Wednesday, November 28, 2012

matching pitch!

So I mentioned recently that I "conduct" a small choir of 8th-11th graders; 6 boys and 6 girls. With MANY frustrations, ranging from their still-changing voices, to the adolescent insecurities. Sigh. But overall, they're great kids.

One of my extreme frustrations has been that two of the guys have GREAT difficulty matching pitch. They are ok once I help them "work up" to the correct note, but then later they usually can't find it on their own. I think that the problem with one of them is that he truly can't hit even a middle C (except maybe with his head voice, but combined with his already handicapped pitch-matching, he hasn't learned how to access that register out of the blue,) and then it's a lot like the blind leading the blind! But, I have to say, these two guys do seem to have some of the best attitudes in the choir! (It's super cute.)

So I have been working with them, and the whole choir, and working with them especially on matching pitch, (but there is not a whole lot we can do in the 1 hour twice a week with all the other kids!) but today I was so happy, b/c I had actual confirmation that they are both getting better! I tried to get all the kids to audition for a couple solos, and they were all VERY reluctant, and I had the 2 most confident singers do it (and do a great job,) AND THEN both these young men asked to sing it, and they both sang it correctly! I was soooooo happy!

It's just been... particularly frustrating b/c I feel like I can hardly do anything with the choir when I have at least 2 people who can barely match pitch, but since I KNOW that neither of them could have done anything close to this 3 months ago at the beginning of the school year, I know that they are improving! It's just so.... heartening!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The most well-attended organ concert to which I have ever been...

There's the old joke in organ circles, that you can invite the most famous organist to give a concert, and you'll still only have about 40 people attend; 100 people is a huge concert! Well, today we saw what happens when you have a musical pastor who is onboard 110% with the organ program.

We went to a formal organ blessing ceremony of a new/refurbished organ by the bishop (I've never been to one,) followed immediately by an organ concert at a large church in the diocese. And the church was FULL. I'm terrible with numbers, but there was at least 500 people there! How does that happen? It was apparent that this project had the full support of their musically inclined pastor (also an organist- no surprise! Good things happen when organists become priests, this isn't the first time that's happened!)

As for the ceremony/concert itself, I thought that it was so well-done, that I'm going to keep the program to remind myself of it, on the off-chance that I'm ever in such a situation myself. (HA!)

It was a wonderful mix of choral pieces, hymns arranged for congregation and choir (all conveniently placed to give the congregation a standing-breather!), and of course organ music.
The organ was silent and only the choir and handbells were utilized up until the formal blessing by the bishop, at which time Karg-Elert's Nun Danket was performed. I enjoyed the R.V. Williams version of All People that on Earth, (as it reminded me of 6 years ago when I used that exact same arrangement for my parish's 175th anniversary Mass when the bishop attended, and it was totally botched b/c it hadn't occurred to me that the people would keep singing during the interludes! Oops... Wow, I've learned a lot since then... I'm glad to see that it was successfully pulled off today!) Among other pieces, there was also a Concerto by Handel, Mozart's Lacrymosa (yay!), Messiaen's Apparition de l'Eglise eternelle, and some movements of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition with which I'm not at all familiar, but I greatly enjoyed. And it was closed with the Hallelujah Chorus. Overall, a very enjoyable 2-hour event. As the battles rage about electronic vs. authentic pipe organs*, it was lovely to see a parish and pastor supporting this organ project, and through it, music for future generations!

(*and on that controversy, allow me to add two points:
Sacrosanctum Concilium, the primary Vatican II document on the Sacred Liturgy, explicitly says in paragraph 120,
"In the Latin Church the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church's ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man's mind to God and to higher things." Ahem. Pipe organ.
Secondly, when was the last time that you had a regularly-used electronic device that lasted even longer than, oh, 15 years? If properly maintained, this new pipe organ has the potential to last hundreds of years! The "cost savings" of an electronic instrument is not quite as direct as it seems at first glance...)

Friday, November 16, 2012


Two cute things happened today.

First, I requested a book about choral conducting through the inter-library loan program. I got it today. It came from a nearby university's music library, and included a hello-note from someone who works there whom I have never met. Small music world...

Secondly, (most of the reason for my requesting the above-mentioned book,) I teach/conduct a tiny high school choir of 12 students twice a week. There are many, um, difficulties and ups and downs in this job. I was told today by the woman "in charge," that one of the girls (the girl whom I had pegged immediately as having a bit of a "too cool for this/I don't wanna be here" type attitude,) this girl had walked up to her after our last choir rehearsal and said, "I really like choir. I'm learning a lot!"
Even in my random, crazy, multiple-job life, I get to experience a tiny bit of what "real" teachers go through.
You can't put a price tag on such an experience and knowing how you might be affecting a young person!

Monday, October 15, 2012


Recently we had the opportunity to attend Mass at one of the COOLEST churches in the country... Saint John Cantius in Chicago!
And it was every bit as neat as I remembered! The last time I had been there was almost exactly 4 years ago, with a VERY random assortment of friends, and we took at 1-day road trip there for their All Souls Mass.

So this time, (due to our schedule,) we attended the Latin Novus Ordo Mass, which was sung by a male schola. VERY beautiful. I love how they do the procession at SJC, it was exactly like how I had envisioned the procession for my own wedding (which unfortunately didn't turn out like that at all, sigh...)
The schola sang all the propers and ordinaries in Latin and the proper chant; the readings, prayers of the faithful and homily were all in English.

