Choosing Bricks, Part the Last

In the Breaking Bread hymnal section denoted “Gathering” there are many songs whose musical and lyrical content has and will continue to be debate fodder from the “aptus” qualification. Of the more recent additions in this decade, again I defer to Janet Sullivan-Whitaker’s “HERE AT THIS TABLE,” the title of which might cause apoplexy to not a few folk. But given the preponderance of triple metered, sing-song offerings most typified or vilified by Haugen’s “Gather Us In,” I feel a true gravitas in her original text (aided by her son.) And that is solidly set to a compelling melodic and harmonic architecture that happens to also suit a congregation’s alto/baritone singing range.

She also deftly uses two distinctly different motifs for certain verses, both of which have cadences with great inertia back to the refrain, particularly in vss. 3/5 that uses a hemiola as they are intended: for propulsion. I don’t relegate the text to the Entrance procession exclusively. I’ve employed it at the other two on occasion. In the same section, Michael Joncas’ “WE GATHER HERE TO WORSHIP” (with Vicki Klima) seems to mitigate the contention that “gather songs” are inherently insufficient in expressing worship towards God by clearly defining the purpose in the first verse’s opening phrase, “We gather here to worship You, O God.” T

his is also an original text that, if nothing else, outlines the structure of the liturgies within Mass. The melody does not evoke the common notion of Joncas cum Sondheim, but falls into the recent trend of many composers to stay formulaic, strophic and often pentatonic.

In the next section, “Communion,” I would give brief mention of Fr. John Schiavone’s “AMEN: EL CUERPO DE CRISTO” as its text and melody present an authentic and orthodox “feel” to a bilingual song. And, as many have found out over the last decade and a half, Hurd’s UBI CARITAS has a stand alone integrity as well as it provides the opportunity for young people and adults to “step up” to the plainsong version in the hymnal.

In perusing this year’s issue, I was greatly perplexed by the inclusion of Steve Angrisano’s paraphrase of Ps.34, “Taste and see.” I know that it presents a clear nod to the LifeTeen demographic, but the syncopation off the page is pure helter skelter, it yanks the singer off the beat so unremittingly!

How many modern settings of this psalm can one publisher afford to include out of respect for the composer’s Q rating, yet not give space to chants published in another organ, “Laus et Tibi?”

On the other hand, a tonic of relief is the inclusion of the great “I RECEIVED THE LIVING GOD.” It is purely pentatonic with one quarter note exception, and has the Southern Harmony credence “feel.”

I have just mentioned that for every new work implanted into BB and other subscription hymnals, it is likely that other things, worthier pieces are retired or never considered such as “Ave verum corpus.” But I would also mention that seminal works by early pioneers such as Lucien Deiss have fallen by the wayside, save for “All the Earth” or “Keep in Mind.” Of course, copyright issues likely are part of those omissions. But I would easily endorse losing “How great thou art” or “Companions on the Journey….” if some of Deiss’s early gems were given a resurrection in the 21st century.

I have avoided addressing the issue of employing true secular folk songs such as “O waly waly” or “Kelvingrove” as pleasant dwellings for new texts. But short of “Londonderrierre” (sorry, couldn’t resist) I think that folks ought to reconsider using every melody found in Stanford’s compendium of Britannic folk songs to couch “new” texts; Chris Walker’s appropriation of “Skye boat song” for a fairly benign Pentecost lyric seems particularly irritating to my tolerance levels. Sullivan-Whitaker’s “CHRIST BEFORE US” to “Suo gan,” is a much more substantial text.

In terms of original voices, I’ve already overstated my appreciation for Sullivan-Whitaker tunes. Her paraphrase of Ps.90, “IN EVERY AGE” I believe to be truly poignant. But just for balance, I don’t have the confidence in her original song “THIS IS OUR CRY” despite its very direct and didactic text and melody. Speaking of didactic, does including Carey Landrey’s “WOMEN OF THE CHURCH” mitigate something very un-PC by balancing “Faith of our Fathers?”

Benedictine hymnist Harry Hagan’s “THOSE CALLED BY CHRIST” set to “Detroit” is another worthy new text set to a melody Americana. In the chant emulation mode, OCP editor Barbara Bridge’s “WE WALK BY FAITH/IN TIMES OF TROUBLE uses “Jesu dulcis memoria” for the antiphon, and then a newer, more complex chant for the verses whose accompaniment is harmonically solid and unique.

With the brouhaha regarding some of the programming of former “St. Thomas More” composers for the upcoming papal visit to the UK, I would like to commend one hymn by Chris Walker for consideration: “LAUDATE, LAUDATE DOMINUM” has proven to this author a worthy successor to the Vaughn-Williams/Holst tradition of Anglican High Church hymns. His use of not so subtle modal shifts melodically propels the hymn forward. And Walker’s paraphrase of Ps.27, “THE LORD IS MY LIGHT” has much more heather and peat in its melody that anywhere to be found in his Celtic Mass.

In another part of the world, some folks have pondered the direction of Filipino contemporary liturgical song as having given way to saccharine tendencies rather glaringly. Of the contributions of Fr. Ricky Manalo, one I would like to mention that incorporates an Asian flavor in both text and melody is his “MANY AND GREAT,” an original song. And I, for one, regret the loss of his Maundy Thursday Introit “We shall glory in the cross” versus the version by Schutte.

Well, I’m not sure if I have adequately portrayed any specific methodology in these posts that clearly make the case that those pieces I have positively mentioned really constitute the sort of masonry envisioned by those who subscribe to the “brick by brick” reformation of our repertoires.

But what has been very obvious to me from conversations at colloquia and elsewhere is that CMAA members more likely than not still must deal with divergent interests and the ever-present dilemma of “personal taste” on a weekly and seasonal basis in parishes that have multiple Masses and a wide spectrum of musical resources, personnel and repertoire-wise. The one criteria that I, without fail, fall back upon is that a worthy hymn or song will demonstrate that immediately off the page by virtue of a worthy text and a melody whose integrity is obvious without harmonic adornment.

Choosing Bricks, Part the Second

A current thread topic at the MS Forum asks “What contemporary hymns do you like?” And, per usual, the responses meander through the semantics of “what is contemporary?” to “define the word ‘like’.” Everybody from Messiaen to Bob Hurd and in between, presumably answers both those queries. But earlier in the year I posted a column, “How I go about choosing bricks.” The content of the first part was mostly a ideological rant. And before I could compose a practical compliment, I stupidly dislocated my shoulder twice in nine days. I’m still in the sling until mid August, but I thought I could tackle completing the article that illustrates my strategies (I’m not sure they could be called principles) regarding what musics of recent vintages are solid enough to be considered bricks whilst we rebuild the foundation that will establish chant as having principal place at the top of our structure. Or at least make it darn sure chant is not the “stone which the builders rejected.”

I will use OCP’s BREAKING BREAD 2010 repertoire as the sourcebook for specific examples. I will concentrate on the vast majority of titles in that which would be used as the fourth option, the “another suitable song/hymn,” hierarchy for the processionals and other liturgical moments. I will be mindful of the threefold criteria of the late MCW (liturgical, pastoral, musical) as well as the threefold credo of “sacred, beautiful and universal” espoused by Dr. Mahrt and the CMAA. But I won’t necessarily be very clinical in ascribing such superlatives to specific works most of the time. I’m going to try to speak with plain, common sense. That poses a great burden upon me, and therefore you as well as we proceed. I won’t be dealing with the Respond and Acclaim responses or the Psalter section of the hymnal, nor with the default ordinary, Chris Walker’s CELTIC MASS, which I personally cannot find but shreds of anything authentically Celtic of nature contained therein, nor any other ordinary settings. And lastly, I won’t, with a few exceptions deal with strophic hymnody borrowed from our own or other denominational traditions, unless there is a “contemporary” angle up for discussion.

