The sacred music scene in Rome: mediocrity and paralysis

The gentlemanly Sandro Magister has hit a grand slam with his recent piece on Chiesa.

Let’s have a look with my emphases and comments.

Great Music in the Churches of Rome. But in the Vatican, They’re Deaf

The Wiener Philarmoniker and other illustrious performers have played in the Roman basilicas, in one case with the pope present. But there’s paralysis in the curia. The musical accompaniment of the papal Masses continues to be of appalling mediocrity  [Absolutely correct.  The other day I was watching the papal Vespers for Advent and noted that, while somewhat improved, the Sistine choir is still living up to their old nickname "the Sistine Screamers".  Not only, the present director has taken it upon himself, as have others, to substitute the Church’s great patrimony of sacred music with their own cloying ditties.]

by Sandro Magister

ROMA, December 3, 2008 – The International Festival of Sacred Music and Art, held every fall in the papal basilicas of Rome, concluded last Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent.

Organized by the Fondazione Pro Musica e Arte Sacra, the festival is intended to restore great sacred music to its authentic context, the churches: a context that may not be as acoustically perfect as a concert hall, but is the right one for revitalizing music originally created for the liturgy.  [Yes.  Hearing music in the proper context changes everything.]

"My dream," says Hans-Albert Courtial, president of the foundation, "is that on each Sunday of the year, in one of the churches of Rome, there would be a Mass accompanied by the masterpieces of sacred music, Gregorian and polyphonic, with performers of the first rank."

In effect, this is what happened last November 26. In the basilica of St. Peter, Cardinal Angelo Comastri celebrated the Mass, and maestro Helmuth Rilling magnificently conducted the Harmoniemesse in B flat major by Franz Joseph Haydn. [Yes… those Masses should be used for Masses!]

But the festival did not present only liturgical music. The first and last days of the program were centered, respectively, on the Art of the Fugue and the Musical Offering by Johann Sebastian Bach, ingeniously rediscovered and reinterpreted in their metaphysical profundity, of sublime cosmic harmony, by Hans-Eberhard Dentler.

Another high point of the festival this year was the performance in the basilica of St. Mary Major (see photo) of the German Requiem by Johannes Brahms, a work that is not liturgical or Catholic, but is intensely spiritual, masterfully conducted by Marek Janowski, with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and the Rundfunkchor Berlin.

Also memorable was the Sixth Symphony by Anton Bruckner, performed by the Wiener Philarmoniker and conducted by Christoph Eschenbach, at the basilica of Saint Paul’s Outside the Walls, on October 13, with Benedict XVI in the front row.

* * *

The presence of pope Joseph Ratzinger [Don’t fret about this turn of phrase.  This is common to Italian writing and is not disrespectful.] at a concert was not the only novelty of the festival this year.

Together with Benedict XVI, that evening at St. Paul’s Outside the Walls were also the 250 cardinals and bishops who had participated that same day in the worldwide synod on the Word of God. For many of them, Bruckner is not an easy composer, but the pope’s example – at least for once – brought them there  [You know.. I love this!  Usually we have to endure a certain measure of condescension from our pastors and prelates who, clearly, make the assumption that their flocks are neither well-educated or very bright.  Here the implication is that the Bruckner, definitely long-hair stuff, would be too challenging for their Reverences.  Had Benedict XVI not set the example, they wouldn’t have gone.] to attend a great concert. Because musical sensibility is not exactly at home in the ecclesiastical sphere: [In other words, most clerics are musical rubes.  We need to have sound training even in music appreciation in our seminaries, so that priests of the future do not perpetuate this lamentable tradition.] the high-ranking prelates who went to other concerts of the festival could be counted on the fingers of one hand. 

Another novelty was the emphasis given to the organ. For four evenings in a row, from November 17-20, the main instrument of liturgical music dominated the program of the festival, with both ancient and contemporary works played by famous organists in various Roman churches. And not only that. The performances in Rome were the crowning moment of a more extensive schedule of organ concerts in nine European countries, which began in June in Bavaria: a "Euro Via Festival" that has been held every year since 2005, under the artistic direction of Johannes Skudlik.

During those same days, in Rome, restoration was completed on two magnificent organs: that of the Academic Hall of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music, [Which is in the other side of my house in Rome.] and that of the church of Sant’Antonio dei Portoghesi. Another of the most splendid organs in Rome, that of the church of St. Ignatius, will be restored in the months to come, sponsored by the Fondazione pro Musica e Arte Sacra, and will be played again at the festival in 2009.

