Monday, June 05, 2017

Duomo di Milano

I made it to the 1100 Sung Mass of Pentecost at the Duomo. All of us had to be wanded by security and have contents of bags checked. It was not a problem, and didn't take a lot of time, but I think it is sad that we have come to this. I also hope that we never do come to that in the USA.

The Diocese of Milan is the only region that uses the Ambrosian Rite for their Liturgies. Almost everything is slightly different from the regular Roman Rite that most of us Americans are used to. And they do have both a current version of the Rite and the historic version. Both use a set of chants that are different from Gregorian Chant. Also, the order in which things happen is different. We will be concentrating on both forms of the Amtorsian Rite during the Sacra Liturgia Milano Conference, which begins tomorrow morning (Tuesday, June 6th).

I had planned to take the tour of the Duomo that included the terraces on the rooftop. But those tours are not offered every day. And the Sunday tours are limited to families with children. If I do get to take the tour, it will probably be Friday, between the last speaker at the Conference and the beginning of the final Liturgy which will be at the Duomo. Meanwhile, here are photos that I've taken so far.

The front looks very "busy",
but on closer look,
there are statues.

Every flat surface.

And every corner.

And at the top of each
and every spire.

Many of the stained glass windows
have stone tracery midway,
with more stained glass above.

West Front and Bronze Doors

I'll see about taking more photos on the inside later in the week. I didn't want to take any photos during Mass. It was enough to take in the differences between the Rites. Much more on that later.

Some General Thoughts on Milan

This being my first venture to a non-English speaking country, I find it quite enjoyable. I am getting more comfortable with using some Italian phrases and replies, and signage is not a problem.

The architecture is a mix of modern and various historic eras, as I expected. And there is a flavor of "Italian" to it all. There is a lot of color. The area where I'm staying has a lot of apartment buildings, most of which have hanging gardens. I've heard a song bird that I don't recognize, but it's so hard to find it among the thick green of the leaves!

The Metro is easy to use, and everything is clearly marked. Seeing the names of the stops and hearing them announced on the speaker is helping me get used to the Italian language. I do hope to be more comfortable by the end of the week!

I have taken the Metro to the San Amborsio stop so I know where I am going tomorrow for the Conference.

I found an ATM of the Italian bank that is part of the network of ATMs where I can use my BofA debit cards without extra charges. I don't like using the debit card for every single transaction. I like to carry at least some cash.

I found a laundromat right around the corner from the nearest Metro station to my lodgings. I plan to take a load to them Thursday morning, and either pick them up that evening, or Friday morning before heading to the Conference.

My flight from Milan to London will leave from Milan Linate Airport. It is very close to downtown Milan, much like London City Airport is to the City Centre of London. Unfortunately, the Metro does not go all the way there. I would have to change trains a couple of times, and still be a quarter-mile from the terminal. I think I will use a taxi from my lodgings here.

P.S. Some of you may have read a FaceBook post/comment on the presence of armed police and military personnel here in Milan. I believe it is unfortunate that it has to be that way, but it did not detract from my visit in any way. Whatever the overall cause of it here, or possibility of it being elsewhere here in Europe, I do pray that we can avoid this in the USA.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Mozart's "Don Giovanni" at La Scala

Not knowing whether or not this would be my only trip to Milano, I had decided months ago that I needed to see an opera at La Scala.

Teatro alla Scala
(taken the next day)

It turns out the "Don Giovanni" was the one being presented at the time of my trip, so I purchased a ticket a few months ago. Actually, at that time, there were on 30 seats left for this Saturday evening performance! This was also why my first order of business was a nap in the afternoon.


If you are a lover of any music or stage production, you really cannot pass up going to the opera in style! La Scala is not built like most concert houses in the USA, even those considered to be for opera. There are no balconies. There is seating on the orchestra floor, and then there are six layers of boxes - from one side of the stage around to the other! Each box has five or six seats, in three rows. The front two are regular chairs, upholstered in red satin. The next two seats do not have backs, but are about 6" taller. The last seats don't have backs either, and are another 6" taller, almost like a bar-stool, but not quite. There is red satin wall covering including a padded rail on both sides for one to lean on.

 View from the front of my box.

 My hat on my seat.

Me in one of the front seats.

