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?”

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.

Do You Want a Moonroof and Satellite FM with That Hymnal?


More pragmatist than philosopher, I let an itinerant thought take root in m’ noodle and according to one’s POV, this thought is ovulating or metastasizing.

It’s likely that a vast majority of parishes either make the one time investment in a hardbound hymnal, or they subscribe to seasonal and yearly newsprint hymnal/missal products. The vast minority of parishes choose to self-publish weekly orders of music or “permanent parish hymnals” culled from various copyright-governed, common license or public domain sources. Some others make use of the “overhead projection” of power-pointed lyrics, licensed or, uh, otherwise.

So, let’s backtrack to the vast majority and focus upon the subscription-based parishes, such as mine. Here’s the germ idea: We are fortunate to live in a world where if you leave your 50 page, three color, glossy pictured proposal in the cab, you can use your smart phone and have one waiting for you by the time you arrive at the corporate reception desk, at least according to the advert I saw on the TV.

Okay, stay with me. For a modest surcharge, couldn’t the major RC American corporate publishers offer their core market parishes/dioceses a premium offer that allows the crafting of, essentially, boutique hymnals whose content is drawn from the publisher’s existing repertoire holdings, public domain sources and the creative commons sources that are sprouting like dandelions?

Still with me? Okay, let use our parish as a model and I’m the local editor. I’ll try to cut to the chase. First, I lose items in the ordinaries, psalter section (not from the missal section) and the hymnal that, after “pastoral consultation” among my peers and clergy, we concede to be dead-weight. We communicate those itemized decisions to the publisher’s agent and agree upon how many pages of content are now made vacant with a certain percentage of margin for error. Let’s say that I know that I want to include a number of additional chants from the publisher’s stand-alone product that contains such, ie. OCP’s “Laus et Tibi.” Let’s say that over the years the parish has purchased and maintained octavo versions of choral hymn concertatos, liturgical songs and ordinaries that once were included in former yearly editions of their missals, all of which have congregational version plates archived. Couldn’t they be accessed easily and added to the vacant pages?

Let’s say that we still have a surplus of pages and we desire to include hymns, psalms, propers or whatever from either public domain sources such as the ICEL resource hymnbook, or the hymns found in the commons listed on the Musica Sacra website, or other sites similar to the Choral Public Domain Library (a wiki source) of works we find worthy of inclusion that the composers or license holders put “out there” gratis. Once content and layout are finalized, the publisher adds their surcharge to the amended yearly product, and the parish signs on the dotted line, and the publisher sends the master to their printer, and the custom hymnal shows up, bill gets paid, everybody happy!

I realize that all of this could simply be mounted at the parish level. But, I’ve been there. Once. One time. Back in the Seventies. I don’t care how accessible license permission can be obtained now, self-publishing is not in my future. But the Biggies have their protocols and printing companies already tooled-up. If I can order my Chevy Malibu with a heavenly host of options on Monday and it’s ready for delivery the next Monday, can’t the publishing market consider re-tooling for a still lucrative boutique hymnal market. I don’t see a downside for the publishing houses. Now, if I opt not to include Sebastian Temple’s “Take My Hands” in our boutique parish hymnal, maybe there will be a miniscule loss of royalty revenue to his heirs. If I take out all of one composers’ songs, such as that goofball Charles’s tunes, would the revenues lost by our parish subscription amount really affect Charles’ yearly income drastically. Doesn’t Charles have to churn out new product to keep building the profit pyramid? And if that’s good product, won’t my parish want that included in next year’s boutique hymnal?

I’ve been made aware by a publisher’s representative there are many complexities that seriously would apply specific problems to this proposed idea. The pioneer publisher Friends of the English Liturgy (FEL) once had a program wherein parishes could purchase loose-leaf versions of select songs culled from their library in large amounts that would constitute a “parish hymnal.” Also in the early 70’s. Can you say “Edsel?”

But if we cannot ever reach consensus that either a national hymnal (with its own set of issues) will supplant the free market publishers, or that the Graduale Romanum or Gregorian Missal will be mandated by the USCCB/FDLC/BCL – PTB’s, then cannot there be a reasonable, affordable and profitable (in many ways) alternative to the narrow monopoly of options with which we currently contend?

