28 November 2007

From the Mailbox

A Reader Who Shall Not Be Named recently sent an e-mail in response to some of the pessimism floating around here about music programs. His experience is a sign of hope that things will get better. For myself, I am waiting for the change, and trying when I can, to give it a push here and there. Nothing on earth stays fixed forever, and as you will see in the letter below, sometimes things do change for the better:

I read with interest your missive on the fate of your choir, and it brought to mind my experiences with the choir at my church of which I've been a member for 20 years.

I first joined the parish when I was recently married, and working nights. I began to attend this particular parish because of the quality of the music. I have always felt God calling me to sing, so I began attending Mass there with my wife.

One evening, a month or so after I joined, an elderly man turned to meafter Mass and said: "You have a beautiful voice, you ought to join the choir". I said: "Thank you, but I'm working nights. If I get transferred to days, my first order of business will be to join the choir".

8 months later I got a nice promotion to days with a 60% increase in pay. A promise is a promise, so I joined the choir.

The choir director was a talented organist with a pleasant voice. We hadabout 25 choir members and we would sing twice a month. When I first showed up, the director asked what section I sang in, and I asked her:"what do you need?" and she said: "tenors". So I became one of the threetenors in our choir.

After I was there about 8 years, the parish decided to do a $1M"renovation" on the church. "Renovation" is in quotes, because when weentered the new church the next Christmas for the first time, I was horrified. The large crucifix had been removed from the sanctuary and replaced with a big golden seated Jesus holding out a host and a cup in each hand. The tabernacle had been placed in a side chapel, where the lead EME did a little "fetching ceremony" before Communion.

The worst part, for me, was the choir loft was gone, and the organ and choir area had been moved to the front of the church next to the sanctuary. So now instead of supporting the sacrifice of the Mass, we became the focus. As our reputation spread as having the only full time paid music director in the area, and having the largest adult choir and children's programs, we began to attract all kinds of people based on our music. Oh, we did some Mozart (Ave Verum) and Franck (Panis Angelicus),but there was also a *lot* of Haugen, Haas, and the St. Louis Jesuits(together and separately). Then we got this piece called "sing a newchurch" that I, even in my liturgically ignorant state, could tell was not appropriate if not outright heretical.

I began doing research on my faith, and discovered there were many more abuses which were happening than that one. The pastor had been there 28 years and the choir director had been there 26 of them. I discovered that the choir director was also the "liturgy director".

Our pastor retired, and we were blessed with a new, more orthodox pastor. He tried to get some of the abuses changed, and early on succeeded in:

1. Getting the EMEs out of the sanctuary for the fractioning rite (one ofthe EMEs left our parish because "Fr. X took away my spot on the altar!".)

2. Locking the tabernacle and putting away the key. (previously the keyhad been left in the tabernacle 24/7)

3. Replacing the stoneware cibora and chalices with gold (one of the cibora had been broken in half and mended with super glue).

4. Since our renovated church did not have a sacrarium, Father X. purified each of the chalices after communion and before dismissal. He did this thoroughly and with great reverence.

The choir director / liturgy director took issue with this. He asked her to place play some music softly in the background as he purified thevessels, and she refused to. She would sit, stone faced on the organ bench and refuse to play, leaving him "hanging in the wind" so to speak. I timed the purification one weekend, it only took 2 minutes 10 seconds.

Soon after that, I learned from our CD/LD that her contract was not goingto be renewed. She claimed that Fr. X. had changed the terms, and would allow her to reapply for the newly crafted position. This angered a lot of us, and after she left, the vast majority of the "choir families" left also. This included the parents of about the 70 kids who were in the children's music program.

When the dust settled, there were 4 of us left in the adult choir. So we hired a fellow with a guitar as an interim choir director to get us through the holiday (it was Christmas) until a permanent replacement could be found.

I later discovered what had actually happened. The CD/LD was combative,disrespectful and insubordinate to the new pastor (who she had treated in the same manner when he had previously been our associate). Fr. Xdecided that he didn't need a liturgy director, but to his credit was willing to consider her for the new choir director only position. She thought it was insulting to have to apply for her own job, but that was the way the diocese worked, not just with her, but with everyone*including the pastor*.

So the 4 of us went to work. We had (oddly enough) 1 soprano, 1 alto, 1tenor (me) and 1 bass. We had about 70 years of combined singingexperience, and we could do some beautiful 4 part work, in addition tosplitting up the cantor duties on the weekends.

We survived Christmas nicely (got some nice compliments) and hired a fulltime organist / choir director. Wonderful orthodox lady who runs everything past the pastor. There is a permanent moratorium on "sing a new church" and for Holy Thursday last year, we did the chant setting inthe missal (Father X. is amenable to chant and Latin).

We now have about 8 permanent members, and things are going along nicely. When the previous CD/LD left, we lost about 150 families (these are peopleI call "nomads" who follow the music). We have recently gotten beefed back up, and our collection is exceeding pre-"tribulation" levels.

Our pastor didn't die of a stroke from the stress in the interim, and is doing fabulously. He celebrates each Mass like it's his first and hislast, and is the most talented homilist I've ever had the pleasure of listening to.

The last Easter Vigil Mass, our pastor told us with tears running down his face, that it was the most beautiful Easter Vigil he'd ever celebrated in all his years in the priesthood.

So things can and do get better.

One off topic thing I would like to point out, the writer's experience mirrors Puff's and mine in several ways. One of them is the inkling that something is not right, and, upon looking into the matter, finding that there is much that is not right. That seems to be a common experience among many bloggers. But many bloggers are also starting to write of how things are improving.

No comments: