Friday, November 16, 2007

Cantate Domino, canticum novum.
Sing to the Lord, sing a new song.

As we close this liturgical year we also must be mindful of the advent of the A cycle of readings for the liturgical year. Music and Choral Directors, cantors, organists, ensemble leaders and others who are responsible for the daily, weekly and seasonal decisions concerning worship and sacred music usage at liturgies are currently navigating through the seasonal demands of Advent and Christmastide by the light of a star that also reveals Lent, Holy Week, Triduum and Easter just over the horizon.

Even prior to beginning my time at Fresno’s St. Johns’ Cathedral in 1987, I have directed liturgical music with Oregon Catholic Press worship books and repertoire since the mid-70’s. After the cathedral, OCP was the publisher of choice for both parishes I’ve been associated with here in Visalia, the last fifteen at St. Mary’s. I would venture to say that OCP is the predominant source of congregational worship music for not only this diocese, but a majority of those across the nation, especially in the western states. OCP, GIA, WLP and the Liturgical Press have all undergone yearly and generation revisions of their hymnals and missals since the advent of the subscription model of such publishers in response to the implementation of the vernacular languages in the Mass of Paul VI, and the resultant growth of a full spectrum of musical and cultural influences in contemporary catholic music composition.

In this posting I absolutely will avoid addressing the so-called “musical wars” that are waged within parishes, among musicians of divergent philosophies, in organizations such as NPM/AGO/ACDA and their periodicals, over the internet listserves and weblogs, etc. All of these concerns are best examined through the lenses of the abundant documents that we should already have studied: Musica Sacrum, The Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and the American document Music in Catholic Worship as well as many other resources such as papal letters, the Milwaukee and Snowbird Statements of recent years.

My long-felt concern regards the extent of complete employment of our hymnals and missals; does your parish thoroughly review its worship aide’s contents? What percentage of hymns, songs, service music (propers) and mass ordinaries are actually programmed and sung on a regular basis by any given parishes’ congregations? Does the pastoral and/or musical staff who are responsible for choosing worship music in each parish rely upon regular visits to NPM conventions or the Anaheim CCD event, or the commercial endorsements of new product within publishers’ annual catalogues? Do the musicians/singers and leaders of choirs/ensembles use composer and artist recordings as their primary resource for examining and learning both new and old repertoire to be included into the parish’s common and seasonal usage at liturgy? Does the pastoral and musical staff have the background and education necessary to craft a lasting foundation of worship music based upon the three criteria listed in MCW: the musical, liturgical and pastoral judgments? Is there cohesion and communication among parishes that have different and specific musical styles, choirs and directors assigned to specific weekend and festal masses so that the parish can worship with consistency during the high seasons? Or is there a benevolent, but deliberate ignorance of what the “other gal or guy” is doing at “their” mass?

I am of the generation known as the Baby Boomers of post-WWII and the Korean wars, as are many of our current pastors in the Fresno Diocese. So much cultural history has flowed so quickly over the last forty years (as relates to the post-Vatican II era) as to seem like an overwhelming flood of demands, resources and change has left us clinging to our chosen lifeboat of standard, they’ll-sing-this-hymn-every-time-we’ll-need-it “stability; or we’ll choose the opposite and let our musical boat drift to whatever the newest port in the storm offers quick comfort and the freshest, faddish innovations!

Well, like beginning the process of singing itself, straighten up, relax, take a deep, silent breath……then be still and know……
One of my favorite hymns unfortunately isn’t available in the OCP hymnals: JESUS, LEAD THE WAY. But that is the philosophy I have about my responsibilities as a music and choral director in service to our Lord’s Bride, the church, el Pueblo de Dios. Jesus not only calms the stormy waters that can be our experiences with music and the people who make it, but Jesus invites us to join him upon the waters, to do and become something better than we ever thought we could accomplish, if we trust and have faith in Him and ourselves as disciples.