Vespers of the Holy Cross

Our own beloved Frogman Noel Jones sums up the Vespers service, which combined chant, polyphony, and hymns from several choirs into an overwhelming experience that was surely a first for most everyone present:

This Colloquium service, sung in the church where Fr. Carlo Rossini was choir director and organist (Thanks for that information, Fr. Frank Phillips, CR!), was full of chant and polyphony.

Jeff Ostrowski’s chant choir set a high standard that was met then by Wilko Browers as he directed his Intermediate Women’s Chant choir chanting O Crux Gloriosa,their sound soaring through the building, as if the building were on fire. It was a performance that made you wish it would go on and on….and it did, getting better and better.

It was amazing.


Then Dr. Mahrt conducted the Vexilla Regis by Tomás Luis de Victoria.

The dynamics of the mens and womens parts created waves of sound, the men on the left and women on the right, that were like floodlights of different colors washing around the entire church.

It was not better than the chant version, it was equally stunning, both raised goosebumps.

Amazing. Hearing two known Masters conducting and one on his way up there.

And the entire faculty were in attendance.

For my part, it was easily the most challenging musical experience of my life. It lasted one hour and twenty minutes, and perhaps one hour of that involved chanting and singing. The amount of Latin was overwhelming even for someone with experience. The navigation between the chant and polyphony was never anything but extremely tricky. One had to always be intensely focused on the mechanics.

The eyes had to be super disciplined the entire time. If you lost concentration for an instant, it was all over. So, for example, you had the first verse in chant and you had to focus on the pointing, which different tones for each Psalm, but in the very next verse you were singing polyphony, a piece that might be SATB, SAT, or ATB, depending, but you had to know in advance and get it right immediately. There were transposition issues throughout. Just singing the right notes at the right time was a challenge enough, but then you add style and text plus standing and sitting and bowing rubrics and you have a serious job here.

The pressure intensified given that we had only 3 days to prepare, a total of maybe 5 hours of rehearsal time. In my own tenor section, the level of excellence was so high that I certainly developed a lower opinion of my own skills. One wrong note, one missed accidental, and everyone knew it.

What did I gain beyond this musical experience? I had something of a dawning of consciousness about the sheer massiveness of the apparatus of the Roman Rite and its place in history — the moving parts, the fitting together of such a vast tradition through the ages, the coming together of so many countries and places. There is just no way for one person to “compose” what we sang last night. It was composed by the passage of sacred time. And now we come to the point really: my experience really demonstrated to me what it means to pursue the sanctification of time.

The loss of the Divine Office in the lives of Catholics is deeply tragic. I understand that now better than I ever have.

Yesterday’s Events at the Colloquium

There is far too much happening to even begin to provide comprehensive coverage but let me first mention the extraordinary form Mass yesterday that celebrated the Feast of St. John Baptist, one that ended with the great hymn Ut Queant Laxis as the recessional. The Mass setting was Palestrina’s Missa Brevis, as sung by Kurt Poterack’s choir, along with motets by Tallis (sung by Brouwers choir) and Guerrero (sung by Horst Buchholz’s choir).

St. John has a special place in the hearts of all musicians because all scholarship indicates that it was he (not Cecilia) who was long considered the patron saint of music in the first millennium (the job was handed over to St. Cecilia after St. John’s long service).

The Mass was of course very beautiful, complete with all sung readings and the most solemn sung parts.

The evening’s events broke new ground. The idea was initially proposed by William Mahrt and carried out by Arlene Oost-Zinner: a panel on the growth of sacred music programs in academia. The panelists included Kurt Poterack (Christendom College), Paul Weber and Alanna Keenan (Franciscan University Steubenville), Ann Labounsky and Sr. Marie Agatha Ozah (Duquesne University), Susan Treacy (Ave Maria University), and Peter Jeffery (Notre Dame University).

Each talked about the program of his or her institution and commented on the dramatic change in the attitudes of students today as compared with the past. The interest in sacred music and chant is very intense, to the point of representing a serious paradigm shift. Professor Jeffery in particular spoke of the support he has received from the administration to forge a program that will have national influence, and he looks forward to working with student groups in the year’s ahead.

