Charles Culbreth

Dear Friends of Chant Cafe,

I just learned that one of our bloggers and one of the kindest men I’ve ever known, Charles Culbreth died yesterday. He was a unique musician – with a church career that ran from contemporary folk Christian to chant. It is my understanding that he was also an inspired music educator who taught many children and young people the joy of music. No one who ever met Charles forgot him.

Let us not forget him now. Please remember him in your prayers.

And the hits just keep on coming, below the belt.

Hat tip to Brian Michael Page of Providence, though I suppose I could have averted my eyes and ears.
The clip appears to have been posted around June 3rd, so it’s not unreasonable this is a recent occasion. There’s speculation among FB commentary whether this is an RCC or Anglican Nuptial Mass. My blog buddy G (Scelata) borrowed an old double entendre of mine for a post: “Be not a-phrayed.” But between Fr. Chuck’s guitar homily and now this, one has to wonder if for every new tapestry that eventuates at events like the Sacra Litugia conference last week, there are hundreds more “real life” experiences that indicate a great unraveling. The ragged sleeves of Il Papa’s alb are one thing, but the “oob la di, oob la da” DaDa of this “liturgy” simply leaves me stunned and speechless.

Che simpatico prete…

Posted by Aurelio Gentile on Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Did Jesus draw a line in the sand?

“3 As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.
4 “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”
6 They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. 7 They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” 8 Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.
9 When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. 10 Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
11 “No, Lord,” she said.
And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and no more.”

I have reservations about expressing the following thoughts just I as have reservations about jumping down a subway platform and grabbing the third rail. But I think what has developed and occurred between Dr. Romeri and Abp. Chaput needs some consideration beyond what is clearly a matter of, among other things, justice. As clearly articulated by the tenets of our faith and religion, Abp. Chaput is ordained and imbued with the Holy Spirit to literally be “in persona Christi” and “Alter Christus” to his flock. But one has to consider whether his actions and words in response to Dr. Romeri’s performance place the archbishop both as one of “the teachers of the law” at once with his duty to represent Christ in all matters.

Corresponding that to the scripture, what was our Lord “saying” by twice writing something in the dust? We cannot know. Was it akin to a line in the sand that he challenged the accusers to cross and exact their justice? Couldn’t have been, as “He wrote in the dust.” For myself, the message was contained in the act of communicating in the most temporary of mediums, dust, sand, dirt, whatever. Perhaps, and we’re not privy nor should we be, Abp. Chaput may well have drawn lines in the sand directly for Dr. Romeri, and then advised him to “go and…….change.” Unfortunately, the public testimonies don’t point to that type of just intervention at this stage.

But my thoughts are not about the Philadelphia story. I believe that there’s a much larger lesson for all of us to consider with the remainder of our tenures as DMM’s, choir/schola masters and such- if we musicians reverse roles from “the accused” to the “teachers of the law” we may very well end up morally wanting and bankrupt, and walk away because “our principles” and, more importantly, our concerns and charges that we drew in the sand- “Reform the Reform…..Abandon the Novus Ordo…..burn the guitars, drums and pianos……pour boiling lead onto all the microphones….let the people sing the Ordinary, WE’LL handle the Propers, thank you very much……and you better believe it’s the Chant and Polyphony Channel in the gallery, 24/7, deal with it!– this sort of stricture-driven mentality may not prevail going into the next centuries, particularly with little influence being exerted by the American prelates, the disturbing inclinations of the European prelates, some of whom preside over vacant Sees, and the emergent, burgeoning Church in Africa and Asia. I know that orthodoxy in those regions is valued much more than in the western Church right now. But we will not be the arbiters of their emerging liturgical traditions.

My advice to young, dedicated musicians who want to serve the Church in any capacity: Be knowledgeable first and flexible second. I know that is precisely how Dr. Romeri was perceived in both St. Louis and Philadelphia. I heard his name more associated with NPM than practically anybody else’s including Virgil Funk. Dr. Romeri was neither strict nor intransient. It seems that his concept of “sacred, universal and beautiful” was at a level that his archbishop, for whatever reason, couldn’t appreciate and then somehow decided Romeri was the immovable object.
The wind’s gonna blow the figures drawn in the dust, and it will break the trunks of the oldest and strongest of trees if it wills. Can we bend and not break? Can we accept a call to diversity and turn that into a beautiful asset and not an onerous chore? I think these and many more questions will face the next sequence of generations of church musicians as a grave concern.

Who you callin’ “Bi-polar?”

