Thursday, January 31, 2008

Suzuki Method

My two little boys have recently begun learning to play instruments using the Suzuki method. I had heard about it for many years and how amazing the progress was for the children taught using it, but never experienced it firsthand. Well, it so happens that we live in a place where the program here is very well organized and the teaching is excellent.

Being a home schooling family, we were able to get into the program much more quickly than many others. Since I am able to bring my boys for their private lessons when other children are at school, we did not have to wait on a waiting list as so many others do. So, last fall we had the boys begin taking lessons... the eldest on the viola; the younger on violin. I must say it is amazing to see how much more quickly they progress than I did when I first began learning to play the violin in grade school group class many years ago.

Some key differences I have noticed are:

1. Much more parental involvement from the very start. This means the parents are active participants in learning what the children are to practice and to assure that they get effective practices between lessons. Those parents who haven't ever learned to play a string instrument are even encouraged to learn to play at least the basics themselves so that they understand better what the child is learning. The parents are present at lessons, listening, taking notes and reinforcing at home the key points the teacher makes...

2. Private lessons for each child from the beginning. I remember my wonderful elementary school orchestra teacher, Doris Welborne, faced with maybe up to 20 brand-new students all in the orchestra room at the same time, all needing instruments tuned, chaos reigning on many occasions... It was amazing that she was able to get us all to play together at the same time at all, much less foster the interest in continuing on and gaining proficiency as time went on. We certainly did not have that one-on-one attention for each child that allows each of the Suzuki students to have help with the particular problems he/she may have with the instrument and technique. We were taught not only to play the instrument, but to also read the music right from the start. This all necessarily slowed the class as a whole down a great deal. Some of us already had been taking piano lessons and could already read the music; others had no clue. I was so impressed with how quickly my boys moved through learning the various techniques and fairly difficult pieces in such a short time. It was a huge contrast with how I learned myself.

3. Listening CD's for getting the tunes etched in the child's memory. The technique of getting the children to listen daily to the music they will be playing helps a great deal in their ability to play the pieces. Particularly for the younger students, less emphasis on reading the notes and more emphasis on the technique of actually playing the instrument seems to be very effective.

4. Playful techniques in the group classes. Keeping the interest of the children and making it fun for them seems to help in the learning process. Each teacher has his/her own techniques and fun games or variations on the various pieces that keep it interesting for the children. Even if a child has been playing a particular piece a long while, the various techniques, bowing, fingering, etc. that are used to make it a bit different allows them not to become bored and reinforces the things they have learned over and over.

5. Frequent opportunities to play in front of others. Recitals, outdoor concerts for local events, playing in front of other classmates... these all take away the fear of playing and standing in front of an audience.

It has added a bit more driving and commitment of our time to a schedule than I had last year, but I think it has been a great confidence builder for the boys. Not only do I hope that they both become accomplished string players in time, but I believe that the ability to read music is a life skill that they'll be glad of for the rest of their lives.

We are getting ready for a music workshop for the boys this weekend... there will be guest Suzuki instructors working with the children tomorrow and Saturday. They'll have the opportunity to learn from someone new, who may have different techniques and be able to help the children progress by seeing things with fresh eyes... We are all looking forward to it a great deal.


It has been a bit quieter around here... I enjoyed choir practice with the main choir last night. Despite my fears, the chant is sounding better. I still don't like it with organ accompaniment, but that is just not up to me.

We are also working on some very nice polyphony pieces with the small choir. We worked on three very nice pieces last night -- Lord, for Thy Tender Mercy's Sake, Hide Not Thou Thy Face, Miserere (Lotti). We also did a quick listen through of Tallis' O Nata Lux, a beautiful piece that I first heard sung last summer at the colloquium and When David Heard (Thomkins). I'm not sure which of those we can feasibly do, but it is great fun singing them along the way.

This evening we will have our regular schola rehearsal, when we can hopefully finish working on the Attende, Domine and Parce Domine for Ash Wednesday. I'm also hoping to bring the pieces typically used for Friday evening Stations of the Cross to work on with the schola. Our solfege training will continue, as well as preparations for the next schola Mass on March 30th.

It has been very rainy and a bit cold here (keeping in mind that is relative -- we are in Louisiana, after all). It actually appeared to be snowing here last night, for about 30 seconds or so. This was a thrilling event for my two little boys, who really do wish it would snow here occasionally.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Does it edify?

Sometimes I read other blogs that are so very clever and funny that I forget that the content is also a bit snide. In reviewing my unpublished (alluded to) post, I decided it doesn't meet the test of "Does it edify?". In other words, does it build up?

Well, my words didn't edify, so they won't be posted. I'm over the little fit of annoyance now... moving onward and upward. No, things are not perfect -- they never will be in this world -- but we can keep on trying and doing the best we can each day.

Today, part of my task is to tackle housework! Who knows... maybe I'll even have a plan for dinner before my dear husband walks in the door... ah, what lofty goals...

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A bit of frustration...

I have written a fairly long post about my recent frustrations... but am reluctant to post it without giving myself a bit of time to reflect. Suffice to say I am rather depressed about recent events in the schola/choir world...

