Thursday, November 29, 2007

Wachet auf and keep yo' lamps trimmed and burning!

"There are no atheists in foxholes

isn't an argument against atheism; it's an argument against foxholes." ~James Morrow

First of all let me dispense with any notion this posting addresses anything pertaining to atheism, war (and foxholes) in general or James Morrow. I am interested in what the former two human “conditions” symbolize to each and every conscious human being who’s awakened to a new day: this “day” may be my last. So, in words, those concerns would be “Death” and “Belief.”
When I taught middle and senior high school and these two words were thrust into reality and palpability in the classrooms and campuses because of the loss of someone local to the community, or from globally known events from the Columbines, the Oklahoma Cities, the 9/11’s and such, I would first address the concerns and emotions of “my” students with the following scenario-

You’re walking your dog and without looking turn from the sidewalk onto the street. Suddenly you and the dog turn and sense that a bus is just a few yards from where you’re now standing and is moving fast enough that collision is unavoidable. What’s the difference between you and your dog? You know you might die. Your dog senses danger, but no more.

Wintertime is always somber to me- a season calling for both dormancy and reflection. The “holidays” are difficult to many because of separations between loved ones, especially for those who are survivors of death and loss, recent or not. When we suffer the death of the beloved, particularly young people, our grief seems magnified, our trust and beliefs challenged, our lives changed irrevocably. We struggle to remain upright and cope by clinging to words that best, though inadequately, express a purpose and a reason for our loss when little else gives solace. “I'm sure his/her soul rests in peace.” And to believers God's providence is already known to those who have died (from this life's perspective-the veil of tears) but whose souls were pure in His sight and whom He recognizes. In that we hope, we trust, we pray, we manage to endure.
We humans, mortal and cognizant of our impending deaths, cannot mentally, psychologically or emotionally "reconcile" our relationship to "death." It, like Emmanuel (God with us), is among us, even all around us incessantly if we choose to focus upon it at the expense of seeing other things. We know "death" takes, but we can't usually discern if "death" gives back anything. So, for you...and me... we cannot stride confidently passed "death" when it is close to us, touches us directly. But, we also know intuitively that to linger and pause, to not take even a halting step forward in living and giving for and of ourselves to life and its known purposes is waste, a vacuum that nature abhors. We don't understand death at all. We should be respectful of it and prepared for it, both as survivors and as souls journeying toward the existence beyond it. Otherwise, death is the foxhole, the horror that one cannot survive.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Liturgical Music in Lock-Down
A brief discussion of my experiences in providing musical leadership in one of our state prisons.

I first need to thank God for being patient with me. Having done 37 years of RC worship and sacred music as director, performer and composer, I was embarrassed and humbled by the fact that it had taken me until age 56 to "visit Christ in prison."
I started volunteering in late summer this year at a regional state prison facility on Monday nights. The prison is a level three facility, so it's population intermingles convicts who aren't quite in the news as often as those of San Quentin, Folsom or Pelican Bay. But, it is an overcrowded, desolate and huge facility that looks like the "City on the Hill" at night as you approach from 15 miles away, and then rips off that bright facade when you're on it and crossing through its multiple razored fences that house the lethal electric fence that surrounds its six "yards."
90% of those inmates who attend chapel in the two yards I've visited are Hispanic. The catholics who attend chapel use the OCP bilingual hymnal and missal. There are the occasional Anglo lifers who evidence memories and desires for the musical aspects of the Mass they knew as young boys; but they are a very minute, and quiet few.
I'm typing this after a session where "chapel" was held in a yard's Visitor Center. Unlike regular meetings, this was heavily attended (by 3 times the normal number of inmate participants on normal nights.) This was due to an ongoing series of retreats that culminated in this one yard with a priest who was hearing confessions, one on one, in a small room within the larger visitor's center.
Basically, each weekly encounter is not scripted or outlined in advance. Tonight the prison chaplain and permanent deacon just basically said "Hit it" to me, and I became a heavy set human I Pod delivering and leading singing for the men, taking requests in rapid fire sequence.
It was an unusual opportunity to sing a random historical variety of musics that now are housed within our tents: Latino praise songs, bilingual scriptural allusions from Gabarain and Hurd, gospel and traditional spirituals, traditional hymns (Te Deum/Holy God), chants such as the Kyrie, Ave Maria, Veni creator, all co-mingled amongst these starving souls searching for God and a sense of beauty and peace which obviously hasn't been much of a factor in their previous life experiences, and which provide a respite from the din and relentless noise that is ever-present for them daily.
"Doing" music in prison is not an easy experience to characterize or typify. I do know two things about it that became maxims upon my first visits: 1. Don't come in with any agenda or pretense- these men are looking for Christ and the promise of redemption that we cannot possibly understand from the "outside"; 2. Do come in hoping to be ministered to by the prisoners' witness and spritual hunger and vitality that far exceeds whatever talent or charisms you have to impart to them.
I'll add onto these initial reflections later, when I can report more lucidly.
I do know this also: I need them in my life much more than they need me in theirs'.
And a last word before bed, the much-discussed ideal of achieving the "paradigm of beauty" in liturgy, has an incredible gravitational power among the imprisoned- they take nothing for granted as the fellows I've met acknowledge that they wouldn't be in prison save for their succumbing, often, to that which is evil and ugly, and that they now "get" that the holes in their hearts cannot be filled with the Enemy's empty promises and more noise, more crime, more hate. They sing with a freedom most of our parishoners eschew due to the paradox of acccessibility. They strive for true unity with Christ through unison in song.
Before I sign off for the night, if there was a "rapture" at the parousia as the millienialists and their populist sons of Hal Lindseys' tout, it wouldn't surprise me that there'd be more "missing persons" from the prison, per captita, than from those found on the rolls of the average RC parish.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Seasonal Concert Announcement