Progress in Whole and Half Steps is still….Progress

I am approaching the seventeenth anniversary of accepting the duties of Director of Music for my parish. As I retired from teaching choral music at one of our four excellent public high schools (excellence in choral programs particularly) in 2005, I have served the parish as a full-time director for five years now. In the last two and half years our parish and pastor articulated the merger of three other local parishes and missions into the only clustered parish I’m aware of in our diocese. And we’re scheduled to open a fifth, large capacity parish worship facility sometime next year. Because of our central geographical location in the diocese, both the bishop and pastor have articulated plans that will designate the new parish to serve as a venue for diocesan liturgies.

In the last two years plus, my job description has been augmented greatly. And in the last two weeks, after consultations with the pastor, it now has expanded to include being the director of liturgy as well. Our parishes’ administration and organizational flow chart have, out of necessity, been reorganized into departments with cabinet members; Liturgy being one of six departments, and myself as the top of that “food chain” who reports to the pastor.

What has been a striking result, to me, of this administrative change, is that it has already provided me with more substantive collaboration time not only with the pastor, but our parochial vicars and deacons than I’ve ever enjoyed prior. For example, I casually initiated a conversation with “the boss” about various concerns- the progress of fixing a faulty PA system here, the development of new and younger organists and cantors there, Spanish-language music ministry needs, etc., pretty standard stuff. In the conversation I had mentioned to him I had posted an article in our parish website about the Proper processional antiphons that we employ at three of our nine Vigil/Sunday Masses at our “mother” parish. The pastor, who’d previously expressed much appreciation for the choral homophonic settings in English by the great Richard Rice, mentioned his interest in my other Proper sources for the Introit and Communio. He commented that he noticed occasionally that the tessituras and “ornamentation” of the melodies seemed “complex.” And he contrasted that thought by mentioning his personal appreciation for the Owen Alstott Respond and Acclaim “method.” (I’m sure if we’d had Chabanel 17 years ago, he’d have the same sort of appreciation for those.) The importance of this, to me, is that my pastor was opening channels of conversation that previously were taken for granted. He and I discussed other approaches, such as “By Flowing Waters” (he went to seminary with Dr. Paul Ford) and “Psallite” (not a favorite for me personally.) My pastor is not in the least a disinterested liturgist, nor musically prejudiced or under-exposed to all forms of sacred/liturgical music. His regard for Respond and Acclaim’s ethos doesn’t clash with his appreciation for our choir’s performance of the Allegri “Miserere mei” or the chanted Reproaches by Bruce Ford.

What I’m most encouraged by is that we both seem much more at ease with engaging in specifics. From that informal talk yesterday I was provided an opportunity to show him sources of English chant that we use by Fr. Kelly, Fr. Weber, Bruce Ford and the Anglican Use Gradual. I was able to demonstrate their distinct qualities and approaches by comparison to the Latin originals from the GR. He was interested in systematically understanding the different approaches that are evident between Bruce Ford’s text and melodic interpretations and those of Fr. Kelly. He was similarly struck by the “new chant” modalities of Fr. Weber and the AUG. From there we discussed the future of all of our merged parish Masses utilizing Propers, not only from these sources, but by teaching our congregations the basic Psalm tones, and perhaps by the creation of a home-grown gradual that is utilitarian, accessible upon hearing and not banal, such as how he regards much of the Respond and Acclaim product.

We also discussed in these last two days an upcoming Solemn Vespers on the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He showed great enthusiasm when I showed him Byrd’s “Ave maris stella” for three voices, and an “Ave Maria” by a Philadelphia composer who lived and worked there at the same time our parish’s founder was in seminary and then assigned to St. Ann’s, Philadelphia, before he emigrated west and founded our parish in 1861. And we “sketched” out some musical approaches within the breviary framework together.

This is almost a totally new experience for me, this “freedom” that invites collaboration that reflects more of the “paradigm” ideal that I first heard explained by Professor Mahrt in my first colloquium three years ago.