As a great shining symbol I marvel at how the actual hymnal portion of BB starts with “O COME, O COME EMMANUEL,” using the Neale “Victorian” translation. Surely that’s an ideal brick and cornerstone. Before moving on I wonder, though, why it (and “Creator of the stars of night) doesn’t receive the courtesy extended to the few are far between other “chants” in the book, such as UBI CARITAS, VENI CREATOR SPIRITUS and ADORO TE, which all have the Latin text as primary and the poetic English as secondary in disposition? In the continuing repertoire of Advent, there are two back to back “MARANATHA” songs, both which employ cross related major/minor thirds as a sort of “oriental” melodic device. Though the more long-lived version by Schoenbachler might appear to be more useful because of its scale-wise motion, the other version by Sullivan-Whitaker (which unfortunately only prints the refrain for the congregation) seems to emulate chant by virtue of not using the “minuet” emphasis in ¾ of the former. The opening cry, “Maranatha” (Cm) Bb-C-G-Ab-G-F-Enat!-F-G might be just as creative and clever tone painting as Jeff Tucker alludes to in certain propers now and then. The balance of the Advent section seems to call for distinctions of taste. If you like “old Joncas or old, rehashed Schutte,” it’s there. If you like French carols, you’re in luck. If you like shape-note, American gothic, it’s there. Bach Chorale? OK, then. Then you run into the device of veritable chant emulation: “CHRIST, CIRCLE ‘ROUND US” by Schutte, whose melody is metrically appropriated from the popular version of SALVE REGINA and which paraphrases the “O” antiphons of late Advent usage. That has a certain cognitive dissonance to me, but it can serve to buttress the chant by a programming juxtaposition on the fourth Sunday, if desired. A brief mention that a song and wordsmith whose works have long attracted my attention, M.D. Ridge, made a critical error in allowing her hymntext “Come, Lord Jesus” to be included with a very uncomplimentary, truly juvenile melody. Other than that one example, I find most of her works worthy of use.

Skipping the musical seasons of Christmas and Epiphany, a hymntext by Benedictine Sister Genevieve Glen, BEHOLD, BEFORE OUR WONDERING EYES, utilizes a fairly pedestrian dorian chant tune by Barney Walker and Gael Berberick. However, it serves the adoration of the Holy Cross and the crucified Lord well and its stemless notation argues for its use in parishes whose aversion to Latin texts and chant needs remedying. “Attende Domine” only suffers from the lack of Latin verses. A new Lenten text by Bob Hurd, LED BY THE SPIRIT, set to “Kingsfold” I’ve found to be quite compelling, and who would argue with the stolid stature of “Kingsfold?” Speaking of Dr. Hurd, another Lenten work of his, OUT INTO THE WILDERNESS, ought to be considered for its trait of emulating primarily stepwise melodic motion found in one syllable-one neume chants. As in the Sullivan piece for Advent mentioned above, there is nothing rhythmically such as overly held note values, tessitura or syncopations that would put off a congregations’ interest. Even though I do not discount another of Hurd’s Lenten/Holy Week works, “O Sacred Head,” its melodic nature is suited more for the choir or soloist by contrast. An example by composer Rick Modlin represents the antithesis of using bricks versus plastic in his “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY CRY,” which represents the whole demographic shift of the Big Three publishers towards the Contemporary Catholic Music traits of heavily syncopated, stadium anthemic praise chorus songs that, I believe, were unveiled in full force back in Pittsburgh at the 1999 NPM Convention Expos. That benchmark gave space to the works of powerhouse inspirational song stylists such as Tom Booth, Matt Maher, Jaime Cortez and Sarah Hart who brought the real pop ethos into the over and misused term “SacroPop” into liturgy. A few pages later I can prove unflinchingly that it is much easier to teach “Regina Caeli” to 2nd graders than pieces such as “Your Grace is Enough.” Continuing into Eastertide, it still is a mystery to me why contemporary ensembles and musicians seem to have little interest in promoting direct chant/polyphony-inspired works such as “Ye sons and daughters” or “The strife is o’er” using their rhythm section based instrumental genre for accompaniment. This may seem anathema to many, but they translate easily to metered, strong beat interpretation, and thus point the way towards a congregation later acquiring the “real McCoy” into its stable repertoire. As I lamented M.D. Ridge’s decent Advent text being set to a puerile melody, she more than makes up for that with her wonderful “first person” resurrection text, THREE DAYS, set to the monumental “Thaxted.”

On another blog this week, I saw another “top ten hymns of all time” list, this one from a Protestant source. One of the picks was “Come Thou Font of Every Blessing.” However the author of the list didn’t specify the hymntune. Since we’ve broached the subject of Southern Harmony/shape note standards finding their way into the post conciliar hymnals, “Nettleton” is a particular favorite of mine along with “Detroit.” Christopher Idles’ 1982 text, GOD, WE PRAISE YOU, is a joy to sing with that tune.

At this point I’ve reached the end of the general and seasonal section of the hymnal. In part three, I’ll examine the larger body of musical adobe and abodes that are assigned according to liturgical actions and so-called themes such as “Comfort…..Social Justice……Praise….etc.

Unprohibited, Uninhibited Praise


I am doing some research for a parish project [hat tip to eft94530] and happened upon an article in “Dwight’s Journal of Music,” Volume V. No.11 June 17, 1854. It can be found on GoogleBooks

I am not certain whether Editor John Sullivan Dwight composed this essay (excerpted) that follows, or it was from a book, The Atheneum, by one “Canon Proschke.” In any case, I thought it poses an interesting counterpoint to AOZ’s post in that the author waxes on lugubriously regarding the corrective agent to the prohibitions of works by Lassus, Ockeghem et al.

(This was a) sonorous noise, which drowned the Latin of the liturgy; a loss the more to be lamented, since no musical interpretation of the words took its place. Things went on worse from day to day, till finally, about the middle of the sixteenth century, the patience of the hearers was worn out, and reason bad begun to be awake. All cried out against a music of this sort, excepting those who made it. Away with the Canon, was the cry, and probably musicians thought to themselves, Away too with the Choral Song ! But the Choral Song was nearly as old as Christendom; the Canon also numbered many years. Could men for several centuries pursue a scientific path, which was to be without present profit and entirely fruitless for the future? That (would be) admitting that Humanity could lose its time, like a single man, which is not possible. In the collective striving of the human mind there is nothing absolutely unprofitable; but we often pronounce false what passes before our eyes and ears, judging like the reader of a book without the conclusion, or the spectator of the drama without its denouement. If the book appears unintelligible, or the drama absurd and immoral, it is because the last chapters or the last acts are wanting, which would explain and justify the whole; and therefore is contemporaneous history, whether it treat of music or of other matters, always hard to write. He who should have undertaken as a lover of music to judge of the merits, the productive energy of the Roman Choral Song before Palestrina, would certainly have very much deceived himself; he, whom a professor of Aesthetics should have undertaken to weigh the significance of the fugue before Handel and Bach, or without knowing them, as J. J. Rousseau has done, would have deceived himself not less; and these errors in judgment would appear the more gross, the better judge the man might be for his own century.

Through the labors of the Belgian and Flemish masters, the contrapuntists had at length acquired that certainty and mechanical facility, which allowed them, in spite of the enormous weights, which seemed to clog their every step, to move with a certain ease and grace. Already had Counterpoint become more pliant and Harmony somewhat purified and in a condition to cooperate toward the true end of Music. The hour had struck of a glorious new birth for Music, but above all for the Choral Song; that was best and had waited for it more than a thousand years was no more than fair.

In the year of grace 1565 God commanded his servant Aloysius of Praeneste to quicken this dull form of the Choral Song with the breath of genius; and Aloysius replied : ” Lord, thy will be done;” and the transformed Church Song again resounded like the chorus of the angels; sublime church music appeared in a holy crown of rays. The pope, the cardinals, the whole people threw themselves down at the feet of the immortal man. Let us too bow before the great name of PALESTRINA, the honor of the Catholic church and the glory of Italy. Hail to the godlike man, whom Greece would have exalted among her gods, had he been one of her sons! He came, and the hod-carriers of Harmony made way for the master builder; through his voice the shapeless materials were united in a temple of the most imposing majesty; Music, but now almost dumb, begins to speak, and the human soul responds. She speaks of God, as if first of all to thank Him, that He has given her a language. The musical sceptre, hitherto borne provisionally by the Netherlander, passes from this moment over into the hands of the Italians, there to remain for two centuries, by the most legitimate and undisputed claim.