A few folks here and at the blogsite 1Peter5 might have noticed a couple of articles focusing upon the homiletic style of a particular celebrant at a particular parish in a particular diocese as captured on personal video and posted to YouTube. The article I wrote I chose to delete as the YT poster/owner removed said video from YT, which of course is their prerogative. I have no clue, guess, or intuition as to why the video was washed from this site and 1P5, and I’m not going to riff at all on its removal. I “feel” sorry for using the video as an exemplar of “Liturgy Gone Wild,” as I did not intend to condemn or bury the pastor and parish in toto based upon three minutes of an unusual homily.

As of June 4th, it seems that the video was recovered by the Blog 1Peter5. Here is the URL link-

That said, I did choose to do a minimal amount of research about the parish, diocese and priest. Imagine my surprise when opening the “Liturgy” window of the diocese that virtually everything there was pro forma GIRM/CMAA/MS/CSL, even down to extolling polyphony, an official ministerial role reserved to choirs and scholas, throughout various other category buttons/windows. The button indicating the definition of “Sacred Music” was linked to Corpus Christi Watershed’s famed video featuring JMO’s wife (and sister in law?) narrating the orthodoxy of the discipline.

What’s wrong with this picture?

I tend to wonder how much lip service is paid to the informed lobby of CMAA and those who subscribe to the “Reform of the Reform” referendum bubbling up all over global Catholicism, versus the anecdotal evidence that is strikingly contrary and seemingly, purposefully subverted at the parish level? The diocesan website actually represented an ethos that is somewhat to the right of the USCCB letter, “Sing to the Lord.” So, despite the lack of perspective that a three minute video excerpt prohibits, it’s clear that there’s some sort of benign neglect in this diocese as to what constitutes pastoral leadership and surety. That’s not news to me. I’ve lived with this duplicity for decades.

I, as I indicated in my removed article, am no where’s a liturgical purist or Puritan. But, again, for the sake of future generations of baptized Roman Catholic children, we’d better get our story straight or this schizophrenic duplicity will truly bring on the “Remnant Church.” And at this moment, I am not going to be silent about propriety in a political manner of what constitutes “source and summit” of my soul’s existence. I’m not ready for the Benedict Option (google it) to further erode our Faithful’s comprehension and desire for the Divine Liturgy.

I’m done now.

Mark Shea thinks too much!

Mssr. Shea decided to expound upon the numerical significance of the number of fish caught gospel reading today, in which the number of fish is clearly identified as 153. If’n you wanna wade through his exegesis feel free to type in “patheos” in your search window.
I did share in common with him a moment of fascination about 153. However, as a lifelong musician and not too shabby theorist, what do you think was my Rorschach response?
Of course, scale degrees 1 (Tonic)- 5 (Dominant)- 3 (Mediant, whether major or minor.)
If that ain’t Trinitarian, I dunno what is. You can do the existential math with either Greek or Baroque emotional associations.
One way or another, a tuned 1-5-3 is a totally beautiful thing, even if it stands alone.

An Odd Synchronicity

I have to admit a propensity to read and consider the thoughts of that particularly difficult (Catholic) historian, Garry Wills. Oddity of oddities, sometimes I’ll read a chapter or two of his while listening to Immaculate Heart Radio. Anyway, the near simultaneous release of Will’s latest book and the surely magnificent tome of Fr. Samuel Weber’s English Propers presents an interesting notion as well as coincidence: is Anglophone Catholicism conceding the “universality of Latin” argument by attrition? Will’s first premise in his “Future…” centers around contentions about the conditions (well documented) by which Latin was promulgated as the sacral language initially and its evolution as a binding agent well into the 21st century. Of course, his position isn’t in concert with the magisterial dialectic through the course of centuries of official consideration and examination. But one has to ask if many of our most ardent proponents of the reinvigoration of the use of Latin chant and the restoration of the Propers are essentially conceding the argument (echoed by Wills’ characterization) of the principal place provided Latin Chant ratified via Vatican II and resuscitated by Summorum Pontificum?
To be fair, I think one ought to at least read the Will’s book, or at least reviews of the portion deliberating Latin as both catholic and Catholic, in light of the ever-growing cottage industry of English chant resources such as Frs. Kelly and Weber et al have afforded us

