Sunday, December 25, 2011

Beyond a "Good Cause"

There are benefits to living now.

Well, wasn't that cryptic as all get out? Thems that know me as the arduous skeptic optimist existentialist wastrel that I be are going "O dooty, he's on a rant again."
Not this time. By "now" I mean in this era of immediacy, particularly the bane of some and the very manna of many, that which is called "The social network." I mean, I've sworn to any that would listen that FACEBOOK is literally Satan's Little Black Book. Like, why would it need to singe its number into the scalps of little miscreant toddlers holding huge Bowie knives, or brand bar codes onto or into our dermal tissue when it has "followers?" Please.
I got egg on m'face. I hate eggs. All eggs, right out of the rear of a hen or poached in some Oster steamer. Eggs smell like sulfur (get it?). Eggsmell, cat pee, skunk emission? It's a draw.
But the egg on me face is that my eldest daughter put together a wonderful benefit concert of both seasonal (Christmas, secular and sacred) songs and "new" BroadwaChary favorites in JUST TWO WEEKS via Facebook to benefit our local Children's Hospital NICU unit. Both our grandsons were premies, but little JC was born at 26 weeks five years ago, and virtually lived in that NICU for three or four months. And then the inevitable respiratory problems surfaced that required a two year period in which JC was trached, and couldn't vocalize until after he'd turned two. (He hasn't stopped talking or singing since, though!)
Charlotte, second from right
Anyway, a local downtown eatery, renovated from many incarnations in a hundred year old building, graciously offered the space, and tons of people showed up. In less than two weeks, no formal publicity, and a lot of people from a thorough cross section of theatre people, church people, parent people with kids helped by Childrens' Hospital raised nearly a grand without breaking a sweat, and a great time had by all.
What I noticed from our proud parent perch back of the eatery house was that as soon as my daughter welcomed everyone with a song, she then invited the crowd to join in singing "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas" every soul there took it up immediately. I couldn't help but wonder then why it seems like we in Catholic music ministry must often feel like by merely announcing or listing a hymn/carol/song whatever for our congregations that we're oral surgeons with halitosis threatening medieval tools and techniques upon the congregants'  sensibilities and comfort zones as if they were to undergo a root canal. I mean it's singing!
I can help make chanting "Attende Domine" a pleasant experience, if folks would just let their hair and pretense defenses down. But I think that's my point, yet again. It comes down to intent!
The audience for the benefit was there for a tangible, but TEMPORAL reason. But they meant to be there even after less than two weeks' notice. Roamin'-minded Catholics know that they can BE THERE each Lord's Day. And as I've stated before, my experience affirms that your guaran-darn-teed hunnerd percent partipatio actuoso Masses include HOLY THURSDAY, Thanksgiving Day and _____ (fill in your blank.)
Oh, and daily Mass. Daily Mass people are serious. As are TLM folk. Maybe the participation at those sorts of liturgies varies according to the "cheerleading" congnescenti who would likely point AK47's at anyone on Sunday not actually moving their lips during the singing of "All are welcome." It's about INTENT.
Well, my grandson and all those children across the globe who've been lifted from tragedy's clutches by the Childrens' Hospitals, Mayo Clinics, St. Jude's will hopefully pay it forward as my daughter is trying to do.
But I sure would like someone to explain to me how believers who fret, worry, obligate themselves, make cosmic bets or subscribe to existential superstitions in order NOT to be consigned to Hell or otherwise outside of whatever they imagine heaven to be, still and yet don't get that there's a whole lotta singin' goin' on in that very heaven, because that's what lovers do! They sing love songs to the ONE who gives meaning to their being creatures in creation, their creator. And perhaps they ought to remember that these angels and archangels, Thrones and Dominions who acclaim "Hosanna" without end may have harps in their duffel bags like popular culture has deluded us. But they also are a formidable host of fearful creatures who mean business more than any U.S. Navy Seal team.
Good on ye, my child. And thank you for using your gift to honor God, the real healer of our boy and millions of other children, with your voice. My advice for vocal laggards and zombies, get some voice lessons. And quick.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Eleventh Hour?