Interesting things I noticed (and am not sure how I feel about) include the fact that the congregation sat at times like they would in the EF, when the priest sat, while the choir sang the Gloria and Credo. It is my understanding that the Credo is one of the parts that "belong to the people," and therefore they should always participate in singing or speaking it.
The priest sang the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer (he used II) but then barely-audibly spoke the rest after the consecration.
And also, it was amazing to me how little organ music there was! One point that I noticed it, in contrast to the directives from the GIRM, was after communion. Unfortunately, I didn't make note of what the schola sang after they were done with the communion proper (throughout the rest of communion), but my understanding of the rubrics is that if there is not a congregational song after communion, that there should be silence; instead, there was a brief organ solo.
In the grand scale of liturgical "abuses," that is next-to-nothing, but I found it interesting.

It was really wonderful to be at a Mass in Latin where much of it was sung and where the congregation heartily sang the responses. Unfortunately, our experience was marred by the fact that some of the people we were with left at various points in the liturgy.

It really breaks my heart. THIS is the state of American ROMAN Catholicism?! Catholics who can't or won't even sit through a whole Mass, just because it is in LATIN?! That is the language of our church! I personally do not think that the Mass in Latin is the ideal, but I think it is something good that Catholics should be familiar with - for many reasons, but especially b/c of how it ties us together as Roman Catholics. You can go to Mass anywhere in the world and know what's going on if it's in Latin!

I really wanted to stay and look around a bit, but due to the situation above, we had to leave right after Mass. But overall, it was soooo beautiful, and soooo inspiring, and I am sooooo glad that we got to go!

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Free Sunday

Today was my free Sunday for the month. I went to a ... typical suburban parish.
We sang like ancient Aztecs and praised the sun and moon. Sigh.

Then, we sang one of the dumbest songs ever (well, dumb in the context of a Catholic liturgy. If it's for a religion that isn't theocentric and is just "feel good" and "believe whatever you want to believe," then it makes perfect sense.)
'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come 'round right

...whatever THAT means.

And this is at the same church which has forbidden:

At that first Eucharist before you died,
O Lord, you prayed that all be one in you;
At this our Eucharist again preside,
And in our hearts your law of love renew.
Thus may we all one Bread, one Body be;
Through this blest Sacrament of Unity.

because the priest doesn't "like" it.

head >>> desk

And we wonder why most Catholics have the theological comprehension of an 8 year old.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Russian Orthodox

It's been a few weeks, so I should have written this while it was fresh in my mind, but I got a chance to go to the Russian Orthodox Cathedral! Talk about a LOT of standing and a long service! (Stood for 30 minutes, then 20 minute seated homily, then stood for another 30 minutes...)
I think I even saw a baby being baptized and (I assume) confirmation/chrismation and first communion. (I was only clued into that when the baby was being paraded around the church right before communion. Other than that everything else must have occurred behind the screen where I missed it!)

I had to leave around communion because at that point the service had already been 1.5 hours, so I don't know what I missed after that. I do remember that they had a nice choir that sang in 4 parts in a chant-like way for everything, - I wish I knew how to describe it - to the point where I didn't sing a thing except, oddly, I knew the melody of the Creed from somewhere, and I had no problem singing it while following along with the words! (It was some sort of chant tone. Maybe it was like, "mi--- re-do-re, re---do-ti-la" sung very energetically.)

Apparently, this cathedral is mostly famous for it's appearance in the 1977 film "The Deer Hunter." Interesting.

It would be very interesting to notate or record the various chant tones from all these different Eastern churches and to compare them for the specific parts of the liturgy.

Saturday, September 08, 2012


My priest actually read the Rite of Marriage today and discovered that there is supposed to be a Gloria for wedding Masses. (I knew this, but was hoping he wouldn't find out.)
Let the awkwardness commence...

Sunday, August 19, 2012

When a congregation really likes a song... they sing it

Bringing the music director to the difficult decision of "what if it's a less-than-ideal song?"

This morning, I found myself surprisingly inspired at the robust singing of "I am the Bread of Life."
(Another controversy in itself... should the congregation be singing in the "voice of God," blah blah... Personally, I have minimal problem with it, particularly when the song is so obviously taken straight from the Gospel reading for the day.)

Today was unusual because instead of our usual tiny congregation in a huge space of ~100, it was probably double that, due to the class of 1957's 55th class reunion, of the (now closed) girl's high school that was attached to the parish. (Think of the age of those ladies... of course IatBoL is going to be one of their all-time favorite songs!)

I had picked IatBoL prior to knowing this would be a special occasion, and I admit that when I sang it at Communion, I was so pleasantly surprised by the rich and warm singing that resounded through the church on the refrain. A rare sound indeed, in our relatively empty and cavernous but beautiful church! (I also have to say... I really don't mind that song ; other church musicians of my acquaintance hate it, but I would take it any day over "Song of the Body of Christ" or "All are Welcome." Other than the range, I don't find any musical fault with it.)

It's just nice to hear the congregation, you know, singing, and then I get to feel free to actually, you know, play the organ loudly! How fun! :-)

(Note: I'm not saying I ought to do IatBoL more often because people like it- I think the particular people present for this reunion like it a great deal, but I also think it doesn't hurt to do it and things like it occasionally. It, and songs like it, with well-loved refrains, can really inspire people to sing in a way that they sing only a few hymns, like "Hail Holy Queen," and "Holy God We Praise Thy Name.")