La Scala puts on modern staging of opera these days. I found it wonderful and fascinating! They treated the entire theater as part of the production. The stage props, though simple an not quite minimalist, often acted as an extension of the house all the way to the back of the stage. At times, singers would enter from the foyer via the center aisle, or sing a trio at the front of the orchestra seating, right behind the conductor's head. During the masquerade ball scene, a small contingent of the orchestra played from the far back of the stage, and a violin and bass from near the front of the stage. The interaction of the singers with the audience was fun!

This inclusion of the audience began with the first notes of the Overture. With the house lights low and the curtain bright, Don Giovanni wander onto the stage, sort of in a stupor, and grabbed the curtain, pulling it to a pile on the stage floor! It revealed a huge mylar mirror of the hall, and the house light came back on. It was thrilling from the very first moments!

At the intermission, I decided not to partake of the "adult beverages", but did venture out into the upper foyer and onto the balcony with many others for some fresh air and socializing.

The upstairs foyer.

The balcony.

The Piazza della Scalla
with the monument to Leonardo da Vinci.
You can see the central spire of the Duomo in the distance.

A telephoto of the spire.

The production was very modern, especially the costumes - evening dress for men, except for the common men who wore black work clothes. I don't know if stage hands took non singing part, or if the opera chorus was trained to move the sets. It looked like it could be either. The ladies were often scantily clad (probably a relief for singing!) If the entire production had been recorded on film, it would have a "R" rating - it was very risque, and even had a moment of nudity. The whole thing was surprising and breathtaking!

The curtain call.

I was a good boy, and only took photos before the performance began, and then this one. There were others taking photos, even a few movie shots from the privacy of the boxes.

The down-side of this fantastic evening was the timing. The opera began right at 2000, but didn't finish till 2330. The Oasi San Francesco is a Catholic retreat house, and has a very strict Midnight curfew - which I did NOT make! I had to return to the Duomo Piazza and find a taxi driver who knew an inexpensive hotel for one night. I got to bed at about 0200!

I arose at 0830, got dressed, and returned to the Oasi, and got ready to go to Mass at the Duomo.

And So Another Adventure Begins

This is why I love to travel - it is always an adventure!

The JetBlue flight from Charleston to JFK was uneventful, even with a crying one-year old with the couple sharing the starboard seats. Evidently, TSA has made me a "pre-check" traveler, even without me asking or me applying or paying a fee!

I had over two hours lay-over in NYC, so I had some dinner at Tigin Irish Pub while I waited. (I knew there would be two meals on the overseas flight, but neither what nor when, and I really hadn't eaten anything in Charleston all day!)

Joshua has been talking about flying in a 747, before they take them out of service. There was one parked about 800' from our gate, but the Emirates plane at our gate was an A380-800!

 Two jet-ways: one for First Class (upper deck)
the other for the rest of us!

 From my seat forward.
The flight attendants uniforms were quite striking -
as were some of the flight attendants!
They did remove their head-covers and scarfs during the flight.

 From my seat aft.

 Stairs to the flight deck (L) and forward lavatories (R).

 Stairway to First Class, with bar at the top.

One of the flight attendants offered to take my photo on the plane
as we were all getting off in Milan.
He then suggested taking a look at First Class,
and had me sit in one of the seats!

We flew into Milano Malpensa Airport. It's about 25 miles north of the city. I took a shuttle bus to the main rail station, and then a taxi to Oasi San Francesco -  on the other side of the city. After I unpacked, I took a short nap in preparation for the evening!

Friday, June 02, 2017

Summer Trip Update

This update was just posted on the Sacra Liturgia Milano FaceBook page:

We are pleased to announce further details of the liturgical celebrations at Sacra Liturgia Milan and of two other liturgies to which conference delegates have been invited.
On Tuesday, June 6th, the traditional Ambrosian rite community in Milan will host the conference delegates at 11.30 at the Church of Santa Maria della Consolazione (Largo Cairoli, Metro 1: Cairoli) for a Mass in the Ambrosian rite (usus antiquior), of the Tuesday of Octave of Pentecost. Bishop Dominique Rey, Bishop of Fréjus-Toulon (France) and President of Sacra Liturgia, His Eminence Robert Cardinal Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and Archbishop Alberto Sanguinetti Montero, Archbishop of Canelones (Uruguay), will present at the Mass.
On the same day, His Eminence will assist pontifically at the Solemn Vespers for the opening of the conference in the Ambrosian rite (usus antiquior) at 4:00 pm in the Basilica of Saint Ambrose, celebrated by Msgr. Claudio Magnoli, Canon of the Metropolitan Cathedral and consultant to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
On Wednesday, June 7, at 6:30 pm at the Church of S. Alessandro in Zebedia, Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke will assist pontifically at the Solemn Mass in the Ambrosian rite (usus antiquior) celebrated by Msgr Luigi Manganini, Archpriest Emeritus of the Metropolitan Chapter. Cardinal Sarah will also be present at the Mass.
On Thursday June 8 at 7:30 pm at the Basilica of St. Ambrose, Bishop Erminio De Scalzi, Abbot and Parish Priest, will celebrate a pontifical votive Mass of the Saints, whose relics are preserved in the Ambrosian Basilica (usus recentior).
On Friday, June 9 at 8 am, conference delegates are invited by a group of students to the Holy Mass in the Roman rite (usus antiquior) celebrated at the Chapel of St. Francis of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart.
The convention will close with Solemn Vespers in the Ambrosian rite (usus recentior), Te Deum, Benediction and a statio at the altar of Blessed Ildefonso Schuster, celebrated at the Metropolitan Cathedral at 4 pm by Msgr Gianantonio Borgonovo, Archpriest of the Metropolitan Chapter.
Amongst the prelates present at the conference liturgies will be Bishop. Dominique Rey, bishop Fréjus-Toulon (Francia) e Archbishop Maria Sanguinetti Montero, Bishop of Canelones (Uruguay).
The liturgical celebrations are open to the public, however only registered conference delegates can be guaranteed a copy of the booklets prepared for the conference liturgies.
For further information and registration see:

It is Friday morning, 2 June, and I have packed my checked baggage. I will go into the office for a while, then come home and finish packing my carry-on, including this computer. My next posts will be from Milan.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Summer 2017 Trip

My plans are being finalized now. My airline tickets are purchased; my room for the first week is reserved; and my registration for Sacra Ligturgia Milano is completed and paid for.

I will be leaving Charleston Friday, 2 June, and arriving in Milan, Italy Saturday morning, 3 June. That will give me a few days to see the sights and prepare for the Conference, which is 6 - 9 June.

I also have a seat at Teatro alla Scala for the Saturday, 3 June, performance of Mozart's "Don Giovanni":

I think this is the box I will be seated in:

And this will be the view from the box:

After the conference, I'll fly up to London for a few days, then go by train to Manchester (Broadbottom) to visit my friends, the Wenner's, possibly stopping in Oxford. I'll be returning to Charleston 20 June.

I will be blogging as often as I can, just like last year. Stay tuned!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Sharing an article on the Anglican Ordinariate

The Catholic Herald (UK) has a very nice article by Stephen Bullivant about taking his family to their first Anglican Ordinariate Mass. He doesn't mention which Ordinariate Parish they attended, but there are many in the UK! The online article includes a stock photo of Msgr. Keith Newton celebrating Mass.

I have plans to post a much longer article of my own regarding the Anglican Ordinariate, as well as its predecessor in the US, the Anglican Use (formally the "Pastoral Provision") which still exists in the US, even with the newer US Anglican Ordinariate.

Keep watching here for my article, but take some time reading the above articles and links.


Saturday, October 29, 2016

In Memoriam: Grigg Fountain

Grigg Thompson Fountain (1918 - 2016)
Organ Professor and Chapel Choir Director at Northwestern University 1961-1986

As I begin to compose the post, many of Grigg's former students are gathering at Northwestern University for the annual Hymnfest at Alice Millar Chapel, where most of us got to know him and be inspired by him. This year it is in his honor, and a I very much regret not being able to join in. Instead I offer this post to his remembrance, and a gift to anyone interested.

First Meeting

My high school band director suggested that I should attend a summer music camp the summer after my junior year. He showed me a number of flyers, mostly within Illinois. (I lived in Cahokia, just south of E. St. Louis where my Catholic High School was located.) I chose Northwestern University's three-week program. Yes, I was a '68 Cherub, and one of only two that took organ lessons. I also played clarinet in the Concert Band and sang in the Choir. We were also given some chances for solo and ensemble performance, and Grigg helped me refine a piece that I had already play at church for a wedding, the "Invocation" from an Organ Mass by Theodore Dubois. I performed it one evening on the wonderful Cassavant in Lutkin Hall, one of my fondest memories. I played it again for Grigg and Dr. Richard Enright. They considered it my audition to enter the school and the organ department upon graduation in '69.