Perhaps later....

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Another great post from NLM...

See Jeffrey Tucker's article at the New Liturgical Movement... here is a short excerpt:

"The very clear motive for doing chant is plain as can be: musicians should seek to do what the Church is now asking of us, and always has. Chant is the music of the Catholic Church. It bears all three marks of what the Church calls sacred: holy, beautiful, and universal. It grew up with the Mass and is bound up with it in every way. "

Mind change...

It is a woman's prerogative to change her mind, right? It's almost a requirement, I am thinking... so I've changed my mind about the Chant Intensive. After talking it over with my husband, we both decided I should get some really intense training to help with directing the schola. This class seems to be the ticket. I am sorry I won't be able to be at the colloquium -- I am definitely having mixed emotions when I think about how much I learned and enjoyed and absorbed last year... but I also really need some training in chironomy -- chant directing.

I just put together a practice CD for the schola this afternoon... all the chants we'll need for the two times we sing during the Easter season... they include:

Sprinkling Rite (Easter): Vidi aquam
Introit - 2d Sunday of Easter: Quasi modo
Kyrie VIII (de angelis)
Gloria VIII (de angelis)
Alleluia " : In die
Alleluia " : Post dies
Easter sequence: Victimae pascali
we won't be chanting the offertory this year... maybe next :)
Sanctus VIII (de angelis) -- an new one for us
Agnus Dei XVIII ( I know... not exactly right for the Easter season, but I have to add new ordinaries gradually, so I am only adding the new Sanctus this time around)
Communion: Mitte manum

Introit - Ascension: Viri Galilaei
Alleluia - Ascendit Deus
Alleluia - Dominus in Sina
we'll use a chant hymn or polyphony piece for offertory
Communion: Data est mihi

I find this exercise of making the practice CD's for the schola very useful for me as well. It forces me to practice each one until I can record it without errors, so that I am well-prepared before chant rehearsals... plus I often practice my solfege when learning new chants...

You have to picture me (in my master bathroom -- because of course we know we sound best there -- something to do with all the hard surfaces reflecting sound back) standing there with my little digital recorder, chant book(s) and pencil in hand... usually a cup of tea or coffee cooling while I work. Occasionally our schola members have commented on the faint sound of the house alarm bell going off when one of my boys opens a door... or a phone ringing... I think those added sound effects add character... or maybe I just don't want to re-do it once I have a recording that is correct.

The 2d Sunday of Easter is Divine Mercy Sunday and is also the one-year anniversary since our schola sang for its first Mass. Perhaps a party is in order... champagne... dinner... camaraderie...

Friday, January 25, 2008

Great Schola Rehearsal

Last night was our weekly schola rehearsal... and I must say it was very good. We focused primarily on getting the ordinaries (from Mass XVII) that will be used during Lent, as well as a couple of chant hymns that will be used on Ash Wednesday and on Stations of the Cross during Lent -- Attende, Domine and Parce, Domine.

I was particularly happy with the sound the women are making. It is sounding more and more clear and unified. We continue to work on solfege... last night's 'name that tune' mystery song was Pange Lingua... aka Tantum Ergo. It didn't take long for them to get that one, although it didn't get the groans and chuckles that 'On Eagle's Wings' got before.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Blog Name -- Still Vox Feminae

OK... I have been vindicated... although the voting numbers were not overwhelmingly high (pretty few, actually), those who were interested enough to vote mostly liked Vox Feminae...

Thanks to all who expressed an opinion!

Chant Intensive or Colloquium

Since the announcement of the upcoming 'Chant Intensive' (June 9-13, 2008) course, to be directed by Scott Turkington (pictured), I have been thinking about my desire to learn more about the direction and interpretation of chant and this wonderful opportunity to really dig into it. I have been registered for the CMAA Colloquium, which follows the Chant Intensive course in Chicago (June 16-22, 2008), since it was first announced some time ago. Knowing full well that I cannot possibly be away from my family for two entire weeks in the middle of the summer, I have had to make a decision about whether I should attend the Colloquium or the Chant Intensive course.

Month by month, week by week, my understanding and comfort with the music of the chant increases as I learn more, sing more, direct more. But still, after only a year or so under my belt, I am such a novice. Although I can now easily sight-read chant pieces (navigating the 1/2 and whole steps fairly easily) and understand the various neumes pretty well -- even if I can't always come up with the proper name for them immediately -- I have yet to really dig into the chironomy lesson that is offered at the front of the Liber Usualis. My understanding of the proper methods of directing with the arsis and thesis concepts in mind still needs work.

So... I've decided that I still need a bit more self-study before attending the Chant Intensive course. I am thinking I'll save that for next summer (betting and hoping that there will be another such course next year). I'll continue my own study and try to increase my home book library on chant books. With another year of schola directing under my belt by next year, I should be better able to get maximum benefit from the course.

I'll be among the 500 or so attendees at the Chicago Colloquium this year then... having attended the Colloquium in Washington, D.C. last year, when the 140+ attendees rocked the CMAA world, I am very curious to see how this dramatic increase (again) will work logistically.

