Friday, January 02, 2009

What is going on at Mount St. Mary's?

Perhaps you know a priest who went to seminary at Mount St. Mary's. Here is a sample of what they are singing today: Magnificat Tone 8. This track appears on the new CD from the seminary: Vespers Schola. It features 36 tracks of music, including a full Vespers service in Latin/English.

I haven't heard it but I'm going to get a few if only to pass out to people as an illustration of what today's seminarians are doing. We all know that the seminary experience is profoundly important in shaping the manner in which our parishes are managed in the future, not only in terms of the theological orientation of homilies and education programs but also in music. A seminarian with a good musical formation will later become a priest dedicated to supporting good music at the parish level.

The selections on this CD are interesting for what they indicate about the current class. The focus is not only ritual chant as such but on beautiful and older arrangements of standard texts like Ave Maria, Haec Dies, Tu es Sacerdos, Panis Angelicus, and the like. The arrangements are 19th century, and before you dismiss this repertoire as nothing but sentimentalism, listen to this O Sacrum, for example. It is by Roberto Remondi, from a collection published at the turn of the 20th century (not sure if that is when it was first published). If that doesn't touch your heart--these are seminarians singing!--there is something wrong.

What I am suggesting here is that the selections are indeed nostalgic and you can say that perhaps the world in which this music conjures up is a myth and that today's seminarians are naive to think that all will be well if only we could go back to these times. What I find naive is the belief that we could have lived through the upheavals of the last 40 years and not observe a longing for the past alive in the hearts of those who are committing their lives to the service of the faith.

In this sense, there is a message here in the selections, one that seeks a reconciliation between old and new, a hermeneutic of continuity in the beloved classics that were all so cruelly abandoned in favor of pop tunes in the 1970s. What we hear on this CD is a simple and pious longing for some kind of integration between what was and what is.

Someone might further observe that this music never really sounded that good in the 1910-1950s, and then argue that it was dropped for good reason, that it was moldy and had to go. On the other hand, what replaced it was far worse, and I tend to reject claims that the old sentimentalism is aesthetically equal to Glory & Praise. Whatever was wrong with the Montani/Ravanello oeuvre, it was pious and sought integration with the Roman Rite. In any case, it hardly matters, because the singers do an amazing job with the music, and make a very strong case for it actually.

I'm blown away by how well these guys sing, and the recording quality is outstanding. Someone had the good sense to put lots of effort into this project. It is very exciting, and I can only hope it becomes a big seller among Catholics.

And actually, if you think about it, a CD like this for average Catholic homes will find a more welcome reception than even the most expertly done recording of Gregorian propers, which, after all, belong at Mass. This CD is living room music, and it is glorious for that use (which isn't to say that it can't be sung at Mass too).

Here are the selections:

1. "Ave Maria" Franz Biebl
2. "O Sacrum Convivium" Roberto Remondi
3. "Panis Angelicus" Cesar Franck
4. "Ecce Sacerdos" Goller
5. "Tu es Sacerdos" Nicola Montani
6. "Hear, Lord" Peter Tschaikowsky
7. "Lord for Thy Tender Mercies Sake" Richard Farrant
8. "Psalm 62" Frederick Ziegler, Mr. Brian Baker, Tenor
9. "Te Joseph Celebrent" Oreste Ravanello
10. "Ave Maris Stella" Chant Mode I, Gregorian Chant Schola
11. "Adagio Cantabile" Giuseppe Tartini, Frederick Ziegler, Organist
12. "Magnificat" on Psalm Tone 8
13. "Immaculate Mary" Mount St. Mary Text by Irene Powell and Paula Smaldone
14. "Solemn Regina Caeli" Chant Mode VI, Gregorian Chant Schola

Sunday Vespers II, Week Two in Ordinary Time

15. Procession: "O Glorioso Virginum"
16. Introductory: "God, Come to My Assistance"
17. Hymn: "At the Name of Jesus"
18. Psalm 110
19. Pslam 115
20. Revelation Canticle
21. Reading
22. Responsory
23. Magnificat
24. Intercessions
25. Our Father
26. Prayer
27. Dismissal
28. Salve Regina

29. "Ave Maria" Oresto Ravanello
30. "O Gladsome Light" Anon
31. Concerto on "Thaxted" Gustav Holst/Richard Proulx
32. "Haec Dies" Oreste Ravanello
33. "Ultima" Anon
34. "To You Do We Come Seeking Mercy" Anon
35. "Locus Iste" Anton Bruckner
36. "Ave Maria" Franz Schubert, Mr. Thomas Crowe, Baritone

Here is a news story about the CD.

Sadly, you can't order online. You have to send a check, a fact which will cut down on the number of orders dramatically. If someone at Mount St. Mary's is reading, please drop me a line and I will gladly talk you through how to add a paypal link. It will take 10 minutes. This is too important a project to be scuttled by something as simple as an online payment problem.

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