What have we learned? CMAA colloquium edition

I recently attended the Church Music Association of America’s annual colloquium, as I’ve noted over multiple prior posts detailing smaller pieces of it. I’m not overstating things, I suspect, when I say it was a life-changing experience, one that has me considering a career change and doing sacred music full-time.

That doesn’t mean, however, that I subscribe to everything they espouse. But I went to the colloquium (and would like to go again), because I specifically wanted to challenge myself and understand better opinions that I may not necessary subscribe to. One day, I may work for a pastor who subscribes to this stuff, and as a professional, I want to be able to carry out what he would like to do, even if I don’t necessarily subscribe to it. As such, here are my reflections on the week and what I learned:

The chanted propers are nice in the Extraordinary Form. They’re an awkward fit in the Ordinary Form.

One of the reasons I went to the colloquium is that I wanted to hear these propers in action. I was skeptical of them in the OF for multiple reasons, and I remain skeptical. The colloquium tries to present the propers in the best possible light. But I wasn’t impressed. The English introit used on the first Mass was awkward and didn’t make a good case for its own use; the propers throughout the rest weren’t a whole lot better. I think it’s because English doesn’t really lend itself to chant. Latin propers, which flow much better, were a little better at the OF, but the Sunday I and my chant group sang the introit, That having been said, chanted propers in the EF just felt right.

But I’m all in on adding other chant.

Including Mass parts. But there’s no real reason we can’t use “Salve Regina,” etc. at Mass. So I’m going to look for other ways to add Latin chant to the Masses whose music I have some control over.

I really like Latin motets.

I am all in on adding motets (which aren’t chanted) to the OF. Those puppies were gorgeous. I don’t know if I have the personnel to do them now, but if I can do them, I want to.

Chanting readings is not a good idea.

I know, I know, how they used to do it and all that. But I couldn’t understand the singers (who weren’t in some cases miked, and I think that was intentional), and sometimes couldn’t hear them. I actually talked briefly to Professor William Mahrt, who in “The Musical Shape of the Liturgy” argues for chanting readings, and asked him more about why the readings were chanted in the first place, when they clearly weren’t intended to be sung when originally written (as opposed to, say, the psalms). He noted, and it was an interesting thought, that in a sense, the people already were to know the readings and so the readings’ purpose at Mass wasn’t so much for teaching. That’s not how things are generally done these days.

More incense is a good idea.

The problem is that people are sensitive or allergic, but it does help express the sense of the sacred better. That was one part of the ritual that I truly loved.

Church music people are some of the nicest out there.

I had so many great chats over the week, gathering information and advice and a lot of topics. And this being my first time at a music conference of any sort, just the chance to learn from a bunch of experts and fellow musicians

I want to go back.

I still have stuck in my mind the melodies I sang all week. I stayed with friends, and I would get back to their apartment each evening with a smile on my face. I was just feeling this wonderful feeling of joy. Next year’s colloquium is at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, and I have family near there. I really hope it works out.

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