Saturday, March 9, 2013

Commendo spiritum meum

I've returned.

Strangely enough, there's a campanile nearby. It has not three bells but a carillon with 53 bells. They are English. I like the deep toll on the hours but nothing compares to the peal of French or Franco-Flemish bells when everything gets going. At midnight--after the Easter Vigil--at the University of Notre Dame the sacristan set them all lose for the first time in over 40 days. It was rough. It was wild. It was awesome. Some of them were out of tune but it was good ecclesiology--"here comes everybody," as Chesterton said.

But I digress.

We had a pile of snow last week and the week before. Class was cancelled on Tuesday. When I awoke I found my machine-portal-to-the-lives-of-others (i.e. Facebook) abuzz with news of the death of Marie-Claire Alain + 26 Febuary 2013. I was snowed in my house feeling immense guilt for not practicing.

In case you're not aware, she was amazing--perhaps, literally, awesome. She was also my grand-teacher. (Musicians are weird about these things).

It has been a strange week since then.

Abraham Maslow famously distinguished between typical D-cognition and B-cognition in his development of Positive Psychology. His research revealed that "self-actualized" individuals seemed indefatigable, impervious to challenge or adversity, unconstrained by norms, generally uninhibited, able to draw on an eternal well-spring of internal motivation, and so forth. These were humans that seemed super-human!

Who else has made over 300 records? Again, my practice guilt surfaces!

But professional productivity is only one facet of life. People count the most. And Marie-Claire's students loved her because she loved them and loved them particularly by challenging and pushing them to grow. Dr. H. recalls after playing for her, "she said, 'this was good, and this, and this...this? not so good!'." Honesty is the best policy!

Her relentless optimism and energy defy circumstances that would break the spirits of most of us. Indeed, Daniel Roth recalls her ceaseless smile in the NYT obituary. By age 14 Marie-Claire had lost two of her older siblings--Odile to a mountaineering accident and Jehan to the Second World War.

In many ways Jehan resembled Mozart, Purcell, or Reubke--an immense light snuffed prematurely. There are few compositional voices in Western music in the twentieth-century that ring as richly as his does. One would think nature operates on something like a "zero-sum"game with talent. Not the case with the Alain family! Father Albert possessed formidable energy and intellect. Brother Olivier proceeded to become a notable pianist and musicologist.

Marie-Claire? She was a cornerstone for a generation of people who practice our art.

Coincidentally, we had a recital by Parisian organist Carolyn Shuster-Fournier--another student of Marie-Claire this evening.

She made it to the funeral in Saint-Germain-en-Laye Friday morning. The Requiem Mass was packed with parishioners and people from across Europe. The preaching was good. Several renowned organists traded spots on the bench. The moment in time: "moving."

Tonight we heard two of her brother's pieces: the "Postlude pour l'office de complies" and the "Litanies."

The 1930 "Postlude" seemed sublime. The quoted chants balance a petition--"miserere"--with a declaration: "commendo." The tension between supplication--with its implication of anxiety or privation--and declarative commendation/trust always struck me as at the heart of Catholic soteriology. Grace builds on nature even though the world can be awfully messy. Somehow faith prevails. It is almost overwhelming to consider the serenity of this piece--the serenity of the Abbey of Valloires in the Somme where Jehan wrote it--in contrast with the hell that ravaged that place a few years earlier, leaving Europe with a generation of ghosts. In seminary, in the communal praying of the Divine Office I always found compline to be a time of great peace--not in its Kronos sense, but more the Kairos sense. Come what may--and Marie-Claire passed from her earthly life in her sleep--"in manus tuas Domine commendo spiritum meum." Good words by which to live! Good words by which to die!

