Thursday, December 17, 2015

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (Reposted from 2013)

Beginning today and  proceeding up to Christmas Eve, the “O” antiphons for the Magnificat are sung during vespers.  (The texts of these antiphons are the basis for the popular Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel."  For those of you who really want to be “inside baseball” on this topic, Jeffrey Tucker wrote a brilliant article on the history of the tune over at the New Liturgical Movement, here.)

Several years ago in a discussion thread at the Musica Sacra forum, a member pointed out that the text of the “O” antiphons is actually a very clever word game.  The seven invocations in the original Latin are: Sapientia, Adonai, Radix Jesse, Clavis David, Oriens, Rex gentium and Emmanuel.  The first letter of each spell S-A-R-C-O-R-E, which when reversed spells “Ero cras”, which in turn translated from Latin means “tomorrow I shall be.”  An appropriate expression for Christmas Eve, the day after the "O Antiphons" end.

As the member said, “Very clever, those medievals.”

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Sunday, December 13, 2015

Rejoice in the Lord, Always!

I am in the rare position of being in the employ of a Catholic church with a Pastor who is himself a trained and experienced organist. It was one of the main reasons why I applied for the position here at St. Mary's in the first place, and remains an important aspect of my work. Working with a Pastor who has "been there" and "done that" makes it far easier to set and accomplish goals, and while we may not agree on certain musical matters (minutiae), we at least have a basic mutual language with which to speak.

Fr. Lusk informed me some weeks ago that one of our parishioners, Jim Oliver, who runs a recording studio and is also our resident sound system tech had taken a collection of casette tapes recorded by Father while a student at Santa Clara University, and had remastered them to put on a CD. The end product is Rejoice in the Lord, Always! It is a collection of Advent and Christmas music recorded by Fr. Lusk on the Casavant organ in the concert hall at Santa Clara.  Alas, the organ no longer exists, so these recordings are doubly important.

It is a fine collection of hymns and shorter works by Bach, Bruhns, Manz and others, and represents Father Craig's skills as an organist. The pieces are rendered with great elegance and care, and his musicality is evident, as is his joy of playing the organ.

The CD is aptly named, Rejoice In The Lord, Always! being released on this Third Sunday of Advent, also known as Gaudete Sunday (for the first word of the Introit for the day, "Rejoice".)

It can be purchased at the parish, or you can sample tracks and download them here.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Keeping Advent 2015

We've turned the corner into the Year of Grace 2016 with the First Sunday of Advent.

With this comes the usual rants among my serious-minded colleagues who bemoan and decry the over-commercialization and secularization of the season, raising the spectre of the push for a "happy holidays" agenda and the supposed PC sanitization of the use of terms like "Christmas", questionable colors and symbols on coffee cups, or a protest over the appearance of Nativity scenes in the public square.

I'd like to offer a slightly different approach. Advent is a penitential and preparatory season in anticipation of Christmas. But I also think we as hard-identity Catholics need to infuse the season with the joy that our hope in and expectation of the Parousia brings. In other words, I put forth the notion of "keeping Advent."

Here are some ideas on how to "keep" Advent.

Have an Advent wreath with candles (three purple, one rose) in your home. St. Mary's had a wreath-making event after Masses several weeks ago. I can’t use real greens, as alas I’m an apartment dweller and am not permitted them due to risk of fire.

My tree goes up with white lights, but instead of Christmas ornaments, the tree is decorated with purple ornaments and some rose-colored ones.  Sometimes there are gold ones hidden throughout as a symbol of the anticipation. The tree is topped with a large purple bow. I also have a swag of greens with white lanterns and a big purple bow hanging over the chest where the Nativity set goes.

I abstain from listening to Christmas music at home, limiting myself to the few recordings of Advent music I own (a recording of the Advent Procession from St. James’ Episcopal Cathedral, Toronto, and J. Michael Thompson and his Schola Cantorum of St. Peter the Apostle singing Advent Lessons and Carols, called, ”Redeemer of the Nations, Come”).

