On the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola

St. Ignatius originally frowned on music, both liturgical and extra-liturgical.  He wanted the Society of Jesus to focus on doctrine and teaching.  Then he came to see the value of the arts in evangelization, first in Europe and then in the New World.

Wherever the Jesuits (and other orders) traveled, they brought music.  They taught the building of instruments and singing in harmony.  The Guidonian hand adorned the wall at Mission San Antonio in California.  Hymns and sequences were liberally composed in vernacular languages. Choirs and orchestras flourished. And doctrine was taught through song.

What could be a better remembrance of this power of music than a clip from “The Mission”?

Go and play some music for the unconverted in your own corner of the world.  Who knows what the results might be?

Whose “Pop Music”?

Watching the closing Mass of World Youth Day, I actually enjoyed the “Brazilian-ness” of it all.  The music, the arms waving, the waves on the beach, and the remarkable silence of 3 million people when they were told to meditate.  (Try that last item in your local parish!)

And I could also imagine the complaints about the music, summarized as “Arggh, more pop music!”  Then it occurred to me that the music (which reminded me strongly of Barry Manilow) wasn’t pop music at all to those young people. 

Heck, it’s music from before they were born; it’s their parents’ music.  Popular music has gone way further down the road since the 1980s – think hip-hop, techno-pop, trance music, rap, etc..  And if these 80’s stylings are the music you’ve heard in church all your life, it’s not “pop music,”  it’s downright traditional church music. 

[Cue “I Write the Songs.”]


For Santiago – A Song and Many Prayers

Today is the Feast of St. James the Greater (Santiago).  Here is one of the songs of the Camino “Dum Pater Familias.”  Learn more about the Camino and the city where his relics are found here.  

Remember in your prayers all those traveling to the celebrations whose lives were lost in yesterday’s train crash on the outskirts of Santiago de Compostela.

What do to when it just doesn’t work!

In my years in sacred music, I have had numerous wonderful ideas.  Well, they were wonderful as ideas. Unfortunately, some of them have been awful when put into practice. 

The hardest thing in the world can be to admit that it’s just not happening the way you planned.  Whether it’s the motet that peters out after eight measures (eight splendid measures, I might add) or my latest plan to bring chant and beauty to the masses (so dull that it attracts only folks who are so loyal they would follow me to a dog fight and even bores me) – it is not easy to move on.

And if you’re in that position right now, you have my companionable sympathy. 

But that’s what you have to do in order to give the next idea the space it needs.  Throw the manuscript in a folder, stop tweaking the plan, just let it go.  And after a decent period of mourning, take the black crepe ribbon off your sleeve and start fresh, whilst enjoying this splendid version of Agni Partene.

Keep Your Ears Open!

Every day I become more convinced that there’s always something new (and usually interesting) to hear.  Recently, I heard a wonderful alabado playing in the background in the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Definitely a must-have!  I only had to look through 30 or so CDs in the museum bookstore and the field recording from the Robb collection was mine.

This morning it was Margaret Rizzo’s Nada te turbe on YouTube.  Keeping that setting running in my head during an overly-jokey homily preserved my sanity.  I think everyone’s taken a crack at this text from Paul Ayres to Taize.  This is my current favorite.

The long-running Jesuit (no jokes about Jesuits and liturgy, please) Media Initiative’s Pray-As-You-Go has let me hear chant from Pluscarden and Glenstal, as well as Rizzo and the Senegalese Trappists at Keur Moussa.  If you don’t know it, check it out. The music, reading, and suggestions for meditation take a grand total of 12 minutes a day. Perfect for those whose contemplative style is like a hummingbird after a cup of coffee.

Maybe everything won’t be to your liking – so there’s always tomorrow.  And they link the music sources quite nicely.

Keep your ears open!  You might find grist for your musical mill, a new interpretation, or maybe just some peace of mind.

“New Kid” on the Block

I dearly hope that I was invited to this blog in hopes that I would side with Jeffrey Tucker on the Josquin/Byrd controversy now raging.  Alas for JT, I’ll go with Byrd, though I’m really a Tallis kind of girl.

Setting that aside, please allow for a brief introduction – this once only, I promise.  I’m Mary Jane Ballou, a musician based in St. Augustine, Florida, a city whose founding began with a chanted Te Deum and a Mass in 1565.  My choral conducting experience ranges from Anglican to Russian Orthodox churches, as well as both the Byzantine and Latin Rites.  I also teach chant workshops and work with choir directors and pastors looking to upgrade their musical offerings.  My exemplars of sane and thorough teaching are Arlene Oost-Zinner and Scott Turkington.  And the late Fr. Lawrence Heiman, C.PP.S. who enabled me to overcome my fear of the ictus. 

Quite frankly, I just can’t get enough of sacred music and many find my “small c” catholic tastes confounding. Znammeny and Serbian chant, Sacred Harp and Anglican hymnody all appeal.  At the same time, I am keenly aware of what styles belong in the sanctuary and/or loft and what styles are meant for the plaza outside the church!

Right now, I direct a small women’s ensemble, resident at the Mission Nombre de Dios in St. Augustine, that ranges over 1,000 years of sacred music – from Gregorian chant to contemporary settings.  I am also a professional harpist and always looking for connections between strings and voices, remembering that the harp was a valued accompaniment to the sacred music of New Spain.

I’ve blogged for years, written for Sacred Music, and am delighted to “join the conversation,” as they like to say on National Public Radio.