Sunday, June 29, 2008

The practicalities of chant

Jeffrey Tucker offers commentary over at The New Liturgical Movement about the June-July issue of Pastoral Music. The issue has an atypical focus on chant, but falls short of what Tucker would have like to see.

The articles are interesting and worthy, and cause for celebration. The authors are experts who are worth reading. They make some good points and some points that I personally find weak but this latter point is a matter of opinion.

But in another way, the issue and these articles miss the mark and this is not the fault of the writers so much as the editors here. This issue does not sufficiently address the top questions that Catholic musicians have about Gregorian chant: how to read it, how to sing it, what to sing, and when to sing it. These are the practical points that vex musicians all over the country when they think about this subject. In fact, only one of four articles addresses some of these points, and even in this article, the author doesn’t quite speak the language of parish musicians.


Musicians these days do not know how to read the notes. They are terrified by Latin. They fear the people’s reactions. They are dealing with skeptical pastors and Bishops. They have weak singers who use instruments as a crutch. Also, Catholic musicians tend to be a bit too satisfied with doing the same thing week after week, and there needs to be some inspiration to bring about change. To introduce chant is a major step. It takes work and there is a risk here. The musician will be called on to provide a serious defense. He or she has to believe. Doubt will lead to failure.


My fear, then, is that the novice will read all of these articles and still not have a strong rationale to take the next step or anything like an intellectual apparatus that will prepare them to pick up a single piece of music and sing it with their choirs and congregations.

As someone who is keenly interested in the practicalities of increasing chant within a parish (my own), I agree with Mr. Tucker that the basics of how to read chant and what to sing are the necessary foundation. For a good, brief introduction to reading Gregorian chant check out An Idiot's Guide to Square Notes co-authored by Jeffrey Tucker and Arlene Oost-Zinner.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Serpent in the garden

But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

So also said the Un-man who possessed the body of Weston in C.S. Lewis' second book of his space trilogy, Perelandra. I'm halfway through, and very much enjoying the books. They combine Christian truths with the existence of rational life on other planets. So much sci-fi is spiritually void or silly, or specifically non-Christian. I really like the reflections of our own condition that C.S. Lewis paints in the creatures of other worlds. Now, the worlds inhabited happen to be Mars and Venus (so far) which is of course impossible, but apart from a few annoyances I had in book one regarding the author's description of the effects of gravity, even I don't mind the stretch.

In Perelandra, Ransom has been sent by the Oyarsa of Mars (a good angelic creature) to Venus on some unknown mission by the command of Maleldil (God). He finds there a woman, the first of her planet, alone and without her king. Weston, Ransom's kidnapper from book one, arrives in his spacecraft and it becomes clear that he was merely used as a vehicle for the Bent One of Earth to enter and corrupt the innocent children Venus. C.S. Lewis writes long conversations, witnessed by Ransom, of the possessed Weston tempting the Lady to disobey Maleldil. So far "Weston" is unsuccessful, but it doesn't look good for the Lady, who eventually tires and lies down asleep. Ransom remains awake:

