Tuesday, January 31, 2006

This Is a Recording...

Guest Comment

Hadleyblogger Bobby has shown himself to be a keen critic of the state of church music. In his latest commentary, Bobby speaks about the growing trend toward recorded church music, and the need to respect live instrumentalists. I see this as a very Chestertonian point, the idea that musicians are craftsmen and as such their handiwork should be appreciated and respected. Of course, a musician who makes a recording deserves respect as well, but comparing live and recorded music in the church is almost like apples and oranges.

When we worship God, He deserves the best we can give Him. When we sing, we pray twice. And when it comes to music, the best may not be a recording (even if it's from the Metropolitan Opera) - not when we can offer Him our own live work. Kind of like the difference between a home-cooked meal and a TV dinner.


(In June 2004), I had the opportunity to attend a concert of a young 16-year old local girl (Mariel Angel Estrella) who was doing a fund-raiser to help raise funds for her to stay at the South Carolina Governor's School in the Upstate another year with a mix of 18th and 19th century English songs, French, Italian, and German songs (oh do I know one of those too well -- I had just sung "Caro mio ben" at a recital of Krznarich students that May!), and then a stage of Broadway songs.

I talked to accompanist Karen Young (Kay) Crawford afterwards, and she has been well-known in the local music community as a pianist for over two decades, and I looked back at the time together (I was a 3rd grade student at the now-defunct parochial school when Mrs. Crawford was the music teacher for our 3rd grade class), we looked ahead at some interesting perspectives from our past and our future.

Me: "I do remember these old times. It's always good to see you."

Kay: "Of course. I'm glad to see you again."

Being a pianist, she is naturally biased for the piano, and I am glad. Having worked with distinguished pianists in my settings, I enjoy work with pianists. I told Mrs. Crawford the trouble at our church with the choir leader flaunting his "battle" with both instrumentalists, Elizabeth Dempsey on piano and Bonita Brinson on organ (both since fired), as our leader has decided in the past 16 choir appearances to go with recorded (aka "canned" or "karaoké") music 13 times, something which has drawn my ire recently as his choice of the can has been praised by some members, but vastly opposed by others. One member flaunted it as saying recorded music was much better than live music. I didn't buy that.

Kay: "At my church, the minister of music has been trying to have us used recorded music, and I am not happy about it. I don't want it. Most of the singers prefer live music, and when those who work the (local theatre group) also have said they prefer playing live music. There is a difference between singing with the recorded music and with the live piano. Quartet Five (the local quartet which she was pianist at the time, an all-male group also then) also sings exclusively live."

Me: "There are specific church members who are pleased with the recorded music, and they say it sounds much better than live music. I don't agree. The accompanist to singer has the same analogy as quarterback and receiver, catcher and pitcher, and crew chief or spotter to driver. Singing to recorded music is similar to driving a Nextel Cup car without a spotter, something which is against the rules."

Kay: "If you make a mistake, the pianist will cover for you. You can't do that with a tape. I am growing concerned of the trend towards recorded music. One of these days we may not have enough instrumentalists for church."

If I hear recorded music used for a choir number during practice, I'll walk out and skip it. I respect having live instrumentalists and if you keep flaunting them with recorded music to insult them, you're doing a disservice to the community.

So true. Good thing I have friends who play the piano. We need more live instrumentalists. That has become a problem at churches and even local theatres.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

You Tell 'Em, Lou!

By Mitchell

I know there are "conservatives" who don't think much of CNN's Lou Dobbs and his crusade against globalization (i.e., exporting jobs out of America), but for what it's worth, I get a real charge out of Lou. He's one of the few guys out there who isn't afraid to tell it like it is, and more often than not he's speaking my language. I'll admit there are times when even I get a little uncomfortable with his editorializing, but it passes quickly - at least he's not making any bones about the fact that he's giving you his opinion, as opposed to passing it off as objective journalism.

He's also one to see through the pablum that comes out of the mouths of Corporate America, as in this story of how Google agrees to Chinese censorship. Here's an excerpt from the transcript from tonight's show, as Lou talks with correspondent Kitty Pilgrim (surely one of the best names in television today) in a segment entitled "dot.commie":

DOBBS: This is, I think, probably as good an example as there is of a very confused leadership at Google over what is right and wrong and to which nation they happen to be chartered in.

