If you’ve got nothing good to say, then…

A few thoughts from my not evil twin.

*How refreshing, enervating and humbling to hear our Pontiff and others employing the sacral language of Latin in these most recent Masses. When first I heard the orations my heart was unburdened from distraction, and even the oft-fertilized polarization of the OF to EF disappeared as does a blanket of fog that parts to reveal the Golden Gate Bridge in SF/Marin.

*Obligatory shout out to Fr. David Friel, CMAA compatriot and CCW contributor.

*Even tho’ it seemed a skosh underwhelming, the  Rev.Schiavone’s psalm setting, the contributions of Anglophone contemporary composers as my old classmate Dr. Nestor, Dr. Latona and our British cousin Philip Stopford, among others showed that there is a maturation after cultivation of composers who “get” the conciliar mandate to seek inspiration from the two named genres regarded as principle and secondary milieus that are the font of our musical sacred treasury. And to think, maybe the next papal go ’round we may actually enjoin the worship with music by Dr. LaRocca, Richard Rice, Jeffrey Quick, Paul Jernberg, JMO, Kevin Allen, Heath Morber or even Dr. K with a host of other composers working within the fold to create honest sacred music, that also is academically informed and
genuinely beautiful.

*Overall, I think the work of CMAA and those of a similar inclination has managed to bring a balance back to adjudicating the brilliance of music according to “sacred, universal and beautiful,” as the balance of genres/styles seemed in greater measure more balanced than the last three papal tour liturgies. Even with performance practice, issues of texture and taste were mitigated from venue and personnel to the next. That is complimentary to Americans choosing to embrace the responsibilities of performance practice of the ars celebrandi (ie. chant with distracting vibrato v. a schola united in principle through the medium of chant presenting the ideal of human worship via the greatest instrument, the voice.

*Along a similar tack- it has been refreshing to notice that the employment of orchestral augmentation to the pipe organ wasn’t employed at virtually every moment of all liturgical actions at all Masses from DC to NYC to Philly. The arrangement of “Hail Holy Queen…” actually enabled the ear to rest and compare/contrast aural textures through both instrumental orchestration and the deft use of Latin and English.

*Also, thanks to the planners at Philly for demonstrating the “Mahrt” conception of circumambulation at the Introit. I think that having the ministers process from the sacristy down a side ambulatory to the main aisle ought to be a staple at even just one weekend Mass in any parish whose size and attendance could support this approach to the entrance.

*As the liturgies went along and opened up, it seemed that both the style of the “cantors” and their amplified uber-presence was mitigated from archdiocese to archdiocese. But, I won’t ever endorse the employment of any “songleader” when a choir is present. Canting lay readers and psalmists, yes. Touchdown, big vibrato’d Carusos/Callas’ need not apply anymore, thank you.

*I can Richard Chonak calling out to me now: “That’ll do, donkey, that’ll do.”

Soli Deo gloria.