Liturgy and Sacred Music: Metanoia and Christian Viability

This is not likely the optimal time to review the effect of all our efforts to navigate, invigorate and evaluate the evangelical validity and success of our Paschal Time efforts as regards liturgy and its servant, sacred music. Having felt, heard and cogitated over four decades of Palm to Easter Sunday celebrations, it’s obvious that this effect manifests itself on at least three levels: the obligatory, perfunctorial level (not unlike attending someone’s birthday or anniversary to whom your affection is rarely demonstrated); the emotional, temporarily enthusiastic reaction to the ritual and artistic performance; and (perhaps less likely) transcendent, life altering metanoia-realization that will forever define and shape one’s remaining existence in this life.
In the clever colloquialism of the great band, REM, I’ve not lost my religion as regards CMAA, the RotR, Summorum Pontificum, or the simple recovery of a sensibility of both reverence and solemnity that the Roman Catholic Church traditions have cultivated over millenia. However, in what twilight years await many of us and myself, I am compelled to call the question (invented by my sister G), picked up by Fr. Z and associated with Pope B, 16: can “Save the Liturgy, Save the World” actually have any meaning, much less effectiveness among a disparate sect of believers in Christ Jesus, Son of God and Savior of all worlds, in an era when the obvious and ultimate salvivic power of the His redemptive sacrifice and resurrection is mitigated by factionalism, fundamentalism, strictural rigorism and internecine intolerance? The Gospel clarion to mercy, reconciliation, unity, personal salvation and the establishment of the Kingdom here waxes and wanes under the distractions of relenting tolerance, unrelenting intolerance, doctrinal uncertainty, indecision and ambiguity and other modern maladies. 
A few years ago I caused a volatile imbroglio with my friend Jeffrey Tucker’s Café article extoling of the apparently seductive chants of the muezzins from minarets while on a conference in Turkey. I rather unflinchingly could not divorce my sentiments regarding the tenets of Q’uranic Islam from the exotic beauty that Jeffrey was describing and emulating were we Roman Catholics enabled to have our call to worship in such a coherent and unified manner as practiced by Muslims.
But hence have come the scimitars and scythes, crucifixions and immolations that,  though medieval throwbacks,  still nonetheless lead to genocide and likely a shoah for all humanity in addition to Middle Eastern and  Indo/Asian Christianity should nuclear options become prevalent in the region.
So, how much do our ordos of ritual music actually affect and transform Holy Mother Church into a veritable, vital and truly valued force for all the nominally Christian/Catholic souls to behave and actualize the Church Militant? A recent news segment had a respected hymnologist declaring what most of us would call a Praise and Worship song, “In Christ Alone,” as the most important and potentially long-lived Christian hymn composed thus far in the 21st century. But often I am compelled to wonder to what end does our incessant arguing over the merits and cultural beauty and credence of our sacred treasury and our identified congenital musical forms actually have towards any Christian’s soul’s, be s/he a daily communicant or a C&E congregant, change in metanoia and missio to discipleship, commission and agape-based love so that each believer’s baptismal promises have substance as well as meaning?
In looking over all of the Paschal-tide Ordosposted at MSF and elsewhere, one has to consider whether Solomon’s resignation about vanity holds some sway over our deliberations. And I am looking in the mirror figuratively while asking about that. “Sometimes it causes me to tremble…” Yes, we are all in need of the existential purity of praying/chanting the “Dies irae” for all souls, particularly those of not only martyred, but each and every Christian of this and all ages. But if we are more concerned about the propriety and insistence upon that over someone exercising a fourth option like OEW or somesuch, we may be guilty of a myopia and judgmental posture that puts our own souls at peril. I am well aware that is a harsh position to defend. However, we cannot afford to miss the forest for the trees.

The Omega Effect-wait for it.

I write this article to give encouragement to all liturgical musicians who also are actively engaged in planning the liturgical processes and future of their assigned parishes. Enlightenment, as you will hear and have likely already found, comes in a moment. Bring that seed to fruition is another story. This is ours….

Hi there! Been a while.

Indeed, good things come to those who wait. But a portion of that waiting must be a vigilance towards “carpe diem.”

Years ago, I wrote an article whose inspiration came from one of the seminars in the New Orleans Chant Intensive through the genius and encyclopedic medium of Professor William Mahrt, grand and esteemed president of CMAA. In the advanced chant group the subject of whether there existed a strategy by which the Mahrt concept of “stuffing the Mass” could actually be accomplished. (This notion I must claim as providing impetus, as my local situation I foresaw as likely never being able to fully realize the good professor’s mantra of “The Paradigm,” essentially a Solemn High Mass sung in either an EF or OF protocol. “Stuffing the Mass” essentially means a compatible programming of the proper processionals and the versions of other propers (Gradual/Alleluia/Tract/Sequences) along with the now-customary expectations of fourth option hymns.

You can look it up here, but Mahrt (at the time) did seem to almost have a light bulb moment in NOLA when he came up with the tradition and solution, “Circumambulation.” Readers of SACRED MUSIC will quickly recall his recent article in which he explicates the concept of enveloping the congregation through two processions, the Entrance and Offertory.

