Friday, November 28, 2008

Foundation for Sacred Arts...and random musings

For you fellow Catholic artists, check out this site: Foundation for Sacred Arts. If you're a visual artist, especially, please consider the artists' registry.

For those of us who try to live out the Via Pulchritudinis in our everyday lives, it's good to have this foundation to help encourage us in what we do. I work in an obscure way where I am and rather enjoy the anonymity. To my fellow parishioners, I am not anonymous, having become a part of their experience of encountering Truth and Beauty and Goodness in the Mass as the organist and music director of my parish. Whether or not my proficiency level meets professional criteria is really immaterial to me. What I offer to God in my playing, out of the time spent in contemplation and prayer, is all that matters to me. That and a good dose of humility and obedience.

With the coming release of the new Mass translations, I have been challenged by my spiritual director to discern if God isn't calling me to compose settings for the new translations that is in continuity with tradition. It was almost a jolt in a way when he mentioned that to me a few of days ago as the germ of an idea had already been planted after the famous, or perhaps more accurately, infamous debates a couple of years ago at the Bishops' Annual Meeting.

Because chant pervades my existence, my formation as a Catholic musician is very much shaped by the language, the idiom, if you will, of chant and by extension, polyphony. And as a convert, my musical experience was not infected by the OCP/GIA/Haugen/Haas monopoly. Tangentially, I remember reading somewhere once that Marty Haugen was inspired for a new setting for either a hymn or Mass part while at a drive-through at a fast-food restaurant. I can't imagine having the boldness to make that claim. It's so prosaic.

I am not a professional in the sense that I've been out there with name recognition. Thank God that I don't have that. In a way, it makes things easier that I can compose in obscurity and present the fruits to my own parish. That is where I thrive. But perhaps I don't need to re-invent the wheel as those more proficient than I have already done the work. At Musica Sacra, the chant Mass settings have been rendered in the new English texts. The settings remain under embargo, unfortunately.

My parish choir is volunteer in every sense of the word. In another life and faith tradition, the parish choir that I belonged to was professional, with a touring and recording schedule. There is an understandable nostalgia for that level of excellence, but I can't give in to those sentiments because my reality now is far from that. What God is teaching me through my choir is a deeper level of charity and patience while maintaining high standards of singing. It's not easy. But, I love the people in my little choir. Two of them surprised me the other day by cleaning up the choir loft...surprised because the floor was shining as morning light filtered in through the stained-glass windows. And surprised, too, because the floor was slippery, and with my suede-soled organ shoes, an extemporaneous lesson in graceful gliding happened.

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