An Invitation

to any parish, cathedral or scholastic choirs who would like to sing in the acoustic environment of our parish.
From the same concert on March 1st and the debut of my setting of ANIMA CHRISTI, here is
AVE MARIA by Tomas Luis de Victoria
as performed  in the round by the College of Sequoias Concert Choir
Jeffrey Seaward, Director
March 1, 2011
St. Mary’s Church, Visalia, California

contact Charles via cculbreth (at) tccov (dot) org

I wish the “surround sound” effect could be reproduced here.
Alas, just come out and visit us in CenCA. We’re just hours
away from everywhere in the Golden State!

The Tides

In a topic thread over at MusicaSacraForum, “What did you sing/hear on Ash Wednesday,” it appears that within our own fairly insular community the “Pair o’ dimes” (chant and solemnity) continue to roll with ever-increasing momentum. From Portugal, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Dallas, Tucson, South Carolina, Ohio, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Australia, and many more locales, the shift is afoot and evident to me as never before. The orders of music indicate clearly that the efforts of CMAA and other such advocates have taken root, evidenced by citations of authorship in which, beyond the GR/GS standards, the works of Rice, Ostrowski, OostZinner, Bartlett, Weber, Page, Ford(s), Koerber are more frequently listed than those of Haas, Haugen, Farrell, Inwood and Walker. Add, of course, the great corpus of works by composers of antiquity also listed on these ordos for a weekday, non-obligatory Mass, and there’s a lot to read in those tea leaves. And I think this turn is likely best signified by the implied acceptance and participation of the faithful PIPs whose wagons are hitched to our own.

In this article I’d like to share my impressions of the pulse of my parish liturgies at this moment. As the DM, my reflection is surely biased, and I’m sure there’s folks here in our neck o’ the woods who’d just as soon panhandle me all the way to Oklahoma, but I’m optimistic of late. Optimism hasn’t ever suited me well, very little suits me well lately, but I digress. I always enjoy being a cheery sort of fellowe, but I’m feeling, well…hope-filled and optimistic!

As I mentioned, in our CenCA parish, I lead the music for our parochial school. On AW, for the second year, the school students and community, along with a goodly number of parishioners in attendance, sang and chanted all selections without accompaniment. Our Friday school liturgies certainly don’t aspire to the Cathedral School of the Madleine in SLC, Utah, but they’re done well by all, the repertoire isn’t narrow nor dumbed down. I make specific and strategic lesson plans that provide kids with a demonstrable understanding of the form and performance of chant as well as hymnody and song. But on AW I led from an ambo on the Epistle side rather than from my usual station in the music transept area. So, I could really see and hear the effect of a capella singing from all, especially the kids. Our pastor and principal vicar do chant their orations, and the kids are prepared to respond enthusiastically. So, should the celebrant or I sing a “curveball” of a simple Kyrie, no one’s thrown for a loop and what is presented to them is sung back naturally and with confidence.

And this was the “affect” of our AW “school Mass,” no matter whether what was being sung was Bob Hurd’s quite chantable “Out into the wilderness” or “Stabat Mater” which the kids would again sing in Latin for stations the following Friday. I think the view meter on my optimism began to approach the red zone when I taught the kids the new ICEL Gloria in English, and we employed it (shhh) on a feast day of a martyred saint.

Then, for a check of cognition, I had them read the corresponding Gloria in Latin from the Parish Book of Chant, and light bulbs appeared over all their heads, in each of the grades!

Now, I’d like to share with you how I’m reading the pulse of the parish at large after First Sunday, Lent. Unlike AW’s Mass, we weren’t going to sing a capella at either the schola or the ensemble Masses. However, I’d informed those choirs and the rest of music ministry leadership among our three parishes that Masses at which I direct music, the use of the PA system and any amplification (save that of the Rodgers organ) would be dismissed for the season. I didn’t mandate that for the other leaders and their choirs, I just begged their awareness of considering some sort of demonstrable “fast” for their operations during Lent.

