Ask, Seek, Knock: The Structure of Petite

This weekend’s communion antiphon “Petite, et accipietis” does not appear on Sunday in the old ordering of Mass music, so this is a musical treat that can only be experienced in the ordinary form for this Sunday.

It is drawn directly from the Gospel reading. “Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you: for every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened, alleluia.”

Here is the antiphon (and here is a sound file that you can listen to as you watch the music):

Now, for those who might say that there is no real relationship between the music and the text in Gregorian chant, consider this wonderful musical structure and how it beautifully reflects the symmetry of the prose here.

We begin with three actions: ask, seek, knock. These actions are embodied in the musical phrase that form the pillars of the first half of the chant, which we see in petite, quaerite, and pulsante. Each is structured to be a unique musical phrase, each with its different character.

The first half of the chant ends at the full bar. Then we pick up with the answer: he who asks, receives; he who seeks, finds; he who knocks, it is opened. The words in Latin are now grammatically different (petit, quaerit, pulsanti) but the unique musical structure of each of those words is preserved from one phrase to the next, and then extended upon to signify the universality of the relationship between the reach for God and the granting of grace, consistent with the text (for everyone).

The parallels between the words in the first phrase and the repeat in the second phrase are beautiful, creative, and unmistakable. The chant then closes with great drama, an alleluia more elaborate than anything series of notes before, all coming together to form a perfectly crafted composition and unity of music and text.

Unprohibited, Uninhibited Praise

I am doing some research for a parish project [hat tip to eft94530] and happened upon an article in “Dwight’s Journal of Music,” Volume V. No.11 June 17, 1854. It can be found on GoogleBooks

I am not certain whether Editor John Sullivan Dwight composed this essay (excerpted) that follows, or it was from a book, The Atheneum, by one “Canon Proschke.” In any case, I thought it poses an interesting counterpoint to AOZ’s post in that the author waxes on lugubriously regarding the corrective agent to the prohibitions of works by Lassus, Ockeghem et al.

(This was a) sonorous noise, which drowned the Latin of the liturgy; a loss the more to be lamented, since no musical interpretation of the words took its place. Things went on worse from day to day, till finally, about the middle of the sixteenth century, the patience of the hearers was worn out, and reason bad begun to be awake. All cried out against a music of this sort, excepting those who made it. Away with the Canon, was the cry, and probably musicians thought to themselves, Away too with the Choral Song ! But the Choral Song was nearly as old as Christendom; the Canon also numbered many years. Could men for several centuries pursue a scientific path, which was to be without present profit and entirely fruitless for the future? That (would be) admitting that Humanity could lose its time, like a single man, which is not possible. In the collective striving of the human mind there is nothing absolutely unprofitable; but we often pronounce false what passes before our eyes and ears, judging like the reader of a book without the conclusion, or the spectator of the drama without its denouement. If the book appears unintelligible, or the drama absurd and immoral, it is because the last chapters or the last acts are wanting, which would explain and justify the whole; and therefore is contemporaneous history, whether it treat of music or of other matters, always hard to write. He who should have undertaken as a lover of music to judge of the merits, the productive energy of the Roman Choral Song before Palestrina, would certainly have very much deceived himself; he, whom a professor of Aesthetics should have undertaken to weigh the significance of the fugue before Handel and Bach, or without knowing them, as J. J. Rousseau has done, would have deceived himself not less; and these errors in judgment would appear the more gross, the better judge the man might be for his own century.

Through the labors of the Belgian and Flemish masters, the contrapuntists had at length acquired that certainty and mechanical facility, which allowed them, in spite of the enormous weights, which seemed to clog their every step, to move with a certain ease and grace. Already had Counterpoint become more pliant and Harmony somewhat purified and in a condition to cooperate toward the true end of Music. The hour had struck of a glorious new birth for Music, but above all for the Choral Song; that was best and had waited for it more than a thousand years was no more than fair.

In the year of grace 1565 God commanded his servant Aloysius of Praeneste to quicken this dull form of the Choral Song with the breath of genius; and Aloysius replied : ” Lord, thy will be done;” and the transformed Church Song again resounded like the chorus of the angels; sublime church music appeared in a holy crown of rays. The pope, the cardinals, the whole people threw themselves down at the feet of the immortal man. Let us too bow before the great name of PALESTRINA, the honor of the Catholic church and the glory of Italy. Hail to the godlike man, whom Greece would have exalted among her gods, had he been one of her sons! He came, and the hod-carriers of Harmony made way for the master builder; through his voice the shapeless materials were united in a temple of the most imposing majesty; Music, but now almost dumb, begins to speak, and the human soul responds. She speaks of God, as if first of all to thank Him, that He has given her a language. The musical sceptre, hitherto borne provisionally by the Netherlander, passes from this moment over into the hands of the Italians, there to remain for two centuries, by the most legitimate and undisputed claim.

