Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Pope Watch - Washington Post

There is much dissent among Catholic musicians over the musical choices for the Masses during Pope Benedict's upcoming American visit. Here is the Washigton Post's blog:

http://blog.washingtonpost.com/pope-watch/2008/03/musical_disharmony_part_ii_1.html

Here is the comment that I just left:

What large group speaks for whom?

I admit that I joined the CMAA late in my musical/liturgical life. It was my mistake. For your information, there is a document on the CMAA website, authored by Msgr. Richard Schuler, which chronicles the reform of the Mass since St. Pope Pius X, with emphasis on implementation in the USA throughout. It is very interesting reading when you get to the Vat. II implementation era! It details the origins of NPM, giving names, places, and dates.

Having pointed you to that document, I must now admit that I attended, with much joy and commitment, the NPM Convention in Chicago back in 1979. Although it was a great "musical" experience, singing under both Alexander Peloquin and Joseph Gelineau, I now consider that a mistake equal to that of waiting so long to join CMAA. I would never, ever consider attending a NPM convention again. I do not support any of that groups views, not do they support a singal one of mine.

My boss has tickets to the President's greeting the Pope on the White House lawn. He is taking his teenage daughter with him. I'm sure it will be a wonderful experience. I would not waste the time or train ticket to sit in a crowded not-church for a Mass with this sort of non-liturgical music. I will probably listen to Sirius radio for most of the events just to hear what is going on. So far, I am embarrassed to be considered a Catholic musician along side the people putting on these ultra-contemporary Liturgies.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Accompanied Gregorian Chant

Yes, I am biased for accompanied chant.

It is what I grew up with – in the Rev. Carlo Rosinni vein. His is by far NOT the worst an organist can stumble onto. I have heard accompanied chant in many places. Much of it really is quite distracting, and even harsh sounding.

I have yet to meet Jeff Ostrowski, but we have been in touch for some years now. He provided me with a copy of “Nova Organi Harmonia”. (http://jeff.ostrowski.cc/productions/nova/) It is a truly remarkable book, and is to a great extent mirrored in his “Chabanel Psalms” accompaniment. (http://chabanelpsalms.org/) While I occasionally use some of the Rosinni accompaniments, as well as a few of the LaPierre, the NOH has become my staple for accompaniment. My continuing to comment that it is strictly “modal” in its harmonic approach simply cannot present to you the beauty that it creates. In my ear it sounds like angel choirs singing along with me. Other historic examples of organ accompaniments have shown up on the internet recently, and I have down-loaded them to try them out. Frankly, the Rossini versions sound better in many cases. But they are still no match for the NOH.

The history of Gregorian chant, and our use of it, seems to me to be akin to the Jesuits – they’re in, they’re out, they make changes, they get away with it, and it all becomes history. It had fallen into almost complete disuse by the time St. Pope Pius X began moving to reform the Liturgy. It was at that point that most of the accompaniments we are speaking of began. I believe that these recent generations of organist/composers did their honest best to enhance the art form, especially for the use in parishes without experienced scholas. And further, that the NOH was the ultimate, the pinnacle of these generations’ work. It is at least in this aspect that it deserves the title of “tradition” (yes, with a small ‘t’).

What was the pipe organ used for when it became the instrument of the western Church? It was centuries before Buxtehude, Bach, Mozart, etc. The Office was only celebrated in Cathedrals and Monasteries – and that was the only place for hymnody. The Mass had only Propers and Ordinaries, most of which had already been established melodically for centuries. It is only logical to assume that it was used to aid the singing of whatever was being sung – almost assuredly Gregorian chant. What did they do, and how did they do it. And why don’t we know anything about it.

Here is my logical, non-academic suggestion: Any organist given the task of accompanying chant already knew the chant in depth. In the earliest of times, the “grand staff” was still experimental, if it existed at all. I’m convinced that the organist improvised whatever was needed, given the chant, the voices, and the building. Then why did he not write it down?

I think the question is why should he have? He knew what he had done. It would take hours to write it out. And what would he do with it? He could certainly do it again, even making changes from the first time. He had no need of a printed copy. And there were no printing presses. And all of his fellow organists were doing the same thing, in the their own ways. And they weren’t writing anything down either! Nor were they looking around for hand-written copies from other organists.

Now, I’m not saying that Gregorian chant was accompanied from the beginning. It wasn’t even “Gregorian” from the beginning! All I’m suggesting is that it IS a tradition, going back earlier that the 1950s, and even earlier than the 1850s. And that it is NOT an abuse, either of the music or of the Liturgy. As my mother told me when I first started learning to play an instrument: Music is not just the black ink on the white paper. It’s what we make of it when performing it.

