Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Wishful thinking, but I hope they're right

EUROPE'S top human rights body, the Council of Europe, said today the death penalty in the US was "on its deathbed" after two key rulings by US courts.

"The United States of America is on its way to join the rest of the civilised world where this inhuman and barbaric punishment has already been rejected.


"These decisions... mark the definitive beginning of the end... I have no doubt that this trend is welcomed by a lot of Americans who, given a proper choice, prefer just security to cruel revenge," Mr Davis said.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Chrysostom on the Real Presence:

I'm guessing Arinze hasn't seen this. Or was unmoved.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Happy St. Cecilia Day!

Sing something! C'mon, I'm waiting...

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Through the Past, Snarkily - a digest of my gear experiences, as told to musicplayer.com

- a first - a cross-post between my two blogs. But on-topic for both...


Fender Rhodes Stage 88, 73 - both were frustrating, but both were magical when everything clicked. The Rhodes is the reason I got serious about playing. Still love my 73 (replaced the 88 in '79), but am fully cognizant of its flaws.

Krakauer upright - man, I wish I still had this. Very warm, round tone. Action was a bit sluggish, but I grew up on it, so I was used to it. Gave it away on one of our moves. It was actually my great-grandparents': circa 1890 or so. I have to stop talking about it, I'm bumming myself out.

Boston Grand, K Kawai Grand - love these! The Boston especially, beautiful sound. The Kawai and I have come to terms - it's my main board on my current church gig. A bit bright, but I keep the cover closed and play harder. Keep the humidifier filled, she keeps her tune. For a while. Wouldn't trade her for anything now, not even the Boston. The Boston was like the hot girlfriend that got away - The Kawai is like the wife. LOL.

Casavant pipe organs - I've played two regularly, they're both completely different, one neobaroque, one French romantic - but they are great! Sweet, sweet sounds. Need to spend more time with the one I still have access to (the French romantic). It's too good an instrument to just be sitting there.

Allen Digital Pipe Organ - this was a rental at my college, replaced with the Wilhelm tracker, listed (far) below, in 2004. Very sweet sounds, okay touch, fully AGO compliant, and lots of fun to play the alternate tunings and reverb settings. IIUC, it would have cost less that $20K to buy. It would have been a better investment than the Wilhelm, which cost 4-5x as much. Though there is something to be said for real pipes, and I think that was a big part of the decision. Point of pride for the department, yadda yadda yadda. Whatever. This Allen sounded better.

Hammond L100, A100, M3, D152 - Love all of these, but what a difference a Leslie makes! Only the L and A had Leslies - the A had 3 (!!!). And only the D is in my possession anymore. But one of these days, the D will have a Leslie. Maybe soon.

Clavinet D6 - loved the short throw, the rythmic sound. Big fun to play guitar parts on it, too. Only keyboard I ever had feed back, LOL. well, until I test drove the VP-550 the other day and had the mic too hot. The D6 was a fragile little thing, though.

Arp Solina SE-4 - magical string tones. Magical. Busted now, but I can't quit her...

Arp Axxe, Odyssey - Odyssey is a dream board, but I only picked it up a couple of years ago - on this board in fact. Love the sounds. The Axxe was what I used back in the day, that was great IF you had a phaser and an echo. I did. Mrs. Daf made me sell it for $65, 15+ years ago. I've never let her forget that.

Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 - ultra cool, but I paid way too much. If I had waited a year, I could have gotten a used one for $700 instead of the $3300 I paid new in '82. Hindsight. Still have it, though, in great condition. Still my go-to synth.

Yamaha KX-88 - the ultimate controller by which all others will forever be judged. Sadly in disrepair now, and repairs would cost more than buying a decent used one.

Yamaha TX-7 - I had a pair. Still do, somewhere. I loved these. Even had a cool EP sound that didn't sound at all like a DX EP. So many innovations - FM, breath control, midi. Well, it was my first midi setup anyhow (with the KX).

Ensoniq KT-88 - Church rig, I was the backup keyboardist. Killer sounds for an ensemble setting. I understand it hasn't gotten much use since I left the parish 9 years ago, so it's still alive & kicking. Last I heard. Wonder if my sequence is still in it? Best one I ever did...

Yamaha TQ-5, DX-11 - I know. Nobody else liked the TQ. But I loved the onboard fx, the multimbral sequencer, the ez-edit functions, THE ONBOARD CLOCK! Nobody else had a clock on their module ever! W00t! I still have a B3 patch on this that I love. And some cool pads as well. The Dx-11 is a recent acquisition, with the same sound engine. I bought it as a controller, and now am having some trouble with it. It will rise again, though.

Alesis QS-8, QS-8.1, QSR - best feeling board ever. EVER! Sounds are hit or miss, but when they're good, they're very very good (yes, you can finish the rhyme). The 8.0 got me through 5 years as music director at my little country parish I started at. The 8.1 is still holding forth at the center of my live rig. QSR is backup - I lost the amp section on the 8.1 3 times. Should be fixed now, though.