We always prayed "that awake we may keep watch with Christ and, asleep, rest in his peace." When our predecessors wrote these words they perhaps had a different sense of life's fragility than we do today. Yet, mortality still looms--however ignored! This needn't me morbid but rather impel us to live more fully. On Friday Dr. H. implored us: "I must tell you: take the time now to go study with that teacher you've wanted to, to express your gratitude, to tell someone what they mean. You may want to wait until tomorrow. And you may not get that opportunity." That's a YOLO exordium that beats the hell out of some "epic" night of undergrad binge-drinking!

Of course, Jehan's 1937 "Litanies" stands as the most famous piece he wrote. After the applause, Carolyn said "I can play nothing after Jehan Alain's "Litanies"." Indeed, Bernard Gavoty recalled that Jehan told him that one wasn't playing the piece correctly if they did not finish exhausted--utterly spent.

The inscription on the piece captures this tenacious insistence:
"Quand l’âme chrétienne ne trouve plus de mots nouveaux dans la détresse pour implorer la miséricorde de Dieu, elle répète sans cesse la même invocation avec une foi véhémente. La raison atteint sa limite. Seule la foi poursuit son ascension." [When the Christian soul can no longer find words in its distress to implore the mercy of God, it ceaselessly repeats the same invocation with vehement faith. Reason reaches its limits. Faith alone (can) proceed on high.] 
At the recessional of the Requiem Mass for Marie-Claire Alain her casket was left below the point d'orgue as Jean-Baptiste Robin played her brother's "Litanies," written 76 years before--this work of faith that weathers grief, and exasperation. I've heard Jean-Baptiste play this piece elsewhere. It pulses with sheer hermetic zeal.

When I heard the same piece tonight I knew that it was not literally the same piece that those mourners heard Friday morning in the parish church at Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Yet the post-structuralists may take that notion a-packing because time and space seemed to shrink a bit. There's an Augustinian notion of time that brings past, present, and future together (and thus, muddles space a bit). Christians have a communion of saints that coheres on this premise. As artists--if nothing else--we sometimes suspect that we stand on the shoulders of titans. There were giants on the earth in those days...

When that wild E-flatish chord died, silenced followed and Mme. Shuster-Fournier could remark on the disappearance of a generation. It leaves one somewhat naked--anxious but perhaps anticipating, waiting "in joyful hope."

So what's next? What for us then?

Perhaps to take the high road, pouring everything out for others--come what may.

There's a model!

RIP + Marie-Claire Alain

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Rhein Wein All The Time

At the tail end of my second summer Europe tour we spent a day in Rüdesheim am Rhein. As its official name suggests this small Hessian village is located on the Rhine. The so-called "Rhine Gorge" is a picturesque segment of this river as it straddles the border of Hesse and Rheinland-Pfalz. The scenic rolling hills, countless vineyards, and historical structures in the immediate vicinity draw more foreign tourists to tiny Rüdesheim than anywhere in Germany after Cologne Cathedral.

Rüdesheim sits almost directly across the river from Bingen, the birthplace of Hildegard, one of the medieval world's most fascinating personalities. Despite being disadvantaged because of her sex, Hildegard counselled popes and saints, abbots and emperors. (She was also author, abbess, linguist, composer, naturalist, philosopher, physician, herbalist, poet, channeller, visionary, and polymath). In 1165 she founded a Benedictine Abbey on a hill over Rüdesheim at Eibingen. The secularization of the early 19th century dissolved Eibingen Abbey but a century later in 1904 Prince Karl zu Löwenstein-Wertheim-Rosenberg, a wealthy Catholic nobleman, reestablished it. Today this house belongs to the Beuronese Congregation of Benedictines.

The reconstructed Eibingen abbey complex features a neo-Romanesque church in rough stone, renowned for its Beuronese decor. The gardens in front of the church contain a beautiful contemporary sculpture of the local patroness. Nuns of this house work vineyards on the surrounding slopes. I missed the winetasting but heard it was phenomenal— labels employ motifs from Hildegard's artwork.

Rüdesheim has more wine in one small space than I have ever encountered. It was okay. Our hotel nudged up against the Drosselgasse, a narrow 15th century alley crammed with souvenir stores, and wine shops. The area produces fine Rieslings. We enjoyed many of these local wines during our night at Rüdesheim— perhaps too many for the 10 hour flight the next morning! Ansbach was tasty too.

Ansbach, a locally distilled Uralt Brandy, finds its way into nearly all souvenir shops and caffeinated beverages— Rüdesheimer Kaffee is not your cup of Folgers! We visited a bar adjacent to the hotel for this local treat. The waitress lit some Ansbach and sugar on fire and doused it with steamed coffee. A generous dollop of whipped cream and chocolate shavings crown this delectable beverage.

The Niederwalddenkmal looms nearby on a promontory just west of town. Kaiser Wilhelm I laid the foundation stone for this massive monument to German unification in 1871. All creepy overtones of nationalism aside, this giant statue of Germania which was completed in 1883 looks impressive. The location affords a breathtaking view of the Rhine valley as well. I could just picture Wagner and the gods high in Valhalla...looking enviously down upon the Rhine Maidens— Woglinde, Wellgunde, and Flosshilde frolick and sing merrily keeping watch over Das Rheingold...and then comes an ugly dwarf Alberich— "I wants the gold" etc. Who's up for 15 hours of voice killing sonic meat and potatoes?

We got lost as we drove up to the Niederwalddenkmal and found ourselves in the middle of a Rheingau field. It wasn't so bad.

Friday, July 31, 2009

I'm...(Insert Prepositional Phrase)

I could subtitle this post "Summer Stupidity." In the last couple weeks several friends introduced to me or reminded me of a couple of the world's more ridiculous musical numbers. They're catchy. Yet, in the same breath I can't exaggerate their utter meaninglessness.

First— "I'm at the Pizza Hut; I'm at the Taco Bell; I'm at the combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell." "Das Racist," a Brooklyn based group is responsible for this doozy. What are the lyrics for a majority of the song? You guessed it! I suspect illegal drugs were partly responsible for this song. Remarkably, some people feel this one is a stroke of genius.

I'm at the Pizza Hut etc.

A friend who attends law school in San Francisco alerted me to this song. Apparently Victor Vazquez, one of two in "Das Racist," comes from the Bay area and they have made recurring appearances at a particular club in the vicinity. Wannabe hipster site has hailed this as the ultimate summer tune. I think they missed the mark. I dub it the ultimate validation of drugs-gone-wrong.

Second— "I'm on a Boat." SNL brings us this fine skit in the form of music video. A special guest appears with "The Lonely Island." This one, contrasting our former number, brims with sundry creative lyrics and a special guest who exemplifies use and abuse- here concerning Auto Tune! The song itself parodies many rap cliches and climbed to the top of You Tube in February 2009. Don't expect to find it there, however- NBC seems pretty diligent about getting its material pulled. Strangely enough, it really takes an effective jab a commercialized hip-hop's all-too-frequent absurd materialism. It sits a few notches up from the previous number on my quality ladder.

When I listen to these songs two things happen in this order:

1. I think of people who argue for "context" as the final determinant in Liturgical Music and those who draw lines quickly. I can't fathom a situation where music that sounds like this could ever be near a Church. However, there's not much to counter this if all that matters is how music "speaks to people" directly. On the other hand, I can't see where people who cast out whole genres quickly make their boundaries. Music exists on a massive continuum. If a congregation sings Tantum Ergo at benediction and Tom Booth immediately follows up with a crashing trap-set for the recessional, this seems perverse. But if the whole Mass was Tom Booth, young people who came expecting this, and most importantly, were edified by it— where's the beef? However, I think these songs show that we can imagine boundaries if not pinpoint them precisely!

2. My brain shuts down.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Danger of Profiling

This is a hot topic, especially today with all the hullabaloo about the Cambridge MA Police Department arresting an African-American breaking into his own home, Obama commenting, etc. But that's not the application I wish to address.

