Every Time I Feel the Spirit-A Pentecostal Predisposition

Our CMAA President, Dr. William Mahrt, never fails to share the following anecdote when the subject of pastor/musician collaboration inevitably rises in conversation, (I paraphrase from memory as best I can recall)-

When the pastoral decision at my parish in Palo Alto was made to supplant the use of Latin for English, our schola prepared for the next Sunday’s Mass as was our custom. The pastor mentioned something to the effect that I would program suitable English repertoire. So, the following Sunday we chanted the propers and the ordinary in Latin. After the Mass the pastor came up to me sometime and asked me if I’d understood the mandate to change to the vernacular, English. I said, “Of course I did. When someone composes some equally suitable music for the Mass in English we’ll sing it. We’re still singing the Mass forty years later in Latin.

As clever yet unassuming that response was at the time, not everyone can be a Professor Mahrt and think in 3D in real time: disarmingly, diplomatically and decidedly! And the times, they have a-chang-ed, insofar as the political realities of parish life and dealing with the personalities and predispositions of modern pastors. I wince every time anyone of any age demographic laments, in effect, that the bulk of opposition to the RotR “movement” resides among Boomer generation pastors, who not only universally are depicted as having had their fill of chant in seminary back in the day and stomp upon its revival like a alb’d Transformer, should chant rear its dreary head in THEIR parish! And, to add salt upon that wound to all prospective chanters in such domains, such men are likely to remain at their pastorates for at least another decade and a half, perhaps two.

I wince at that stereotype because, though I’ve studied with Mahrt, chanted with Mahrt, conversed at length with Mahrt, I am no William Mahrt! But what his anecdote illustrates is that collaboration is a truly inspired enterprise, always. And, yes, I do mean the inspiration of the Holy Spirit cannot be underestimated or undervalued within the discerning mind of a musician whose heart knows that the missio to restore solemnity to our worship is right and just, but relies upon skills of communication learned or unlearned at countless human resource seminars or classes. (continued)

I have been at my current parish assignment for nineteen plus years. I would be hard-pressed to come up with a humorous, positive anecdote of actuosa collaborationis during my tenure. When I came to the parish, it had already 6000 registered families. Now we are merged (for going on three years) with two other parishes and christening a fourth in August. We estimated through polling that there are likely 35,000+ nominally Roman Catholic souls in our 120K populated city. We are staffed with four FT priests and a retired father who does minimal sacramental duties. We have a healthy slew of permanent deacons, and support staff and ministries are burgeoning. 

So, when the imminent opening of the fourth parish demanded a serious review of the Mass schedules among all four churches, the pastor convened with his brother-priests, crafted some proposals, perhaps ran some of those by some pastoral and finance council members, and then presented everyone with a final proposed schedule. We have nineteen weekend Masses among the four parishes, and music is integral at each one of them. I didn’t become involved until the final schedule was essentially ratified and published. And, as per usual, there were “coverage” gaps and less than ideal solutions that would have been necessitated by not tweaking that final schedule.

Just to wrap this up, for a couple of intense and quietly conducted meetings, one on one with the pastor, the senior vicar, with my trusted organist who has an extensive Human Resources background, a few of us went back to the table and carefully mapped out an alternative schedule that would not only maintain a continuum of almost two decades, but actually assist in providing existing personnel easier opportunities to insure the new parish would open fully staffed on day one. 

All that remained was to initiate a sequence of presentations to the pastor, to select other priests, and then to the cabinet (of which I’m the Liturgy/Music member) that showed with just two alterations (minimal out of 19) which maintained two current Mass hours. We used spread sheets to formulate our proposal, colored to show travel times, overlapping time issues and so-forth. And from those we found the solution, and then printed out the two schedules side by side, but with the revised schedule denoted using color classifications. That decision simply was inspired. It was akin to “all the stars and planets simply aligned.” So, before that meeting, the pastor was prepared to listen to alternatives, though predisposed to reject them. But positive, even joyful explanation and enthusiasm combined with assurance that he would have the final say-so would be accepted in like-minded joy and positive hope.

