Tuesday, March 25, 2008

This post is copied from a thread I started at the MSForum boards, regarding the efficacy of the current state of the Pope's chapel singers-

Realizing excessive loquaciousness has derailed me before, I will risk broaching this subject with an audacious hope (or should that be "bodacious pope"?) with Ian W's (from the Musica Sacram Forum)quote:

"I was involved in that discussion. I can only speak for myself, but my take wasn't quite how you describe things. As far as my limited experience of the Sistine choir goes, I agree with you that they're not a good advertisement for Catholic liturgical music. As you say, there's a tendency to the soloistic. Also, they have problems with intonation. But ... we shouldn't throw out the baby with the bathwater. There are distinct choral traditions other than the 'English' sound. It should be possible for a choir director to work within one of those traditions, to develop a balance that respects liturgy, place and resource. Any move to uniformity would not only be unnecessary; it would impoverish us all. "

As Mike knows, I like Francis, have heard the capella "live" here in the states, in my city almost a couple of decades ago. They were on "tour" in the states during Lent, if I recall as late as the week prior to Palm Sunday. They were under Msgr. Bertolucci's direction. The concert consisted solely of the Palestrina settings of the Songs of Solomon. Prior to that, my only serious consideration of them were in masters seminars where recordings, both audio and video, were used as pedagogical examples of what a choral experience should NOT consist of. "Nuff said" there.I think it telling that we, at least, can agree that this group is not a "good advertisement" for the Church. This sentiment has just the slightest amount of benign tolerance among catholic musicians, that despite themselves (and I really try to not include the singers individually in this culpability) we credit their continued contributions and efforts to their legacy as the pope's personal ensemble, replete with the legends of Josquin, Lassus, Palestrina, Allegri. And I know, Mike, you have no reason to fret over their performance practice in those eras by comparison to that of the last two centuries. If they suffered internal problems, they certainly were behavioral like every other contemporaneous choir well into the Baroque. But I digress.Ian's criticisms also seem a bit bridled and measured: "soloistic" which, of course, breeds issues with "intonation." Not mentioned was the obvious lack of solid vocal development and care the boys should receive (which I saw in living color from the front row.) I'll try to be brief here: it could be argued that the capella does not meet the basic criteria of being a choir, other than it performs only for liturgies in church. This is a grand opera chorus in cassocks and surplices, in my estimation. And yes, one may argue that type of ensemble does fall into the category of a "choral tradition." But I believe an overwhelming majority of choral scholars would regard this "choir's" product as dysfunctional in all major areas of CHORAL proficiency, no matter what western tradition nuances would color the other various regional "sounds."Would we endorse the indigenous choral tone of lowlands' Mississippi shape-note singers, or the Bulgarian Radio Women's Chorus, or Ladysmith Black Mambazo as the "baby in the bathwater" and worthy of keeping IN TACT simply because they happened to be ensconsed in five centuries of service tradition at the Vatican?I have, through 25 years of ACDA membership and convention attendance, been privileged to hear most of the finest ensembles likely assembled in history, if you measure competence by evolving scholarship keeping pace with the natural human inclination to improve upon performance in art, athletics, invention etc. The Swedish Radio Choir under Ericcson was not a final terminus; what they achieved spawned even more stunning choral ensembles. The Kings College "sound" of Sir David Willcock has yielded many progeny, and in agreement with Ian, not all identical or xerox copies of each other's tonal properties. The bold richness of the Stuttgart Kammerchor under Bernius is full bodied, vibrant but never lists toward an aural assault upon the ear. The purity of some Asian choirs, the Dale Warland Singers, Chanticleer, St. Olafs and Brigham Young University choirs is breathtaking.No one has suggested that these schools of thought (choral philosophy ala Howard Swan) move toward bland uniformity.But the irony of the notion of moving toward uniformity while discussing the Sistine Chapel Choir is too much to ignore. Their leadership's insistence upon maintaining this clearly chauvinistic approach to corporate singing is deliberately antithetic to the very concept of "uniformity," which has to be the first foundation of truly choral excellence in any genre! It is also antithetic to the successful negotiation of the two native art forms that it is called to serve: chant and polyphony, as any reasonable choral scholar understands them. (Another irony- the fete celebrating the lifelong contribution of Msgr. Bertolucci in which both he and the Holy Father pounded into the collective consciousness the dire need to return to these forms universally; well, yes, the capella under the monsignor sang all Palestrina, all the time! They just did a Gawdawful job of it!) And lastly, as long as this ensemble is not fundamentally revamped to reflect universally understood standards of choral beauty, it remains antithetical to the very principles of beauty that Cardinal Ratzinger proposed as a necessary step in returning "beauty" to sacred worship in THE SPIRIT OF THE LITURGY.I haven't googled anything prior to these thoughts, but I remember reading in someone's blog that the new Marini has plans in place to initiate such a revamping of this singularly unique ensemble. I hope sooner than later. I would love to hear precision in beauty eminating from them even if via an EWTN/CTV broadcast. Were they such a compelling choir, perhaps the commentators would then keep their traps shut during the communios.Thus endeth the rant.

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