Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Dear Charlie, Sacred Music Advice Column for the Love Lorn Masses

I thought I'd share portions of an ongoing series of liturgical catechesis articles that I contribute to the  parish monthly newspaper. I asked staffers and musicians alike to ask one particular question about sacred/liturgical music via email, and then like Dear Abby ®
, I could answer them with a particular emphasis on local considerations. Enjoy.

Why do the violinists at both St, Mary's and Holy Family not have any microphones to amplify those beautiful instruments?  They should!

Interesting question, in that one has to consider is the issue about hearing the instruments or about the necessity of microphones and sound systems at use in our churches? TCCoV’s four worship buildings have vastly different acoustical properties, and three of the churches have recently renovated their public address technology. But in the 21st century, people experience audibility primarily that is amplified for live spoken or music events. 60 years ago at the LJ Williams Theater, not one Redwood High or COS musical used a single microphone on stage or in the orchestra pit. But now, not only are there huge PA systems there, but also at tiny venues like the Rotary, El Diamante or Main Street Theatre, and every performer has a personal “Britney Spears” facial microphone.
At worship, our documents actually comment upon the reality that, save for the celebrant’s orations and homily, and the reading of scriptures, “natural” acoustical sound is the ideal, especially as regards music. Now we know that ideal cannot be upheld as hearing the sacred texts of Mass, whether spoken or sung, is a necessary aspect to comprehensibility and understanding. That reality enables us to participate in many ways. But we need to ask all who address our congregations to not regard the microphone and its volume levels to solve all audio needs. Lectors, deacons, priests, singers need to learn that projection and pronunciation is a better solution than merely talking at a conversational level to hundreds of people.
With instruments like the violin, or the flute, the audio range they perform in is in the treble, or upper frequencies of musical pitches. In normal practice at Mass, if they are not heard, the likely cause is there is some unbalance between those instruments and the piano, organ or guitars. But if you amplify the violins, you alter the natural tone, or timbre of that instrument, just like a singer can whisper and croon into a microphone, which is inappropriate for singing at worship.
So my short solution for those who are more attracted to the subtle nuances of flutes, horns, clarinets and violins, sit in various different sections of each church and discover where the natural sound is easily appreciated. Microphones do not solve all audio issues, nor should we expect them to.
Is it possible to have the song during communion be quietly instrumental rather than sung?
The short answer is a qualified “No.” The reason being is that every single Vatican (universal) document from the Council of Trent, through councils Vatican I and II, and particularly those of the twentieth century from S.Pius X, Pius XII, and S. John XXIII, S. John Paul II, Benedict XVI and their curial associates have reaffirmed that the singing of certain and particular scriptural texts (primarily from Psalms) is an integral, non-dispensable aspect that must attend the “hearing” of Mass.
However, we also know that tradition and history have provided different degrees of Mass forms, from the highest-Solemn High Mass, the Missa Cantata (not completely sung), and of course, the Low Mass with or without the so-called four hymn sandwich that became normative in the 20th century. And in previous centuries the only music heard in many western churches was that of the pipe organ with no singing whatsoever. So that’s the long answer. Quiet organ music is not prohibited during the processions, but it is not normative nor the ideal. Organs cannot sing the Word, only human voices can offer that back to God.
And a three for the price of one!
Should there be music at ALL masses? Is vocal music participation any different liturgically than instrumental?

Is listening any less full and active participation than actually singing?

