About this blogger:
Renowned as composer, conductor, theorist, author, pedagogue, and organist, Aurelio Porfiri has served the Church on multiple continents at the highest levels. Born and raised in Italy, he currently serves as Director of Choral Activities and Composer in Residence for Santa Rosa de Lima School (Macao, China).
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"To the extent that the new sacred music is to serve the liturgical celebrations of the various churches, it can and must draw from earlier forms — especially from Gregorian chant — a higher inspiration, a uniquely sacred quality, a genuine sense of what is religious."
— Pope John Paul II (June 1980)

I Am Not A Contemporary
published 15 July 2014 by Aurelio Porfiri

HERE ARE SOME MOMENTS in which we feel compelled to be satisfied. This does not happen frequently, but in that rare blissful moment we try to enjoy it. So I want to tell you why I find myself in that “upper home of bliss” (Father Faber).

The life of a liturgical musician is very difficult, we find ourselves struggling to find the right place for us, one where we can affirm our own rights, which we have come to believe are also the rights of the liturgy. But there is a point we reach when we are tired, where we decide to go elsewhere, hoping that in other places we’ll at least be respected. So I looked at job offers, and that is why, (as you will see) I now find myself in the “upper home of bliss” (always Faber).

In many American parishes there are priests that look for someone able to conduct the “contemporary” choirs. It seems these choirs flourish in many parishes and colleges. “Good,” I say to myself, “contemporary means that choirs involved in the liturgical reform are singing good liturgical music of our time.” — “Indeed,” I reason, “there are composers that have the tools and knowledge to make good liturgical music in vernacular languages, music that must be considered contemporary.” In my heart however, I have some doubts about that. I think: “maybe they use contemporary in the sense of Stockausen, Berio, Ligeti?” Or maybe they will force me to conduct a Mass of John Cage (did he write a Mass?), with a communion song called 3’45” where we just open the score and stay in silence (considering the quality of most of the communion songs you can hear today in churches, that is already an advantage).

BEFORE APPROACHING THE MULTITUDE of priests and pastoral councils that are wholeheartedly offering these wonderful opportunities to people like me, I turn my eyes to YouTube trying to find comfort for my devastating doubts about what being “contemporary” means. I need to tell you: I feel I am contemporary, as I feel I am alive (at least most of the time). So, looking in hope to my beloved YouTube, I search for contemporary choirs in churches and a multitude of videos pour down from tiny strands of the web! Feeling blessed and more and more curious, I click on one, hoping not to get any casual music or abstract sonorities but good liturgical music from good contemporary composers that follow the requirements for good liturgical music confirmed in many documents and pastoral letters.

But… wait… “What is this?” I asked, as some kind of 70s music began with roaming guitars and invading percussion, and someone singing a contorted melody with a microphone implanted directly in his throat! “No,” I say, (double checking the video description) “despite its good quality, this is some old video.” But I am wrong, the video was uploaded one month before. So… this is contemporary Catholic music for many American priests. In this case then, I am not a contemporary musician, because my music for the church still obeys rules. Rules, that make the same music sound completely different from this. But accepting the framework these priests establish, it is not contemporary.

OKAY, okay! I will walk as a wanderer trying to figure out who I am! But before submerging myself in the darkness of time, I have a question for all these priests and pastoral councils that are so supportive of contemporary groups: how come all the Popes thunder against consumerism in our society and you are accepting one of its pillars, commercial music, right in the heart of our liturgies?

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