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Sunday Morning updates

Have I really not updated in so long that I have missed writing about my last two free Sunday morning church excursions?!

Last month I was blessed to attend the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral, also in Parma. I attended their English liturgy, and I have to say, that has been my favorite Eastern Church experience so far! A young, passionate priest, and a diverse congregation. If I was not a musician, and having difficulties at my Roman parish, I would seriously consider that as an option.
It contained of course the beautiful Liturgy of St. John Chrysostym, and unfortunately my memory is failing me since it was quite some time ago, but I remember that like most other Eastern liturgies I've been to, almost everything was sung a cappella. I believe there was an accompanied hymn at communion, and also one at closing. The only thing that was odd, (and embarrassing for me as an outsider!) At what seemed to me the obvious ending of the liturgy, they did the hymn, and then everyone just  stood there and waited! In the booklet I was following along with, there was no indication of anything else happening. I actually had to leave then to get somewhere that I had to be, so I attempted to slip out, awkwardly not knowing how long this waiting was going to continue! But I hadn't even gotten out to my car and everyone came out! Not sure what I missed. Maybe an additional blessing from the priest?

Then, this month on my free Sunday, we were travelling in the Columbus diocese. I had heard that it is relatively a great diocese, but for various reasons, the choice of our Sunday morning church was out of my control. We walked into the church, and I was delighted to see a very young priest in the sacristy, and an adult altar server dressed in a cassock and surplice! This bodes well...
Sure enough, (we found out later) the priest was a brand new priest from this spring. And he is definitely trained in the Extraordinary Form. What a pleasant surprise to observe his extremely devout demeanour during Mass, such as how he bowed his head at every mention of the name of "Jesus," and kept his fingers together following the Consecration. He also gave a wonderful homily. This Mass was the 8 am, so if anything it was likely to be their "traditional" liturgy, if they have a distinction. While the hymnal was Gather, I could not have faulted whoever picked out the hymns on a single one, especially given what they were working with! How rare to go to a random church while traveling and to walk out of Mass pleasantly surprised!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Nativity of St. John the Baptist

I think this day (June 24 this year) deserves its own post, both because it rarely occurs on a Sunday, and because I have picked fabulous music for it, AND because it will *hopefully* be the first Sunday with my new choir at my new job! (If anyone comes!)
(And, the last time June 24 fell on a Sunday, I was at the CMAA Colloquium in D.C.!)

Blessed Feasts of Blessed Martyrs (tune: In Babilone)
Mass: (our parish's own setting)
Psalm 139: Click here for a preview, and scroll down to hear the sample. (I think that it is one of the most beautiful responsorial psalm settings that I have ever heard, and I'm lucky to be able to use it this year.)
R&A Alleluia
Canticle of Zachary (I'm using the one by Michael Joncas b/c it is longer and I like the tune a bit more than the "Forest Green" arr. by RVW.)
Behold the Lamb- John's words and appropriate for Communion!
For all the Saints (speaking of RVW...)

Father's Day

How convenient! I was already going to program "Faith of Our Fathers" for Fathers Day, and then I look at the readings and "We walk by faith, not by sight" is one of them! (I guess that will be the other song I'm looking for...)

(Except, it will be annoying that the numbers on the board will therefore be (thanks to the hymnal sorting things by theme,) 423, 422, 424
Does that drive any one else as crazy as it does me?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Corpus Christi Fail and Win

So, I figured that today was as good a day as any to refresh my memory on the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. (Has it really been almost a year since I've attended one?!)
I had reason to believe that there would be a Corpus Christi procession, and since we weren't doing one at my Ordinary Form Mass, (and Corpus Christi is my FAVORITE Feast,) I figured this would be my best chance.
So, I get to Mass, and I'm following along in my missal, and I'm trying to listen to the choir sing the Introit, but it doesn't quite sound like what's in my missal...and then I realize. Oh. The missal says something about Corpus Christi Thursday. And then I look up and realize.... the priest is wearing green.
Had I not been celebrating Corpus Christi immediately after with the Ordinary Form, that would have been quite a sad and jolting ending to this string of some of my favorite feasts, and the beginning of the long and boring Ordinary Time of summer.

And I'm sad to realize that I missed a very cool liturgy and procession on Thursday. :-(

Oh well. The good news is... I really like my job, and my boss.
Yesterday, he was like, "Oh, tomorrow let's do the Sequence."
And I was like, "Oh, but it's optional."
"You want it?!" Sweetness!
I'm still not sure exactly where the translation is from, but I was delighted to find that the translation in our OCP missalettes was almost the same as the English setting by Fr. Samuel Weber! Yay!
The only changes were that OCP used "thee" instead of "you" and things like "knowest" instead of know. Which is interesting, b/c the "older english" words actually perfectly coincided with the Latin melody and syllables, so whoever wrote that made sure it would fit with the original chant melody, but whoever just willy-nilly decided to get rid of "showest" and the like, simply didn't care that they were altering the metrical structure.
So, I chanted it, with organ accompaniment, and fast. :-)   (Like Father wants!)