Is not understanding the words being sung ie: any other language than ones own still full and active participation?
I think my answer to the quiet instrumental question above more or less addresses the last portion of the first questions. Regarding the first portion, it is not legislated that every Mass have any musical component whatsoever. Whether or not the notion of the “quiet Mass” springs from the British/Orange suppression of Catholicism in the Tudor era and since in Ireland, and was simply customarily transferred to Maryland and the rest of the colonies afterwards is a matter of history and interpretation. Where we get into difficulties is in reconciling the sanctioned Low Mass, or Missa Lecta of the Pius V/John XXIII Missal, with the reformed Mass of Paul VI. The clear intent of the council (VII) and its pro-genitors Pius X/XII, was that the Mass be engaged more fully by the sung participation of the faithful in the pews, according to the prescribed offices of who sang what when?
Second question: “No” if the heart of the listener is pre-disposed to listen actively and fully. Turning the tables on the question, a person who is singing whatever hymn, chant or song during the Mass without an equally pre-disposed heart meant for worship of God, is not de facto “actively participating” by the mere physical act of singing. One can perfunctorily sing “Happy Birthday” to someone in a massive office environment without really meaning it quite easily. Singing “On Eagles’ Wings” because it’s so darn purdy is hardly a faithful act of honest praise to God.
Third question answered by another question: You’re in Vatican City. You’re in St. Peter’s. Pope Francis is the celebrant for Mass. He, the lectors, the deacons, the choir and the ubiquitous “ALL” have and are following on ordo of an Italian language Missal. But, during the penitential rite the schola chants (with congregational responses) the “Kyrie” in Greek and the “Gloria” in Latin (de Angelis, most likely.) Do you, as an interested, pre-disposed Catholic there to partake in all of worship, feel less than involved because your primary language is English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Tagolog or Hmong? Of course not.
But somehow, here in the plurality of the US of A, and sanctioned by the sensibilities of bishops and celebrants for decades, we think that comprehension of every slight detail as well as the whole picture of the ritual has a profound effect upon our having “actively, fully participated” in the post-conciliar Mass. Nothing could be further from the truth. The language is incidental to the ritual; we need it because it’s all we have in this “veil of tears” to offer fit praise to the Creator of language.
If we use the canard of the vernacular to be the betterment of the ritual because of comprehensibility, we’re putting all our sensory and metaphysical marbles into one basket. That’s not real ritual. That’s hedging one’s bets.
Can you tell me how the music is coordinated, by hymn, chant or song that is in sync with the liturgy? 
What the sung music of the liturgy, whether the Ordinary or the Propers (the assigned texts to be sung for the day, just like there are reading assigned to each day’s Mass), must do is be is some sort of concerted effort to understand the Liturgical Calendar of Sundays and Feasts, and the two year cycle for Daily Masses in the Lectionary, and then acknowledge that effort by choosing music that is as close to those assigned scripture passages as possible. This is the big secret just now starting to be understood by more and more priests and musicians after 50 years of wandering through suggestion pamphlets and digests.
Some progressive folk still argue that songs for the Entrance, Offertory (Presentation! Or Hymn of the Day) and Communion should reflect the liturgical action being enacted at those times. Nope! Not that such thinking is wrong, it’s just at a lower priority of discernment than the Church Herself has handed us. We’ve been given extraordinarily apt texts for primarily (as I see it) the Introit/Entrance and the Communio/Communion singing. And they exist in the three styles and others (choral polyphony/homophony) as well: chant, hymn and song.
If one wants to examine this up close and personal, look at the Entrance and Communion antiphons in the Missalette from Easter Sunday to Sixth Sunday Easter. They are in bold print without music. For 6th Sunday of Easter, you will find a reference to the apostle Phillip which only occurs in the Gospel for thay Sunday in the “A” cycle of the three years. It doesn’t get any more specific than that, and ties, unifies and strengthens the bond between the two liturgies, that of the Word and Eucharist.
So, in counseling music directors, cantors and choir leaders, I have for years now brought this reference to the foreground. We may find that our parishes will gravitate towards consolidation of this most Catholic of liturgical expressions even further in the near future.
What can the music ministry, or we, do to improve in devoting yourself/ourselves to the Lord when we sing at church?
Well, like they answer the question “How do we get to Carnegie Hall?” the answer is always “Practice.” And by practice, I mean try to improve your skills in the choir, or in the pews, intentionally and with love and patience with yourself. God doesn’t care actually what words or songs we choose and use to praise and pray to Him, but He sure cares (I believe) that we try to show Him that love, affection and trust that we would risk singing in public His majesty. Even if you’re tone-deaf, to God you just sing in harmony!