Busy busy B’s: from Beauty to Bartolucci to Brutal to Buffo

What can be said about our vocations? What needs saying? What should or shouldn’t be said out loud in the public square?
I’ve been a conductor since the age of 18. Forty two years later I haven’t changed my choral philosophy after decades of real study of both the physiology and the craft of beautiful singing, as well as how to acquire, prepare, perform and expand the repertoire base of what sacred choral music serves. When I first returned to the Central Valley in ’87 as DMM of the Fresno Cathedral I had the opportunity to sit front row at a concert by Capella Sixtini under then Msgr. Bartolucci in my hometown. My rector, my wife and I winced at the excruciating (think about that word, think Lotti’s magnificent “Crucifixus for 8v) bellowing of the men, the little boys strained and squealing tone like little fledgling birds screaming at momma bird for a piece of the worm, and lastly the wild gesticulation of the conductor, the ferocity and tension of his body magnified a hundred-fold on his face.
Our beloved Pope Emeritus obligingly provided Bartolucci not only the honor of finishing his pilgrimage as a Prince of the Church, but also a renewed platform to express his views about his disdain for effeminate (his words) interpretation of sacred choral works, and that if the choral world was his, all choirs would sound like opera choruses, in other words: muscular and manly. Singing in the Tudor style, or the Christiansen/Noble Lutheran manner, the Swedish style of Erickson, or any other refined and tested pedagogy was an insult and ignoble to properly rendering to God this most perfect art by which we worship.
But back in ’87 I knew I was completely out of step with the other 99% of that concert’s audience. They had just listened to two hours (Palestrina Song of Songs) of a Bugs Bunny parody (Bugs as “Leopold” torturing the tenor soloist into exploding) and then rose to their feet cheering, whistling and hollering. All of that dissonance came back to haunt me again yesterday at the nominal Vespers Service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Why does everyone, from Raymond Arroyo to pastors to PIPs in the pews actually love the amplified (in so many different ways) bel canto, volume knob at 11, pushed pedal to the metal brutality of an opera chorus in the quire gallery, and mean it when they swoon “It was so beautiful, ahhhh.”? Is it a knee-jerk reaction to the reality that most of them go to their home parishes and they have to endure a thin-voiced little ingénue singing a Sarah Hart or Maher tune accompanied by whatever instrument(s) are handy? So, when they hear this ROMAN CATHOLIC MUSCULAR PROWESS ENSEMBLE in this magnificent Manhattan sonic venue, the only reaction can be “Wow. Was that good for you too? Wow!”

I fear for my soul, literally, feeling that something is dreadfully wrong. And, as said earlier, this odd differentiation of mine predates my involvement with CMAA by three decades. It’s nice to know via forum and FB, that there are many other Catholic choirmasters in my lonely little boat who share my frustration and concern.

Our dear Richard Rice put it nicely on FB responding to Jeffrey Morse’s eloquent initial critique by simply saying that faced with a papal Mass, music directors tend to get all wonky and discombobulated, and thus throw convention into the window, caution to the wind and everything else into the kitchen sink of planning the ordo. (Can’t help but think of Richard Dreyfus in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” throwing garden soil, plants, trees, wood and metal garden fencing through his kitchen window into the sink in order to build his vision, his Devil’s Mountain.)

I suppose this last question will never receive a proper answer: Who is the buffo in all of this?

Polyphony/Polyglot: many voices/many tongues

Preamble: As I don’t tweet, could someone send one from me to Raymond Arroyo and his Papal Posse? “Gentlemen, if the summit of our witness is the Mass, could you not ‘gab’ during the reception of the Body of Christ? The music, such as it may be, is the only necessary accompaniment.” Sheesh.

Okay, Deo gratias in that this was not Nationals’ Stadium redux.

I don’t have the Ordo. I heard the entire Mass of over 3 hours. Actually it’s still going, and I hear the gritos of the Latino faithful that normally I only hear on December 12, which is oddly juxtaposed against the deacon’s “Ite Missa est.” Hmmm.

I’m not going to get all tendentious. But I’m gonna plea ignorance on many fronts. First, I had to wonder during many moments throughout the liturgy, what innermost thoughts might HHFrancis might’ve crossed his mind hearing the music ministry at certain points. (The following is satire only, for entertainment purposes only.)

*Americans sure do put out the dog for popes, n’est ce pas? They really are on a mission from God to prove they can out-sing any choral ensemble on the planet, even if little of it is authentically “Murican.” That “Laudate Dominum” seemed to be taken up quite well. Que? Written by an Englishman? I think I’ve heard of this Briton, Sir Thomas Beecham, si?

*Ay, I get out of St. Peter’s to get a rest from those pesky Capella Sixtina’s alternating the Missa de Angelis, and I get the musical tennis match not only during the Gloria, but after the Entrada! El Coro de Azul is mas bueno, though.

*The Aleluya, it’s really simple, mi amigos. But I had to stand up for another 5-10 minutos before the Gospel, and then you need to sing it again?

*Wasn’t it muy bonita that the Oracion de los fidelis had so much going on: all the lovely tones of the Asian languages, the deacon’s “Te rogamos al Senor” (e’er so quickly translated repeatedly by Raymond Arroyo into the lingua franca of the Estados Unidos) with English, Latin, Spanish responses? Ay carumba.