Palestrina could be divided into several great musicians. In the first place you find in him the scholar of the Flemish school, surpassing all his teachers as a contrapuntist; then the madrigalist, who strove perhaps primarily to .express the words ; and then the creator of the style, which bears his name, and which was formerly called Alia Capella. We have to speak of him only in this last capacity; in a relation, therefore, which makes him a unique man in his way. For the rest, the age was not yet ripe, either for the fugue, or for expressive melody. For us, Palestrina is the Choral Song become Harmony according to the true character of church music, as we find it in the Improperia, and still more in the Stabat Mater, which is sung on Palm Sunday, in the Sixtine Chapel at Rome. Since through him we come upon the first great revolution in Art, the origin of real music, and since Palestrina forms the bond, by which the dead works of calculation are united to the works produced by feeling, taste, imagination, we must inquire wherein the alia capella style was distinguished from what went before, and in what it is distinguished from the modern music, In its outward form the alia capella style reproduced the united counterpoint of the fourteenth century, which the masters of the fifteenth scorned to employ, or only very seldom employed, and which with a certain contemptuousness they named stylo familiar?. But Palestrina introduced into it a more closely interwoven and correct harmony; he mingled with it a light dose of canonical seasoning, which elevated the composition, without harming the words; and instead of banishing the canto fermo into the middle part, he transferred it to the upper part, where it could unfold itself more freely and “more enchain the attention of the ear. That was restoring the leading melody to its right of singing, and opening a path, in which no one of the predecessors of the Roman Swan had before travelled. The distinction between him and the modern composers, who, considered with reference to the time of Palestrina,’ begin with the melodists of the seventeenth century, lies particularly in their choice of chords.

That there may be some unity of melody and key in a work, which is an almost indispensable condition of all modern music, the harmony must be composed of the different kinds of tri-chords, Seventh and Ninth chords, which have their seat in the diatonic intervals of the scale chosen by the composer. If he passes over into another scale, to tarry there awhile, another family of chords follows upon the first and for the time being governs the modulation, until the return of the original key, whose absence must not last too long, lest the ear become too accustomed to a foreign land, so that it will hardly recognize itself in its own, when it gets back. This is the system of modern intonation, the true and perfect system, which gives for every major scale IS, and for every minor scale 12 principal or radical chords;* which chords, multiplied by all their respective transpositions, place unlimited means in the control of the composer, whereby he can vary the harmony within the limits of the scale, without the necessity of striking a single, chord that is foreign to it. The whole mass of these auxiliary and related chords, which have only a dependent existence and a relative importance, since they do not subsist on their own account, but always end in the perfect chord of the scale, into which they resolve, represents the revolving movement of a system around its centre of gravity; it forms the harmonic unity and homogeneousness of a piece.

A melody may express anything or nothing by itself, unless it (lows from the feeling of the modal relation, of which we have spoken; on the other hand, since there are in every melody indefinite notes, which leave the ear in uncertainty about their origin, inasmuch as they admit of several, often very different, interpretations, the presence of the chord is indispensable to the determining of their sense and character. Herein lies the whole science of the Harmonist. Such a wealth of means of expression through harmony was still infinitely far from the time in which Palestrina lived—about as far as the precision, the boldness, the variety and grace of contours, which shine in the outlines of the modern music. Most of the auxiliary chords were unknown to him. He knew indeed the Dominant Seventh chord; he has in fact employed it without preparation and with all its intervals; but this kind of harmony appears in his music only as a rare accident or a thing of instinct. His customary and systematic progression consists in a series of perfect major and minor chords, mixed with a few chords of the Sixth, between which there exists so slight a modal affinity, that you cannot through them recognize the key. Barely are you pointed to the scale of the piece by now and then a half-tone lying below the Tonic, or a Seventh. Nevertheless Palestrina’s harmony in general is pure, by means of the great correctness in the movement of the voices. Notes will show all this much better than words can describe it. I fancy, a musician of the present day should be able to give at once a harmonic, but quite simple and natural, explanation of the four following measures of Choral Song.
How does that sound?—Beautiful, sublime, heavenly! That music is not of this earth; it comes in fact from heaven. Yes, Palestrina is sublime precisely for the knowledge, which the musicians of his time had not; as the Bible is sublimely above all that depended on the wealth of languages and the metaphysical culture of the times in which it was written. Observe well, that with a more melodious and expressive cantilena, a harmony like this of Palestrina’s would be impossible; it holds only in the Choral Song, which on its part rejects as trivial and ordinary all the combinations of chords, that belong to ornamental melody. Palestrina makes as yet no division of the verbal phrases; the effect of his purely harmonious song is like the impressions of an aeolian harp. His solemn tri-chords fall upon one another at equal intervals, without characteristic rhythm, and resound like the voice of God, that triune God, of whom the harmonic Tri-chord seems to be one of the most unfathomable material emblems. Here are none or almost none of those connecting chords, whereby might be expressed some causality and mutual dependence between the grand revelations of the absolute; none of those wanton or pathetic dissonances, types of our momentary happiness, our transient or excited humor; no rhythm, following the flight of time, measured by the pulsations of a mortal heart; in a word, nothing that awakens a worldly thought and speaks the language of fleshly passions. This is a church music, than which no one ever composed a truer. It contains absolutely no admixture of profanity; it wears an eternal beauty, since it rests upon something unchangeable, or so to say, upon the elementary application of the Accord; it is antique, and that is one of its most precious excellences, since its antiquity knows no age, which enhances everything and contributes so powerfully to the reverence one cherishes for sacred things. And in fact time has made Palestrina young. His modulation, so original and striking today, must have been much less so, or not at all so in the sixteenth century, as they generally modulated in this way. To grow young through years—is not that an altogether extraordinary fate, especially for a musician!