Well, I’m happy to report that after lo these many intervening years, we here in Central California were enabled to realize the feasibility, and more so, the beautiful viability of circumambulation at four of our Passion Sunday Masses in our mother parish (of four merged parishes.) We had prepared the congregation, or actually the whole parish, through articles in the bulletin even though the procedure would really only work at our mother parish. Our pastor and designated associate both were “bought in” at our liturgical committee meetings months before in which we considered options for Passion Sunday. And because the concept is actually quite simple to enact there was very basic preparation for acolytes and deacons to assimilate by instruction by our liturgical coordinator and myself over the course of the four Masses.

Simply, circumambulation literally means “walking around.” Liturgically it means that the Introit begins not at the narthex doors into the nave, but from the sacristy, as commonly done at daily Mass. Instead of me (or some other musical leader) announcing the hymn and the invitation to stand, the crucifer rings the sacristy bell, everyone stands, the ministers assemble and reverence the altar and proceed down our north (stage left) aisle as the schola sings the proper Introit (in our case, chanted vernacular.)

Of course, on this Sunday under the second rite, the “In Nomine…collect…blessing….Gospel, etc.” interrupts the full procession which was by design in our situation. And then as the Entrance procession was resumed the taking up of the hymn “All glory, laud and honor…” accompanied the entourage into the center aisle and sanctuary.

We had also planned to have the Passion chanted (three schola chanters from the GIA ritual settings) at these Masses only, so that the “solemn elevtion” of these particular “Sunday Masses” would coincide with the processions.

To complete the whole circumambulation process, the crucifer, light bearers and acolytes proceeded down the opposite south aisle to enfold the procession of the gifts to the sanctuary, thus enabling us to sing both the Offertorio and the hymn “O Sacred Head.”

To sum up, both the associate pastor and pastor were quite taken with the simple elegance of Dr. Mahrt’s brainstorm solution that had its genesis to this participant a number of years ago in NOLA. Though we all here are in his debt for this beautiful realization, the effect attests simple to ‘soli Deo gloria.”

I see this becoming normative for at least one or a few more Sunday Masses here in Central California . And, more hopefully, this watershed moment bodes well for whenever the construction of our 2500 capacity Church is complete and dedicated.

The Intent of Sung Prayer

Not getting around to other parishes, not even our other three from our merged four, on Sundays, I’m not always up on current affairs as regards the practice of musical worship in general in CatholicLand. One thing I remember way back in the day in Oakland was that directors announcing the song to be sung often took the liberty of verbally contextualizing “why” that song was going to be sung, or simply a mini-homily. I have to assume or hope that practice has gone the way of the 8 Track Tape.
Anyway, as my schola (in its 22nd year) is greying, for every new member we lose about two to health or retirement issues (moving) and such. So, I’ve started to re-tool the overall thrust of choral repertoire towards SAB. Just got in Kevin Allen’s MOTETS FOR THREE (equal) VOICES which, though I’m full of glee about them, I have to manually transpose them as our organist has impeccably perfect pitch and even if he doesn’t accompany them, he sings them. So if a “B” is on the page but we’re singing it down the fourth on F#, he literally is disabled. I digress.
A big part of the SAB move of course is more than satisfied by Chuck Giffen (and others) wonder Wiki, CPDL. So, I found a number of wonderful motets recently by Gounod. One of those, especially tender, is a setting of “Da pacem, Domine.” (Give peace, O Lord.) We’d been rehearsing it among others for a few weeks and last rehearsal I decided to employ it yesterday.
Our schola is eclectic- we stuff the Meinrad Introit and Communio with hymns that most often resonate with the proper, the Offertory is flexible based upon a number of factors, but yesterday’s was obvious: Christ as both Word and Light. “Da pacem” wouldn’t have made sense there.
So, here’s the deal. I and the rest of the world woke up to the news that the second Japanese hostage by ISIS had been beheaded. I thought “This is getting to be Groundhog Day” (no pun intended) as everyday we wake up to some new horror perpetrated in the name of religion.
So before Mass, I welcomed everyone per usual, normal brief script. But then I told them I was going to uncharacteristically make some prepatory remarks. I then mentioned that as events around the world point to the overwhelming evidence of evil and violence, the choir would be offering the “Da pacem” to God as a choral prayer and in the hope that all victims and martyrs of such malevolence now know God’s peace.
Was I wrong to do that? I’ve been lobbying the pastor lately to brainstorm ways we can minimize or even eliminate extraneous talking and explanation from all “ministers” at Mass, and I make that call, all of maybe 15 seconds before Mass! But it was honest. It was prayer. But is it appropriate now and then to explain one’s intent for programming a piece, particularly if it is in Latin or another tongue?
Be gentle.