At the meeting, the colorful “stars and planets” became evident to all, the pastor asked all present to provide input, and consensus was actually reached that the two revisions would, indeed, make the rough places straight. And I think I finally enjoyed my first real and deep understanding of that term which doesn’t get much airplay of late: aggiornamento.

We, as servants of the Liturgy cannot, for a moment, forget that a Mass can be heard without the benefit and adornment of music, but it cannot be heard without the participation of the alter Christus. So, even though we have the benefit of constellations of liturgical understanding literally under our fingertips, we should never presume that without earning the trust of the man who assumes, by divine constitution through ordination, the faculties to, in persona Christi, consecrate our offerings at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we cannot exercize our servitude and ministry. 

So, if I had to offer any advice to our younger generations regarding negotiating the rough seas of liturgical change at the parish level, it would probably sound a lot like it came from Ecclesiastes. Never not be truly enthusiastic, or filled with holy zeal. Likewise, never not be inclined towards patience and understanding, even if it demands some measure of unpalatable tolerance. And do consult the counsel of the Holy Spirit when it seems that everyone else is consulting Risk Management.

All Ukeleles Lead to …..

Really? Charles,
are you actually proposing that…? Really?
(Trying to sound as
authentic as Adam Wood.)
Well, I figure that we all need a good guffaw before we dig into Pittsburgh.

Lord knows, I know better than some what it means to encounter Pittsburgh up close and personal.
Thank you, Mercy Hospital.

This is wrong on many levels

And yes, I do have a “DimeBag Darrell” Ukelele for potential Big Island Liturgical Conference goes Heavy Metal sessions.
Do not mess with us Californians.
We know from assimilation.

But, suffice it to say that novelty and cleverness and innovation are conceptual.The lingua franca of our Church is in a whole other realm than of
Okay, if you have no sense of humor, then accept the reality that many of us have chosen that to unite our voices in a musical medium that no single person walking and listening to the songs of earth could possibly not recognize as a sacred expression directed to God.
That would be “The Chant.”
Ukeleles notwithstanding, and not necessarily optional.

Resourcing and Resuming…a golden vintage coming?

On the heels of Jeffrey’s colloquium testament, and Adam’s return from radio silence, I, too, wish to submit for your consideration some random and likely inarticulate thoughts about both realities and perceptions in the current liturgical culture, particularly those that seemingly circle the cyber-globe like the El Nino weather phenomenon.
Those of you who rightly call me out for my tendencies towards verbiage and hyperbole, caveat emptor and read no further! Maybe someone (Kathy?) will reduce this diatribe to a paragraph’s worth of bullet points, God willing.

I start with two seemingly incompatible reflections.

First, I’m happy to have gone through a four decade learning curve in music ministry leadership that has led me from the noble naïveté of the Baltimore folk movement, the acid-trip eclecticism of unlimited-horizon visionaries in the Oakland Diocese, through the embryonic reformations of Deiss, Westendorf and Proulx zeniths, then the post-charismatic forging of amalgamations that represented, at the time, legitimately new and powerful voices in sung worship that spawned a complex genealogical dialectic, namely the SLJ/Dameans model, through to the Minnesotan monopoly, the Anglophile husbandry with St. Thomas More/Chris Willcocks, and other particular, regional expressions such as the Hurd/Cortez axis or the Hommerding/Chepponis sensibility.

Second, I wish I’d had the where-with-all to have simply sailed through these decades of both bliss and tumult in the deck shoes of Mahrt. Schuler or Salamunovich.

Those two celebratory musings aside, in my estimation there is one, sole maxim that applies for those wishing to improve the lot of worship, and here I’ll paraphrase the great pop hit by Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin-“Sisters (and brothers) are doin’ it for themselves!”

All of us who, to whatever degree, are involved in Roman Catholic worship (from the ubiquitous PIP, so often misappropriated and maligned, to the aspiring Knight of St. Gregory) must understand that we are not the authors of change, that the progenitor of the vineyards of worship is the author, and we’re here as both vine tenders and branches of the vine at once. This creates in us a longing to be affirmed that as we go through the seasons and cycles of change, that we somehow ensure that all change is organic to its nature, and not manufactured. Well, as in real agriculture, and specifically the science and art that is wine-making, perfection and ideals are elusive and sometimes never achieved. And more often than not, one brilliant vintage is afforded a vintner and workers who messily and mightily worked the process, while across the road in another vineyard with equally endowed resources; the yield seems an unfathomable loss.