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Another Gaudete Sunday, in a Yellow Submarine?

Music. God's. Greatest. Gift. Someone of my disposition could never have imagined that a transformative event fifty years ago, same day, same date save for the half-century, would elicit the earily identical existential feelings, thoughts and cosmic synchronicity a SECOND TIME in one's life, propelled by the congealed charisms and talent of four of God's greatest evangelists in all of history. The Celebration of the debut of the Beatles to America on the Ed Sullivan show has been long chronicled, clarioned, critiqued and crowned as almost a cosmic singularity in the cultural life of humanity's unfolding story. Tonight's event proves none of that amounts to hyperbole. It can't be talked about tonight, right after taking it all in, albeit appropriately again in front of a two dimensional visual mechanism. As a musician, a Roman Catholic and a Roman Catholic musician, I won't dishonor or do disservice by some immediate, contrived commentary linking the worlds I've inhabited since my adolescence with total devotion to each, both and as might be projected, one in a unified field theory of music's genesis and essence. So, that's enough of that, for NOW. Suffice it to say, let it be said that all the smug doubters of yesteryear to the last few day's buildup touting the Stones or the Who or Zeppelin, tonight's concert with the two remaining members of those beautiful boys of February 9, 1964 not only upright and breathing, proved that the Beatles were always, at heart, a bona fide ROCK AND ROLL band besides the most evolutionary musical enterprise in popular music ever. Un-freaking-believable, b'lieve in dat.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Merry Almost Christmas, dear stalker/perp

I know you're like the gift that keeps on giving.
I know that you think and will still think that your little love notes left on the chairs to me must be having an effect, otherwise why would I be composing this brief response?
I know you must believe in your heart, such as it is, that you're accomplishing something by your behaviors and tactics such as the above.
And I wish I could make your dreams come true. But I'm not God. And, as I hope you know, neither are you. But if your prayers, what e'er they be, are truth in spirit, then God may grant you exactly what you want, as only you and He know what exactly they may be.

From my vantage point, I cannot grant you whatever you want to happen. Who knows, if you'd ever,  over the last 21 years or the last five when you got actively involved in your chicanery, let anyone know what it actually you want to occur, redress, undo, matter if it's based in righteousness, truth and justice, it might evoke some sympathy if nothing else.

But, as it is, you're only evidencing some very good and clever skills as a prankster and a stalker. This, of course, makes you also a perpetrator. And if you are who I think (know) you are, being a  perpetrator is not foreign territory in the map of your life.

We all have made tens of thousands of mistakes in each of our lives, for which God will provide the opportunity for refinement and purification to those souls whom He knows yet longs for Him. I pray for you to receive a sense of the innocence, vulnerability, poverty and promise this Christmas that we celebrate in the birth of God incarnate, as a baby.

And, if you're the Christian I hope you are, you'll extend that prayer my ways as befits those of us who profess Him Lord.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Now that we're "sharing"....forgive the fast forward.

I thought I might illuminate a few instances of my youthful memories, out of sequence as is my perogative as bloghost, in order to point out that most of us have some fairly unpleasant and extremely formative events that shape who we become, whether from childhood or from our adult experiences.
As I might or not have made clear, my dad, after having a vessel sunk underneath him and surviving, was altered forever. He had some local help, but from anecdotal stories from his youngest brother, when he was sixteen he was a comic of the first order, having frustrated his father from some indiscretion by climbing a tree. But not like Zaccheus, he was up there to avoid a whupping. My uncle's recollection doesn't say whether my grandfather was amused or not. My grandfather was definitely not amused when, after a drunken brawl that my dad and his virtual twin brother (his next oldest sibling), both swabs, helped instigate at an Army bar outside of Fayetteville that first engaged the MP's and local deputies, but then had the outcome of the Sheriff calling upon my grandfather, a locally respected figure, informing him that my dad, the youngest, was to be banished from the whole of Cumberland County. He left on a train to Texas immediately.
Here are the two unpleasant realities of the cumulative fates my father endured:
When we (my sister and I) were approaching bed time one night when we were not even adolescents) Dad came home snockered as usual, got mad at Mom (as usual), escalated the  fulcrum of the dispute (which us kids had no idea was, other than his arriving drunk as usual), compelled us kids to both come to the door of the kitchen only to see our father pull the longest, fattest steak knife out of the cupboard and advance towards Mom. What to do? I grabbed my sister (an act of self-preservation that I've regretted nonetheless the outcome ever since) and bolted out the front door past the convent and down the front lawn of St. Leo's School to the driveway of the rectory.

