This year’s annual CMAA Summer Colloquium was a wonderful range of experiences: chant courses ranging for total beginners through advanced sessions on semiology, polyphonic choirs with offerings ranging from Lassus through Elgar, six splendid Masses in the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms, up to and including a Solemn High Mass for the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul celebrated by Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth, Secretary of ICEL. Not to mention some excellent homilies in the course of those liturgies. Along the way, there were other events – an organ crawl around Temple Square, a concert by the spectacular choir of trebles and men of the Cathedral of Madeleine, a Solemn Vespers in the Extraordinary Form, lectures, dinners, and enough time to talk with old friends and meet new. And the breathtakingly beautiful Cathedral of Madeleine was another star!
The resulting effect is a retreat cum conservatory workshop cum family reunion – with the charming exception that the “family” in question keeps growing. Definitely a wonderful week – a week of promise, spiritual and musical exaltation, and singularly lacking in the rancor that can poison the sacred music world.
But then there’s always “coming home.” Anyone who’s ever arrived back from a retreat filled with a zeal for sainthood, resolutions of charity and kindness, daily Mass attendance, etc. knows how easy it is to find yourself right back where you started. A colloquium can engender the same discouragement – so many things to do, so much music to be revived and presented to generations that have never heard it, so many ways in which one’s own choir could shine brighter. But then you bump into the old reality. Whether it’s a new coffee stain on the carpet or a lackluster liturgy, the effect can be quite discouraging. The temptation to shrug my shoulders, sigh, and do nothing new is overwhelming. My visions seem no more accessible than the angels on the vault of the Cathedral.
After all, many of us live surrounded by indifference. Indifference is pernicious and ennervating. It is harder to resist than active hostility because there’s nothing to push back against. Whether the indifference is to our faith, our vision of music and liturgy, our zeal to show beauty as a path to truth – it doesn’t matter. Most people have nothing against your pursuing whatever crackpot scheme (in their view) you have in mind. Just do it quietly, please.
Well, maybe not this year. Sifting over the past week’s experiences, I think I shall isolate one single thing – one project, one piece, one arena, one “whatever” – and follow through. Stay tuned. And if you were there in Salt Lake City, I encourage you to join me in this endeavor.