How I Go About Choosing Bricks, Part the One

What I’ve found ironic and interesting is that both here and on the MS Forum we’ve engaged in a fair amount of chatter about……what? Chant? Polyphony? Orchestral Masses? Nope, the ironic part is that due to the “FIRST THINGS” Casey Kasem Top Ten article, we’ve bandied about a large amount of discussion about so-called “Contemporary Worship Music.” As regards that specific article, I’ve said my peace.
However, in light of continued discussion in other threads, I’d like to offer some suggestions for DM’s who must wrestle with the yearly concerns of subscription missal/hymnal publications, and also who are charged with overseeing the programming responsibilities of subordinate musical personnel, such as organists,cantors, ensembles and choirs, to whom license is provided to make their own weekly decisions as to repertoire.
First of all, as a relatively still new member of CMAA, (with four decades of service under a very oversized belt) I absolutely recommend those obvious strategies outlined by Dr. Mahrt, Fr. Keyes, Jeffrey Tucker, Mary Jane Ballou and others have addressed at colloquia, intensives and in “Sacred Music” articles. Namely, hold sessions for musicians and other interested parties (like PRIESTS) that clarify the necessity of familiarization with liturgical legislative documents; prioritize and disseminate information about the role of the proper processional antiphons; clarify the variety of roles that the constituent parties engage in at Mass, such as the responsibility of celebrants to sing their orations versus recitation whenever possible, or which portions of the liturgies have options as to who, what, where, why and how a choir or cantor should be the primary performer of select “movements” and which demand total active participation by the whole congregation. This is Liturgy 101. We can all think of other aspects that must be in place prior to engaging your colleagues with your expertise and direction as advice worthy of their consideration to put into practice.
In another thread I mused that there’s another dimension in the universe where we DM’s could dial in our hymnal content to THE BIG THREE and they would obligingly, gleefully print our boutique annual hymnals. Well, that’s likely not going to happen soon. So, if you are a DM or responsible for choosing repertoire from a subscription or seasonal newsprint hymnal I suggest you get used to this notion: You must plow through that book with a fine toothed comb not only when the first perusal copy hits your mailbox, but virtually each week. Much that I’ve garnered through anecdotal and direct observation is that second-tier music leadership relies upon- A. a personal stable of favorites that they simply trust will always be in each year’s issue; and B. the publishers’ shill periodicals that enable the musician to do the Chinese Restaurant menu choice method of programming. Neither of those strategies benefits a parish’s growth towards enhanced music that is sacred, beautiful and universal.
So, in my case, two years ago, when our parish merged with three others, I created a basic informational tool for my musical corps- a spreadsheet review of literally every enumerated musical item in the OCP Breaking Bread Hymnal. In addition to the fields of title, composer/hymn tune, seasonal/general assignment, etc., I applied MY own overall grade of worthiness to each selection using the A to F curricular adjudication. I then had another field in the spreadsheet if I felt a need to explain the grade. If I wanted to push a tune with an A grade, I would give short phrase reasons, the same for poorly graded pieces. This is a fair amount of work, but it accomplishes a few obvious goals, and some others that are oblique. Obviously, such a document provides your crew with benchmarks that clearly state how the DM values or regards the hymnal content, piece by piece and in toto. If I grade “Blest Be the Lord” as a “D” with a small mention that its genre is dated or simply hokey, a cantor at least knows that if s/he employs it, it is not in concert with what I consider ideal. A more subtle benefit is that by providing a comprehensive, simple review, a DM is communicating to all, “I know this book and this publisher backwards, forwards and in my sleep. Elaine R. McQueeny and Fred Moleck have their tents in Portland and Chicago. Charles’ office is next to the church.” All the CD/Itunes recordings done in studio or cathedral environments for demonstration purposes have all sorts of lipstick and façade product slathered within that won’t be there with the lonely guitar player or lead-sheet pianist looks at a cantor’s choice and says “How does this go?” Your musical staff must know that you know your stuff and are willing to place a tangible value upon some of their “favorites” that will discomfort them, or more hopefully encourage them to expand their “stable.”