Bl. Clemens August von Galen

You may be able to tell that I am trying to catch up on my reading of periodicals... I've been reading my latest copy of This Rock ( February 2008) and loved Joanna Bogle's article about Blessed Clemens von Galen. Her article offers another story about a fearless Catholic who stood up and spoke out against the Nazi regime, and particularly about its euthanasia program.

Joanna Bogle writes in the article: "Count Clemens August von Galen, Bishop of Munster in the Rhineland, came from one of Germany's most well-known aristocratic families. His opposition to the Nazi regime, and in particular his stance against its horrific euthanasia program, made him into an emblematic hero. He was know in his lifetime as the "lion of Munster." Recently beatified by the church, he is a figure whose life and message deserve to be better known, especially as the Second World War recedes into history."

I particularly liked his motto, chosen on the occasion of his consecration as the Bishop of Munster in 1933 -- Nec laudimus nec timere -- neither praise nor fear. Even from the early 1930's the Nazi's were making it difficult for the Church in terms of trying to suppress many of the popular religious celebrations. He encouraged his flock to try to keep the local traditions despite the difficulty. He also referred to the Nazis openly as pagan.

From the pulpit, he criticised each new restriction on religious activity... in 1941 he denounced the restrictions on Religion in the schools. As it began to be known among the German populace because of the sudden unexplained death of certain family members, Bishop von Galen collected evidence from many sources about the euthanasia of handicapped relatives. He announced this in a sermon to his people on Aug. 3, 1941 at St. Lambert's Church. Defenseless human beings were being rounded up and killed, in his words (translated): "because in the judgement of some official body, on the decision of some committee, they are judged as 'unworthy to live'; they are judged as 'unproductive members of the national community'".

This sermon was duplicated secretly and found its way across Germany and was even reported in the foreign press. He followed this first sermon with two more, which went into ever more detail.

The point von Galen made is a relevant point for all time. He pointed out that under that type of value system, no one could consider himself safe. The very ill, wounded veterans, the very old, the mentally handicapped... all were treated as if they were "animals that had passed their usefulness: Were these people to be treated "like a cow that no longer gives milk, or like an old lame horse"?"

So... as our world moves beyond the atrocity of abortion into legalized euthanasia... we could find ourselves in a similar situation. As the unborn have no voice against the very parents who should be fighting for their survival, there could also come a time when the parents of these same individuals (who have no respect for the unborn) have outlived their 'usefulness'. Perhaps when their parents become too much of a burden, families will be given the option of euthanizing them. Think about what we teach our children, our society, when we teach them that a life can be snuffed out before birth if it is an inconvenience to us! The implications for the other end of life are inescapable.

My husband has been reading several books as required reading for a Master's course he is taking. Among them was a book (The Conquerors, by Michael Beschloss) that covered information about what Roosevelt knew about the Nazi death camps. He apparently was made aware of the camps and yet refused to speak out directly against the Holocaust as it was occurring. Why he and his administration refused, I cannot say... perhaps the messy fact of dealing with the living -- accepting refugees into our country and all that goes along with it impacted the refusal...

As we approach another national election, it is crucial that those of us who value life at all stages try to do our best to help elect politicians who would try to preserve life in their policies.

Joanna Bogle's entire article can be found in THIS ROCK, February 2008.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Embryonic Stem Cell Research Article - FIRST THINGS

I've just been reading my February 2008 First Things Journal. I found one article particularly interesting -- "Getting Stem Cells right", by Maureen L. Condic. According to what I have found in the magazine credit and online, she is an associate professor of neurobiology and anatomy at the University of Utah School of Medicine and conducts research on the development and regeneration of the nervous system. She has been a contributor to the National Review and First Things on stem cell research.

This article focused on a means of obtaining reprogrammed cells that are pluripotent (able to generate all the cells of the body) without using human embryos or human or animal eggs. Called induced pluripotent stem cells (IPSCs), they are developed from ordinary human skin cells that were converted to stem cells by a process termed direct reprogramming. This reprogramming is done by means of gene-therapy viruses. The process takes approx. 2 weeks, while no embryos are produced or destroyed.

This process would seem to negate the need for further destruction of human embryos in the quest for embryonic stem cells, since the IPSCs "meet the defining criteria" for embryonic stem cells "with the significant exception" that the cells "are not derived from embryos".

In her article, Dr. Condic brings out the point that even President Clinton's bioethics commission concluded that embryo destruction posed a moral problem and was justifiable only if there were no alternatives. Well... it seems there is now a suitable alternative, but those vested in the destruction of embryos are unwilling to give up their direction in the destruction of human embryos.

It does make you wonder if perhaps (since, after all, there have been no significant clinical treatments for illnesses gained as a result of the embryonic stem cell research to date due to the risk of tumor formation in all forms of pluripotent stem cells) there may be another ideological reason why they want to continue to destroy embryos in their research. Perhaps by getting folks immune to this form of destruction of life, another inroad into the 'culture of death' can be made on ordinary citizens. If they can be made to believe that Embryonic Stem Cell Research has the potential to cure all sorts of horrible human ailments by killing a few embryos (which aren't really persons anyway, according to the researchers), then their ideology is spread insidiously.

