The Attractive Power of the Truth

How do we define beauty?

Is it “in the eye of the beholder” as many would say? How’s that for an individualist post-modern “nothing-can-be-defined” position! What about a concrete, objective definition? A great way to think of beauty, for Catholics, is that beauty is the attractive power of the truth.

Some thoughts on this from a recent experience:

In the last few weeks, I have met several people who have been totally turned off by the quest of certain people in charge of certain parishes to make the Mass “cool”. They see it as plain as day: we can never keep up with the newest, most entertaining thing. If we are trying to do that, we are totally losing the point. In terms of music, it mostly ends up sounding dated and poorly put together. One person that I met recently left the Church because of bad music after her teenage years – this was a highly trained musician who had been playing organ for Mass for many years! One day she was asked to turn it off and play basically what she recalls as a “campfire tune” instead. With multiple degrees in music, she is highly educated in the arts, and certainly knows the history of Western music, especially how intertwined it is with the tradition of sacred music in the Church. She knows that the Catholic Church has incredibly beautiful music in its tradition and today, but she can’t find it. And she’s not alone among skilled musicians – she knows several others in similar situations. She thinks she would never have left the Church if chant and polyphony had continued to be the staples of the common liturgical music diet.

In a parting comment, she said that the Church is refusing to use its most powerful tool for evangelization: beauty. Especially beautiful music.

How do we know what music is beautiful?

More soon.

Immersion

I am coming to the end of my immersion into Gregorian semiology… I haven’t posted much because I have done a ton of reading in my “free time” and have, of course, been praying (at 5:30am!) Over time, I hope to share more of the things I have learned. I am still reeling in a sense from this dunk into the pool, in a good way.

I am convinced of a few things that need to be said:

1) The secrets in the signs from Laon and St. Gall (the other notations in the Graduale Triplex) are SO much more expressive than square notation (and certainly than modern notation!) We need to consult them, understand them, and FEEL them to be able not only to do justice to the Latin chants but to express the meaning of the texts, to make music, to enjoy the chants, and to pray. Metering our chant cannot have the same effect. Anyone who says plainsong is boring may be right – if it really is just plain song. Let’s make it CHANT.

2) We need to be able to be clear with our diction and not be afraid to pause the appropriate lengths in our public speaking as well as our public canting. This is not metered or unnatural hanging pauses though, these are pauses expressive of the meaning of the text, or of natural breaths.

3 )Latin is not (gasp) the only way. Chant CAN be incredibly well-done in the vernacular. It doesn’t work by forcing English to fit the Gregorian melody just because you think you have to preserve that tune intact. No, you have to respect the natural accents and flow of the English language also. It works perfectly if this is thought through. If you don’t believe me, come to St. Meinrad Archabbey and see, and certainly check out one of the many sources of English chant propers for the Mass (most are FREE!). We do, however, need to get something going and widely available in French and in Spanish too – this is where it is going, and we will lose out to bad music if we don’t work diligently on these tasks.

4) It is incredibly sad that more people can’t experience this. Yes, definitely go to one of Fr. Columba’s workshops. But I mean that people aren’t hearing this is their parishes. It CAN be done. It can be done WELL and BEAUTIFULLY. We need to show people. If they hear it, they will get it. Of course, good and faithful liturgical praxis otherwise is also necessary.

5) I now know even more how much I don’t know! I need to do this again. That is one smart monk!!!

More later…

In the mean time, I am so blessed to have been able to take this time for study, reading, prayer and retreat. AMDG!

(And thank you dear for all of your support and holding down the fort, you are wonderful.)

A Chant Diary

A Chant Diary

This week, I am privileged to be able to spend time studying individually with Fr. Columba Kelly, OSB at Saint Meinrad Archabbey. I plan on posting many of my thoughts and some of the things I learn as I delve much more deeply into the study of chant.

I have had two sessions so far with Fr. Columba. I have been blown away – what an amazing mind. I am still trying to sort out all of my thoughts – the things he says make so much sense, and yet they are paradigm shifting in many ways.

One big problem I see is that we actually really can’t even speak English well. How are we supposed to sing it (much less another language)… We must recover the art of the public speaker, it seems. We must be able to READ well. The lector is not just whoever feels like getting up and reading something; this is an ecclesiastical office, proclaiming the Word of God. It is vitally important as cantors (and choir directors, etc) that we be able to proclaim well before even putting notes to the words.

This is one thing I have been thinking about quite a bit since my first session yesterday, and I will change in what I am doing right away (both for myself and for the singers I work with).

I have many more thoughts about all of this, like that Benedictine monks are really cool. I am off to another session now, more later.

Please pray for me while I am here, as I will for you.

Beauty and the New Evangelization

Beauty and the New Evangelization

An excellent piece which I came across over at the Chant Cafe. Bishop Conley on the New Evangelization:

“When we begin with beauty, this can then lead to a desire to want to know the truth of the thing that is drawing us, a desire to participate in it. And then the truth can inspire us to do the good, to strive after virtue.”