Friday, August 19, 2005

Recycled pre-blog bits: entry #2, from 3/4/2001

The Desert Island Game - For Real This Time

Most of us have seen some variation on "the desert island quiz". If you were stranded on a desert island, what 3 CDs would you want to have with you (presumably, you'd also get a CD player and a large supply of batteries)? Or what two people would you want to be stranded with (answer: my wife and almost anyone except Gilligan)? Or what dozen supplies?

You get the idea - You're suddenly left without all the thousands of things that get you through the day - what handful of things are most important to you? It's a potentially intriguing intellectual exercise, but is that all it is?

Alzheimer's Disease, and, to a lesser extent, Senile Dementia, can be very much like an unplanned trip to a desert island. Your memories are stripped away, and eventually you're left with just a handful, that come and go as they please. Entirely beyond your control if you have Alzheimer's.

My grandmother, who had a mild case of senile dementia, lived until she was 97. Toward the end, she would do this daily litany of reciting the important facts of her life: "My name is Mildred Schneider Kent, I was married to Lee Carson Kent, who died in 1966. I have four children named Martha, Carson, Nancy, and Joan. I have eleven grandchildren, their names are..." It was how she kept rein over her memory.

My wife's Aunt Frances did have Alzheimer's. Several years into her disease, at church one Sunday, she began muttering in Polish. Her kids were with her, and didn't speak Polish, but were able to find some nuns that did. And they recognized her mutterings as traditional Polish prayers she would have learned as a child. They knelt and prayed with her for nearly a half hour. Then she sort of went blank again. The kids called up Aunt Sophie, the keeper of the family lore, and confirmed that they had learned these prayers as children. To her knowledge, Frances probably hadn't said those prayers for 65 or 70 years.

Song is an excellent memory device - most of us learn to sing our ABCs in order to learn to say them. And I'm guessing a lot of us have big chunks of Psalm 91 memorized, thanks to Fr. Michael Joncas' "On Eagle's Wings".

Here's something I've mentioned before: weekly hymn singing with my family when I was growing up, and what a big influence that was in my adult life. My mom told me later that the reason she and Dad had decided to do that was because of the Cuban missile crisis. They bought little ID bracelets for us in case we got separated, and taught us hymns that reflected our faith, so that in case we were orphaned or abducted, we'd know the tenets of our faith.

So songs like "Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise", "The Lord's Prayer", "Onward, Christian Soldiers", "What A Friend We Have in Jesus" - these were all mini religious ed lessons. And we learned them, without ever knowing it was supposed to be good for us (hey Mikey!).

I'm guessing, should Alzheimer's ever strike, it'll be these songs, plus the Gloria Patri and the Presbyterian Doxology (both of which I sang every Sunday for 40 years), that stick with me after I've forgotten a lot of other important things. And I'm sure my folks weren't thinking about Alzheimer's when they did it, but they've made sure I won't forget my faith.

So what prayers are you teaching your kids? Do you sing together? Sing at mass? These are all great ways of helping remember exactly what it is that we all believe.

All together now, Psalm 91: "And he will raise you up on eagle's wings, bear you on the breath of dawn..."

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Recycled pre-blog bits: entry #1, from 4/26/2001

Cantor: Make a Joyful cacophony unto the Lord!

Assembly: Make a Joyful cacophony unto the Lord!

Cantor: Praise the Lord, all ye nations. Let every thing that lives and breathe
praise the Lord. Let the geeks and salesmen and farmers praise him. Let soccer
moms and image consultants and internet addicts praise him. Let the
structurally unemployed, functionally unemployable, and underground economy
worker praise him. Let those with bad breath, crooked teeth, big ears, and
excess facial hair praise him.

Assembly: Make a Joyful cacophony unto the Lord!

Cantor: Praise God with the timbrel, and cymbal, and harp. Praise the Lord with
vocoder and vibraslap and hubkapaphone, with alto sax and tenor sax and soprano
sax and C melody sax and baritone sax and bass sax, with rototom and timbale and
rhythm sampler, with clarinet and clavinet and clavichord and harpsichord and
blues harp and blues band and brass band and euphonium, with B3 and C3 and M3
and M100 and L100 and A100 and XB2 and VK7 and VK77 and Leslie 147 (or 122 in a

Assembly: Make a Joyful cacophony unto the Lord!

