Let’s Have a Chat, Off Café Premises.

My good friend Charles and I were into a nice side discussion at the Chant Cafe. I applaud Jeffrey’s project there, and certainly his boundless enthusiasm for good music and his personal generosity with me. I don’t, however, see eye to eye with his diagnosis or methods employed there. Every so often, I find my comments disappearing from the site, and that usually is a signal to move the discussion elsewhere. Or simply end my part in it.

I know Charles visits here from time to time. Let him tell it:

You’re correct, Todd, that the motto of “Sing the Mass” may be relatively “old news,” but not everyone subscribed to “Worship” just as not everyone gets the Wall Street Journal, the New Yorker or Atlantic Monthly. What they do get are shill sheets from the major houses, recordings of the latest greatest, and if they’re really motivated, a jolt of adrenaline from some NPM showcase.

Singing the Mass is indeed old news to those of us who have been formed well in the liturgical trenches of the past thirty years. Nobody has ever applied the term to the four-hymn structure or its remnant. In the late 70’s, it meant singing the Eucharistic acclamations consistently. By 1980, it was the psalm. And Alleluia, where that hasn’t been brought along yet. By the time the second wave of ICEL translations came along, especially RCIA in 1988 and the Order of Christian Funerals in 1989, the emphasis was far from choosing “water songs” and “sad songs,” and more to the processional psalmody for the catechumenate rites, for setting RCIA 595 to music, for having a fully sung Easter Vigil with acclamations at baptism and confirmation. For the funeral, it meant psalms, litanies, and music at the rites often prayed in funeral homes and at the grave side. Most notably the Song of Farewell.

A serious church musician–and I have no reason to think CMAA members are not–must be aware of history. The pastoral history of a parish, as well as the setting in which they serve: the Catholic Church in the US and Canada in 2011.

As for shill sheets …

Personally, I never found publisher-driven showcases at conventions terribly helpful. I paid more attention to people who were working the interface between liturgy and ritual music at workshop sessions. How are these different?

In an actual workshop session, a speaker will discuss and give examples of how music works with the rites. A good workshop presenter (I’ll use Michael Joncas as an example) is not shy about presenting other composers’ and publishers’ music when they serve to teach willing church musicians with the best available examples. But yes, there are shills for self and for publisher, even among clinicians. It’s easy enough to tell them from the rest of the pack.

In a publisher’s showcase, musicians and publishers indeed trot out the dozen or so pieces of music they think are really great. These sessions are well-marked with appropriate disclaimers disguised as advertising. Everybody does it. The Chant Cafe itself promoted a list of its own favorites earlier this week. Standing on the shoulders of Palestrina, Mozart, and Bruckner are Adam Bartlett … Aristotle Esguerra … Brian Michael Page …. Just skipped over a whole generation of folks like David Hurd, Ted Marier, Alex Peloquin–but no matter. Not only is it natural and human to say nice things about one’s own work and the work of one’s friends, employers, and distributors … sometimes it’s even helpful. I’m sure that if CMAA folks liked what they heard from their friends at last summer’s Colloquium, they will skip directly to the latest downloads from Corpus Christi Watershed and pack it onto their hard drive.

And to be sure, I do not mock these people. I merely point out the similarity between what they honestly and dearly love and follow, and what they criticize in sacred music publishing. Yesterday it was Delores Dufner. Today it’s Kathy Pluth. Yesterday David Haas. Today Noel Jones. The scale, sales, and shipping staff are different. The interpersonal dynamic looks the same. And even Charles is not afraid to admit it. And in NPM circles, I’ve netted some strange stares (if not blank ones) from suggesting that our work there gets too commercialized.

And I don’t intend this as a rash criticism of the Chant Cafe modus operandi. There’s some good music offered there. And there are some caveats, too. If GIA makes big blunders on music that’s not choral/organ, expect a few problems with what you’re seeing from self-published music that hasn’t been sifted through an editorial board.

You constantly think that this facade that is cyber world based has democratized and given the proletariat all the tools that you and I take for granted in our enriched environments. Dude, only you, me and a handful of folks could pass a basic knowledge test on who and what Kavanaugh, Kiefer, Searle and Walsh were and advocated. And they, like us, were filters through which the interested could say “Yes, doc, that’s clearer now, ” or “Nope, doc, ya lost me with that troping of the Lamb of God thing.”

