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...

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