Friday, November 23, 2012

Thank God it's (fill in the blank) FRIDAY

Dear faithful five followers, presuming you guys/gals more or less do what I do on Sundays, Holy Days and feast days like Thanksgiving Day, we invested an hour at Mass yesterday. Wendy and I weren't going to be home and "do" Mass, but she caught a fever and that changed our travel plans. Then our organist also became ill, so we gladly served to lead music for a good crowd of worshippers yesterday. I love Thanksgiving Mass, as I do all "intentional" Masses as those who come, do so with "intention." One particular moment that proved that intent was the last response of the "sursum corda" where the only words heard were "It is RIGHT and JUST" rather than the Sunday tug of war between the front pew sitters and the real catholics who seem to cling to "right to give Him thanks and praise." I digress.
Anyway, before Mass, we watched a little of the wonderfully revamped CBS This Morning Show which featured two wonderful segments. The first was a celebration of Arlo Guthrie's famed "Alice's Restaurant Massacre" (long "e") broadcast on Thanksgiving tradition. Just seeing that Arlo's eyes still had that gleam of inner joy....The second segment was a prepared piece by the great Wynton Marsalis, giving perspective to the term "thanksgiving." Being so gifted a musician, he also is an icon of the deposit of limitless love that God infuses into the human heart, especially artists. A convergence of St. Cecilia's grace by two musicians who have their heads and hearts on straight!
Mass was wonderful.
Came home, read what little news and opinion was in the daily local paper. Then as a perfunctory nod, did the yearly scan of the two inches of ad circulars for shopping on BLACK FRIDAY. I'm glad that the term "Black Friday" has a positive connotation, as in "to be in the black" means fiscal well being. But as I scanned the glossy inserts, I couldn't help but notice the collusion of certain items that tickled the "Terry Gilliam" portion of my brain as signifiers of where we are in the USofA as a cultured society; besides being terribly self-absorbed and unsatisfied.
The first item that seems to encapsulate the zeitgeist is the well known (now) Beat Headphones by Dr. Dre. Huge over-ear, richly colored, thick, inch wide head band, total noise suppression from outside while touting absolute faithfully reproduced sonic purity, clarity and power! You are enveloped in the music or sound of your choice while making the simultaneous, obvious statement: "Don't talk to me, mess with me, and you know I mean business and have swag because I spent nearly 200 big ones on these.....headphones." Charlie! Come to the table grampa's carving the bird now." BEATS sez "I got your bird right here, Mom."


I can't help but notice that a more direct indicator of the enclave mindset that sporting good stores aren't shy anymore from putting onto their ad pages is the "firearm." In fact, everyday this last week one gun retailer had a one page, two sided insert in the paper featuring really cool handguns. So confident they, no retail prices were posted for the handguns. Doorbuster prices on shoulder arms were shown, but not for the larger calibre semi-automatic clip rifles. You know, the kind used in Boulder, Virginia Tech,\ and for when....well. The Home Protection weapon. It's almost a must have feaver now. I think it's likely a greater contagion than we suspect, just like illegal drugs like crystal meth or stolen Oxycontin. "Hey, we know the sh*t's comin', damn zombie apocalypse, racial civil war, fiscal cliff class warfare, failure of the power grid or the communication intertubes, whatever, I got my short barreled hand gripped carbon fiber shotgun and mean to take out who ever the hell walks up my walk when it's on." I can appreciate that-protect the homestead and family and all that. But for the sake of how far we predators have progressed beyond the reptillian fight or flight impulse, just how many of you preppers expect you're going to mow down these "intruders" before you can reload? I figure I can take a swipe with my decorative big ass claymore sword at the bug eyed neighbor at my door (who probably came over to see if our puppy was okay, what with all the shotgun and handgun and machine gun pop-pops relentlessly rattling the city), take her out and then yield to the swarm of zombies behind her while barking out "FREEDOM!" From what? would likely then be my last thought as I slip into the void where God doesn't dwell.
And rather than this on the right, this on the left would have been the herald of the times. Call of duty and black ops is how to "get" the bad guy, not by forgiveness, repentence, restoration, reconciliation.

Wow, what a November it's been since Halloween. I'm humming "What goes up, must come down..." by Blood, Sweat and Tears" in my mind. I don't need "Beats headphones" for that.
And how does it all come out in the wash of the cosmos?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A How-to recipe to fix Lit/Music: Happy Thanksgiving

This is just a repost of a comment made about the vagaries of obtaining nihil obstats and imprimaturs from....from....USCCB, BCL, your bishop, A.G. Eric Holder, the Navy Seals, or some clerk in a bunker somewhere.

