Thursday, June 11, 2009

Reconstructing Sacred and Liturgical Music Practices
During the Pioneer Days of the First California Parish

On page 60 of “Apostle of the Valley” author Sister Mary Thomas,OP tells of a concert or “entertainment” that was to benefit the building of “the Catholic Church” (St. Mary’s) on February 13, 1872. (The parish was formally founded in 1851.) The concert was to also conclude with a dance as well. The review of the event mentioned that there were both vocal and instrumental selections programmed. Apparently the concert portion was received with mixed reviews, due to the apparent poor acoustics of the venue. The musicians, though, were applauded for their stalwart efforts to execute the performance in “a faithful manner.” And because of this, they received frequent applause and, to the reviewer, “entire satisfaction” on the part of the audience.
From this account I would infer the following:
It would not be uncommon for a wide variety of styles and types of music to be done, ie.
*Stephen Foster songs, Chopin piano pieces, reels and other dance pieces, etc.
*Perhaps some sacred solos, such as the Bach “Ave Maria” might have been sung, but not group song.
*Perhaps some choral singing by a small group, or light chamber music. But if a string quartet were available, I would think that would have been reported specifically with “fanfare” noted.
Elsewhere it is reported that music was initially included in the curriculum of the early Academy of the Nativity School. On page 88, however, when enrollment was sufficiently large to denominate students by gender, the females students were put under the charge of a “Miss Hattie Demming,” who is then described as a “fine musician” who played the organ at both Catholic and other denominational services. She also “taught music to some of her pupils in the academy so successfully that they, too, were able to accompany the singing during Mass.” (page 89) Unfortunately, Miss Demming’s tenure was shortened at the parish and school due to poor health.
This is very important as it clearly indicates that whatever forms of music, such as chant, hymns or polyphony, were accompanied by an organ, most likely a pump or bellows type of small, one manuel instrument.
The next definitive account regarding music regards the dedication of the new church in Porterville in May, 1892, presumably St. Anne’s Parish. The author writes, “Music was provided by a quartet who went in a special conveyance from Visalia; they rendered ‘Peter’s Mass in D’ ‘ in a beautiful and impressive manner.’” This likewise speaks to a positive and consistent evolution of “music ministry (sic)” at St. Mary’s in that the quartet had to be a choral ensemble of sufficient merit and repute that they were conveyed from Visalia in some manner as would a modern celebrity be transported by a limousine. I will make efforts to research the work cited, but I suspect it will be extremely difficult to track down an actual composition. I suspect the reportage is at fault: “Peter’s” most likely refers to some Mass in honor of St. Peter of the papal office, rather than a composer named “Peter.” The fact that the Mass setting is in “D (Major) also indicates that it might even be a work contemporaneous to the era, in that works after the classical renaissance (which were modal) were often given titles that indicated their “tonality,” in this case D Major.
As was mentioned, perhaps some research into source libraries from Philadelphia, Los Angeles or Monterrey might turn up some semblance of such a work. The real disappointing factor is that the seminary that Fr. Dade retired to also eventually shuttered, so we have no records of specific musical practices, if any, were taught those ordered seminarians.
One needs to keep in the back of one’s mind a number of cultural backgrounds at play here:
*Though there were clearly distinctions between types of Masses said or sung during these eras, such as Missa Lecta (what we would call a “Low Mass” or a “Deprived Mass,” Missa Cantata (a sung Mass, or “High Mass’ at which the priest sings portions, thus the designation “high” for singing, “low” for speaking; and the Solemn Mass, at which everything save the sermon was sung.
*Father Dade, like many immigrant Irish priests, also was likely influenced by a number of cultural traditions. Those would include a preference for the Low Mass, or perhaps a Low Mass that was surrounded with devotional practices such as Benedictions, Novenas and the like in which so-called “popular or devotional” hymns were congregationally sung. And this practice could also have been grafted onto the richer High and Solemn Mass formulae as well.
I have two volumes by American Catholic hymnologist, J. Vincent Higgonson,
A HISTORY OF AMERICAN CATHOLIC HYMNALS and A HANDBOOK FOR AMERICAN CATHOLIC HYMNALS that chronicle virtually all musical aspects of Catholic worship from colonial times to the twentieth century. So, any reconstruction of what might have been heard in Philadelphia in the 1840’s by Fr. Dade can be speculated upon and prepared with some historical accuracy.
As our parish approaches its 150th anniversary celebrations, it will interesting to participate in historical re-creations of musical performances that were part of our city and parish societies during the Civil War era.

1 comment:

Jeffrey Quick said...

The "Peters" is probably this:
Peters' celebrated mass in D.
W C Peters

Latin Musical Score : Printed music : Masses 38 p.
Philadelphia, Co-operative Music Co.,
Libraries worldwide that own item: 4
Author(s): Peters, W. C. 1805-1866. (William Cumming)

I would bet it was originally published here:
Peters' Catholic harp :
a collection of sacred music, designed for the use of choirs, schools and musical associations, containing morning and evening services /
W C Peters

Latin Musical Score : Printed music 1 score (176 p.) ; 18 x 25 cm.
Boston : O. Ditson,

19th c. American Catholic church music is even more a tabula rasa than 19thc Catholic church music in general. Much of it (the works of RoSewig for example) fell victim to changing tastes and the motu proprio of 1903 (though RoSewig is much less theatrical and more in the spirit of MP '03 than, oh, almost anything you'd hear at Mass today.) But I met an old-time Catholic who was amazed that I knew about RoSewig and said his masses were done in one Cleveland parish well into the 60s.