Thursday, July 07, 2016

They Paved Paradise, but Look at This Beautiful Parking Lot!
This is the second part of an examination (fisking, actually) of an article authored by Michael Clayton in the July 5 2016 edition of "The New Liturgical Movement" about sacred music composition.
Benedict XVI’s book, A New Song for the Lord; Faith and Christ and Liturgy Today,
(tells) us that it is the mark of true creativity that an artist or composer can “break out of the esoteric circle” – i.e., the circle of their friends at dinner parties – and connect with “the many.”

Let’s just cut to the chase: the golden era of polyphony rests upon the bedrock of one of the most esoteric disciplines within music, namely species counterpoint. And its elegance depends to this day upon the idiomatic/idiosyncratic milieu under which it behaves. The reception great polyphony receives is more due to those vagaries than the theories, and that is precisely why the realization of the conciliar edicts for composers to inextricably ties their works to the attributes of chant and polyphony will seldom surpass the artistic merit of their forebears. For example, composer Kevin Allen (whom the author fails to cite) composes polyphony idiomatically with the inclusion of modern cluster harmonies (ala Lauridsen, Part, Whitacre and others) that cannot strictly observe species counterpoint. That is a whole new layer of….ESOTERICISM. Is it possible, perish the thought, that beloved Pope Ratzinger had a sort of Holy Grail notion of there being a music of the spheres that would appeal and “connect with the ‘many’?” Or worse, was he ratifying the very Germanic notion of Gebrauchsmusick, purposed if less aesthetically fashioned “music from need?” If the former, that’s to be heard in heaven I suppose. The latter found in many of the works of post-conciliar composers of all stripes.

This grave responsibility is one that thus far, it seems to me, the vast majority of Christian artists in almost every creative discipline have not been able to take on. That is not to say, however, that the task facing creative artists today is easy. Indeed, it may be so hard than it needs an inspired genius in any particular field to show us the way before it can happen.

This strikes me as a disingenuous comparison between patronage based art/sacred music composition of the 17-19th centuries and the disparate modern cultures of music generation. Somewhere along the line from Palestrina-Bach-Monteverdi-Haydn-Mozart-Bruckner-Faure (just a randomly chosen list) the borders of art and sacred expanded greatly, while the popular lines were being blurred in Salzburg and Vienna. The window of hope for an “inspired genius” to “show us the way” closed a long time ago. And another elephant in the room is the stark reality that the global village of the current century doesn’t define itself by, ahem, the colonial notion that Western aesthetics make the world turn ‘round. Yes, everyone knows they can sing Mozart in Ghana, Korea and moon even. That doesn’t mean everyone will appreciate an all-Mozart diet universally. Given that we’ve been broadcasting sound waves into space for over a century, it’s just as likely that alien civilizations prefer John Williams to Johann S. Bach.

The problem is that this sophistication is one that fragments rather than unifies. People today know what they like and dislike, and they are sensitive to even subtle changes in style, and will react strongly to them.

Can we say: “The Rite of Spring (Le sacre du Printemps)” Sensitive to change? Heck, they literally tore the place down. But now there’s likely more percussion heard in Life Teen Bands than in Stravinski’s work and no one blanches at the ballet anymore, while they rightly abhor the caged (as in John) drummer-kid up in the choir loft. Sophistication is inherently discriminatory. Elegance and beauty, not so much. But we can’t agree on whether Aquinas defended personal taste as a criteria for appreciating beauty. Is a coherent and flowing Celtic ballad as beautiful as Bach’s Air (for the G String)? Only if re-packaged by Vaughn Williams, Holst or Stanford maybe, according to musicologists and aesthetes. Every tongue that’s wagged upon “On eagles’ wings” is well aware that likely millions of catholics think that tune is absolutely fabulous. “Ah,” say the critics, “but it’s not beautiful.” They’d better duck as Aunt Sally’s right-cross is headed their way.

there is no form of secular music that I know of, classical or contemporary, that currently exists and will appeal to all people.

Oh, I dunno ‘bout that. It seems that everybody from Strauss to Rieu loves a good waltz, even space stations and floating monoliths. But a waltz is too sing-songy for serious consideration doncha know.

“so we’ll still have the music we’ve always had, especially my favorite traditional tune, On Eagles Wings.”

And yer honor, that’s when I shot her. “Case dismissed” says the traddy justice!

I do not know for certain if all, or indeed any of these composers are the trailblazers to whom the future will look back, as we today look back to Palestrina. Only time will tell.