Another strategy is scheduling parish reading sessions open to musical staff and parishioners in general. Scheduling is a real problematic issue, not just because of personal issues, but seasonal demands. But, OCP (for example) ships in annual hymnals well in advance of Advent I. Even if you have tremendous rehearsal or administrative demands preparing for Advent/Christmas/Epiphany, I believe the DM review process can be accomplished as soon as perusal copies come in advance of the shipment. And then try to schedule the public reading session for items in the mid-autumn with about an hour and a half of selections that are new to the yearly issue and most worthy of consideration; it doesn’t matter what genre of style. Worthiness (sacred, universal and beautiful) is the highest priority. If this cannot be accomplished in autumn, then it must happen in the first weeks of Ordered Time prior to Lent. I also recommend that you use the most basic of accompaniment instruments, no frills in the exposition. Personally, I never listen to demo recordings. I don’t ever read the keyboard accompaniment scores. I make my decisions after simply auditioning text and melody alone, period. So, the DM can then determine whether it is most appropriate for a piece to be accompanied solely by an organ, a piano, a guitar or combination of those three.
Then, after you’ve premiered these, your selections, poll your musical personnel as to which selections of their preference they would like “demonstrated” at a subsequent reading session. And have another session, perhaps post Pentecost through Trinity Sundays into summer ordinary time.
In both types of reading sessions, it is of paramount necessity for the DM to articulate in much more detail the aspects of each selection that make it either worthy or unsuitable for common usage. If you are diplomatic, no one will huff and puff at these sessions over your pronouncements because time is at a premium. They want to get through reading all the items on your program. And, of course, within your explanations, there must be the constant and consistent threads of how each selection adheres to “the paradigm” in terms of theological orthodoxy, relationship to the psalter and to propers, aesthetic issues inherent in both text (“Yeah, Your Grace IS ENOUGH, yeah…) and music (Somos el Cuerpo de Cristo, Oob la dee, Oob la da, life goes on…*, oh nevermind, let’s not go there.)
I’ll be doing my summer session soon, and one thing I will do is measure my own enthusiasm with my comportment. I will likely strive to deliver the direction of the session more with the quiet surety of Professor Mahrt, rather than the blowhard “Vince, the ShamWow Guy- You Gotta Hear Dis Great Song, You can’t live wit’out it!”
And remember rule number one: don’t talk too much. Keep them singing 95% of the time.
In the next installment of this article, I’ll demonstrate my approach to selecting pieces for reading sessions.

Taverner’s Ave Maria

A piece we sang at the Colloquium is John Taverner’s Ave Maria. Here is the sheet music, available for the first time, scored for SATTB. He was obviously an amazing composer. Apparently he fell under the influence of the puritans at some point and repudiated his “papist” compositions. Fortunately for us, much survives. This piece in particular is very accessible.

Fire Up that Anglican Chant!

Google books posts two books of Anglican chant:

Vincent (1880)

Ludden (1860)

I find myself amazed and baffled when I look at these books to imagine the missed opportunities that presented themselves at the Second Vatican Council. But instead of availing themselves to the resources accumulated over 500 years within the Anglican tradition, the postconciliar authorities who revised the liturgical books set out to reinvent the wheel – with predictable results that are being revised yet again. We’ve lost so much time but perhaps the availability of these new resources will inspire the refurbishment of this wonderful tradition within the ranks of the Catholics.

“An Interior Reconciliation in the Heart of the Church”

David Sullivan, associate editor of Sacred Music, offers this thoughtful reflection on the third anniversary of Summorum Pontificum:

The date July 7, 2007 marks an important anniversary of the liturgy of the Roman Rite, the day when Pope Benedict XVI gave to the Church his motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum, the long-awaited document that liberated the traditional form of the Mass of the Roman Rite, as embodied in the Missale Romanum of 1962, promulgated by Blessed John XXIII.