Where I’m going with this is that often we tend to lose sight of the noble purpose of our labor: the rightful thanks and praise to that Author of nature and Creation that has just a minute culmination, a glimpse or taste if you will, of His gifts offered to us in perfection.

Some of us get waylaid by flocking like disciples to experts and critics, who deftly and mannerly lay out the protocols of tasting the wine and appreciating their credits and debits, to which many of us respond with some sort of “Ah hah!” moment of enlightenment. We “taste and see” the goodness and want more than anything to have that experience re-created back home after our pilgrimage. But, every year, we go back home armed with new scores and literature (but not with the sommelier!) and are again confronted with the vagaries and grubbiness of having to actually convince others to up their levels of due diligence in trimming the vines, enriching the nutrients in the soil, planting new varietals, and hoping that Zephiro’s fortunes blow our way.

Puts the terror back into “terroire.” Nevertheless, we are compelled by conviction that we must enter the vineyard and the seasons with a renewed hope, bolstered confidences and new knowledge to lead our fellow workers to risk it all again that we may celebrate a better, more noble harvest and vintage. And all this must be done in community with other vintners, the folks across the road who make the similar effort, only with different varietals, different methods and different outcomes, perhaps. And none of us really can afford the time for indulging pride, envy, righteousness or condemnation within our own and our neighbors’ estates. Hopefully, when the wine flows from cask to bottle to goblet to tongue, all that’s left to say is “Te salud.”

It is fairly certain that people of every era remark at some particular moment, “We are living in extraordinary times.” Well, mark this as one of those moments from my vantage point. I remember my graduate advisor asserting his belief (not opinion) that the golden age of renaissance polyphony could only have been contemporaneous to that era’s masters; that logic simply dictates that Capella Sixtina under Pierluigi Palestrina’s direction would mark the zenith of performance practice of that unique musical form and expression. That notion bristled my sensibilities then and does still. That logic was in direct odds with my life’s experience and logic that as time and eras pass, all creation evolves in continuum. As a child I read the saga of Roger Bannister’s quest to break the four-minute mile in track history, an incomprehensible and impossible feat so regarded in the fifties. And then the litany of such conquerors, Sir Edmund Hillary, Jonas Salk, Frederick Douglass, Ludwig van Beethoven, and thousands of other legendary names became part of my understanding of the notion that we stand upon the shoulders of giants to this day. And eventually, as we re-construct history for our own purposes and among those names I happened to find Alfred Deller, John Eliott Gardiner, Peter Phillips, Roger Wagner, Paul Salamunovich, and others, the logic that “the golden age of renaissance polyphony” is now as much as then, and will continue into the future.

But how does that comment upon this era as particularly “extraordinary”? Well, in our liturgical domain, we are approaching a half-century’s worth of reflection upon the landscapes and vistas that apparently emerged from post-conciliar legislation of the Second Vatican Council and other subsequent documents. Looking from the perspective of musical evolutions associated with this era I would be more inclined to see the whole as more of a patchwork quilt, randomly assembled, than a tapestry whose design evidences intent and purpose, as well as artful craft. And just as a humorous aside, there have been a number of “long and winding roads” and sometimes “what a long, strange trip it’s been.” Think of the irony: “Sons of God” is a direct ancestor to the duly diligent gender inclusivity which is apparently a hallmark of Worship 4. Elsewhere, the prototype enculturation efforts of Clarence Rivers and Grayson Brown have been approbated by a number of non-African/American arrangers and composers to great popularity to this day while some of the most significant Catholic composition comes from the pen of Kevin Allen, who happens to be African-American, which embodies the discipline of renaissance counterpoint wed to contemporaneous choral techniques! And the lesson of the Beatles’ stunning contribution to both music and culture, namely that of sustaining a truly cutting edge and worthy aesthetic in a populist culture (and which has been imitated by other such collaborative RC liturgical cooperatives such as the SLJ’s and the Iona/John Bell commune, among others) is impossible. But yet, our liturgical counterparts have not faired well from their forays into chant, or traditional classicism, contrived Anglophile choral traditions and other “synthesis,” and when they return to emulate their own instinctive efforts of their earliest genres, those efforts generally seem, within the true discerning heart, tried, tired and tepid reminiscences of past glories. But they do sell at Scarborough Faires all over the nation, and thus persist. Banality, whether it’s orchestrated with brass, tympani and the organ, or timbales, bajo sextos, and accordians, much less pianos, guitars and electric basses, often is the only aspect many of us can concede is the sole, unifying hallmark of modern Roman Catholic liturgical composition.