Of course, I’m supremely aware that there will be many colleagues who would rightly challenge the very notion that Respond and Acclaim is even viable, much less worthy in practice and concept. But this post is not about merit, it is about two veterans (the number of years of my marriage are the same as those of his ordination) who’ve been working with each other for over six years, but have now entered a new, nascent relationship that can only bode well for the “brick by brick” future of our parish worship.

Te Deum laudamus!

Optima Musica

Last week my wife and I took the opportunity to meet with a couple of dear friends from CMAA who are also Directors of Music in their parishes; two of us in OF parishes, and one of us at an EF parish. We afforded ourselves as much time as possible to reminisce and share our experiences, offer each other encouragement and advice, and more importantly, celebrated the reality that our jobs afforded us opportunities to know and embrace so many virtues. A lot of “gaudete” was going on, and it was no mere “lattice of coincidence” that produced our optimism. (I’ll give a bottle of Mondavi Reserve Cabernet to the soul who first correctly cites the cinematic reference to that last quote!)

One fact we celebrated was the providence the Holy Spirit gifted the Church when the conclave elected Benedict XVI. For me, this pope exemplifies (with his predecessor) the true humility and joy within the organic optimism that we call Christian faith. But he also manifests a lifelong emblematic assertion of the axiom “lex orandi, lex credendi.” John Paul II turned the lenses of the Church unflinchingly towards the world, and, as with the nine days he walked his motherland among his fellow Poles as the Holy Father, our world was overturned virtually on a widow’s penny and the dignity of humanity had its champion. We could only move forward. Could it be said that Benedict has now refocused the Church’s vision, turning it inward by calling into question the meaning of “lex orandi, lex credendi” as the pre-eminent model for evangelizing our own faithful as well as the world to witness for Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord? “Theology as expressed on our knees in worship,” to paraphrase Baltasar.

Save the Liturgy, save the world” means many different things to many different people. The cliché’s coining seemed to correspond to the pithy television series “Heroes” and its catchphrase slogan, “Save the cheerleader, save the world.” But Benedict’s legacy just may be that of a heroic priest/professor who, during a hellish and horrific decade among many within and outside of the Church, has invigorated the Church to reconciliation by nudging us back to the real “center of our lives,” the rich traditions of our ritual forms and elements that demand our adherence to the Real Presence of Christ among us at the Altar of Sacrifice, including the clear exhortations to re-orient ourselves, in the language that is chant and polyphony, towards the Eucharistic worship of God, and not an abstract celebration of ourselves as a community of believers.
It was Liturgy that called me to the Church forty years ago this year. It is Liturgy that has been the best and only suitable expression of a naïve child’s innate knowledge that God has, is and always will be “here, there and everywhere.” It is Liturgy that has humbled me so that I may taste and see the existential optimism of salvation and union with my Maker.

Here in blogdom, the culture of pessimism is well nurtured. How could it not flourish here when in real time we’re enduring the omnipresent assault of our reason and senses through the “miracle of media?” But I believe that what erodes the moral certitude of our Holy Fathers current and of recent memory isn’t pessimism but cynicism. The egocentric and narcissistic trademarks of our post-modern societal norms find their power magnified by the evolution of social networking that is inorganic and intoxicating. Cynicism can appear overtly and benignly. When it’s confrontational, which I find more common within the internet venues, there is no real community. There can only be facsimiles of community or communion. When it’s benign, we can sometime find it couched in the manners and niceties of “do they like me?” or “do they like what we’re singing at Mass” or worse, “do they like what we sing at church?”

My prayer for this new blog endeavor is that cynicism never finds lodging here. I also pray that we musicians at service to the Church’s worship and in that ideal charity of serving the Faithful, consider emulating the optimism of our current Holy Father, who has always answered “yes” to the Lord, even if that answer was to a question that he did not anticipate ever hearing addressed to him.

Musicians, consider saying “yes” to a particular parish calling and, being immersed in optimism and steadfast of spirit and perseverance, stay as long as you can within that parish to infuse your talent, knowledge and your own faith in the “mind of the Church” so as to take root through many seasons and years.

Let us, indeed, join our voices with choirs of angels and saints in an unending hymn of praise that, really, in our hearts we know to be not only in concert with our patrimony, but also we know are truly sacred, beautiful and universal.