Wendy had taken it upon herself, chant intensive veteran she now is, to teach and lead the schola with Mass XVII ordinary movements. I hardly ever “rehearse” a congregation on anything, but yesterday begged their indulgence to learn and respond with the “eleison” portion of the Kyrie. And, even though we normally sing Kyrie VIII through the year, it’s always been accompanied by the organ. Well, XVII is being chanted, period.

And it CAME TO PASS (that’s my Charleton Heston cybervoice.) When Wendy intoned the responsorial from Alstott’s R&A, we established its tempo to move more fluidly than the “okay” stoic 4/4 it’s set as. That worked nicely as well. And then, ahem, after the Epistle, as the celebrant stood, the people followed, yours truly chanted Aristotle Esquerra’s vernacular (based upon Qui habitat) tract as the deacon moved to the Altar, possessed the Book of the Gospels and processed to the ambo. B’bye to 1-1-2-2-3-3-3….2-2-3-2-1-1………….forevah, and evah….oh wait, it’s still Lent.

I won’t bore you, dear reader (should you’ve stayed with me thus far,) with more detail. The Sanctus and Agnus of XVII was heaven on earth. Next week we help the PIPs with “Miserere nobis.” We sang Rice’s SCG homophonic “Man does not eat upon bread alone” and “Attende Domine” during Communion, and concluded this Mass’s singing with a lovely arrangement of “Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley.” Trust me, it worked fine. And after the chanted “ite Missa est” our vicar recessed down the center aisle to absolute, reverent silence. It was the loudest silence I’d ever heard in 17 plus years here. And no one scurried, yakked, bustled as soon as the processional cross and entourage passed them by. Something had happened, I thought as we all stood there in this magnificent silence.

Later in the day we held the Rite of Election for our deanery. We don’t bring out the special forces like we used to for this, just Wendy, our organist and myself. But with all of the catechumens and candidates, sponsors and others from two counties, the normal “catholic” buzz of white noise conversations hummed for twenty minutes prior. That is until I started chanting Bruce Ford’s TAG Introit, “He shall call upon me” (Invocabit me, Mode 8.) Again, I cannot recall that a disparate congregation has ever suddenly ceased and desisted their concerns so noticeably before, and took in the chanting with a respectful silence. The rest of the Rite was pro forma (Kingsfold Entrance…etc. psalm, a setting of the Lenten G.A. I composed, no dismissal music.

But I’m feeling very 7Up this morning. Hope you all are as well.

And may our prayers sung to the heights of heaven for the Japanese people struggling to hold onto their lives and well being, and for those souls who have passed through the veil to eternity, reach the ears of our God, our Creator and Father, who is all knowing, all mercy and is Love, through Christ our Lord, amen.

Premiere of “Anima Christi” by Charles Culbreth

I had the brief pleasure of an impromptu chat with Jeffrey Tucker yesterday afternoon. We were commiserating about his post comparing our era with MR3 “seismic shift” to that of the late sixties. But I happened to mention that a work I’d done over the summer of 2007 was going to be premiered at a concert at our parish church last night, and Jeffrey said “Post on it, Charles!” Well, after a day of teaching the kids at school, and whatnot, Wendy helped me finally get around to getting the YouTube up and running.

Some background about my setting-

First of all, the college chose my approved abbreviated version, eight of the twelve petitions are sung. Each petition has its own ethos, so to speak, unified only by a magnetic attraction to “C” as the nexus. Lots of tone painting can be extrapolated off the page or to the ear. The choral score shifts from four to twelve voices throughout sections. I always envisioned the piece as one that only collegiate, professional or highly skilled church choirs could negotiate its demands.

However, my sister in law’s high school choir gave a fairly good reading back in 09, though “Russian basses” were not to be found. My buddy at our local college was generous to give it a go, and here is the result of that effort. What was ultimately gratifying is that the kids in the choir “got” the deep mystery of “the dark night of the soul” that I tried to infuse into the score. But it still is a work in progress, and I’m grateful that the college choir will continue exploring it for the rest of the semester and take it to collegiate festivals. Prosit, enjoy (I hope.) Glory to the Holy Trinity.