The St. Mary's Music Ministry will present
A Christmas
A concert of Choral and Instrumental Music, on Sunday, December 16, 4:00 p.m., in the Church.

They’ll be performing many beloved and renowned carols that
are newly arranged including an Advent motet, JESU CANDLELIGHT CAROL,
based upon the famed setting of “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring
from Bach’s Cantata 147, that is then complimented by another
Bach/Gounod favorite, the “Ave Maria” that uses that melody as a companion
to the traditional Austrian carol “Still, Still, Still” in STILL
. The always-enjoyed Ukrainian Bell Carol
receives a choral treatment that is also partnered to the French
carol “Noel Nouvelet” with a new text by Patrick Liebergen,
BORN IS EMMANUEL. Keeping the musical theme of adapting
great melodies, PEACE ON EARTH takes its inspiration from
the folk song “O waly waly” which is better known as “The Water
is Wide.” The profound poem of Longfellow is set beautifully
in this arrangement. Another adaptation is a choral setting, OF
THE FATHER’S LOVE BEGOTTEN, a 13th century plainchant (O divinum mysterium)
whose text dates to the 4th century. Schola St. Mary’s will perform
a number of formal sacred works, HODIE CHRISTUS NATUS EST
by the late -Renaissance composer Marenzio, and IN FESTO NATALIS by Tomas Luis de Victoria. John Rutter's haunting setting of the American composer Niles' I WONDER AS I WANDER, as well as the Praetorius PSALLITE UNIGENITE will complete the schola portion.
The concert will then feature some
new, audience friendly works: O, TINY BABE OF BETHLEHEM
(Althouse,) and MY HEART, YOUR BETHLEHEM (Schram &
Portions of the concert will also be reprised before the annual Midnight Mass of Christmas.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Vis a vis discussions we've all had on these and other blogs and boards, and through 37 years of experience dealing with personalities that hopefully live in rectories (as opposed to condos or villas that are discreetly distanced from a parish campus), alter Christis that stand at the center of our altars and ambos, baptize, marry and bury us all, and are supposed to represent, and in fact "be" the Christ of both Matt. 25 and the Great Commission, I would simply say the most serious issue facing the Church is the reclamation of the dignity and humility of the priesthood. I've quietly observed more men, both domestic and foreign, who disturbingly have displayed little and often no evidence of discipleship. Whether they decided to create a priestly class above the lay level castes before or after professing their vows (not only of chastity, by the way) I have seen more of our modern priests who relegate their roles to certain desirable affects: the administrator who can raise and manage millions, and does that to avoid accountability in other areas of demand; the dilettante that deigns to impart to the masses the minimal sacramental and ministerial attention than can be personally afforded and then enjoys the mystique and celebrity of the collar in the public eye; the escapists, old and young who hole up in their homes, rectories or offices (like we) glued to a keyboard and monitor, 'cause it looks like work and no one will dare bother "Father" when he's "there." I'm sure we all can come up with such stereotypes.
At this point, I want to stress that these characterizations do not represent all the priests I've worked beside these many years. I have had the honor of knowing many true servants of God who embody the absolute truth of the Mandatum; and they also come in many flavors and colors- old, young, cassock, t-shirt, gay/straight, white/brown/black/yellow/red, nice and not-so nice.But our Church, as I mentioned in another thread, cannot continue to exist if it cannot "man" the seminaries with both novices who, even at the youngest age, are given the complete picture and skinny on just how tough one has to be to live the priesthood; and then provide them with professors and support staff, education and assessment that is complete, rigorous and, above all character-building. And then, when they're given their first assignments over their first years, provide them with more than lip-service communication and support; help them keep their focus and eye on the prize.
Another aspect that does not seem to attract much blog attention is the notion that the Church evidences no discernable interest in discussing- the merits of a "tiered" priesthood that would add to the ranks of celebrants married Catholic men whose vocations were thoroughly deemed authentic and who would maintain economic self-dependence by maintaining their secular occupations. I personally can envision men who've already raised their children to adulthood, such as those who discern a vocation to the permanent diaconate (another issue for another post) who could be assigned primarily liturgical and sacramental duties versus the myriad of responsibilities an active parish priest and pastor is charged with 24/7.
I don't want to outline my own thoughts about the ramifications of the notion of restoring a "tiered" presbyterate in this post. Needless to say, I do think it would be possible to articulate and restructure such an ordained heirarchy. And equally needless is the mention of the irony that this "tiered" system already exists in the Roman Rite via "back-door" ordinations of Anglican, Lutheran and Methodist clergymen who profess vows and are initiated into first, the Church, and then to its priesthood. Or even the canons governing the ordination of married men in other Rites in full communion with the Roman Rite.
"Seasoned" men, with so-called "real life" street cred, who would be willing to serve the Church without reservation or recompense as liturgical presiders might even serve to resurrect among young boys and men the vision and exemplars of those selfless priests they saw on the silver screen when they were boys, those heroic priests who did and do still exist. Perhaps these young boys and men of this generation could see passed the distractions and tempatations of the secular culture because their dads and grandfathers clarified the perspectives by which young vocations could be discerned, fully cognizant of the treasure that celibacy and chastity provides those strong enough to accept such a calling and gift.