Brutally supplanted by guitars [and we might say "brutishly"] in many churches around the world, the organ has recently shown small signs of revival. The Italian bishops’ conference, for example, organized a study seminar last month for organists and liturgists, entitled: "The pipe organ. A journey of centuries in service of the liturgy."

But the road has been cut off. Not only is the sound of the organ largely absent from liturgical services, but its use is even overlooked for situations that are perfectly suited for it. One bad example is given by the basilica of St. Peter itself. Every time there is a liturgical celebration with the pope, the basilica is filled with faithful, long before the scheduled time. This would be an ideal moment for the sound of the organ. It would create an atmosphere of greater recollection, of preparation for the liturgical celebration. And instead, nothing. The organ is there, the organists are there, there are thousands of faithful who would enjoy listening to good music that would raise their spirits. The only thing missing is the will to decide to do something so basic.  [And the organist for the papal ceremonies is exceptionally gifted!  He is an American who has really got game.]

There is a sort of musical paralysis, in Rome, around the celebrations of the pope. Benedict XVI’s thought on liturgical music is very well known, it has been presented in his writings, very critical of the decline that has taken place. But almost nothing has changed, in more than three years of pontificate. The Vatican still has no office with authority on sacred music. The Sistine Choir, conducted by Monsignor Giuseppe Liberto, is a shadow of its glorious former self. And when the Sistine Choir is not singing at the papal Masses, what dominates is the theatrical style of Monsignor Marco Frisina, director of the choir at the Lateran, the cathedral basilica of Rome. [In whose tunes one feels as if one is drowning in Lyle’s Golden Syrup.  It is reason nunbing audio treacle and paradigmatic of what has happened with Church music in the last 40 years.]

In this sense, too, the International Festival of Sacred Music and Art taught a lesson. To perform the Masses and motets of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Tomás Luis de Victoria, Luca Marenzio, Claudio Monteverdi – in short, the illustrious choir directors at the cathedrals of Rome and of Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries – the choir of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, conducted by Peter Latona, came from the United States, and from Germany the choir of the cathedral of Speyer, conducted by Leo Krämer.

It is not that Rome and Italy lack valid performers of this great polyphonic music. On the contrary, the most ingenious performer of Palestrina in the world is certainly Monsignor Domenico Bartolucci. But Bartolucci conducts Palestrina in the concert halls, and no longer at the papal Masses with the Sistine Choir, which he conducted until he was rudely removed in 1997. It is difficult to find a church choir in Rome and in Italy today that could perform the works of these composers in the live setting of liturgical action.

If it takes a festival to permit such marvels to be savored again, it’s a sign that there’s still a long road ahead.

Well done, Sandro!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Hugo says:

    A 10 min check of YouTube and Google will show that even the music at St. Peter’s is lacking.

  2. Christopher Mandzok says:

    Chiesa is one of my top five Catholic sites. Their articles are, quite simply, the best. The site should be on every Catholic’s “Favorites.”

  3. Zach says:

    I have to say that while Mons. Marco Frisina’s music tends to be quite theatrical, it isn’t all bad. Here in the US, the garbage that we listen to (Schutte, Hurd, ect.) makes his stuff seem great. While I don’t think he is on the same plane as Mozart, Palestrina, Haydn, Bach, ect. when it comes to liturgical music, I would be quite content singing his music at church any week.

  4. Dominic says:

    Yes, Mons. Frisina’s music is somewhat syrupy, but I’ve got to admit to preferring it to most other contemporary composers. (Oh dear…feeling a bit embarrassed now…)

  5. TNCath says:

    I’ll take the “Sistine Screamers” or even the “Giulia Garglers” (with or without Msgr. Colino) over “Mary and Joe Cantor” warbling “Gather Us In” any day of the week. I do agree that it is strange that that the organ is never played before the ceremonies at St. Peter’s. You get into the basilica at 8:30 for a 10:30 Mass and sit or stand and listen to people yack. Time could be much better spent listening to something meditative and prayerful in the beauty of the basilica.

  6. TJM says:

    I have always been profoundly dismayed by the way Gregorian Chant is rendered so poorly by the Sistine Choir. Perhaps they need someone from
    Solemses to show them how to do it properly. I do believe the musical selections are getting better, but the execution is poor. Tom

  7. Franzjosf says:

    “…cloying ditties.” LOL. How true.