Cantor: Praise God with the plucked string, with the struck string, with the
bowed string, with the picked string, and with the hammered string. Praise him
with koto and ukelele and baritone ukelele and lute and lyre and Chapman stick
and violin and viola and cello and doublebass and sitar and mandolin and mandola
and mandolectra and banjo and piano and bass guitar and acoustic guitar and
dreadnought guitar and archtop guitar and dobro and lapsteel and pedal steel and
pedal dobro and classical guitar and solid-body electric guitar and hollow-body
electric guitar and semi-hollow-body electric guitar. Praise the Lord with
Gibsons and Epiphones and PRSs and Washburns and MusicMans and Jacksons and
Charvels and Ibanezes and Japanese Fenders and American Fenders and American
Standard Fenders and American Custom Fenders and American Custom Signature
Fenders and Squiers. Praise God with Ovations and Martins and Guilds and
Johnsons and Nationals and Yamahas and Takamines.

Assembly: Make a Joyful cacophony unto the Lord!

Presider: The Lord be with you.

Assembly: And also with you.

Presider: Lift up your axes.

Assembly: We lift them up to the Lord, unless they're really heavy. Or do you
mean figuratively?

Presider: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

Assembly: It is right to give God thanks and praise.

Cantor: It is right, it is truly right, to give our best licks, the fruit of our
axes and the work of our hands, and our teachers' hands before us, unto the
Lord. Praise God, from whom all good licks flow. Praise him with Hendrix
licks, and Allman licks (but refrain thou from Dicky Betts licks, lest thine
fingers freeze that way), and licks of Benson and Beck and Montgomery and
McLaughlin and Summers and Scofield and DiMeola and Connors and Vaughan and
Clapton and Berry and Metheny and Santana and Chaquico and Van Halen and Vai and
Malmsteen and Django. Praise him with Feliciano licks and Williams licks and
Campbell licks and Clark licks and Gill licks and Stuart licks and Skaggs licks,
with Grappelli and O'Connor and Nance and Ponty and Krauss licks, with Herbie
and Chick and Stevie and Steve and Billy and Jan and McCoy and Nicky and Patrice
and Bernie and Oscar licks. Play unto the Lord a new lick, a Spirit-filled
lick, a Christ-did-you-hear-that lick, a God-I-wish-I-could-play-like-that lick,
not that ye would be God or as God, but that ye would be of God, and recognized
thereof, and bring the worshipful ear closer to God.

Assembly: Make a Joyful cacophony unto the Lord!

Cantor: Praise God with open flute, and chimney flute, and stopped flute, with
French flute and English flute and German flute and Dutch flute, with bourdon
and subbourdon and fauxbourdon and semibourdon and lisibourdon and bandoneon.
Praise him with Diapason and Dulciana and Vox Humana and Viol da Gamba, with
pedal and choir and swell and great and solo, with fundamental and octave and
nazard and tierce and none, with melisma and quilisma and quaver and semiquaver
and demiquaver and semidemiquaver, with tracker action and electro-pneumatic
action and electric action and tone wheel and MIDI and transistors and tubes and
amplifiers and bellows.

Assembly: Make a Joyful cacophony unto the Lord!

Cantor: Praise God with silent joy, and silent sorrow, and silent petitions and
silent adulation and silent silence.

Assembly: (silence)

Presider: And after having praised God with all that we have, and all that we
do, and all that we are, we will do so again. Repeatedly, and stopping only for
rest and sustenance and bathroom breaks and baby making and arguing with our
teenagers and bill paying and Mardi Gras. For when we've been there ten
thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we've no less days to sing God's
praise than we did when we started (because it's just not right to start rhyming

Assembly: Amen. (the gateway's still down, but my earthly master and founder of the feast finally came up with something else for me to do)

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Notes from the Music Guy XVII

I don't know about you all, but I sure missed the alleluia. We're singing a lot of them this weekend, partly just because, finally, we can. And partly because we must! As Christians, Christ's resurrection, his conquering of death, is the ultimate victory, the consummate joy.

