Saturday, February 21, 2009

Cool New Gadget

I was browsing at Amazon, looking for old, obscure music stuff, when I happened across this video clip that demonstrates the soon-to-be-available Kindle2. As I watched and read about the features of this amazingly cool tool, I was envisioning old Star Trek shows with actors pretending to read from an electronic device...

Being an avid reader, I can see that this would be something I would really enjoy in the future... the nearly $400 price tag is a bit off-putting to me now. I also wonder if I would really be able to find the books I want in the list of offerings. In taking a quick look through the available books, I found all the bestsellers (at a mere $9.99 each), and international newspapers and liberal news magazines... also some blogs (those that Amazon deemed worthy to include -- probably based on volume). They make it very easy for you to buy many, many books and magazines at the click of a button! Having a somewhat unusual taste in reading material, in books, magazines and blogs, I am unsure that this would have as much appeal for me for all my reading. I am not convinced they would be uploading my particular choice. Plus, I am not a person who rushes out and buys novels in hardback form as soon as they are available. I typically can wait for the paperback edition (and do). I rarely pay $9.99 per book for an entertaining novel now.

One bright spot... it has the capability for downloading and reading Word or pdf files from your computer. This would be great to be able to review/edit things while on the go without taking the entire computer along.

Check out the video clip... it is a very cool thing. Not being on the cutting edge of technology, I'll probably not get one of these things until the next couple of generations pass through... but I look forward to it!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Seven Quick Takes (vol. 4)

Jennifer, over at Conversion Diary, has a weekly sort of meme, where readers can give updates... check out her blog at:

My seven thoughts/updates for the week:

1. The Church Music Association of America (CMAA) is taking registrations for the annual Colloquium that will be held again in Chicago this coming summer (June 22-28). Each year there are poor seminarians and religious who need scholarships in order to be able to attend this event. This year, in order to try to fund this effort, Jeffrey Tucker has a new book, a compilation of his writing about the subject of Sacred Music, that will be coming out soon. All net proceeds will go toward these scholarships.

I had the opportunity to read the book early, which will be entitled: Sing Like a Catholic yesterday (I'm a fast reader). It is a wonderful collection of some of his best work. It covers many different issues in a humorous and gentle way and offers a great deal of information for those not really familiar with the subject and all the talk surrounding it. I plan to purchase several copies for distribution to friends and family. I think it will, perhaps, help them to see why I am so nutty about this topic. I hope others will do likewise. It will help the overall effort to improve the state of music in Catholic parishes in two ways that I can see: a) it will generate funds for the scholarships. In training our future priests and religious, we will be developing leaders of flocks who will have a well-formed understanding of what the music of the liturgy should be, according to the writings of the Church. b) getting more people to understand the issue (by reading the book) and why it is of concern to all of us will help in the grassroots efforts toward bringing back the sacred nature of the music in liturgy.

The book is available to order NOW! I just ordered five copies... look out friends and family... you may not be surprised at your next gift from me... To order some for yourself, just follow this link... If you would like to donate to support these scholarships, you can easily do that at the CMAA site -- all tax-deductible, of course, since CMAA is a non-profit. The tuition and room and board for one person for the entire week is amazingly low -- only $745. Where else can you get this much training, a private room and three meals a day for that? CMAA makes it as inexpensive as possible to allow the maximum number possible be able to afford it.

2. My garden is beginning to sprout... I planted onions, which are sending up nice green shoots in the rows I've planted. Later on this year I should have my own home-grown yellow onions for cooking. I use a lot of them... Also looking very good is my crop of radishes. I am always amazed at how quickly they grow. They are ready in a little over 3 weeks or so. We've also planted cucumbers, carrots, peas and green beans, although they aren't showing any above ground progress yet. Later on we'll add tomatoes and squash to the mix.

We also planted seed for various herbs to start an herb garden. I have (at least at the last few homes we've had) always planted a nice fresh herb garden outside the back door. It makes for ease of use in cooking. I never seem to use the fresh herbs I buy at the grocery store before they get slimy in the refrigerator... by far the best solution is to plant them and cut when I want to actually use them. This year we have started them in a little planter inside... they currently get great light right from my kitchen windows. We started basil, parsley, dill, oregano and thyme. They are all looking good. When it gets a bit more consistently warm, we will transplant outside.