There was nothing to do but to watch: to sit there, for ever if need be, guarding the Lady from the Un-man while their island climbed interminably over the Alps and Andes of burnished water. All three were very still. Beasts and birds came often and looked upon them. Hours later the Un-man began to speak. It did not even look in Ransom's direction; slowly and cumbrously, as if by some machinery that needed oiling, it made its mouth and lips pronounce his name.
"Ransom," it said.
"Well?" said Ransom.
"Nothing," said the Un-man. He shot an inquisitive glance at it. Was the creature mad? But it looked, as before, dead rather than mad, sitting there with the head bowed and the mouth a little open, and some yellow dust from the moss settled in the creases of its cheeks, and the legs crossed tailor-wise, and the hands, with their long metallic-looking nails, pressed flat together on the ground before it. He dismissed the problem from his mind and returned to his own uncomfortable thoughts.
"Ransom," it said again.
"What is it?" said Ransom sharply.
"Nothing," it answered.
Again there was silence; and again, about a minute later, the horrible mouth said:
"Ransom!" This time he made no reply. Another minute and it uttered his name again; and then, like a minute gun, "Ransom ... Ransom ... Ransom," perhaps a hundred times.
"What the Hell do you want?" he roared at last.
"Nothing," said the voice. Next time he determined not to answer; but when it had called on him a thousand times he found himself answering whether he would or no, and "Nothing," came the reply. He taught himself to keep silent in the end: not that the torture of resisting his impulse to speak was less than the torture of response but because something rose up to combat the tormentor's assurance that he must yield in the end. If the attack had been of some more violent kind it might have been easier to resist. What chilled and almost cowed him was the union of malice with something nearly childish. For temptation, for blasphemy, for a whole battery of horrors, he was in some sort prepared: but hardly for this petty, indefatigable nagging as of a nasty little boy at preparatory school. Indeed no imagined horror could have surpassed the sense which grew within him as the slow hours passed, that this creature was, by all human standards, inside out -- its heart on the surface and its shallowness at the heart. One the surface, great designs and an antagonism to Heaven which involved the fate of worlds: but deep within, when every veil had been pierced, was there, after all, nothing but a black puerility, an aimless empty spitefulness content to sate itself with the tiniest cruelties, as love does not disdain the smallest kindness? What kept him steady, long after all possibility of thinking about something else had disappeared, was the decision that if he must hear either the word Ransom or the word Mothing a million times, he would prefer the word Ransom.
Then all at once it was night. "Ransom ... Ransom ... Ransom ... Ransom" went on the voice. And suddenly it crossed his mind that though he would some time require sleep, the Un-man might not.

It's clear so far that the Un-man is far more intelligent and smooth than Ransom, but Ransom has faith and is speaking the Truth and has won two bouts so far against the Evil One. Or at least two stalemates. We'll have to to see how it turns out.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The "Force" is not equal to ma

Lileks on The Science of Star Wars at the Science Museum of Minnesota:

I love "Star Wars," I can tell you why making the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs doesn't mistake units of distance for units of time, so back off, fanboy. I have every intention of joining the geek queue for a chance to see actual real genuine props.

But let us not confuse the show with actual science. It's like the "Science of Lord of the Rings." Which would be ... metallurgy. And weaving. Gandalf wore a lovely white formal gown in the second one. You can imagine the ads: "Are the Orc factories that turned out legions of hellish warriors similar to our own attempts to genetically engineer better people?"

Well, inasmuch as we're not doing it in the service of rapacious evil bent on possessing a single piece of jewelry, no. That's what cosmetic surgery is for.

Suggested upcoming exhibits: "The Science of 'Sex In The City'," which explains the engineering principles behind Carrie Bradshaw's enormous dress-flower things. "How does she stay standing on heels in stiff winds wearing that thing? Learn the science behind the fashion!"
Then there's "The Science of Boosting Attendance Figures with Pop-Culture Tie-Ins." But like "Star Wars," that's more of an art.


Friday, June 13, 2008

It's Becky Schlegel!

Local bluegrass and country singer Becky Schlegel has a new album out that is breaking onto the national scene. Strangely (since I never really listen to music), I have a CD of her's. I saw her perform back in the summer of 2000 at the U of MN outdoor lunch concert series. I liked the sound so much that I bought a CD and asked her if she did wedding receptions! She was very nice, but the price was likely prohibitive. Plus, I think I had a bit of a crush on her which doesn't make for a good wedding combo.

Anyhoo, check out her new album if bluegrass/country is your thing!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The evolution of sacred music

Nathaniel Peters at First Things Blog shares a funny french comedy called Kamelott. "It’s a comedy show set in Arthurian times with colloquial modern language, and its episodes are all under five minutes in length." Here's a funny one about medieval music. WARNING: A few bad words in the subtitles.