Category Archives: Music

Requiem pour une américane à Paris for Organ and Trumpet

Richard J. Clark

Previewing a remarkable composition for organ and trumpet by Boston-based composer Richard J. Clark.  Seven movements based on the Gregorian chant propers for the requiem mass, performed by the composer on the organ and Richard A. Kelley, trumpet.  Learn more about the composer at http://www.rjcceciliamusic.com/

I’m not a big fan of modern organ compositions, many of which sound like something is dreadfully wrong with the instrument or that the performer is having a medical emergency.  This is different – just the right combination of tonality and dissonance.  The mix of organ and trumpet is well balanced.  In short, Clark nails it.

Thoughtful, enjoyable, and most excellently performed.  Definitely going into the rotation for The Classical Fan Club (every Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on WFCF Flagler College Radio, an iHeart radio station).

Palm Sunday At Last!

The journey through Lent has finally brought us to Palm Sunday.  The 11 o’clock Mass at the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Augustine started outside with our bishop, Felipe Estevez and the Cathedral clergy, Knights of Columbus, St. Augustine’s Royal Family, and a huge church-full of worshippers.  The Passion was read well and the Cathedral choir did their best.  Of course, the mighty Casavant organ was in top form.  And wait, I almost forgot the Blessing of the Fleet that followed.  Everything from tiny pleasure craft to shrimp boats to our own Black Raven faux pirate ship!

Coming up for me is Holy Week in Spain – Madrid, to be precise.  Looking forward to processions, liturgies, and music.  Also great museums, food, and a side trip (I hope) to Avila.

Maybe You Just Need to Turn Around

This morning I saw a resplendent peacock on the wall at the Fountain of Youth, home to a sizable number of peacocks and peahens.  This peacock was obviously looking for “companionship,” but there was just one problem.  He was facing the street.  And the chances of an interested peahen driving by were about nil. The peahens were behind him.  (And probably too busy looking for bugs to notice.)  He needed to turn around.

How often is that the case with us?  There we are – with all our beautiful music, art, poetry, projects, whatever.  And no one seems interested.  So we sing louder, use brighter colors, etc. in hopes of a response.  Still nothing.  Maybe we need to turn around.  Maybe 180 degrees, maybe only 90 degrees.  Perhaps our audience is behind our backs or over to the side, but we’ve been so focused on the audience we decided should want our work that we never thought someone else, not necessarily of our choosing, might be wanting and waiting for it.

So I think I’ll look outside the box, under the fence, over my shoulder – you get the drift.  Just thinking.

And I hope that poor bird reads this posting!

Beauty is Evangelical

In response to Pope Francis’ statement on wanting a church which is poor and for the poor.  You can read all of it here.

“I trust that as we get to know Francis better he will make this clearer. That he has a preferential option for the poor is already clear and admirable and inspiring, but I thought we already are for the poor and always have been, although — of course — there is always more to do. But by “a Church which is poor” does he means humble? Poor in spirit? Is he talking about dispensing with what is beautiful in the church, because it is somehow insulting for the poor? I have a hard time believing this because we have heard that Pope Francis’ favorite author is Dostoyevsky and he therefore must have some appreciation of “the world will be saved by beauty” and the transcendent beauty — both material and interior — that the church offers the world. Shared and instructive, it is all meant to better access the different routes to knowing God.

Moreover, we should not be ashamed of the beauty of the Bride of Christ and his Mystical Body. I have a cousin who is a Capuchin, like Cardinal O’Malley, and he has worked with very poor people living in destitute and often violent areas. He’s told me more than once that the poor feel condescended to when they are served the Holy Eucharist from ceramic chalices and straw baskets. “The want the beautiful things,” he says, “because God should have beautiful things and they should be able to share in that.” Beauty is evangelical.”

Gothic Pillars and Blue Notes – Quentin Faulkner on Art and Religion

Occasionally, you read something that stays with you, that continues to influence your thinking, that crystallizes an issue or fact.  The so-called “seminal essay.”

For me, “Gothic Pillars and Blue Notes: Art as a Reflection of the Conflict of Religions” by Quentin Faulkner has been one of these.  Originally published in The American Organist in 1998, this three-part essay is available at the digital archive of the University of Nebraska – Lincoln.  Go find it and read it.