3. The boys and I just got home from morning Mass at San Mateo. My oldest boy is an altar server, so he served for Mass. He normally serves along with someone else and has been very dependent on whoever that is to tell him what to do when. This morning, when serving by himself, I could see that he needs a refresher and frequent reminders before he does this... he was never quite sure where to stand, when to kneel, just what to bring to Father and when... this is something we need to work on at home. All that aside... it is very nice to see his sweet little self, dressed in cassock and surplice, holding the missal or ringing the bells... that would have been missed without his presence.

4. Last week I didn't participate in the Quick Takes because I was at a Sacred Music workshop in the Houston area. For two days, I and a few of my schola members studied and sang with Chant Master, Scott Turkington. You can hear the fruits of our work by clicking on the music player at the top right side of my blog. The first portion was from a concert presented by the local St. Theresa Schola featuring the work of William Byrd. Farther down the list are all the chants that were sung during the 5 pm Mass on Saturday, February 14th.

The pastor gave a great homily on the subject of Sacred Music -- and especially Gregorian chant. I have transcribed the entire homily and submitted it to him for his review. After that, I hope to be able to post it so that others can read what he said to his parishioners and to us. I, (along with the other workshop attendees), am very much in agreement with what he had to say, so he was, in some ways, preaching to the choir... stay tuned for the chance to read it soon.

5. I belong to a neighborhood book club, that I don't attend very regularly. Many of the book selections are not of any interest to me, so I just skip those. I did go to the meeting this week, however, where we discussed this month's book The Shack. This group is made up of a mixture of religious backgrounds -- a few Catholics among them, but mostly Protestants. Many of those attending the meeting had lots to say about various ideas presented in the book... many were so enthusiastic about the book that they had purchased multiple copies and given them out. I found myself a bit uncomfortable with the discussion in general because, while I don't particularly dislike the book, I just can't relate to the underlying [Protestant] theology.

It is a bit hard to describe without getting back into the details of the book (and it has been several months since I read it), but basically it has none of the truths that are foundations of my faith as a part of it. How could it, since the author has no belief in those things? The core of the Catholic Mass -- the Holy Eucharist, the Communion of Saints, the Sacraments, Prayer, Grace, Confession and Absolution -- none of those ideas are represented in this book [or at least not in a way in agreement with Catholic theology] about a man's spiritual struggle and redemption. It was a nice story, but had no real relevance to my beliefs as a Catholic. The author completely discounted the value of organized religion and (if I recall correctly) even tried to indicate that God is in agreement with him.

I really didn't think it was the proper forum to begin discussing theological differences, so I simply said I thought it was a sweet story about forgiveness and that it had value in the idea that we need to forgive others and also heal ourselves thereby. I made the comment that I didn't necessarily agree with the underlying theology (could have kept that part to myself) and got a rather stunned silence in response.

What if we were all to read a book that is completely steeped in Catholicism as a monthly selection? I wonder if they would have felt a bit alienated?

6. I've really got to get going on taking the time to eat more healthy foods and exercise more. I still haven't found my groove here in the new place. Our neighborhood is a wonderful place to walk (my preferred exercise), but it is pitch black dark at the time when I could walk before my husband goes off to work in the morning. My kids are still too young to leave alone while I walk, so if I wait until the sun is up, I have to take them with me... just not the same.

I've actually put on a few pounds and have even sunk to eating many more sweets and unhealthy foods here... does it all go hand in hand? Anyway, I've got to do better.

7. My boys have discovered the amazingly funny (Peter Sellers - Blake Edwards) Pink Panther movies. We have the entire set on DVD, and they have been working their way through the episodes (I have had to fast-forward through a few little sections I didn't think they needed to watch, but mostly it is just ridiculous slap-stick fun).

Hope your weekend is wonderful...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

St. Isaac Jogues Chant Site Created!

Check out this wonderful new resource for your schola: . This site was created courtesy of the same folks who brought free downloads for the entire Nova Organi Harmonia (except for Book VII, I believe, which has not yet been located for copying), the Chabanel Psalm Project and many other wonderful FREE resources. I can recall when we were first trying to learn how to sing the various neumes nearly two years ago, we were very happy to find the Christus Rex recordings and also the Schola Catharina site in order to actually hear how they were supposed to sound. Well... this new site has the added benefit of very clear recordings of the propers, the pdf files of the music and potentially also the NOH accompaniments at some point.