Palestrina could be divided into several great musicians. In the first place you find in him the scholar of the Flemish school, surpassing all his teachers as a contrapuntist; then the madrigalist, who strove perhaps primarily to .express the words ; and then the creator of the style, which bears his name, and which was formerly called Alia Capella. We have to speak of him only in this last capacity; in a relation, therefore, which makes him a unique man in his way. For the rest, the age was not yet ripe, either for the fugue, or for expressive melody. For us, Palestrina is the Choral Song become Harmony according to the true character of church music, as we find it in the Improperia, and still more in the Stabat Mater, which is sung on Palm Sunday, in the Sixtine Chapel at Rome. Since through him we come upon the first great revolution in Art, the origin of real music, and since Palestrina forms the bond, by which the dead works of calculation are united to the works produced by feeling, taste, imagination, we must inquire wherein the alia capella style was distinguished from what went before, and in what it is distinguished from the modern music, In its outward form the alia capella style reproduced the united counterpoint of the fourteenth century, which the masters of the fifteenth scorned to employ, or only very seldom employed, and which with a certain contemptuousness they named stylo familiar?. But Palestrina introduced into it a more closely interwoven and correct harmony; he mingled with it a light dose of canonical seasoning, which elevated the composition, without harming the words; and instead of banishing the canto fermo into the middle part, he transferred it to the upper part, where it could unfold itself more freely and “more enchain the attention of the ear. That was restoring the leading melody to its right of singing, and opening a path, in which no one of the predecessors of the Roman Swan had before travelled. The distinction between him and the modern composers, who, considered with reference to the time of Palestrina,’ begin with the melodists of the seventeenth century, lies particularly in their choice of chords.

That there may be some unity of melody and key in a work, which is an almost indispensable condition of all modern music, the harmony must be composed of the different kinds of tri-chords, Seventh and Ninth chords, which have their seat in the diatonic intervals of the scale chosen by the composer. If he passes over into another scale, to tarry there awhile, another family of chords follows upon the first and for the time being governs the modulation, until the return of the original key, whose absence must not last too long, lest the ear become too accustomed to a foreign land, so that it will hardly recognize itself in its own, when it gets back. This is the system of modern intonation, the true and perfect system, which gives for every major scale IS, and for every minor scale 12 principal or radical chords;* which chords, multiplied by all their respective transpositions, place unlimited means in the control of the composer, whereby he can vary the harmony within the limits of the scale, without the necessity of striking a single, chord that is foreign to it. The whole mass of these auxiliary and related chords, which have only a dependent existence and a relative importance, since they do not subsist on their own account, but always end in the perfect chord of the scale, into which they resolve, represents the revolving movement of a system around its centre of gravity; it forms the harmonic unity and homogeneousness of a piece.

A melody may express anything or nothing by itself, unless it (lows from the feeling of the modal relation, of which we have spoken; on the other hand, since there are in every melody indefinite notes, which leave the ear in uncertainty about their origin, inasmuch as they admit of several, often very different, interpretations, the presence of the chord is indispensable to the determining of their sense and character. Herein lies the whole science of the Harmonist. Such a wealth of means of expression through harmony was still infinitely far from the time in which Palestrina lived—about as far as the precision, the boldness, the variety and grace of contours, which shine in the outlines of the modern music. Most of the auxiliary chords were unknown to him. He knew indeed the Dominant Seventh chord; he has in fact employed it without preparation and with all its intervals; but this kind of harmony appears in his music only as a rare accident or a thing of instinct. His customary and systematic progression consists in a series of perfect major and minor chords, mixed with a few chords of the Sixth, between which there exists so slight a modal affinity, that you cannot through them recognize the key. Barely are you pointed to the scale of the piece by now and then a half-tone lying below the Tonic, or a Seventh. Nevertheless Palestrina’s harmony in general is pure, by means of the great correctness in the movement of the voices. Notes will show all this much better than words can describe it. I fancy, a musician of the present day should be able to give at once a harmonic, but quite simple and natural, explanation of the four following measures of Choral Song.
How does that sound?—Beautiful, sublime, heavenly! That music is not of this earth; it comes in fact from heaven. Yes, Palestrina is sublime precisely for the knowledge, which the musicians of his time had not; as the Bible is sublimely above all that depended on the wealth of languages and the metaphysical culture of the times in which it was written. Observe well, that with a more melodious and expressive cantilena, a harmony like this of Palestrina’s would be impossible; it holds only in the Choral Song, which on its part rejects as trivial and ordinary all the combinations of chords, that belong to ornamental melody. Palestrina makes as yet no division of the verbal phrases; the effect of his purely harmonious song is like the impressions of an aeolian harp. His solemn tri-chords fall upon one another at equal intervals, without characteristic rhythm, and resound like the voice of God, that triune God, of whom the harmonic Tri-chord seems to be one of the most unfathomable material emblems. Here are none or almost none of those connecting chords, whereby might be expressed some causality and mutual dependence between the grand revelations of the absolute; none of those wanton or pathetic dissonances, types of our momentary happiness, our transient or excited humor; no rhythm, following the flight of time, measured by the pulsations of a mortal heart; in a word, nothing that awakens a worldly thought and speaks the language of fleshly passions. This is a church music, than which no one ever composed a truer. It contains absolutely no admixture of profanity; it wears an eternal beauty, since it rests upon something unchangeable, or so to say, upon the elementary application of the Accord; it is antique, and that is one of its most precious excellences, since its antiquity knows no age, which enhances everything and contributes so powerfully to the reverence one cherishes for sacred things. And in fact time has made Palestrina young. His modulation, so original and striking today, must have been much less so, or not at all so in the sixteenth century, as they generally modulated in this way. To grow young through years—is not that an altogether extraordinary fate, especially for a musician!

Thus was realized the oldest and most sublime of all the expressions of music, the religious or Christian Church expression. It was no more than right, that an Art born upon the altars of Christianity, whose long and refractory childhood the Church alone, like a tender mother, had protected, should lay the firstlings of its majority upon those same altars. Music in this was doing no more than her sister Arts, Painting and Architecture, also revived through the church, and that entirely in the true Christian spirit, ad majorem gloriam Dei.

And you thought I to be verbose!

Next Year in Jerusalem, Or is It Gaza? Detente in Action


Damon: I’ve already decided that all of this “both/and” nonsense is just that, and that my scorn and highly-placed suspicion of the Peritus Musical Society of America (PMSA), its leadership and its many followers who don’t seem to be interested in expanding their horizons in any direction but toward the more and more liberal, is justified. If anyone who associates with PMSA can refute my perceptions (perhaps by sharing a positive experience of the use of chant within the context of a convention-wide event such as a liturgical celebration), I’m more than willing to be chastened. Otherwise, I’d like to know just what position the PMSA truly takes with respect to the re-introduction of chant into the liturgical life of the average parish church.

Arthur: Certainly there are many friendships and relationships between PMSA and CMAA folks, perhaps even at leadership levels. Does CMAA even attempt to make an appearance at PMSA conventions? A vendor table? Applying to run workshops or sessions? Volunteering to help plan even a single liturgical event? A large contingent of traditionalist roaming the halls and wreaking havoc? Just a thought for next year.

Garrett: I’d think a booth would be a good idea. We don’t need to evangelize or be jerks or argue or insult. Just say, “here are some free musical resources you may consider,” and, “in addition to the convention, perhaps next year you will consider the Colloquium as a supplemental training in chant and polyphony?”

Kilroy in Athens: I think my problem with PMSA is the lack of musical and theological standards. Yes, there are lots of fine musicians in PMSA, but for every well-trained musician, there are countless others with a real lack of foundations. PMSA entertains those folks, plays on their emotions, feeds them with music cranked out by the publishers who virtually run the show and shores up their positions. Yes, I know there are small entourages of informed folk, but I personally got tired of the lowest common denominator approach.

Jeremiah Turkish: Yes, and one problem with the idea of expanding the Colloquium is that it would change. We need to remember that the Colloq is not a trade show. It is a training camp for experience in sacred music. Everyone is in two choirs that sing in services throughout the week. That limits its size and scope, providing we retain this model, which is so necessary. So the cap at 250 seems reasonable. But at this stage of history and given highly regrettable aspects of the role of commercial suppliers of liturgical music, a trade-like environment is probably something that should be avoided.

Geneva: “Does CMAA even attempt to make an appearance at PMSA conventions? A vendor table?” I think the idea of CMAA as a “vendor,” just another of various commercial presences at a big trade show, neither more nor less than all those commercial endeavors, would be an ENORMOUS mistake.

