N 2001, as a college sophomore, I began creating polyphonic rehearsal CDs for my church choir. The newspaper in Kansas was so fascinated by young people gathering to sing ancient music they featured us—and later, a television station ran a segment about us. (Perhaps there wasn’t much news in Kansas!) I recently came across a rehearsal track from 2004, which presents a HOSANNA. 1
Participants in this year’s Sacred Music Symposium will learn how to create these rehearsal videos, which I now produce by myself—so please forgive my soprano notes! Friday morning, I recorded a GLORIA by Guerrero:
REHEARSAL VIDEOS for each individual voice await you at #5612.
I will soon release the KYRIE, SANCTUS, BENEDICTUS, HOSANNA, and AGNUS DEI.
WHAT IS THE POINT of all these rehearsal videos? Is this a waste of time, like so many other “internet projects” that make no difference in the real world? On the contrary, the results have been astounding. Just last week (30 April 2017) the first Latin Mass in fifty years was offered in Santa Barbara. The entire church was packed with more than 600 people. Even the choir loft was filled to the brim, and some had to stand for the whole Mass:
Very few of our choir members read music, and some have just begun attending the Latin Mass. Rehearsal videos were indispensable in making sure the FSSP Apostolate in Los Angeles could provide worthy sacred music.
Someone kindly sent me an iPhone excerpt. But please remember microphones never capture choral sound accurately:
The choral sound is “harsh” on the tiny recording device. But I was there—and I can assure you it was anything but harsh.
DR. LUCAS TAPPAN often speaks of the beautiful choral sound found in England, and the following excerpt from Aylesford Priory (near Kent, England) in 1960 certainly demonstrates this, even in a simple little piece like Palestrina’s MISSA BREVIS:
Quick message for liturgical nerds: The priest almost makes a mistake by moving toward the center after the CHRISTE but corrects himself discreetly. Notice, too, his English pronunciation of the word “pax.” The priest butchers the intonation, so the choir pauses before beginning the GLORIA—undoubtedly so they can use the pitch pipe.
If you visit YouTube, you can view the entire video. Even their hymn singing, toward the beginning, is remarkable. Sometimes I’m tempted to get discouraged because our choral sound is still in need of improvement, but remembering Leonard Bernstein helps me. You see, Bernstein often gave “musical explanation sessions”—watched by millions—talking about classical music. When he demonstrated at the keyboard, his piano skills are frequently atrocious: no sense of line, sloppy passagework, and zero attention to counterpoint. I’ve heard children in the second grade perform better. (Bernstein clearly spent no time preparing, because he studied at Curtis with the legendary Vengerova and occasionally showed great keyboard skill, e.g. performing Gershwin.) If Bernstein got away with horrific playing, I console myself, our congregations will surely tolerate our imperfections, so long as we continue to improve.
IEWING THAT VIDEO from 1960 makes me wonder how Catholic priests felt when the liturgical changes were imposed after Vatican II—especially since the majority of these changes were contrary to what the Council mandated. But the Traditional Mass has been discovered by a whole new generation of Catholics, and finds itself flourishing in a way “experts” assured us would never happen. This coming Sunday, an amazing opportunity comes to Los Angeles:
REV. FR. JOHN BERG, FSSP
Superior General, Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter
Visiting from FSSP Headquarters in Switzerland
CELEBRATING SOLEMN HIGH MASS (7:00pm)
Sunday, 14 May 2017 • St. Victor’s Church
8634 Holloway Dr • West Hollywood, CA 90069
Don’t miss this opportunity! We’d love to see you on Sunday.
As I said earlier, those of us who have discovered the Traditional Mass don’t understand how it could ever have been abandoned—but the same could be said about many other things. For example, nobody cared about J.S. Bach’s music toward the end of his life, because he was considered outdated (although that sounds inconceivable to us now). Or, consider another example. Modern liturgists have tried to convince us that all styles are “equally appropriate” for Mass, and publicly advocate inserting “commercial pop music” into the sacred liturgy. This bizarre notion is presented as unassailable, calling to mind something Leo Bozell (†1997) observed:
The argument moves from the existence of the thing to the correctness of the thing: what is, ought to be. Or, a popular variant: if a thing is, it doesn’t make any difference whether it ought to be—the correct response is to adjust, to learn to live with the thing.
Sing along with the Tenor rehearsal video (or any voice) given above. Or listen again to the Aylesford excerpt. Now brace yourself and listen to Techno based on Star Wars. Or listen to this Bach Concerto, masterfully played by Lipatti. If you really want a jolt, try the OCP song about the Giant Love Ball. Isn’t it apparent that different styles of music evoke different emotions? Who can deny that certain styles possess an inherent dignity—eminently suitable to the public worship of Almighty God—engendering prayerfulness, peace of soul, mystery, and wonder? Why must we be silent about this self-evident truth?
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 This was part of a full Mass setting I composed for my friend’s first Mass. By the way, I hear my younger brother’s deep bass voice on that 2004 recording, so I must have dragged him over from Benedictine college to help me. I was grateful for his help; he’s a fabulous musician.