On this anniversary, I encourage both those Catholics who love the traditional Roman Mass and those who cherish the work of the Second Vatican Council to give thanks to the Lord and to Pope Benedict for his bold act that allows a greater freedom for the traditional Mass than had been allowed in practice before, and that also highlights for the continuity between the tradition of the Latin Rite within the reforms called for by the Second Vatican Council. On this day, we can offer the prayers Te Deum laudamus and Oremus pro pontifice nostro Benedicto, and encourage those who read this to do so.

For those who love the traditional Mass, the motu proprio gives a greater freedom for priests to offer the traditional form, and for the laity to assist at it. It reassures us that “this Missal was never juridically abrogated and, consequently, in principle, was always permitted,” and that “what earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too,” as the Holy Father noted in his letter accompanying the motu proprio. What a tremendous change those ideas are from the decades of marginalization we had experienced before!

Likewise, for those who cherish the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, the freedom granted by the motu proprio to the traditional, or “extraordinary,” form of Mass, recalls some norms of the Vatican II constitution Sacrosanctum Consilium that have been observed often in the breach, for example: “there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely requires them” (¶23); “The use of the Latin language, with due respect to particular law, is to be preserved in the Latin rites” (¶36); “The treasury of sacred music is to preserved and cultivated with great care” (¶114); “The Church recognizes Gregorian chant as being specially suited to the Roman liturgy. Therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place (in Latin, principem locum, which can well be translated ‘first place’) in liturgical services.” (¶116); “care must be taken to ensure that the faithful may also be able to say or sing together in Latin those part of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them” (¶54). In the rush to implement certain aspects of the Council’s teachings—such as active participation and use of the vernacular—the teachings noted here have been widely downplayed, if not ignored. In effect, Summorum Pontificum calls the Church to a more balanced implementation of the Second Vatican Council.

In his letter to bishops, Pope Benedict explained his “positive reason” for this motu proprio, “a matter of coming to an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church,” and “to make every effort to enable for all those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity or to attain it anew.” In this spirit, I invite all Catholics to offer a prayer for Pope Benedict, the successor of Peter, and for unity in the Church of Christ.

William Byrd Festival: Never Miss It

The schedule for the William Byrd Festival this year is up. It might be the greatest musico-liturgical event of the year. The dates are August 13-29, Portland, Oregon.

Dr. Richard Marlow of Trinity College, Cambridge, England will return to Portland to conduct Cantores in Ecclesia in a two-week festival of choral masterpieces by the greatest composer of the English Renaissance, William Byrd (1540–1623). The festival will feature six liturgical services, three concerts and six public lectures. The services include Byrd’s Masses for Three, Four, and Five Voices, Compline and Evensong from the Anglican rite, Mass for the Assumption with selections from the Gradualia of 1607. The opening concert on August 13 features tenor Oliver Mercer and Mark Williams on harpsichord and organ in a program of Byrd’s consort songs; the Festival Concert on Aug 29, directed by Dr. Marlow, includes Byrd’s moving setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah.

New Mass Setting: Sanctus XII

I’ve been listening to many new ordinary settings being rolled out by many publishers in anticipation of the new translation of the Mass forthcoming (at some point). They vary in quality, and one’s judgment on them largely depends on one’s tastes. But there are common characteristics. The composer is restricted to writing songs that are catchy and metrical, and when they are not accompanied, something essential seems to be lacking. They all have a tendency to remind one of some music one has heard somewhere, though it isn’t always clear where. I do think this is deliberate: the ethos in the Catholic publishing world fears offering music that seems unfamiliar or drawn from a cultural context outside the daily world in which we live. The idea seems to be that the composer should take the stuff we have in our head and use it to invite us to participate in a religious experience. It seems like a good idea but the problem is that this hope isn’t quite visionary and radical enough. It is insufficiently challenging. It dares nothing.