On the other side, using this IPSC technology holds many advantages for the researcher. There are none of the ethical considerations involved in using adult skin cells (no eggs, no embryos) in stem cell research. They would now, presumably, have other funding options available to their research as well. Plus, from the article, Dr. Condic says that many researchers have had dismal results in trying to get egg donations from women for their research. The risks involved in harvesting eggs are still fairly high for the women involved.

As Dr. Condic stated in her article: "Good science does not demand that all avenues of inquiry be pursued. The Tuskegee experiments on African American men with syphilis and the Nazi experiments on Jews and disabled persons were not legitimate avenues of scientific investigation and were not justified by the useful information they yielded." When you remember those perversions of the supposed scientific inquiry justifications, we are reminded by Dr. Condic: "No one seriously believes that freedom of scientific inquiry should trump all other considerations."

Read the article... it provides hope that, at least on one front -- in Embryonic Stem Cell Research -- IPSCs will bring about the elimination of destruction of human embryos in clinical research.

FIRST THINGS, February 2008

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Only a few hours left to vote...

Well... less than a day left... go ahead... vote on the blogsite name...

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Rocky Mountain Region Sacred Music Workshop

I’m back home again… I had such a great weekend in Colorado… I wasn't on my way to a long weekend ski getaway like so many other travelers I shared planes with along the way there. But, I’d say I probably enjoyed my weekend just as much as they did.

Together with my two youngest sisters and a friend of my sister’s from her parish, I was lucky enough to attend the Rocky Mountain Region Sacred Music Workshop in Colorado Springs. The workshop was very well attended, with over one hundred registrants – about eighty of whom were able to sing for the Mass with the bishop presiding on Saturday afternoon.

The first singing session was led by Scott Turkington of the Stamford Schola Gregoriana, who began by introducing the attendees to singing chant with the Kyrie XI (Orbis Factor). The method of introducing the group (many of whom were newcomers to the chant world) to chant by the ‘rote’ method was very effective. By doing this, all were able to hear the simplicity and beauty of the unison chant and also see that they, too, could sing it without being overwhelmed by the difference in the notation.

After the introduction by rote, then Scott dug into explaining the way the notation is written and how to read it. Over the course of the weekend, the attendees learned the basics of understanding the neumes, and several other wonderful chant pieces that were used for the Mass on Saturday. The chants sung included a very nice psalm setting from the Chabanel psalm project online , the Alleluia Proper for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Sanctus XI (Orbis Factor), and the Gloria XV. A wonderful setting of a combination of the English translation of the proper Introit – Omnis Terra -- and the Latin Introit (Sung by our two conductors) was also prepared. The two conductors also sang the proper Communion chant, Laetabimur.

Dr. Horst Buchholz, of St. John Vianney Seminary, the Denver Cathedral, and the Denver Philharmonic directed the polyphony for the weekend. We were able to sing some beautiful polyphony (a cappella) and get a sense of some of the possibilities available to us in digging into the Church’s beautiful motets. The pieces we sang for the workshop included: Iubilate Deo (Lassus), All People that On Earth Do Dwell, Agnus Dei: M.L’hora Passa (Viadana), and If Ye Love Me (Tallis). As a postlude, Dr. Buchholz played a wonderful organ selection.

Dr. Horst Buchholz gave a very interesting lecture entitled “Benedict XVI on Music”in which the attendees were given a very clear and thoughtful presentation of Pope Benedict’s writings on Music in the liturgy.

Prior to the Saturday afternoon Mass, a question and answer session was also offered. Many practical questions about the application of what we learned and how to move forward toward liturgical reform were asked and answered.

The acoustics of the cathedral were very nice, perfectly suited to the chant and polyphony music. Those same live acoustics also made it difficult at times to stay precisely in time with each other with such a large group participating and spread out across the space. This was a great learning experience for us all. Most Rev. Michael Sheridan, Bishop of Colorado Springs, was very gracious in his comments about the music during the Mass. The attendees sincerely appreciated the support the diocese of Colorado Springs offered to this project.

The hospitality, organization, schedule, meals and planning by the hosts of the workshop were wonderful. Many wonderful publications and recordings of chant were made available by Aquinas and More Catholic Goods of Colorado Springs. As part of the packet of materials, the attendees each received a copy of the Liber Cantualis, the Jubilate Deo booklet, and a copy of the book, A Gregorian Chant Handbook, by William Tortolano. With these tools, all attendees can continue their path to learning to sing chant after the workshop as well.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Maximilian: Saint of Auschwitz


February 7, 2008
7:00 p.m.
Catholic Center, Holoubek Theatre
3500 Fairfield Ave, Shreveport
Free Will Offering - All are Welcome
Suitable for Ages 10 and Up
Info: 318.865.3581 or 360.487.9979
Actor-director and star of the 2004 major motion film THERESE, Leonardo Defilippis, will perform in Shreveport and this will be an exciting opportunity to see him perform live, offering his talented and reverent portrayal of a saint who literally gave up his own life in the Auschwitz concentration camp for a total stranger. His holy example has inspired and fostered seeds of vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

