Monthly Archives: May 2014

Wedding music advice for Catholics

I don’t do a lot of weddings, but when I do, these are the sort of things I tend to tell the couples when I’m consulting with them about the music for their weddings.


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Suddenly, things turn sort of meta

How many “Phantom of the Opera” jokes have I made on here? Turns out, zero, according to my search thing.

This turns out to be a major oversight, because I’ve been enlisted to help out with a choral concert in a few weeks. I’ll be playing the organ. For this and the rest of the score:

Ah, Emmy Rossum. If you don’t love her, you’re probably dead… I’m sorry, where was I?

Oh, right. Frankly, isn’t this kind of a dream job for a self-aware organist? I won’t have to wear the mask or the cape, contra a co-worker’s desire, and I don’t have to sing (though I could do better than Gerard Butler). And I get to play the iconic five-chord progression that defines “Phantom.”

Your services will not be required, mask.

I’m excited. And wherever Emmy Rossum is right now, I hope she’s impressed.

Don’t play for free

Unless you’re very, very, very nice or very, very, very stupid.

I’d love to be at a point where I’m like this:

Because then, I would totally play at churches for free. But I’m not. I’m closer to this:

Except without the top hat. I live semi-comfortably, but I have a mortgage, a car, property taxes, a long commute, and all sorts of things I gotta pay for. And my church music is a significant portion of that income, in fact, a part I rely on to pay for all of the above stuff.

So I felt terrible when I had to explain to a dear, wonderful woman whose church I play at from time to time that no, I can’t give them a freebie. And neither should you, dear organist. You get time taken out of your schedule. You have to practice a repertoire. And if you accept a freebie, you knock down everyone else’s pay.

And don’t let churches pull this on you, either. They need to reduce costs, and that’s OK. But with music, you get what you pay for. A church eliminates paying for organists at its own peril.

For the people of Holy Cross, Batavia

Hang in there.

The news you got is less than happy, of course. (For those who don’t know, their pastor, Msgr. Aaron Brodeski, was arrested for indecent exposure.) It’s been a long time since I played there, at least a decade. But I knew a few people who went there, and I’ve chatted with one of the parochial vicars a couple times at confirmation (where he was master of ceremonies), and I’m a nearby Catholic, so I feel very bad and send my sympathies. A few related thoughts:

Don’t presume he’s guilty, but be prepared for it. We don’t know how the legal process will work out. It is possible that he’s innocent, but, of course, there’s the other possible result.

Surround everyone with prayer.  That includes Msgr. Brodeski, your parish, and the victims. If he’s guilty, Msgr. Brodeski likely will need plenty of treatment and counseling if he’s ever to resume ministry, which is probably not a given. The parish is in flux. The victims are potentially traumatized. That’s a lot of pain, and everyone needs support.

See to the other priests. They have lived with Msgr. Brodeski and probably consider him a friend. And they’re baby priests, who need encouragement and care anyway.

Remember that the faith isn’t dependent on us fallible men. Remember the crucifixion? The apostles were all screwups. We’ve had bad priests, bad bishops, and bad popes.  Our faith isn’t in men, but in God.

Remember that priests are human. And they have a terribly challenging job, one where Satan is cheerily after them. It’s high-stress work. with a zillion demands and everyone dumping their problems on them and expecting them to solve them. If the stress gets to them and they don’t have a proper release, it can manifest in destructive ways.

Hang in there, friends. You’re in my thoughts and prayers. May God bless you and help you work through this very difficult time.

Stop what you’re doing right now and listen to this gorgeous Marian song

It’s “Como Estrella en Claro Cielo,” by the late Skinner Chavez-Melo, with a fantastic arrangement by the late, great Richard Proulx. (There’s an English translation here, but it’s pretty enough that I think you could get away with using the Spanish as a choral piece.) I think this is going to get used around Christmastime at my main parish, as the song especially focuses on events detailed in the later parts of the Advent readings.

(If you don’t have Spotify already, you may need to sign up for a free account before you can listen to this.)

Playing hurt

I had agreed to head over to my parents’ house to help them spread a large pile of mulch that was on the driveway. So I got into work clothes and drove over. Got a shovel and the wheelbarrow. Put the shovel in the mulch. Picked up the mulch. Went to turn to put it into the wheelbar–


Ow. Ow. Owowowowowowowowowowowowowowowow.

Embed from Getty Images


Shoveling mulch is something I’ve done many times, without any problems. I shoveled snow all winter, with no problems. But this time, a sharp pain hit my lower back. I dropped the shovel and put a hand on my back. Couldn’t move for a couple minutes. Had to summon dad to help me into the house, where he got me an ice pack and pain medicine.

This was at 9 a.m. on a Saturday. I play Mass every Saturday at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. at my main parish. I couldn’t move without pain.

This, uh, was bad. I could call the guy who plays Sunday and ask him to play Saturday too, but he’s 83 or so years old and playing takes a lot out of him. Plus, I kind of need the money, because I’m taking off three weekends over the next three months and that’s going to cost me more than I care to acknowledge.

So I needed to play. It’s not entirely dissimilar to playing while sick, but it wasn’t much fun. I kept the ice on for a while, took the pain medicine, and attempted to walk again after taking three minutes to get up. I could walk! Somewhat! So I got in the car, drove to the local pharmaceutical store, and picked up some lower-back heat wraps, opening one and getting it on as quickly as I could.

After a couple hours, my back was feeling better. But I hadn’t had a chance to give it extra rest, so I swapped the later Mass for a Sunday morning Mass with the 83-year-old. Then I girded myself to play the 4 p.m.

Here are a couple helpful hints for playing a Mass with a back injury:

1. Move as little as possible.

2. Except during the homily, during which you should move to a chair with a back, as most organ benches don’t have one.

3. Garner as much sympathy as possible.

So it worked out OK. My legs weren’t hurt, and neither were my arms, so the more I held myself as still as possible, the better off I was. And when I played the Mass in the morning, I felt a lot better, though I was moving slowly.

And what have we learned? Never, ever help your parents move mulch on a Saturday morning. Ever.