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.
There are absolutely no pieces that are more entertaining to play than 18th century English organ voluntaries. And I treated myself to two volumes of these. Great slow full diapason introductions, followed by fugues or trumpet tunes with winsome echos. Most of them are by lesser composers who were leading organists in their day. Boatloads of fun for the fingers. And many are quite useful for entrances and for that time with the wedding guests straggle out of the church.
I’m responsible for a weekly vespers service at the Shrine of La Leche in St. Augustine. This service is offered on the basis that all who come can sing (in contrast to the monthly vespers with Cantorae St. Augustine). Consequently, while we have a few regulars, many of the people who come are drop-ins who’ve seen a sign at the Mission Nombre de Dios or in the Shrine chapel itself.
We’ve tried various experiments with chant in the last 18 months or so. And I won’t bother recounting the disasters. I did shift to a fixed text from Benedictine Daily Prayer a few months ago, the premise being that familiarity with the words would help the regular attendees and make them a stronger support for the visitors. I used three basic psalm tones for the three psalms we used. Everything was fine if, and only if, I were there. However, I travel.
When I was in Mexico City, I happened to be in the Metropolitan Cathedral when the canons and choirboys were chanting Lauds in Spanish. Amazing – it was RECTO TONO! This means “straight tone” and is best understood as one note. Yup – just one note. And it sounded wonderful.
Changing the Wednesday materials for Lent gave me the opportunity to try this out with my own singers. And it was a smashing success. It was easy for people to stay together. The two-choir split worked fine. Everyone was happy at the end (including me) – and when I’m out of town they will know just what to do.
We did leave the hymn to the tune of Jesu dulcis memoria and the Marian antiphon remained the simple tone Salve Regina (I only change for the Regina caeli in Eastertide because I’m not interested in performing solos on the others.)
So you can sniff and turn up your nose at recto tono all you want, but if you want a random group of untrained singers to have a positive experience of psalmody, it’s a good way to go.
Tomorrow evening at 6 p.m., Cantorae St. Augustine will launch its spring series of Choral Vespers at the Shrine of La Leche. We hope that all who can will join us for this first evening, as well as taking note of the dates for the months ahead. Always on a Friday and always starting at 6 p.m., here’s the rest of the schedule:
February 14th (Why not bring your Valentine?)
Again, all are invited for these vespers that combine Latin and English to provide a time for prayer and reflection in the oldest Marian shrine in what later became the United States of America.
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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.
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.”