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.

Sounds Like Chicken, Tastes Like Mozart: The Peril of Easy Comparisons

When I read National Geographic magazine as a child, explorers eating exotic foods, such as alligator, always seemed to characterize it as “tasting like chicken.”  Well, if you’ve ever eaten anything described that way, you know the characterization is two things:  wrong and unfair.  Nothing tastes like chicken except chicken and gator really tastes just like gator.

Previewing a recording of the Missa Alma Redemptoris Mater by Anselm Viola, an 18th-century priest composer at Montserrat, my first thought was “sounds like Mozart.”  And then as I listened more deeply, I realized “No, it sounds like this composer writing in this place for those singers at that time.”  (Incidentally, this is one of the few works of Viola that survived the destruction of the monastery’s library and musical archives by the Napoleonic forces in 1811-1812.)

The easy comparisons of meats and compositional styles can be helpful.  People will eat the exotic food or listen to an unfamiliar composer since they like the one they know.  But it still puts the less-known into an all too convenient box and can blind us to the unique qualities of things in themselves.

In short, use those easy comparisons when they are useful, but try to get “out of the box.”  Even better, of course, no boxes when we listen.

Francisco Carbonell Wins!

Francisco Carbonell is the Director of Music at St. John the Evangelist in Indianapolis, where last year’s Summer Colloquium celebrated its Masses.  And he’s a rising star as a young composer.  Carbonell just won the Chorus Austin Young Composers competition. Here’s a YouTube of one of his compositions for your listening enjoyment:

Just a Bit of Straight-Tone Women’s Singing from the Santa Fe Desert Chorale

I’ve been a fan of this style of singing since hearing “Les Voix Mysteres” back in the 1970s. Here’s a link to a rehearsal video from the Santa Fe Desert Chorale, a professional ensemble, preparing for appearances at the ACDA in Salt Lake City earlier this year.  This full-throated style is probably what most vocal music sounded like for centuries.

The world of choral music is so vast. When I explore it, sometimes I feel like St. Brendan paddling across the sea in his coracle and making remarkable discoveries.

(Apologies for not being able to connect to this more elegantly, but sometimes Blogger just confuses me.)

Extension of Regular Registration for the CMAA Summer Colloquium in Pittsburgh, June 29-July 4, 2015

As a special indulgence (not found in the Raccolta), the regular registration period for one of the summer’s best sacred music conferences has been extended. The May 15th deadline has been changed to MAY 31ST!

Join us at Duquesne University for mornings of chant instruction, breakout sessions on a smorgasbord of topics, a New Music workshop, afternoons of polyphony practice from Faure to Palestrina, as well as a class in fundamentals of chant and a beginning choir for those just dipping a toe into the waters of the polyphonic sea. Wait – I forgot about the opportunity for private organ and voice instruction.  Splendid Masses in both the Extraordinary and Ordinary Forms, sung by the workshops and choirs, plenary lectures, world-class faculty, fellowship with old and new friends, an opening banquet, dorm accommodations available, a multitude of food plans.

I hope to see you there.  Follow this link to find out more and register:

 So, if you’re sitting on the fence about the Colloquium, hop off and come along for 5 days of wonderful sacred music-making.

Get On Board with the Colloquium Now!

We’re in the 2-week countdown for the CMAA Summer Colloquium.  Regular registrations end on May 15th and after that it will cost you an extra Benjamin (aka $50) to register.
[Correction, thanks to Richard Chonak: – you can only save a Ulysses Grant!  But remember – this is the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War.]

What could you do with that $50?  I can think of lots of musical purposes: a chunk of your meal plan, some of the nifty CDs that you’ll find on the book table at the Colloquium, drinks for the new friends you’ll make during the rehearsals or breakout sessions,etc.

Join us!  There’s no other conference that provides the variety and depth that you’ll find at the Colloquium:  chant, polyphony, practical instruction, and uplifting experience, world-class faculty, and the chance to join forces with peers who cherish the liturgical patrimony of the Latin Rite.  And lest I forget – the daily Masses that are so far from the “I-know-it’s-valid-but-boy,-it’s-painful-musically” world that many of us know.

Come to renew, rejoice, and restore your musicality and your spirit!  And do it now!
I look forward to seeing you there.

Musica Sacra Florida at Ave Maria University

If you’re looking for a short but sweet little conference, this is the one for you!  May 15-16th this year on the lovely campus of Ave Maria University.  Chant for beginners/intermediates, advanced men and women, workshops, a special children’s workshop, a keynote by Fr. James Bradley.  Extraordinary Form on Friday evening, Ordinary Form on Saturday afternoon.  On-campus housing available.  Learn all the details and register over at (where else?).  Please join us!

Musica Sacra Florida 2015 Chant Conference

Although it is Holy Week, we should remember that May will be here before we know it. And May 15th & 16th are the dates for the Musica Sacra Florida Conference at Ave Maria University.  This is a wonderful small conference that welcomes beginners learning to read square notes, as well as more experienced singers interested in semiology and the propers.

The keynote speaker will be Father James Bradley, a fascinating Ordinariate priest.  There are two liturgies, one Extraordinary Form and one Ordinary Form, as well as an accessible sung Lauds.  Faculty include Drs. Susan Treacy, Mary Jane Ballou, and Ed Schaefer.

New this year – a Saturday workshop on chant for children, led by Michael Olbash and a workshop for cantors (or would-be cantors) on bringing chant to their parishes.

Learn more and register online at Musica Sacra   Housing is available on campus at a very reasonable rate.

Join us!

Stress is Contagious

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal cited a study that showed that a high-stress boss can communicate his own feelings to subordinates.  The person who is always rushing around makes others anxious (and “rush-y”) as well.

What does this have to do with sacred music?  Well, what kind of director are you?  Insecure, easily threatened when someone asks a question you can’t answer, always rooting around in your music, never quite prepared?  Is the result a nervous choir? I hope not!

However, wouldn’t you love to feel secure in your understanding of chant?  Experienced with high-level polyphony?  Up-to-date on what some of the best and brightest have to say about the present and future of sacred music in the Latin Rite?

The Church Music Association of America (CMAA) is here to help.  The Summer Chant Intensive from June 23-26 at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh can make all the difference to a schola director’s life!  You’ll be grounded in the modes, familiar with the style and shape of Gregorian chant, and experienced in chant’s role in the Divine Office and the Mass.

The Summer Colloquium is another saturation experience for church musicians – just about all the chant, polyphony, and liturgy anyone could hope for.  From June 29th to July 4th, beginning to advanced singers will have the opportunity to work with some of the finest musicians in the United States and Europe. Breakout sessions will also be available on topics from children’s programs and chironomy to semiology.  Plenary speakers and a special course for priests, deacons, and seminarians, as well as a full complement of Ordinary and Extraordinary Form Masses make this a one-of-kind time.  And there’s still ample opportunity for networking and just plain old conversing with old friends and new.  Also at Duquesne University this year.

You’ll come away stronger, surer, and heartened!  So head on over to the CMAA website and get onboard! 

Correction on Early Registration Deadlines

I was wrong (yes, it happens) about the early registration deadline for the Colloquium – if you weren’t in as of midnight last night, you missed it.  But you could still save on the Chant Intensive early registration this month.

Soooo, why not register for both now?  You’ll have saved on one and helped us out on the other.

Apologies for any confusion.  It’s late Sunday afternoon.