One from column A, one from….oh nevermind!

In the commentary section of Jeffrey Tucker’s provocative post, “Catholicism Grows Up,” one of our faithful UK friends, Ian W. amplifies one of Jeffrey’s own comments, stating “Nor does a cathedral musician’s claim that all is right with the world mean that it is. One only needs to inspect the Cathedral music lists to realize this.” As much as I can understand the sentiment of Ian’s contention, I am also startled over how easily any of us might overlook the potential injury our words may let loose upon our colleagues and peers with a sardonic slight, or a disparaging word based upon a one-dimensional perspective.

I remember visiting a brand new cathedral whose exterior architectural design dismayed me upon my initial viewing. But entering the interior enabled me to re-assess the skepticism and prejudice that lurked in my mind as result of that first glance and reaction. And while taking in the whole of the “house” with interest and energy, I was able to apply a sense of understanding and empathy as I perused the previous Sunday’s worship aide and musical selections, aka “the music list.”

Who among us that has been charged with administering repertoire choices for congregational singing hasn’t had some sort of cognitive dissonance, or cosmic collision with the reality that implementing our own tastes, visions and praxes will necessitate a nascent, starting-from-scratch reformation from the disparate remnant elements of previous “shot callers?”

But what I call into question is the merit of free associating what is “wrong” by the mere inspection of “music lists” that presupposes no other criteria than those choices. Can we literally be assured that our convictions about adherence to standards of art, legislation of styles, sources of texts, primacy of options are the only factors at play for the soul(s) that make these choices daily, weekly and according to seasons? A cliché is a cliché for a reason. “All politics are local.” Now, if an informed observer such as Ian, is privy to the vagaries and specifics of the local cathedral music ministry where the weekly repertoire reflects a particularly stagnant or egregious attitude towards liturgical proprieties, I would hope that the observer would consult with local parishioners, clergy or musicians to inquire as to their assessment, rather than manifest dissatisfaction in that most catholic of manners, the ubiquitous, inarticulate complaint.

In framing this post, I originally thought it would be best to display one of my lists (we’re not a cathedral, but we would qualify as a megaparish) and then conduct an autopsy this afternoon after the fact. But as the thought came to mind, an autopsy isn’t an appropriate term to describe looking at these choices. One should forensically approach these choices as they were intended, to provide living worship from living worshippers to the One Living God.

Even among our own CMAA adherents, it is proven fact that we are all on various degrees of maturation towards the paradigm of worship practice that Dr. Mahrt and his precursors have unflaggingly championed. Think about it- even in parishes and cathedrals where the EF is offered, there are options among the forms of the ritual which require specific and sometimes different types of music, chant and polyphony to be sure, and occasionally hymns. In the OF, should a parish striving to discern RotR, directors have a panopoly of vernacular chant and proper options that weren’t even dreamt of a decade ago, not to mention the S.O.P. of whatever is in the pulp or hardbound hymnal in the pews. Furthermore, to presume that even full-time, professional and experienced directors of music have no other personal, hierarchical or other aspects that inform their weekly deliberations is unrealistic, and perhaps mean spirited if wholesale condemnation is the objective.

So, I offer my music “list” for this, the Seventh Sunday of Ordered Time for your consideration and deliberation.

Read these bones, these tea leaves, this menu and offer your snapshot of “how the world is” in just one parish in California. Your reflections will be respected, or moreso, reflect the respect the level of criticism that is provided. As we were reminded last week, speak as if “your yes means yes, and your no means no.” And I will try to remember to respond by going one more mile to understand our “failings.”

The “S” Mass is our “traditional choral” Mass, the “E” is our contemporary “ensemble” Mass.

Introit: S “Lord, Your mercy in my hope…” Simple Choral Gradual/R.Rice E The American Gradual/B.Ford

Entrance: S O FATHER, ALL CREATING (Aurelia) E STAND BY ME (Kendzia)

Opening Rites: S Kyrie-plainsong/Oecumenica-Culbreth E Kyrie(Sleeth)/Dancing Day Gloria-P.Ford

Responsorial: SE Respond & Acclaim

Gospel Accl.: S plainsong “Alleluia”modeVI E Sleeth setting

Offertory: S CHRIST BEFORE US (Suo gan) E THE SUMMONS (Kelvingrove)

Eucharistic Accl.: S Oecumenica/Agnus Dei (plainsong) E Holy/Christ/ Amen /Lamb (Sleeth)

Communion Procession: S “I will tell all…” Simple Choral Gradual/R.Rice E The American Gradual/B.Ford S JESU, JOY OF OUR DESIRING (Bach arr.)  E PRAYER OF ST. FRANCIS/ORACIÓN( Temple )

Communion Anthem: S PRAYER OF ST. FRANCIS (Mark Hayes arr.) E DWELLING PLACE (Foley)

Recessional: S organ postlude E IF GOD IS FOR US  (Brown)

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.

How would you respond should a member of your parish music ministry mentions to you before, during or after performing your shared duties at Mass, “Man, I have so much fun doing this! Isn’t it fun for you, too?”

Before deliberating your response, the issue rests upon your shoulders, not upon those of your colleague who uttered both the exclamation and the question. Well, for my part, I would search my memory banks and conscience simultaneously to see if the word “fun” has any resonance of meaning within the context of worship, as I now understand it. I guess this utilizes the I Corinthians 13 exam criterion, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child….” Another caveat: try to avoid characterizing your colleague according to their specific roll and duties in music ministry. It’s just as reasonable to imagine that one’s organist, a master improviser, could think aloud after a deft, imaginative and wonderful postlude, “Wow, that was FUN,” just as would a LifeTeen kit drummer after being part of a cohesively tight rendition of “Awesome God,” or perhaps even a gifted and facile chorister who soars through the versicle of a gradual or alleluia with peerless perfection.

I think we can dispense with the admonition of our Lord to “suffer the little children to come unto me” as a defense of describing our service and office at liturgy as “fun.” So, let’s just move on to a safer platform upon which we can consider the emotion, or state of being we commonly call “joy.” Somewhere between the poles of a spirit-filled choir/congregation belting out “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say REJOICE” in full abandon and the Introit for III Sunday, Advent, is a question of exactly how do we manifest the notion, or even mandate that we represent and/or express “joy” in our duties as both servants of the liturgy and Christians?

As a choirmaster generally regarded as a taskmaster, many of my current and former singers would likely agree “He sure has a mean way of showing he’s happy!.” But that’s a burden I carry primarily only in rehearsals. And I’ve taken great pains to minimize those behaviors which would lead folks to depict me so, alas to mixed reviews. But at worship, what is the proper measure of joy in all of our individual and corporate efforts to effect music that is “sacred, beautiful and universal?” Are we called to represent some sort of “affect,” like the emotive associations that Baroque theorists ascribed to specific key tonalities? Or are we better off just making sure that after sufficient rehearsal, we render any and all text and music settings in a stoic, expressionless façade, even though the product evidences the joy of mastery and accomplishment? Of course, reality exacts from me the possible truth that most of our choristers have their eyes and noses fixed firmly towards their scores until the final cadence, at which time their most likely facial response would suggest “Pop pop, fizz fizz, oh what a relief it is!And them some might actually look at our facial demeanor with trepidation or anticipation to know if “joy” is warranted, if only internally.