Thus was realized the oldest and most sublime of all the expressions of music, the religious or Christian Church expression. It was no more than right, that an Art born upon the altars of Christianity, whose long and refractory childhood the Church alone, like a tender mother, had protected, should lay the firstlings of its majority upon those same altars. Music in this was doing no more than her sister Arts, Painting and Architecture, also revived through the church, and that entirely in the true Christian spirit, ad majorem gloriam Dei.

And you thought I to be verbose!

Prohibited Music

Below is an abstract of what looks like a very interesting article, sent along to me by CMAAer Patrick Bergin. (I don’t know the DiLasso motet mentioned in the abstract, but of course now I want to go look it up.)

I’m sure the article will provide interesting reading. But makes me wonder even more about just how much of what we hear and sing at Mass is “circumstantial.” I got myself involved a thread on NLM the other day in which I brought up the following point: just how easy is it to throw out music? Of all art forms, isn’t it the most dispensable? A painting sticks around and makes for a lot of smoke in a bonfire if you want to dispose of it. A stained glass window? Pretty hard to get rid of and have no one notice. Music? It’s in the air! It only exists in time – for a time – and then it’s gone. You can hire a hit man to take care of your organist or choir director, burn a few books, and that’s it! It’s like it never existed.

“A Sixteenth-Century Catalog of Prohibited Music”
David Crook
Journal of the American Musicological Society Apr 2009, Vol. 62, No. 1: 1–78

In 1575 the Jesuit general in Rome issued an ordinance governing the use of music in the order’s rapidly expanding network of colleges. Motets, masses, hymns, “and other pious compositions” were to be retained; indecent and “vain” music was to be burned. Sixteen years later the Jesuits’ provincial administrator in Bavaria drew up a set of supplemental instructions, to which was appended a catalog of prohibited music as well as a complementary list of approved compositions (D-Mbs Clm 9237). Verbal texts treating drunkenness and erotic love account for the majority of banned pieces, but in some cases—a setting of the first verse of Psalm 137 by Orlando di Lasso, for example—the sound and style of the music led to its prohibition.

Although intended for all colleges within the Jesuits’ Upper German province, this catalog apparently derives solely from a review of the music collection of Munich’s college on the occasion of its move in 1591 to a magnificent new building financed by the duke of Bavaria. Like the architecture and curriculum of the college, the music catalog reflected Bavaria’s new understanding of its role as principal post-Tridentine defender of the true faith. And, like the formal confessions of faith, catechisms, and service books promulgated by Europe’s Churches during the late sixteenth century, Bavaria’s catalog of prohibited music gave expression to an ideology of difference and exclusion that lies at the very heart of post-Reformation Christianity.

Live blog of St. Colman’s Society for Catholic Liturgy conference, UK

I’ve just seen that Jubal’s Review offers a model of live blogging for the St. Colman’s Society conference, July 10-12,, 2010 (“Benedict XVI and Sacred Music”) with papers by William Mahrt, Archbishop Burke, Fr. Uwe Michael Lang, Kerry McCarthy, James McMillan, Ite O’Donovan, and many other stars of the sacred music world. Here is the complete conference program. The live blog offers a daily summary.

Wonderful Review of Page

It’s thrilling to read this erudite review of Christopher Page’s Christian West and Its Singers, by Dom Alban Nunn of Ealing Abbey in London. The review helps alleviate my own worries that this book would not get the attention it deserves.

Page dares to go where few have trod before. Certainly there is some cross over with James McKinnon’s final offering The Advent Project. That earlier work, a decade ago, cast considerable light over the darkness of the late 7th century in musical terms. Page goes much further creating a coherent history across the first millennium. I say creating because the size and breadth of this work means that many of his conclusions will be the basis on which future work will be done.

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?”