On a recent tour in Pennsylvania, Leonardo asked an auditorium of children if they knew who various saints were. A few raised hands here and there, with only about a fourth at most at one time. When he asked who had heard of Adolph Hitler, all hands shot up. This serves as yet another wake up call that the evil figures in history are better known than all the saints put together. Our mission is to ensure that Christ and the saints are given better exposure and not forgotten. They must not be considered buried, gone, and irrelevant! Join us in making them known through this performance which offers a live, personal encounter with a modern saint!
Maximilian is a moving performance that will touch our whole community. Bringing sanctity to the performing arts is so important for our culture and world and this moving production will strengthen us and has the potential to convert souls. Live drama allows audiences to understand that sanctity is possible for everyone. Being in the presence of a real person portraying a saint awakens in the audience the fundamental truth that the Saints were real and human like themselves.
Leonardo Defilippis became well known for his dramas on Christ and the lives of the saints and has performed throughout the U.S., Canada, and in parts of Europe, but it was his grassroots hit movie THERESE, that made his name a household word in Catholic circles. His work has been aired on broadcast and network stations for decades. “I find a tremendous hunger for something that replaces the emptiness and decadence that we see on television, in the movies, and in our theaters,” he says. “I have dedicated my life to sharing the riches of the Catholic faith, the exciting drama of our history andtradition with audiences.”
This one-man performance runs about 90 minutes and suitable for ages 10 and older. Let’s start Lent of 2008 in the Diocese of Shreveport with this inspiring story of faith and love that is beyond measure! Call me at 318-865-3581or a (360) 487-9979 for more information on this exciting live drama.

Janice Gonzalez
Public Relations,
Saint Luke Productions

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Site Name Change?

OK, so my husband is a wonderful guy and all that... but he has told me that no self-respecting guy is going to want to read a blog entitled "Vox Feminae". He says it sounds like the owner of the blog must be some crazed liberal feminist (who, if she is a Catholic, also wishes to be ordained) or must be related to some sort of feminine product. He is suggesting I consider renaming the blog. He said it wouldn't really make that much difference since I haven't been blogging all that long... Jokingly, we came up with some alternative names for the blog and I plan to place a poll here at the site so that the 2 or 3 people who read my ramblings from time to time can vote...

His first suggestion was: "Babes for Benedict XVI". The suggestion didn't stop with the name, though. He thought I might want to place some photos of attractive women in swimsuits at the top of the page as well (that's not happening).

Then, trying to think of some other name that he would think doesn't sound too 'feminine', I offered up : "A-10 Pilot's Wife" (although it doesn't really say much about what my normal topics might be -- certainly doesn't suggest my huge interest in Sacred Music -- in Latin). He modified that by saying "Hawgdriver's Wife". He agreed that both have a nice suggestion of a submissive (but proud) wife.

I'm soliciting other ideas before I put the poll in place, so if you have one, please feel free to post it... nothing obscene, of course --ridiculous is fine (although I can't guarantee I'll choose it, even if it gets a big belly laugh).

Postscript: A few other possibilities:

Gaudens gaudebo --I will greatly rejoice

Iubilate Deo -- Sing joyfully to God

Laudate Deum -- Praise God

Dominus Regnavit -- The Lord Reigns

Eine Leise Stimme (German) -- A Soft Voice

A Short Essay on Home Schooling

One of my sisters, mother to four children, was talking with me last week about how it is for me home schooling my boys. Her school-age children are in school in a year-round schedule, which essentially means that they get approximately one month off four times each year… so the kids are in school about 8 months of the year. Well… her kids were out of school the entire month of December, so she has had a recent taste of having the kids home and with her constantly for those weeks.

While she certainly enjoyed having the time to spend with her children, and they enjoyed their break from school… she commented to me that she had gotten just a bit weary of the ever-present fact of the children simply being with her continually. I think she was thinking of how it would be if they were there (at home) all the time and that she had the work of not only her part-time job as a nurse, shopping, cooking, cleaning, meal-planning, social event coordinator, taxi-driver for kids’ activities, laundress, nursemaid… (the list could go on), but also the responsibility for the kids’ education. Granted, her children have the expectation of fun, relaxation – a vacation when they are out of school… which could tend to make it less of a routine around her house. My boys don’t have that expectation when they are home…

But I agreed with her that a fact of home schooling is that you don’t get a break from each other the way families with the kids in schools do. My boys are with me all-day, every day. But what I think maybe people don’t realize is that, when you are accustomed to it, it becomes a normal way of life that doesn’t seem that much harder than another. We have our little routines… As my boys have gotten older, they are more self-sufficient in their schoolwork. I have gotten more adept at planning and doing my part of the schooling. If you think about it, over the course of human history, home-schooling was the norm except for just the past century or more (if the children were schooled at all, that is). This idea of a public, state-run education for every child is fairly novel in course of history. In many ways, we have gotten used to the expectation of having more ‘personal time’ than previous generations of mothers have had.