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.
Canticum Novum: This is the day!

In a previous column we examined the issues of how parish music directors and musicians go about their duties, particularly the highly important tasks of choosing appropriate music for liturgies and how to discern what musical selections, whether new or old, meet the various criteria for “worthiness.” Directly related to that is the reality that most of our local parishes use Oregon Catholic Press worship materials. So, in an effort to “cut to the chase” I would offer for your consideration the following Paschal season titles that meet, in my opinion, those aspects of liturgical, pastoral and aesthetic (artistic) worthiness found in OCP hymnals.
PANGE LINGUA by Fr. Ricky Manalo- this Latin ostinato (Taize-like “mantra”) accomplishes so much in such a simple and solemn setting. Manalo couches the Latin text within an extremely elegant melody, almost Gregorian or Palestrinan by its scale-wise movement and contours. Cantors can then superimpose the verses while the congregation/choir maintains the ostinato during the Eucharistic procession on Holy Thursday. BEHOLD THE CROSS receives a new poetic lyric by the prolific Bob Hurd that achieves great poignancy both in verse and refrain. He uses “waltz-time” meter, which is uncharacteristic until you examine the text that ties the humility of the nativity, the Virgin Mary’s steadfast witness at the crucifixion and Hurd’s inclination to bring attention to justice as a main “theme” in many of his texts. Hurd’s setting of the famous Bernard of Clairvaux’s hymn “O SACRED HEAD” shares this thematic emphasis in his originally composed third and fourth verses.
A recent addition to the OCP repertoire is Anne Quigley’s setting of the Good Friday Lamentations THE SEVEN LAST WORDS. Like Manalo, M.D Ridge and a host of contemporary composers, Quigley has written a very accessible, somber melody to the great “O vos omnes (All you who pass by…)” with alternating verses sung chorally or by soloists that would be most appropriate for the venerations on Good Friday.
I am now going to take a brief, sideways look at a very serious issue. For a number of years now, composers such as Roc O’Connor, Marty Haugen, Chris Walker and Bernadette Farrell have had metrical (poetic) text settings of the Easter Proclamation (the Exultet) printed in OCP’s hymnals. I believe that before deciding to use these more “accessible” settings at the pinnacle liturgy of our year, musicians, pastors and deacons should consult with each other and the major documents such as the GIRM and CSL (General Instruction on the Roman Missal/Constitution for Sacred Liturgy.) There are necessary protocols to observe regarding this liturgical singularity event of which the entire parish should reach consensus understanding of before making the final choice of which setting is best rendered at the vigil.
If your parish has never sung the hymn tune THAXTED by the great English composer Gustav Holst, run don’t walk to introduce them to M.D. Ridge’s THREE DAYS. As I mentioned in the last column, this powerful text is perfectly wed to the most profound hymn melodies ever composed. And then after Eastertide, the parish can continue using the tune with the text O GOD, BEYOND ALL PRAISING that OCP finally included in its books in 2005.
Lastly, please consider using the chants provided in the missals and Breaking Bread, which include: HOSANNA FILIO DAVID, PANGE LINGUA GLORIOSI, LITANY OF THE SAINTS (maybe as a change from the worthy Becker setting!), VIDI AQUAM and VICTIMAE PASCHALI LAUDES. And, if nothing else, enable your congregations to stand firm and with the very stones join fully in the singing of “Alleluia.” Amen.
Cantate Dominum: Novum et Antiquum? Both new and old?

