Psalm 89 Chrism Mass

The Chrism Mass is the annual celebration where the archbishop blesses the oils for use throughout the archdiocese and the priests renew their vows of service. It is one of the events that generally fills the Cathedral every year. As with other special diocesan celebrations, these are people that have chosen to be here, so are willing to sing and participate. Here’s the responsorial psalm (from the Audubon Park Psalter)recorded by my iPhone placed on the organ console in the balcony. Brass are to my right. Choir is on the left, and the cantor is in the pulpit half-way down the building.

The music for this composition is included in the Feasts and Solemnities volume of the Audubon Park Psalter.

Herbert Howells – Psalm Prelude Set 2, no. 1

I first registered this piece for my concert at the Cathedral last March. The concert was played from the sanctuary console so that I could be visible to the audience. Up until this week, I had no easy way to transfer the pistons from one console to another. Here’s my first performance of the Howells from the rear console. Check back later for a demonstration of how I moved two levels of memory in less than 10 minutes.

Improvised Prelude on ‘Gather Us In’

Thanks to the snow storm, I was able to spend a couple of hours at the Cathedral today practicing. After some more technical exercises, I started flipping through the hymnal and improvising on different tunes. Marty Haugen’s ‘Gather Us In’ is an up-tempo tune that is more often associated with piano and guitars than the organ. I decided to slow it down and spice it up a bit for a more relaxing prelude style piece. Enjoy!

Pachelbel Canon in D

During a wedding consultation this week, a bride asked to record her selection for the entrance procession in order to play it for her mother. Rather than have her record just the audio, I quickly set up my mini-tripod and made a video. The aisle at the Cathedral is rather lengthy, so this is a popular choice for weddings here. I could have done more with the registration, and you don’t catch all the differences because I’m recording near the front organ, but I’m happy to share this impromptu performance of a popular work.

Trust in the Room

Each conference of The Hymn Society attempts to draw upon local resources for ideas and conference topics. This year’s conference was in New Orleans, so was flavored with a lot of jazz music and discussion about the use of jazz, gospel, and spirituals in worship. Jazz music expects a lot of improvisation from the performers, and one of the workshops I attended looked at how this musical creativity could be carried over beyond the music into how we worship.

A performer in a jazz ensemble has to listen and be aware of what the other players are doing. I wrote about this a couple of weeks ago when I compared participating in Mass to driving. Jazz performers often read from a lead sheet, which will give minimal information about the piece of music and will serve as the guide for what gets created. The rest must come from the interaction between the players. The ensemble will fall apart if one of the players stops paying attention to the others.

In order to be able to create music in the moment, it is most helpful to know the other players. To improvise requires making an individual statement. This requires courage on the part of the speaker (musician) and will happen most naturally when there is trust in the room. Do you get nervous when you have to speak to a new group of people? How much more comfortable are you speaking to familiar friends and family? The same idea holds with a jazz group. If the musician knows and trusts the other players (and the audience), then he or she can be free and truly creative in his or her musical expression. An unresponsive audience or group of players can lead a jazz musician back into a comfort zone of trite and unimaginative music that becomes dull and boring for everyone involved.

Singing is making a personal statement. Even if you are not required to improvise, using the voice requires a personal commitment and some level of trust in the room. Instrumentalists can pass problems off to the instrument, but the voice is part of ourselves, so any critics of our sound become very personal judgments. I would guess that most people are willing to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ in a group of friends and family because there is trust in the room. What can we do to build trust in the room here at the Cathedral so that everyone feels comfortable singing their faith in worship?

Bulletin Notes for the Cathedral of Mary, Our Queen, August 2, 2015

Meeting Celebrities

Celebrities often have large crowds that follow them. In today’s readings, both Elisha and Jesus have a large group following them. In our modern times, we count followers on Twitter and likes on Facebook to establish celebrity status, but what sort of nourishment do we get from these modern-day stars?

DufnerOne of the advantages of attending conferences is being able to meet some of the current celebrities. While church music gatherings may not attract much attention from popular media, each organization has its own set of current rock stars. One of the people I was fortunate to meet for the first time at The Hymn Society conference in New Orleans was Sr. Delores Dufner, OSB, author of the text for our offertory hymn this weekend.Sr. Delores is a member of St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph, Minnesota, and holds Master’s Degrees in Liturgical Music and Liturgical Studies. She was a church musician and teacher of school music and private piano lessons for twelve years, and Liturgy Director for her monastery for six years. She also served as Director of the Office of Worship for the Diocese of St. Cloud for fifteen years. Sr. Delores has hymns published in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, and China. She has received 45 commissions to write texts for special occasions and has published over 155 hymns, many of which have several different musical settings and appear in multiple publications. The hymn we sing today was written for the 1994 National Association of Pastoral Musicians regional convention. Probably her best-known hymn text is “Sing a New Church.” You can hear her speak about writing hymns on YouTube. I have used many of her texts, so was delighted to discover her seated next to me at one of the plenary sessions at The Hymn Society. I felt like I was meeting a modern rock star!

While many of our modern celebrities may provide entertainment, rarely do they provide nourishment for our mind and soul. Sr. Delores nourishes us today with her hymn text and, at the same time, reminds us that Jesus Christ is the one who takes the little we have and multiplies it until all are satisfied.