As an aside, this also meant that I played clarinet under John Paynter, one of the best band directors of the entire 20th century; the program was run that summer by Fred Hemke; our Choir director was Margaret Hillis; and the guest conductor of the Orchestra was Karl Husa. This summer may have been the beginning of my being "in the right place at the right time" habit!

Student at Northwestern University

To be totally honest, I was sent home after NSHMI with a task of taking formal piano lessons during my HS senior year, and coming back in the spring for a piano audition to get into NU for the organ program. I did accomplish this, but since my piano background was so limited, I was required to take piano lessons along with my organ lessons, and these along with my clarinet (my minor) lessons. I played in the Marching  Band for two seasons as well as singing in Chapel Choir. Both were inspiring and memorable, but then my chosen career was to play the organ in Catholic churches, so that was much more important. Grigg mostly had graduate students, but took me on since we had worked the previous summer. Being around those students was also a blessing, and possibly an awakening. I remember a party at the Fountain house my freshman year - a beautiful modern house of mahogany!

Unfortunately, college didn't seem to agree with me, and I dropped out at Christmas time of my sophomore year. My lack of experience didn't help me, but the real problem was my left elbow. I had broken my left arm at about 5 years of age, just above the elbow, damaging the nerves to the growth center of the humerus bone. The ergonomics of my left arm, wrist, and hand made performance of any real repertoire very difficult. Oh well, I was really more interested in hymns and chant anyway.

But my time with Grigg was quite formational with me.

After Leaving NU

I spent a year back in southern Illinois working various jobs and getting my first car. Then I decided that I needed something fore solid for my life. I had spent some hours working with Kurt Roderer while at NU, and I really like working on  pipe organs. I called him, and he was agreeable to hire me as an apprentice. So, not much more than a year later, I was back on the NU campus. There were still former classmates finishing up there bachelors degree, as well as various graduate music students. The Roderer shop was in the Millar Chapel basement at that time. The organ shop would often come upstairs for lunch with Grigg and whoever else was around at lunchtime. This was about the time when Kurt Hansen came back to NU. It was an exciting time, especially since I felt more like I was in my element working on organs rather than playing them. This also that I often tuned the Skinner organ on Fridays for the weekend. Grigg would leave a list of problems so that we didn't have to "bang on pipes" unnecessarily. Helen also had a position at a suburban Episcopal church, and I would regularly tune the Hinners tracker there. Grigg and Helen also purchased an Estey reed organ - two  manual and pedal - and I performed some major work on it also. Even though Grigg wasn't really teaching me those years, he was still an influence, as were many fellow musicians at NU.

I had moved to Houston, Texas, and gotten married when Grigg retired. We drove up for the weekend, and I sang in the Chapel Alumnae Choir that evening. It was wonderful - singing favorite pieces from the Chapel repertoire. I also got to see John Paynter and Fred Hemke again. I may be one of few musicians who got so much out of the NU Music School without ever attaining a degree!

After Grigg's Retirement

A few years later, Visser-Rowland Associates built an organ for Fountain of Life Luther Church in Sun City, AZ. I had to make a tuning/servicing visit one week. Rather than fly immediately back to Houston, I flew to Albuquerque to visit Grigg and Helen in their retirement home. We had a very nice visit, and  in the morning we saw a snow storm coming in over the mountains to the north. There was an inch on the ground by the time Grigg took me to the airport. It was an interesting trip, since upon my arrival in Phoenix a few days earlier they had just had a sudden thunderstorm, and all the viaducts were full, and water rolling across the roads as I made my way over to Sun City.

Some time after than visit, Grigg and Helen were on a birding holiday in south Texas. Grigg had received a call from Duke University, asking him help out during an interim period. They interrupted their trip to fly there, leaving their Winnebago in our driveway. We had a nice visit on that occasion. I was quite frustrated with pipe organ building, and Grigg suggested that I might want to transcribe music professionally - something that I had been dabbling in since high school. It was a very good idea. After they left, I contacted the librarian of the Houston Symphony Orchestra who loaned me a comprehensive book on the subject. I understood it all. It all made sense, musically and visually. My problem was, again, my left arm. Not so much that it wouldn't work, but the first chapters in the book were about how to care for and hold a calligraphy pen. All the photos showed the pen in peoples' right hands! Oops! So that's why there are fat and thin sides of notes. Mine would all look backwards because I'm left handed! Well, I returned the book with a comment that I would wait till someone invented a computer program for music composition! (More on that and my gift to y'all below!)