I do maintain a charitable heart for a great deal of the genre commonly referred to as sacro-pop of late, even some obvious banalities, as long as those taking up these songs and settings bring both honest and humility-based aspects to the forefront of their use and performance. But sadly, our culture automatically works against this ethos as well. To this “critic” the ironic absurdity of hearing a mega-Aussie choir, orchestra, worship team and “authentic soul sister” soloist wringing out the last drop of “gospel authenticity” at a Papal Mass at a Sydney WYD Mass from James Moore’s much-discussed “Taste and See” is just as confounding as whenever I would watch the late Luciano Pavarotti wheeled out to sing the Franck “Panis Angelicus” at other mega-Masses.

Among many of us who frequent, contribute, learn and share “praxis and philosophy” in real time mindful of the cause taken up by CMAA and the Chant Café, it can be demonstrably shown that after this half-century reflection, the whatever-the-market-bears patchwork is unraveling at their quickly sewn seams. However, the Ernest and Julio Gallo, Boone’s Farm and Two-Buck Chuck novelties will always be among us.

But as has been said by others herein, the MS Forum and many of the line of ancestral periodicals from “Caecilia” to “The Adoremus Bulletins,” the surge of new, firmly rooted and tended vintages is culminating in the form of “The Simple English Propers,” the resources of Corpus Christi Watershed, the St. Louis Liturgical Institute efforts, the collections of Rice and Allen, and even in a great deal of the Psallite Hymnal Composers Group contributions.

But how this latter “counter-revolution” to the populist and commerce-driven status quo will eventuate and take root in the “normative” Sunday Mass in an increasingly tribalized/Balkanized parish terroire remains to be seen. And personally, I don’t subscribe to the notion of looking into either farmers’ almanacs or crystal balls in order to predict a noble success of this switch towards the ideal, the Mahrt mandate and paradigm, is a worthwhile use of our time. I believe we have to work the hours of each day through the seasons and the years consistently and with holy humility, no matter where on the arc of the trends happens to be either in our estate, or in the whole of the viticulture.

More coming likely later.

Amadeus Visits Visalia, SDG

This is a homegrown video of our local performance of Mozart’s REQUIEM offered to the Visalia/Fresno community on May 5 last. St. Mary’s Schola, the Sanctuary Choir of Christ Lutheran, the Masterworks Chorale of our community College of the Sequoias, and members of our local symphony collaborated to present the Requiem to a SRO audience. In the Introitus the soprano soloist is my beloved first daughter, Charlotte Da Rosa, whom you’ll see on stage right of the stunning silver tressed mezzo-soloist, whom CMAA vets know truly is the better half of the Culbreth troth, my beloved Wendy. Wendy and tenor soloist Prof. Jeff Seaward (COS Choral Director) and bass soloist Limuel Forgey (Christ Lutheran Director of Music) sing in their respective movements both solo/soli, found underneath the first movement video.
I haven’t been able to find words, still to this moment, to describe the honor and privilege it is to be able to “bring this off” in one’s own parish, much less home town. There are so many to thank.
During my nearly two decades at my parish we’ve been blessed to offer to God some very refined medals of musical genius to our parishioners. But, I have to encourage those parishes who are blessed with the various environmental and talent resources to seek out collaboration among our own fellow RC churches, and with like-minded denominational parishes who value the sacred treasury as a missio, a pilgrimage to give glory to God and witness to our faith in Christ and as prayer for believers in Him.
For all our faithful departed in Christ….


