Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Polyphonic Hallway

I’m sitting in the hallway at the Mundelein building at Loyola university, and 50 yards from me in every direction is a chant classes. They will all take part in a Requiem Mass that begins in 90 minutes, so during this rehearsal they are putting the finishing touches on ordinary chants, the sequences, and the propers of this Mass. It would be an impossible task for one group alone, never having sung together before, to prepare all of this material in one day. But divided between five groups of numbers of 50 to 75, it does become possible.

To my left I heard the introit and graduale chant. To my right, the group is working through In Paradisum and Lux Aeterna. The group up the stairs is putting the finer touches on Dies Irae. The group down the hall is singing ordinary chants. The singing is mixed with commentary on texts, style, history, and liturgy.

The sound mixed is interesting. You can hear three or four different modes at once. I’ve asked each conductor if he or she wanted the door closed but they declined. They sound of the other music does not bother them. In some ways, of course, the piling of chant on chant is origin of polyphony, as cascades of sound bounced around cathedrals, and people starting adding fifths and fourths.

Sometimes people wonder why the Second Vatican Council only mentions two styles of music by name as appropriate to the Roman Rite: chant and Renaissance-style polyphony. What is the link? The link is what I hear in this room. The sounds never rests and the movement is always floating and carrying the listener along.

I’m also interested in what this conference, the Sacred Music Colloquium of the CMAA, means for the future of the Church. Keep in mind that events such as this are completely new to our times. They didn’t exist on this level in the 90s, 80s, 70s, and so people were not receiving training. People have complained about Catholic music for decades, but who was doing something about the problem?

Here is the solution. The people here are all ages. They are chant directors, choir directors, students, singers, organists, professors, and some laypeople who are not currently involved in parish music because they are waiting for their parishes to catch up to the changed times. These musicians represent the future of Catholic church music.

Coda: The Mass is ended. It was perhaps the most beautiful I've ever experienced. Logistics were flawless. The servers from St. John Cantius were perfect of course. A woman who happened to attend, not knowing that we were singing, came out to say that she felt that she had seen the face of God. Quoting: "I repented of my sins, prayed for my ancestors, and experienced Paradise."

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