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Saturday, 20 June 2009

The Year of the Priest and Why It Matters

I don't have many readers here, and I imagine all of them also read the musicasacra message boards, but on the off chance...

These two posts, from the same person illustrate why we must pray, "O Lord, send us priests. O Lord, send us holy priests. O Lord, send us many holy priests and religious vocations"

Last Fall, I was told by the Pastor that I would be responsible for playing all weddings in the new church, to keep the music in character with the new Romanesque church building we were to move into at Christmas.

However, brides were booking the church and I was not getting calls. Finally found out the church office was telling brides there was no one to play, they had to find their own musicians. And, it turns out, that is the ongoing plan, though I have requested that I get first opportunity to play them.

But the Pastor has decided not to decide about having me play the weddings and coordinate the music. A parish council member has undertaken a 'study' to determine what is the norm at neighboring parishes in order to develop a policy on who plays weddings and how much to charge, I have been told. It's been weeks and weeks and no progress.

So a few weeks ago I met with one of the few brides who was able to contact me. She, her mother and I met and I explained that the music had to be sacred. "We can't have the Hawaiian Song?" No. The mother said, sarcastically I thought, "so this means we can't have Night and Day?" I confirmed this, if only for the reason that it sort of fails to mention God. I suggested we meet in a couple of days.

I saw the Pastor on the way out and said that they had brought this up and how I had handled it, and he thanked me for keeping the level of music up where it belongs in his new church.

Four days later we met and the mother said, "Tell him. Tell him what Father said." The girl had called the Pastor that afternoon, he told her she could have any music she wanted as long as he got to approve the lyrics.

At that point I kindly suggested that they find another organist who might be willing to play the music they want.

I referred them to a neighboring parish with a very praise and worship music program. ... their organists contacted me and said he was getting ready to meet with them and wanted to confirm that we were as strict as they are and do not permit the traditional wedding marches. This surprised me, since their music program is much beloved and is not traditional.

I attempted to explain the situation, thought I did a good job.

Tonight I happened to run into this organist. The wedding was a couple of weeks ago.

The Bride's Mother processed down the aisle to Moon River. He had already played Night and Day and Stardust He wants to apologize to the Pastor. I suggested that the Pastor agreed to this. He said that the Pastor had mentioned Moon River in the Homily and that he was not pleased.

It appears that the bride and her mother may have decided not to tell the Pastor that Moon River, Night and Day and Stardust were part of the program since........they were played and there were then NO LYRICS for him to approve!

The Pastor does determine the level of music in the parish. And this is how it plays out.

I continue to like and respect the Pastor, and it pains me that people go around him like this to get what they want.

And tonight, in a church with 7.5 seconds of reverberation, a visiting priest started a wedding rehearsal saying over the microphone. "WELCOME, K-MART SHOPPERS!"

I was drafted into the US Army back in the late 1960's, went from living in NYC in the middle of the rarefied air of some greatly inspiring sacred music to standing at attention each morning at 6 AM staring at the trees across the way at Fort Knox, KY, watching them change color as the seasons passed.

I hated being in the Army. Eventually, I ended up in Germany, got into an Army band to finish out my two years. Stayed another 2 years working as a musician in Germany after I was discharged. Those two years of my life were essentially wasted, but they did get me to Germany. My goal the entire time I was in the army was to exist until it was over. But I realize that I would have never gotten to Germany if it were not for the Army, so I understand that although being in the army was the pits, something good came out of it.

At this parish, the pastor with the support of his associate at the time gave me a free hand to reform the musical liturgy. He and I together have had to put up with lots of criticism of our projects...mine the music program, his the new romanesque basilica-style building. The building is now complete and my goal was to prepare the choir to sing music for that building.

Any choir can sing any music if you work hard enough at it and encourage them and choose music that teaches them what it takes to sing even more difficult and challenging music. But you have to stick it out with the knowledge that you are doing good,

The choir is now singing at a high level, able to sing Palestrina mid-level pieces, the more difficult ones are still beyond us. cpdl.org has been a blessing, since I can pick exactly what i want them to sing, I can choose something and if it turns out to be beyond them, back off to a simpler piece that will teach them what is needed for that more difficult work in the future. In a year I will pull it out and they will be able to sight read it and I have to remind them that a year ago they were unable to sing it.

The choir has gone from about 16 regular singers to as many as 46. We've lost a few but gained many.

The pastor has gone through the agony of having a vision and sticking it out through all that one can imagine when building a church that looks like a church in a diocese which has buildings as contemporary of the music we all prefer to avoid. A church of great beauty.

It has not been easy for him and he has stuck it out. There is not a mean bone in his body and he has many jewels in his crown, as the Baptists say. While it may appear at first glance that the pastor's at fault with this wedding business, he's not. And sticking it to realize my vision is a challenge to me as he has taken upon his own challenge. We've both been beaten down but both have stuck it out.

I am sure that he has reasons for not having someone in charge of the music for weddings. I may be too difficult for Brides to deal with? But he also does not want Moon River wafting through the columns and up into the 45' dome of the church.

And maybe this unfortunate experience, like many in my 2 years in the army, will result in a policy that will work to plug the loopholes that people will find to get around what the church wants played and sung in the church.

My companions that got me through the two years in the army were 2 Lea pocket scores of the Well Tempered Clavier of Bach. Those 48 preludes and fugues were always there for me to study and, sometimes on the weekends, play.


Jane said...

I actually don't read the musicasacra message boards, so I'm glad you posted these. My husband and I (he's the organist, I sing) did a wedding on Saturday and had a somewhat similar experience. The bride wanted the Wagner march, and wanted to play a recording of the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love" at the end. My husband and I were totally shocked that the pastor agreed to this. This is the pastor who encourages us to sing chant every week, who never permits guitars at Mass except for once a year (on a feast dear to the heart of our Spanish parishioners, we have Spanish folk guitar for two songs), and who just expressed an interest in learning to say Low Mass in the Extraordinary Form.

We understand that it was pretty difficult to get the couple to be married in the Church at all--the groom is not Catholic, the bride only nominally so, but her parents really pushed for it, and our pastor knows that it is important and good for people to come to church for these important occasions, even if they never come otherwise. A little is better than nothing.

That organist should definitely have first refusal, though. Is he or she an AGO member? (I assume, based on the musical selections, that this took place in the U.S.) The AGO has rules about these kinds of things, and parishes should be encouraged to pay heed to guild guidelines.

Anonymous said...

I don't actually know the organist in question, other than as a poster on the board, so I don't know what his status is.

And I know what you mean about the need to be flexible when you are dealing with people who have no other experience of Church, when they make inappropriate requests for "special occasion" Masses like weddings and funerals.

It's hard not to feel used sometimes....

(Save the Liturgy, Save the World)