I’ve recalled the one experience I was afforded to prepare and conduct the Allegri “Miserere” as one of the supreme moments of elation I’ve known at service. Is that aberrant? In May, I will be graced to conduct a large and capable choir and orchestra in the performance of the Mozart “Requiem.” And as a chorister under Wilko Brouwers singing the Brudieu setting three summers ago, there was exquisite joy in every aspect of that endeavor for me. Is there something wrong with this picture? Or, is it much more an elegantly simple and natural response to the grace and gift by God to us intrinsic within the objective of composition and singing of sacral texts to inspired musical composition?
Does “joy” have a face or façade in the musical acts of worship?
For your consideration, intersecting both this thread on “Joy” and my previous post on
“Circumabulation and Processions, the Ovum Introit!”
 Just for FUN!

Two New Terms in My Liturgical Lexicon

The very mention of “my” and “lexicon” generally strikes fear and loathing among my friends and fellowes here in St. Blogs. Why, within a couple of days, one of two dearest of my singing sisters in chant implied that my posts are rife with “hyperbole,” (she’s correct, of course!) whilst the other worried that one of my posts at Musica Sacra was so “pithy” that the real me had been abducted!

Well, this post-Winter Chant Intensive article is intended to address a “boots on the ground and let’s chum the still waters” inquiry I made of Dr. Mahrt in New Orleans. (See that, I mixed metaphors already!) I asked whether there existed any historical precedence for having the Entrance Procession begin from the sacristy, as I’ve experienced at EF Masses, but in the OF.

So, here are the terms, courtesy of Dr. Mahrt’s reply: “Circumambulation” and “The Stuffed Mass.”

To “circumabulate” according to simply amounts to “walk(ing) or (to) go about or around, esp. ceremoniously.” It’s origin and source dates around “1656, from L. circumambulare , from circum “around” + ambulare “to walk.

A new agey website Kora Chronicles surprisingly offers a fairly apt (in synch with Dr. Mahrt’s definition)-
“Generally, circumambulation is to walk or move around something, especially as part of a ceremony or ritual. In a religious or spiritual context, circumambulation is performed around a special object, just as a shrine or an altar. A Catholic (celebrant) may circumambulate an alter, other priest or person, gifts etc while swinging a thurible of incense (also known as censing) as part of a blessing or ceremony. The number of times and the method used to swing the thurible is significant and, in some denominations, forms part of the liturgical law.”

“The Stuffed Mass,” as defined by Mahrt, is when we bereft directors have to stealthily deploy the proper antiphons (and verses) while maintaining the practice of having congregational hymns sung AT THE SAME MASS. The good professor neither condemned nor endorsed the practice, but simply acknowledged that “on our journey to the kingdom” many of us (like me) are using the Introit as a de facto prelude, wedding an Offertorio to the so-called Hymn of the Day, and chanting the Communio during the quarter hour it takes for the EMHC’s to receive H.C. and the ciboria and chalices, followed by the Communion processional hymn, etc.

In this post I would like you folks to either raise or lower the standard (flag) of proposing the practice of circumambulation for the Entrance Procession as a legitimate way to accommodate the singing of both a hymn and a proper. Isn’t it the standard practice at our churches to have the celebrant and ministerial entourage leave the sacristy to the exterior of the church and re-assemble at the narthex for the entrance? And if that is so, doesn’t that require some sort of “cue” for the congregation to rise? And from that point, all of the strategic issues and disputes about partipatio activa (congregational singing), or antiphonal singing/chanting between the choir/schola and congregation of the Introit, or the congregation visually “taking in” the deeper meaning by actively viewing the procession, or more mundane concerns as to how many verses of a hymn are to be sung, or is it a processional hymn or “gathering song”…. Could circumambulation remediate most of those concerns?

But what is the “special object” being recognized should the celebrant’s entrance begin with the ring of the Introit bell, the procession moving through the sanctuary and into the nave via a side aisle and then without interruption (or a “meet and greet” outside of the church beforehand) proceeding up the main aisle to the sanctuary again, where reverencing, incensation, etc. would constitute an uninterrupted liturgical action? Well, couldn’t that “object” be the “priesthood of believers” called the Faithful? (Well, maybe yeah, Charles. But wouldn’t that mean that only half of the congregation would be so recognized?) Not if you approach the Offertory Procession by using the same procedure for the other half of the congregation!

