Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Good Music for Mass

As some may know, I have an abiding interest in liturgical music. And like most folks with such an interest, this means that I have clear preferences. (Check out the last post to see the irony in that.) Or perhaps I should say that my best judgment about what would likely enhance prayerfulness in a worshipping community runs along definite lines.

In any case, I've noticed with interest that the National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM) is sponsoring a contest for musical settings of the new English translation of the Mass, which will soon be published in the new Roman Missal. (Those blue links will take you to the websites with the details.) By next July interested composers may submit new settings for all of the major parts of the Mass that can be sung, and the attendees at the NPM convention in July 2010 will vote for the winner.

Clearly a side benefit of this project is that both publishers and the church will be good to go on the music end of things when the new Roman Missal is fully approved and implemented. For composers, even the self-proclaimed ones, it's an opportunity to take on a project that would be good practice, if nothing else. For publishers, it's a chance to "graze the field" for their missalette resources and the like without putting up a lot of fuss or funds.

My view, as if anyone asked, is that proven composers should be commissioned to write new Mass settings. In fact, wealthy Catholics might be approached to underwrite such a venture. However, the commissions should be specified in such a way that the resulting Mass settings may be sung both a capella (without any accompaniment), or with one or more easily sung harmonic lines, or with full choir, organ and accompaniment. In other words, the music should be layered onto a fine melodic line - such as many of the Latin chants were composed in the past. One of the problems with current Mass settings is that when you sing them a capella, you sort of have to imagine the accompaniment in your head just in order to make any sense of them.

I've got some folks in mind for the job; people such as Morten Lauridsen of UCLA. If you haven't heard his stuff yet, go online and listen to excerpts of his music. A fine example is this CD: Lux Aeterna. And near the beginning of this blog entry is a video clip of one of his compositions. When I was in LA last week, and visited the USC Catholic Center about vocation programs and resources, I also found out that the music department was just around the corner. So I wandered around the office buildings until I found Lauridsen's office. Hearing music through the door, I knocked and found myself face-to-face with the composer, who gave me a friendly "Hi" through a half-opened door. I immediately noticed that he was tutoring a student, probably about the music that was loudly playing on his speakers, and so I quickly mumbled some excuse and left. However, later that day I emailed him, describing myself in the subject line as "The guy who showed up at your office this morning", told him a little about myself and my experience with liturgical music and invited him to take part in the contest. He was very gracious and wrote back that he would take a look at the websites I'd included, but he was also full of commissions already, etc. So it was a fairly harmless venture on my part, but it was finally without probable results.

Nevertheless, I think that it was worth making the gesture. Perhaps my work in vocation ministry makes me much more willing to "make a pitch" in all sorts of different circumstances, knowing that even without an immediate positive response, such an invitation or gesture or effort or acted-upon intention may be of some unknown benefit down the line.

There's a Christian principle involved here. Had Jesus been a "realistic" guy, he should have seen that his speaking venues, his choice of followers, and his recruiting methods (not to mention his succession plans) were all questionable at best. Yet he planted many small but potent seeds - in the things he said, the things he did, the people he met, and the example he gave - the fruits of which are still being harvested and in fact continue to grow. Would that only one of our small seeds were to become as bountiful. And that is why, even today, we hope and pray and work, planting small seeds of kindness, making small gestures of appreciation, sharing small invitations with those we hardly know. It's the solid example of Christians (and saints) throughout history. Not a bad lot, that group, even if they would never make the cover of People or Inc magazine.

As Archbishop Oscar Romero famously said: "We are prophets of a future not our own."

Sidenote: This blog will generally be published two or three times a week. Doing so every day is a bit much..... for everyone concerned. That way I can do other writing on the "non-blog" days, still faithful to my resolution to do some writing every day.