19 March 2013

Varia: depression, the Pope, work, and what have I gotten myself into this time?

I am back at work today after taking March Break off.  You only have to be back at work for an hour, and your previous holiday is a distant memory, or something unreal, a half remembered dream.


What is work?  My kids ask me that, from time to time.  As near as I can tell from my experience, work is getting paid to do stuff you don't want to do, at a place you hate, while surrounded by people you can't stand.


Depression comes around the edges.  We're old friends.  Or relatives.  Kind of like that old aunt, or some people's parent, who would never be happy with you no matter what you did, and found fault with everything you ever did.

Depression is the hallmark of modern writing.  Exuberance is gone from the mainstream writing.  People have abandoned great tales of magic and heroism, have abandoned stories altogether, and instead tell of ordinary people, getting on each other's nerves as they lead meaningless lives.  There is no resolution, usually.  Sometimes there is a reconciliation of sorts:  the main character realizes this is their life.  Oh well.

Read Joyce.  He has no story to tell, ever.  So he sought to write in a style that covered the absence of story.  Some people liked it.  Others didn't.  I'm one of those that didn't.


I find that my writing seems to improve when I am under the sway of the black dog.  It appears that, despite everything, I am a man of my times.


Ever wonder where warning labels come from?  Why is it necessary for people to be warned not to do the blindingly obvious?  What sequence of events made it necessary to tell someone not to change a circular saw blade whilst the saw is running?


One of the objections to the new Pope that I have read is that he is doing work for himself that could easily be done by an employee.  He could easily help the poor, the reasoning goes, by employing a few of them to cook and clean and drive him around.

Problem with that logic: would he actually employ the poor, whatever that may be?  Or would he be employing lower working class people?  One of the hallmarks of the poor is that they are often unemployable.  Telling them they should get a job is like telling a hungry man he should go and get a bite to eat.  Consider this: in North America, one of the groups below the poverty line are drug users and addicts.  People often say that they should just get off the drugs and get a job. A job would help many get off the drugs.  However, who would hire them?  When was the last time the CEO of a Fortune Five Hundred Company looked around his boardroom and told the board:  "You know what this place really needs?  More ex-crack whores!" 

When was the first?


In our neck of the woods, I am counted among the poor, though I think sometimes we are doing okay, sort of.  There persists a notion of the deserving poor and the undeserving poor.  Basically, those who have screwed up their own lives and made themselves poor, and those who never had a chance to begin with.  I should not have been poor, and it is my own ad decisions that have made me so.  No addiction, nothing like that. I just unerringly chose the wrong way, the dead end streets.  I've had many advantages, and should be doing well.  Instead, I have skills unwanted in this economy, ideas long past their best before date.  I am, in short, a man no one needs.


What have I gotten myself into this time?

After Mass on Sunday, I spoke to the organist.  He had handled the singing himself at Mass- or, at least, the psalm- because the cantor scheduled for the day did not show up.  It happens from time to time.  I offered to help him out in a pinch next time it happens.  Somehow, that conversation turned into me going onto the rotation and being cantor once a month, or so.

What's wrong with that? you may well ask.

There are few things more divisive in a parish than a music program.  I left choral singing a while ago over such problems.  That's a bit longer story.  Pull up a chair.


There was a time I was singing at two different churches in two different choirs on Sundays.  One was a standard, run of the mill average church choir, the other was a Gregorian schola.  I had joined the Gregorian schola originally as a way of learning chant, partly because I loved chant, but also because the other choir, which I had joined first, years earlier, was starting to experiment with chant, and I was trying to learn a bit about chant and bring that knowledge to my old church, as part of the reform of the reform.  I had visions of being a leader in my own parish of that reform, at least as far as music went.  I had delusions of adequacy.

Unfortunately, after about a year or so, a new director was appointed to the schola, and I was the first one kicked out of the choir.  My voice was not up to snuff, it appeared.  The master wanted me to try and sing along a new find of his, a young man (who has since left for a seminary to study for the priesthood) who had a very nice but very small voice.  I had to cut my own voice down to a near whisper to sing along with him, and I could not tune myself with my voice that low, so out I went. 

Incidentally, that choir is now fantastic.  Far better than we ever were.

Back in the old choir, things started to go down hill.  Chant was soon banned, because those of us who were singing (of the three, I was the only one with even limited experience with chant, and also the only one who practiced the music beforehand) were doing it badly.  We were told by the priest and parish council: "Do you know how bad chant sounds when it is sung badly?"  We started singing more folky stuff, I suppose because it is so bad to begin with that poor singing can do it no harm. 