Like a miracle our Mom pulls up in her car, sweeps us up and assuringly takes us to her and our best friend's house for the night. Survival at the primal level. But as we now know is normal, Mom relented and we were back at home within a day or two.

Two: my sister and I are both teen-aged. Dad's somehow survived his alcoholism and a head on collision on the Nimitz (now I-80) immediately after a stomach-ectomy from acute ulceritis. He recuperates.

But the demon is relentless. So one evening, it was still light in California, he shows up early, drunk. That is now a given. As I recall there are some loud and contentious words exchanged in dispute, but that also was standard operating procedure. But their argument is taken upstairs and becomes more audiobly violent. I choose to go upstairs and burst through their bedroom door. Dad is at once both violent and embarrassed. Mom is, if I recall correctly, clothed and on their bed sideways. My dad is compelled to explain to me that he was violent only because his wife refused his entrities of affection. I'm old enough to do the math.
Unexpectedly, he moves toward my mother as if that declaration to all was sufficient to rectify his behavior. But I, maybe fourteen/fifteen, stand in his way and make it verbally clear that whatever he wanted was not going to eventuate. He sobs.]
I don't recall the rest of the evening.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

WHAT SWEETER MUSIC, what bitter irony

Our Schola performed Mark Hayes' WHAT SWEETER MUSIC for our annual Nativity Concert this afternoon. We also added some single pieces prior. This has been a quite taxing year and fall/winter. Happily, this cantata, as all of Mark Haye's work is demanding but not esoterically demanding.
The audience that came was beyond expectation, even after 21 years of concertizing for both paschal and nativity seasons. We printed 200 programs and they were virtually all taken up. Thank you, people of TCCoV. The concert came in at about an hour ten.
For my part, I was so proud of my basses, the two of them, who so kept in sync and never missed some very exposed entrances on David Basden's amazing AVE MARIA. And so enamoured of my wife (and daughter), but when my wife of soon forty years sailed up to high G's, I couldn't have been more humbled to be her husband. The remainder of the concert, not recorded by any of us, will be told by those in attendance. It's spirit was so ALIVE.
The irony. As soon as the concert was over I had to leave to do music ministry for our mission church out in Goshen. Why is that ironic? The two people who, by deliberate action of their own volition precipitated the dismissal of two incredible Christians and musicians from our team, and who ultimately desire the implosion and destruction of 21 years of music ministry of which one of them was invited to rejoin after a self-imposed resignation, had the hubris to attend the concert. What did they expect to encounter? Disarray? Open wounds from their assault upon the parish integrity? Well, look, listen and behold. Weave your false web of deceptions and falsehoods and self-righteous condemnation, we are NOT GOING AWAY. We are of Christ. I cannot say to whom you've sworn allegiance. We sing for Christ, the Living Son of God, the founder of our Church and the path to the Father Almighty. That's it. Either you get that or you don't. But, in ironic parody of the civil rights anthem, "You sha'n't overcome."
Do well. Seek forgiveness and repentence as all of us have. The injury you so lament was self-inflicted and whatever salve you seek in civil society cannot, therefore, be expected from the Lord of Life. I have turned cheek after cheek and will proceed to continue thus. But you will not prevail. Because the power of Christ will compel you to cease your infestation. Repent now, while you can. Because I will still go to Goshen because of you, I will not renounce nor relent from what I know, in my heart, is right and of God.
I hope you enjoyed what part of the concert you stayed to hear. It truly was sweeter music than the discord you have played for years, if not decades. For my part, I truly wish peace upon your souls. I can do no further.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Oh yeah, where was I? 1951-