A colleague of mine at another church told me that his music director mentioned, "oh, don't do the sequence tomorrow."
What is happening? Is it the new translation? Never in my lifetime has ANY church that I've known of even considered doing this 7 minute long piece!
(Is it because for the first time ever it's in all the missalettes? If so, why? The new translation? Um,'s ALWAYS been an option in the Novus Ordo...)

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Got my incense fix for the week!

This morning I was able to attend Matins and the Divine Liturgy at the Byzantine Catholic Cathedral of the Eparchy of Parma, right here near where I live, (whose territory apparently extends from Ohio all the way to Kansas and North Dakota!)
(** Parma is an incredibly interesting city from a liturgical viewpoint. All I can guess is that it is or was chock-filled with immigrants; As far as I can tell, they have no less than FOUR "ethnic" Cathedrals- Byzantine Catholic, Ukranian Catholic, Russian Orthodox, Ukranian Orthodox!)

I've been to probably 4-5 Byzantine liturgies, and I am always struck by how different they are from Roman Catholic, and yet how we are in communion with them! How they managed to not lose their liturgical identity with Vatican II!

After having been to several of their liturgies, but none for the past couple years, it is enjoyable to hear/remember many of the responses that are so essential to this liturgy- "Wisdom!" "Let us be attentive!" "Lord have mercy," "Let us who mystically represent the Cherubim..." and of course my favorite, "The doors! The doors!"

So here I was, at a cathedral, and the amazing thing is how everything is sung, with no instruments! There did appear to be an organ in the choir loft, but no one used it; it was just an old man cantoring with a young man with a beautiful voice singing a harmony of 3rds, 6ths, and 5ths. I never know how to describe Byzantine singing. It's not chant, and it's not metrical. It's just... singing. I mean, like 95% of the service was sung, by the cantor (sort of with the people), or priest/deacon. The church wasn't very full, maybe 100 people, but it does make me sad that not many people made much effort to sing. Especially, since most of them probably go there every Sunday, and most of the music is the SAME - how hard can it be? So, I'm not sure that the answer to "how to get Catholics to sing," is necessarily, "sing everything, the same, every week." I think there needs to be something more, I'm just not sure what. Perhaps a choir, of at least a couple people singing the melody, in octaves, would help? (No one wants to feel like they are singing along with a soloist, which is what I felt like this morning... See "Why Catholics Can't Sing.")

A few other things to note:
The deacon and priest really like walking around the church ringing bells.
There were kneelers, but they were not used at all. Grr... Orthodox influences... :-(
I don't really know if this would be considered a "liberal" church, or what the spectrum of that is in the Byzantine Church, but I do know that the Mass intentions in the bulletin for the deceased were apparently "in celebration of the life of ..." Um, I'm pretty sure that offering a Mass for the "celebration of life" of someone is not by any stretch of the imagination a prayer, which is the definition of what a Mass is able to be offered for!
I have probably observed this before, but it's interesting that the Byzantines get their own translation of things, like for example the Creed. If I remember correctly, for example they said "of one essence," instead of the old Roman translation, "one in being," or the new translation, "consubstantial." They also definitely said  "who proceeds from the Father" (with no mention of the Son.) Hey, Greek Orthodox, you can still be in communion with Rome and not have to add "Son" there!

Anyhow. Where should I go to church next month? Perhaps I could try the local SSPX chapel? Or one of the other ethnic cathedrals I mentioned above? They might have some fascinating singing and/or harmonies.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Church hopping

Since my once-a-month free Sunday is quickly approaching again, I figure that I had better write a review on my church experience from last month!

I had the privilege of going to Mary Queen of Peace, which is a lovely church with a great pastor and an excellent music director (and organist who played a fabulous prelude and postlude) who really understands some of the sacred music concepts. They are lucky to have a part-professional choir, which of course allows them to do some very difficult choral pieces with relative ease.

Luckily, they print all of the music in the bulletin, so I am able to refresh my memory with that. Unlike some people who think that chant/Latin are the SOLE ideals, there was a very pleasant mixture of chant, Latin, hymns, English antiphons, and choral pieces.

I will start off with my single complaint-
The Introit was the proper (English translated) text set to "Duke Street" with four verses. My opinion about the Introit is that if anything is chanted, it should be, since the way something is begun sets the pace for the entire thing, and it should not require the congregation to sing the majority of it, so that they are able to look up and watch the procession, which is a very cool thing if done with all the smells, bells, and whistles. So, singing a new text to a familiar tune in a "marching" style is not ideal for that, I think. There was a cool instrumental interlude between some of the verses, so that was nice.

Oh, then my other sort-of complaint was just that silly "O Mary we crown thee..." song that is far too high for any congregation to sing, and is so schmaltzy that it sounds like it's straight out of a black and white movie. (Nothing against black and white movies; I just don't think most of their music is suitable for Mass!)
However, pretty much every Catholic thinks, "But we've always sung this song at May Crowning!" {eyeroll}

The choir sang a neat piece for offertory, and then I was thrilled to look in the bulletin and see that the choral Agnus Dei was the one written by my buddy Dan Knaggs, "Missa Sancti Ioannis Apostoli!"
Then, (while I don't explicitly remember this, although the bulletin tells me it occurred,) the proper Communion chant was sung, followed by the Communion antiphon in the style which has been very encouraged by the bishop in this diocese (and I approve,) with singable antiphon, short enough to easily memorize and sing without looking at the page, alternating with psalm verses and/or instrumental pieces.
Then the closing was the suitable "Regina Caeli."