Hoping the music will nourish your faith,

Bulletin Notes for the Cathedral of Mary, Our Queen, July 26, 2015

Driving Liturgy

‘Liturgy’ was not a word that was known to me in my youth, and I doubt it is a common part of your day-to-day vocabulary. A standard dictionary definition describes liturgy as the form or set of ceremonies used by the public in a religious celebration. In my opinion, this makes liturgy very stale and rigid, sort of like the traffic code. Here are the rules and regulations. Follow them and you have a worship celebration. Anyone who has ever driven a car knows that there is a lot more to driving than simply following the rules.

DrivingIntersectionDriving a car requires knowledge of the traffic code, the skills and coordination to control a car, but also awareness of the other cars on the road with you. Good liturgy requires a similar set of skills. The Roman Missal and other church documents provide the traffic code for our celebrations. Being able to control the car is knowing the responses and acclamations that we say and sing as well as the postures we take during the celebration, but good driving requires cooperation with those around you.

In liturgy, this means speaking at the same rate of speed and knowing when to take your turn. Have you ever been frustrated at a four-way stop by a driver who “politely” lets everyone else go ahead? Or how about a driver who stops, but then pulls ahead with no regard for who arrived first or which way the other cars might be going? Different people have different roles in liturgy, and in order for it to progress smoothly, we all have to be alert drivers willing to take our turn at the proper time and yielding to other drivers when the rules or flow of traffic require us to do so.

The more standard Catholic definition of ‘liturgy’ derived from the Greek origins of the word is ‘the work of the people.’ Liturgy then becomes more than just reciting prayers or singing songs in worship. It is a group effort, much like driving in traffic, requiring cooperation and collaboration. I believe everyone wants to be a good driver. Do you place the same effort and attention to your actions in the liturgy?

Encouraging you to stay alert when driving or worshiping,

Bulletin Notes for the Cathedral of Mary, Our Queen, June 28, 2015

Musical Seeds and Summer Crops

Now that summer is officially here, many people tend to think this is when the music director gets to take a break. After all, there are no choir rehearsals now. What else would he have to do?

As I write this, I’m still reflecting upon last week’s Gospel and the growth of seeds. Producing the music every week is like a farmer harvesting the crop. Some seeds sprout quickly, yielding abundant fruit. Others take lots of nurture and care before any results are seen at all. My sister plants tomatoes and cucumbers every year and has a harvest in just a few months. Bamboo can seem to do nothing for years, but then holds the world record as the fastest growing plant by growing almost three feet a day when the time is right!

Every farmer also has to spend time planning out which crops to plant and how to prepare the land for the next crop. Equipment maintenance needs to be done so that everything on the farm will run as smoothly as possible when the time is right. Summer is my chance to plan and prepare for the next growing season. Which crops produced good fruit? What can I do to nurture those crops for even better results next year? Are there any crops that took up resources that would better serve a different crop? Are there any new crops that I want to try? Is there any bamboo that I need to keep nurturing for spectacular growth sometime in the future?

Some of the seeds I’ve planted since I arrived are two new musical settings of the Eucharistic acclamations. We added the newest Gloria and Lamb of God last week, and I was pleased to hear people singing both of these during Mass. The prelude and postlude this week will be based on the melodies from our new acclamations and is one way I hope to nurture theses seeds.

Looking for good soil that will produce abundant fruit (or rather singing),

Bulletin Notes for the Cathedral of Mary, Our Queen, June 21, 2015

Speak up, sing out

“The treasure of sacred music is to be preserved and fostered with great care. Choirs must be diligently promoted, especially in cathedral churches; but bishops and other pastors of souls must be at pains to ensure that, whenever the sacred action is to be celebrated with song, the whole body of the faithful may be able to contribute that active participation which is rightly theirs.”(Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, #114)

“When the choir is not exercising its particular role, it joins the congregation in song. The choir’s role in this case is not to lead congregational singing, but to sing with the congregation, which sings on its own or under the leadership of the organ or other instruments.” (Sing to the Lord, #31)

“As a leader of congregational song, the cantor should take part in singing with the entire gathered assembly. In order to promote the singing of the liturgical assembly, the cantor’s voice should not be heard above the congregation. As a transitional practice, the voice of the cantor might need to be amplified to stimulate and lead congregational singing when this is still weak. However, as the congregation finds its voice and sings with increasing confidence, the cantor’s voice should correspondingly recede.” (Sing to the Lord, #38)

In our modern world, many of our activities have become very passive. We watch television, listen to concerts, and even watch sporting events. For a price, we even have the convenience of not preparing our own food. Others plant the seeds, tend and harvest the fruits of the land and then serve them to us ready to eat.

When we celebrate Mass, however, we need to take an active role. Just as we can’t ask someone else to eat dinner for us, we can’t expect the other people present to stand, sit, or sing for us. There are far more of you in the pews than those of us in leadership roles. Even in my short tenure here, I’ve experienced the power of the assembly to overwhelm an amplified speaker and the organ. How thrilling it would be to hear such robust responses (both spoken and sung) at Mass each weekend. Speak up, sing out, and proclaim your faith. Don’t delegate; participate!

Encouraging you to fulfill your role in song,

Bulletin Notes for the Cathedral of Mary, Our Queen, June 14, 2015