On the other hand, I must admit that I was not a natural at this. I never intended to be a home educator. I like mental stimulation… I’m not nearly as playful with my kids as some mothers are. My major in college was NOT early childhood education. I loved working at my various jobs prior to being a stay-at-home mom. When I left work to stay home with our first baby (and the second on the way), it was a huge adjustment for me that first year. But, as many others in the same situation have survived and thrived… we are now doing just fine and wouldn’t trade it. I love the Catholic curriculum I use for their schoolwork and wish I had received the thorough grounding in catechism that my children are receiving.

Our secret ingredient is my husband who is my greatest supporter. He actually was more in favor of home schooling the children than I was initially. I could envision the additional work and stress involved and didn’t relish the thought; he was thinking of the benefits to the kids. My dear husband is so generous with his time to the boys… and is always willing to let me go off to a workshop, conference or girls’ weekend with my sisters and mother to let me get some time away. He is uncomplaining about my weekly choir practices and attendance at multiple Masses each weekend. If the house is a bit more messy than usual, he usually just gets in and starts helping out. On days when he is home and we are having school, he often takes over the teaching for that day.

While we don’t really feel a need to be critical of those who choose to send their children to school, we are glad on so many levels that we’ve chosen a different path. Being a bit counter-cultural, we have expected and received more than a bit of criticism and wariness from people. We are quite tired of hearing the questions (by those who think we must be raising socially inept nerds): “What about socialization? Aren’t you concerned about not socializing your children with other children in the schools?” We try not to be negative and tell them that we are sincerely glad they aren’t being socialized in the way many children are in the school system. Rather, we explain to them that we do provide socialization opportunities with other children by involving them in extracurricular activities and social outings with other home-schooling families. And, we hope and pray we are doing the right thing… only time will tell.

Sometimes when I am struggling to get the boys to complete an assignment or just to do those tedious math drills, I try to remind myself of something a more experienced home schooling mom in Albuquerque told me:

“We aren’t home schooling our children to get them into Harvard; we are doing this to get them into heaven!”

We like it when our children are doing well in their schoolwork… we are proud of their reading ability and quickness in learning new things. But, when all is said and done, the only thing that matters is the souls of these dear children and them spending eternity in heaven, praising God. Life here on earth is fleeting… not inconsequential, but so short in the grand scheme of eternity. When we think of that, and how quickly the time is passing, it doesn’t seem that hard to us.

So… day by day, we slog through the Religion, Math, English, Vocabulary, Reading, Physical Education, History, Science, Reading, Phonics, Spelling, Music (and instrument practicing)… and we are very thankful for those pioneering families who (only about 20+ years ago) began to re-introduce the concept of teaching children at home and earned the legal right for those of us who came after.

Novena to Saint Cecilia

I received this link from one of the organizers of the Rocky Mountain Region Sacred Workshop. Please pray for St. Cecilia's intercession on behalf of all those involved in Sacred Music in our Church!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Church Music Association Forum

Join the rest of the chantosphere and discuss all things related to Sacred Music – Gregorian chant, polyphony, liturgical reform… the CMAA forum is fun, free and chock-full of great information.

Home Blessing post Epiphany

Last week, on Wednesday, our local Catholic Home School group met to celebrate Epiphany. We know we were a few days too late, but didn’t want the event to pass by without doing something special. We met at the noon Mass at the cathedral, all the little children in tow. We had brought chalk for blessing of homes, which we shared with all who wanted some on their way out after Mass.

After blessing the chalk, Father gave a short instruction on the proper way to use the chalk to bless homes during his homily. His recommendations were that, as a family, we read the prologue from the Gospel of John (Jn 1:1-18), pray an Our Father together and then inscribe the appropriate letters over our doorway.

Here is a short excerpt from the Catholic Culture site:

In some parishes it is a custom for the pastor to bless the homes of the parish from the church doorway, the people reading the words of the blessing at the same hour in their homes, and going in procession from room to room sprinkling the house with holy water. At the end of this procession, the father or other grownup writes over the front door with the blessed chalk:

20 + C + B + M + 08

Blessing of Homes on Epiphany
V. Peace be to this house. R. And to all that dwell herein. Antiphon: From the east the Magi came to Bethlehem to adore the Lord; and opening their treasures, they offered costly gifts: gold to the great King, incense to the true God, and myrrh in symbol of His burial. Alleluia
Now follows the reading of the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). The home is sprinkled with holy water, and following the Magnificat the antiphon is repeated: From the east. . . . Then the Our Father, silently.
V. And lead us not into temptation. R. But deliver us from evil. V. Many shall come from Saba R. Bearing gold and incense. V. O Lord, hear my prayer. R. And let my cry come unto thee. V. The Lord be with you. R. And with thy spirit. Let us pray. O God, Who by the guidance of a star didst this day reveal thy Sole-Begotten Son to the Gentiles, grant that we who now know thee by faith may be brought to the contemplation of thy heavenly majesty. Through the same Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord Who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever. Amen.
Responsory: Be enlightened and shine forth, O Jerusalem, for thy light is come, and upon thee is risen the glory of the Lord, Jesus Christ born of the Virgin Mary. V. Nations shall walk in thy light, and kings in the splendor of thy birth. R. And the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. Let us pray. Bless, O Lord, almighty God, this home that it be the shelter of health, chastity, self-conquest, humility, goodness, mildness, obedience to the commandments, and thanksgiving to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. May blessing remain for all time upon this dwelling and them that live herein. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