As has been mentioned often in the last couple of days, CMAA is us. So is the church. Our republic is us. And so on. I'm down with Professor Ted on trumping the notion that the USCCB is essentially incapable of articulating restorative prescriptions inwhich readily verifiable common problems, unhealthy circumstances, and even abuses could be mitigated globally. We still could put a woman on the moon. We can and have harnessed the physical processes of nuclear physics for good and ill, even re-created a lab version of the singularity big banging in Switzerland! Heck, we've convinced millions of people to fork out $125 or much more for a coffee maker that brews half a cup of joe. And every so often a hundred plus church princes manage, with some humble prayer and assistance of the Holy Spirit to discern who God chooses to shepherd the One True Church. Doubters, get a grip.

On the other hand, the Church as a living organism presupposes a composite physiogony; I know this because the Bible tells me so. So, Jeffrey Tucker's observation of the flexibility of Mgr. Hilgartner's response to SAC as being an optimistic, positive response is not only correct, but necessary to sort out how we approach and think about divergence.

What we basically have been playing out of late, writ large, is the Siamese Twins sort of bipartisanship model. "Chang" demands that his perspective on how to operate their enterprises is founded upon absolutism and revealed law which aligns with natural law. "Eng" rejects Chang simply because he "demands" Eng's compliance. Eng insists upon consensus, experimentation, observation, and coexistence. Their destiny appears only to be an attraction of derision, mockery and revulsion in the atmosphere of the circus. Please remember I cite this only as a model.

There has to be some initiative to move the inert. Unfortnately there's less incentive built into the culture in this era: a congress deadlocked with the lowest amount of passed legislation in recent history; a confrontational model between executive governance and special interest groups (Wisconsin governor vs. SEIU and teachers union); civil disobedience sans a coherent ethos (Occupy Mvmt. etc.); and a furtherance of fractionating a "union" based upon class, race, gender, religious influence, and life issues while also appealing for their vote (or actually proxy) upon the fulcrum of one side: unemployed yet entitled takers; or the other- capitalist rich job creators and producers and their over taxed middle class minions. This is simply toxic, static, disabling, and ultimately ridiculous and an embarrassment.

So plopped down in this morass of failed democratic principles is the thing we call the Holy Roman Catholic Church, not a republic indeed, but also not exactly equipped to act like a federal government either, really?

My pastor thinks one of the major root issues stems directly from the mechanisms by which bishops are newly appointed, transferred and elevated and then ensconsed. Well, that may be a worthy problem the Church will need to confront universally, but it doesn't help us in the meanwhile. But I bring this up to point out that where a bishop articulates a clear vision of his own ecclesiology, the people seem coalesce around him, schools and parishes are revived, seminary numbers rise, evangelization increases dramatically. And so forth. Exemplars of this might be the retiring Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, NB., and Jaime Soto of Sacramento, CA. Their modus operandi's can hardly be called identical. But they're leading.

So, as I mentioned briefly in another post, it seems to me that it wouldn't at all be very difficult for any bishop to convene a council of pastors that he trusts to give him their true skinny on who's got the stuff together in liturgy and music, and provide said bishop with some candidates who would be asked to work with him, or his proxies under his periodical review, towards a thorough examination of those priority issues in the lit/music domain and then crafting strategies and timelines for their remediation. And I maintain this must be a diocesesan level enterprise, not metropolitan, not regional, not national. I will illustrate how choosing a national panel of experts to craft national mandated policies will fail, and miserably so.

Around 1997 or so, a group of eminent musician/composer/scholars/liturgists formed an ad hoc group known as the Snowbirds. Their deliberations were sound, their consensus full and their philosophies were clear. But, to no small extent, all of that stood in opposition to an earlier convocation of like peoples at the Milwaukee symposium. How would this play out. The Snowbirds advocated the systematic, expert deliberation of an ultimate White List project that would eventuate in a totally approved and mandated national repertoire and presumably a national hymnal. Mgr. Mannion was a member of the Snowbirds and I posited this question to him at the 1999 national NPM:

At some point consensus and trust by the faithful will be lost when the reality that the experts opted for "When in our music God is glorified" at the perceived expense of the now and forever absent "Pescador de hombres." And such tensions could be construed and amplified over whatever the table of contents eventuates as.

But, if the territorial and demographic aspects that are typical to the local diocese are given some respect in the local process of expert deliberation, then a sort of unveiling process to "stockholders" by a united panel, priests' collective and, of course, the bishop himself, at which the laity and others could have their input noted and formally considered, and responded to as needed. And if the process is collegial and transparent, but also informed by universal principles of VII documents, earlier documents and the raison d'etres of our traditions examined in a positive light, then a worship book, some combination of hymnal/missal could serve that diocese in many ways for many reasons for many years.