In perusing Catholic blogs again (as I convalesce from a wretched tooth extraction) I become a little weary and wary when the soundbytes start to fly. I tend to believe that anything worthy can't be so simplistically reduced. Yet, I find myself continually disappointed.

I find myself in an awkward position for a couple reasons:
1. I am a Catholic musician who is converging on a music degree
2. I am a Catholic musician converging on a music degree living in an extremely conservative/neoconservative/orthodox? diocese who considers graduate studies at Notre Dame.

Regarding the first: There is an apparent chasm in Catholic culture, specifically in liturgical matters. Language has been duly appropriated, terms politically charged. This is unfortunate. For example: parish pianist vs. parish organist, choir director vs. choir leader, parish/pastoral musician vs. music director, pastoral musician vs. sacred musician, sacred musician vs. liturgical musician, Latin vs. no Latin.

I understand there may be substantive differences with these, particularly sacred vs. liturgical (Anthony Ruff distinguishes the two well in his homerun, landmark book). However, it's the political connotations that make this silly. Should we be confortable with making these profiles more from politics than informed theological positions (of which many are valid I must emphasize)!

I can't recall at the moment where I read this but apparently an Episcopal Church Musician once said that "pastoral musician" was essentially a synonym for "bad musician." I'm sure plenty of Catholics who read NLM, CMAA, Fr. Z. etc. would wholeheartedly agree and happily supply anecdotes. "Pastoral musicians" could easily retort with a wholly valid argument: the primary purpose of liturgy is not to showcase art.

On the other hand, I've read many a blog where "pastoral musicians" express disgust for the idolatrous aestheticism that can overtake the highly schooled musician or artist. One may simply counter, however, that the Catholic Church has perhaps the largest tradition of any institution to encourage the development of art. Bug off with the iconoclasm.

I'm not sure precisely where it appears I fall. I'm not sure that I have a choice. Currently the cards are stacked against me: organ is not a favored instrument in many Catholic parishes, organ literature holds even less relevance or prestige, degree holders are increasingly rare in church music. Thus, due to my love of something associated with the past and high artistic standards, I'm probably an elitist- and that's a bad thing.

Regarding the second: There are few places to pursue a sound, well-rounded liturgical/sacred music graduate degree in the US- especially with a Catholic twist. Notre Dame stands out as a rare and notable exception. Problems arise though. As one acquaintance recently put it, and he didn't mean it well, "Oh, you mean the newly christened University of Obama?"

This vexes me. People would be all too eager to make assumptions about my politics, albeit via flawed reasoning (the whole post hoc, ergo propter hoc thing.) This becomes a problem for no other reason than it can create tension with parishioners where I work- parishioners who happen to be both nosy and politically zealous. No, I don't love ND because the President spoke at graduation. No, I wasn't disinterested before he came either. Neither statement reflects my thoughts on the President or politics. Think carefully on that one.

It alarms me, however, that even bishops will encourage this kind of thinking. At a recent conference I helped with an attendee queried Bishop Jackels of Wichita regarding the preservation of "Catholic" identity in our "Catholic" colleges and universities. His answer was to boycott them- not just Notre Dame, but most others too. He suggested several alternatives.

The problem, however, is that the 4 alternatives probably have a collective 1500 students and 3 programs. That's great if one wishes to study philosophy, theology, or youth ministry. What about the novel idea of studying one of the world's many other topics at a Catholic school? Apparently, that's not a concern.

And really, all music schools are full of flitty, feather-brained liberals. "Birds of a feather flock together." Read: Orthodox Catholics beware of applicants armed with graduate music degrees! Thus, I'm probably a theologically dissident liberal.

But what ever happened to letting people speak for themselves? What about the possibility of a "both...and" solution. Can a person with a degree be a relevant "pastoral" musician? Yes. Can one without a degree be a competent one? Yes, as well. The answer truly varies from person to person, from situation to situation.