“Pie Jesu, Domine…..dona eis requiem.” BONK!

BLOG PHILOSOPHY CAVEAT EMPTOR: Remember we occasionally chat about “life” as well as liturgy. This is one of those posts.

As few of our readers would likely remember, our parish schola collaborated with another church’s chancel choir and our community college masterworks chorale and local symphony in the performance last Thursday of the Mozart REQUIEM under my baton. I still can’t find words to express the magnitude of the process and gratitude for the performance. The mere fact I can’t find words yet should be cause for great rejoicing!
Anyway, what with the compressed hubbub in our daily lives, the 24 hour news cycle that somehow manages to find at least three disasters daily to chew on, (which is news now, the wedding of the Royals or the Schwarzeggar/Shriver split?), and the good news of a full colloquium and gratis copies of BOTH the SCG and SEP, I thought it might be time to import yet another veddy British expression that would provide respite between our bonking our heads with our Illumined Manuscripts after each repitition of the Pythonesque litany.
Sally forth….

“Majesty” as a cure for the litmusic doldrums?

Over at INSIDECATHOLIC commentator “Mena” offers:

Also standing in the way of this one is the complacency of parishioners, and the multi-generational conflict about subjecting the the Mass to the whims of “progress.” I can’t be the only Catholic under 35 (or 45, 55, 65…) who questions the wisdom of the the hippie generation’s imprint on liturgy. A little majesty now and then is a good thing.

As a parish Director of Music for just now over four decades, I think Mena’s spot on with one observation, and wants to be overly compensated on the other side of that reality and equation. Complacency is not merely a symptom of the Church’s liturgical dis-ease, it has metasticized its way into the mindset of the vast majority of all the “stakeholders,” office ministers and lay faithful alike. The institutional mechanisms that have grafted convenience to obligation, such as entitlements to pulp missal subscriptions and the consumerist result of assured obsolecense guaranteeing a passive demand that private publishers, not the Church, are happy to maintain.
Priest/Celebrants also daily wrestle with routine as they perceive it, rather than office and opportunity, and many of them retreat to insulation from “community” even if they’re lucky to have vicars sharing a rectory. The old insulations, destructive behaviors or addictions, are too dangerous. So many of them manage to create “make work” daily lives like their secular counterpart CEO/CFO’s, checking out trends, reports, presiding over endless meetings, surfing the web and installing “clipboard management” modes of parish plant management. I mean no disrespect here; this is what the post-conciliar church has demanded of them.

To me the notion that the fruits of the VII reform were sour, and thus is causal to liturgical malaise is a red herring. The problem isn’t the “form” of the rite, but it’s perfunctory, un-prepared and cultic bassackwardness performance by people who spend far less time preparing than the poor soul with a guitar and six chords who rehearses weekly, and still can’t get it right.

Sure, there’s no majesty in this desolation. But the cure isn’t necessarily found through complaint, convenience or complacency. And majesty, alone, is a short term remedy.

The real path to healing our rites is a return by all to foundational humility.

That is already present in the Roman Graduals and Missals, in our own native musical forms. And the Church clearly teaches that adherence to the uniquely humble and supremely confident song is to be found in the chanted Psalter and ordinaries. What language is used is secondary protocol.

So, I’m wary of any discussions that have, as an underlying agenda, a commerce-interest. Whether this is manifested by the banal but popular forms, or the faux-majesty of tympani and trumpet motets and Masses that are trotted out at papal Masses of all stripes, the disease persists and remedy furthers itself away.

Whether one can credibly, in true humility, lead the singing of James Moore’s “Taste and See” without the fake inculturated trappings, or chants “Gustate et videte” with precision and beauty, is what matters in the liturgical vineyard.

I don’t see a lot of humility present in many quarters of modern culture, including the sacral. People should really take into consideration that what and how they sing at worship is, literally, singing for their very lives.