You all know that Grigg was born in South Carolina, which is where I live now. I am the Associate Musician at Stella Maris Catholic Church on Sullivan's Island, at the mouth of Charleston Harbor. Since moving here in 2003, I chatted with Grigg a few times, the last being only a few months before he went to his well-deserved reward. Those conversations were also blessings!

"Ave Maria" by Charles Gounod
with J.S. Bach's Famous Accompaniment

Many years ago I came upon an octavo copy of the Bach/Gounod "Ave Maria" for Soprano Solo, SATB Chorus, Piano or Harp, and Organ. I think I paid a dime for it. I knew it could be stunning - with some changes. It was not the actual prayer, but the Sir Walter Scott "Lady of the Lake" poem. As a Catholic musician, I really needed it with the Latin text. It was also in the key of F major, giving both soprano parts a high C to sing. I'm sure none none of you need more fingers than on one hand the Catholic choirs that can boast such a soprano!

Here at Stella Maris, we have a wonderful tradition of performing the Gabriel Fauré "Requiem" in its original form - the actual music of the Latin Mass, i.e. the Traditional Latin Mass, or EF Mass. That is what it was composed for, not concert or stage performances, and we usually have as many instrumentalists as can fit in our choir loft. The performance does, however, leave a few parts of the Latin Mass without music, notably the rest of the distribution of Holy Communion. So we find other repertoire to perform. Last year it was time for my re-arrangement of the classic "Ave Maria"!

This piece is quite flexible. I have put it all into Finale, the most popular music composing program. The original Bach had a few adjustments made by the original arranger from 1913, which I returned to Bach's original. The rhythms had to be adjusted for the Latin text. I lowered it to D major so our sopranos only needed to hit a high A. I added string parts. Here is what I have available at this point:

Soprano Solo with SATB Chorus
Bach's original for Harp or Keyboard
String parts based on the organ accompaniment
String parts colla parte of the Chorus

I'm including in this post an audio recording from that Requiem High Mass using the strings to support the choral parts (except for the contrabass taking the organ pedal part), Harp playing the Bach, and the organ accompaniment.


Without a harp (or piano, if you must!), the strings can play the organ parts and the organ play the Bach. The whole thing is quite flexible!

I have decided to dedicate my work re-arranging this piece to Grigg. And I offer it to any of you who would like to use it, in any configuration, and remember Grigg at the same time. Just contact me with your specific key signature and instrumentation needs.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

"Ave Maria" by Vavilov in the style of Caccini (updated)

I recently posted a movie review of "The Von Trapp Family: A life of Music". As I stated, there was none of musical pieces from "The Sound of Music", rather music that the family typically performed at the time.

One piece is the "Ave Maria" by Vladimir Vavilov, but commonly attributed to Giulio Caccini. It is performed in the movie to particular infuriate the Austrian Nazi Party members who warned the Captain not to perform there. There are a number of arrangements of the piece. Here are just a few:
(very interesting!)

As you can hear, this is a very versatile piece! You might also notice that it only repeats "Ave Maria" without going into the rest of the prayer.

I have a simple arrangement by John Ross that we used the first Sunday in October with our cantor, Lara Brooksbank. I've taken it to Finale, made only a few minor adjustments to the accompaniment, and added the entire "Ave Maria" text. I've shared this with John, and he likes the result.

Here are JPG files in the key of E minor:

And here are JPG files in D minor, that might be easier for some cantors:



The above files have been modified since I put them up here originally.

If these JPG files don't work well enough for you (they're shown here very small, but are 600 DPI on letter size paper), let me know in a comment, or contact me on FaceBook. I have them in PDF as well. Or, if you need a different key, let me know.

And here is the SATB version in G minor:

I can still add some string parts. I don't when I will get to it, though. I will record the solo version with one of our cantors. Here is a recording with me playing the organ at the Parish Hall Mass with Lara Brooksbank singing: