Sunday, December 30, 2007

Christmas: whew, it’s over (or, at least, “started”)...

It was a rough ride, but the general opinion seems to be that Christmas was a musical success in my parish.

First, the general positives:
1. The adult choir did well with their music overall. They’ve sounded better, even much better, but what they did at midnight Mass was generally good.

2. The kids’ musical, Shephard “The Birds of Bethlehem”, went very well. Though I have misgivings about doing it in the church again, hopefully this can be the start of a great tradition with our young singers. More and more, the little buggers grow on me...

Specific choral comments:
1) Dawson “Mary Had a Baby”
Maybe it’s because it was midnight, a very unusual time for the choir to sing. Maybe it’s because two of our older singers appear to have learned this song in a minor key. Maybe it’s just not as easy of a piece as, dash-naggit, it sure does look. But this was not a good piece for me to give our parish’s choir this year. We got through it, but it was probably the worst the choir has sounded all year, with a few very, very out-of-tune moments (cf. the above comment about two members’ having learned this in a minor key!). Thankfully, only a couple days earlier they sang the Anerio “Ave maris stella” quite well.

2) Biery “O Holy Night”
Lock-and-load. Once we learned the 2nd part of the verse and the refrain, this one came together well.

3) my “Personent hodie”
The men could have sounded “tougher” in the beginning, but otherwise, this one came off very well - which is reassuring since it’s mostly unison. :)

4) Proulx “Gloria for Christmastime”
Last-in, first-out, I guess: a few of the corrections we made to this one at the last choir rehearsal were “forgotten” in the heat of battle. Nonetheless, it came off well.

5) Halsey “Verbum caro”
This piece was a humbling experience for me, as it showed me a few conducting details that I need to tidy up. There were a few flubs while singing it, but I do believe they were my fault.

I did videotape both the musical and the midnight Mass. It’s humbling to watch myself conduct - even after how many years of conducting and three music degrees, I still see problems with my conducting that I fear would annoy me were I singing for myself. Hopefully I’m just being my own worst critic! :)

Anyway, we now finish up Christmas season with:
Epiphany: Pearson “Falan-Tidings (Out of the Orient Crystal Skies”
Baptism of the Lord: Shephard “Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day”

...and, for Ordinary Time:
Barnard “If God is Building When We Build” (a replay from the fall)
Charles Wood Jubilate in A-flat (awesome gem from CPDL!)
Friedell “Draw Us In the Spirit’s Tether”

Lenten choral plans are almost finished - will post soon.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

of music education

Despite that school teaching and I mutually agreed we weren’t a good fit, since graduating with an undergrad music ed degree I have maintained an interest in music education - admittedly, sometimes only because I find myself so critical of how it is done.

Anyway, a Christmas gift I got this year was the first volume of Choksy’s “The Kodály Method”. Apparently this was the modern genesis of the idea that music is integral to education.

I have at times thought this idea to be overly “romanticizing” music’s importance. After all, does being able to clap rhythms get any non-musicians a job? If you were stranded on a desert island and had to survive, would music be of much assistance there?

But the more I have thought about it, the more I arrive at ideas like, “if I were stranded on a desert island, there is very little that I ever learned in school that would help me to survive.” Knowing multiplication tables does not provide food or shelter any more than singing a scale in tune does!

I guess the question really is, “what is the purpose of school education?” In the sense that school education is designed to inculturate children, then music education certainly is integral to a curriculum, as are PE and all those other “easy” classes that so many found to be a warm refuge from the oppressiveness of, say, math and literature.

I think Spe salvi hit on a topic that ought to be discussed far beyond the subject of religion: what, precisely, constitutes this idea of “progress”? I love technology, and if it helps us to live longer and/or to mitigate physical pain or to communicate more easily, then great, but why are those things termed “progress”?

Progress toward what?

As to music education, I have “re-become” a convert to the idea of its integrality in a school curriculum, insofar as music is part of our culture, and we owe it to future generations to teach it to them.

update on the pop wedding song...

Well, the bride balked at my insistence (thankfully, which the pastor supported) that the aunt whom the bride wanted to sing the 50s-or-whenever lubby-dubby pop song sing for me before we agree to have her sing at the wedding.

I’ve been burned once, and that was plenty for me, by “guest” singers who didn’t know what they were doing. Thankfully, a policy was already in place of approving outside musicians for weddings.

Anyway, the aunt lives out of town and so couldn’t sing for me beforehand - not that the bride would “subject” her to that anyway.

This is a couple that is opting not to have a Mass because they have an evening wedding and they want to get to the reception earlier. (!!) I hate to be becoming so cynical, but I’ll bet these are people who’ll rarely darken the doorstep of a church after their nuptials anyway. Chreasters, maybe, or PACE (Palm Sunday, Ash Wednesday, Christmas, Easter) Catholics. How else could they not think it inappropriate to sing “Oh-I-love-you-my-darling-blah-blah” in church???

Thursday, December 20, 2007

grr....cheesy pop wedding songs....

I have a bride who asked if her aunt could sing “The Twelfth of Never” as a prelude to the wedding.

Go ahead and click on that link, but the second line of the text, “I need you, oh my darling, like roses need rain”, pretty much sums it all up.

I told her it’s purely secular and is thus better at the reception, but I can check “up the chain”. She asked me to do so and told me that it was sung as the prelude at her parents’ wedding in a Catholic church.

Ugh. Again, the “but this other church let us do it” tag. It wouldn’t be kosher, but I really wish I could reply that “some churches apparently just don’t care.”

At this point I am deferring to the liturgy director and the pastor. I’d be really surprised if they didn’t agree with me, but I always hate these kinds of quibbles.

The other question is, why do we even have to go through this? Can we please, pretty-please start telling these people to get married at a JoP if the Church is something they’d rather minimize in their wedding? (I know, we can’t and shouldn’t anyway, but yeesh....)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Lessons & Carols at my parish

The program is too detailed to list completely here, but basically it went like this:

Seven “blocks”, each of which consisted of:

O antiphon, with corresponding congregational “O come, O come” verse
prophecy reading
carol (of one kind or another)
prayer, poem, or instrumental

The O antiphons were sung thus: men, men, women, women, men, women, all. Alas, my men don’t do chant as well as the women, and even with an extra rehearsal this past Sunday after Mass, the men were never quite “on board”. Mental note for the future: work on the men’s chanting.

The first, fourth, and last readings were sung to the prophecy tone. (BTW, does anyone know why the 1974 Graduale eliminated the re-do-ta ending for prophecy readings that the LU contains?) I had two other cantors lined up to handle two of the three (with myself doing the third), but they both came down with illnesses.

The carols were:

Victoria “Creator of the Stars of Night” (alternatim, congregation on vv1,3,5)
Haugen “Lord, Make Us Turn to You” w/ Ps. 80 verses
Howells “O pray for the peace of Jerusalem”
Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming
Byrd “Lord, Make Me to Know Thy Ways”
My Soul Rejoices (Alstott)
Gelineau “Let the Lord enter”

The Howells had to be done by soloists for lack of rehearsal time. Alas.

Haugen “My Soul in Stillness Waits” and “People, Look East” were the opening/closing hymns. I had soloists for the verses of the opening, but they didn’t project well enough. Gotta rethink that for next year.

The choir processed in at the beginning and out at the end. It was cool!

The poems and instrumentals were the idea of one of our choir members. This choir member also wanted to include paintings by Fr. Sieger Köder in the program, which was a cool idea. They posters we ordered weren’t delivered in time, so they used a projector - which was not nearly as tacky as I was afraid it would be.

That same choir member also apparently thinks I am doing a poor job because she indicated she was not going to return to the choir. This is the same one who got very upset with me at the Easter Vigil this past year - but this time, I don’t understand why she is upset. I gave her quite a bit of influence on the L&C program, got the parish to spend a few hundred dollars on buying those posters (and we were told to slash budgets this year!), and basically did everything I reasonably could to appease her. She has been unhappy lately with what she feels has been inadequate musical preparation. In fairness, yes, we have canceled four choral anthems this year, two of which have been in Advent (Victoria “Creator” and Howells “O Pray”, scheduled for the last two Sundays, respectively). This was a result of my not looking carefully enough at how much rehearsal time we were going to lose in November from All Saints and Thanksgiving. But still - the L&C program was well-received, and though we are going to be rushed to put Christmas music together, it is easy enough music (see below). And for Pete’s sake, find me an all-volunteer church choir that doesn’t occasionally need to cancel something or put something together at the last minute!

Anyway, our Christmas choral stuff:
Dawson “Mary Had a Baby”
Biery “O Holy Night” (same music 3 times over)
my “Personent hodie” (mostly unison)
Proulx “Gloria for Christmastime” (almost all SB, i.e. two-part)
Halsey “Verbum caro factum est” (some tricky chords, but short & accompanied)

The Dawson was a challenge for the choir in my last parish, but the group I’ve got here should do fine with it. Halsey will need some coddling with its tricky harmonies, but it’s a gorgeous little piece. Biery and my piece are cake. The Proulx Gloria shouldn’t be a problem, either - and if it is, I can give it to a cantor.

Other Christmas selections:
Hark, the Herald
Angels from the Realms
O Little Town
God Rest Ye Merry
Angels We Have Heard
Entrance: O Come All Ye Faithful
RP: Guimont (vigil), Guimont (vigil), Gelineau (IIRC - day)
Alleluia: Chepponis “Festival Alleluia”
Sanctus/MemAcc/Amen/Agnus: Mass of Light
What Child is This / Child of the Poor
Farrell “Bread of Life”
Dean “Taste and See”
Thanksgiving: Silent Night
Recessional: Joy to the World

The only ones of these that will need even a cursory glance are the Mass of Light and Child of the Poor. Everything else will be “lock and load” for the singers.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Advent 1 & 2--Year A

Advent 1--Year A

Processional: O Come, o Come Emmanuel (vs. 1-4)

Kyrie: Mass for the City (Proulx)

Psalm: Chabanel

Gosp. Accl: Robert Twynham setting (WLP) w/choral verse

Offertory: Come My Way, My Truth, My Life (Paul French)

Euch. Accl.: Community Mass

Agnus Dei: Holy Cross Mass

Communion: Dominus Dabit (chant)

Recessional: The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns

One of my altos is a flautist and I had always admired the French piece (by WLP), so we gave it a whirl. Conditions were less than ideal since I had to play on it, but it went pretty well.

Advent 2--Year A

Processional: O Come (vs. 4-7)

Psalm: Oost-Zinner setting (from Chabanel site)

Offertory: Proper chant (hmm; can't think of it right now)

Communion: Jerusalem Surge (chant and Martini motet)

Recessional: On Jordan's Bank

I had hoped to stick with the Chabanel settings throughout Advent and give them a test-run, but I found the musical setting for the antiphon for this Sunday to be terribly difficult for a congregation. Luckily, Arlene had a mode 2 setting on there that worked perfectly.

We had our Christmas Concert about 36 hours before, so the "Jerusalem" was good to go. The motet is actually quite nice; a bit of "stile antico" with some more advanced harmonies.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

“Cantor” goes to a Tridentine Mass

Well, I did it. I hadn’t been to a TLM in some years, so upon the invitation of a friend, I got my lazy bones up in time to be at the local parish that regularly offers a TLM - heh, in this case, the TLM for Immaculate Conception was at 8am. (Cue the rant about the inconvenient times at which the TLM is offered.)

Full Gregorian propers and Ordinary were used (though I think it technically was still a low Mass). “Alma redemptoris mater” was sung as an offertory anthem, and I believe it was Victoria’s Ave Maria they sang as a postlude. The organ was used only to give a pitch to the priest, and I think just once.

A few observations:

1) I can see why people get swept up in the grandeur/mystery of what I witnessed; however, as many point out, none of these things is an innate difference between the OF and the EF.

2) The introit was good, and the communion was done ok. Much of the other singing (esp. the Gloria and Sanctus) was marred by one or two voices that were consistently off pitch. As I often tell my choirs, singing unison is like walking a tightrope - mistakes become very noticeable! Lots of the vowels got “splatty” - a pet peeve of mine. There was a nice delicacy in the musical lines.

3) The homily was nice and short. Good. The priest didn’t feel that it was his calling to prepare a lengthy oration, just to expound on the Mass texts.

4) Before I dismiss the practice of reading the readings at the altar ad orientem, can someone attempt to justify the practice to me (other than by tradition)? I can kinda see proclaiming the readings from different places, but why not facing the people

5) The first part of the homily was the reading of the readings in English; the congregation even made the motions and responses as if it were a regular part of the Mass. ISTM if we’re going to proclaim readings in Latin (an idea that I don’t dismiss!), we ought just to let them be as-is, hopefully also providing translations somehow.

6) The case for ad orientem would be strengthened in many parishes by the use of amplification and of using altars closer to the people than the far wall - neither of which was the case here.

Friday, December 07, 2007

SttL, USCCB, politics, and incompetence

Those of us who have expertise with computers often recoil when the U.S. government decides to take some sort of action in the world of information technology because it often constitutes aging lawyers making legislation about technology that they barely understand, if at all. As an example, I recall one Senator who introduced a bill to create software that would blow up any computer that sent a virus .... or something along that line.

It occurred to me today that the same bishops who voted on “Sing to the Lord” (SttL) were once the parish priests who thought “Be Not Afraid” was just fine for funerals. In other words, I wonder if we don’t have a musically illiterate episcopate in this country.

And how many of us have pastors who appear simply not to care how well the liturgy is celebrated? It is out of this pool that the U.S. bishops have been selected. Again: the bishops who voted on SttL were the pastors when “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace” was a responsorial psalm in the 1980s.

In this light, it is not at all surprising that there are things in SttL about Agnus Dei tropes, which the GIRM doesn’t envision (and, therefore, shouldn’t be done...?). It is not a surprise that, as Jeffrey has pointed out, SttL quotes the GIRM’s wording on responsorial psalms to draw the apparently incorrect conclusion that RPs are preferable to Gregorian graduals.

I mean, look at that awful translation of the GIRM for the U.S. that describes the options for singing at the entrance procession - the same body of bishops that approved that piece of dung are the same ones who now apparently give implicit OK to songs that “at least paraphrase” the Lectionary’s responsorial psalms to be sung as responsorial psalms. (Actually, I am waiting to see what the USCCB Directory on Music will say on this, since that document will have Roman approval.)

*sigh*....I hate feeling so pessimistic about the bishops’ conference here. Really, I do. And there is a lot of good stuff in SttL - I guess the perfectionist in me just doesn’t want to wait 35 more years to see the flaws worked out. Maybe Rome will come out with something, given the rumblings about B16’s attention to music.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

NPM hymn competition winners

Does anyone out there actually like these?

They were presented at the NPM national. I am particularly unimpressed with the Manalo piece, all the more so because his training is from a major music school (can’t recall just where).

Enh. Puppies and sunshine (as Gavin would say), rainbows, smiling Jesus in an off-white bathrobe and sandals, and strumming guitars.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

This morning

Two interesting things from my two masses this morning:

1) I do a 7:30 AM mass (ugh) in a small, rural parish outside of town on Sundays. The pastor is an elderly monsignor who I respect very much. When he worked at our Newman Center last year, he came into into my office once and randomly sing a chant Credo by memory, though he hadn't sang it since seminary (in the 50's!). A great lover of chant . . .

Anyway, this morning he mentioned after mass that he thought it was unfortunate that he couldn't do what he's done for the past how-ever-many years on the 1st Sunday of Advent at his previous parishes. Apparently, he would come in singing "Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord" from "Godspell", continually adding voices until the whole congregation was singing. Yikes. Praise Jesus he didn't ask me to do that this morning.

2) My organist is down with an illness and I actually had to play the organ for mass today. I was a bit anxious (as he didn't let me know about this until Friday), but I did alright. But I experienced something that I rarely have experienced since I came here a year ago; during the opening hymn ("O Come, O Come Emmanuel"), I heard the congregation singing.

Seems silly, I know, but we're up in the loft, and between my usually-robust choir and my organist opening up the pipes, I can rarely hear what's going on downstairs. Anyway, I had some light settings on for the chant, and the sound emanating from the nave was wonderful. It was good to hear.

BTW, this is post number 300!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Honors Mass

When the students are gone on break, things get real quiet around here, and so we were "choir-less" for the past 2 Sundays. I was able to round up some students to delay their Thanksgiving break a bit to sing for a Diocesan "Honors Mass." It's a real big deal here, when laity are given awards, priests are raised to monsignors, monsignors to double-monsignors, etc. 23 of my students joined the cathedral choir and sang some nice stuff. Highlights include:


Gregorian Introit
Sing to the Lord a New Song (Hal Hopson)
Ecce Sacerdos (Bruckner-instrumental)
Old 100th (arr. Vaughan Williams)


De Profundis (Gregorian)
Alleluia (Randall Thompson)


Panis Angelicus (Palestrina)

Hymn of Thanksgiving:

All Creatures of Our God and King (arr. Rutter)

Some upgrades had just been made to the organ, so along with the brass, things were sounding pretty "festive" up in the loft. The choir sang well and I was glad that they were able to participate in such a "high" mass.