Of the five questions that “wh”ispher to us constantly, “Who?…what?….why?….when?….where?….,” we often fixate on “why?” as we ponder a course of action or reflect upon a decision made. As I’ve aged (as opposed to “matured,” my wife would say) it seems to me that the other four words actually have more weight and importance as I consider which (oops, missed one!) hymns, songs, mass settings, acclamations, litanies will serve our liturgies at my parish. As mentioned in the last column, often a decision to use certain musical selections over others could boil down to “why not?” or just “Why? Because we all know that tune!”

However, I propose that each of us who chooses to enjoin in public worship, which includes the codified canonical exhortation to participate in a manner that is “full, conscious and active,” should possess a minimal if not refined understanding of the anatomy of our songs and sacred/ritual musics. The “who, what, when and where” constitutes the parts of this “one body” of which we sing daily and weekly, not palely and meekly. So there is an order to this knowledge we musicians must understand and share:

I The text to be sung.
II The melody (of which “rhythm” is the “muscle” that transports that text from our intellect
to our heart.
III The form of the song, so that we can recognize and remember it as distinct and unique, and
IV The harmonic structure which supports all of the above.

I would like to illustrate this order by using the example of the hymn (text) “I Heard the Voice of Jesus.” Even though I remember first hearing these lyrics couched within an early 70’s pop-tune style reminiscent of the Carpenters, I now totally associate this text with the collected “folk” melody (called Kingsfold) as set by the English composer Vaughn-Williams. Ironically, this very “Celtic” melody was not originally assigned to this tender and compelling text by Scots preacher Horatius Bonar. Bonar’s words were originally assigned a “hymntune” by the great John Dykes, composer of Holy, Holy, Holy among many other great hymns.
The Reverend Bonar’s text was inspired by Mt.11:28, John 4:14 and John 8:12, wherein three promises are made by our Lord and to which Bonar gave us voice to reply. What many don’t know is that most of Bonar’s hymns were written for children’s Sunday School and often were disdained by his own adult congregations. But look deeper into the response we sing in verse one: “I came to Jesus as I was: weary, worn and sad. I found in Him a resting place, and He has made me glad.” This evidences more than a child-like innocence and intent: Bonar and his wife suffered the loss of four of five children in quick succession. This text was a reflection of Jesus’ promises through the real lens of Bonar’s personal sufferings and trials. Worthy is the song to be sung. The text matters first and foremost.

The melody…. ah, we sigh, the melody. Can we “wh”istle it like a Gershwin tune after its “performance?” Well, yes and no. The Dykes tune is suitable. It has a rising melancholic arch for the first two phrases in a minor key, and then Dykes employs a device called a “parallel major mode” to “answer” that melancholy. But KINGSFOLD, though also set in a minor scale mode, isn’t a melodic manipulation manufactured as a mere vehicle for the words, but has its own flowing contours that almost seem self-propelled. Bonar’s text is the oxygen in the lifeblood of the song being transported throughout the body. And the tune of KINGSFOLD is given an easily recognizable face (form) that musicians would simply call AABA (and that’s not a Swedish quartet!) And finally, the marriage of “I heard the voice of Jesus” and KINGSFOLD has been adopted, adapted, arranged and likely never to be annulled because of the authenticity apparent in both the first two elements of the order. Whether sung in unison, a capella traditional harmony, accompanied by the majestic organ, an innovative pianist, a symphony orchestra or to the strums and arpeggiated finger-picking of a well-played guitar, or (Saints: preserve us!) to the lilt of a pub band replete with tin-whistle, fiddle, accordian, harp, bagpipes, bodhrain (hand drum) and bouzouki, this hymn and tune will always meet the criteria and have the integrity to be worthy of regular use at worship.

Earlier in this column I used the term “refined understanding.” We liturgical musicians ought never to regard ourselves or the people we serve as refined, or finished. The fire kindled by the Holy Spirit in our hearts is the refiner’s fire of Christ, ever allowing us to become purer, take new form and to become stronger…for the sake of not only ourselves, but also our children to follow.