This is great news for chanters... check it out and consider sending a few bucks their way...

Monday, February 16, 2009 Trailer

There is a new 10-part series entitled: Catholicism coming to TV and DVD soon... check out the trailer over at Sacred Miscellany. This is very inspiring... thanks, MJ.

Sugar Land, TX Sacred Music Workshop

This was a busy and exciting weekend! I and a few of my schola members traveled down to the Houston area to the CMAA-sponsored Sacred Music Workshop that was held at St. Theresa Catholic Church in Sugar Land, Texas. The director for the workshop was Scott Turkington, who directs a wonderful schola up in Connecticutt and who is an instrumental member of the leadership of the Church Music Association of America. We left Ft. Worth at about 6:45 a.m. Friday morning. Prior to driving to the parish here I stopped to fill up the gas tank and decided to take a closer look at my 'mapquest' map that I had so efficiently printed out in anticipation of the trip. To my dismay, I discovered that the mapquest program had saved me a few miles by sending us onto a 2 lane blacktop road for about 134 miles through the middle of Texas (parallel to I-45). That didn't look good.

So, I had to devise a re-routing using the map of Texas I had in my car that didn't have much detail available. Thankfully, our pastor, who was at the church already for his daily recitation of the office (he was there before 5:30 a.m.), was able to help me plan the trip.

Only a few adventures away (we inadvertently ended up on the HOV lane heading in to Houston and were very afraid we wouldn't be able to exit until we were in the downtown area), we arrived safely in Sugar Land in time for a bite to eat before beginning.

I and those in my schola who attended enjoyed this workshop so very much! It was, in many ways, different than other weekend workshops I've attended (and heard about). The emphasis was on the teaching of chant theory, it seemed to me. It was a sort of condensed Chant Intensive. We got into much more detail about solfege, rhythmic markings, modes, and understanding of neumes than I have seen in the past. The attendees seemed to be generally more advanced in their musical background than you sometimes see at these workshops... so the questions asked by the students ranged from simple questions about why we need ictus markings to comments on Pelagian heresies (that comment came from a home-schooled high school student who was attending the workshop).

It was a most congenial group, a beautiful church, welcoming pastor... several seminarians and priests were involved in the workshop and Mass. The Mass was absolutely packed... The pastor's homily was outstanding... I am attempting to transcribe it... once I get it done, I'll send it to him for approval and then, perhaps, post it. It had many quotable things in it!

Another difference... normally it seems that women usually outnumber the men in attendance -- not even close this time. If you listen to the chant recordings I have posted, you can probably tell what a wonderfully strong section of men we had singing at the workshop... I also had a general sense that the women had less experience and understanding of chant than the men.

The concert provided by the local St. Theresa Schola, directed by Dr. Gregory Hamilton, was very wonderful on Friday evening. They did a selection of William Byrd pieces. As well as the Mass for Four Voices, there were also some harpsichord and organ pieces and a solo ( lament for Thomas Tallis) performed by a schola member with harpsichord accompaniment also... but I only posted the Mass pieces...While I was recording my simple recording using my handheld digital recorder, they were also making a professional recording, which will include all the music. Check out their parish website later on to see if they have it available on CD.

Scott (Turkington) was overheard to say: "Are we still in Texas???"

Some discussion [on the Musicasacra forum (] about this more advanced type of weekend workshop brought forward the question about how beginners (to chant) will be able to learn the basics in a bit less intense format. In response, I have modified my personal information on this blog to indicate that I would be willing to help local groups that want to learn the basics in a less intense setting. I envision offering short seminars to teach the basics of square-note notation, learning a few simple chants that every Catholic should know in a 1 1/2 to 2 hours time period. I have done one such seminar with a church choir here locally since moving here. This could be done for a small or large group very simply if there were demand for it.

I think any of us who direct scholae and who have received the training from CMAA should and could share this information with Catholics living around us who are interested.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Valentine cookies

I know it isn't yet Valentine's Day... but I'm going to be chanting away on Valentine's Day this year. So... in response to a request by my boys, we made cookies today...