It is our job to do the best we can to make beautiful music to the glory of God, and to the listeners to take away from their experience of worship whatever they are capable of or interesting in taking from it.

One last argument!

Much of our ‘modern’ Liturgy, we have been told, is from the earliest forms of the Liturgy. Modern ‘liturgists’ have been beating us over the head with that argument for 40 years. Everything done long before the Council of Trent was to be adopted (and adapted), and everything since that time was to be shunned. The whole of Liturgy and music has been evolving all along, as has our culture and civilization. Most of us here in this area of the blogosphere think/feel that the experimental Liturgies post Vat. II are, at least partly, failures. Are we to let some people now rule that true Gregorian chant must reflect only the earliest possible performance practices, and shun any and all development over the last 1,000 years? Is that what Jubilæum 2000 was all about?

Christus heri! Christus hodie! Christus semper!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Eighth "O Antiphon"


While we don't know the exact origins of the "O Antiphons", they do seem to be from the very earliest centuries of the Church. Benedictine monks arranged them in the order we now use - Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia - which creates the Latin word ERO CRAS, "Tomorrow, I will come".

But there is a later custom, from medieval England, which adds an eigths "O Antiphon" for Christmas Eve itself - "O Virgo virginum". By adding this verse to the above order we now have VERO CRAS, "Truly, tomorrow". Here is the text:

O Virgo virginum, quomodo fiet istud?
Quia nec primam similem visa es nec habere sequentem.
Filiae Jerusalem, quid me admiramini?
Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis.


O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be?
For neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall there be after.
Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me?
The thing which ye behold is a divine mystery.


Having my deep interest in hymnody, I felt the need for this verse being a part of the familiar "Veni, Veni, Emmanuel", and have added this eighth verse to that hymn:

O Virgin blest, how shall this be?
For none before or after thee
Are blest this Myst'ry to behold:
The coming of the Lord foretold.


I do have files available to anyone interested - in TIF format for inserting the above into a printed program and the organ accompaniment in PDF format. If you would like them sent, be sure to include your email address.




Saturday, April 28, 2007

Making Bagpipes in Charleston

Now, for something completely different!

Yes, different from building pipe organs, and even more different from organ playing and bell ringing in church. I have been working part-time with Roddy MacLellan in Summerville, SC. We recently finished two sets of bagpipes in African Blackwood, sometimes called Grenadilla. One set had polished aluminum fittings:











The blackwood is oiled with bore oil throughout on the inside (similar to the bore oil that other woodwind instrumentalists use). The external finish is with Teak Oil and polished with multiple waxings.

The other set had engraved Sterling Silver fittings, and looks really "high class". Roddy has a number of different designs for the engraving, and can custom design anything the piper wants!












We're working on a number of Cocobolo sets right now, each with a slightly different set of fittings.

To see more, come to the MacLellan Bagpipe website:
http://www.highland-pipemaker.com/

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Annunciation - modern iconography?


Here is a contemporary depiction of The Annunciation by John Collier:


(from http://www.hillstream.com/annunciation.html )

"This Annunciation is set in suburbia, but the symbolism is quite traditional. Mary is reading from Isaiah about the Virgin who conceives and bears a son. The lily represents her purity, and she is welcoming St. Gabriel."

While the potted lily is quite obvious (and very medieval), also note the dove perched on the triangular corner of the neighbor's roof!

Is this good use of symbols for modern iconography? Or does use of the third dimension rule this out?

Monday, April 09, 2007

Eastertide in Charleston


A blessed Eastertide to everyone!


This Easter Week is very special. The “Victimæ Paschali Laudes” Sequence is either recited of chanted every day. It is a wonderful piece of music, especially with the organ accompaniment from “Nova Organi Harmonia” which I have put into Finale with both the English and Latin texts.

My involvement in the Triduum this year was limited to helping ring the bells (change ringing) at the Gloria for both Maundy Thursday and Holy Saturday at the Great Vigil, and leading the verses of the “Stabat Mater” a capella at the Stations of the Cross Good Friday evening.

Then came Easter Sunday – a long, wonderful day of church music! The following has been my schedule for three years now.

It began downtown at St. Michael’s Church (Episcopal – the oldest church building in Charleston) helping ring for the pre-dawn Vigil Service.

Then I stopped at a 24-hour restaurant for some breakfast – bacon, eggs & grits – sitting in a booth where I could see the sunrise.