I sequentially resume my exploration of "me" with my earliest memories. It is difficult to ascertain whether they are actual or anecdotal, but who cares?
Mom told me I was born at around 4:30am at Kaweah Delta (what it must've been like then!) on the Fifth of July in year of our Lord 1951 Christian calendar. I have no idea whether Dad was in the USA or "in country" undersea off the Korean peninsula in the Flying Fish.
In any case, I do surmise that in the interim between Mom and Dad's marriage around '48 (I'm too lazy to document) that some sort of rubrics must've evolved because Mom and I were consigned to live in the Quonset Hut Village where COS main campus now sits at 198 and Mooney. It was standard military housing for dependents, so there had to be a reason Mom/Dad chose that living option over any public or family option with my grandparents. Hope Amah explains it to me one cosmic day in the hereafter. If you don't know what a Quonset hut is, it's basically half of a very large unpapered Campbell's soup can that can be plopped down on any relatively flat geography, uh, like the whole San Joaquin Valley. I assume the Navy contractors did the minimal foundational work: plumbing, some insulation, windows. Google 'em.
But what they didn't do was air-conditioning. My only true infantile memories are of windows on the side of the can, from which one could see another can. Other than that, the running gag was my first words parodied or parroted my mother's most ubiquitous utterance for the interminable summers in Visalia (May to November)-"DAMN FLIES!" Since one of the great weaknesses of my moral fiber is the tendency to cuss, I have no reason to doubt my mother's telling.
I do remember the heat. It seems natural. When Dad was on leave we must've taken a road trip to his parent's swamp house in Eastover NC, and that meant a trip along 66 in a sedan with one of those cylinder water coolers hung upon the front passenger window, and one or two desert bags full of water. That water, if needed between Barstow and New Mexico wasn't meant for human consumption, but for the car's radiator. But as an infant and by our second trip cross-country with a little sister (Marva) we seemed to accept the misery with stoicism that came naturally from parents and their parents who survived the Depression. But back to Visalia....
I vaguely remember, but am absolutely remember that when the conflict was over and Dad was back at home, we rented a little cottage house somewhere between Giddings and  Locust, likely on one of those parallel streets south of Noble of 198 like Kaweah St. I do have visual memories of that house, conceptually. I must have acquired by contrast to the  tin can life we had '51-'53.
I do have photographic evidence of the confluence of the nascent Culbreth and Smith families with the Hamiltons (my maternal grandparents) in the form of snapshots of family gatherings, I suspect Easter days, at the Johnson House where my great-grandparents, whom I only knew as Ma and Pa Whipple, my Amah's parents (I think my great-grandmother was a "Hannah") lived. She was already declining and wheel-chair bound and my memories whisper to me that she lived and saw the real coming of age of America. Perhaps like my grandfather's people from Freedom PA they migrated west during the 19th century, but that both of them were aged by WWI and lived into the fifties (Hannah) and the sixties (Pa) has to prove they knew America in the wild, the best and worst of times. Anyway, snapshots were taken of the whole mixed clan at Johnson House, along with my new cousins, Jen and Skip Smith (scions of Chief Bosun Bill Smith and my Zampa's apparent golden daughter, Andru Hamilton. We were a handsome extended, white Middle Class clan, all smiles that likely were a respite from deeply rooted familial conflicts.
Outside of these recollections, not much of pre 1955 Visalia has ever surfaced to me.

But then comes the move to Kingsburg, and eventually to Oakland. From one web to another. But Oakland became the prime mover (besides God) of my entire life.

These are a few of my least favorite things.....

Florid, pedantic, ephemeral essays that are really kissing cousins, metaphorically, to snake oil pitches extoling the virtues of the traditional Mass as Pius X as he intended it to be reformed after 500 years.
In other words, "elephant talk."

People that are totally unaware of the truth in the cliche that "Half of life means just showing up!"

Clerical princesses.

Carey Landry songs in hymnals. Children's collections, okay.

OCP's penchant and nack for saving the chaff and throwing out the wheat in their hymn product repertoires.

The Big Three's inability, or more likely, disinclination (disincentive?) to find a truly inspiring Mass setting that meets both the criteria of SttL and Tra le sollecitudine.

When I revert to behaving poorly, acting instead of merely being; as if the whole of the world is mine, and it must conform to me as its headliner and star.

Critics who display not an ounce of creativity, not even in their strategic deployment of words, in their own personal lives.

The word "hermeneutic."

Oh, and "tradition" when it's obviously meant to function as a truncheon.

Folks who're sure that they've never said or done anything that is self-contradictory.

When redemption is stolen from this world and consigned to one more "pie in the sky."


For that matter, all words ending in "...cide."

Any furtherance of unwarranted negativity. I bid this post "adieu."

Thursday, December 12, 2013

I'm skipping to THE Christmas Tree

Sorry for the "time warp" jump, but it's after the BIG MASS for Our Lady of Guadalupe, I'm exhausted and my mind wanders. Being a card-carrying child of the SIXTIES, I have very specific memories of my teenage years. Somewhere around '62 aluminum Christmas trees became a rage. One easily supposes that some forward thinking genuis pushed the environmental envelope way passed the ability of silk and plastic artistry to put the SPUTNIK version of Christmas Trees into American homes not only because of novelty but of its "perpetual" usefulness. In any case, both my maternal grandparents and my parents bought into it wholesale, with the four color rotating color wheel which really made it cool. And trust me, it was COOL. For some reason, both those existential trees were lost to the ravages of old age, tragedy and death's black hole where essentials of memory are swarmed into the vacuum and become memories. But I've never forgotten the virtual beauty, the 20th century elegance, of the aluminum tree. And between the genuine replicas costing 20 times what they're actually worth from cost to markup from jerk-faces like Sharper Image and Hammercher Schlemmer to the pitiful offerings of little faux tinsel versions of Walgreens, children with memories like mine are left adrift. No tree, fresh cut by yerself or acquired by a sweet deal from Grocery Outliet, can replace the Kennedy year's Aluminum Tree with the rotating color wheel for the zeitgeist of the era. Gotta be real. So, we have Christmas trees (those thin handmade ones) adorning our not so public den and grandson's room year round. They each have a specific mode of adornment, like clowns for the one in the man cave; a vesigial nod to my maternal grandfather and his second daughter, mom. But I want, I WANT to recreate the sheer coolness of having the aluminum tree and color wheel. I know where a dear friend and husband (hoarders, no doubt) have one stashed. I've repeatedly asked her and then him (he had know idea of its existence) to just sally forth into the maelstrom of the garage, but despite each promise (influenced by the offer of serious, real money) I don't think they'll find the original and transfer its ownership to me. Here's the deal: it's the last, finest vestige of the innocence of Christmas that I remember during my adolescense. I associate that tree with my first pair of wingtips, my father (surprisingly sober) helping his sophomore kid shave for the first time, my feeling worthy of being both Dad's kid and Zampa's good grandson... in other words that tree as my last recollection and signet of my transition to adulthood. So imagine the irony that, at 15, I was so proud to usher in my adulthood, which would only be zoomed in magnifcation in less than two months by my Dad's suicide. Posing for pictures by the silver tree I could wear slacks, a turtle nect green formal sweater, slacks and wingtip oxford that signified my coming of age, and feeling secure at Amah/Zampa's residence on South Grant. Maybe there was hope for my nuclear family. C'est la vie, C'est la morte. But I am hoping that karma through writing this will compel my friend to follow up on the promise made to locate that sum*itch antique aluminum tree and let a now very old man bask in the four colors dissected and radiated by the best of Alcoa. It's not life or death; I'm confident Jesus will cut me some slack on this irrational desire. And on this night of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Mass was great with bishop) I say 'g'nite. I'm going sleepy.) Hope I dream of that tree at the end of South Grant that dead ends into Paradise. (Oops, pun alert)
Love to Mom, Dad, Amah and Zampa....