music, and I want it NOW!

Consider the lilies, the swallows…not even Solomon in all his glory was so adorned. (No quotes, just paraphrasing as I recall His words.)  The lilies and swallows that gave a joyful example to His disciples are long gone from Jesus’ day. Most of the images of the saints and sinners that adorn blogs have arrived to their reward or will do so at some point of time. This isn’t meant to be morbid in the slightest. We believers in Christ push on, whether dragging through the mud and waste or flying in concert with the Spirit, confident in faith that a “reward” does, indeed, await. I personally believe that there is a sublime reality that escapes our notice about one particular endeavor we enjoy from God’s bounty that also escapes death. Whether this re-creation is rewarded with a hellish posterity, an ignorant, interminable limbo, or received into glory,  I dunno. Of course, I’m speaking of music. “Optima musica Dei donum.”  I have had a great CMAA friend, Richard Chonak, provide two different perspectives, or translations of that: one being “Music is the greatest gift of God”; and two, “the finest music is God’s gift.”
 I’ve never further qualified either of those interpretations. It’s not “some music,” “my music,” “your music,” “our music” and most certainly not “God’s music.” He’s passed that. Who of us that has consciously put the muse to the pen or the recording device hasn’t secretly acknowledged that we were gifted to be the sharers, or “authors” of our tunes and harmonies from the one who created this aspect of the cosmos and spread it out upon the ether.
Here’s the point. I believe it’s basically a vanity and therefore pointless to use this gift as any form of tool or weapon to advance our truly heartfelt, informed and even righteous agendae and thus lambaste any and all perceived adversaries to our self-proclaimed truths in an effort to (what?) simply prevail upon others. And doing so seems to me a remarkably counterproductive waste of time (that which is also a gift) if we are to be fully invested in evangelizing our neighbors and strangers to the whole of the Gospels. To be clear, I have no reluctance towards sharing the bounty of our Catholic Church’s wise counsel that, at worship, we are inheritors and benefit from the unique and mysterious charms and priceless treasure that are revealed in chant, polyphony and other truly sacred forms of music.
On the other hand, if we cannot in good conscience deny that God is the sole author of grace and operates in His time and wisdom, then should any soul in pain, doubt and darkness who cries out for solace, reconciliation and forgiveness, and salvation have those prayers rejected by God’s ordained ministers? “It’s about the sacraments, silly!” (To paraphrase President Clinton in irony.) But, if that same soul is hanging by a thread to the Christian life and asks for a sip of water that musically is known as “Be not afraid,” who are we to deny that? Are we to declare to that pleading soul, “Why sure, sinner-man, as long as it’s chanted and in Latin, ‘you down with “Nolite timere?”

I want my cantus, and I want it NOW!

  Well, the way I see it going down at least for another four decades of wandering is that great strides will be made towards restoring solemnity and dignity to the performance of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite Mass as sung in the vernaculars. But they will continue to be sung in the vernaculars by and large. And bar the highly unlikely scenario of an official reckoning with the IGRM/GIRM that makes option four as clear as crystal, proper texts will continue on their path, through the efficacy of our labors,  to be utilized as their appropriate roles at the processionals, graduals, alleluia/tracts/sequences more pervasively and hopefully persuasively. That said, I cannot predict that will ever come about at the expense of the use of strophic hymnody (as opposed to liturgical hymnody) and religious song whose paraphrased textual source may align to the proper calendar, as well as the vast body of both poetical and scriptural allusion lyrics. These latter forms, Frankenstein-monster-spawn of the Freemason Bugnini or not, have been taken up by more than one undisciplined, laconic and spiritually-undernourished generation. And they now own these songs and a great many of the hymns that they “get.” And some of us chant TRUE BELIEVERS that want our Quick Remedy Wagon surplus bought en masse right now by the undernourished PIPs are prone to that time-honored curial penchant for forked-tongue-ed rhetoric, “you can have your cake and eat it too,”  in our spiels and appeals.

Of course the people are to sing their appointed portions of the liturgy, as long as they’re those of the chanted Latin settings appropriate to the seasons and occasions (huh?). But if you can’t master much more than the Death Mass in Latin or even English, don’t worry, we, THE SCHOLA, will cover for ya, no problem. You just listen real hard, contemplate, watch and pray. And now that you know those bold fonted thingy’s called antiphons in the missalettes actually mean something, just trust us that they’re more attuned to the scriptural lessons than all that sacropop syrup those hippies have spoon fed you, and we’ll sing them real purdy, and not just at the “gathering, preparation and feasting” parts, but we’ll sing them ourselves between the readings and dazzle ourselves with our florid gymnastics that will make Christina Aguilera even more embarrassed and jealous of her obvious lack of ornamental skills. But wait, what? You want to take part too? Watch and pray isn’t working for you? Okay, then, we can do that. Here, we’ve got tons of vernacular chant propers and ordinaries that are “Lite,” you’ll get the hang of ‘em real soon. But wait, what? No, you can’t sing “On Eagles’ Wings” ever again. Here, I’ve got a 400 word treatise on why it doesn’t even qualify as an “alius cantus aptus,” so there! But wait, what’s an “alius cantus aptus?” Well, look it up ‘cause I’m done with schooling you all, and “Beagles’ Wings” ain’t one of ‘em in any case. Trust me! I mean it, TRUST ME!

I think I’ve exhausted the point. Make no mistake about it or me. If I could attend a solemn Latin High Mass in EF every day, that’s how I’d worship. You heard it here by these lips, “Ed Schaefer was right.” (Look it up.) Some of us eventually have to make a hard and fast choice. But equating our choice with imposing same upon others isn’t good medicine for all like cod liver or castor oil. It is more akin to the cliche about teaching the pig to sing. But guess which of the two protagonists in that cliche is more pig headed? Slow and steady as she goes, hope and pray and nourish the poor and teach them to swim in waters that are moving and not in pools. But don’t expect them to do a swan dive off a high cliff right behind you because you can come up and breathe afterwards to applause (which is, of course, meant to be no applause.)

Get accustomed to the Big Tent having more than one ring in the circus maximus for a few more decades, my friends.
I’m just sayin’….