    Yes, the Papal Organist, the American James Goettshe (who studiend with Germani), is a fine player, but he’s underappreciated. Yes, they call him “Maestro” and applaud his playing, but they (both the Papal Chapel and the Chapter) rarely, if ever, seek his advice on musical and practical matters. A shame. And he’s an authority on Gregorian Chant and modal harmony.

    The Sistine Choir has been unrelentingly bad since before the Council. Given the romantic opera tradition in Italy, it is hard to find an Italian choir with a real blend. So I in no way defend them, but the Roman style of chant has always been more robust than that of Solemses. The Choir’s problem is that it does not get proper vocal/choral training, nor are they taught how to sing a subtle ‘line’ as required in Palestrina any good music. The cloying ditties only require an bathetic obviousness that doesn’t wear well.

  8. dcs says:

    How can something be of “appalling mediocrity”?

  9. Fr. J says:

    It is even more deplorable in most cathedrals in the US. The solution is individual pastors and priests standing up to arrogant music directors who think their ministry super cedes that of the priests. I had to deal with mine and all hell broke loose. The music director stirred up the choir and even tried to turn the parish against me. I was called into the chancery and I stood my ground. I had to fire one of the cantors for insubordination and the music director quit. I refused to take her back. About fifty families left the parish. We are now several years later and the music is beautiful SACRED music. No more CRAP. The St. Lewis Jesuits, GIA and all of the other modern “Church music” mafia are banned forever. It takes time for the people to adjust, but if we stick to our grounds and remain unbending, the beauty of Sacred Music will touch them and they will see the difference. Things will never change until more pastors are willing to go to Calvary. For the good of the Church, we must be willing to do it and face the persecution!

  10. TJM says:

    Fr. J, you’re a courageous man indeed. Bullies should be put out to pasture. You were fortunate. Yours quit. Tom

  11. Maureen says:

    Re: “appalling mediocrity”

    There’s nothing wrong with music just being mediocre. Not everything can be great. Mediocrity has its own honest dignity. But when you have the feeling that the composer could have spiffed up this piece very easily but didn’t want to, or that he purposefully picked the most cliched melody and chords possible, or the lowest possible common denominator of harmony — that’s when mediocrity gets to be appalling.

  12. I am surprised that Anton Bruckner is considered complicated. I didn’t think his symphonies were know for being complex. Long, yes. But not necessarily complex.

    I am further surprised at the performance of Brahms requiem. Why perform a non-catholic, non-liturgical work by someone who was agnostic as though it was a liturgical work? Don’t get me wrong…I love Brahms but I find this surprising nonetheless.

  13. Nathan says:

    Fr J: “arrogant music directors who think their ministry super cedes that of the priests.”

    Father, you hit on part of the problem that applies across the board–from (perhaps) the Sistine Choir to a large number parishes in the U.S. For something this systemic, though, there has to be a larger reason than musicians’ temperaments. After reading the NLM blog for a while, I’m convinced–because I’ve been part of the problem myself–is the musical loophole in the General Instruction to the Roman Missal (2003) that, IMO, allows musicians to completely disregard that important article 22(3) in Sacrosanctum Concilium (Vat II)–“Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the Liturgy on his own authority.”

    The loophole starts in GIRM para 48 and is consistent through the Entrance, Offertory, and Communion instructions: “there are four options for the Entrance Chant:… (4) a suitable
    liturgical song similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop.”
    Who chooses a suitable liturgical song? Most often, in my experience, the music director does. The problem is, that even with an eye to good, appropriate, orthodox music, the music director, not the Church, decides what is to be three intregal texts to the Holy Mass!
    Perhaps it’s because I have been involved in music that for years I remembered what hymnns we sang but would be hard pressed to remember the Gospel of the day fifteen minutes after we left the church. It’s no wonder that a pastor may find music directors who appear to think they supercede the priest.

    I’m not sure that the Sistine Choir or American parishes will really improve until that loophole is closed significantly.

    In Christ,

  14. Andrew says:

    The festival described sounds heavenly… accompanied, of course, by a few excellent meals!

  15. chironomo says:

    Way to go, Fr. J…

    Another few thousand of you and we could begin to make a dent in the problem! Where is the leadership on this issue anyway? While there are a few exceptions in each Diocese, I have found that most Priests are rather ambivalent towards the whole topic of liturgical music. If you’re going to be ambivalent, why not opt for what is right?

    I mean, we have to follow the law TO THE LETTER on the “Protecting God’s Children” document. Why not the same enthusiasm about “Sing To The Lord?” While it is certainly flawed, a rigid implementation of it would be a great improvement over where we are now. Or better yet, why not just insist that we follow Musicam Sacram?