An email from a friend contained this information:

Something interesting -The ancient feast of the Epiphany actually celebrates three events, tied together by the meaning of the word epiphany as “appearance” or “manifestation.” Jesus suddenly appears as who He really is–messiah and God–to the Magi, at Cana when he works his first miracle, and when he is baptized in the Jordan. In the early Church, Epiphany was therefore second only to Easter vigil as the time to celebrate the sacrament of baptism. Blessed water from those baptisms were used to bless the dwellings of the faithful, and it became customary to write over the doorposts of blessed homes “C+B+M” meaning “Christ blesses this house (Christus bendicat mansionem).” Since the three kings were also remembered at the same time, someone decided to give them names, and to use CBM as their initials–Caspar, Balthasar, and Melchior. The names stuck.

But the fact that Matthew gives them no names is telling. They may be kings, but in this story they are merely supporting actors. They follow the true Star, the King of Kings. Only His name is important. Epiphany is not about the Magi–it’s all about Jesus.

After Mass, we proceeded to a member’s home, where the children decorated crowns and we all feasted on homemade ‘king cake’, recipe courtesy of Emeril Lagasse.

At home, with our two little boys, we followed our priest’s recommendation and read the prologue of the Gospel of John, followed by an Our Father. After that, my husband wrote the appropriate letters over our doorway. Unfortunately, I told him the wrong order for the letters… ours says 20 C+M+B 08. I think it is stilled blessed, even if the order is wrong…

Voter's Guide for Serious Catholics

I pulled out my old copy of the Catholic Answers Action publication “Voter’s Guide for Serious Catholics” this weekend, intending to pass it along to our pastor. My intent is to offer to purchase a large number of the guide for distribution at our parish. Along the way I got into a discussion with a fellow schola member about the issues that are (as Catholic Answers describes it) nonnegotiable.

While I was lamenting the fact that so many Catholics seem to be uninformed about those key moral issues of importance to faithful Catholics, he was mentioning that some of those same faithful Catholics seemed to think that it was an ‘all-or-nothing’ deal. In other words, if the candidate doesn’t fit the bill completely, it was unacceptable to vote for him. The idea of voting as faithfully as possible and, perhaps at times, choosing a ‘lesser evil’ seems to be anathema to some of those folks. As a result, the possible power of such a moral voting bloc is diminished.

I am also quite often dismayed by how many ‘devout’ Catholics have become ‘cafeteria’ Catholics on some of these moral issues. The big five – abortion, euthanasia, human embryonic stem cell research, human cloning and homosexual marriage – are not necessarily identified as such by many… For some people, providing universal healthcare, eliminating the death penalty, unlimited (illegal) immigration from Mexico, and a possible cure for Parkinson’s disease outweigh what the church has to say on these key issues. So, even if a particular candidate doesn’t score so well on the ‘life issues’, but is a strong supporter of a person’s favorite issue, they feel completely free to vote for him (since none of the other candidates is perfect, either).

I wonder how much these guides help – I have to hope they do some good to those who read them. But I think an opening of the heart to the Church teachings is required… that is a much more difficult thing for many.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Name that tune...

This week at our schola rehearsal we began with vocalization and then... a smattering of theory training. We worked on the basic solfege scale, highlighting the spots where there is a half-step in the tone vs. a whole step... Then we talked about the F and C clefs and their various positions on the staff...

The basic scale discussion was followed by some simple sight-reading with solfege and including work on some of the common intervals. It is going to take awhile, but I am hopeful that we will become more adept at sight-reading the chant notation over time if we spend a bit of time each week with these drills.

At the end, I had put together a 'name that tune' game with a chant notation phrase from a familiar tune... several of them were able to pick it out rather quickly... yes, it is one of the post Vatican II classics... one that I have sung at countless funerals... a perennial favorite of the parishioner in the pews... a piece that was sung not just once on Ash Wednesday last year, but THREE times... once at the Mass for the schoolchildren, again at the noon Mass -- and again at the 5:30 pm Mass -- "On Eagle's Wings" (I am very hopeful that this will not be repeated in the choir director's musical selections this year). My mystery tune got quite a few groans and chuckles at the schola rehearsal. What next... "One Bread, One Body"?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Rocky Mountain Region Sacred Music Workshop

I've heard it said that interest in singing Gregorian chant can be described as a sort of 'viral thing'. Those who catch the bug move on and then expose others to it... and it spreads from person to person. I'm trying to spread the virus among members of my own family.

First, I should mention that I did not grow up in an area where I heard any chant at all during my formative years. Since I was born in 1959, I have some very early memories of incense at every week's Mass and singing some hymns so often that even now, when I think of one of them, I can almost smell the incense again... But early on in my childhood, I can remember the music at our parish being taken over by some former nuns who embraced the whole Kumbayah and Glory and Praise thing. The music in my home parish was uniformly horrible. I never wanted to sing at church (even though music has always been a huge part of my life) because I didn't want to be associated with anything so bad.