Madhu Ceil: Why do the leaders of PMSA don’t invite a CMAA staff member as a speaker, if they really want to do the music that the Church desires?

Charles: Well said, Madhu, and I concur. PMSA is akin to a university of colleges, a marketplace of ideas. CMAA? Moreso a conservatory, a union of principles and ideals.

Arthur: But if there is enough specific interest, enough specific people, and enough specific money- it would be great.

Charles: I (quote from the film) BUCKAROO BANZAI, when Dr. Emilio Lizardo exclaims, “Buckaroo, dunna you ree-ah-lice whaddayou saying?!?” Arthur, you’re sounding like a sales manager with your strategy. If CMAA is bequeathed with fortune that still yielded 12 baskets of leftovers from a start of 2 fish and 5 loaves, it would still feed the faithful. To quote Bob Hurd’s song, “If you belong to me….”
We would not trade our surplus to vendors outside the temple for sacrificial doves so that we could legitimize our presence before the “High Priests.” Would we?

Malachi k: I disagree and think there ARE people at PMSA who want to learn more about chant. The popularity of Paul Ford’s classes last year opened my eyes to that. I saw lots of people looking at By Flowing Waters at the Lit Press booth. And if we brought “free” chant – people would take it. Whether or not they’d ever use it, they’d have it at their finger tips.

Charles : Malachi, I presume your response was to Madhu, and no one should theoretically disagree with your sentiments as well. But, I could only support “the booth” concept if PMSA would also commit to a plenum address or major breakout panel seminar that invited the participation of Dr. Marht and/or Rvs. Pasley or Keyes. Who knows if the PMSA board could stomach that notion? But, such an invitation ought to reflect the clear intent of V2 that Gregorian chant be afforded either “primary” place or, at least “pride of place” at the table. We lament that we musicians were set adrift 40 years ago, and “we had no idea!” remains a convenient excuse for perpetuating that ignorance. But, until the gatekeepers at PMSA keep Dom Pothier et al from the main dais and in hotel modular ballroom breakouts, the principled truths CMAA advocates will remain a lone voice in the din of their malls. PMSA, I believe would gain from offering that place of honor to proponents of chant, namely by thus distancing themselves from the apparent compact they have with “for profit” publishers and other commercial interests. Not to mention that 1500 or so folks would have a golden opportunity to re-evaluate their own contributions and musical legacies knowing “the whole truth.” take it or leave it.

Arthur: I think we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Ambrose : That’s exactly what I was going to say. I agree that being able to get up and make it clear that chant is the ideal, and everything else the exception, would be great indeed. However, right now PMSA attendees (which represent the overwhelming makeup of music directors in our country) hear and know nothing about Gregorian Chant. Sure, having a booth might make it seem like we’re just trying to compete in the marketplace of ideas, but right now you’re not in the marketplace, the public square, and certainly not in the temple.

Charles: Arthur and Ambrose, you misjudge my assignation of CMAA; it posits an ideal, and only points us towards perfection. I don’t know of any other way to respond other than “Chant, not unlike redemption, is not a commodity for sale.”

Conor: Here’s a mischievous thought: what would it cost to stand on the sidewalk and give out CDs and leaflets to conventioneers as they pass between buildings?

Charles: Interesting proposition. I’ll up the ante: if we’re there in Lexington and Concord, why give out CD’s when we could be a living schola? In the entryways of their hall/malls, on the steps of the churches appropriated, in the hotel lobbies, in the lounges after their final events. WWJD?
You know my verbiage is meant to be as inspirational as it appears reckless and revolutionary. And you know I’ve done more than my share of nat’l. and regional PMSA ‘s. I’m not saying the good fight is not allowed to be waged at PMSA ‘s. I am saying that a public, national dialogue has yet to be heard, ala Milwaukee or Snowbird, both of which seem dusty and antiquated to my ears/eyes. A plenum such as Pittsburgh ’99 on the “future” with a panel that included my aforementioned champions, Frs. Ruff, Joncas, Manalo, and a couple of bishops of various stripes (Wuerl v. Vigneron would be a strong draw!) would compel me to spend $ in this economy to witness and regard. Other than that, PMSA has all the attraction, to me, of the LAREC. YMMV.

Maurice O’Coughlin: Charles, mon ami, how I hate the word “progress“. I don’t allow the word to be used in my music history classes since it always suggests a teleological mindset in which Gregorian chant is the most “primitive” of musical utterances. In political discourse, “progress” inevitably means progression towards a goal that a group believes is worthy. I always ask “Progressives” what will they call themselves after they have arrived? In reading comments on Point n Shoot and other places, I can see a digging in of the mainstream against a perceived threat from us. We are smaller in number and I think we should follow Sun Tsu’s advice about not taking on a larger force head on, but attacking the opponent’s weak points. I think we might be missing a great opportunity to outflank the Sacropop industrial complex. ISTM that most Catholics don’t really care one iota about music. If we could attract them to the “idea” (in the parlance of our times, the “sizzle”) of beauty and Catholic identity of chant, we might cut off the support for the status quo. Just thinking out loud.

Charles : Maurice, thank you for addressing my frustration so reasonably. If this four year old “gets The Art of War” does that make me “The Karate Kid?” Perhaps I should have just stopped at “advance.”
Take another read of my fantasies. My strategy includes guerilla tactics aimed at the foot soldiers who deliver their ideas, notions and prejudices to “most Catholics” via marching orders provided them by generals and politicians (please, this is figurative opinion-speech here) who seem only to agree upon one objective-sustaining their industrial complex- after two generations of debate and contradiction that simultaneously appropriates the will of conciliar legislation and selectively ignores its very content that would “end the war.”
I reiterate my other fantasy by pondering the active “advice” of another historical figure. Jesus of Nazareth dined with Pharisees in their homes, took on the marginalized and misfit as followers, faced the confused and apathetic crowds with exhortations that likely didn’t edify their expectations of a messiah, fed them in the bargain, met them one by one when possible and offered forgiveness and hope, and took on the larger forces of an empire, its lackey local king and clerical storm troopers, the mob held captive by their sway, and still never wavered from uttering unadulterated truth. Forgive the zeal and naïveté of the sermonizing. I do not want ANYONE to mistake the above example as (mis)characterizations of our beloved siblings at PMSA. I would like, simply, to live long enough to witness a profound meeting of the minds of our most gifted prophets, and to know movement towards real unity might result.

Froderick: Here’s my outlook. We (CMAA) or any other liturgical guild of sorts, is not “at war” with the likes of PMSA. I never joined any of the usual guilds because most of them do not align themselves with Catholic theology or liturgical ideals that the Church upholds.

Maurice O’Coughlin: Froderick, we may not be at war, but the folks who have the influence in “music ministries” and their support systems attack us at the mention of chant. “We’ve come too far to turn back now!” and “Chant and serious music are not uplifting!” and “Chant will drive people away from the Church!” are the battle cries. Actually for them, I agree with the first call. THEY have come too far to admit they were wrong. Let’s say that every church in the country started using chant (in all forms) and a more dignified music in general–this way no one can simply shift parishes. How many would leave the Church over it? How many would return in a few weeks after their tantrums have subsided? Is their theology so tied up in the “joyful noise” syndrome that they would look for the nearest megachurch? If so, it wasn’t the music that that sent them there. The music was just the last thread holding them to Catholicism.

Durwood: So much for my suggestion in another thread that the Colloquium be held in Massachusetts next year (before I knew PMSA had decided to have its meeting there)…! I think I am finally starting to understand Froderick’s side, but I just don’t consider the whole issue to be so dramatic. Touching just one music director means that an entire parish will begin to experience better liturgy.

Charles: Durwood, as the source of some of the recent drama, I state that my response to the “let’s just set up a booth” proposal indicated my assessment of its viability and worth in the larger scheme. As Dr. Mahrt has stated of late, if chant is invited to the banquet table, but is knowingly regarded by all others present as the odd uncle whose mutterings are to be ignored, then the morality and manners of the host are dubious at best. So, it’s either a question of brick by brick (where we are) or true recognition (how apt is that?) and reconciliation among these “guilds.”