Charles, if what you’re trying to say here is that some parish music directors aren’t operating with all three dozen organ stops, then yes: I’ll concede we live in a world with imperfect people. Parish leaders, not to mention volunteers, are often too busy to get music or liturgy degrees, take voice or organ lessons, go to workshops, even the online variety. When OCP offers easy psalms and gospel acclamations in one single book with this year’s dates, it’s hard not to go the easy route and work up that basic music week to week. One thing you have to admit: it’s singing the Mass, no?

While we’re at it, as you defend option four’s non-heirarchical validity as co-equal, and allowing for some measure of convenient hypocrisy on the conservative side, you must admit that a choir/schola chanting an assigned proper is just as legitimate as engaging the congregation in an option four processional. Your abhorance of that reality leads you to rash and condemnatory statements that undermine your credibility as well. And your rhetoric, full of mockery, is both out of sorts and place with my shared experience with thousands of folks who aren’t gawking or mocking (see “Grady, Chris: cappa magnas and Raymond Cdl. Burke.) If it’s a big tent, allow as how it IS a big tent.

What I will admit is that congregational singing, as a rule, is something good for which to aim. I know there is a choir-alone option for Entrance and Communion. But if people in a parish are already singing, I have to ask why we would want to bother with an unreformed repertoire sung by a specialty group. When we look at the purpose of the Entrance or Communion chant, what does it tell us? In twenty-first century America, do we want to recover a sense of group singing and a deep sacramental spirituality, or do we want to go the route of Gaga and Katy Perry and have the tunes accompany the spectacle?

My “rhetoric” is far from “full” of mockery. I offer a mirror to the discussion in which people engage me. I’m careful to be critical of bad ideas, and not private individuals. But I’m aware that people and their followers associate closely with the ideas they tout. If I say that a parish accustomed to singing an entrance song shouldn’t be supplanted by the choir, and that choral propers are a bad idea, that’s not the same as saying that Jeffrey Tucker is a bad guy or has bad ideas. This one idea: choir only music as a regular practice–that idea’s bad. And if you want to listen I’ll tell you why.

Let’s talk more about the proper antiphons and psalms later. That’s worth a whole other discussion. In the meantime, I’ll tell you that I often use options three, two, or even one. Option one includes psalms from “the antiphon from the Missal or the antiphon with its Psalm from the Graduale Romanum, as set to music there or in another setting.” Just because I use “another setting” doesn’t mean I’m not employing a good choice. Plus, if the people are singing, I’m sitting squarely in option one of GIRM 48 and 86.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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1 Response to Let’s Have a Chat, Off Café Premises.

  1. “I know Charles visits here time to time.” Shhhh, man, you’re blowing my cover, I visit you daily! You and PTB are like a holistic regimen of various homeopathic vitamins, keeping my vessels and synapses as open as possible!
    Up front and out of the way, the only thing that I thought was unnecessary was the dig about how revisionist history began “just because Jeffrey Tucker crashed the party.” and perhaps his voice being “shrill.” In RC existential-land, don’t we all have to “crash the party?” And Jeffrey’s excitement isn’t all that different from my being “opaque and orotund” (see! My peers bust my chops.) or your being measured, sensible and reasonable. We all have a place at the table.
    Other than that, you and I are still basically on the same page. And yes, I have publicly and privately mentioned my concerns about whether a “guild” should harbor and promote product from members, while other members maintain a penchant for demonizing other producers. And yes, while it’s understandable to excitely laud an emerging generation of composers whose metier is based closer to the ideals expressed for composition in curial legislation, that overlooks the seriously wide shoulders of people like Ralph Verdi, Howard Hughes, Tom Savoy etc., who bridged the gap after Peloquin and Proulx and their predecessors in the litany lamented as “lost” after Bruckner.
    Personally, I’m starting to weary as I run the race that we plebes carrying the water around the track have totally lost the interest, and worse, concern of the shepherds who are charged with guarding our welfare and well-being. Like I said, you and I personally work in fairly enriched venues. But comprehensively, I sort of wonder if anyone in the penthouses is paying attention to what’s going on in our Church?
    Did you ever see Shaymalan’s “SIGNS?” Amazing scene where Gibson’s ex-priest confesses his “dark night of the soul” to his brother: “There’s no one watching over us. We’re on our own.” Well, as long as the Church dithers, that question in earth time (not God’s time, all’s well there!) imposes a real gravity on how we can witness to the gospel. Our shepherds need to walk in our sandals more often.

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