*Speaking of “Ay carumba,” those coros brought the casa down with Lorenzo Florian, some sort of New World “villancico” secretly composed by Monteverdi (actually Zumaya) when he snuck over to the missions and performed by the opera company of Milan (odelay!), and then a very short, very lovely spiritual hymn allotted the Gospel Choir sung (muchos gracias not at fff but at pp, I wanted to kiss the drummer, but it ended too soon!”)

*Peppy Santo! Quido told me they were starting with “Hosanna” as an estribillo. Okay. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it that way before….. the nice lady sings “muy grande!”

*Tres horas! Santo Sciatica! What were those canticos at Comunion again?

*Maybe I will order the Rosetta Stone “Ecclesiastical Latin” from Amazon after all. Quido, take a note.

*One more thing, Guido, thank Maestro Latona for me, and then get me Dr. Osterman on the telefono, pronto.

Review: Mass of St. Philip Neri, part the second

Paul Jernberg

In the second installment of my review I have to remind any readers that our employment of Mass of SPN is also mitigated by some omissions of various movements. Paul’s Gospel Acclamations are one of those, as well as his Amen. I have an affection for our friend Chuck Giffen’s “Ascensionis” settings of those movements.
One of the aspects that I’ve noticed in larger, more orchestrated Mass settings and musician-rich parishes is an inclination to employ grandiose instrumental introductions to the Sanctus, and to a lesser extent the Memorial and Amen acclamations. The key word to remember is acclamation. One of the best changes in MR3 was the last imperative word of the Preface,  “acclaim!” That means “Better  start PDQ, Mr. Bach, it’s an ACCLAMATION!”  So, whether by a simple hum by the dirigent, a brief chordal iteration of Tonic F via organ, or the first half phrase of the Jernberg “Holy” by organ, that propulsion or momentum I mention in the “Glory” is even more present here. I believe the richness of the “orthodox-ian” homophony is found more in the rhythmic movement that’s glove-in-hand tight. And even without time signatures but with traditional note values, to me the phrases come off the tongue more like chant than hymn. The same harmonic construct between relative Major to minor is used with precision nearing perfection. I suggest that the tenors in the first phrase and last phrase use the high F because it enhances a closed position triad very effectively. And  if you have enough soprani, or a few children trebles, there’s a pedal C hum (or “ooh”) that craftily enters on “est” of the first “highest,” and it glides over the Benedictus so sweetly until the last “Hosanna.” And, of course, the director can use different rubatos for the final cadence with that lovely suspension/release in the altos.

For the Memorial acclamation, again it should start immediately after “in memory of me.” We use Accl. “C,” “Save us…..”  It is compact, and the terrace effect from phrase one to two to final three (“You have set us free”) is easily acquired. But the most wonderful effect is adding just a bit of detaché before cueing the word “free” with a tad of cres/decres. or even another lowering of volume.

We do not generally sing the Our Father in our parishes, pastoral edict. But the setting in this Mass is one of the most beautiful and worthy to replace either the MR3 Gregorian, the Snow or the Pater Noster.

Lastly, that paradoxical effect of sweet tenderness that seems the natural ethos of so many Agnus Dei settings is certainly operating in this Mass. The simple chordal progression of “vi (Dm) – V/vi (A)- V (C)- I (F  on “world”) with the reply “ii- V/visus4-V (As-A on “us”)  is introduced, and then again terraced upon for the second phrase, but with the phrase ending using the suspended V of I (Cs-C) as essentially a deceptive cadence. Then the third phrase still uses the same rhythmic assignments, but starting on tonic I (F) moving to a somewhat dramatic unprepared suspension in the tenors (“God) to V/vi (A) which leads to “vi” which abets the final statement of “sins of the world” via the minor tonality. Then comes the reward, “Grant us peace” with old standby “ii- Vs-V-I.” And the same affect if you stretch or have a whit of space after “us” to “peace” is simply heavenly.

