Friday, May 08, 2009

My Long and Winding Road
Always Runs Through Oaktown

Looking at the last forty years through the sound spectrum of the Order of Music for the Installation Mass of Bishop Cordelione, recently appointed shepherd of my adopted hometown of Oakland, California.

I came to practicing Catholicism through the “employee’s entrance.” In early 1970 a trumpet player-friend at college approached with a job proposal. We’d become buddies in the lab jazz bad and The Catholic Cathedral had a need for a bass player proficient on both string and electric basses, and skilled in every conceivable style of music. They had, under the direction of Rev. E. Don Osuna, the “hippy” version of what’d now be called a Praise Team Band that accompanied choral and congregational singing alongside of a very accomplished traditional choir (under John McDonnell) that was maintained with aplomb as, seemingly others were crumbling because of the presumed paradigm shift of the immediate post-Conciliar towards “folk music.”
St. Francis de Sales Cathedral was ground zero, no matter how one looks at it in retrospect, for musical innovations that functioned clearly within an obvious framework that I, an un-churched, free-thinking music major knew was a solid superstructure before I ever heard the word “liturgy.”

Ironically, I grew up most of my childhood life living next to the convent housing the sisters teaching at the Catholic school next to the convent, which was adjacent to the rectory of St. Leo the Great Church in the Piedmont Avenue neighborhood. All my friends were Irish-Catholic kids, most of whose dads were laborers in the Catholic Cemetery of St. Mary’s two blocks away. I might have gone to one pre-VII wedding Mass of one of my friend’s sister, but “Catholic,” to me, meant CYA basketball, asphalt football in the playground of the school, and at one poignant time- a foreign-born priest from the rectory who rushed to my house one night because of the ambulance, fire engine, cop cars’ lights blaring, to give last rights to my alcoholic dad, a definitely NOT CATHOLIC southern boy who’d decided to take his own life that night. That happened mid-way through my sophomore year in high school.

So about three years later, I’m a paid bass player (steady gig, steady gig) at this beautiful Gothic Church on San Pablo Avenue opposite the Greyhound Station, playing two Masses or more a weekend. In one Mass, worshippers would sing or hear a mix of “When the Saints Go Marchin’,” Kurt Kaiser’s “Pass it on,” Temple’s “Prayer of St. Francis,” Brahms’ “How Lovely is Thy Dwelling Place,” the UFW anthem “De Colores” and “When I’m Sixty-four” by Lennon/McCartney. And I remember some beautiful Mass settings by local composers besides Osuna such as John Probst’s “Lamb of God.” Sure, “Sounds of Silence” and Miles Davis’ “All Blues” might make an appearance now and then. Yes, way beyond orthodox without question! But it was invigorating, vitalizing, inviting. And I accepted that invitation. After about three plus years or so and graduating from college, I ventured out on my own as a choir director in a suburban parish and discovered the “other” world of Catholic liturgy- the world that was guided by newsprint missalettes ( I had never seen one at St. Francis de Sales.) I then have been on the learning curve ever since that shift with a handful of parish and cathedral assignments over these four decades. But before leaving the Oakland Diocese in 1987, new faces and sounds, both from local and faraway sources became part of my lexicon and musical muscle memory. From Oakland came Jeff Keyes and his two groups while he was at St. Leander's. We joined forces for sacred “concerts” on many occasions, debuted his and my music (through Resource Publications) at early NPM’s; Rufino Zaragoza, OFM was just starting to get noticed, along with a young Jesse Manibusan. Nationally, of course, it was St. Louis Jesuit Time, with the Dameans and Weston Priory as pretenders to the throne. Soon to come were the Minnesotans, and we know the rest of that story.

As the last century waned and we moved into this century, old and new friends still in Oakland would give me brief glimpses of the ever-burgeoning centrality of “multiculturalism” that is still a hallmark of this diocese’s liturgical life. One could find three-hour Masses in an authentic African-American Gospel mode; one could find full-on Filipino and Polynesian Masses spread from Rodeo at the north end of the diocese to Union City in the south. Then SE Asian influences joined the ever-present Latino musical flavors. And so forth. Composers such as JaNet Sullivan-Whitaker and Manibusan spearheaded a yearly celebration of that Korean Hot Pot of musics.

This “culture” evolved under the watch of Bishops Begin and Cummins, and did not avoid the increasing scrutiny and criticisms from within and without as both musicians, liturgists and other voices began to question whether the amalgam of what was contemporary American Catholic worship practice represented in any way the authentic seed crafted and grafted by the actual liturgical canons in the actual documents promulgated by the magisteriums after the council.

