28 June 2004

The Constitution Conundrum, by Dave Barry

Even more gripping than The Da Vinci Code.

13 June 2004

Feast of Corpus Christi

I'm sure you all know that, but if it hadn't been a Sunday, today would have been the feast of St. Anthony of Padua. You know, the guy you always call on when you've lost something. I've been told by a friend of his that St. Anthony likes having his feet tickled. Not sure if this is true or not, but the next time you come across a likeness of him and no one is watching, you might try it.
Choirs in France III

After an enjoyable night in Laval, the choir and schola packed up for another day on the bus. After driving for an hour or so, we stopped in a charming town to purchase supplies for a picnic lunch. There was a wonderful boulangerie/patisserie, but to our great disappointment, the town had no fromagerie. Anyone who wanted cheese had to make do with the selections from the supermarket, which weren’t too bad. I bought a baguette, some cheese which had an English name, but was made in France, and an apple. Other people had various kinds of meats and sweets and drinks, but I’ve always felt that bread, cheese, and fruit was a wonderful lunch.

We didn’t eat our lunch right away. Our lunch would be in the plaza outside the church at which we were going to attend Mass at noon. That church, our destination, is one which surely must occupy the dreams of everyone who is obsessed with chant. We were going to Mass at l’Abbaye Saint-Pierre de Solesmes.

I’m not sure that many of our choirmates understood the significance of this unassuming monastery, set in a tiny, quiet town off the main road. For those of you who may not be familiar with it, Solesmes was the seat of the chant revival of the 19th Century, and consequently important in the late 19th-and early 20th Century liturgical movement. The monastery is very old, but the monks were driven out and returned after the French Revolution (or, as our tour guide pointed out, "The most famous of our revolutions. We’ve had a lot of them"). If you want to know more about the monastery’s history, please visit their website.

We were a little confused at first, as we followed our director off the bus, because we thought he was passing the church. He explained to us that the church at which we would attend Mass was the abbey church, inside the walls, which the monks permit lay people to attend. The church outside the walls, the one visible from the street, is the parish church of St. Pierre, of which one of the priests of the abbey has charge.

Passing through the gate and the courtyard, we went into the abbey church. It is a small church, not as small as a chapel, perhaps, but quite narrow. There were two columns of pews, each of which only sat four or five across. The aisle was almost as wide as the pews were long. Six or seven townspeople came in, and about three men came and went through the gate in the communion rail and sat closer to the sanctuary. Almost immediately, we heard chanting. I really couldn’t see anything of the Mass, but the sounds of it were beautiful.

Mass was chanted in Latin, except for the readings, which were spoken in French. Dr. Schaefer explained to us afterwards that, when the monks were deciding how to implement the changes of the Second Vatican Council, they decided to have readings in the vernacular. However, their refined liturgical sensibilities would not allow them to chant in French. It didn’t seem right. So, it is the only part of the Mass which is spoken. After the monks had received Communion, one of the priests came forward to the rail and offered Communion to us.

(Here, I must insert an aside: if you are ever so lucky as to attend a Mass in this abbey church, be aware that this Mass is for the monks. Others are welcome to attend and will be offered Communion, but the practice of the outsiders who go to Mass there is not to make responses aloud. Also, it is a conventual Mass, that is, before Mass begins they sing the appropriate part of the Liturgy of the Hours.)

The chanting of the monks was beautiful. It wasn’t quite on the professional level of our schola or some others that I have heard, because most of these men are not professional musicians. But it was the sound of pure devotion to God in the Mass, and was more beautiful than I think anyone with less devotion to God could offer.

After Mass, we sang a little in the church. The acoustics were nice. The choir sang Palestrina’s Exsultate Deo, among other pieces, and the schola sang the chants Rorate coeli and Tollite portas, and the hymn Salve Mater, which was written by one of Solesmes’ own. (In a weird twist of fate, a week after this excursion, I found myself watching an episode of the television series “ER” in which this hymn was featured. For the record, I’m not a regular watcher of this series.) The abbey’s choir director and a few other monks (one of whom is an American by birth) stayed to watch and listen. The choir director gave our director quite a compliment: “Maybe someday my choir will sing as well as yours.” Dr. Schafer blushed, which he doesn’t do often.

We ate our lunch in the plaza and piled back onto the bus, but now without stopping in the bookstore. One girl who works as a cantor bought a copy of the organ accompaniments to the Liber Cantualis, Lizzy bought a Bible in French, and I purchased some blank cards with illuminated chants on the front; two of Requiem aeternam for sad occasions, and two of Gaudete for happier ones. Back on the bus, Dr. Schaefer admitted to me that while he hoped people had enjoyed the stop, going to Solesmes was mostly for himself. He visits there at least once a year, and I suppose he wanted to show us off. Whatever the purpose, we can all now brag that we have been to the center of the Gregorian chant universe.

12 June 2004

A Morning Prayer

Glory be to God who has shown us the light.
Lead me from darkness to light,
From sadness to joy,
And from death to immortality.
Glory be to God who has shown us the light.

From: The Glenstal Book of Prayer; a Benedictine Prayer Book

08 June 2004


I'm sorry blogging has been so light, especially after I promised exciting posts about the trip to France. But both Lizzy and I have summer jobs which probably take up more time than our college classes. My job involves about 5 hours a day of typing, and frankly that's the last thing I want to do when I get home. But, the promised posts have not completely left our consciousness, and they'll toddle onto the page someday, late but there.

01 June 2004

The Glory(????) of the Human Voice

This is a CD by lionized soprano Florence Foster Jenkins. Beloved by audiences everywhere, Madame Jenkins' raw chords struck a nerve with-- I mean, her raw nerve struck a chord with listeners' hearts. The site includes her amazing rendition of the Queen of the Night's Aria from The Magic Flute.

I should, of course, add that this site also has recordings of The Shaggs and that Leonard Nimoy classic (*cringe*) "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins," which will help get a clearer grasp on the type of singer Madame Jenkins was.