So, again, what exactly was the purpose of this article’s screed? Move on, nothing to see hear here.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

It's My Birthday and I'll Ply if I Want to-
Part the First

After forty-five years in the biz (so to speak), I believe there’s only one certain conclusion I’ve reached regarding the sacred/liturgical/pastoral music wars: there will never be a substantial, empirical treatise defending or excoriating the “state of church music,” whether in the Roman Church or denominations. This article in the online periodical NEW LITURGICAL MOVEMENT (July 5, 2016) does nothing to alleviate that discomfort. Heavy and heaving fisking thus ensues….

Why Do So Many Choir Directors Have "Van Gogh's Ear for Music (July 5) by author Michael Clayton is just one of a number of salvos, er, screeds decrying the state of current worship music composition and performance. Indeed the primary associate whom Mr. Clayton cites often therein is our mutual friend and composer, Dr. Peter Kwasniewski of WCC, whose music I have utilized often out here in California for parish Masses. The title’s cleverness also unwittingly unveils the author’s lack of acumen, familiarity as well as a hearty prejudice regarding the corpus of modern ecclesial-related musical genres and performance practices. Ignoring that the broad base of so-dubbed “choir directors” flapping their arms and gums at their choral charges includes flotsam/jetsam, tangled jungles of seaweed, unknown tons of krill, sardines and anchovies and other minutiae among the blue whales, orca and dolphin pods, albacore and great whites who haunt the ocean depths of church music waters. If you just subtract the lower life forms from that aquarium, Clayton’s red herring of a question presumes that even studied and schooled “directors” lack sufficient discretionary ears to distinguish gold from iron pyrite as they craft their repertoires. Say it ain’t so, Joe! “It ain’t so.” So how does Mr. Clayton advance his premise that the gen-pop of directors got no ears? He, like most consumers, relies upon his own taste buds, to whit-

The choice of music at Mass matters to me. It was hearing polyphony and chant done well that contributed to my conversion.” Mr. Clayton heralds his epiphany from a reverse (and curious) bias perverted from a famous (paraphrased) declaration by SCOTUS justice Potter, “I can’t define it, but I know what pornography is when I see it.” Claiming the gold standard of chant and (whose?) polyphony is a noble gesture, but it remains purposefully ignorant of fraught and overwrought dialectic of musicological evolution in the history of church/music relations. Many philosophers, notably Dr. Peter and my friend Jackson Osborn from Houston strenuously argue that the intrinsic merits of beauty, purity, nobility and suitability of “certain” musics must be acknowledged as pre-eminently superior to all others that would pretend towards the throne of catholic worship. And my colleagues are truly irritated that this realization isn’t shared universally among even the cognoscenti. And this mystery is also unveiled by Mr. Clayton’s curt dismissal of 19th c./Victorian hymnody as insufficient for evangelization. Well, somewhere between cantus firmi and parody Mass settings, the Lutheran chorale, the Singmesse and four-square hymnody of all stripes is the realization that the aesthetic appeal of art music (though not known as such in its era) such as Roman polyphony at many points gave way to various forms of gebrauchsmusick (pardon from Hindemith) whose genesis stems from the primordial archetype of “FULL, CONSCIOUS AND ACTIVE PARTICIPATION,” the great Vatican II albatross. But more to Mr. Clayton’s point, if you take him at his word, who’s to say there isn’t an equal and opposite soul out there claiming that the quasi-Hillsongs ditties of Matt Maher contributed to HER CONVERSION? Stats and even anecdotal data can’t reconcile that reality. (But aren’t we all so convicted that if Maher-fans would only hear Morales’ motets they’d change their tastes and stripes post haste?
Whether it’s the Woodstock-throwback-with-added-sugar of the standard pew missalet (sic), candied Cat Stevens presented by a cantor in a faux operatic or Broadway-musical style, or the more recent equivalents, imitations of the pop music of the moment to “get the young people in,” it’s all the same to me.
Well, first of all, it’s not all the same in reality, Mr. Clayton. In my circle of friends and colleagues there’s plenty good room full of studied, able, inspired and brilliant composers crafting works that more or less defy and negate your caricature. Even the author of the interminably pilloried “On eagles’ wings” has the wherewithal to craft 12 part choral motets of exquisite beauty on his latest collection. The local, pony-tailed guitar crooner will be stopped at the door, or the key signature of his recent works. The era of the Birkenstock-clad Conry’s and Haugen’s gave way quite some time ago, and not only to the effusive Catholic contemporary fresh faces of Hart, Booth and Maher. Artisans like Gael Berberick, Janet Sullivan-Whitaker (who like me, studied composition with Dr. LaRocca) and a host of others craft worthy if tactically inspired smaller works that are not unlike the works of conciliar era pioneers Deiss, Proulx, Peloquin, Hughes, Savoy and other folks of merit. For every hymn/tune by Lambilotte or Faber that is consigned the banal dustbin there is a likewise gem by Vaughn Williams, Wesley or Herbert. The same maxim is at work today. But arch-critics don’t want to acknowledge this because it detracts from their premise. And the work of such talented contemporaries stands way above some of the fare that attends papal Mass events in recent decades, much less the Youtube Samba or Gospel or Jazz (Berlin) Mass that infests Catholicworld in the Ethernet.
It is an attempt to appeal to young people that feels to me like an imitation of the foolish parent who tries to hard to be liked by his adolescent children by adopting inappropriate teenage fashions; he inevitably misses the mark, and loses self respect and the respect of the younger generation in the process.
I’ll be brief: what sort of predilection does Clayton have believing that this is the impetus for every composition that neither apes or augments the polyphonic repertoire? No, if I compose a Gloria (as I’ve done in the last week), pleasing the youth or any demographic isn’t even on my radar. I won’t speak for any fellow travelers, but my criteria is pretty simple- does this have obvious integrity as well as credibility?
But my thought when I hear this is that for every person who is enjoying the music in Mass, there are a ninety-nine more who don’t like it,
And I’m happy for you to have that thought. But I fear you, Mr. Clayton, believe your thought is empirically sound to edify your contentions. Again, it ain’t so. END OF PART ONE.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Reviewing Hymnals, One Version