I arrived early for the 8:00 a.m. Mass. There were people already finding a seat at 7:30, and a fairly full room by the time Mass began. Many of the 9:30 regulars were at this Mass. I had a Cantor for both this Mass and the next.

We rang the bells over in the church between the first two Masses, stopping at 10 minutes till so I could get back across the street. That was a feat in itself, as the crowd was very thick!

The 9:30 Mass started just a few minutes late so that all could be seated. The Cantor and I picked a second Communion Hymn just after the Offertory hymn was finished – the room was SRO! Everything went very well musically. I found out from the ushers after Mass that we had over 800 people!

The 11:30 Mass was SRO again, but much more reasonable. I repositioned the microphone so that I could both sing and play the organ. Again, everything went very well. The music for these English Masses was a combination of English and Latin, including the Gloria from Missa VIII – de Angelis.

At 10 minutes before the 5:30 Traditional Latin Mass, I rang down the change ringing bells which had been left in the ‘up’ position since the Vigil on Saturday. Then I played 5 minutes of organ preludes followed by chanting the Easter Introit, again with organ accompaniment from “Nova Organi Harmonia”. Today’s Mass was a Low Mass with the congregation joining in on the hymns. The Offertory hymn was the Sequence we had just heard recited. I also chanted the Communion Antiphon before introducing the hymn. I have been chanting the Introits as prelude music and the Communion Antiphons every Sunday since Septuagesima.

Monday, April 02, 2007

A Palm Sunday meditation


Our Pastor's sermon this Palm Sunday was very short. He mentioned so many of the key figures in the Scriptures leading up to the Crucifixion and Resurrection: St. Peter, Judas, the Blessed Virgin, the "good thief", etc., that each of us might in some way identify with.

But he also mentioned the smaller players: the people who welcomed Jesus with a triumphal procession, the owner of the donkey who allowed the disciples to take his beast of burden, and even that poor beast, who was remembered in the following poem:

THE DONKEY
by G.K. Chesterton

When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born;

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil's walking parody
On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me:
I am dumb, I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

So begins Holy Week.
Have a blessed one, and a glorious Easter!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

A short study in a chanted Memorial Acclamation.

During my years at Our Lady of Walsingham Anglican Use Parish in Houston, we used the following Memorial Acclamation:







My predecessor had used it, and I inherited it. I still don’t know its origins. It is quite simple for the people to sing. I also noticed its construction:
1) “Christ has died” – the past tense, and the melody goes down one note and then returns.
2) “Christ is risen” – the present tense, and the melody rises even higher than it lowered previously, and then returns to the reciting note.
3) “Christ will come again” – the future tense, and melody rises still higher, and returns yet again to the reciting note by way of one note lowered.
It seems like a melody that is at once anchored and yet transcends.

Some years after taking the position there, I noticed a much closer translation to the Latin. It was the Memorial Acclamation in one of the alternative Great Thanksgiving Prayers in the new Book of Common Prayer. It went thusly: “We remember his death. We proclaim his resurrection. We await his coming in glory.” I also noticed the choice of the third person rather than the second, and considered that it might show more clearly the Episcopalian belief in the Real Presence. I put my own variation to this text to the same melody, but never used it. I’m not even sure that we could have, since this particular text is NOT included in the Book of Divine Worship. But here it is:











Now, what if the original Latin text were used with this melody? See what you think:



Greetings

Greetings from Charleston, South Carolina.

I've been leaving comments on other people's blogs for a while now, and I decided that it's time to have one myself. So, I'm new at this. We'll just see how it works.

I am into:

* Roman Catholic Church music - I'm an organist/cantor, and I do chant some Gregorian from the Graduale Romaun with organ accompaniment from Nova Organi Harmonia.

*Organ building - I've been building organs for over 30 years. Currently I am involved in building organs with both state-of-the-art digital stops AND the highest quality pipes. The living, breathing pipe-work is essential for congregational singing, and no church should be without it. But much of the special color of the organ can be beautifully accomplished digitally. This combination makes it possible for small to medium sized parishes to afford an organ. This will be imperative for the success of the "reform of the reform".

* Change ringing - I've been ringing since 1978. There are more change ringing bell towers in Charleston than in any other city in North America. One tower is a RC parish, the others are (surprise!) Episcopalian. I ring at them all whenever I can.

* Bagpipes - Although I'm not a performer, my eldest son is. He and I perform bagpipes & organ together occasioinally. I am involved with running piping competitions at The Citadel (indoors) early in the year and the Highland Games in late September.

I think that posts on any of these topics will be interesting.