To see all these panels and here their comments struck many people as very significant, for it demonstrated that the change we are seeing at the parish level is being mirrored in higher learning as well.

Here is an image of Professor Jeffery buying a colloquium tee!

The Privatization of Liturgy and the Suffering of Publishers

One stands in amazement at what the USCCB and ICEL – in fact, it is rather difficult to locate the center of responsibility here – are forcing upon publishers as they frantically attempt to provide musical settings of the Mass for the forthcoming new English translation.

I do not deny the right of the national conferences to regulate the texts of the Mass but the policies in place to keep this text and its music under wraps defy all good sense. No one has explained why it is so absolutely necessary that no publisher on the planet be permitted to distribute full Mass settings of the upcoming translation, even though the texts are widely available and many efforts are underway to educate the faithful. Is having music available not part of education?

ICEL has even opened up a website to explain why the new translation is necessary and wonderful (and I agree): I’ve enjoyed these videos (which feature Vivaldi’s Latin settings as background music!) but I still find no instructions concerning what may or may not be published and under what conditions. Nor does the USCCB website seem to explain this.

The instructions must be arriving via private email. But here is the bottom line in the words of World Library:

We have been asked by the United States Bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship to remind you that no publisher may take orders for Mass settings until the final text of the Missal is issued. We have also been asked to remind you that the musical settings are for preview only and not yet approved for liturgical use. In addition, we are not yet being allowed to share any complete settings.

Moreover, it is not even clear what power is being invoked in order to prevent production and distribution. Is it a matter of copyright or a matter of religious obedience? It is hard to say.

Nonetheless, the publishers are doing heroic work, trying to be obedient while attempting to preview their music without giving full versions or permitting you to buy it: WLP, OCP, GIA, and Liturgical Press (which doesn’t seem to have a special section on this set up yet).

You will enjoy touring the WLP site. I appreciate the efforts puts into this strangely truncated preview, even if the settings conform to the convention of metrical songs that are dependent on accompaniment and are based on tunes regarded as catchy in a popular sense. The Richard Proulx Gloria is of high quality, and Lisa Stafford’s Mass of Grace has potential, and surely we cannot place blame on either the composer or the publishers for attempting to turn the Gloria into an antiphon/response structure; the root of the problem is really deeper here.

I would love to understand the thinking of those who are so emphatic about keeping the texts from being released until the last possible minute. If the goal is to put as much financial pressure on the publishers as possible, that surely must be counted as success. But how this approach is helping to prepare the way for the new texts is unclear.

Crochu and Gatté Officium Nocturnum

Andrea Sanguinetti sends the following:

Hi, i suggest that in your page of latin chant books you put the following link: In that page follow the link ‘RESTITUTIONS’ (in the left part of the page), and you’ll find the whole responsories of officium nocturnum in square notation in pdf files in a transcription according to Hartker manuscript made by D. Crochu & D. Gatté. I think it’s a very important and good work. Regards. Andrea Sanguinetti.

Following the instructions, with my navigation complicated by language and many non-standard characters that do not render properly on my windows laptop, I do find many beautiful PDF files. Perhaps some can explain more about the origin and goal of the project. 

Reasons for Peace and Contentment at the Colloquium

After many years of attending the Colloquium, I’ve noticed what many people have noticed about the special environment this year: there is a blessed peace and contentment at this year’s event, one that is supportive of learning, productivity, good singing, social happiness – all preconditions to the most generous occasion of  grace. I’ve been trying to think of the particular sources of this special environment this year, and I have a few theories.

  • The organization of this year’s event, led by program director Arlene Oost-Zinner (who is also leading the intermediate women’s schola), is truly a marvel. The hugely complex machinery of scheduling, events, rooms, music, along with a thousand details at each time slot, from morning to night, is humming as never before. The assistance of many volunteers has been inspiring. 
  • The Duquesne University staff has been pleased to have us on campus and has been extremely helpful at every turn. The same is true of the Church of the Epiphany, which has welcomed us, even to the point of making special physical accommodations for the extraordinary form in the sanctuary.
  • Issues that usually split liturgical musicians and Catholics have settled down to a civil coexistence, most especially the old struggle between partisans of the new vs. the old liturgy. The new consensus was nicely framed by Ed Schaefer: the preconciliar structure of Mass and the Divine Office is the elder brother from which the structure of 1969/70 can learn. 
  • Remember the rhythm debates that dominated the chant scene during a huge part of the 20th century? There was a time when ever singer had to take a side in the great debate and defend it and organize one’s musical colleagues around it. At this event, I suspect that most people just aren’t that interested in some kind of battle or taking a side. Each conductor is different. Each singer has a special appreciation for one or another way of singing. We are all glad to learn from various perspectives and approaches. Even at individual Masses, the chant propers come across as musically unique events. Seeing how this works, one wonders what all the fuss what about. 
  • Even on issues of contemporary vs. traditional music, there is a sense of peace. Everyone now knows what the Second Vatican Council meant by giving chant first place. And yet most of the musicians here are working within parish reality, which is to say, they are all transitioning from one place to another, but with direction and purpose. I’ve heard very little in the way of put downs toward the problem music in the Catholic world today (even I’ve controlled my tongue!); rather, energies are all focused toward doing more to achieve the ideal.
  • One final area of peace concerns the old cultural split between academic musicologists and parish-based practitioners. There are many of both types here but they aren’t arguing. They are talking to each other and learning from each other, working to build bridges between the world of scholarship and the world of relentless parish schedules.

That Requiem Mass

Ten years ago, it was exceedingly difficult to hear or experience the Dies Irae of the Requiem Mass. That was before the age of Youtube (where there are dozens of recordings and performances) and also online editions, as well as ever more use of this grand and glorious Sequence in the Catholic Mass. For reasons that seem very unclear at this late a date, someone apparently had an issue with this chant and discretely failed to list it for the Requiem Mass in the post-1969 liturgical books. But that doesn’t mean that it cannot or should not be sung, for one of the blessing of the new liturgy is its liberality and openness to a wide range of traditional experience. So while the chant it is not printed in the books, it can still be used in the Mass, and so it has been at the Colloquium for many years now.

This year was special in many ways.  The chant was never rehearsed ahead of time. We had a plan for alternating low and high voices but we did no dry runs before Mass. But it was hardly necessary. The intonation began, the low voices picked up the song, and then the high voices took over at the double bar. On it went through the haunting melody and text from first to last, with 250 singers spread randomly throughout the large parish space. It was an amazing sound, all encompassing. It is a long chant but it was strangely disappointing when it ended. I think everyone wished it could have gone on longer.

It was not in the interest of an “authentic” performance that the air conditioners and fans had all been turned off in the parish. It was to keep down the static noise level. But, to me, the temperature of the building was nearly sweltering, and grew hotter throughout the Mass. To sing this stunning music of the Requiem Mass in that temperature did lend to the experience something approximating authenticity. I didn’t hear a single complaint about it. It would have seemed unseemly, given the subject matter, which the fiery Gradual from Brouwers’s high-voice schola seemed to capture perfectly. 

Fr. Pasley’s homily was absolutely brilliant. He reminded us that the purpose of this Requiem was to pray for the departed souls of the deceased members of the CMAA. He told of their trials and struggles and all the sacrifices they had made professionally and personally for the cause, at time when telling the truth about the music of the Church and keeping it alive was to write yourself out of the history books. Of course the trends of history have changed, and now the current generation looks at people like Msgr. Richard Schuler and the others as prophets who saw the future. They did not live to see their cause victorious. Maybe we will not either. We must think beyond our time and time itself – and isn’t this the very point of the liturgy?

Following the Mass, we made our way to the next sessions. To everyone’s amazement, the clouds began to darken suddenly and sheets of rain came pouring down on Pittsburgh, trapping hundreds in porticoes of buildings and under canopies. The rain did not let up for a long time and many had to make their way to dinner and become soaked along the way. But we greeted a great crowd in the dining hall, ate fresh Southwestern food, and listened to a gentle and erudite talk by William Mahrt on the structure of the Psalm in the Divine Office. As is usually the case with his lectures, people listened with amazement and a growing sense of humility in the face of the marvelous theological structure given to us by our history and liturgy.