Thursday, July 23, 2009

Archbishop Lucas- The Vespers

The last two days have been filled with local churchly celebrations of the highest order. Omaha has celebrated the coming of George J. Lucas, appointed Metropolitan Archbishop of Omaha by Pope Benedict XVI last month. As one staff member told me Monday, "the Cathedral is all abuzz."

Events began Tuesday evening July 21 at 7pm with Solemn Vespers in St. Cecilia Cathedral. I have mentioned it before, but I still intend to post copiously on this spectacular building. Constructed over several decades, it is a rare gem of pristine 20th century Spanish Renaissance Revival architecture perched high on a hill over mid-town Omaha. This cathedral, one of the nation's largest, received a thorough restoration for the Jubilee Year 2000. Many aspects of the architect's original design, henceforth unexecuted, were brought to fruition.

Tuesday's service hosted many of the archdiocesan permanent deacons and their families as well as civic authorities and leaders of the broader faith community including Orthodox, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu representatives.

I participated in the choir for Vespers. For having only two rehearsals things went remarkably well. Quite nearly the only snag arose from unavoidable environmental factors- the growing heat and humidity caused the organ's combination system to go a little 'haywire' and a couple reed stops only partially drew. The organist squelched the wheezy screech soon enough!

Obviously, as a musician, the balance of my focus was a little weighted- but I wasn't alone! Archbishop-designate Lucas made conspicuous mention of the choir and musicians in his homily. Indeed, for this event the time and place could not have been better. The reading for vespers of Tuesday, week IV, Colossians 3:16 reads: "Let the word of Christ, rich as it is, dwell in you. In wisdom made perfect, instruct and admonish one another. Sing gratefully to God from your hearts in psalms, hymns, and inspired songs." Lucas said that if Tuesday is representative he looks forward to realizing St. Paul's mandate in the future at the Cathedral.

St. Cecilia Cathedral has always given special attention to its music on account of its patroness. In 1985 the Cathedral Arts Project (CAP) was founded as a ministry to draw the whole creative person into the life of the Church. Through promoting and organizing visual art, musical programs, and cultural events the CAP seeks to emphasize the medieval spirit of cathedral as a place for all.

In more recent years the St. Cecilia Schola Cantorum was founded under director Kevin Vogt (now working in Kansas City.) The Schola Cantorum is a rare organization in the Catholic United States and an invaluable asset to the Archdiocese. Today under the direction of Dr. Marie Rubis Bauer, its choirs provide music for cathedral parish and archdiocesan events.

Furthermore, the Archdiocese operates the St. Cecilia Institute for Laity Formation on the Cathedral campus. The Institute offers classes and seminars on countless topics for people of all ages. For the architecturally inclined there are wonderful opportunities- Brother William Woeger, FSC, Archdiocesan Director of Worship and renowned liturgical consultant offers excellent presentations. I speak from experience.

Back to Vespers...

There's nothing that underscores the sense of a living Church and vibrant liturgy like the creative act. For Tuesday's service the music included newly composed works as well as classics. Cathedral Music Director and Organist Marie Rubis Bauer wrote three new Psalm Antiphons which beautifully emphasize their texts yet maintain singability. (Organists have a knack for this!) The program has details:

My favorite was the Magnificat Antiphon "Do great things for us, O Lord, for you are mighty, and holy is your name."Created to "sandwich" Kevin Vogt's "Magnificat on the Fifth Tone," Bauer's short duple meter setting made liberal use lively syncopations, silences, and augmented fourths. Vogt's similarly pungent "Magnificat" is equally memorable. Written for the 2003 dedication of the Noack Organ at St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul MN, the melodic line is written so well and engagedly that it's hard to notice the high 'f'! Everyone sang with gusto.

Embedded here is the choir of Visitation Church in Kansas City singing this piece. St. Cecilia's is a bigger space and we had a few more people so Dr. Bauer took a broader tempo. Nevertheless, this gives one an idea. Dr. Vogt's piece shows that it is possible to optimize our variables: to use traditional Catholic texts with new, yet singable lines. It's available from Morningstar.

We bookended vespers with "The Day You Gave Us, Lord, Is Ended" (ST CLEMENT) and "O God Our Help" (ST ANNE). The choir men sang Lloyd Pfautsch's "Seek to Serve" and the women did the chant Ave Maria as well as a Dvorak setting. The whole choir sang Hassler's Cantate Domino as well as the Palestrina Sicut Cervus. Dr. Bauer played the Adagio from Widor's Fifth and a Pachelbel An Wasserflüssen Babylon.

The only downer to the evening (and this happened to a lesser extent the next afternoon) was how loud people were durin
g the preludes. Episcopalians would never make that much noise! Strangely enough, people hushed almost as soon as an Ave Maria began- both times! There must be something lodged deep within the Catholic psyche that begs silence for Marian piety- and little else. I was sad when we sang Sicut Cervus- no one could hear. If the Mona Lisa were a motet it would sound precious close to this.

It's not the musician in me so much that gripes but the minister: "The goal of all music ministry then, is not the comfort and entertainment of church goers, nor the decoration of rituals for asthetes, but the praise of God and the sanctification of all humanity, making it fit for the choir of heaven."- adapted from “An Apostolic Model of Music Ministry,” Kevin Vogt, DMA.

I also noticed that the Archdiocese seemed to roll out their new logo in conjunction with these events: a burnt orange silhouette of the cathedral over "Archdiocese of Omaha." The program itself was attractive as well. The interior front and back covers featured the same burnt orange with interlocking outlines of the cathedral's rose window.

All things considered, things were off to a most fitting start!

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