    Another question, maybe a bit unrelated… if there were a company selling communion hosts in various flavors, maybe “green friendly” hosts made with spinach or some such thing, and offering them as a valid alternative to the “plain” hosts required by the church, do you think they would be allowed to continue plying their wares at Catholic events, advertising in Catholic Magazines and papers? Isn’t this really what GIA and OCP are doing?

  16. Mary Jane says:

    I keep waiting for the music at papal liturgies to improve. At the same time, it is true that Frisini is better than most of what gets trotted out here in the US as high-falutin’ music. All the Roman choirs seem to specialize in screaming – adult and children. The Lateran choir is basically a crowd of soloists singing at the same time in competition with each other.

    Of course, it’s some comfort to those of us in the trenches that even Rome can’t seem to solve the problem easily.

  17. Terth says:

    “The Vatican still has no office with authority on sacred music.”

    That may be true, but why isn’t the Office of Papal Liturgical Celebrations (or whatever you call Mons. Marini’s office) mandating what is to accompany the Most August Sacrifice? “No, the Holy Father will not wear those ugly vestments.” “No, we will not have dancers.” “Yes, we will have two deacons incensing at Vespers.” “We express no opinion on music.” ???

  18. Geoffrey says:

    “The Vatican still has no office with authority on sacred music.”

    I would think that would fall under the auspices of the Congregation for Divine Worship & Discipline of the Sacraments?

  19. Rose in NE says:

    Good for you Fr.J!

    My son (14 yrs old) is quite a talented musician who plays the organ and loves it. His organ teacher, who is our cathedral organist, once assigned him the task of reading all of the church documents relating to sacred music. After reading them, he couldn’t understand why the music we hear most often during liturgies doesn’t reflect what the documents really say. He was horrified when a nun at his school told him that one day he may be a great composer just like Marty Haugen or Bob Duffey of the St. Louis Jesuits! So have hope that there are at least some young people out there who know what sacred music is about. Even better, he wants to be a priest–hopefully one who will stand up to the the well-meaning, but often misguided liturgical music directors he might encounter.

  20. Neil Mueller says:

    Its amazing to me that even in light of Pope Benedict XVI’s “Spirit of the Liturgy,” there still seems to be a problem with music in Rome. People are starving for it; for a service of music that emphasizes the mass instead of taking it over with a sense of mistakenly stepping into a Simon and Garfunkel Concert. Its amazing how simple chant done well will add an astounding effect of reverence and prayer to the Sacred Liturgy. The sacred music movement is growing, yet we just don’t have enough talent in our parishes to do it justice. There is nothing worse than an inexperience parish choir stumbling around the Latin and howling out the propers: it sounds like a box of cats. Then people will start to cry out for the Idiot with the guitar back, in which case will not help the cause. Pray for (Holy) Talent to come back into the Church!

  21. plisto says:

    Sandro Magister never lets down! I have read some other music-related posts from him and he really knows what he’s saying.
    In st.Trinita dei pellegrini-church in Rome fr.Kramer FSSP has some excellent music on sundays, even though he resources are very limited.
    It’s a question on preferences, of knowledge, of willingness to hire good, well-educated musicians -and also, to pay a fair wage to them. Being a musician myself, I know that we all have to make our living somehow… and it takes a lot of time to practice an instrument (also singing) at a professional level.
    About Palestrina & stuff, these works of art should be sung pretty lightly, the way “early music revival” started to do in the 60’s and 70’s. It’s appalling to the likes of me to hear big choirs singing early music with much vibrato etc. “Early music revival” has not yet found it’s way to the Catholic church, at least not very much, which is pretty sad indeed. This music just sounds better done that way.
    Anyway, it’s not my aim to sound arrogant. Everyone is entitled to have their taste -but the Chant should have the prime of place in the Roman liturgy :-)

  22. PNP, OP says:

    Yup, musical rube here…guilty as charged. Fr. Philip, OP

  23. Al says:

    It’s hard to make the argument that we should follow the Vatican’s instructions regarding music for Mass when the Vatican isn’t setting the best example. (It’s also hard when your own diocesan office of worship issues instructions that directly contradict official documents, and the cathedral music program is worse that the Vatican’s.)

    I’m the organist for my parish, and our priest seems to think he’s a Baptist minister, and that the Mass ought to look, sound, and feel like a Baptist service. Fr. J, I wish I could work for you!