There has been much discussion in various internet forums of late regarding aspects of the publication and efficacy of many hymnals, notably the St. Michael Hymnal and GIA’ Worship (4th edition.) One CMAA Forum thread examined editorial issues involving both Worship and the (outmoded) RitualSong hymnals.advertisement.

I’ve long held some reservations concerning the ratio of
content to value while comparing “products”. I would like to share a revised review of the first edition of the Adoremus hymnal mindful of that ratio.
  In that much of the English-language hymnody of Adoremus  was already found in existing volumes by OCP, GIA and presumably many other  significant hymnal publishers, would its differences (increased Latin-language content, Masses and other service music) in editorial offerings warrant serious consideration of the Adoremus  product?
  For this review I’ll be using the Choir Edition only. I decided to keep informal notes  (using Ben Franklin's old model of Pluses/Minuses) as I went through the book.
  First of all, I have no personal interest vested in this or any other hymnal.
I would approach critical analysis of any catholic hymnal from its
practicality, its artistic and textual merit, its preparation and attention to
detail and, of course, the "3 factors" of appropriate worthiness
outlined in “Music in Catholic Worship,” since revised in SttL. On the plus side:

+ The Order of Mass (pp.12-93) is given a thorough and dignified
presentation with Latin/English facing pages. I particularly appreciate the
detail given to ritual actions. This inclusion puts into the hands of all the
faithful clear descriptions and instructions regarding all aspects of the
rites. Such "up-front" liturgical catecheses is woefully missed in most other
products, hardbound or subscription-based. I also appreciate the direct
correlation of Latin to English that can only benefit my personal
understanding of our ritual language heritage.
+ The overall engraving of the hymnal is satisfactory. A great effort to
make text and music font size uniform for the most part is successful.
+ The Psalm-Tone Mass of Kurt Poterack provides a welcomed option for smaller
congregations without great choral or accompanimental resources. Its motifs
are reminiscent of the recent mass booklet settings by A. Gouzes (GIA.)
+ Portions of C. Shenk's setting, Mass of St. Theresa, demonstrate a careful
balance of melodic motives to textual intent without venturing into "word
painting" or some such other techniques                                                                         + Welcomed "re-inclusions" include: Austria, St. Patrick's Breastplate,
National hymn,
+ The volume of Latin chants, hymns, service music

On the minus side:

- Gregorian neumes used for the responses in the Ordo should prove
manageable for many congregants. However, requiring our choristers/cantors to
navigate the rules of interpretation is a daunting enterprise, not to mention
the herculean implications of teaching the workings of the Porrectus, Quilisma
and markings such as episema to our diverse congregants. Yet, this is the only
notational option provided for the interpretation of the Latin Ordinaries.
  The great care taken to outline the rubrics of the rites in the Order of Mass
is not mirrored anywhere in the pages of the choir edition. It would seem that
the citation of the booklet "Jubilate Deo" and the preface remarks regarding
giving Gregorian chant "pride of place in liturgical services" is then
abrogated by the omission of any user-friendly instructions. Would it have posed too much of an endeavor to bridge the experience gap of most post conciliar musicians by providing a similar facing page model of Gregorian to conventional notation as was given in the Order? I'm aware that modern notation cannot completely accommodate the nuances of chant interpretation. But do the editors want us to take a helpful first step in recovery or not? This caveat reverberated within me when I turned the page and encountered the "relief" of the modern notation of T. Marier's "English Chant Mass.". Does providing such a musical "translation" de-construct the purity of the performance? Help us get  our “feet wet,” and the likelihood we will bring our assemblies with us increases as well.