We all know the stereotypes, but what use has invoking them? Ultimately this calls for an explanation and explanations of stereotypes inevitably devolve into polemical rants or fierce anecdote wars. It's like a conversation I had this morning:

Me: I didn't realize Rush Limbaugh was fired from FOX for racist comments
Party 2: He only said that black quarter-backs were better.
Me: Which is meaningless and, like I said, racist.
Party 2: No, he's just stating the fact that blacks are better athletes
Me: really, we're going there?

Who knows if that stereotype really means something? It's possible, but the truth lies deeply buried in a myriad of converging explanations and a tangled web of sociology. In short, like most generalizations, their ambiguity and offensiveness far outweigh their usefulness.

So, I've been called an elitist— wholly due to my zeal for learning. In this case, I'll wear that badge with honor. If music school teaches me how to write a singable melody and that's "elitism" we're in bad shape. I'm not, however, going to go into a Byzantine fracturing of "Eagle's' Wings" or "Be Not Afraid" and tell 100 reasons why these are poorly written. They are. Yet, people sing them- however incorrectly. This is proof enough for me but winning an argument isn't the point. Improving the situation is- whether that's teaching the songs correctly, writing new ones, or resorting to the "Treasury of Sacred Music" when possible.

Elitism is not what you know but what you do with it- if I learn something I plan to share it with my parish and choir. Beauty and Truth will always be hot commodities. Conscious mediocrity might be second to dishonesty in things that set me off.

Do I have aesthetic standards? Yes.
Do I wish to engage people in the liturgy? Yes
Is it possible to maximize variables? No
Is it possible to optimize variables? Yes

Wow! Fancy that. As long as I don't turn into a philandering AGO grouch someday I'll consider myself marginally successful.

But, really, Vatican II got rid of that old music and Purgatory...

Just kidding.

Archbishop Lucas- The Installation Part II

"All creatures of our God and King, Lift up your voice and with us sing: Alleluia!"

St. Cecilia Cathedral's eloquence in stone as well as the silvery words of Archbishop Lucas instilled in me (and surely all those assembled Wednesday) a renewed conviction of evangelical enthusiasm. This is not the intellectually bankrupt and trite excitement that characterizes some of the crazier Fundamentalist denominations but the broadest, richest, and most universal sense that is unique to Catholicism. The homily text may be found here: Lucas Homily. For the moment, one may watch the ceremony on-demand here: Lucas Installation.

St. Paul, the first Apostle to the Gentiles, seems a good place to start. Accordingly Archbishop Lucas began his homily reflecting upon the Epistle from 1 Corinthians 12:
St. Paul tells us very clearly that there will be different spiritual gifts, different charisms in the Church. Each gift is truly a manifestation of the One Holy Spirit. The gifts are ordered in their diversity to serve the one Lord Jesus Christ. We give thanks to God that these God-given gifts are so evident as we gather here in this Sacred Liturgy. We are the proof that St. Paul was right about the nature of the Church.
And evident they were! The very ambo from which he preached is carved of South American mahogany and flanked with sculptures of doctors of the church (Peter, Paul, Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine, Gregory the Great). The pulpit itself anticipates the richness of the Word. Czech-born sculptor Albin Polasek created this stunning piece of liturgical furniture as well as the moving crucifix and Stations of the Cross.

Continuing the theme of creativity: Brother William Woeger FSC, Archdiocesan Worship Director designed a Missal specifically for the Installation Mass, never to be used again. The Missal nearly covered the upper torso of the acolyte- it is about two feet tall. Constructed of heavy stock, it was stitched by the Art Department at the University of Nebraska Omaha. The cover is striking: white with a large variant of the Patriarchal Cross in gold with flecks of forest green emblazoned upon it. This is a symbol of the Byzantine Church in the East but also represents the office of Archbishop in the West. I created a horrible replica to give a sense of it. One may catch glimpses of it in the broadcast.