In my four decades of directing music within the Church I've found that most thriving and viable music "ministries" offer some sort of pre-Midnight Mass performance. The most common is the devotional format of the service of Nine Lessons and Carols, modeled after the classic English order fashioned circa 1880. However, any number of variations on that service, or a simple concert that features prominent large works, or smaller anthems/motets in alternation with congregational carol-singing may even be more common than the Lessons format.
Over the two decades at our current parish, we have offered a separate concert event prior to Christmas that generally consists of a major cantata or large work, sometimes with solos, instrumental chamber works, organ compositions and the like interspersed within that model. We have also had years where the concert did not feature a large work or cantata, but had a thematic concept overarching a number of small choral pieces. Such themes included cultural components, styles and periods, specific composers or arrangers, traditional versus modern eras, etc. For example, in 2010 I programmed a concert featuring the works of American Catholic composers of the Victorian era to compliment the 150th anniversary of our parish's founding. That was a bit of a challenge to find significant counterparts to Peloquin from 1850 besides RoSewig et al, so I also tagged along some villancicos known to the missions in California at the time and a spiritual also sung in the era of the Civil War according to Higginson's bibliography.
This last year we held our seasonal concert early, which featured Vivaldi's GLORIA and the Bach MAGNIFICAT. It was a lovely, greatly attended event done well, but we decided initially not to repeat it in the eleventh hour prior to Midnight Mass for a number of sound reasons. Happily, our choir core has been together for 18 years, so once we were free of rehearsals for the "masterworks" concert we were able to prepare well about eight/nine pieces for the pre-Midnight portion of Christmas Eve.
My question to other choirmasters/directors: when you choose to do a "mixed bag" sort of pre-concert before Mass, whether Lessons-based or not, what criteria do you use, if any, that informs your repertoire choices? Do you place restrictions that are related or overlap from our "Catholic ethos" of chant/polyphony preference (even if carried through genetics to modern composers from Saint-Saens to Allen or McMillan)? Or do you allow some measure of "letting one's hair down" and admit pieces that don't have the catholic pedigree firmly in place? As mentioned, that could be spirituals, or gospel-infused arrangements and pieces (by great arrangers like Hogan, Hayes, Dillworth, Thomas), or other inculturated traditions such as Advent or Nativity villancicos, or carols from Hispanic traditions, Polish traditions and such, or generic but worthy new compositions by lower-tiered composers such as Leavitt, Courtney, Rutter, Chris Rice, Hillsongs or Culbreth ;-)?
I suppose what I'm asking amouts to whether such "devotional" or "inspirational" material that you as choirmaster deems to be worthy of public performance within the confines of your church building ought to be discerned also according to the tenets that we adhere to for actual worship at liturgy?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


As someone who inexplicably indulges and traffics in the acquisition of all things trivial, I had some sort of synapse short circuit that prompted me to somehow typify how I now regard an extremely popular denizen of liturgical pedants via the medium of film scenes that are memorable to me. Eureka! I think I found it. This scene is from the Robert Zemekis movie "Death Becomes Her" and occurs at the end of the film.
The two main characters, Madeline (Meryl Streep) and Helen (Goldie Hawn) were friends and rivals for the attention of Dr. Melville (Bruce Willis), a famed plastic surgeon whom they co-opted to keep their external beauty viable after they had taken a magic potion that grants eternal life, but then try and succeed to kill each other to garner his sole attention and access to his skills, as they're not really dead, but they can, indeed, decay if left unattended. Melville escapes their clutches, and we find Mad and Hel at his funeral 37 years later, harping at the back of the church during his funeral.
This seems like the perfect metaphor for a lot of what passes for meaningful discourse at this liturgical blog touting itself as a haven for worship, wit and wisdom. People can spend infinite amounts of time and treasure deconstructing and reconstructing all things godly and human, but it's inevitably all about superglue and bondo and paint jobs in this veil of tears. Ya gotta laugh, really. In honor of Dr. Xavier Rindfleisch's fondness for Roman Trattorias, the first clip of the scene below is in the Italian translated version (irony is like ozone, it's everywhere here and full of holes!)  I do have the same scene below the fake dialogue in the original English, beginning at 2':37"

Imagine if a portion of Mad and Hel's dialogue in this scene was lifted straight from the blog in question:

They are all good questions, and I doubt that we will ever know.The sloppy work of Vox Clara is leading presiders to make all sorts of “corrections” on the fly.
Yesterday I faced the fussy preces for Monday in the 4th week of advent. The only thing to do was to simplify them impromptu (a practice that is bound to produce muddles or theological errors) or to root around in the back of the old sacramentary for the bad 1973 versions, or to come armed with the 1998 versions, or to say a prayer of one’s own instead.

Thanks for reminding those of us who do not go to daily Mass and only have to content with weekly mediocrity that some people deal with this on a daily basis.  
The collects as printed are just unprayable.  My understanding is that Vox Clara, operating in strict secrecy, made some 10,000 changes to the ICEL text. Some of these introduced mistranslations, some added heretical content and now, as we have learned today, some added “we pray” in curious places. It hardly seems plausible that the interventions were accidental; and in any event, the whole procedure of central checking and approval is supposed to ensure that such “accidents” don’t happen.