“Oooohhhh, that’s a BINGO!” (exclaimed Colonel Hans Landa in the film “Inglourious Basterds.) Then we could stuff those two processions with the hymn whilst the ministers are ambulating in the nave, and seamlessly transition to the proper chant/homophonic/polyphonic setting upon their return to the sanctuary.
But really, as everyone knows, I’m not an academic. But I am given the office of fulfilling the Church’s directives for optimal worship. I do know that this, to some, might seem to blur or transgress what are considered to be clearly delineated options in the GIRM. But, as Dr. Mahrt outlined in his wonderful schematic drawing (above)* of his experiences of various types of circumambulation at Salisbury Cathedral, it might just advance among the people a higher appreciation for the function and arts associated with processions.

What’s your twopence?

*Just in case you’re interested, I’ve copyrit the graphic above as “The Munchian Scream of the Presider!” However, Dr. Mahrt believes it more resembles an example of Scott Turkington’s method of chironomy. You make the call.

Will the Mystery Mass Setting Please Sign In?

Name That (Source) Tune! Can you name it in a tetrachord? Actually, this shouldn’t take anyone longer than a phrase.

Okay, okay! Tyler (of course!) and Adam (ditto) nailed it, with the Pres chiming in on their heels. But Ron, the pride of Utah, more or less called into question the point of this exercize by simply declaring it “tedious.”
Coming on the heels of Jeff Ostrowski’s marvelous new Gloria that has already orbited the world in about, say, a nano second, I tried to fathom the depths and distances and variances of understanding among those composing “new” sacred settings  to adhere closely to the culture of chant. Many of us have briefly and/or seriously examined both the revised ordinaries available at the Big Three websites. And I was somewhat surprised that the marketing blurbs for a number of them ascribed “chant” or “chant-like” as a selling point.
And, of course, many of the revised and new settings staunchly use the heavily metered, nee syncopated melodies that are S.O.P. for the liturgical ensemble. So coming off of the joyful success of teaching and praying the ICEL (Mass XV) English “Glory to God” with my parochial school classes, I just took literally five minutes to concoct a metrical quote of it. Just as the ICEL setting references the original Latin XV inexactly, I immediately decided that a metrical retrofitting of it in its original mode 4 wouldn’t stand a chance of getting a hearing from the local strummer or piano-bar player. So, using “E” as the tonic/final, I simply decided to set in in E Major, but to try to maintain as much intervallic data authentic within a time signature. I also tried to keep a rhythmic similarity to the values indicated in the ICEL chant, but not slavishly so as to have general chaos in the movement and at cadences.
To what end? Well,  for me, a banality and connundrum. Whether it conjures up an “O when the Saints” or Rogers and Hammerstein association or not, I’m pretty convinced that the Church wants new composition to contain honest and real “invention” in relation to chant, rather than concoction and convention. Assigning meter to stressed/unaccented syllables within a chant melody isn’t all that difficult. Changing said melody’s modality to tonality, same. But, using this Edsel-like retrofitting strategy, can it stand up to scrutiny as a melody alone? If not, then why go another step and gussy it up with some nebulous chord assignments such as EMaj9, F#m/E, G#m/E, AMaj7, Bs7/E etc.?
That we will be soon auditioning perhaps hundreds of new settings, I tend to think that congregations ought to be given the opportunity and relief of singing non-metrical ordinaries, propers, hymns and sequences. As we have seen with my mentor, Frank LaRocca, and the prodigious talent of folks like Kevin Allen, the melodic and harmonic vocabulary of chant does not inhibit or constrain true artistic invention. And I have a local, new friend up the freeway in Fresno who has set the new ordinary texts exquisitely, and have encouraged him to network with CMAA/Cafe colleagues.
But whether the forces that resist the inculcation of more traditional and native Roman Catholic musical art forms relent and create space and respect within weekend Mass schedules for both traditional and newer forms of chant-based music to be planted and flourish remains a dubious question.