A very enjoyable and reverent liturgy; if I didn't have other Sunday morning occupations, I would certainly consider making this parish my home!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

"all the verses..."

Along with debates about the proper "range" for congregants to sing in, over at my favorite sacred music forum, there is often discussion about "singing all the verses" for the hymn.

I am of the opinion that since hymns aren't even "proper" to the Mass- they are already just "fillers"- it doesn't really matter if the time suggests that you ought to leave out some verses. Others think that it is horrible if you don't sing every single printed verse. Now, some of  those people acknowledge that the verses that are in most of our hymnals aren't even all the verses to begin with! (This alone seems to be a good enough argument to me, that it doesn't matter how many verses we sing, since it's out of our control as it stands now...)

This point has been more acutely experienced by me lately, as I have switched from GIA to OCP. Especially as I have been programming music for these upcoming 4 great Feasts which all have soooo many wonderful, traditional, loved hymns that are ideal to use, I have been noticing that in contrast to GIA (which has 3-5 verses per hymn, for example, 5 for "Crown Him with Many Crowns," but 3 for "To Jesus Christ the Sovereign King," but 4 for just about everything else,) OCP pretty much always has just 3 verses for all of the standard hymns.

Now, I have found that 4 verses is annoying for a recessional or processional, b/c you want 3 for a very short hymn like "I know that My Redeemer Lives," (Duke Street,) but maybe even just 2 for some of the longer hymns (like Come Holy Ghost, or Alleluia, Sing to Jesus {Hyfrydol.}) HOWEVER... 3 verses is faaaaar too short for offertory and certainly communion.
At least with GIA's variation in verses, I could program a hymn with more verses for offertory, and either sing all the verses that were printed OR simply announce which verses we were doing for entrance or recessional.

But for now... I am slightly frustrated with the lack of flexibility with only given the option of 3 verses. Thank you, OCP... I personally don't think the benefits outweigh the cons. I'm sure they were just trying to save space, thinking that people rarely sing the "traditional hymns" anymore. And, this is feeding into the belief that the entrance and recessional - the places where 3 verses are nice - ought to be the only places where energetic hymns are used. (Why would you ever want to use "Crown Him with Many Crowns" at offertory? eyeroll...)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Hymn-tune-range rant

I've probably written about this before, but let me just say... I am soooo glad to have (for the first time ever,) an organ with a "transpose" button on it. I have been using it for just about everything! It is delightful!

Now, surprisingly enough (since this seems so obvious to me,) this is actually a very controversial topic in the organist/musician community. Many people argue that the congregation needs to just learn how to sing properly, then they wouldn't have any problems with the high notes.

Actually, no. First, the congregation needs to learn to have a hymnal in front of them with all four parts (soprano, alto, tenor, bass,) and then they need to learn how to sightread their own voice part; the voice part which is most comfortable to their natural range. Well, let me tell you... since that is that most definitely NOT happening any time soon, I think it's safe to say that not everyone is a soprano, and therefore should not be singing the soprano line as written. "Well perhaps," you might say, "we should just teach them how to sing properly." Ok. Have you ever organized an outside-of-Mass musical event that required any participation from Catholics? Ok, well then, you first! (If you can get more than 5 people to come, I'll be amazed; and if you can get them to actually do anything, well... you'll find me buying a lottery ticket on that day!)

So, the solution seems obvious to me. There is a large group of untrained singers, no chance to "teach" them how support their singing properly and breath correctly (etc, etc...) so that they can really sing high, I would estimate that more than 50% of them are not even true sopranos or why pretend that they are?

In my experience, people start to complain around high D. C-C is ok. B-B is even better. So, yeah... I've been transposing everything down 2-3 half steps. It's soooo fun. :-)
(With the occasional "ooops! I forgot to transpose that next song back up and am now groveling on a low Ab for this entire song...!")

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Watered-down religion

I recently subbed for a funeral at a nearby church, and found myself not just getting annoyed, but also just very depressed. I was depressed at the watering-down of not only the liturgy, but also how that relates to the whole Gospel message--of not only salvation, but also repentance.

For example, at most funerals (assuming many people are guests and either un-churched or non-Catholic,) the priest says something like, "please kneel or be seated," or better yet, "please kneel," right before the Consecration. It shouldn't matter whether the people actually believe in what is happening; they should still show respect to what we consider extremely sacred, as they are in our church building. Even when the priest announces, "please kneel," I still see many people sitting instead of kneeling, which I suppose is their right, since perhaps if they really thought about it (and weren't just lazy as I imagine most of them are,) then they would realize that it could be idolotrous for them to kneel before something they don't believe in, but my point is that I do believe it's the responsibility of the priest to remind people that something sacred is happening, and their bodies should show as much respect as they are willing to. However, at this funeral, the priest asked everyone to remain standing. I do not know if that is the Sunday tradition at this parish (several of the choir members knelt still along with me,) but I wonder why the priest would say that? Nowhere in any Church documents is it given as an allowance for people to stand during the Consecration! Our bodies should reflect the attitude of our hearts- and I suspect the theology for wanting people to stand at this point would be a very warped idea that the focus at the moment would be on the people, standing united, and focusing on the Resurrection.  No. It should be on WORSHIP and ADORATION.