Novation K-Station - Does everything! Big fun! Wish it were sturdier. Wish it had more notes. Wish it had patch names. Still a great board.

Yamaha VL-70m - OMG, what amazing sounds! I love this thing, wish I had more time for it.

Kurzweil ME-1 - gorgeous sounds, limited interface, completely uneditable, organ sounds don't respond to mod wheel. But gorgeous sounds trump all. Price point is amazing.

Roland VK-8 - great organ sounds, and I love the implementation for a second board and pedals. Other sounds suck, but who cares?

CME UF-5 - love this controller! Drawbar mode is a really cool idea. Wish it had memory. Wish I could edit drawbar mode (VK-8 won't respond). Still, great feel, tons of controls - even a BC input! Yay!

Alesis Fusion 6HD - hoping and praying this one works out. I like it well enough to buy it. Any day now. Another excellent price point.

Roland VP-550 - Church will be buying one shortly if I can't work out the Vari-OS / VC-2 combination (see below). Test drove the VP a couple of days ago - exactly what I need for banging out choir parts and distributing via CD.


Conn home organ - had a leslie of sorts, had some fun stuff, but real limited in the sounds it could get. The flutes were pretty good, the rest was awful. Had some stupid rhythm stuff on it too. Mom gave it to a church when she sold the house.

Miller console piano - well it's family, was my Grandma's. Doesn't sound great, but useful for banging out parts, and a nice piece of furniture in my living room. The Krakauer would overwhelm the LR, so I guess it's a good thing.

Roland P-55 - not bad piano sounds, but not great. Tried to sell it in my Katrina sale last year, then realized I didn't know where it was anymore. Better APs and EPs than my TX's, so useful when I got it, but just barely.

Roland S-50 - my first church board - it was pretty dated when I got to it. Apparently my predecessors had some fun sampling sounds, but I only got to use it for playback, and 12-bit (or whatever it was) don't cut it. It got stolen after I was there about a year, and we replaced it with the KT-88 described above. I was dragging my own (equally dated) stuff in until then, that's how much I disliked playing the S-50. But it DID do sampling, and had a dedicated cpu screen. So some cool potential there, I just never got to do much with it.

Korg Wavestation, Yamaha TG33 - jury's still out on these two, but it doesn't look good - bought them a year or two ago. Haven't found much I liked yet.

Roland Vari-OS - just bought this, now can't find a VC-2 card, which was the only thing I bought it for. Hope I find something to like.

Classic Organ Works midi pedalboard - works well enough, but I can only use this with an AGO bench, and the pedalboard is heavy as hell. I was trying to set up something portable for the church, and it seems I've failed. Still, cool to have this - it's mine, not the church's. Not sure where I'll put it if I ever leave, though. It's HUGE!


Heathkit Vox Jaguar combo organ - ecch. All I could afford then, but ecch! What awful sounds!

Allen analog church organ, Lowrey Genie, Baldwin 500, Allen digital/pipe combo church organ - these were all awful. The digital / pipe idea is the worst! Pipes shift in pitch with the weather, digitals don't. Might have sounded better if it had an overhaul - I remember the other guy (YEARS ago) getting good sounds. But when I finally had a chance to use it, it had sat unmaintained for 5-6 years. The Allen analog was just bad - no good sounds, wobbly pitch, those awful little princess pedals, underpowered for the room (sanctuary only sat 200, but still underpowered!). And the Genie - our current practice room organ - may be the worst organ ever manufactured. With the Baldwin (at Mom's retirement village - I'd practice on it when I visited) a close second.

Yamaha P-50 - dedicated piano module on which EVERY SINGLE PIANO SOUND SUCKED. What I get for buying without trying. Icky-poo.

Roland XP-10 - some okay sounds, some not. Awful interface, totally non-editable. X-Y thing was dumb. Hated that it forgot everything when you powered down - 16 channels multitimbral: that's a lot of work to set back up every time. And having to reboot to go from GM to normal? Who makes up this stuff? Oh yeah, hate the Roland paddle too. Wheels good, paddle bad.

Kurzweil SP-88 - I liked the touch on this, hated the sounds. So it would be logical to use it as a controller, but I just could not get next to the ribbons in place of the mod and pitch wheels. Gone now. Don't miss it.

Roland U-220, Proteus 1, Kawai K-10 - Yeep. Who knows, maybe these were okay back in the day, but OMG. Bought them used and cheap (except the K, which was a church board), but nothing at all to like about these.

Wilhelm tracker pipe organ - a custom install (as are all Wilhelms) at my college, it has weird little wooden keys, flat pedalboard instead of radial, 30 pedals instead of 32, and is impossibly shrill at close range. And the player is always a close range because the pipes are right there. I really wanted to like this organ, but it's just stupid for an American university with an organ program to have its only organ fail to meet ANY of the AGO specs.