Madhu Ceil: Hmmm, I’m thinking young people might actually pull this together. I usually like the spirit of ‘let’s try and find out.’ (I came to America by myself with that spirit when I was young.) I don’t know how many volunteers you will get (if you actually organize this), but you might also have to do some fund raising and start saving money to cover all the expenses, or some portions at least, including the cost of the trip for each person. And then they might have to miss coming to Colloquium, (It’s very hard for many musicians to afford both events for time and expenses.) If you cannot afford to do both, I don’t know which one you will choose? I think people who go there need to be well trained and knowledgeable to deliver the message effectively, maybe you are. (As you can see, I’m a tad on the older side and cautious.) Everyone has a different talent, and if you think this is your call, why not?

Charles: You’re right, Madhu, indeed: Why not?”

How I Go About Choosing Bricks, Part the One


What I’ve found ironic and interesting is that both here and on the MS Forum we’ve engaged in a fair amount of chatter about……what? Chant? Polyphony? Orchestral Masses? Nope, the ironic part is that due to the “FIRST THINGS” Casey Kasem Top Ten article, we’ve bandied about a large amount of discussion about so-called “Contemporary Worship Music.” As regards that specific article, I’ve said my peace.
However, in light of continued discussion in other threads, I’d like to offer some suggestions for DM’s who must wrestle with the yearly concerns of subscription missal/hymnal publications, and also who are charged with overseeing the programming responsibilities of subordinate musical personnel, such as organists,cantors, ensembles and choirs, to whom license is provided to make their own weekly decisions as to repertoire.
First of all, as a relatively still new member of CMAA, (with four decades of service under a very oversized belt) I absolutely recommend those obvious strategies outlined by Dr. Mahrt, Fr. Keyes, Jeffrey Tucker, Mary Jane Ballou and others have addressed at colloquia, intensives and in “Sacred Music” articles. Namely, hold sessions for musicians and other interested parties (like PRIESTS) that clarify the necessity of familiarization with liturgical legislative documents; prioritize and disseminate information about the role of the proper processional antiphons; clarify the variety of roles that the constituent parties engage in at Mass, such as the responsibility of celebrants to sing their orations versus recitation whenever possible, or which portions of the liturgies have options as to who, what, where, why and how a choir or cantor should be the primary performer of select “movements” and which demand total active participation by the whole congregation. This is Liturgy 101. We can all think of other aspects that must be in place prior to engaging your colleagues with your expertise and direction as advice worthy of their consideration to put into practice.
In another thread I mused that there’s another dimension in the universe where we DM’s could dial in our hymnal content to THE BIG THREE and they would obligingly, gleefully print our boutique annual hymnals. Well, that’s likely not going to happen soon. So, if you are a DM or responsible for choosing repertoire from a subscription or seasonal newsprint hymnal I suggest you get used to this notion: You must plow through that book with a fine toothed comb not only when the first perusal copy hits your mailbox, but virtually each week. Much that I’ve garnered through anecdotal and direct observation is that second-tier music leadership relies upon- A. a personal stable of favorites that they simply trust will always be in each year’s issue; and B. the publishers’ shill periodicals that enable the musician to do the Chinese Restaurant menu choice method of programming. Neither of those strategies benefits a parish’s growth towards enhanced music that is sacred, beautiful and universal.
So, in my case, two years ago, when our parish merged with three others, I created a basic informational tool for my musical corps- a spreadsheet review of literally every enumerated musical item in the OCP Breaking Bread Hymnal. In addition to the fields of title, composer/hymn tune, seasonal/general assignment, etc., I applied MY own overall grade of worthiness to each selection using the A to F curricular adjudication. I then had another field in the spreadsheet if I felt a need to explain the grade. If I wanted to push a tune with an A grade, I would give short phrase reasons, the same for poorly graded pieces. This is a fair amount of work, but it accomplishes a few obvious goals, and some others that are oblique. Obviously, such a document provides your crew with benchmarks that clearly state how the DM values or regards the hymnal content, piece by piece and in toto. If I grade “Blest Be the Lord” as a “D” with a small mention that its genre is dated or simply hokey, a cantor at least knows that if s/he employs it, it is not in concert with what I consider ideal. A more subtle benefit is that by providing a comprehensive, simple review, a DM is communicating to all, “I know this book and this publisher backwards, forwards and in my sleep. Elaine R. McQueeny and Fred Moleck have their tents in Portland and Chicago. Charles’ office is next to the church.” All the CD/Itunes recordings done in studio or cathedral environments for demonstration purposes have all sorts of lipstick and façade product slathered within that won’t be there with the lonely guitar player or lead-sheet pianist looks at a cantor’s choice and says “How does this go?” Your musical staff must know that you know your stuff and are willing to place a tangible value upon some of their “favorites” that will discomfort them, or more hopefully encourage them to expand their “stable.”

Another strategy is scheduling parish reading sessions open to musical staff and parishioners in general. Scheduling is a real problematic issue, not just because of personal issues, but seasonal demands. But, OCP (for example) ships in annual hymnals well in advance of Advent I. Even if you have tremendous rehearsal or administrative demands preparing for Advent/Christmas/Epiphany, I believe the DM review process can be accomplished as soon as perusal copies come in advance of the shipment. And then try to schedule the public reading session for items in the mid-autumn with about an hour and a half of selections that are new to the yearly issue and most worthy of consideration; it doesn’t matter what genre of style. Worthiness (sacred, universal and beautiful) is the highest priority. If this cannot be accomplished in autumn, then it must happen in the first weeks of Ordered Time prior to Lent. I also recommend that you use the most basic of accompaniment instruments, no frills in the exposition. Personally, I never listen to demo recordings. I don’t ever read the keyboard accompaniment scores. I make my decisions after simply auditioning text and melody alone, period. So, the DM can then determine whether it is most appropriate for a piece to be accompanied solely by an organ, a piano, a guitar or combination of those three.
Then, after you’ve premiered these, your selections, poll your musical personnel as to which selections of their preference they would like “demonstrated” at a subsequent reading session. And have another session, perhaps post Pentecost through Trinity Sundays into summer ordinary time.
In both types of reading sessions, it is of paramount necessity for the DM to articulate in much more detail the aspects of each selection that make it either worthy or unsuitable for common usage. If you are diplomatic, no one will huff and puff at these sessions over your pronouncements because time is at a premium. They want to get through reading all the items on your program. And, of course, within your explanations, there must be the constant and consistent threads of how each selection adheres to “the paradigm” in terms of theological orthodoxy, relationship to the psalter and to propers, aesthetic issues inherent in both text (“Yeah, Your Grace IS ENOUGH, yeah…) and music (Somos el Cuerpo de Cristo, Oob la dee, Oob la da, life goes on…..br*, oh nevermind, let’s not go there.)
I’ll be doing my summer session soon, and one thing I will do is measure my own enthusiasm with my comportment. I will likely strive to deliver the direction of the session more with the quiet surety of Professor Mahrt, rather than the blowhard “Vince, the ShamWow Guy- You Gotta Hear Dis Great Song, You can’t live wit’out it!”
And remember rule number one: don’t talk too much. Keep them singing 95% of the time.
In the next installment of this article, I’ll demonstrate my approach to selecting pieces for reading sessions.

Conventional Wisdom? “So What” spaketh Miles Davis


A quotation cited from a 1930 volume of “Caecilia“-

0nly a limited amount of energy is given us. Perhaps we would tackle the problem better by leaving off preaching the beauty, and all that, of the Chant, and beginning to convince the world and ourselves in particular by giving the Chant a chance to talk for itself. If we admit that its exalted mood of meditation and mystic calm and all that is a bit foreign to the hip, hip, hurray spirit of twentieth-century America, then the task of making Gregorian chant prevail begins where our vocabulary leaves off. The solution seems to be: less talk and more honestly patient work.

