Wednesday, June 29, 2011


"I Know Where I'm Going" is the title of a Scots love ballad that has a lass pining for the company of her true love Johnny. A lovely little film was spun from it in 1945, where the lass becomes an English woman who becomes stranded upon an island among the Hebrides, and is challenged in her resolve to marry her betrothed by an attraction to another heroic character. There are storms aplenty, both figurative and literal, that contradict the simplicity of meaning of the ballad declaration, "I know where I'm going."
I am posting my thoughts on the video above on my blog as I'm sure that what I need to say might not be received or understood by my beloved confreres of the Church Music Association, and my fellow contributors at the Chant Cafe.
The video, produced by the brilliant Jeffrey Ostrowski of Corpus Christi Watershed, does clearly provide a mere glimpse of the sheer, transcendent beauty that is the colloquium experience. I have yet to encounter, after five of these, anyone who would decry any aspect of it as not beneficial in personal and corporate ways.
But I first viewed the video with the sound muted, as there was other media on in the room Wendy was listening to. And in the course of just four minutes I observed a pattern within the editing that, at face value, gave me pause and troubled me. I invite any readers of this post to do the same: watch the video without the sound. What gave me pause is the pattern consists of a sequence of action shots that primarily feature the conductors and presentors who comprise the leadership echelon of CMAA. And a brief sequence shows the CMAA Board of Directors in session before resuming the serial exposition of the multitude of choirs and scholas that "zoom in" principally upon the directors. To be fair, of course there is substantial content of attendees visually. But without the sound, the thematic emphasis upon the "star" faculty I believe is quite evident.
Am I critizing Ostrowski or CMAA with this observation. Absolutely not!
But as my friend and medical angel Jeffrey Tucker has stated repeatedly at the Cafe and the MS Forum, sacred and liturgical music is at a particularly important and momentous cross roads, represented most notably by the publishing of the Parish Book of Chant, the Simple Choral Propers and the uniquely valuable Simple English Propers, all under the banner of CMAA. And the beauty of all this is that CMAA has appeared, to me, an organization that has grown and thrived based upon participation from the ground up as informed by the scholarship and inspiration of the top down.
But can CMAA clearly sing "I know where I'm going"? It was repeatedly hammered home to attendees this last colloquium that we, CMAA, stand on the shoulders of giants such as Msgr. Schuler, Dr. Marier, Calvin Shenk, Maestro Salamunovich, Dr.Berry, Mrs. Ward, Fr. Skeris et al. And equally clear is that those giants were not the earlier era's equivilent of this era's megastardom of liturgical celebrities whose names are omnipresent in their product and publicity provided us by our large publishers. But I ask, in all humility and honesty, are we taking care not to advance a celebrity class of our own among CMAA ranks? As a side note, I have no personal bias or agenda by asking these questions (no dog in the hunt as goes the saying.) I am, and always have been quite happy to remain a parish musician.
I will leave this an open question for anyone who happens upon this post.
Next year around late June I do know where I'm going: to the Madeleine Cathedral in Salt Lake City, Utah for CMAA Colloquium 22 (provided I'm not court martialed!) I do hope that those who plan and articulate the schedule and content and goals for next year consider carefully how to expand both membership and influence in the market of ideas and ideals in a way that keeps and treasures the value and experience of each and every member who attends in order that the focus doesn't de-evolve and become diluted.
PS. I think it would be most appropriate to have any and all evaluations of Colloquium XXI published at MS. I'm sure that a great majority of those will attest to the immense value of attending it! Soli Deo gloria.

1 comment:

Ron Rolling said...

But can CMAA clearly sing "I know where I'm going"?

But I ask, in all humility and honesty, are we taking care not to advance a celebrity class of our own among CMAA ranks?

These are great questions. With both the organization and liturgical history at a crossroads, they need to be asked. I see them being asked as a matter of introspection and not criticism.

Let's take them in the order presented.

The synergy created "based upon participation from the ground up as informed by the scholarship and inspiration of the top down," while not unique, is, along with its mission, what makes the CMAA so special. To the best of my knowledge it has spawned at least two "local chapters" (Houston and St. Louis), talk of more in the Rocky Mountain and West Coast areas, and an "informal chapter" covering the state of Florida. In order for similar grass root efforts to grow, it will take more resources and guidance provided by the national group. Perhaps there needs to be more of a formal structure than what there seems to be at present, something along the lines of these smaller groups, while working independently, looking to "Rome" for assistance.

I think when filming something like this, there needs to be a focal point. At times the conductor is the natural "center of attention". I don't think there is an intent to advance a celebrity class. These people are the leaders of this movement in this generation, standing on the shoulders of their predecessors. They have taken this "tradition" from them and nurtured it; like any good leader, they will seek those who will continue to raise the bar.

This is a noble cause. How best to advance it is now and will be the motivation for its continuation. Seeking solutions to this, for nothing on Earth is perfect, will allow it to flourish.