Roland A-30 - nice feel, horrible implementation. And I hate paddles.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Still here. Haven't had much to say. But here's something.

Choir started up this week - we sing during the summer, but don't rehearse. Back to the regular drill now.

So only one rehearsal, and already I'm facing a near revolt over our concert situation. The choir, most of them, seem to be as much about reliving the glory years with a previous director, with pageants and cantatas and songs from Broadway, as about anything else. Maybe that's overstated, but it's certainly a dynamic. Me? I'm just trying to get them to sing for mass.

But the sticking point right now is the schedule - I'm anticipating the front office will insist that any Christmas concert be done during Christmas season. And they want to do it during Advent - which is when everyone is still hopped up on hearing Christmas carols, doing Christmas shopping, and having Christmas parties. I broached the idea of a "Little Christmas" (i.e., Epiphany) concert, that wasn't too popular either.

The world, of course, starts celebrating Christmas after Halloween. My wife starts in March, fercryinoutloud. To the secular world, there is no such thing as Advent - sort of like there's a Mardi Gras and an Easter, but no Lent in between, unless you count the smelt on the menu at Big Boy's. I suppose that's fine, but what should the church do? Should the church ignore Advent as well? Or just give it lip service at mass, and then conduct the rest of our business the way the world does?

If the answer seems obvious, it really isn't - it's partly the way I'm framing the question. The right-vs-left fights in the church over repertoire and ritual come back to this question a lot: how much of the world do we let into the church? Do we desanctify holy ground when we sing pop-style songs, or conduct the entire mass in the vernacular, or stand during communion or...? The counterargument is that keeping the world out of the church also keeps the church out of the world. And the world needs the church badly.

An interesting dynamic on the Christmas-in-Advent question is that the debaters often switch sides here: i.e., it's usually the NPM types who get fussy here, and the AGO/Adoremus types who suddenly get all laissez faire. There are valid pragmatic reasons for early Christmas concerts, most obvious being the school year: School concerts need to happen while the kids are in school, because a lot of them will be gone during winter break. Especially true at colleges, where students are often from somewhere else, and return home for Christmas. So here's this string of concerts going on all around us - why can't we as the church do the same thing? And then there's Christmas caroling. Our choir carols at a couple of local nursing homes each year - always a week or two before Christmas. So why is that okay but a concert not?

Another idea I put before the choir was a 12/24 concert, a la Lessons and Carols. But 12/24 is a Sunday this year, so masses will run to noon, and our Christmas Eve masses start at 4pm anyhow. I suppose a 1pm-3pm concert is possible. This requires more thought.

One last issue - It's our Casavant's 25th anniversary this year. Eighteen stops, absolutely gorgeous French romantic sound...

...and essentially mothballed since my arrival there 2+ years ago. My organ playing just doesn't measure up. My bad. But I know good organists who could put on a heck of a concert. So it would be great if we could work the anniversary in to the concert - but that would sort of force the concert to be before 12/31. Ruling out Little Christmas. Sort of.

< Fagin >I think I'd better think it out again!< /Fagin >

Monday, May 22, 2006

Bye, Mom.

Mom passed away this past November, after a brief illness, at the age of 78. She would have turned 79 last week. She spent the last 10 years of her life in Kalamazoo, in a retirement community there.

Before Kalamazoo, she spent 25 years in the Detroit area, and still had many friends there. So we had two memorial services, one in Kalamazoo in November, and another last week in Clinton Township, a Detroit suburb in Macomb County, two days after her birthday.

A number of Mom's friends were too frail to travel, and sent remembrances to be read there. All told there were about 15 people with something to say, although there were only 5 speakers.

Mom was big on church music, I mention that below - and my article here about her influence on my church music career is essentially what I said in her eulogy. For her service in Kalamazoo, she requested several pieces of music: Immortal Invisible (St. Denio), Eagles Wings (Joncas), I Danced In The Morning (Shaker Hymn, Carter), and a fourth I'm forgetting. We also sang Noble's Come Labor On (Ora Labora) and the traditional Steal Away to Jesus at prelude, and I played a postlude on Green Grow the Rushes, her favorite campfire song. Church friends of mine came and played piano and sang - it was a great celebration.