The Top Ten (Con)Temporary Songs That Should Be Cut Some Slack:

UBI CARITAS Bob Hurd
THE SERVANT SONG Richard Gillard
IN PERFECT CHARITY Randall DeBruyn
IN EVERY AGE Jańet Sullivan Whitaker
ALL THAT IS HIDDEN Bernadette Farrell
LAUDATE, LAUDATE DOMINUM Christopher Walker
THANKS BE TO GOD Stephen Dean
RIVER OF GLORY Dan Schutte
THERE IS NOTHING TOLD Christopher Willcock
OUT INTO THE WILDERNESS Bob Hurd

Honorable mention:

Hymn text to THAXTED: THREE DAYS M.D. Ridge

From the Summer 1958 issue of “Caecilia“-

The New Music

The problem is no longer whether contemporary church music will be accepted. It is plain as the stars that cluster over a vistadome rushing through country darkness that it is accepted and sung. What the faint hearted have viewed cautiously as an alarming experience is past. The question now is how much of it will remain contemporary. For great music is always with us: The great body of Chant and Polyphony and some of that in between-the Gothic, the Baroque, some of the Classical, and isolated giants like Bruckner and Gabriel Faure – having nothing temporary about them; they remain, in the practical domain, contemporary. C. Card. Micara, Bp. of Velletri, Prefect.

I first encountered the link to the FIRST THINGS article over at the MS Forum, and commented with my contention that there was no greater good to be found, IMO, by tagging our initials with the original author’s piece.
Jeffrey Tucker and I then began an email dialogue about the matter. After a few exchanges it occured to me that sharing our conversation might be of more benefit through our different generational perspectives. I will likely also take a couple of my arbitrary list and do a little forensics later on in an edit. One aspect that has totally been ignored by the FIRST THINGS diatribe is a recognition of what constitutes a valid “alius cantus aptus.” Be that as it may, my list above does reflect my appreciation for specific pieces that correspond to my criteria.
So, our discussion follows-

JT (Tuesday)-“I worried that my post would annoy you!”
CC-“Well, my dear friend, it is only an annoyance because by “going there” and reprinting this person’s opinion, our organization’s repute can and likely will be hijacked, and be caricatured as an obstinate, staid, and fringe group of wingnuts by the likes of our friends Todd and Dom Ruff et al. If you’ve noticed, the hubris factor over at PrayTell has surged of late. They’re closing ranks nicely. So, by even a presumed notion of an innocent reprint of the “First Things” article, both the forum and CC have needlessly (IMO) opened themselves to factionalism. Noel’s comment is right: people have formed emotional bonds with this top ten list. You won’t win friends and influence people by trampling upon people’s sensitivies over issues they don’t fully understand, but that they feel acutely.
Just look at the combox polarities over the cappa magna at PT- needless. You, yourself, said “move on.” Now, we have tacitly endorsed this writer’s uninformed, niggardly written and ill-considered opinion on our presumably loftier platforms. We shoot ourselves in the foot by doing so. I love being an apologist for CMAA; I don’t enjoy having that goal made more difficult by aligning ourselves with self-appointed “Miss Manners” who feel it necessary to squeal the names of the Usual Suspects.
First rule of vocal pedagogy: Don’t try to teach a pig to sing. It will frustrate you and annoy the pig.
Pax et bonum.”
JT-“Hmmm, well, as you know, I’m just a bit tone deaf on these issues. I don’t really get it (though your analogy to the cappa magna slightly makes some sense to me). I would remove it if you think that it really does cause harm.
I truly do believe, however, that this music has driven multitudes off from the faith. People just run from this stuff. I find it strange that there is something of a fear of admitting this out there. I try not to ridicule this mainly because, as you say, it doesn’t accomplish anything. And yet, I do think that the ridicule suggests a certain truth.
Bear with me, I’m learning to balance my strong internal tendencies with a slowly coming and enlightened sense of strategic purpose.
But truly tell me: do you really think we are better off without the post than with it? I do respect and defer to your judgement.”

CC-“No, please don’t remove the posts on either site. I’m in the minority, but not because I straddle fences, I have always bristled at gross generalities being elevated to iconic status.
“Democrats favor abortion, Republicans are pro-life.” Yeah, right.
Besides, the horse is out of the barn already. The reprinting of the article is, if nothing else, reportage on matters with which we deal on a weekly basis.
If these ten tunes represent the bogeyman which has alienated multitudes of people from communion with the Church, then such folks built their houses on sandy soil to begin with. Poor songs have always been among us.
I might offer that next colloquium, if we continue the practice of a panel discussion during a dinner, we discern some topics that deal with these very visceral issues, and how we can positively respond to the problems we face when we try to shift focus away from the temporal top ten to the transcendent paradigm.”
JT“What’s funny is that I was going to suggest that you write some reflections on all of this – starting with your own history – and put some of this in context. You have a perspective from the inside that you can offer here. then this morning I wake and see that you have posted! I think you could write more on all of this. One of my mentors used to say that to understand is to forgive. The big problem is that many people, I among them, cannot understand this music no matter how much we attempt to do so.”
CC-“Yeah, I do that sometimes.
You’ll notice that I didn’t augment my list or the Caecilia quotes with anything other than the title (typically, purposefully enigmatic/odd) with anything “me.”
What might be interesting is to give our readership the backstory of our own email dialogue over the original article, and include that after the second Caecilia quote.
Then I could provide some specific insights as to how I approach the process of winnowing chaff from wheat in modern “alius…” and how the stark reality must be acknowledged that there is a likely “multitude” of deeply reverent catholics among four generations that regard the wheat of modern song as very worthy expressions of worship directed to the Lord they love totally. We are gospel obliged to respect these brethren where they are, and, like physicians, “first, do no harm.” So, our task becomes a mission to enrich their worship experiences by sharing with them the beautiful expanse of their Church’s heritage, and do so with a positive and self-evident enthusiasm that does not, of our volition, contend with their sensibilities.
So, if you’re okay, I’d like to offer readers our own exchanges. I might also be inclined to cite an example or two from my subjective list and illuminate some of their qualities.”
JT“Oh I think that would be wonderful!
I was thinking that last night, my own failure to comprehend any of this material comes from a very strange accident of history. My entire conversion to Catholicism took place within a liturgical context of a Latin ordinary form setting with Gregorian music that was unaccompanied. I knew virtually nothing about anything else. Only after I became a Catholic was I exposed to the other. That’s probably why all this other music strikes me as completely alien – and that goes for G&P, P&W, and even traddy English hymns. I just don’t get any of it. Again, this is probably an accident of history – especially since all this happened in the 1980s.”

So, there you have it, for now. A little more may follow, as I said, with a forensics-like examination of one or more of my little list. But I don’t want to detract from the focus this blog and that of CMAA and other kindred spirits’, with a reactionary defense of any modern pieces. Like I said, my real position in the larger picture remains “Move on, nothing to see here.”

Love, Liturgy and Life


Love, Liturgy and Life

Those are fairly ubiquitous words in our domain. And as naturally as they are invoked by our tongues and pens, and as is natural with things of this world and in the Enemy’s parlor dubbed “cyberspace,” we who treasure these words tend to, at best, pay lip service to them when provided the opportunity to turn them from abstractions to actions. This human flaw reminds me of folks who regard Jesus Christ as their own personal “Teddy Bear.” Such people are as nice and cuddly as their own “Make a Jesus” doll, until someone else wants to share that joy and transgresses by wanting to hold that doll for while, themselves. Then hell hath no fury…

We can talk, type and sing a good game about “Jesus is my personal Lord and Savior” on OUR blogs and journals until we’re literally blue in the face, but we’re still neck deep in the big muddy of The Fall: whether we’re God’s greatest creatures ever, not only about to step in a cow patty, but to taste it as well! Or those creature’s progeny, a sibling who would crush another’s skull out of jealousy and pride. I’m reminded of Al Pacino’s “Satan” character in “The Devil’s Advocate” schooling his “son” about how each of us thinks we’re each and solely “God’s special creature” and that we’re immune to the lure and stench that is Gehenna.

This café is about LOVE, LITURGY and LIFE. It is about our Lord’s work. And though we may still be a needle stuck skipping on the turntable of the Fall, we must never forget that Jesus was present then, before then, and is present now and evermore. And it doesn’t serve Him or us well to turn that reality into a pathetic parody of Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights” because we have forgotten about approaching His Father with “fear and trembling.” Oh, and after reconciling with each other. Yes, really.

