Monday, February 27, 2006

New Music, New Times

Our Sacred Music workshop this past weekend was a fabulous success, with as many as 100 people coming from many states and Canada to join us for two days of learning and singing. Thanks to all who came, and those who couldn't come but wished us well and prayed for us.

The atmosphere of the meeting was very upbeat. It was taken for granted that the current state of Catholic music leaves much to be desired but the entire focus of the meeting was on solutions. Many attendees (age 11 to 80) were already singing in parishes and others were forming scholas. They came to develop the skills needed to move from modern to Gregorian notation, and from hymns to genuine polyphony. In other words, they learned how to be part of the revival of what the GIRM and the Catholic Church has identified as the ideal in sacred music.

The two-day format seemed to work well. We did polyphony on Friday and chant on Saturday, with Scott Turkington leading us on both. The culminating liturgy on Saturday was stunningly beautiful, with 100 trained voices filling our small round parish (which has wonderful acoustics) and joining with another 200 parishioners who attended the Vigil Mass (many of whom didn't quite expect to enounter this!).

The workshop choir sang the Gregorian Mass setting "Missa Alma Pater" (Kyrie, Sanctus, Angus Dei), the Gloria from the Plainchant Mass, the offertory proper "Domine converte" and the communion proper "Cantabo domino," along with motets by Orlando di Lasso ("Jubilate Deo"), G.A. Palestrina ("Sicut Cervus"), and Felice Anerio ("Christus Factus Est"). The celebrant was Fr. Todd Kreitinger of St. Michael's.

This "old" music is so new and so fresh in our times. Turkington worked with us all to sing with affection for the form and with an appreciation for its beauty. It is hard to imagine that such sounds could ever be considered "divisive"--indeed they seem to be the perfect choice for bringing about a certain unity in what has been the highly contentious area of music and liturgy. And that's not surprising since it is this music that is integral to the liturgy itself.

Of all the results of the workshops, the one that pleased me the most was how parish musicians were shown, many for the first time, how the chant is not just another button on the liturgical jukebox but the music of the Roman Rite itself. We were given the tools we need to study and learn and improve our ability to read the notation and sing well. We were given an ideal that will never achieve but will animate the direction of our efforts the rest of our musical lives.

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