Some other Christians do not forego the alleluia during Lent, even some which are in communion with Rome. The Byzantines actually sing more alleluias during Lent.

This is fine, of course. Because every Christian church sings alleluia (or hallelujah) on Easter. One of those rare things we can all agree on. Remember that every time you sing alleluia at Easter, you are joining in song with every churchgoing Christian everywhere! Imagine how that must resound in heaven.

May Christ be the song in your heart,


Saturday, March 19, 2005

Notes from the Music Guy XVI

Once a year, we all sing Psalm 22. We echo Jesus on the cross: "My God, why have you abandoned me?" At least that's what the assembly sings.

But the cantor's part is a bit more hopeful: it starts with feelings of abandonment, but it moves to cautious optimism - "...but you O Lord be not far from me", and then to all out praise - "All you descendants of Jacob, give glory to Him!"

It's kind of hard to convey that shift in message when we keep reverting to a refrain that asks why we were abandoned. This year, we're trying a setting of Psalm 22 that has two responses: "My God, my God, why have You abandoned me" for the beginning, and "I will praise You!" for the end. It moves through the same wide range of emotions that the original psalm does.

It's been suggested, often, that Jesus quoted this psalm from the cross, not because he felt abandoned, but because he knew his disciples were feeling that way, AND he knew that they knew the rest of this psalm. So He started it out, knowing that they could finish it in their heads - and wind up in a place where they were praising God. I don't know if it's true, but it's certainly true that God did not abandon his Son, and does not abandon us either. Even when it seems that way.

May Christ be the song in your heart,


Saturday, February 26, 2005

Notes from the Music Guy XV

The Taizè Community is a monastic community in France, famous for its form of prayer and its music, which is central to its form of prayer.

"Lost in prayer and praise" might be a good way to describe it. A key phrase, often scriptural, is set to a melody, and then repeated over and over again, much like the Rosary. It allows the participants to empty their minds of other things and focus on God. Another religion might call it a mantra, but Taizè prayer is always focused Godward, and, again, is usually scriptural.

We have sung a number of Taizè pieces in our mass here. "Eat This Bread" is especially well known, but also "Wait for the Lord", "Jesus, Remember Me", and "Gloria, Gloria", which we sang this past Christmas.

If you ever get the feeling that a song is just repeating over and over again, and is only inviting you to boredom, listen harder - it's really inviting you be "lost in prayer and praise". Because sometimes, lost is good. Especially if you're in good company.

May Christ be the song in your heart,


Saturday, February 19, 2005

Notes from the Music Guy XIV

A little over a year ago, I lost virtually all the hearing in my left ear, after an ear infection. The hearing loss was followed by extreme bouts of vertigo. I was off work for over a month, and it took me closer to two months to be able to return to my ministry as organist for the gospel choir at St. Elizabeth's.

Take up your cross, the Savior said,
if you would my disciple be;

As I went from doctor to doctor hoping for a different prognosis, I wondered, "Why me?" In addition to my music career, I was trying to get a fledgling recording studio off the ground: it's very hard to mix recordings when you can't hear in stereo. It seemed so unfair. I really NEEDED both ears. Why not an eye instead? I bet I'd look cool with a patch.

Take up your cross with willing heart,
and humbly follow after me.

I learned to adjust. I accept the permanency of my condition, though I pray for a miracle. And I realize there are worse fates than being a musician who hears in mono. I rejoice that I am able to serve God here, despite my limitations.

Take up your cross, and follow Christ,
nor think 'til death to lay it down;

In fact, if not a good thing in itself, there's at least a silver lining or two. I take nothing for granted anymore, or at least I try. And it made me sit down and take stock: there are parts of my life that really needed an overhaul - I'm working on those.

For only those who bear the cross
may hope to wear the glorious crown!

So, I'm thinking that this is my cross. I hope I'm right. That crown sounds like a pretty good deal.

And if you say something to me, and I don't respond, I'm not snubbing you, I promise. Try saying it again into my right ear.

May Christ be the song in your heart,


p.s.: One last reminder - the St. Clement Choir will be accepting new members at Wednesday night rehearsal, 7pm, through February 23rd. Come for music, prayer, worship and fellowship. As always, the more the merrier.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Notes from the Music Guy XIII

"We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you, for by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world."