This is the old standard sugar cookie recipe from my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook that I bought with gift money when I graduated from high school. That cookbook has been much-used over the years (and looks like it, too).

The frosting is a standard buttercream frosting with lots of heavy cream and homemade vanilla...

Don't you wish you were at my house?

Friday, February 6, 2009

Seven Quick Takes (vol. 3)

Once again I am giving an update on the week and things that have occupied my mind... check out all the Seven Quick Takes over at Jennifer's blog at Conversion Diary.

1. Alright, many of us have suspected that soft drinks weren't especially good for us for some time. Whether because of the extra calories and high fructose corn syrup in the regular variety, or the artificial sweetenings of the diet variety, my assumption has been that it just isn't worth it (unless I happen to be REALLY thirsty and nothing else is available).

Well, new evidence confirms that cola isn't good for women, especially. The Baylor Innovations magazine (Winter 2009 issue) has an article about a study results that show that cola tends to lead to lower bone mineral density in women, whether diet or regular. The study seems to indicate that this is peculiar to colas. Other beverages, such as orange drinks and ginger ales, seem to have no effect. Also, the colas don't appear to affect men in the same way. The targeted suspect is the phosphoric acid in the colas (added for tartness). So... if you are one of those who starts her day with a diet cola... think about a switch...

2. In the same issue, results of a study on fertility yield information on 10 things you can do to increase your fertility.
They are:
Avoid trans fats found in many commercially prepared and fast foods,
use more unsaturated vegetable oils
, such as olive oil or canola oil,
eat more vegetable protein,
like beans, nuts, whole grains and seeds; eat less animal protein, choose whole grains and other carbs that are lower glycemic,
drink a glass of whole milk
or have a small dish of ice cream or full-fat yogurt every day, take a multivitamin that contains folic acid and other B vitamins,
get plenty of iron
from fruits, veges, beans and supplements -- but not from red meat, beverages matter -- water, coffee, tea and alcohol (in moderation) are ok; leave the sodas alone,
aim for a healthy weight -- if you are overweight, losing 5-10% of your weight can help ovulation,
daily exercise can help (unless you are already an exercise nut and don't have enough body fat -- this was never my problem).

3. I have finished the book for our book club this month, Angels and Devils, by Joan Carroll Cruz. It was quite interesting. I particularly liked the first part, about the angels. In our family, we have a habit of including the Guardian Angel prayer in our prayers with the boys before bedtime... the book has reinforced my belief that we should be aware of the help and love offered to us in our journey to God by our Guardian angels. It also warns of the dangers of dabbling in the occult.

4. One of my sisters sent me a subscription for Magnificat. The first issue I received was for February. Well, this week has been my first opportunity to begin reading it daily. I have enjoyed it so very much. The various articles on the lives of saints, the monthly chant hymn (this month's hymn is absolutely beautiful -- Aurora soli praevia, for the Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes), the morning and evening prayers and readings, as well as daily Mass readings are very nicely put together. I have the big Christian Book of Prayer, with the Liturgy of the Hours for morning and evening prayer and like it also, but I find the specific information about each day that is contained in the Magnificat is also very nice and seems to be helping me to do my readings each day a little bit more diligently.

This morning our family attended the 7 a.m. Mass at our parish. It was very nice to have my Magnificat to follow along with the readings. We are hoping to make Friday Mass as often as possible as a family.

5. There is much consternation among the musicians of the Church Music Association of America this past week or so. The issue in question is eloquently described by Jeffrey Tucker in his posting at the New Liturgical Movement in his article from a couple of days ago here. Also, he has a new article at Inside Catholic here. As I see it, even if a music composer wanted to compose Mass settings in English and make them available for free to all church musicians for use in the liturgy, ICEL still wants its royalty (at least the way the rules seem to stand now). This seems to me to be a very sad situation -- one that encourages commercial publishers in their source for income and that discourages the free exchange of music by individual composers. Do we really want to be saddled with another ubiquitous setting of English Mass music like the Mass of Creation with the release of the new translation? I hope not.