I’m getting up there. Yesterday was my eldest’s 35th birthday. Before going to dinner, I re-watched the film “The Book of Eli.” No spoiler alert necessary, but I hadn’t quite caught in previous viewings the explanation that Eli offers his companion of why he yielded his noble quest and treasure- “I lost sight of what the book had taught me- to help someone else rather than myself.” So, now that I’m trying, real hard, to become more circumspect in my thoughts, words and actions, I ask myself a theoretical question about one of my elders: “What is more valuable to me, Professor Mahrt the man, or Professor Mahrt the oracle?” (You can substitute your own mentors’ names.) Of course, that question is absurd. Jesus Christ obliterates that question as utterly meaningless. Our integrity as God’s special creatures is made manifest only by His Incarnation. If we name Him as Lord, then what are we to then do? Feed His lambs, tend His sheep.

I was very well fed at Colloquium. Near as I could tell, so were many others so tended. Even after a quiet, profound exit from the flock, there apparently were many other Christs who, without knowing me, awaited our meeting so that they could tend to me and feed my soul with blessed assurance that Christus Vincit et Regnat. I’m speaking of one of our member’s daughter, the most beautiful child I’ve ever seen. This little cherub couldn’t quite run the two hour race of the closing Mass and her amazing mother sacrificed her goal of “being there” in the midst of the assembly of heavenly hosts and God’s faithful preparing for COMMUNION. I’m speaking of my wife, who, a day before at that same Mass subsumed her spirit and voice among those same hosts under the angelic direction of Wilco Brouwers, sprinted over fifty feet with 17 pins in a still-healing left ankle to get to her husband’s side as I groaned on a wet Pittsburgh street in agony. I’m speaking of a burly delivery man who came to her aid, helped her to raise me up to a sitting position, called 9-1-1, and when he asked “What brought us to Pittsburgh?” we answered “a Gregorian Chant retreat” said, “Cool!” I’m speaking of EMT’s, nurses and physicians at Mercy Hospital ER on a mid-day Monday who never lost sight of me and my needs though level one traumas were streaming through the doors minute after minute. I’m speaking of a couple of nuns at Mercy who gravitated towards us amid the maelstrom with nothing more than calm, open smiles and pithy conversations while I mantra’d the heck out of the Rosary awaiting any meds. I’m speaking of regular, faceless folk at two hotels who, without pause or annoying caveats, re-arranged our lodging because of the accident, and did so gladly. (One knows these things, because when it happens in this era, it seems oddly unexpected that people are actually accommodating and humble.) And so on and so forth.

I’m still feeling a bit alien posting on this site. The “I’m NOT WORTHY” insecurity that so easily rises like bile in my mind. Yes, my name’s Charles, and I have self-esteem issues. ‘Hi, Charles!” I may not be capable of grasping the quantum physics of the isolated punctum, but like my new best crazy bud, Ralphie, I know it’s the coolest thing I acquired this last week at colloquium. It’s better than Gatorade, for sure. Magnificat anima mea

This is the Chant Café. This is not the Cat Café. As I said (to the eternal consternation of my beloved) I’m getting up there. The older I get, the less trivia I know or remember. But the older I get, more is my desire to emulate our Blessed Mother’s humility and acceptance. But as beatific as her visage is depicted by Michelangelo’s marble monument of her “Pieta,” I cannot but think that at that real moment in time, weariness also would have been recognized in her eyes as she cradled her lifeless son’s corpus. But her humility and trust in her God, her eternal heavenly Spouse prevails always.

So, can we meet in the little loges of this blog without the tedium, the trivial, the weariness? I am the last person who wants this little enterprise to be some sort of liturgical Disneyland. But if we choose to park our gluteous maxima’s in a comfy chair with either a latté or a triple espresso in the comboxes, how difficult would it be, really, to sit back rather than lean forward? To listen rather than to “hold court?” To tend, rather than direct? To share, rather than to contradict? To laugh with each other, rather than to take pleasure from the scorn of others? To celebrate “love, liturgy and life” rather than to roll in the slimes of our own making?

I’m talking to myself while my angel never stops singing joyfully to my deaf ears.

“If my people, which are called by my Name, would humble themselves…..”

PS. As I finished this post, one of our vicars called and informed me that my bass section leader, Frank, fell from a ladder this morning with significant head trauma and possible vertebrae issues. He’s been transported to the regional trauma center for surgery. Please offer prayers for my friend, Frank.

Women Clothed with the Son


Sunday evening, post-Colloquium- Wendy and I are happily exhausted. Finished Pittsburgh proper the way we began, with a dinner at the Pittsburgh Steak House on Carson,Southside.We cannot conceive of what it takes for Arlene OZ to “decompress” from one of “these.” I might propose that AOZ is one of the greatest people breathing air on this planet at this moment; she reconciles the Martha/Mary dichotomy with a smile and a couple of hairpins. Make no mistake though, she knows that every glass of the assembled is clean, then filled, then washed. And all the while she’s never left His side, absorbing every graceful word from His heart. And as Frogman eloquently opined, she don’t take a backseat to anybody when it comes to lovingly, nurturingly letting her baby doves fly with the wings of plainsong. She would shy away were that said in public from a dais microphone. Well, Arlene, I’m seconding Noel here and now, you’re front and center, enfolded in Christ’s arms.

And now the then: In the last three years, if there needed to be a clear sign that the tide is turning, it was attested to in this last week. “Then” is to be thought of as “what is to come,” not “what has gone.” “Then came……”

Jessica Happold is 25. In this era 25 doesn’t equal a quarter-century as we all know that the infected media Fr. Pasley spoke of at the final Sunday Mass have mitigated the concept of 25 as a “quarter-century.” Jessica, in any case, comprises all we need to know about the future of the liturgical leadership of our beloved Church. She hails from a one stop-sign (they had a blinking red-light, but then determined it was exorbitant) little burg in Nebraska containing less than 400 souls, some who attend the one Catholic parish, the others a Methodist church. She was born a golden child, according to her mother, who prayed for and received her musician when Jessica emerged singing in the delivery room. (Okay, I made that up.)Cut to Colloquium XX. It’s almost “incontheiveable” that the ripoff, tres cool slogan, ‘Stay Churchy, my friends,‘ is actually attested to by this young woman from a town that Google Earth has trouble locating.

She is finishing her MMusEd at UNebraska, Lincoln while teaching at the parochial school personally overseen by Bsp. Bruskewitz. Jessica was “deemed” to assume the duties of “Choir Director” of Bsp. Fabian’s cathedral as soon as she returns to Lincoln. And, that may not have even yet happened of this writing; her flight was delayed by the Murphy’s Law of modern Air Travel this morning. She could’ve stayed for the final Mass if all the dominos of the chaos theory of travel had fallen her way. But I digress.

Jessica wasn’t quite sure what she was in for when her principal sent her to Colloquium. She knew it couldn’t be bad, but she also knew that she was going in the midst of summer session classes for her MMusEd. She took at least two online exams in the midst of the impossible scheduling of Colloquium, and came out smiling. I think that is the point: she, like AOZ, will always come out smiling.
We, Jessica, Wendy and I, mutually adopted each other Monday morning as parents/child when we checked into Vickroy. She’d arrived Sunday and had gotten the lay of Dusquesne Land. We saw her in the little commons room after getting checked in, and she offered to guide us around campus. The rest? ‘Twas and ’tis a “God-thing.”

Basically, Wendy was her wing-gal when it was obvious she had to sing with Wilco. I just got to be funny-Dad all week. But I assure you, in the wee small hours of the morning, Jessica can hold forth about “being Catholic” with the likes of her sisters and brothers of the post-Resurrection church of people, followers of The Way. She faces challenges, both professional and personal, that she will navigate only, by her own confession, with the Light of Christ.

I can’t really go on further describing the miracle that Jessica is. I can promise that she will be a brighter star among the galaxy of disciples I mentioned as regards Jeff O.

But she, like AOZ and all the wondrous women of CMAA that were here this week or couldn’t be, save in spirit, represents not only the discipleship of the Magdala, and Mary and Martha, but also the bond between Naomi and Ruth, “faithful to you is my name.”

Vocation as Vacation?

This is the enigma of Colloquium. “To spend exorbitant amounts of personal funds, time, and energy that one might gain opportunity to endure the queues and petty torments and rituals of the TSA/Airline/Airport politburos, to sing “I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain, I’ve seen humid days that I thought would never end….” (©Jeffrey A. Tucker), so as to increase one’s abilities and skills in an ancient form of G*dspeak which provides great joy to yourself, your peers and the tired, meek and lowly PIPs at home, knowing that you will return to the bosom of the parish, ennobled and emboldened to “push back” the nattering nabob sheep when they attack, or to nudge the elephant in the room that is clerical disinterest or resistance………………………..or not?”