Anyhow, the more theological but less liturgical thing that really bothered me (and this is by no means unusual at funerals!) was the "canonization" of the deceased. While he may have been a very holy person, and a good and kind person, it makes me so sad when priest and people completely forget two things. First of all, Christ said "the Way is narrow, and few will enter it." How dare you assume that you know better than God where this person's soul is? Secondly, if we assume that someone is in heaven, then as Catholics we are completely ignoring the possibility of Purgatory, and that has dangerous and sad consequences for the deceased. If we assume they are in Heaven, and do not consider the possibility of them being in Purgatory, then we will not pray for their soul. And our prayers on earth can decrease the time spent in Purgatory and lessen their suffering. Isn't that what we should want for our deceased loved ones? To tell living family members that their loved one is in Heaven might make them feel good for awhile, but how does that help the suffering deceased soul?

Not to digress too much, but it was actually very weird what the priest said about being "Saints." I think at some point he may have actually said that the deceased was not a "Saint," but then he said something like, "We aren't Saints, but we are all saints!" I was like WTF?!?! I cannot believe that this man is a pastor. (Actually, I am not sure if this priest was the pastor, but ... I cannot believe that this man is ordained! You are trying to telling me that he spent how many years in seminary? and is now the guardian and shepherd of a flock?!) THEOLOGY 101, DUDE! IT'S IMPOSSIBLE TO BE A SAINT UNTIL YOU ARE DEAD AND IN HEAVEN! And given that there were quite a few people in the church, I would bet my life savings on the fact that at least some of the people in that church building live very UNSAINTLY lives! How dare that priest think he knows the lives and everyone there, and even more how dare he assume that he knows we are all going to Heaven? The worst part of it is, by saying something like that, you are in no way calling people on to continue to seek out the Truth and to live better and holier lives; you are saying that they are doing just fine where they are at. We should NEVER be done striving for holiness. By saying otherwise, you are allowing people to become complacent- spiritual sloth = one of the seven deadly sins!

Now for the summary of my thoughts. Who would ever want to belong to such a religion? A religion that pats you on the back and tells you are doing a great job? A religion that tells you that you don't have to worship anything, that just coming to church and being a nice person is all that matters?

Until you find something worth dying for, you're not really living!

I don't know about you, but I would never die for such a religion.

And this priest thinks he can fill his church with trendy music and making people feel good about themselves. The scary part is, it somewhat works. At least for awhile. After a couple generations, the children and grandchildren stop coming, b/c they lose the sense of community in the parish, and the things I mentioned a couple paragraphs up certainly aren't reasons to keep coming to church.

And so who gains from this watered-down religion? Does the priest? Certainly not. "And whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a millstone fastened around his neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea." (Matthew 18:6.) Isn't that what a priest is doing by not only encouraging people to not show due respect for the Eucharist, but also encouraging everyone to come up and receive Communion? (as this priest did...I think it is safe to say that in any typical funeral congregation, there are non-Catholics and Catholics who have committed sins such as missing Mass...) And do any of the people gain by being patted on the back, instead of reminded of the suffering aspect of salvation; both of Christ's as well as the necessity of our own suffering and repentance? Certainly not. And I am so glad that's not what Catholicism is about, but that would be one darn boring and pointless religion!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

"Bad Vestments"

BAHAHAHA! I've just stumbled across this blog...the title says it all!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

new job!

wow, what an exciting weekend! I mean, it wasn't terribly exciting, but I really am embarking on an adventure. First of all, I have NEVER been told that I was playing a hymn to slow in my life, occasionally people comment on how fast they are... but my new pastor apparently really really likes fast hymns (and I think he actually likes hymns, not just fast "contemporary" music,) and he even told me that one of my hymns was too slow. (I'm still not sure if it was "Alleluia Number 1," or "Ye Sons and Daughters." (He said "the second song you played," which would be the Alleluia No. 1; if I weren't brand new at this, and had had more of an opportunity to figure it out, I might have argued with him, "listen, dude, you know what city I'm from? well, that's where the composer of that song is from. I think I've heard it enough times and from close enough sources to the original, that I KNOW how fast it's supposed to go." So, I just sped it up a bit for the next Mass. However, he may have been referring to "Ye Sons and Daughters," which would make a LOT more sense, as that piece is able to be sung at a large range of tempos. I did it a touch slower than I would have normally done b/c it was for communion. So I sped that up for the next Mass also. ) Anyhow, my weekend was made absolutely delightful, when, upon entering the choir loft on Saturday afternoon, I realized that the organ was pretty much *completely* fixed and useable! (I had been prepared for it to be about 50%. blah.) It was wonderful! A bit out of tune, but it's got a nice, new console, and a LOT of ranks and pipes! I've never gotten to play an organ for a church before that even had more than 7 ranks, lol! Now, I am soooo excited to get more comfortable with the different registrations and starting to be creative. (I think that one of the things that has always held me back in my flexibility with registrations when using an organ like Hill, is that I simply have no experience and little opportunity to practice. It will of course be exciting as well, "Oh wow, that trumpet came out a little louder than I was expecting on that..." :-P So, to be able to play this organ, in this gorgeous church? Well, hopefully the situation will be all rainbows and unicorns, but I'm mentally preparing myself to be able to "put up" with a LOT, and stick it out...

