Universalis, your very own breviary in pixels...

Monday, 16 March 2009


I was thinking of writing about the rest, the generalpause, and the railroad tracks and such... and being the laziest creature the Almighty ever conceived of, I figured I could mention a personal experience and someone else would have done the heavy lifting, so I did a bit of surfing.
I came across a NTM blog, by a Catholic liturgical musician named Katie, called "The Beautiful Music Challenge."

It is a challenge, isn't it?
I suspect most people don't understand the balancing act required, particularly by those who make Church music their livelihood.
Even others who share ones sensibilities and spirituality of music and liturgy, if their "principled stands" are not likely, as yours are, to impact adversely on the mortgage of the building that shelters your family, are liable to at times be contemptuous of the compromises you have made -- if not actually of you for making them.

Sometimes you have to bite your tongue.

Boo-hoo, have a little stilton with your whine, Scelata

Anyway, that's another sort of silence, not the one I meant initially.

Musician Katie has written:
I spend a lot of time contemplating the silence. That's a pretty funny thing for a musician to do. After all, my job is to make noise, isn't it?

While helping someone practice recently, I noted that he was not picking his finger up off of one of the keys soon enough when changing chords. When I corrected his mistake, I remarked that, "In music, the absence of sound is every bit as important as the presence of sound. If all notes sounded all the time, it would be cacophonous. Silence is required for the notes to become music."

I am sure I am not the first or most clever person to ever make that statement. I am sure that I heard it somewhere, but it's an interesting thought to ponder. Am I too dependent up on the noise, to rest in the silences? Are my silences long enough to make the music "sing"?

I am reminded of Elijah listening for the voice of God:
Then the LORD said, "Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will be passing by." A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD--but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake--but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was fire--but the LORD was not in the fire. After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound. When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went and stood at the entrance of the cave. (New American Bible, 1 Kings 19:11-13a)
The Brilliant and Holy Fr Weber's, (I think I'm just going to call him that, kind of a homeric epithet...) insistence that there must be a pause of some length between the members of a verse of chanted psalm, even longer, perhaps, than that between verses themselves, that this being a dialogue with God, (even though we are making all the noise,) we need to stop and listen. We need silence in our sound.

Though that is a silence we are having trouble with, (especially in the funeral choir,) I was very pleased with our work yesterday, and particularly our observance of rests.

The "old favorites" off which I am trying to wean the choir consist almost entirely of pop-inflected ballads, where the composers, to give any interest to their soupy melodies at all, make minor and confusing and NOT TEXT DRIVEN changes from phrase to phrase.

The accompaniments are pianistic, seldom provide any real support to the singers as written, and since I am not playing the "little tinkley bits' even the good readers cannot really on the page to bring them in on, oh, this phrase which, (unlike the melodically identical phrases in the first two iterations of the A section,) starts off the beat, "to jazz it up."

If we're not going to do genuinely polyphonic music, (and we have done more of that, more frequent use of the two Palestrinas already in rep, some Vittoria, Byrd, "new" Palestrina,) I think we produce better results, (and it's a much better use of rehearsal time,) with sturdy homophony.... and let me tell you, we KILL on anything with a Slavic air about it.
The Ippolitoff-Ivanov Bless the Lord? the 4 part harmonization of the Grey setting of The Divine Praises?
Anyway, yesterday we sang, (for the pre-Mass concert I do away with at peril of my life,) the Stainer God So Loved the World, (which I taught them the page of which they had inexplicably always left out?), Healy Willan's heart-breaking bit of modern polyphony, Behold the Lamb of God, (which they've sung since before I was born, I think, good for them!) and the Remondi Adoramus Te, Domine, which they had in the files, but which had to be re-written for mixed choir, (and aren't we just? mixed, I mean...)

Anyway, all quite dramatic as suitable "church music" goes, (as opposed to the drama of, say, Holy City, The Palms, which are NOT.... well, as suitable. If at all. But I digress.)

All dependent on really honoring the rests and the expressive silences, and, of course, observing the conductor, (or rather, in our case, the organist's head,) which at long last they are doing on a semi-regular basis.

And for communion, one of the Psalms actually appointed for the day's Liturgy, (though not as the communio, admittedly,) set to a Tchaikovsky piece they have done for years with different words.

That is another stealth project of mine -- taking something they already know and like and either Catholicizing it, (in the case of sturdy protestant faves with inappropritate texts.... shhh! don't tell the CP,) or liturgicizing it, with a text we need, or at least ought to be able to provide, and don't yet have in our stable.

Anyway, with a church building that is God's gift to choir directors, (and the singers-who-don't-know-the-meaning-of-the-word-blend who love them,) the clean cut-offs and almost self-indulgently long silences before resolving the rich harmonies were magnificent.

I think I can say that in all modesty (since it sure wasn't my voice producing that ringing tone...)

As an side, as filler in the time between the ending of the congregational hymn and the choir's finishing up receiving the blessed sacrament so that they can sing, instead of the organ improv cum stealth teaching of new ordinaries I usually do, I have been chanting solo a capella Ubi Caritas... so that with any luck when that is presented to people they will think they already know it?


1 comment:

Dad29 said...

I stole a part of this post.

Used it for Gallicanism-Prevention posting.