Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Music at Ave Maria

I've just returned from a chant-teaching conference at Ave Maria University, sponsored by Musica Sacra Florida. I was enormously inspired by the breadth of attendance here. There were many people who were already well trained, and many others for whom this was their first exposure to sacred music.

Many came from the burgeoning chant movement in Florida, something that didn't exist even five years ago. Today it is growing, with new scholas in parish after parish. The seminarians in attendance were extremely intense in their devotion to the cause of sacred music, while seeking practical ways to implement change in the parishes they will be serving in the future.

Congratulations to Professor Jenny Donnelson for putting this together. I was also impressed with the music faculty at Ave Maria, especially Susan Treacy and Tim McDonnell, without whom I would have been hopeless at the EF Vespers service held the evening of the day of the conference. Tim is also an outstanding organist. I was thrilling to hear him play in that live acoustic. He is ridiculously humble considering his expansive talents.

I learned some things from Fr. Brian Austin of the FSSP, who seems to carry the whole of tradition in his very person. His passing comments and instructions were priceless. From him I learned, for the first time, the distinctions between the various forms of bows called for by the Roman Rite (why did I not know this?). He beautifully presented the difference between singing a text mechanistically and singing it musically. He is a master Psalm singer. He has one of those voices that seems to surpass the merely physical, as if God implanted a special wind instrument in his person, something designed just to sing praises. I know that it comes from years of training, but there is also an element that is sheer gift. The experience with him made me think again and again: thank God for the FSSP!

It was also a special pleasure to meet, for the first time after years of correspondence, Fr. Samuel Weber of St. Louis. What erudition and passion for sacred music this man possesses. He was carrying with him a new treasure, not yet ready for distribution. My eyes popped out to behold a near-complete Roman Gradual based on the forthcoming Missal texts from ICEL (I didn't discuss the famed two-sets-of-propers problem with him). It's all prepared and ready for global distribution and print-on-demand sales when the time comes. I can promise you that this one book is worth the entire catalogs of...well, I won't go there.

Fr. Weber is an example of a man who was put here in this time and place to shepherd us out of the wilderness into the promised land. As with Moses, it is not a role he would have ever chosen. But this is what he is called to do. I'm not sure how old he really is, but he looks to be probably 10 to 15 years younger than he is. It is what a life of hard work, piety, and relentless joy have granted him.

The more I do these conferences, the more hope I gain, on the one hand, but the more is revealed to me the extraordinary depth of the trouble out there. One of my talks was about five problems and five solutions on sacred music that are extant these days in nearly ever parish. I will write this talk up at some point and post it here.

I wish Ave Maria all the best in the future. The economic times have given rise to unexpected trials for this town and university. Both deserves our prayers and support. Finally, a special thank you goes out to Musica Sacra Florida for putting on this conference. It is a thankless task in many ways, and no one would do it for the money. It is all work, all the time, with no payoff but the sense that you have improved the world and served God faithfully. This they have done!

For those interested in the mother of all chant conferences, the conference that will give every Catholic musician a full immersion in the world of sacred music, to the point that it will transform the way you understand the role of music in liturgy, come to the Sacred Music Colloquium.

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