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

TLM and Adventures

Firstly, I am about to embark on an adventure. (A very low-paying, but exciting nonetheless, adventure.) Starting this weekend, I will be thrown into a church job that will require every bit of my musical creativity and energy. (The outgoing organist: "So the new Mass setting that I wrote and that we've been using is in 6 flats, but it's not very hard." and "Well, there aren't any accompaniment books b/c I just improvise and harmonize to the missalette, so hopefully you can do the same..." oh goody...My plan is to require after the first weekend - where I will use an old copy of Choral Praise for the hymns- that the parish either buy or find the accompaniment books that they should be receiving for free every 3 years with the music subscription.)

Secondly, this same parish offers a TLM, which I was not asked to play for. I heard from one source that the current organist "wants" to keep playing it, from another that the current organist "hates" the traditional Mass/music, and from still another source that the current organist is sticking with it b/c he doesn't think he can find anyone competent to replace him! (Well, they definitely didn't even ask me if I've ever had any experience with it. I plan on at least waiting to tell them until I'm good and settled in and have figured out some of the politics a bit more at this parish, and possibly longer b/c I'm going to enjoy my late Sunday mornings while I can! Lol!)

Anyhow, this got me thinking about my feelings towards the TLM. I was thinking, "what if someone asked me why exactly I like the TLM?" I think my main answer would be that I like it b/c you are practically guaranteed a more reverent liturgy, and you don't have to worry about any goofy "innovations." However, I really don't like the fact that the whole thing is in Latin, and I would definitely over-all prefer a reverent Novus Ordo liturgy anyday. But one not-very-good reason that I do think I like the TLM as a musician who might do music for it, is that the people at it will appreciate the music more than the average Novus Ordo. The kinds of music that are done at it can be more choir-oriented, and more enjoyable for me to do. The reason I was thinking that this might not be the best attitude for me, is that this could start to lead to a more "performance" attitude. Ok, there is a whole lot of thoughts in this paragraph that I haven't quite begun to sort out, and it made more sense in my head than it is coming out on the screen, so I will stop here! :-)

Friday, April 06, 2012

A lovely Triduum!

A lovely Triduum so far. I am really glad to be at the parish at which I'm at this year! It's kind of bittersweet though, since it is bringing back memories of where I was last year (and the previous 4 years!) and where I will be next year. (Since I will only be at the current parish for the next week, and the future is rather fuzzy at the moment...)

I was very pleased that I only had to witness men having their feet washed, but was a little uncomfortable when I found out that the pastor would afterwards invite anyone who wanted forward to have their feet washed. ("awwwwwkward," thought I...)

I promise that I did not intend for it to work this way, but what ended up happening was there were 3 men left when the first piece of music was finished, so not knowing whether the priest was going to *say* anything when I was done to invite people up, I started the next piece. Looking in the mirror, I observed that he did indeed get in the middle aisle and (I assume,) invited people up, but this happened to be as the choir/congregation was singing the refrain of the new song. Either as a result of the congregation agreeing with me about the awkwardness of coming forward, or else they simply didn't get the message b/c the pastor was speaking over the music (that is the part that I promise wasn't intentional!) as far as I could tell from my limited vision, no one went forward! I almost laughed out loud when the 3 men left to wash others feet simply awkwardly stood there.

Note to self and priest-- try to avoid introducing innovations into the liturgy. they're just...awkward.
(awkward, awkward, awkward. There. Are you sick of that word yet?)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

"guitar music"

So right now I'm the pianist for a little ensemble of guitars and singers that plays at Mass once a week. After having been in GIA territory for the past 5 years, I now find myself in OCP land and don't know pretty much any of the "contemporary" songs. Occasionally there is a song that is scheduled for the upcoming weekend, and I glance at it, and it looks a little difficult, so I decide to run through it and "learn" it in advance. 100% of the time, I sit down at the piano, and play through it, and find myself not only able to sight-read it, but immediately find it boring-ly predictable.
My point of this isn't that it is a reflection on my own musical abilities, but rather, the lack of any sort of musical-sophistication contained in the music geared for contemporary groups.
Now, if I have no difficulty running straight through it since it's so predictable, then it does seem to follow that it would almost as easy for the average congregation to be able to pick it up.
But whether that is a good thing or not, is another conversation...

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Filled with delight!

It must be the weather.

And, perhaps, a cute little encounter I just had in the sacristy after Mass...

I was putting things away, and overheard two young men (high schoolers; I didn't notice if they had been serving at Mass,) talking to the priest (not the pastor.) They said something about the Latin Mass, and of course my ears perked up. Then I realized that they were talking about pattens, and someone said something about people receiving with their hands. I jumped in, and said, "Are you talking about patens? I know a parish that still uses them even when people receive on the hand." Then the sacristan, who was also there, mentioned that the communion rail was somewhere on the premises, and we joked about putting that back up. But we all admitted to not having any authority to do that. Ha. Then the priest was like, " we're dreaming..." and we all laughed and went our separate ways. But I couldn't stop grinning as I walked out of there!
"I'm one of you! Yay!" :-)

Friday, March 02, 2012

Really, the Penitential Rite is not that hard...

But I am beginning to find myself more and more amused/annoyed by priests who can't seem to get the Penitential Rite correct. Some of them never even got it before the new translation, but now it seems to me that many priests are even more confused by it than before, for a variety of reasons, (one of which I think is the major re-translation of the rarely-used option "B.")

Anyhow, I have now had not just one, but two priests whom I have had to mention the correct way to use the "Kyrie's," and my dear husband has also told me of another parish in which he knew the priests were not doing it correctly.