6. This week I have been working away at completing my plans for Lent, Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday for the schola. I think I have a pretty good plan that is not too ambitious for the schola to achieve. I am waiting for our pastor to let me know what changes he would like on the first drafts. Some of the music (if plans are approved) will be:

Offertory Hymns: Parce, Domine and Attende, Domine
Communion chant: Qui meditabitur (we'll use it as a seasonal chant)
Palm Sunday: Hosanna filio David (antiphon)
Offertory: Gloria laus
Communion: Pater, si non
Good Friday: Veneration of the Cross: Popule meus
This is a very long piece with alternating refrains (two different refrains) with verses sung by a cantor. The words are amazingly perfect. Here is a short excerpt:

Popule meus, quid feci tibi? Aut in quo contristavi te? Responde mihi. Quia eduxi te de terra Aegypti: parasti Crucem Salvatori tuo. My people, what have I done to you? How have I offended you? Answer me! I led you out of Egypt, from slavery to freedom, but you led your Saviour to the cross.
Gospel of John: Three cantors (still discussing this possibility - I have a wonderful setting I bought from St. Meinrad while still in Shreveport, but never got to use)
Communion: Pater, si non
Holy Saturday: This will be a bilingual Mass, so readings will alternate between English and Spanish. I also have set the responsorial psalms alternating between English and Spanish. This was only my second time to set psalms into a psalm tones in Spanish. (I did it recently for a Spanish Wedding Mass.)
Exultet: chanted in English (another wonderful St. Meinrad setting I bought)
Sprinkling Rite: Vidi aquam
Offertory: Exultemus et laetemur

I would love to do the shortened version of the Te Deum at the end of Mass at the Easter Vigil, but I think that would be pushing it... it will probably be something else (perhaps the English version of it -- Holy God, We Praise Thy Name).

7. The neighborhood children have had a wonderful time out in the woods behind our house this entire winter. With no poison ivy to be concerned with, the fort-building and game-playing has been a constant thing. Every day nearly, the boys have wanted to head outside to work on their 'bases', pocketknives in hand, during their recess periods. When they hear the school bus drive by each afternoon, bringing their friends home, they can't wait to gather them together for fun and play. It is usually starting to get dark by 6:30 pm or so -- that's when the fun ends...

Tuesday I got a guided tour of the three main 'bases'. They have shown a great deal of ingenuity in using the tree branches for structures, cut grass for a roof, yucca leaves to weave various things... I am not anxious for the poison ivy to begin sprouting... it is very difficult to keep it at bay here in summer. They told me yesterday that they had talked about it and have a plan in mind: When they grow up and have wives and kids, they want to move back here and live in this house together so that their children can play out back as they have... I told them I think that is a fine idea!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


As I sit here drinking a final cup of tea while I wait for my husband to arrive home from a trip, all is quiet here. The boys are nestled snugly in their beds and our world is at peace. I love to keep the house cool during the winter time. To me it only seems logical that, as the temperature outside drops, it should also be cooler inside... no running around in shorts and flip-flops here in mid-winter. I keep the thermostat at a standard 67 degrees (sometimes lower unless my husband complains). We have a separate system that serves our master bedroom... in there I turn it completely off. Many mornings I'll jump out of bed to turn on the heat for my husband (who really doesn't share my enthusiasm for cold rooms) and the temperature will show only 54 degrees.

The trick to making it nice is a beautiful down-filled feather bed -- not the type you put underneath, but the German type that goes on top. I first learned of the joys of feather beds when we lived in Germany in the mid 1980's. The first time I stayed at my husband's Opa's home and snuggled into that warm bed with the soft-as-air 'federbett' on top, I was hooked.

Before the Berlin wall came down, we made a trip to East Berlin when my parents came for a visit. We drove through East Germany, staying carefully on the approved corridor and driving neither too slow nor too fast, lest we be stopped by the East German police and questioned. My husband was required to wear his military uniform during the entire visit when we were in East German territory. We had been counseled before our trip that we should try to be inconspicuous and try to blend (I am so sure we were going to blend in with our West German car and my husband's uniform). The counseling did no good. My mother and I were so excited to see the huge piles of featherbeds for sale (at a very reasonable price in comparison to West Germany's department stores) that we ended up with a fairly large mound of bedding to try to stuff into the trunk of the car.

Two of those same featherbeds, purchased in East Berlin in about 1986 or so, are now warming my two boys during winter nights. Things have certainly changed in the world in the past 23 years... in a huge way for Germany and the former Soviet Union. But the comfort of a warm bed on a cold night is the same...