The music for the second service is a little fresher in my mind. My choir came down from Romeo, and we borrowed the Peace Church organist and one of their soloists (their choir couldn't make it), and their pastor emeritus, Jim Kesler, a good friend of Mom's, presided. Here's the music from that:

O Master Let Me Walk With Thee (Maryton)
Ps. 116, The Name of God (Haas)
Alleluia from "Come to Me" (Joncas)
Eye Has Not Seen (Haugen)
Breathe on Me, Breath of God (Trentham)
I Wonder As I Wander (trad)
Beneath the Cross of Jesus (St. Christopher)
I Am the Bread of Life (Toolan)
This Is my Father's World (Terra Beata)

The organist played a prelude and a postlude as well - I didn't recognize those. The 4th through 8th tunes were interspersed with the remembrances. Because they were, essentially, remembrances.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006



Liturgiam Authenticam rightly stresses exactness in rendering liturgical and biblical texts into the vernacular in order to assure doctrinal fidelity. But even St. Jerome, the great doctor of the Sacred Scriptures, who spent twenty years translating the Bible, was not a literalist. He himself said: “If I translate word by word, it sounds absurd.” Father Chupungco has observed: “Fidelity to the original refers to the content or meaning of the text, not to its form or component words and phrases. That is why a word for word translation is not a guarantee of fidelity to the original text.” And yet Liturgiam Authenticam in norm 43 specifies: “It should be born in mind that a literal translation of terms which may initially sound ODD in the vernacular language may for this very reason provoke inquisitiveness in the hearer and provide an occasion for catechesis.” I see this statement clashing with the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy which states: “The rites should be distinguished by a noble simplicity…They should be written within the people’s powers of comprehension and normally should not require much explanation.” There is even a fundamental inconsistency between norm 43 of Liturgiam Authenticam and its own general principle which says that the content of the original text should “be evident and comprehensible even to the faithful who lack any specialized intellectual formation”.

Seems some lines are being drawn in the sand here. The short form goes something like "we don't need Italians to tell us how to speak English, thank you very much." I find Trautman - he's the bishop in charge of the new translations for the USCCB - and his arguments pretty compelling. And you?

Oh, and for more fun, and sort of on topic: www.engrish.com

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Evidence of God in the back yard

Exactly 8 ducks on the pond this year (make way for ducklings!), plus an occasional crane and a pair of canadian geese. Ducks and geese haven't come to terms yet. Not sure if deer are living in our yard this year, but they're certainly frequenting it. Lots of rabbits, a few squirrels/chipmunks, and the tree frogs are chirping like nobody's business.

Robins now, the other non-water birds usually make themselves known later: pheasants, turkeys, martins, cardinals, crows. We get a Hitchcock-worthy crow collection by the fall. Haven't had swallows since we added rails to the deck 3 or 4 years ago - I think we blocked their pond approach. We were tired of getting dive-bombed on the tractor anyhow.

Over my head, I hear music in the air,
Over my head, I hear music in the air,
Over my head, I hear music in the air,
Ther must be a God somewhere.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

More on the Style Wars

I think some people will never be "fed" by traditional music, or
choral music. Bob Batastini, late of GIA, suggested it may be a
background thing - if you sang in a good school or church choir
growing up, you appreciated choral music. Or playing in a symphony
or concert band with some exposure to the classics could do it. I
know my semesters in college choir a few years ago really broadened
my appreciation for choral works.

But many many people are never exposed to the joys of performing the
classics, or art music of any sort, and are not engaged by it in any
way. The numbers I heard, from a guy who should know, were that
about 4% of the population would actually choose to listen to
classical radio if it were available. Since his career is in
classical radio, I tend to believe him. Of course, some people
listen to news or opinion radio, and may still have an appreciation
for the classics. But an overwhelming number of folks are choosing
to listen to some other kind of music when they listen.

Some percentage of people, of course, prefer their church music to
be "holier", I guess. Or fitting with their tradition. And those
people are fed as well by the classics. But if you seek engaged
worship, there are a lot of people who want to sing or hear something
that sounds like what they choose to listen to during the week - a
hooky chorus, a cool beat, etc. Example: a year later, after only
one weekend of using it, people are still asking about the version of
Psalm 22 we sang at Palm Sunday - a hard rocking responsorial we
adapted for piano and choir. They were engaged.

You can dismiss everything that doesn't sound good on pipe organ as
cotton candy, but we're not really talking about God anymore at that
point, we're talking about personal preferences, and aesthetic
hierarchies that we were taught by our music teachers. It's my job
to reach the whole flock, so they get hymns and contemporary stuff,
every week. And hopefully (my ongoing mantra) learning to sing the
other guy's song in the process. That's part of our Christian
calling - the mile in his/her sandals. I don't think we're excused
from it just because our professors taught us that some types of
music were better than others.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Power of Prayer

So, I almost died. Subarachnoid brain hemorrhage, Dec. 23rd. Thanks to some talented doctors and the prayers of thousands of parishioners and internet friends, I pulled through.

Boy, my head sure hurts, though. Another couple of weeks for that, they say. I returned to work and to my parish music job last week.

In the words of Fr. Doc, "Please continue to pray for Jay. We have have Lent and Easter coming up, and he better not pull the same trick again." Ha ha.