Dear Fathers... it's really not that hard...
Basically, we always do some form of "Lord/Christ have mercy."
So, either that would be option A (the Confiteor,) or option B ("Have mercy on us Lord,") either of which would then be followed by the Kyrie/Lord have mercy, OR we would do the option C (the tropes,) which already has "Lord have mercy" as a part of it.

I mean, I know that priests have a TON else that they need to be doing, but really, it takes like 2 minutes to sit down and just read straight through the rubrics of the penitential rite. I suppose it also makes me a bit worried when I think about all the other liturgical things that I'm probably not even aware of, and it makes me doubt even more the amount of time that most priests would spend even reading the basic rubrics. :-(

Monday, February 27, 2012

Finally available!

For free! Legal! For the entire world!

Until now, a mostly unknown, and unavailable choral work by C├ęsar Franck.

Can chant be sung without a director?

I certainly think so.

For example, if a group of singers were to learn a chant from the same recording, and each individually attempt to follow the nuances precisely (speed up here; barely lengthen this note,) and/or if the group spends time rehearsing together and agreeing upon rhythms and flow, then is a director really necessary?

I have found myself in the position of being "director," and yet, once I feel like I've "taught" the group, either by example or explanation of specific phrases, I can't help but wondering if all of my arm-waving is superfluous. Perhaps even moreso with some very amateur groups: if they have learned the chant more by ear than reading the notes-- wouldn't they be less affected by small nuances in conducting?
On the other hand, I have found myself in a situation of singing chant in a group with advanced singers and a superb conductor, and after extensive rehearsing, I feel as though I am so familiar with the director's every move, that we are already doing what he is directing, and if he stopped conducting, we would sound the exact same.

Perhaps I am not such a good chant singer or director, that I am not aware of the extent of the affect that conducting can have?

Wednesday, February 08, 2012


FABULOUS article-

Why go to Mass?

Yes, it comes down to - "Flannery O’Connor wrote of a man she knew who had converted to Catholicism because, he came to believe, Jesus must really be present in the Eucharist - otherwise, since the Catholic liturgy was regularly so dreadfully and mechanically done - no one would keep coming."

And unfortunately, most Catholics haven't been taught that, so, yeah...they're kind of struggling to find a reason to keep coming. (hint: this also isn't necessarily about pre-Vatican II or post.)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

How to judge a church

I recently found myself in the position of describing (or rather, comparing) two different Catholic churches, to help someone who is traditionally minded decide which to attend. As I thought about it later, the kinds of things that I chose to mention were interesting, and certainly say something about a church. But most people wouldn't consider most of these things significant at all! I hardly even had to mention the devotion to orthodox Catholicism, since the interesting thing is that these things all point to that!

-Of course, the quality of the music. How much chant? Anything in latin? The quality of the choirs and of course what styles of music they sing in.
-The demeanor of the priest while celebrating Mass; including, how much he "ad libs," or brings his personality into the ritual.
-The content of the homilies.
-Whether there are female altar servers.
-Whether the church "looks" like a church inside.
-The demeanor (lack or presence of chatter or respectfulness) before and after Mass from the congregation.
-What kind of vestments the priest wears, and what the altar servers wear.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

"Nobody has ever taught us this before!"

I had a lovely little choir rehearsal tonight.

Looking at the schedule, I realized that we really don't have much to learn between now and Lent, and, (if I wanted to,) I could surely run the rehearsal in 35 minutes each week. That not really being an option (since my pay isn't based on hours,) I have been thinking I need something more to do with the choir. So, I decided to have them work on a little polyphonic 4-part piece. At the very least, even if they never sing it at Mass, I could use it to teach some notes and how to read rhythms.

I decided I would do a lot of "everyone singing the same part" thing, so that people wouldn't get bored, and teach them to "count-sing." (Eg, 1+2+3+4+ for every measure.)

We had started that last week on a mostly quarter note song, and it was going well, so I figured that jumping into the eighth note song would be perfect. I quickly realized that they had less of a grasp on the actual note values than I was thinking, so I set about explaining how "1+2" or whatever fits into which notes exactly, and writing it on the white board. They were very interested, with only mild complaining about the difficulty. So, we had a great rehearsal, got through a bit of the piece, and I'm looking forward to helping them to really learn it solidly, with a complete understanding of the notes over the next few weeks.

However, my day was made (and my heart aches,) when, at the end of rehearsal, I was erasing the white board, and someone said, "Oh, you're erasing that! I was going to use it!" And then they started asking me to re-write it and hand it out! They said, "No one has ever taught us this before!... I failed music when I was in school... I've been singing in choirs for years!"

Wow. So, this will be an interesting experiment at the worst, or, way to change their lives (musically at least,) at the best. I will definitely write out a sheet for them, and even include some rhythm exercises that they can practice counting on their own! This should be fun.
And...this is why I love my job. :-)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


I'm super excited... I'm currently working on typesetting a new edition of THIS gorgeous piece, which is certainly in public domain. I can hardly wait to be finished so I can put it on CPDL and make it available, accessible, and FREE to the whole world!

I'm particularly excited, because this, as a project, has been in the back of my mind as something that I would like to do... but I just received confirmation today that this is entirely legal, and rightly so! {why deny the world something that was written by someone who has been dead for more than 100 years, just so some publisher can line his pockets?}