Archbishop Lucas expanded on this concept of diverse gifts as he worked his way through the homily, giving credit to the many people who contributed and attended. He departed from the script a little when he spoke of Music:
I'm just overwhelmed as I think we all are with the gifts of our choir and musicians. You help us long for the heavenly Liturgy as we lift our minds, hearts, and voices to God. You bring honor to St. Cecilia herself and to her Lord and our Lord.
Amen! Countless things about that space proclaim Music as a gateway to heaven. Need I mention the patroness, St. Cecilia in the rose window? First, the building itself sings. When empty the Cathedral has a superb undistorted reverberation of seven seconds which surprisingly helps song blossom and the organ to sing. Sound dances as much as light in this harmonious space. The post-renovation ceiling is full of warm, Mediterranean gold, deep red, and rich star-studded blue. The sun splashes its light as alive as the voice of the Church singing there.

Secondly, the windows. Designed by Charles Connick of Boston, the clerestory windows literally depict the great hymns of the Church: the Magnificat, Te Deum, Gloria, Stabat Mater, Victimae Paschali, Veni Sancte Spiritus, Dies Irae, and Pange Lingua. Thus, the very light which illuminates our worship passes through song!

Thirdly, literally. Text from the Antiphons for the feast of St. Cecilia scroll around the nave high in the entablature at the base of the barrel vaults. Translated it reads:
Alleluia, Alleluia! As dawn was breaking into day, Cecilia cried out saying, "courage, soldiers of Christ. Cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light!" While the instruments were playing, Cecilia sang unto the Lord saying, "Let my heart be undefiled that I be not ashamed." Alleluia, Alleluia!
I thought about this as I listened to the choir sing "Greater Love Hath No Man" at the Offertory. Archbishop Lucas emphasized that we did not come here today from nowhere- we come from the labors of those before us. People have been using their gifts since St. Paul. According to tradition, St. Cecilia sang to God as she died. Walking through subterranean Roman tombs in May, I could viscerally contemplate Cecilia and the early martyrs with their pioneer spirit.

These things are so far away in space and time yet they persist in one remarkable continuum. We unite our voices and sing: "Lord, hear our prayer. Deus exaudi nos. Señor escucha nos." When one comes together with a thousand and supplicates these words in song it puts identity and purpose in perspective. It brings us into awareness of the Communion of Saints, the Universal Church. Archbishop Lucas summarized:
Do we need any further evidence then that St. Paul is right? All of these different people whom I have mentioned manifest the actions of the One Holy Spirit. We don't form separate constituencies; We are not partisans. We are members of the body of Christ. It is the living Lord that is present in this Sacred Liturgy...Drinking freely of the One Spirit we come now to offer fitting praise, honor, and glory to our One Father.
Echoing his words from high above the organ, flanking the gallery, John Dryden's (1687) "Song for Saint Cecilia's Day" exclaims:
From Harmony, From Heav'nly Harmony
This Universal Frame Began:
From Harmony to Harmony,
Through all the Compass of Notes it Ran.
The Diapason Closing Full in Man.

But Oh! What Art Can Teach,
What Human Voice Can Reach
The Sacred Organ's Praise?
Notes Inspiring Holy Love,
Notes that Wing Their Heav'nly Ways
to Mend the Choirs Above.

But Bright Cecilia Rais'd the Wonder Higher:
When to Her Organ Vocal Breath Was Given,
An Angel Heard, and Straight Appear'd-
Mistaking Earth for Heaven.
And heavenly it was.

Archbishop Lucas- The Installation Part I

I had never attended a Eucharistic Liturgy in St. Cecilia Cathedral. Needless to say, Wednesday's installation could not have been a better first time! I've been to numerous events at St. Cecilia's but never a Mass. After receiving a ticket at the last moment for this closed-door event I was bursting with anticipation.

The day converged on perfection. The weather couldn't have behaved better for July in Nebraska- mild, slightly breezy and overcast, making the outdoor hors d'oeuvres and champagne reception exceedingly pleasant.