James Michael Thompson
Again, the audio CD/download is an even better way to audition this most worthy of Masses in decades, and post MR3, as every sacred word including the lections is sung, and some choice classic polyphonic motets adorn the proper processions. Bravo, maestro’s.


Review: Mass of St. Philip Neri by Paul Jernberg (Part one)

Image result for Mass of St. Philip Neri Paul Jernberg image

I don’t know if it was God’s master plan or God inspiring Jeffrey Tucker years ago, but I’ve been blessed a number of times by a number of composers to review their works at the Café. In many a combox I’ve touted many Mass Ordinary settings which I’ve vetted (a very risky, personal choice) by the real process of having them sung by our schola and the congregation/ministry at our 8::30am Sunday Mass. Our schola’s nucleus membership is two decades along. I’m, at heart, a choral guy and they are chorally inclined. We have sparingly employed Gregorian Masses, or simile settings by folks like the great Ostrowski in unison. But choral floats our boat.

After one of those toutings at MSF or somewhere, Paul Jernberg (and his cohort, my old friend and greatest choir director of my era, J. Michael Thompson) took notice of my exuberance. So Paul honored me by asking for a review. It’s been a weird summer, total staycation, lots of physical injuries to me and mine, yada. But I promised Paul I would review what I know after at least one year’s use (according to Wendy) that I’d give a personal, seasoned look-see.


First of all, for those who’ve not only purchased the score but also listened to JMT’s inspired recording (complete with real canting lectors, deacons and celebrant), Paul Jernberg’s setting is probably the most ideal setting according to the intents and purposes of the three principal documents of the Vatican II liturgical documents, and for that matter the 1903 motu proprio of St. Pius X, Tra le sollecitudini. By that I mean not only is the sole instrument of worship is the human voice, but that the entire ritual in the ORDINARY FORM is rendered with the same ideal and intent of the Solemn High Mass in the EF. Simply, this is the embodiment of the latest exhortation “Sing THE Mass (not sing at Mass.)”

That said, in full disclosure I have to confess that though my group can render this and other similar works (the choral settings by Richard Rice come to mind) a capella, blessed with an extraordinary organist, we sing the Jernberg with organ. Secondly, I’ll only comment upon exactly what portions of the setting we’ve employed as we’ve not a celebrant whose talents could enable us to realize the piece as intended (tho’ I am working on that!)

For the last year we’ve used Paul’s “Lord, have mercy II” after the Confiteor. Wendy intones the first iteration, the choir enjoins the second in SATB, and we’ve chosen to nine-fold it with a second repetition. The elegant factor about that choice resulted from the deliberate upward terracing of each of the intonations. The congregation can clearly hear the shift per invocation moving up a third by the cantor, but we’ve found that in addition we’ve noticed the subtle ability of the congregation (in all movements for that matter) to sing ad hoc what they perceive as the choral harmonies. It’s quite something.

The cadence of the Kyrie  we’ve  chosen to “imperfect” so as to have the tenors end on a Bb. (Mea culpa.) But that sets up a simple invocation for the celebrant or cantor to intone the “Glory to God in the highest” in a descending scale from Bb4^ to tonic  F to which the congregation and choir respond “and on earth…” We take this response at about allegretto, or q=104. The fairly close-voiced homophony (eastern emulating ala Proulx’s Oecumenica) allows the altos and tenors to add some sweet jelly passing tones to the bread and peanut butter of the bass and soprano lines, all of which are, again intuitively learned and taken up by an aware congregation. Jernberg adds a quarter-note triplet that moves downward in all voices from “heavenly” to “King” and which serves to set a transition to the reverent allargando “Lord Jesus Christ” which eventually leads to the relative D minor with some carefully prepared secondary dominants in the alto voice, with an abbreviated cadence at “Son of the Father” ending on Vs4-/V (As-A) which then resumes with an a tempo (or accelerando) “you take away” still in the relative Dminor. There is simply very well planned propulsion which I believe is precisely what “Gloria” settiings must employ. Remaining in Dm, the altos are repeatedly featured with the prepared suspended fourth of the dominant AMajor, which they must crescendo over 2 beats at repeated cadences before relief on the third beat of a semi-cadence. And then the propulsion reappears at “For You alone….” which then emphatically prepares, via two quarter-triplet figures, the declaration “Most High, Jesus Christ.” Just brilliant. And the final cadence uses the Dminor to set up via Gminor 2^  to I6/4-V to “home,” F on “Father” sung at a forte (full, not loud.) Then we drop to piano for the Amen.  I can hear Officer Marge Gunderson from the great film “FARGO”  saying “Easy as pie!”

The balance in Part II

Is this part of the Francis Effect?

No names, no affiliations will be mentioned here. Perusing FB, this photo popped into my timeline:

The poster simply invited any readership to “caption” the portrait. Commentary was flying in by the second. The first chunk of samples will be found below. Now, for the record, I have no problem with proper vestments within the context of the particular cultural needs a parish/cathedral requires. I don’t think this is about vestments, these comments below. I ask (fear) that under this pontificate, we may have crossed a bridge too far in terms of basic common decency and respect. We don’t just tolerate offense, we offer the other cheek. Presuming anyone offering a “caption” such as those below has an interest in things liturgical, I’m led to believe that among our very own, many “feel” it appropriate to demean the integrity of fellow Christians, and even those ordained to clerical office.
If any of the folks who offered captions are DM’s, they’re neither “Pilots” nor “Pilates” (referencing my other article.) However the image of the mob chanting “Give us Barabbas” comes to mind.
The captions (note to administrator-Richard, feel free to condense these into a “more” window:

Where’s Gladys?
3 little maids from school ar.. hang on, 1,2,3,fo. . ah poop!
Oh it was black berettas today. Damn.
I’m delighted to reveal the autumn collection for 2015. You’ll all be wearing this.
The Spice Girls getting ready for their upcoming reunion tour…
how many blinds nuns did it take to make your lace?
In the middle: Someone has nicked my pompom.
On the left: I borrowed this cope.
The committee members of the Society for the simplification of vesture and liturgy – SSVL.
Must all be from the Diocese of Fon du Lace!
Fiddle diddle dee… Fiddleback is back
The church likes red heads too!
Ministry of Silly Dresses waits for John Cleese from Ministry of Silly Walks ,to hold a course for them
Sisters, sisters, there were never such devoted sisters.
“We are the very models of Traditional Ecclesia” (sung to a Gilbert & Sullivan tune)
psst Cardinal, it’s supposed to be prayerful position with left thumb over right, remember
We are the knights that say “Ni”.
Which one of these is not like others
I don’t care if your a Scotsman you wear something underneath, we kneel for prayer here!
and our 3rd runner-up is………”
The boys truly wished that Martha hadn’t left her ‘Come as you are’ party invitations on the altar
Is this the new series of The Borgias?
real men wear lace
The latest in chic from the men who wear dresses.
three out of five ain’t bad
They look cute
The one second from the left must be cooking lunch since he has the apron on.
lads in lace
Cardinal Sins!
Red is this years Black
What does this have to do with the Living God?
Well we brought gold, frankincense, myhrr, and these other two guys. I hope that’s ok.
No.3. Something crawling on my head.
Personal Ordinariate on parade
The three on the right had me thinking “three little maids…”. Gilbert and Sullivan in the air
The Mickey Mouse club welcomes you.
Ok…who farted?
OK, if you think Crazy Hat Day is a hoot, you shoulda seen us on Dress Like Your Mom Day.
We’re all in the same branch of service, right? How come our uniforms are so different?
Please, please, please let us wear fire-engine red next time.
T…s in Hats
No… I have more lace than you do!!
You know what they say, “Lace is more”…
The third annual convention of the Albus Dumbledore Fan Club was a huge hit.
red guy in apron incarnates service ministry to the berobed and belaced.
…and the 2015 vestiest padre award goes to:
My man-lace is better than your man-lace!
No one pictured smells like the sheep.
I’m the cherry on top!
Almost had a straight to beat your full house…
The guy with the red hat has the most relaxed posture, so I guess that mean he’s the boss.
4 prayers and one hugger
Soldiers in their dress uniforms…be afraid, be very afraid. I feel very safe.
Men in skirts with lace?
Lace, anyone?
“Get on with it man, we haven’t got all day!”
Trying my best to be respectful and it’s not easy.
“Berettas? I thought the Boss said wear your birettas!”
Please share this pic with Papa Francesco and get his reaction.
pick the odd one out
Heavens! I still have my running shoes on!!!
Renaissance Fair losers
You shaved your mustache for the photo.
Eucharist and old lace.
Ok now, just like we teach the First Communion kids…hands in “Prayer position”!