PILGRIM: They respond by saying they balance their commitment.

DOBBS: They balance their commitment. They have no commitment as best I can tell. Certainly to anything that I would consider of value. Thank you very much.

Believe me, hearing Lou say it was even better than reading it on the page. Of course, while Google bends over for the ChiComs (and how long has it been since you've heard that phrase used?), it fights the U.S. government on releasing information about child porn sites. As Lou put it, they've forgotten which nation they're chartered in. But then, sadly, that doesn't make them unique in the world of Corporate America.

You know, the city of Anaheim is currently pursuing legal action against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (surely the worst name in all of sports), contending that they have a contractual obligation to call the team "Anaheim Angels." Perhaps this country should follow the same action against Corporate America, and demand they remove the word "America" - it may be one of the few ways we can still maintain our own integrity.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Wish I'd Written That...

By Mitchell

"It was a cinch I'd be behind on all the urgent social issues of the day because I'd quit watching the news on network TV, not being a big fan of socialism, and I wasn't walking around witha pile of degrees in Communism from Berkeley and Harvard. I was just a simple patriot. And unlike your silly lefties, I wanted to see my country protected from the swarms of raving, subhuman assholes who want to kill us because they hate cheeseburgers, golf, football, soap and water, toilets that flush, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, clothing stores, and women who don't smell like donkeys.

"It would also be helpful, I'd mention, if we could delaminate all the dunce-cap university professors who want to 'diversify' this and 'globalize' that, provide air-conditioned condos and SUVs for illegal aliens, healthcare and satellite dishes for armed robbers and serial killers, and can't wait to blame the United States for all the bad shit that happens in the world. They could globalize this. That was my basic message."

Dan Jenkins, Slim and None

Jesus the Brother

By Mitchell

Today's Gospel reading was rich in meaning for those willing to dig a bit underneath the surface.

It's the familiar story of how Jesus is told that "Your mother and your brothers are outside, asking for you." He replies, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" He looks around at those who are with him, and says, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother." (Mark 3:31-35)

As Fr. Quinn said this morning, Jesus is telling us that there's more to being a "brother" than mere genetics. This is nothing new to us; we're always joking about how you can pick your friends, but you can't pick your relatives. (On the other hand, blood is thicker than water, which I guess means we're at a cliche standoff.) But the point is there - we may not be genetic "brothers" of Jesus (as, in fact, the relatives mentioned in the Gospel were most certainly not actual brothers of His, but were most likely cousins or other relatives), but just as we inherit sonship through our devotion to the Father, we also become brothers and sisters of His Son.

And I wonder if this isn't where we get into a little trouble nowadays. It seems to me as if we look at Jesus more and more often today as a "friend." Which He is, I hasten to add. But there's a difference between being someone's best friend and their brother. Sometimes it's a big difference. We may tell our friends that we want them to be honest with us, to be blunt even if it hurts; but let's face it, most of the time when we confide something to a friend we're really looking for some type of reinforcement. Many's the friendship that has gone by-the-by when one friend has dared to tell the truth to the other.

A brother, on the other hand - especially a big brother - often feels an obligation to steer the younger sibling in the right direction, to point to a certain path of behavior. The younger brother or sister might resent this at the time, even rebel against it (being an only child, I have no first-hand experience with this), but in time the attitude softens. Siblings may fight tooth-and-nail with each other, but they'll usually unite against someone from outside the family who seeks to cause harm.

And here's the crux of my point - nowadays it's undrerstandable that we might prefer the thought of Jesus as our Best Friend. No matter what we do, our best friends will find a way to tell us it wasn't our fault, that we were right to think or act the way we did, that we should just have a bowl of ice cream and forget about it. And that's what Jesus-as-friend represents to us - a big hug, a boost of self-esteem, and Communion on Sunday so we can feel good about ourselves. Who could ask for anything more?

