OST OF OUR parishes in Boston have begun to open to the public. The Cathedral of the Holy Cross has been open since Pentecost. That seems like an eternity ago!
For music directors, our professional lives have been turned upside down this year. Choirs remain in exile. Concurrently, society is awakening to deeply rooted injustice. Every week, it seems, we are pummeled with deeply disturbing news. Pain shakes our heart; events and implications horrifically tragic. Our souls cannot help but be terribly affected.
Psalm 112: 7: He has no fear of evil news;
with a firm heart he trusts in the Lord.
But through pain, our spiritual growth may be at an all time high. Struggle and pain are a blessing for they are the crucible through which we learn to better serve God and each other.
It must be said.
Meanwhile, many musicians are grappling with a litany of frustrations. No congregational singing (in Boston and many other places) is antithetical to worship. No choirs, not even for special occasions, is deeply frustrating. (This is my first summer in thirty years not inviting the choir to sing through the summer months!)
But I wish to acknowledge something very important. Everyone talks about this, but it still must be said:
Everyone is working as hard or much harder than they were during “normal” times. I have heard from those who received a pay cut because it appears on paper they are doing less.
Not so. Not so!
Teaching, communicating, celebrating Mass remotely is exhausting and time consuming. Many of us have taken on technical duties, even while churches are open to the public.
I long for the days when I could just run a rehearsal and only concentrate on music. Now we must think about camera and microphone placement, disinfecting chairs, microphone and music stands, or make sure there’s a solid internet connection. There is also budgeting the time to care for these details.
Working less? I think not. But this is Mass today. And I wish it were not.
However, there are blessings in our need to operate differently. Some new skills will come in handy. New repertoire may be a welcome addition to add to congregational pieces.
Best Practices (in the current temporary situation)
In Boston as in many other places, congregational singing is either banned or highly discouraged. Choirs are forbidden. In Boston we are allowed only one cantor and instrumentalist.
To handle this, here here are some best musical practices for the Novus Ordo for public Mass with current restrictions. I’m sure I’ll think of more later and please share with me what has worked for you!
- Whenever possible sing the antiphons of the day and their corresponding psalms. **See several free resources below including a new resource from Detroit with a variety of styles that include piano, guitar, and organ accompaniment.
- Recite the Ordinary (or some of it). Some holy days may warrant singing the Gloria or Eucharistic Acclamations. If so, rotate or utilize less familiar settings.
- If singing the Responsorial, I recommend a practice that is consistent with singing psalms at the Divine Office: Sing the antiphon once at the beginning (do not repeat) and once at the end. Sing all the verses through in between. Such a practice is consistent with our Roman Catholic tradition and maintains musical symmetry.
- Do not be afraid of instrumental music. Offertory can be a wonderful time. Explore improvising. (Improvising can be cathartic!)
- Explore singing sacred solo repertoire appropriate for the season or feast.
- Distributing communion after the dismissal has worked effectively at the cathedral. If doing so, perhaps sing a quick communion antiphon (one verse and doxology perhaps) and reserve a solo or meditative piece while the faithful receive communion, perhaps followed by a postlude if you wish.
- Do not be afraid of sacred silence!
- Provide an easily retrievable online program with readings and texts to the antiphons if possible. While I personally dislike projection screens, their use is certainly warranted at this time.
- Consider getting used to singing with masks.One needs to find the right mask where one can breathe. Don’t do this if you have difficulty or a medical condition!
Note this Vespers service here, soprano, Barbara Hill and I both sing with masks throughout: Vespers II – Corpus Christi
Singing with masks may be a bridge to improved safety and perhaps a future necessity.
New Resource from Detroit
I previously offered a number of free resources here for singing the proper antiphons , most in English. Joseph Balistreri, Cathedral and Archdiocesan Director of Music in the Archdiocese of Detroit has kindly shared with me a new free resource.
Detroit’s Academy of Sacred Music Antiphon Project with English antiphons are composed in various styles, many for piano, guitar, and organ. This does a great service to the Church, meeting many musicians partway and open more possibilities for singing the propers.
You can download them here.
Bookmark this file, as it is being updated regularly!
Hope – Stay Awake!
Massachusetts currently has the lowest Rt rate in the country as of June 22 (1.57). While this is very encouraging and great reason for hope, now is not the time to be complacent. At this time, our country as a whole is experiencing record highs in new cases. That trend is troubling.
As such, many have expressed gratitude for these summer months when choirs are usually on hiatus anyway. It is time to bunker down and stay safe.
I pray to God these hopeful trends in New England continue. Our children need to be back in school. Our choirs — and our hearts — need to sing God’s praises. We need to be able to take care of our families. May our communities stay well and we can move forward!
In the meantime, I know you’re all working harder.
In eternal gratitude,
Oremus pro invicem
Let us pray for each other.