When Bishop Cummins retired and Bsp. Vigneron came to town, it was no secret that his voice and heart spoke alongside those of others like Francis Mannion, Thomas Day, the Snowbirds and certainly the William Mahrts and Helen Hull Hitchcocks. But no bishop, save for Bsp. Bruskewitz (what a great name!), barrel rolls into his new diocese and lobs political broadsides indiscriminately. And face it, who thought that Bsp. Vigneron (who earned my eternal respect at a USCCB conference a couple of winters ago for trying to get the bishops to understand the difference between the words “Propers” and “Ordinary.”) was in Oakland for the long haul. He was, in baseball terms, a lead-off, set-up guy for the Cleanup Batter, the Episcopal equivalent of St. Louis’ Burke, oops, I mean Albert Pulhols. And I suspect that Oakland’s new pastor is, in more ways than one, a clean-up power.

What will be interesting to watch, in my estimation, is the dynamic tension that has culminated with the completion of the Cathedral of Christ our Light, the search and appointment of its Director of Music, the installation of this particular bishop (whose liturgical sensibilities were deftly demonstrated by his presiding in Latin at Ordinary Form Masses in San Diego) and the bastion of multiculturalism and “tolerance” that the Bay Area prides itself upon.

In his installation homily, Bishop Cordelione remarked: “Like countless others, (my Sicilian, immigrant grandparents) labored under the hardship of immigrants – a new land, with a different language and different customs, struggling to be accepted and to fit in. Yet, somehow they found a welcome, and were able to make a better life for themselves… It seems our nation has become a much less welcoming place, even, sometimes, downright inhospitable….

Before writing this post, I tried contacting some of my Oakland friends to see if they’d been present at the installation and could provide their perspective, but I haven’t heard from them. So, I’m left with retrospection based upon the concrete reality of the Order of Music for the good bishop’s installation Mass, as the mechanism to speculate what might be the liturgical theses this pastor will imprint upon his administration, clerical colleagues and the faithful. More or less, this lineup is both subtle and blatant at the same time.

The LineUp, with my comments:

Preludes and Music for Procession of Clergy- not listed
“Liturgical Procession”- O GOD, OUR HELP IN AGES PAST Despite some nebulous memory pin-balling around in my brain about the Protestant Orange Armies singing St. Anne as they slaughtered Irish Catholics in times of yore, this stoic text and hymn clearly sings of a notion Mark Searle used years ago, “remember into the future,” only not as Searle envisioned it, but as a harbinger that our liturgical tendons to the past are not torn forever, but will be exercised, exorcized of any disease, and re-integrated with conservatism based upon the reform of the reform movement.
“Acclamation of Acceptance” SPIRIT OF GOD Lucien Deiss I thought this a loving nod to a liturgical giant in his era (and a lovely man, personally) whose renown never reached Gelineau status.
No mention of Penitential Rite or music.
Gloria in excelsis: Missa de Angelis Can you say “Pride of Place?
Ps. 87, setting by Fr. Jeffrey Keyes CPPS, St,. Edward’s Newark, CA Can we say “go CMAA!”
Gospel Accl. “Allleluia” Jacques Berthier
General Intercessory response: Rv. E. Donald Osuna (ret.) Another loving nod to the local hero.
Offertory: The King of Love, My Shepherd Is (Borther James’ Air) I hear Fr. Rutler smiling.
Eucharistic Acclamations: Community Mass (R. Proulx) What’s good for Dolan…..
Agnus Dei – M. VIII chant
Communion Motet: O TASTE AND SEE (R. Vaughan-Williams) Anglo/Catholic redux that seques to…
Communion Hymn: TAKE AND EAT (Rv. J. M. Joncas) a nod to a real and validated American composer who has known suffering much greater than the terrors of the night or the arrows that fly by day, and done so through scholarship and with dignity throughout his entire career. I’m proud to have sat at his feet in the Spring of ’79 at the Chicago NPM when he premiered the both beloved and maligned OEW.
Adoro te devote (plainsong)- yes, Virginia, Eucharistic Adoration in Latin is real.
“Sending Forth” (Sending Forth?” How’d that one get by the bishop’s eye?) YE WATCHERS AND YE HOLY ONES Yes, by all means, keep watch, ye saints in Oakland, we’re not waltzing out to “We are called.” We’re not marching out via “Siyahamba.” We’re not clapping out with “Alabare.”

Please, if you’ve (again) gotten this far, don’t make the mistake that I’m making any conclusions or prognostications here about Oakland’s liturgical future. Nor am I suggesting that the bishop’s introductory remarks (short and out of context quoted above) stand in any contrast to his assessment of what constitutes “hospitality” versus “inhospitality.” But I do think that much will be gained by watching what happens liturgically at Christ our Light Cathedral over the next few years, and whether through influence or attrition, the philosophy of what constitutes “universality” in a diverse demographic is turned on its head in my old hometown.

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