Of course, He might not do what Jesus the brother would do - correct us when we make a mistake, try to show us the right way of doing things, cuff us around the ears once in a while when we deserve it. Jesus the Brother loves us, too, just like Jesus the Friend - so much, in fact, that He'll occasionally do something or allow something to happen that we just can't understand. And we think to ourselves, "Why would Someone Who calls Himself our friend do this to me? Why won't He just tell me everything's all right?"

Again, mistake me not - Jesus is our friend. He is the best friend any of us will ever have. But we're wrong to forget that other part of the equation - Jesus as our brother. For it is the firm guiding hand of our Brother, doing His Father's work and leading us always closer to Him, that is the ultimate proof of His love for us.

Don't settle for cheap imitations - in this Oprahfied culture of ours, when someone offers you Jesus the Friend, remember that you can get two-for-one: Jesus the Brother and Jesus the Friend. For "Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother."

And friend.

Trouble in (So Not) Paradise

By Mitchell

It's Gilmore Girls night, which means Judie is watching TV and I've got a little time to kill online, so you might see a few more posts tonight than you have in awhile.

Hadleyblogger Ray brought this to my attention - trouble for the new pastor at the infamous St. Joan of Arc in Minneapolis. (HT: fellow Minnesotan Adoro Te Devote.) As some of you may be aware, I'd ordinarily heap a share of scorn on SJA (reason #233,742 here), but I don't much feel like doing that tonight. Instead, as Adoro suggests, pray for the pastor, Fr. Debruycker. I've seen him many times celebrating the Friday morning Mass at St. Olaf, and always thought he was a little left-of-center, but with his heart in the right place. (And he's made some good points as well - examples here and here.) When he was appointed the new pastor at SJA, I thought he might have a chance to bring this renegade parish a little closer to the rest of the flock. If he's in trouble there, if he isn't liberal enough for them, that's bad news for the entire church.

Pray for Fr. Debruycker, and for the conversion of SJA.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Sour Notes

Guest Comment

Hadleyblogger Bobby offers the following observations on his church's music budget, and identifies some of the most frustrating aspects of modern church music. Although Bobby's speaking specifically about his own church, his concerns reflect real questions about the future of classical music. As has been written in the past, there is truth in beauty; and as we risk losing the natural beauty of classical music, we risk also losing the truths contained in it - replaced by an increasingly raw secular culture that views popularity and utility as being greater values than aesthetic beauty. Where is the next Mozart, the next Beethoven, the next Vaughn-Williams? Where, for that matter, is the future of church music?


My church is to meet next week to vote on the 2006 budget, and I analysedsome interesting notes.

Music Ministry:

Teen pop dance: Up 25% - from $800 to $1,000

Youth choir: Down 40% - from $500 to $300

Adult choir: Down 14.2% - from $3,500 to $3,000. Down 40% in two years.

Children's choir: Down 33.3% - from $750 to $500.

Teen puppets: Up 50% - from $4,000 to $6,000.

It's clear and evident now at church the support is going to the teens and their puppet and dance troupes. The choir is on its way out. Those whoare pleading to remove the music minister have more support. Also theproposal for an organist to be hired has been eliminated.

It seems the teens are taking too much control, and church music is going out with the bathwater as kids want more dance troupes and no choral groups.

There is no value from seeing kids dressed in 1960's garb dancing to "Spirit in the Sky" or in tee-shirts and jeans dancing to "Throw Your Hands Up" (I've corrected grammatical mistakes in the title), or what has become of the youth choirs, dancing to "Shackles" (which some kids and leaders want), resulting in complaints by some parents.

The budget is designed to give the teens a continuing edge and to eliminate anything sacred of quality and replace it with music more secular and more dance to secular songs.

The leader keeps buying the more karaoké for the choir, and now sing exclusively from the same BMG series, buying over $1,500 of music books and compact discs each time. I looked at the new choir books for Easter, and many of the songs are the same songs from the Easter 2004, Easter 2005, Christmas 2004, and Christmas 2005 musicals, just bought in a new package as to allow for new karaoké discs to be purchased with the same pop-rock. Why can't we just stick with great classic selections and live music, and keep it that way? Is there an attitude among pop-rock supporters of not wanting anything which has withstood the test of time?