In contrast, consider Sanctus from Mass XII. Now this is the type of music that gives us something completely new, something that sweeps us off our feet, something that invites us to think and pray in a completely new way. I really can’t explain how the Gregorian tradition does it, but somehow it manages to be ever fresh and ever destabilizing in the best possible sense. It shakes us and moves us. I do not envy composers today, who have this kind of material to compete against:

Conventional Wisdom? “So What” spaketh Miles Davis

A quotation cited from a 1930 volume of “Caecilia“-

0nly a limited amount of energy is given us. Perhaps we would tackle the problem better by leaving off preaching the beauty, and all that, of the Chant, and beginning to convince the world and ourselves in particular by giving the Chant a chance to talk for itself. If we admit that its exalted mood of meditation and mystic calm and all that is a bit foreign to the hip, hip, hurray spirit of twentieth-century America, then the task of making Gregorian chant prevail begins where our vocabulary leaves off. The solution seems to be: less talk and more honestly patient work.

The Top Ten (Con)Temporary Songs That Should Be Cut Some Slack:

THE SERVANT SONG Richard Gillard
IN EVERY AGE Jańet Sullivan Whitaker
ALL THAT IS HIDDEN Bernadette Farrell
THERE IS NOTHING TOLD Christopher Willcock

Honorable mention:

Hymn text to THAXTED: THREE DAYS M.D. Ridge

From the Summer 1958 issue of “Caecilia“-

The New Music

The problem is no longer whether contemporary church music will be accepted. It is plain as the stars that cluster over a vistadome rushing through country darkness that it is accepted and sung. What the faint hearted have viewed cautiously as an alarming experience is past. The question now is how much of it will remain contemporary. For great music is always with us: The great body of Chant and Polyphony and some of that in between-the Gothic, the Baroque, some of the Classical, and isolated giants like Bruckner and Gabriel Faure – having nothing temporary about them; they remain, in the practical domain, contemporary. C. Card. Micara, Bp. of Velletri, Prefect.

I first encountered the link to the FIRST THINGS article over at the MS Forum, and commented with my contention that there was no greater good to be found, IMO, by tagging our initials with the original author’s piece.
Jeffrey Tucker and I then began an email dialogue about the matter. After a few exchanges it occured to me that sharing our conversation might be of more benefit through our different generational perspectives. I will likely also take a couple of my arbitrary list and do a little forensics later on in an edit. One aspect that has totally been ignored by the FIRST THINGS diatribe is a recognition of what constitutes a valid “alius cantus aptus.” Be that as it may, my list above does reflect my appreciation for specific pieces that correspond to my criteria.
So, our discussion follows-

JT (Tuesday)-“I worried that my post would annoy you!”
CC-“Well, my dear friend, it is only an annoyance because by “going there” and reprinting this person’s opinion, our organization’s repute can and likely will be hijacked, and be caricatured as an obstinate, staid, and fringe group of wingnuts by the likes of our friends Todd and Dom Ruff et al. If you’ve noticed, the hubris factor over at PrayTell has surged of late. They’re closing ranks nicely. So, by even a presumed notion of an innocent reprint of the “First Things” article, both the forum and CC have needlessly (IMO) opened themselves to factionalism. Noel’s comment is right: people have formed emotional bonds with this top ten list. You won’t win friends and influence people by trampling upon people’s sensitivies over issues they don’t fully understand, but that they feel acutely.
Just look at the combox polarities over the cappa magna at PT- needless. You, yourself, said “move on.” Now, we have tacitly endorsed this writer’s uninformed, niggardly written and ill-considered opinion on our presumably loftier platforms. We shoot ourselves in the foot by doing so. I love being an apologist for CMAA; I don’t enjoy having that goal made more difficult by aligning ourselves with self-appointed “Miss Manners” who feel it necessary to squeal the names of the Usual Suspects.
First rule of vocal pedagogy: Don’t try to teach a pig to sing. It will frustrate you and annoy the pig.
Pax et bonum.”
JT-“Hmmm, well, as you know, I’m just a bit tone deaf on these issues. I don’t really get it (though your analogy to the cappa magna slightly makes some sense to me). I would remove it if you think that it really does cause harm.
I truly do believe, however, that this music has driven multitudes off from the faith. People just run from this stuff. I find it strange that there is something of a fear of admitting this out there. I try not to ridicule this mainly because, as you say, it doesn’t accomplish anything. And yet, I do think that the ridicule suggests a certain truth.
Bear with me, I’m learning to balance my strong internal tendencies with a slowly coming and enlightened sense of strategic purpose.
But truly tell me: do you really think we are better off without the post than with it? I do respect and defer to your judgement.”

