UR BLOG is careful not to talk endlessly about itself, something readers seem to appreciate. Our contributors also seldom write articles about themselves. Today, however, I make an exception to that rule: I’d like to share how I became part of the movement for authentic church music.
Born in the 1980s, I have only the foggiest recollection of George H. W. Bush being president. Approximately four years after the fall of the Soviet Union (1991), my family became involved with the FSSP. This was a tremendous blessing since my local Catholic school had exposed me to goofy church music and formal heresy. My brothers and I subsequently served hundreds of FSSP Masses throughout the United States, and once I had the opportunity to be M.C. for a Mass celebrated by Fr. Josef Bisig. Increasingly, however, our Pastor requested that I “go up to the choir loft” and assist with the chanting—because he knew I could read music.
Throughout high school and college I served as choirmaster for FSSP Masses. My duties included transcribing music, training & conducting choirs, playing organ, and singing tons of Masses. I ran weekly rehearsals, did multiple Masses each Sunday, and even handled funerals, weddings, and extra feasts such as 15 August. This volunteer work was in addition to my various jobs, and (most significantly) being a full-time student at the University of Kansas, where I often did special projects—such as recordings of Renaissance polyphony—which frequently did not end until 3:00am. It would take a long time to mention all the wonderful experiences of those days: singing under the baton of Simon Carrington, taking part in piano competitions, making polyphonic recordings with famous singers like Dr. John Stephens, and so forth.
An important event took place in the summer of 2002 when I transcribed the entire collection of “Musica Divina” by Fr. Karl Proske into the SIBELIUS music program. Many of these pieces—such as the works of Alexander Uttendal—were not known by many conductors. Transcribing these works taught me a great deal, just as Mozart learned a great deal when he copied both volumes of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier as a child. 1
During all those years working for FSSP parishes I never considered joining an “international movement” for church music. As far as I could tell, nobody else cared about this type of music—except the FSSP—and that was fine with me. I was thrilled to sing & teach it because it’s so powerful, moving, reverent, and holy. It changed my whole life. 2 It is church music and belongs at Mass … period. Full Stop.
I RECEIVED A SURPRISE TELEPHONE CALL IN 2005 from a CMAA official. He’d seen my work with the Proske collection and exclaimed, “You need to assist our movement; we could really use someone like you.” To this day, I am grateful for the way he reached out to me. I was able to provide many rare books for the CMAA to scan (e.g. 1908 Graduale, Oreste Ravanello Motets, Raphael Molitor’s 1904 treatise, and so on). In return, the CMAA promoted the rare volumes we made available to the world (the Nova Organi Harmonia, the 1883 Liber Gradualis, 1903 Liber Usualis, and so on) which helped maximize their impact.
I thereafter became involved with the CMAA and had a blast directing a Sacred music documentary broadcast on three major networks, including EWTN. Teaching Gregorian chant at several colloquia, I met amazing people and had sensational conversations late into the night. If my health improves, I’d very much like to attend a Colloquium again—but probably not until our children are older. Here are a few random images from the Colloquium we filmed in 2009:
When I became involved with the CMAA, I learned that tons of people across the globe love traditional church music and are working to restore reverence at Mass. I never dreamed that so many love this stuff and are willing to fight for it! It cannot be denied that many Catholic churches sing inappropriate songs at Mass; yet our movement exists, and must continue to exist, for those who want to do it right.
In other words, it isn’t about whether we can stop inappropriate music in every Catholic church. What’s important is for organizations to provide resources and encouragement for those priests and musicians desiring to do things properly (no matter what anyone else is doing). Here at Watershed—in our own small way—we try to offer helpful resources and support.
I’m glad to be part of this movement!
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 Please note that I’m not comparing myself to Mozart; I’m just saying that copying is a good way to learn.
2 Composers like Victoria, Lassus, Marenzio, Morales, and Palestrina have changed a whole lot of lives—not just mine!