  24. Rellis says:

    The Latona choir at the National Shrine is by far the treasure of that place. It’s just too bad that Msgr. Rossi is (reportedly) hostile to the TLM. As the rector, he has jurisdiction. Also, there are no parishoners there for an Article V request. Hence, we’re stuck until he changes his mind.

    I know priests that have signed up for masses in the side chapels and had to “forget to volunteer” that they would, in fact, be celebrating an E.F.

  25. Mila says:

    Congratulations, Father J. We need more pastors like you. Sadly, most of the ones I know are either musically ignorant or unwilling to put an end to the mediocrity played in their churches because they feel that’s what their flocks want. Our pastor, who usually teaches a 5-week class on some Bible topic, commented once during one of his classes that a good many of the lyrics we sing are heretical. I asked “why are we singing them, then?”, and he just shrugged!

    TNCatholic, I agree with you. I’ll take the Sistine Screamers any day over “Mary and Joe Cantor”. The ones at our parish are an elderly couple who feel it’s their duty to sing every morning– thankfully only an entrance hymn and a Communion song, but oh, how distracting this last one can be. Some days I feel tempted to ask them to stop.

  26. After Mons. Guido Marini replaced the other Marini, I figured there would follow either a) the replacement of the still active director of the Sistine choir or b) a change in direction and quality of their music.

    They are getting a little better. But I haven’t seen the changes I predicted… yet.

  27. TJM says:

    Father Z, Is this a case where the “pope reigns but does not rule?” In my simple way of looking at things, I would assume that His Holiness
    could direct the musical selections he desires and then fire the person who defies his wishes. Or is this not “Romanita?” Tom

  28. Tom: Is this a case where the “pope reigns but does not rule?

    I recall an old story about a similar difficulty of some pope between Leo XIII and Pius XII — quite a range, but I don’t recall which, except it was one of the grand old popes of happy memory — who was at odds with (I believe) the archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica about something similar to the matter at hand.

    He was asked why he didn’t just put his foot down and have it done his way, or else. He replied, “I’m only the pope, and have very little power here in the Vatican to get anything whatever done. Everyone else around here thinks they’re in complete charge of their own area, and want no interference, from the reigning supreme pontiff or anyone else.” (I paraphrase, but that is the substance of the quote I saw some time ago.)

  29. joeolson14 says:

    that’s really too bad… I heard that we sort of having a cleaning out process in the choir when Papa Benedict came in, apparently that’s not the case. Sounds tragic. I think music is such a great tool of worship, it’s to bad when it can’t be done right, and all it takes is minimal effort and everyone on board, easier said then done I suppose.

  30. I am not an expert on this by any stretch. Two weeks ago, I attended Mass at St. Peter’s in Rome and this was what I saw. The sign said the music was Gregorian.

    BTW, receiving communion on the tongue was no big deal. There appeared to be a line dedicated for it along with a server (male) holding a patten

  31. joanofarcfan says:

    It must be Gregorian caterwaulling.

  32. JPG says:

    I have not read all the comments but every time I have heard the Sistine screamers I have felt that they ought to sack the lot and bring in a nice English choir perhaps with Steven Darlington as the director. I live in CT, USA and fortunately close to NYC. I had the oppurtunity to attend the festival of nine lessons and Carols at St Thomas Episcopal Church on Fifth Avenue. The music was sublime. In terms of other local Catholic talent the schola of the St Gregory Society is wonderful (in New Haven). Attending Mass and hearing Allegri’s Misereri
    sung as a motet on Laetare Sunday still gives me chills. It rivaled the Tallis Scholars recording from St Mary Major in Rome.
    Fairfield, CT

  33. David says:

    “The Latona choir at the National Shrine is by far the treasure of that place. It’s just too bad that Msgr. Rossi is (reportedly) hostile to the TLM. As the rector, he has jurisdiction. Also, there are no parishioners there for an Article V request. Hence, we’re stuck until he changes his mind.

    I know priests that have signed up for masses in the side chapels and had to “forget to volunteer” that they would, in fact, be celebrating an E.F.”

    Concerning the choir, whenever I go into the stores there, I normally don’t leave without one of their C.D.’s. There are no parishioners because it is not a parish church.

    They have a weekly E.F. mass said in the Lourdes Chapel on Wednesday when the priest can make it. They have also used the high altar on an experimental basis from what I have heard in the sacristy. (I serve there)

    From what I have heard, while it is not all good, it is getting better, especially when it comes to following the “Extra-Ordinary” part of EMoHC’s. There have been EMoHC’s coming into the sacristy before mass and quit because they told that they wouldn’t be needed because there were enough priests, deacons, seminarians, and vested servers in a cassock and surplice before they were used.