I don't think this is naivete on my part. I cannot know the exegencies of how things are done in Wasilla, Alaska versus Lafayette, Louisiana. But there have to be qualified people in all of these "jurisdictions" who would readily jump at the prospect of crafting a comprehensively positive worship repertoire that would endure.

I mean, damn, isn't the Explorer satellite still moving towards the outer reaches of our solar system? And we can't agree on songs?

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

And that's all I have to say about that.

Apologies to Forrest Gump.
I very clearly, distinctly remember watching the 2004 Democratic Party Convention keynote address by the virtually unknown junior senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, and remarking to my wife, "He will be the first African-American president." It wasn't really a fast forward, we were fully engaged in Iraq, Afghanistan, littler conflagurations with Jihadists at home and abroad, and then the housing/mortgage swamp was emerging to be murkier though not deadlier than Katrina.

It was, it seemed even then, an inevitability that Obama would prevail over the most honed politician the times could ever call for. I don't mean John McCain, obviously. I mean Hillary Clinton. How could someone not even with eighteen months' tenure in the U.S. Senate (and pathetically fewer days/hours/minutes in real time) prevail over the first truly viable, albeit liberal, female politician who'd vanquished Whitewater, Lewinsky and her own husband's achilles heels PLURAL, became a powerhouse senator in a state that prides itself on lend lease representatives (Bobby Kennedy) LOSE to a smoove talking community organizer from the Chicago machine? In-con-THIEV-able (sorry, Princess Bride.) John McCain? Who? The hero from Hanoi Hilton? John McCain? Cat food.

Little by little, the light of day shone upon him whom blowhard Hannity called "the Annointed One" for the interminable days of his first term. We learned that Obama was above really punching the time clock in the Illinois State Senate, and if he did he either was just "present" or really dug his heels in when it came to officially prohibiting basic life support in abortatoriums should the fetal matter actually breathe under its own power after the late term effort to make its life ceast and desist. But, now president, Obama would take to Capitol Hill such an obtuse vision of universal health care. He would throw billions of paper dollars at banks, auto manufactors and other entitled on borrowed currency owned by the emergent odd capitalists in the PR of China. And he would cross his arms when begged to engage congress in the backroom messiness of real governance not because he cloaked himself in transparency, (how prescient) but because he preferred flying all over the country, nee the globe in Airforce One just on the premise of showing the earth and whatever aliens might be picking up our signals (joke) just what America and real change "looked like." And he kissed the Saudi King's ring.

What became apparent to anyone, including his own cabinet members who bailed, is that in no way could this man be called an executive. He simply never showed up for the gig. He never really showed up for anything but a party or an honor being bestowed for his benefit. And he betrayed everyone and everything he said from 2004-2012 insofar as returning America to its status as both a haven and harbor for  justice, truth and true freedom. He can't manage.

This has nothing to do with his rival tonight, Mitt Romney. The election, book (as in bookies) and jury is out on him unless and until he should prevail.

But, Obama not only cannot, but will not manage to fulfill his responsibilities should he prevail. And I desparately hope I'm proved wrong should that be the case. But if he treats global competitors like Putin (via his whispers to Putin's woebegone messenger Medveyev) like his BFF, God help his enemies. He can't manage.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Early Election Results!!!

Not that election, silly!

For those who might have actually followed our exploits chronicled in the earlier post below, we did our little experiment with Liturgical Democracy this morning at the Schola Mass. I thought the results would interest a great many of us here. The setup: Before Mass I directly addressed the congregation about what they were being asked to help deliberate: the choice of a new setting of the "Glory" as we approach Advent. I mentioned to them the discussions schola had among ourselves regarding the relative intuitive natures of chant settings versus metrical settings and that we had two very worthy options, the Ostrowski "St. Sherwin" and the O'Shea "Mary, Mediatrix," respectively in the mediums mentioned. I explained they would hear the chant version (Sherwin) prior to the Entrance, and the metered "Mediatrix" at its usual location after the Kyrie. After the dismissal, I explained, choir members would be at the exit doors at which the people could simply state their preference for Number 1 (chant) or Number 2 (metered). Well, they voted, and decidely so:
For Jeffrey O. The ratio was roughly about 3.5 to 1 in favor of the "chant" Mass as many of the folks called it as they exited. At my polling station I could tell that the preference for the chant style Mass likely was determined by as many varied reasons, serious (That sounds "Catholic") to superflous (It goes at a good clip!) And even though many folks who voted may never ever take up the actual chanting of the Glory (Royce Nickel's setting) in the last year, it's clear their notion of what sounds properly RC seems firmly rooted. And they likely have been gradually prepped by the use of the SEP for three years, the Richard Rice SCG for five years, and now his choral Communio's in the last month. There is likely only two explanations for this acceptance of increased solemnity: first is the Mary Jane Ballou maxim- they're now so used to having something completely different foisted upon them at various intervals, their reactions are passively accepting. Second-They're truly appreciative that the musical portions of the liturgy are well prepared, chosen according to worthiness, in concert with the calendar, yet flexibile enough to not exclude the "new" classics. I think, based upon how firmly many people responded it must actually be the latter explanation. I could be delusional, but they responded to me and other choristers resolutely. One soprano reported how much vehemence (she's a teacher) they displayed when verbally voting! This result was not universally acclaimed by all my choir members, one is so weary of chanting she could spit. But I asked her if singing a fully SATB orchestrated chant Mass like the Sherwin or the Nickel St. Therese mitigated her notion of dreary ol' chant, and she admitted yes it did. So, we still try to remain flexible and eclectic. I think our esteemed Yoda-guru Mahrt knows all this too well from forty plus in Palo Alto. A choir wants to, if thoroughbred, be allowed to run at full gait and gallop. So, we'll start building the bricks of assisting congregational rendition of the Sherwin unison, and get to the SATB ASAP. Oh, and Truman actually won! Due to Halloween falling upon a Wedne