That is the question, dear Yorick!

But yet, “here we are, altogether as we chant our chants, joyfully!” (Even though some might wonder if we don’t “take off” from an isolated punctum with absolute perfection in all concerns of musicality and ritual meaning, will the top of Jeff Ostrowski’s perfect Marine’s buzz-cut head pop off like an animated feature in “Monty Python?”) Yes, here we are!

And as we’ve broken bread with three squares-a-day during this week at Dusquesne, I’ve informally determined that this event amounts to the only substantial “vacation” time most of us will afford ourselves for the entire work year! Who else does this? Do the illuminati and plebes of the corporate world go down to Hilton Head or up to Cape Cod to hob-knob for brief moments with the Clintons and Kennedy’s on their official retreats, and then plop down into their clubhouses, pencils in hand to pour over the writings of Fan Li, Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes, Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan? Heck, who knows? Maybe they do. Or maybe they’re out on the links, or flaying their squash racquets, or worse, blurrily watching the vagaries of the Dow Avg. with their little friend, Ketel One, nearby. Who knows? Who cares?

In my dictionary, you look up “Passion,” you see an icon of Christ collapsing a third time under the weight of the crux. Now, in my revised dictionary, you look up “passionate,” you see zoetrope sequences of the various facial expressions of one Jeffrey Ostrowski!
Those CMAA folks who know me, know I’m partial to great movies. “Whaddya mean “great movies?” Well, mostly weird stuff. “Whaddya mean “weird stuff.” Uh, off-beat, compelling, sometimes life-altering, sometimes off-the-charts bizarre. Okay, Jeff Ostrawski IS…..the “Buckaroo Banzai” of our life and times in chant. (You have to do the cinema math, one can’t explain “Buckaroo Banzai.”) This whipper-snapper (and I DO MEAN “whipper-snapper!) probably pulled out the Excalibre of chant at age five, found the peep-stone spectacles which compelled him towards endless libraries of autographs, manuscripts, facsimiles and uhrtexts at age nine, and so forth until now we have the chant version of the offspring of Stephen Hawking and Indiana Jones.

For you partial to cartoon caricatures, Jeff could be likened to a cross between the Tazmanian Devil and that Enfante Terriblé kid in “Family Guy.” I simply think he’s our own Buckaroo Banzai in a barong, performing brain salad surgery one moment, choosing well the true Holy Grail among many the next, and taking the chant world into the eighth dimension, despite the contrariness of the many evil Dr. Emilio Lizardo’s around the world. (See the film, I ain’t got time to ‘splain.)

Still and all, Jeffrey Ostrowski is a serious, devoted, and reverently earnest man. And he has, among others in leadership roles, literally transformed the notions of many other serious…..earnest chant proponents of how to effect the chant from conception to acquisition to rendering to its spiritual culmination. If I had to liken his methodology to a sport, I’d say that would have to be Mixed Martial Arts, or MMA to you cage-fighter enthusiasts. On Monday we’d learn via TaiChi; Tuesday it’d be Karate, Wednesday-Kung Fu, today more like Leonides versus the whole of Persia! One moment he will liken a chant phrase to an airplane’s takeoff, cruising and then landing, and the next he might stomp a foot and aim a death stare off into space should our schola not intuit a cadence in the manner which he had already drilled into our brains a great many times. It was funny today when Jeff mentioned Msgr. Bartolucci in passing. I remember distinctly thinking to myself on our second day’s session, “Bartolucci wishes he were Ostrowski!” (Though, of course, that would be a cultural impossibility.)

Well, our band of real men in tights may not achieve the elegant thrust and effortless landing of a stealth jet fighter, but we’re awfully close to singing with the precision of a really good metro train moving from station to station. You know, that clean whoosh of initial thrust, the smooth ride between terminals, and the perfectly measured braking into the next stop, ahhhhhhh. And Jeffrey smiles, somewhere between Dennis the Menace and the Dalai Lama, knowing that he charted the course and his matey’s brought her safely to harbor.

But Jeffrey, according to his own testimony, has difficulty sleeping through the night. One night he claimed the declamation of the word “are” kept him awake. He was serious! And many other perplexities vex his REM time. So, what do you think Jeffrey and his beautiful bride do for vacation? COLLOQUIUM I’d wager; in a heartbeat.

Sundown in Pittsburgh on a Friday peers through the skyscrapers from my dorm room.

That was almost as bad as, “It was a dark and stormy night….”

And coming from a Vesper Service to almost literally die for, all I can think of about these wonderful vacationers, every one of whom likely gives more time, talent and treasure to their parishes, and who receive the ack-ack of flak cannons from all quarters with a side dose of grace now and then, is “Well done, good and faithful servants.” Oh, and “when you get back you have three funerals and a wedding that Father’s fitting in on Friday night after confessions. You okay with that?” Sure, you think?!? I sang with Jeff Ostrowski. I can do anything!

Though he may be insufferable, LEND ME A TENOR!


That is the only association with Broadway musicals that might be considered appropriate for Colloquium 2010. At the conclusion of the always expected, yet ever fresh and invigorating, extemporaneous welcome address given by the ever erudite Bow Tied One Monday evening, necessity called him to don his gym teacher whistle and clipboard, and do the S-A-T-B headcount for each of the five polyphonic choirs. And, of course, the headcount eventually turned into a cheery auction- “Can we get a few more tenors for the Palestrina? Howabout a few more tenors for Vespers, guys? Guys?” Of course, it seems that by Tuesday every choir had a requisite, if not ideal balance.

I have tried to describe my first two colloquiums to my choristers, to internet fellow travelers and friends, and per usual my words (the oh-so-many and run on words) have failed. But, maybe this comparison, outlandish as it may be at first blush, might just clarity my feelings and experiences. When the great John Paul II returned as the Holy Father to his motherland, the streets and main square of Warsaw overflowed with three million catholic souls, and by all accounts those 3M souls were of one mind, one heart, one spirit and of one purpose. That being the relentless truth that Jesus Christ is Lord, He alone, with His Mother and countless saints and angels points the Way, the Truth and the Life that is here and to come with His Father through the power of the Spirit. And those Poles gathered that day with a dignity, integrity and will exemplified by our Lord’s Vicar.

Here in sultry Pittsburgh, CMAA has convened an assembly of a mere 250 souls. And we, too, are one with Christ as on that day in Warsaw. Our purpose is apparent and really never needs explanation. We are to honor God, we are to share in his suffering and sacrifice at the altar of remembrance and reminiscence. And we are one by explicitly and implicitly recognizing that by bringing to the table only that which is, of its nature, sacred, beautiful and universal, we are honoring the truth through submission and humility to the worship traditions of Christ’s Church. Dr. Ed Schaefer brought this to the fore in his address last evening: those who stubbornly decree that to restore musical and liturgical legacies that are fifteen centuries proven amount to nothing more than museum worship cannot comprehend (ineffably?) that by traveling along this organic path, we cling lovingly to our Church’s apostolic succession. “This,” Schaefer says, “frees our souls (priests and lay alike) from the licit, understood but nevertheless, self-oriented possibilities that vary from parish to parish around our country and world. If Christ is Truth, and the Truth sets us free, then we can only be free by submission to His Will.”

The Polish faithful hoping to catch a glimpse, or hear a phrase, or take up a chant that day in Warsaw were a truly persecuted people under the thumb and scrutiny of Polish Communist authority and its Soviet masters. But on that day, nothing could starve those millions from rejoicing, from prayer and praise, from thanks and renewal, and eventually from freedom. And, as Dr. Schaefer, Dr. Mahrt and so many have echoed before them, “the continuity of tradition includes the realization that we are a persecuted church.” And all of us baptized, not just R2’s or SoV2’s, or others between those enclaves, constitute the body of this persecuted church. We are, or should be, celebrating the joy of being counter-cultural, according to Dr. Schaefer.
Well, the up-and-down-and-up-and-down again geography of Dusquene has this soul’s arches, blisters, quads and knees profoundly suffering. But, this year, exactly as it has been over the last two years, finds me joyful in extremis!

Alleluia, Amen.