As time went on, the music at parishes during my college and early years of marriage varied in the quality of the sound, but not in the content... Glory and Praise followed by Gather hymnals... or OCP missalettes only... you get the picture. At many parishes along the way, I found myself getting involved in trying to make it better by participating and trying to do the best I could to sing the music that was demanded... as a choir member, as a cantor... for a short while as a music director (an interim thing when one director left and they simply had no one else).

Only in the past few years have I suspected that my dissatisfaction with the musical status quo in most Catholic parishes around the country could be solved by going backward toward the beauty and tradition that the Church has had waiting in the dusty chant books, the choral public domain and in the memories of many older Catholics.

I caught the Gregorian chant / sacred polyphony virus... and am shamelessly trying to infect as many others as possible! I have two younger sisters (the two youngest of my siblings) who both live in the Denver area... Each of them has a baby six months' old or younger (plus the older siblings), yet they are both attending the Sacred Music workshop (See site at )with me in Colorado Springs this coming weekend. Neither of them has ever learned to read the chant music notation (although I sent them a primer extracted from the Liber Usualis and a recorded CD of the chant propers for the weekend), but I am hopeful that they'll get enough of a taste for it that it will become a new passion of theirs as well.

I have been in touch with one of the St. Cecilia Cantorum members who has been working on the planning and organization of the workshop... he says they have maxed out their registration and have had to turn people away. With Dr. Horst Buchholz (of the Denver Cathedral) and Scott Turkington (of Stamford, Connecticut) directing, I am thinking it will be a wonderful experience. If I am successful, in years to come perhaps both of my sisters will be singing with their own scholas out west. With any luck, they'll pass the same virus on to their children, who will grow up thinking that Gregorian chant is something you hear weekly at Mass -- and that it will be a holy and reverent experience for them...

Yes... that is something I hope for...

Accompaniment for 'a cappella' pieces?

I have this mental picture... or more like a mental recording... of how polyphony should sound. It should be a clear, beautiful sound of several voices joining together to create one unified sound (while you still hear the various melodies intertwining). This mental picture does not involve the inclusion of a heavy-handed organist beating out the notes for the bass section (who cannot sing their part without such help). Is it just me, or does the inclusion of this singing aid tend to ruin the a cappella sound? To me, there is a particular 'ring' that comes when the blend of voices is very nice... the singers are listening to each other and matching tones and making the chords have perfect harmony even with their imperfect instruments...

I had this discussion with the organist at our church (who persists in playing the bass part for all 'a cappella' pieces). Granted, our bass section has not been strong in the past. We have a couple of faithful, but untalented, section members who (over the course of many years' participation) have never managed to learn how to read music.

The organist maintains that : ...

"I'm with you about a cappella, its beautiful and most desirable. However a cappella is not as important as being comfortalbe (sic) and accurate. Sometime light accompaniement (sic) is needed. Scholars have learned that then as now, instruments of all types, organ, strings, brass have doubled [or replaced/served as a Choir 2] needed. In other words they were eminently practical, flexible people. Sometimes not everybody is there or a section has weaknesess (sic). At that time they didn't distinguish between vocal and instrumental; i.e. write separate parts for the instruments and the singers. Even instrumentals such as Corelli Concerto Grossi, there are practical notes that "in the abscence of Violas, play this cue on the cello...etc."

I have mentioned that, if the choir is simply unable to really sing 'a cappella', it would be better to choose music that has an appropriate organ accompaniment intended until the needed skills are attained. Also, I think it is important that we work toward gaining those skills. If certain members of a particular section will never have those skills, then perhaps we should use a select group of individuals for a cappella pieces...

But then again... perhaps my mental recording is wrong and he is correct...

Monday, January 7, 2008

Ash Wednesday and Accompanied Polyphony

We are going to try to work together with the regular choir for Ash Wednesday... perhaps we can make a nice blend of the styles of music each group does for that 1st day of Lent this year. We'll be singing the XVII chant ordinaries throughout Lent. My biggest concern with that is that the entire Lenten season will be exclusively the domain of the cantors and regular choir. The schola sings no Mass in all of Lent except for the part we will sing on Ash Wednesday. While I am glad that chant ordinaries will be used at all the Masses, I am concerned about how they'll be sung.

Ah, well... we shall hope for the best. On Ash Wednesday, I have made a proposal that the schola sing during the imposition of ashes. Otherwise, it is all up to the regular choir. In looking over the proper antiphons for Ash Wednesday, I found that part of the text for the 2nd antiphon contained "Parce, Domine"; part of the text on the 3rd antiphon contains "Attende, Domine". So, rather than trying to get the schola to learn three new propers, I have suggested that we sing the two hymns in place of the 2nd and 3rd antiphons. Both pieces were sung by the schola last year... so we should be able to get them sounding very nice again for this year. The only new proper we'll have to learn is the first one...

I also proposed a joint effort in terms of one piece of polyphony for a meditation piece after Communion. I am not sure how that will work out. We may have to shelve that idea for another time.