Friday, November 02, 2012

Change? Another new paradigm?

  Due to Halloween falling upon a Wednesday, our normal rehearsal evening, we had a less than normal turnout last night (All Saints) and a somewhat truncated, altered rehearsal schedule. But that also provided some reflective time among our smaller numbers to share and reflect upon something I’ve otherwise not touched upon publicly: the processes by which we choose Mass settings and other service music. Because the opportunity provided by the new Missal prompted a series of meetings among leadership of various parish ensembles, the Bolduc (WLP) Mass of St. Ann was embraced as the parish default, and has proven quite well received on all accompanimental/vocal fronts. However, for our equivalent of the weekly Missa Cantata at which the primary Schola/Choir provides leadership, I opted for Royce Nickel’s “Mass of St. Therese of Liseaux (CCW, CC3). We’ve noticed a steady infusion and assimilation of its beauty by the Sunday congregation for over a year now. So much so, that we were finally enabled to support the chanting with the full SATB arrangement.
  As I’ve said elsewhere, choirs like to sing like choirs. So, I’ve been reluctant to retire the Nickel Mass for an interim as I believe it takes congregations years, not months, to become enamored then comfortable with new Mass settings. But we’d been preparing to introduce our colleague Jeffrey Ostrowski’s Mass in Honor of St. Ralph Sherwin’s Glory to God as the first step towards our first “change” since MR3. We sang the movement last Sunday (after a brief introduction prior to Mass, summarizing the process and plans.) I explained that this setting was even more chant-inclined than the Nickel, and that the choir would sing the Glory “on their behalf” that Sunday as they prayed and absorbed the beautiful setting for the first time. At last night’s rehearsal we discussed whether “the people got the ‘Sherwin’” in this brief, first encounter. One of us felt strongly they did not. He emphatically and carefully offered his opinion that as a lay singer both melodic and rhythmic structure is very important to him in terms of acquisition. He used the example of when he travels and attends Masses elsewhere, if the setting is metered, with or without music, still anticipate melodic phrases and participate. However, he said that chant melodies not only do not have that stricture, they by their own nature are not intuitively predictable in their intervallic movements, etc. And the upshot is that he feels reduced in the moment as “irrelevant” as a participant when unable to sing what is rightfully his to sing. Wow, what a sobering moment.
  Well, we pondered that for a while, and I made the choice to revisit a setting we’d auditioned over a year ago, Dr. Patrick O Shea’s Mass of the Mediatrix. And again, specifically we sang through the Glory, first using the melody only, then SATB. I had reviewed this Mass for the Chant CafĂ© a year ago. Memory of it remained in mind the whole year as a “next option.” Interestingly, singing the melody only brought some different reactions this time around. It seemed to be a series of motives conjoined together, well crafted but still somewhat arbitrary. But when we sang it SATB the memory of a wholeness and seamlessness returned in full blossom.
   So this coming Sunday we’re going to do something I’ve never done in over four decades-we’re taking a poll. I will again inform the congregation of our “dilemma” and invite their participation in counseling us. We will chant the Ostrowski as “Glory I” before Mass. And then sing the melody of the O’Shea as “Glory II” within the liturgy. After the dismissal, there will be an organ postlude and members of the schola will fan out to the exit doors and tally verbal votes for “I or II.” This is a totally new experience. I’ve always felt capable of assessing a piece of music’s worthiness, and haven’t wavered about that, and I’m not wavering now. But it can’t be a poor idea to offer the people in the pews a voice in the matter prior to the singing. What do you think?