Which kind of “Pīlət” are you to your music ministry? Part One

Just musing over this homonym pairing: “pilot” or “Pilate.” Raise your hand if you knew this already from the article title? You there, Ben Yanke, put your hand back down! Only Kathy and Geri got it off the bat.

Among the spectrum of definitions of the term “pilot” I found this one particularly apt to serve as an analogue to our profession: “A person with expert local knowledge qualified to take charge of a ship entering or leaving confined waters.” In other words, someone who has the helm, the wheel, the knowledge and qualifications to steer a vessel from harbor to harbor. And it occurs to me that “expert local knowledge” also presumes that a pilot must also possess qualifications and understanding of the universal, or global body of knowledge pertinent to being successful. Presuming we have expertise, do we operate from both local and universal perspectives? Or do some of us navigate from instinct, personal preference and convenience?

Pontius Pilate served as a prefect under Tiberius, and of course presided over the “trial” and effected the crucifixion of Yeshua bar Yusef. A cursory look at the definitions of “prefect” bear little resemblance to its holdover meaning of those prelates at service to the Church now, in point of fact most of the descriptors have its meaning focused in military control and terms. In that light, he could be compared to Union General McClellan who, almost at every turn like Pilate, was hesitant to decide or pull the trigger so to speak for reasons only known to themselves. Before we look at the more serious factors of this particular Roman prefect, I have a couple of anecdotal thoughts. First of all, this “Pīlət,” like many of the historical, institutional officers of our Church past and present, absolutely did not listen to the counsel of his (their) closest female advisor(s) and confidante(s), Claudia-in Pilate’s case his wife. Let’s presume our modern ecclesial clerics don’t have wives whispering and wagging towards their ears, but her fears were prescient. Maybe if Pilate has listened to her earlier in his careerism, he might not have ended up the chump he became in Judea. Then, after the debacle of the crucifixion he might not have “lost the juice of his mind” as a former bishop used to quip. Anyway, how many of us are unable, or have been disabled for whatever reasons, the credibility of our office and resources out of fear from above and below? How many of us, under the pretense of popularity, trendiness, unjust sanctions or sheer resignation, are held sway by the principles and opinions of others, and have no personal convictions that we would stand for and defend? From Wikipedia: “In all four gospel accounts Pilate lobbies for

Jesus to be spared his eventual fate of execution, and acquiesces only when the crowd refuses to relent. He thus seeks to avoid personal responsibility for the death of Jesus.” My problem with that characterization is whether Pilate actually “lobbies” for Jesus. Lobbyists, as I understand them, are advocates for their own personal interests first, and for lawful recognition of those preferences second. The prefect Pilate lobbied only for the sake of his reputation and stature among the disparate elements of Jerusalem. “How’m I doin’, folks?” How’d that work out for you, Pontius? Like the prefect, we also serve at the pleasure of higher officers and laws particular to our Church institutional, but we also aspire to serve to the highest authority, the One whom Pilate tried to distance himself from condemnation. Whom do we first serve? (To thine own self be true!) If you are disciplined, you must presume that your superiors vouchsafe the same values upon which you stand. And if that becomes difficult to discern, or seems actually to be at odds, then you have a choice: 1. Advise towards consent; or 2. Retreat to simple compliance. Or is there a third way? To be continued…