On Gaudete Sunday I’ll make my Christmas cookies and write and post my Christmas cards.

On the morning of Christmas Eve, the purple and rose ornaments will come down and the Christmas decorations will go up on the tree and elsewhere in the apartment.

There are some who have a tradition of putting up the various elements of the Nativity in stages: the stable goes up on Advent I; the animals go in on Advent II; the shepherds on Advent III; the Angel on Advent IV; Mary and Joseph on Christmas Eve morning, and the bambino on Christmas Eve. I put the Infant King in the manger when I get home from Midnight Mass.

I'm sure there are plenty of other wonderful ways of "keeping" Advent. Please share them here!

Friday, November 27, 2015

The New View and Disclaimer

On October 21, 2015, I became the new Director of Sacred Music and Organist at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church in historic Marshall, Michigan. The new blog title picture is of the sanctuary taken from the choir loft. It's my intention to update this picture regularly to reflect the liturgical season.

So far, my experience in this new position has been nothing but positive. The parishioners are welcoming and kind, the staff is well-organized and hard-working, and the Pastor is one of the best priests I've had the pleasure of working with. This is no surprise since he's: 1) a convert, 2) holds a bachelor's degree in organ performance, 3) held a job as a Catholic church musician, and 4) worked in the private sector for a number of years before entering the seminary and becoming a priest. Not since my tenure at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Wyandotte have I enjoyed such a good collegial relationship with a priest, and it has restored my confidence in my vocation and the future of the Church.

The choir here is a mighty and determined bunch. I have 28 registered singers, and regularly have 21 at rehearsal and in the loft on Sundays. So far, they have risen to the challenge of learning the Elgar Ave Verum, the John Romeri arrangement of Goss's Psalm 23 (Anglican chant), and continue to show eagerness to learn Gregorian chant and the riches of sacred polyphony that is such an important part of our Catholic cultural identity.

Upon my arrival, the choir shared space with the religious education program in one of the classrooms in the former K-8 school that had been repurposed for the school of religion. At my request the director re-arranged the use of space so that the classroom could be dedicated exclusively to the use of the sacred music program. I set to the task of cleaning out the 12-plus years of accumulated "treasures" found throughout the cabinets, closets and shelves of the room, rearranging the furniture to create a proper rehearsal area and establish an office area in one corner while also creating a work space for a librarian to assist with the sorting and organizing of the choral library. The maintenance supervisor worked closely with another volunteer to see to the task of running ethernet cable below the floor of the building (through a series of small tunnels that house the plumbing for the forced steam heating system) into the music room so that I could have internet access at work. The room had never been used this consistently as an office and rehearsal space, and so the change was welcomed by the choir, who appreciated having a clean and orderly area in which to work.

I have been busy creating email "blast" lists for both the St. Mary (adult/mixed) Choir and the Young Voices of St. Mary (the boy's and girl's choir), using these "blasts" as a way of communicating with members on a regular basis. I've also begun making use of the Facebook page that had been set up as a contact point for parishioners, by posting the lists of music for upcoming Masses, funerals and other events.

I'm looking forward to the ongoing work of developing and advancing a solid sacred music program here. The people seem genuinely interested and eager to undertake the work and while they do occasionally get discouraged, they "screw their courage to the sticking place" and work hard to master the various challenges I put before them.

I'm also looking forward to reestablishing this blog as a place to communicate information about my efforts both at St. Mary's and in the greater sacred music community as well as take the occasional opportunity to make observations or post "rants" about important issues impacting our Catholic identity.

To that end, I'm publishing, as I've done previously, the following disclaimer:

The views expressed on this blog are solely those of the author, and in no way reflect those of the Pastor, staff or parishioners of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church. Comments on the blog are moderated, and as there have been problems with certain individuals in the past, I reserve the right to block people who use veiled or open threats, profanity or engage in "troll" behaviors.

Please visit regularly, as I will be posting new things several times a week.