Optimam Partem and the Optimal Tempo

This past Sunday, the schola in which I sing provided the communion antiphon from the Gregorian books, Optimam Partem. I just love this chant because it tells such a beautiful story of the lesson of Mary and Martha (Gospel reading) in song. Following this chant, we sang the motet with the same text name by William Byrd – which is in a minor key and doesn’t borrow much from the chant, but is extraordinarily beautiful.

This morning I was stunned to find a live recording of this very motet by the Cantores Ecclesia, a choir that specializes in Byrd. The choir takes this motet at half the tempo we took it, which changes the sensibility of the piece dramatically. Have a listen. I do not know which is “correct”; in fact, there is probably no answer to that, and therein we find yet another magnificent thing about this music.

Should We Avoid “Over-Fussiness ” in Worship?

Roma locuta est points out that many parishes (a search) print canned snippets on the meaning of the Gospel of the week. The snippet today includes the claim, made by one writer for a commercial publisher, that the Gospel instructs us to avoid “over-fussiness in worship.” Seems like a stretch from the Mary and Martha story to a case for sloppiness in rubrics and music. Pastors really should rethink this policy of just printing whatever comes in the mail. In any case, Roma responds to the claims of this week’s “lesson.”

Choral Gradual now in print

At the Sacred Music Colloquium, there is plenty of time to talk to other directors and singers about what their scholas are using, particular as regards the propers of the Mass. This is a particular challenge in English-language Masses because this is a major area of neglect from mainline publishers. They print the antiphons in the Mass aids and then forget them completely when it comes to music, under the expectation that every parish sings some hymn with a text that is (most likely) unrelated to the Mass.

This tendency has created a major fissure between the music you hear at Mass and the Mass text itself, dividing the attention of congregations and erecting a wall between the sanctuary and the loft at critical points in the Mass: entrance, offertory, and communion. This is not how it should be.

But what is a choir to do about the problem? A resource used ever more frequently is the Simple Choral Gradual by Richard Rice. He offers very easy but very effective choral settings of all the propers for Sunday and major feasts for the entire liturgical year. Once you get the hang of them, they can be worked up very quickly. They can be adjusted according to the sensibility of the parish, and they offer an excellent solution for any schola that is working to transition a parish from the conventions of the day toward a sacred music model. The price is also just right at $19, so that you can buy a copy for each member of your schola.

What We Missed at the Byrd Festival

I surely wished I could have been there this year. This was Friday

“William Byrd, the Euroskeptic: His dedication to English Style and Sensibility”, consort songs performed by Oliver Mercer, tenor, and Mark Williams, harpsichord and organ, Friday, August 13, 7:30 PM, at St. Stephen’s Church, 1112 SE 41st Ave., Portland.

This recital explores Byrd’s setting of texts in his songs, which Byrd scholar Philip Brett described as having “a strong attachment to a native idiom rooted in Tudor court culture” as opposed to popular Italian styles, and distinguish Byrd’s music from other English composers such as Weelkes, Morley and, eventually, Dowland. The program includes elegies written for Mary, Queen of Scots, English-style consort songs in foreign languages, and song settings of poems by Sir Philip Sidney, including the joyful “My mind to me a kingdom is”, and an elegy on the death of the poet “ O that most rare breast.”

About the performers:
Hailed by the New York Times as “excellent” and “particularly impressive”, Oliver Mercer is quickly gaining recognition as one of New York’s most exciting young voices in early music. The 2009/2010 season marked several solo debuts, including Alice Tully Hall under Kent Tritle with Musica Sacra, Houston’s Wortham Center with Le Voix Baroque, 5 Boroughs Music Festival, and Handel’s Messiah with Taghkanic Chorale under Steven Fox. Mercer also returned as featured soloist with the Sacred Music in a Sacred Space concert series, Saint Thomas Fifth Avenue and the Clarion Music Society. A highlight of 2010 has been Mercer’s participation in multiple performances of Monteverdi’s Vespro della beata Vergine. In the summer of 2009 Mercer participated in Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s 75th season in their acclaimed production of Purcell’s The Fairy Queen under the baton of William Christie. Other past engagements include Performances of Bach’s St. John Passion in Korea and Japan with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Evangelist in Bach’s Saint Matthew Passion at Saint Thomas Fifth Avenue and soloist in various Bach cantatas at the Oregon Bach Festival under Helmut Rilling.

Mark Williams took up the post of Director of Music at Jesus College Cambridge in September 2009. Described as ‘the shooting star of the international organ scene’ by the international press, he has appeared in the UK, Europe and America with many of the UK’s leading ensembles, including the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the City of London Sinfonia and the Gabrieli Consort and Players. He is the Principal Conductor of English Chamber Opera, the Organist in Residence at the annual International William Byrd Festival in Oregon, and has given solo recitals, appeared as harpsichordist and organist, and led masterclasses in choral training, singing and organ performance in the UK, the USA, Asia and Africa.