Friday, 31 July 2009

The Tablet and Facebook

Recently Damian Thompson has attempted to be rather cruel to the Tablet journal (like he usually is), by suggesting that its Facebook appreciation society has not been a rip roaring success with only 5 members. The implications are of that of course that they have not attracted interest among the largely young people who patronise Facebook. Then all of a sudden due to the publicity he has generated, he has caused membership to soar with such unlikely figures such as our Fr. Tim as well as Damian Rhodes and Dr. Thomas Pink.

I for my part take a view that the fact the Tablet has not created great interest among the Facebook cognoscenti to be largely in their favour. I myself have tried out Facebook's delights, to find that the pleasures it offered were counteracted by the fact that it got one involved in a lot of undesirable business. By its very nature it gives one's personal details to all and sundry, and those who use it have a tendency to be rather indiscreet. Indiscreet to the point where I have seen people on it upload videos of personal acts I would hate to describe in public. Hence I am no longer on it.

If however the Bitter Pill should achieve a little more success on Facebook and the web at large, it may way be that it will be the means whereby it will be brought back into line with the teachings of the Catholic faith and the church's magisterium, of which it was supposed to promote in the first place. For they will find that they are in a truly democratic open forum, where they are not protected in a liberal elite academic cocoon, and will have to answer to blunt criticisms of ordinary believing Catholics like ourselves.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Now on the Choral Public Domain Library

After some waiting, I have now three choral compositions I wrote for the Birmingham Oratory choir put on the Choral Public Domain Library, as well as my own composer page. They are:

Salve Regina for SATB, written in August 2005
Alma Redemptoris for SATB, written in December 2007
O Sacrum Convivium for SAATB, written in March 2003

St. Caecilia

For us singers, the CPLD is a most useful resource of free music, in particular for that which is out of print and difficult to obtain. Also it has made it very easy to obtain music for recently formed choirs for the extraordinary form of mass. I hope in the future to add more music, in particular that of Richard R. Terry as well as my own.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Ad multos annos, Father Tim!

Just a short post to wish Fr. Tim a very happy silver jubilee of his ordination, and to wish him many blessings and graces for his future priestly, or let us dare hope, his future episcopal ministry! Bear in mind that to God nothing is impossible: if anyone said twenty years ago that Joseph Ratzinger would eventually hold the power of the keys, no one would have believed it. So there is hope for Father yet!

Sunday, 26 July 2009

On weddings, dancing and much else

In my inveterate cynicism I have always believed that it is one of the invariable laws of human nature that weddings always bring out the worst possible taste in their participants. And this is alas true of even the best occasions and the most cultivated persons. And this Youtube clip, courtesy of Patrick Madrid, is no exception to the rule:

In the Birmingham Oratory we are right in the wedding season. It may well be believed that here we are spared most of the usual kitsch that turns up at these occasions. Alas, that is not the case. We may be spared 'liturgical nuptial' dancing but at weddings we are not spared the usual dreadful music and ditties that plague most parishes. In fact so much so weddings are choir functions that I try to avoid, despite the fact they are well paid for.

The majority of wedding couples have little knowledge of the wonderful repertoire of church music, and so they instinctively go for 'traditional Catholic' music that they have learnt in 'Catholic' schools. This means hymns from the Yellow Peril (alias the Celebration Hymnal) or Hymns Old and Even Older, such as As I kneel before you and Lord Jesus Christ, you have come to us. That is if they have 'better' taste.

Some then try to add what is for them 'cultured high brow' music, which is almost invariably 'Ave Maria' by Schubert or Bach-Gounod, and 'Panis Angelicus' by Cesar Franck (sung at a wedding service when it is supposed to be a communion motet). The organ voluntaries usually are Mendelssohn's Bridal March at the beginning (again!) and finishing off with Widor's tocatta (which is notoriously taxing on the organist's right hand).

The sad truth is that throughout the Western world many couples come for a church wedding purely for the stateliness of the occasion, with almost no idea of the reality of the sacrament of matrimony, and of the liturgy that encompasses it. Consequently with a very vague idea of what Catholic marriage is, they make a complete hash of it and make the nuptial rite into a complete joke.

What to us musicians may be an expression of the worst possible taste is in fact a small symptom of a far deeper malaise. It is the total lack of upbringing in the faith and of proper catechetical formation. Many couples are cohabiting beforehand: a practice guaranteed to put in jeopardy any chances of happy successful marriage. It is little more than the consequence of the absolute refusal of the English church and bishops to be a counter - cultural sign of contradiction in society, in worship and most of all, in moral teaching.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

The joys of learning the organ

Over the last year or so I have been busy learning to be an organist (of sorts), which means doing about an hour to an hour and a half of practice daily. I usually do this either on the organs in the Birmingham Oratory, or my ramshackle electric organ I have at home:

I am taking lessons in the Birmingham Conservatoire (sometimes unkindly nicknamed the "abattoir", where music is slaughtered!) Due to my short squat feet, I have to wear special organ shoes which are narrow and pointed, and have high heels for using the heel on the pedals. The result is that they look rather camp.

One of the pieces I'm learning at the moment is 'Le Banquet Celeste' by Olivier Messiaen, one of the great classics of 20th century repertoire. It is a wonderful piece that is usually played during exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, but as you may see from this extract and the fact it is in six sharps and must be played absolutely legato, it is rather hard.

One of the most difficult tasks for an organist to manage is hymn playing, which often comes as a surprise to many people. The reason why is that you have to play the bass line in the pedals quite rapidly, and try to maintain a steady pace for the congregation to follow. So to practice this, I plod through the Bach chorales daily in the pedals and the manuals, which is not the easiest thing in the world to play.

So most of the time, learning the organ is an hour going over and over again through pieces, and then half an hour of sight reading grind through chorales. It isn't much fun, but it's worth doing. However, should anyone ask me to play for church services, they may find themselves very disappointed....

Friday, 24 July 2009

London blognic

Today I took the opportunity to come down to the blognic held at the Buckingham Arms near St. James Park, and meet up with some of the blogging community, in particular with Fr's Tim Finigan and John Zuhlsdorf. Although London is a fairly brisk train ride from home, I was rather tired when I reached the venue, and collapsed into a chair rapidly downing several pints. Here are two photos taken by Fr. Z himself: I am behind Fr. Tim reaching semi - inebriation. Mac McLernon is nearby.

After a while conversation began to flow freely:

And of course the star of the show was Fr. Zuhlsdorf himself: Fr. Michael Clifton is behind him. (H/T to Fr. Tim:)

Afterwards we went to the Ha Ha bar near Westminster Cathedral for dinner, a very convivial occasion. Unfortunately for me, I had to leave early as pumpkin time drew close to catch the train home to Birmingham.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Short weekend in Paris

At the moment I am having a short break in Paris, staying in the Monmartre district not far from the Sacré Coeur basillica. Apart from eating, drinking and sleeping, and occasional looking around, I have been editing a mass for double choir on my laptop by Felix Mendelssohn, rewriting it from German into Latin for the Oratory Choir. Otherwise this weekend has been an occasion for delightful indolence.