Though this response is generally reserved for good Friday, it is a cogent reminder of what the entire season of Lent is about. Particularly the second half of Lent. The redemption part is key to retaining our perspective: though we bring Christ's journey to the Cross forward to our time, and walk it with him, we also know how the story ends. The Cross becomes the sign of victory rather than defeat, joy rather than suffering, eternal life rather than death.

Our hymn of the season for Lent is Haugen's "Adoramus Te Christe", which is the Good Friday response in its original Latin. The assembly will sing the refrain, and the choir or cantor will offer verses from other songs in between. Together, we will keep our eyes on Calvary, remembering that, ultimately, our triumph is in the Cross of Jesus.

A reminder: the St. Clement Choir will be accepting new members at Wednesday night rehearsal, 7pm, through February 23rd. Come for music, prayer, worship and fellowship. As always, the more the merrier.

May Christ be the song in your heart,


Saturday, February 05, 2005

Notes from the Music Guy XII

There's nothing quite as lovely as an Irish melody.

Did you know that the melody for "Baptized in Water", though perhaps better known as "Morning Has Broken", is actually taken from an old Irish folk tune named "Bunessan"?

In his popular book "Why Catholics Can't Sing", Thomas Day raised the proposition that the spoken mass took a strong foothold in Ireland, where Catholics had to worship quietly for centuries, in constant fear of discovery and persecution. Singing would be the surest way to a quick and painful end the mass.

So it's a bit ironic that the tunes that are helping us find our collective voices - Columcille, St. Columba, Derry, Bunessan, and Wild Mountain Thyme, were all folk songs brought to this country by the same Irish immigrants who brought their non-singing tradition with them.

In coming weeks, you'll hear more Irish music: Our Lenten Gospel acclamation is set to Wild Mountain Thyme, and one of our Good Friday anthems is set to Derry. And in future months, we'll be using an alleluia written by Irish priest Fr. Liam Lawton, a man with a keen ear for a beautiful melody.

A reminder: the St. Clement Choir will be accepting new members at Wednesday night rehearsal, 7pm, through February 23rd. Come for music, prayer, worship and fellowship. As always, the more the merrier.

May Christ be the song in your heart,


Saturday, January 29, 2005

Notes from the Music Guy XI

Oh, it's choiring time again...

The St. Clement Choir rehearses Wednesday evenings from 7-9pm. Sometimes we meet in the sanctuary, sometimes in the music room in the basement.

Do you like to sing? Can you carry a tune? Then join us! Ability to read music is helpful but NOT required.

We plan to start singing at Mass again on February 20th. During Lent, we'll sing at the scrutiny masses for the RCIA candidates and catechumens. For Holy Week, we'll be there for Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, and Easter Vigil. Our ministry will continue through Easter Season and the feasts of Pentecost, the Body and Blood of Christ, and the Holy Trinity, rotating through the various mass times. Then we'll break for the summer.

We'll be accepting new members at rehearsal through February 23rd. Come for music, prayer, worship and fellowship. As always, the more the merrier.

May Christ be the song in your heart,


Saturday, January 01, 2005

Notes from the Music Guy X

Of the Father’s love begotten, ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega, He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see, evermore and evermore!

This is one of the oldest Christmas songs that we still sing. Its Latin form, "Corde na­tus ex pa­ren­tis", dates to the 5th century. John Mason Neale, England's great translator of the 19th century, gave us the English words we know now.

The melody is a little newer than the Latin text: it's from the 11th century. We used it as our Sanctus (Holy Holy) for Advent, and we'll sing it again in Lent as our Memorial Acclamation and Great Amen.

O that birth forever blessèd, when the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving, bore the Savior of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face, evermore and evermore!

"Of the Father's Love" stands nearly alone among Christmas songs these days: no creche scene, no winter frost, no yule log, no shepherds or magi. Yet it contains stunning, powerful imagery, that brings home the importance of the coming of our Lord, reinforced all the more by the beautiful, simple chant melody that accompanies it.

O ye heights of heaven adore Him; angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him, and extol our God and King!
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert ring, evermore and evermore!

May Christ be the song in your heart,