At this rate, there is a sense to the more classical vocalists in the choir that they are being sent "out of the draft" and being shuffled high -- and with that sense, it seems I'm hanging there waiting for my voice teacher and friends hook up to help me!

Sunday, January 8, 2006

The Collective Nature of Sin

By Mitchell

I was thinking the other day about those coal miners who died in the accident in West Virginia. Unfortunately, I was thinking about them while I was standing in the confession line. I say "unfortunately" because times like that tend to cause you to think about things that make you uncomfortable, thoughts you'd rather not have to admit or deal with. Sin and collective responsibility is one of those thoughts.

In one of the more memorable passages in The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton recounts the feelings he had when the Second World War broke out in Europe. There was relief, he said, in that the uncertainty under which everyone had been living for the past several months was over. The tension had broken; for better or worse, the war was one. But his thoughts didn't stop there:

"There was something else in my own mind - the recognition: 'I myself am responsible for this. My sins have done this. Hitler is not the only one who has started this war: I have my share in it too . . .' It was a very sobering thought, and yet its deep and probing light by its very truth eased my soul a little."

Merton's response was to go to Confession and communion later that week, on the first Friday of September.

Why did he respond in such a manner? Communion is understandable, of course; often in bleak times we seek to draw nearer to our God, and there's no better way to do that than through the True Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. But we might wonder about his desire to go to Confession. Was there something he'd done that would prevent him from receiving communion? Merton might have said so, but his mind was on something bigger than the state of his own personal soul. The poet John Donne famously wrote "no man is an island," and so it is also with sin.

Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that our sins affect only us. In the clarity in which we often find ourselves after the fact, we resolve to go to Confession, certain in our knowledge that God forgives the repentant sinner. And this is a good thing, because it is true. But we often look at it in the most personal of terms, in the need we have for our souls to be cleansed of our sins. Less often do we think of the accumulated weight of collective sin, and the need for those sins to be redressed.

Obviously our sins affect others; just as there's no such thing as a victimless crime, there's no such thing as a victimless sin. But often we fail to realize that our sins affect not just our friends and family, or others that in some direct way might be involved in our actions. When it comes to sin, the buck doesn't stop with our own soul. Our sins not only tarnish ourselves, they diminish all of society. In the collective Body of Christ that is the Church, you can't isolate one part of the body from the others. Just as an act that strengthens one body part can be good for the entire body, something that damages or weakens that part will do the same to the rest of the body.

That's not to put too fine a point on this. After all, to look at this in the wrong perspective is to court scrupulosity. Pretty soon you become a walking guilt trip, blaming yourself for everything and anything that happens to anyone anywhere. Not only is that not healthy, it's not true.

But our sins do affect others, in ways we cannot always understand. Merton didn't really start the war, of course, any more than you or I might have cause the explosion that killed those miners. But in a sense Merton was right; his sins, and those of millions of others throught time, did play a part in the start of the war. It was not only the Jews and the Romans who shouted, "Crucify Him!" - our voices were joined in that cry, just as they are every time we sin. He felt the pain of our sins when the crown was pressed on His forehead, when the lashes tore into His back, when His hands and feet were hammered onto the Cross. And every time we reject His teachings He feels them still.

As I said when I started this piece, thinking about such things while standing in the confession line can make you uncomfortable. Perhaps you'd rather not think about it at all. Perhaps you feel shame and regret, or maybe you just try to push it out of your mind all together. But if you do think about it, as you enter the box and prepare to confess your sins, you might also remember that your confession and penance, will also do a world of good for the Church. If your sins have weakened the other members of the Body, it is just as sure that your repentance will strengthen them.

The realization of this can help deal with the discomfort that many of us feel in confession. To meditate on it - to consider the interactive role we play with the entire Church throughout all places and times, here on earth and in heaven - well, perhaps such thoughts will help strengthen us in the first place, so that we realize that our sins hurt not only ourselves, but all of God's children. To live better, more Christ-like lives, is something we don't do only for ourselves.

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