A note about singing in choirs.  When the Edmund Campion missal came out, I read that the editor of that missal took this quotation as one of his guides for the hymn section of the missal:

If a parish has twenty-five good hymns, it can develop a great enthusiasm for singing. The people don't mind repetition of good music; in fact, the more they sing the great hymns the more they love them. It is the junk that they don't sing and don't want to hear.
With all due respect, I could not possibly agree less.  When singing in a choir, which means practicing the songs you are to sing, you go over the music over and over and over again.  When your choir has a limited repertoire, as mine did, this is murder.  I started out with a few hymns I liked, a few I disliked, and towards the rest I felt varying degrees of "meh".  Faster forward ten years or so.  The songs I disliked I now actively hate.  The ones I felt "meh" about I now dislike or despise.  And the the ones I liked, would not suffer from a  change, from time to time.  The only music about which I had any excitement was the Gregorian chant, and it was gone.


The choir occasionally tried to break out of the mold, and we were rapidly shot down every time.  The new Organist discovered (actually, Puff and I told him) that it was permissable to use older Mass settings.  The choir began to practice the Gloria from Mozart's Missa Brevis, but we were told to stop.  We would use the Mass of Creation, only.   We wanted to get together with the other choirs and cantors in the church and put on a few concerts.  We floated an idea about putting on a rosary concert- essentially, sing ten different Ave Marias- in May, the month of the rosary.  The priest told us it would be too much work, and we would only make about twenty bucks from it.  A concert of Christmas and Advent Carols was likewise shot down.

For a time, the director tried to train a few choir members to be cantors.  We each took a couple of Sundays over the summer, when the regular cantor was on holidays.  The idea was that we would be able to replace the cantor when they were sick or away, and it would also help improve our singing. 

Unfortunately, one of the would be cantors was unutterably wretched as a singer.  A decent leaner in choir, but terrible as a soloist.  After she sang for her second Sunday that summer, the priest shut down the program.  Instead of telling her that her voice was not up to snuff, or suggesting that she should get a little more training before attempting soloing again, he shut us all down.  A slap in the face to those of us who did put in the work, who had a little talent.  A coward's decision.


I floated in the choir out of inertia after that.  Then a new woman came to the parish.  Within two weeks, she had finagled herself onto the parish council.  A week later, she approached our director with a list in her hand.  "These are my favourite hymns," she said brusquely.  "Play these from now on."

The director went to the priest, who rubbed his temple as though the mere mention of her name gave him a headache, and told the director to just go along with what she wanted for now.

At that week's practice, we went over three weeks worth of music.  All of it stuff I could not stand of the first order.  As we finished the music for the third week, the director looked at the clock and announced that we had time to practice for a fourth week.  He told us to open our books to page whatever, and there in front of me was "Gather Us In."  I closed my hymnal and walked out of choir.  I assumed my career, such as it was, of singing in church in any official capacity, was over.  I was no leader in any movement. One again, I had sought to be something, only to realize, again, that I am nothing.


In the meantime, I had started taking singing lessons.  Originally, I had been hoping to get good enough to get a position as a cantor at a church, get a few extra bucks, and maybe pick up the odd wedding or funeral gig.  But that had changed.  I couldn't find any such position.  Catholics seldom pay anyone to sing.  So my desire changed.  I wanted to sing for singing itself.  I wanted to learn what my voice could do, freed from the shackles of trying to sing in choirs.  I was weary of holding my voice back so those who whispered to the Glory of God would not be drowned out.  It was not that I wanted to sing again: I wanted to know what the other directors had prevented.  My voice has improved, but, interestingly, my teacher has never given me a song to sing.  After almost thirty years of choir singing, off and on, I am still a beginner.


And now I am back to singing in a parish.  What have I done?



Patience said...

So you're saying I (or anyone) could just start going to a random parish; get on the parish council and then order the choir to play my top ten faves?
What if my top ten are in Latin? Still ok? LOL!

Puff the Magic Dragon said...

That is exactly what happened: She showed up, got on the council, and started making demands overuling those whose ministry is the Music

Patience said...

That is amazing because I was on the parish council at St Clare's (back in the day) as a rep from the choir (now called Music Ministry) and I don't think the Old Guard who sat on the council would have had any time for someone new coming in like that. They weren't known for being open to new ideas unless they were their own! LOL

Bear said...

I know it sounds incredible, and I would not believe it but that I saw it with my own eyes. I imagine the council had changed quite a bit by that time. At that time, a position on the council was by invitation of the priest. So why he invited her, I cannot say. Perhaps she was either incredibly pushy, and wore him down (believeable) or she had ideas close to his own (also believeable). Either way, judging from the way he rubbed his temple, he regretted that idea. He was moved not long after, and she was still on the council under the new priest, and was prominent in some of his more...unusual ceremonies.

Patience said...

Hey I totally believe you guys. I guess it's just so pathetic that it happens.
I also worked at the Newman Centre (which used to be a bastion of left wingers) and even there; there was some issue where the Pastor exclaimed "You know this isn't a democracy here!" in regards to someone questioning his final decision. I liked that. It wsa a tough place to be a pastor; very demanding people.