  34. Latter-day Guy says:

    “Reason numbing audio treacle” may very well be the best music-related phrase ever committed to HTML!

  35. Mary Ann, Singing Mum says:

    Fr. J, bravo! Sounds like the musicians really needed the boot. Your story is a good example of why church musicians are NOT liturgical authorities. People will assume responsibility when there is a void, and that is also why we need clearer direction from Rome.

    From the standpoint of a trained musician who loves the Church, I would like to point out two other problems.

    1) The habit of hiring amateurs or using volunteers of very limited ability has largely shut out people seeking to support a family in the field of sacred music. What is the incentive to rack up debt and study music rigorously when one cannot make a living?

    2) Because music used in the Sacred Liturgy is notoriously cheap, even preferred to music of quality, many serious musicians don’t want to associate themselves with sacred music any more. A (small) part of why we need beauty in the Mass is to evangelize those musicians themselves and draw them back to faith. Only then will they want to work for the Church.

    Further, the Church needs to reclaim the high ground in the arts if she is to win back the culture. Its time to end the ‘let’s be relevant’ experiment in all things sacred.

    Tom in Columbus, what a sad video. Sorry to be so blunt, but I think a good deal of effort needs to be made for people to sing that badly.

  36. Yes Mary Ann:

    There seemed to be a lot of straining going on.

  37. Michael says:

    It is impossible to assess the value of music without listening to it; but what was possible to listen during the instalment of the Pope three years ago, was appalling. The Holy Father himself seemed embarrassed by the whole ceremony, impatiently awaiting its end. And yet he had to smile from the car…

    Nothing seems to have changed since. But one really can’t expect from somebody who has no sense for the sacred, to perform the sacred music. Give him to conduct a Bruckner, he will make of it a pop music. It is simply hopeless.

  38. I was reviewing my father’s seminary transcripts the other day (he was a seminarian in the 60’s). He had no less than FIVE courses in Sacred Music. FIVE!

    Granted, some were electives, but they were all on the glorious chant and choral traditions of the Church.

    I guess not many people would take courses like “Marty Haugen 101” or “How to be a Liturgical Musician in 30 days or Less” or “Little Ditties for the Deity” or “Andrew Llyod Webber for Liturgical Musicians.”

    I long for the day when I can visit a Latin parish and:

    a. Not mentally rearrange the architecture and “furniture”.
    b. Not think I stumbled into an iconoclast Presbyterian sanctuary.
    c. Not feel as though I’m back in the 9th grade choir singing broadway musical pieces.

    Baby steppin’…

  39. Tom in Columbus,

    I think I saw Bernini’s Paraclete covering His ears!

    Fr. Deacon Daniel

  40. Ed the Roman says:

    Amen to so much here. I have sung the Haydn Lord Nelson at Mass, and it works well, at least in a cathedral.

    I’ve also heard and met Goettshe, and the guy has mad skills. He’s also been in Italy so long that his English is accented.

    I am a cantor, neither a priest, nor a music director, but I know two things from experience.

    There are a lot of cantors singing music they dislike to the best of their ability, because the director told them to. Don’t count on opposition to change from cantors. You may be surprised.

    Volunteer directors (and there are many) usually cite guidance from the pastor for a lot of what they do. One of ours said he was given seasonal lists to choose from and that was that.

    Our music program changed a good deal with a change of pastors. The various interim directors since the change have not influenced things nearly as much.

  41. Charivari Rob says:

    JPG, glad to hear you’ve been to St. Thomas. My college glee club went regularly to NYC, and I got to sing at St. Pat’s and a couple of other churches, but their St. Thomas engagements were before my time with them. I’ve always heard good things about there, but oddly enough, for all the times I’ve been in midtown I don’t think I’ve ever been inside the doors. Not since I was a little kid, at least.

    Being a Fairfield County person, did you find anything to your interest when the NPM regional was in Stamford a year or two ago (if you had the opportunity to attend)?

    Mary Ann, Singing Mum – the flip side of your first point is also a concern. The habit of hiring professionals trying to make a living in the field tends to shut out amateurs and volunteers.


  42. plisto says:

    Charivari Rob, at least in protestant churches (where I play in order to support the family) there are some good church-choirs, and that works nicely. The cantor is a professional organist/conductor, and the singers are amateurs! There’s always room for everybody willing to come and practice.

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