Friday, December 28, 2012

Midnight Mass 2012 at the Mother parish

This year's preparations for music at service were challenging and, at times, daunting. I suffered two weeks of being laid out (that hasn't happened since the Swine flu around '73) which took me out for two solid weeks. In the midst of that will power muscled up to get through Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of Guadalupe and the School Christmas Pageant (2 performances.) All went well. By the time we got to our last rehearsal prior to Christmas, Wendy had taken ill (which she is still the worse for wear) with a cold, and our organist lost a precious pet to a vet's errant diagnosis and treatment. So, without our accompanist, we worked as much a capella and then left the rest to Spiritus Sanctus.
If one considers we offered up the Bach MAGNIFICAT and Vivaldi's GLORIA last year, the singing of about four Gustav Holst carols and a couple by Charles Giffen prior to Midnight seems like feast to famine. But in such humility can much joy be discovered. One of those was providing one of our basses the opportunity to sing O HOLY NIGHT at his John Raitt-like best! This gentleman (an attorney) was one of those fellows who always got the lead in the school musical (he also went to HS with my wife and sister in law, who also were leads) but he enjoys just being a bass singer in the choir for the most part. But when he solos, you can expect a truly memorable experience. In the singing of carols and choir pieces the congregation/audience remained politely reverent. But after he finished there was that moment where the breath is taken in unison, and they cannot help but applaud. It did not at all seem inappropriate in that moment.
On the other hand, just before midnight I went to the epistle ambo (a very modest, portable wooden pulpit) and delivered the Kalenda 2012 in Latin, all six pages of it. Because of having the providence of a couple of chant intensives and colloquia behind me, it kept rolling and moving off my tongue quite well, despite rebounding from bronchitis. But when I finished, I immediately (eyes down) repaired to my place in the choir, but the congregation starting applauding very unexpectedly! I was totally caught off guard and didn't acknowledge anything and started the processional carol immediately. (I thought chanting the Introit after the Kalenda might be chant-overkill.)
But why the applause? I know I chant well, but I certainly am not a great singer like my wife or our bass. I remember, in the moment, praying that their appreciation was for the unmitigated, unapologetic or gratuitous use of real Latin chant. We use a lot of chant now, but mostly in English.
Another thing might be something that my friend Todd Flowerday always brings into the efficacy of music equation arguments: worthy artistic performance practice. Yes, on the extremes from "Abba Father" to the Verdi "Requiem" the music does, of itself, matter. But later on, for Communion after Richard Rice's exquisite Choral Communio, we sang the pairing of "Silent Night" (in English only for the first time in over a decade) with Dan Kantor's "Night of Silence." When we finally partnered the two songs over all three verses (women singing Kantor, men the Gruber) it lead to the most peaceful sacred silence I think I've ever experienced in twenty years here. And of course, that reflection served up "Joy to the World" perfectly at the missio.
We also returned to the Jeff Ostrowski "Mass of St. Ralph Sherwin" Glory to God, which was chanted in unison at a pretty good clip. I'm glad the acolytes weren't instructed to ring the Sanctus bells this year. The people haven't learned it well enough to join in, but they voted for this setting earlier in the year, and they seem to recognize its apparent catholic ethos.
So, humble and honest this year. Nice.

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