- Nearly fifty pages of the Order of Mass is given to the Eucharistic
Prayers of the Roman Canon. This factor combined with that of the next item  seems unwieldy and perhaps at the editorial expense of additional hymn or
service music repertoire.

- The redundant duplication of common settings for various Latin/English or
English/English texts: much wasted page space. In many instances, additional
texts could have their corresponding translations printed on the opposite or
following pages as often found in British hymnals.

- Useless inclusion of accompaniments for many chants and strophic hymns.
Unless there is some compelling legal reason to include accompaniments that
are useless in choral applications in the Choir Edition, this decision again
takes significant page space at what expense? There are at least 38 examples
of such titles. Some, such as #307 and #577 use five or six full pages

- There is no statement concerning the key signatures chosen for hymnody.
Again, without consulting the accompaniment I am unaware if recommendations
are given to relieve tessitura constraints in certain hymns such as "Wachet
auf" that could have simply been made prior to publication.

- Apparently the "Sing-Song Syndrome" as described by J. Swain in the
Feb. 1998 issue of “Pastoral Musician” is clearly not confined to post- conciliar
hymns/service music, as evidenced by certain melodic constructs within the
aforementioned "Mass of St. Theresa" and pedestrian tunes such as "Sleep Holy
Babe (337)."

- Curious editorial choices such as the use of quarter notes instead of
eighth notes as the principle rhythmic value for "O filli et filliae(412) and
halves instead of quarters in "Victory” (413). Such choices don't advance an
understanding of phrase and rhythmic movement as noted.

- Though the specific festive texts for hymns such as "Salve Feste Dies" can
be given their specific prominence under certain titles, is it absolutely
necessary to repeat their complete settings in three distinct locations in
order to accommodate their seasonal assignments? In this particular case it
seems to have escaped the editors that the arrangement provided is unsuitable
for choral performance (another accompaniment) and thus should have been
reduced to a melody only version in the subsequent repetitions, or text only?

-Why weren't perfectly good choral (SATB) arrangements
printed instead of the accompaniment versions for hymns such as "Crucifer
(606)?" Also, was no consideration given to the inclusion of descant
arrangements, in that a great preponderance of the English hymnody is of
Anglican origin? This would have been stylistically authentic and artistically
desirable. global

- The signatories of the editorial and executive committees directly state
in the preface (p.8) that the English-language hymns "come from a variety of
traditional sources." They include "translated German hymns," "beloved English
Catholic Hymns,” and "...Catholic hymns  little known in America." I would be interested in hearing from them how this self-description constitutes a "variety." In fact, outside of the obvious Roman sources, the English and German sources and a smattering of about four or five French tunes and a non-Roman, yet Italian tune (Moscow), evidently nothing from the rest of European Catholic hymn traditions (Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Polish, Baltic, Balkan, Scandinavian, Flemish was included. Neither is there to be found source material from non-
European sources, even from the vast body of Spanish Colonial-era
repertoire of native and imported composers in Mexico and other Latino-American  geographies. Does this honestly satisfy the stated goal to contribute to "authentic implementation of the liturgical reforms" and "contribute to this effort by providing an essential treasury of liturgical texts, chant and hymns drawn
from the historic patrimony of the Church for ordinary parish celebrations of
the Mass.  (A personal note: a recent posting seemed to compare this narrow
cultural milieu of Adoremus  to targeting a market audience such as was
presumably done with GIA's Lead Me, Guide Me. Obviously the author of that
post failed to mention that Lead Me, Guide Me is an exemplary effort that
demonstrates the historical diversity that African-American Catholics have
embraced within their "targeted" constituencies. I have often stated
personally that, up until recently, it was the most culturally comprehensive
of all major hymnals.)

In conclusion, I reluctantly conclude that The Adoremus Hymnal  is yet an
unfinished work in progress, and if editorially improved so as to expand
either its "treasury" within its chosen domains or more historically accurate
and inclusive, it will still be best realized as a companion volume next to
more catholic compendiums.