CC-“No, please don’t remove the posts on either site. I’m in the minority, but not because I straddle fences, I have always bristled at gross generalities being elevated to iconic status.
“Democrats favor abortion, Republicans are pro-life.” Yeah, right.
Besides, the horse is out of the barn already. The reprinting of the article is, if nothing else, reportage on matters with which we deal on a weekly basis.
If these ten tunes represent the bogeyman which has alienated multitudes of people from communion with the Church, then such folks built their houses on sandy soil to begin with. Poor songs have always been among us.
I might offer that next colloquium, if we continue the practice of a panel discussion during a dinner, we discern some topics that deal with these very visceral issues, and how we can positively respond to the problems we face when we try to shift focus away from the temporal top ten to the transcendent paradigm.”
JT“What’s funny is that I was going to suggest that you write some reflections on all of this – starting with your own history – and put some of this in context. You have a perspective from the inside that you can offer here. then this morning I wake and see that you have posted! I think you could write more on all of this. One of my mentors used to say that to understand is to forgive. The big problem is that many people, I among them, cannot understand this music no matter how much we attempt to do so.”
CC-“Yeah, I do that sometimes.
You’ll notice that I didn’t augment my list or the Caecilia quotes with anything other than the title (typically, purposefully enigmatic/odd) with anything “me.”
What might be interesting is to give our readership the backstory of our own email dialogue over the original article, and include that after the second Caecilia quote.
Then I could provide some specific insights as to how I approach the process of winnowing chaff from wheat in modern “alius…” and how the stark reality must be acknowledged that there is a likely “multitude” of deeply reverent catholics among four generations that regard the wheat of modern song as very worthy expressions of worship directed to the Lord they love totally. We are gospel obliged to respect these brethren where they are, and, like physicians, “first, do no harm.” So, our task becomes a mission to enrich their worship experiences by sharing with them the beautiful expanse of their Church’s heritage, and do so with a positive and self-evident enthusiasm that does not, of our volition, contend with their sensibilities.
So, if you’re okay, I’d like to offer readers our own exchanges. I might also be inclined to cite an example or two from my subjective list and illuminate some of their qualities.”
JT“Oh I think that would be wonderful!
I was thinking that last night, my own failure to comprehend any of this material comes from a very strange accident of history. My entire conversion to Catholicism took place within a liturgical context of a Latin ordinary form setting with Gregorian music that was unaccompanied. I knew virtually nothing about anything else. Only after I became a Catholic was I exposed to the other. That’s probably why all this other music strikes me as completely alien – and that goes for G&P, P&W, and even traddy English hymns. I just don’t get any of it. Again, this is probably an accident of history – especially since all this happened in the 1980s.”

So, there you have it, for now. A little more may follow, as I said, with a forensics-like examination of one or more of my little list. But I don’t want to detract from the focus this blog and that of CMAA and other kindred spirits’, with a reactionary defense of any modern pieces. Like I said, my real position in the larger picture remains “Move on, nothing to see here.”

Kevin Allen and Watershed

It’s hard to say what is most exciting about Motecta Trium Vocum:

1) the wonderful music by Kevin Allen, music that is new, beautiful, and easy to sing for liturgy,

2) the practice videos that have been produced to go along with this new polyphony,

3) the appearance of Watershed as a new publisher of Catholic sacred music,

4) the method of distribution, which gives away vast amounts of this wonderful music online, both in the form of tutorials and actual sheet music, or

5) the emergence of the great Kevin Allen from obscure genius to public figure.

Watershed is smashing models with an eye to progress, and pointing the way to the future. The publication of this collection of motets is truly a watershed.

MOTECTA TRIUM VOCUM • Kevin Allen & Matthew J. Curtis from Corpus Christi Watershed on Vimeo.

Easy Polyphony by Kevin Allen (with 56 free practice videos) from Corpus Christi Watershed on Vimeo.