One quote: “Whatever a society’s actual religion is – whatever mixture of adherence to revealed and codified religious doctrine and practice, or to human personalities and ideologies, or to superstition, or to human selfishness – that religion will be faithfully embodied in its culture and its art.  To the degree and at the rate the religion changes, so will its accompanying culture and art.”

In 2000, I was lucky enough to hear Faulkner on this topic at a conference at St. Johns University.  I’ll never forget the two opening slides. The first was a sloppy liturgy in an ugly modern church.  The second showed the highly-choreographed opening of a major college football game.  There was no mistaking what really mattered in contemporary American culture.  Obviously, this was an attention-getting ploy.  Well, you’ll just have to take my word that it only got better from there.

At the time, I was just considering “re-involving” myself in sacred music.  Now, it seems that hardly a day goes by without some aspect of Faulkner’s essay coming to mind.  Check it out!

Now THAT’S Cathedral Music!

Last Sunday found me at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston, South Carolina for the 11:15 am Mass.  Admittedly, I know Scott Turkington, the choirmaster and principal organist – and yes, I already knew he’s fantastic.  However, I hadn’t been there for a “principal Mass” for some time and wondered how things were going.

Well, let’s just say that the choir and the organ “rocked”!  The music covered several centuries and did it gracefully.   I’m giving you the “playlist” because it represents such a felicitous marriage of styles.  Everything hung together and that’s an exercise of liturgical judgment that demonstrates the wonderful dimension that music brings to the Mass.

There were Gregorian propers for the Introit, Offertory, and Communion.  The motet at the Offertory was “How Lovely is Thy Dwelling Place” from Brahms’ German Requiem.

The processional hymn was “Alleluia, Song of Sweetness” to Lauda Anima.  The recessional hymn was “All Creatures of our God and King” to Vigiles et Sancti.

The Ordinary of the Mass was the Missa de angelis, with the exception of the Agnus Dei from the Mass of Blessed John Henry Newman by James MacMillan.  The Responsorial Psalm was a setting by Richard Rice and the Alleluia by Theodore Marier.  The level of congregational participation was above average from where I sat. Marier was also the composer for an English setting of Ubi caritas at Communion.  That was followed by a lively motet by Palestrina, Exsultate Deo.

Since I’m not an organist (and it wasn’t in the worship pamphlet), I can’t tell you the prelude and postlude.  The only “disconnect” was the celebrant who didn’t sing, chant, or intone a single syllable – and yes, he could have completed the “liturgical loop,” so to speak – but I was still thrilled to hear a great schola and choir, ripping hymn accompaniments, and super motets. 

 If I were an unbeliever who had wandered in the door, I’d want to know more about a religion with this much beauty. Now that’s Cathedral Music!

London Christmas, Musical Moments

Back from a splendid holiday in London.  Yes, it was soggy and it did seem to get dark awfully early.  However, there were always museums to visit and pubs to warm up in.

The best part – three splendid liturgies and a wonderful carol service.  At Westminster Cathedral and the London Oratory, music is important.  And they obviously put their money were their mouths are (to use an odd phrase).  When you get the best in directors, singers, and organists and when you recognize that the Church’s treasury of sacred music actually belongs in the churches, the result is astonding.  And I felt that it was also appreciated.

One of the sad results of the gutting of both church music and music education in this country is the loss of repertoire and the loss of understanding.  Most churches are just fine with music that is mediocre at best.  And the congregations feel the same way.  Many music directors know little about sacred music beyond the boundaries of their hymnals and whatever the “Big Three” publishers promote.  (The latter will not, needless to say, be in the public domain.)  Catholics (or anyone else) who’ve never learned to read music or sang in a chorus or choir that “did parts” are often indifferent to the music at Mass.

What did I hear in London?  Among other things, I heard chant that moved with energy and sureness.  I heard wonderful intonation and diction.  The Haydn Missa Nicolai at midnight at the Cathedral; the Mozart “Sparrow Mass” at the Oratory the next day.  The carol service featured both old and new music, with all the good stuff for the congregations to join in on.  And join they did!  And a nice tune for “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” during Communion at Midnight Mass that I didn’t recognize.

And yes, “Once in royal David’s city” always makes me weep.