The Mass, however, was amazing. For those who love ceremony it offered a true feast. The Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Pietro Sambi officiated with Archbishop Emeritus Elden Curtiss at his side. The suffragan bishops of Nebraska sat close by as well. Cardinals Rigali and George attended along with over 40 US bishops and the abbot and retired abbot of Mt. Michael Abbey in the Archdiocese at Elkhorn. Numerous priests (ca. 250) from Omaha, Springfield, IL, St Louis, and other dioceses filled the front left quarter of the nave.

Following the lengthy procession into the cathedral, the rector, Fr. Gutgsell and the College of Consulters processed to the main door as Dr. Bauer played a solemn anonymous 16th century intabulation of Veni Creator with zimbelstern on the mean-tone stops. It was hair-raising.

Archbishop Emeritus Curtiss offered words of welcome and Archbishop Sambi subsequently read an English translation of the Holy Father's bull appointing Lucas to the Metropolitan See. A .pdf of the bull can be read here, BXVI Omaha Bull . Following the Consulters' inspection the Chancellor presented it to the entire congregation assembled.

Sambi and Curtiss then led Archbishop Lucas to the cathedra and seated him with his crozier. Following vigorous applause the choir sang Duruflé's ethereal Ubi Caritas as representatives of Archdiocesan associations and ethnic communities greeted their new Ordinary. The Mass thence proceeded customarily. One may see a program here: Lucas Installation Mass.

This liturgy validated everything I have heard about the high standards at St. Cecilia Cathedral. The ministers executed all the actions of this celebration with organic fluidity yet exacting precision. The wedding of sacrament, assembly, sound, and space was breathtaking.

Dr. Bauer designed a prelude program which highlighted the Church as Universal and thus fittingly prepared the assembly for the liturgy shortly to transpire.

The first component was offered in "Honor of the Church on Earth." It commenced with De Grigny's Plein Jeu from Veni Creator Spiritus- using the old mean-tone temperament, course! A composition from Dr. Bauer's pen followed this rousing French Baroque work. "Take My Life" couples a poignant poetic text of 1874 by Francis Havergal with a lyric choral setting accompanied by flute and organ. The theme of service and sacrifice was most appropriate. Palladium Brass rounded out this segment with an intabulation of Palestrina's Agnus Dei from Missa Sacerdos et Pontifex- again, how fitting!

"In Honor of the Church in Heaven" commenced with "O Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem" by the always gorgeous 20th century English composer Herbert Howells. Buxtehude's Nun lob, mein' Seel', den Herren followed- showcasing again, the Pasi organ's unique mean-tone capabilities.

Sections honoring Pope Benedict XVI, the BVM, and Our Lord, came next with Duruflé's Tu es Petrus (with the chant and brass arrangment as well), the ubiquitous Schubert Ave Maria, and Hassler's Cantate Domino, respectively. The prelude concluded as the brass declaimed Andrea Gabrieli's solemn "Ricercar on the Sixth Tone."

Highlights of the music at the Mass include John Ireland's apropos "Greater Love Hath No Man" at the Offertory and Henryk Gorecki's ever popular Totus Tuus after the communion hymn.

The hymns closely followed the texts of the liturgy- the choir chanted the proper Communio from Psalm 23 and then we all sang "The King of Love" and Theophane Hytrek's "I am the Good Shepherd." Another great example of engaging, well-planned liturgy.

Kudos to Dr. Bauer for steering a sterling program at Omaha's Cathedral. Good music that contributes to good liturgy is a gift that keeps on giving- in more than one way! American Catholic church musicians who wish to grow their programs should look to Omaha. It's amazing how many of the old excuses and obstacles fall away or diminish when a skilled, qualified, and magnanimous person takes the wheel.

In case it seems like my enthusiasm about all these details somehow lies tangent to some "proper," or rather, more dispassionate and cerebral concept of what matters in Liturgy, that is, Church, let me offer my summary of Archbishop Lucas' premier homily.


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!