A Tale of Two Conferences, or, How I Spent My Summer Vacation Kicking Bass and Taking Neumes
  • I thought I would bore all of you with reflections on two inaugural music conferences I attended this past week (Aug 8 - 15). Perhaps those interested in starting music retreats of their own would be interested to see the foibles and achievements that come from trying to get such events off the ground. If anything I hope it will be seen as a tribute to new groups having the fortitude and determination to help promote the cause of sacred music in our country today.

    I will admit - my physical condition for these conferences was less than ideal. I went into them having just contracted some sort of throat infection at work which gave me an almost incessant cough during at least the first few days of the conference. So my views may be resemble the ravings of an ill man.

    No names have been changed to protect the innocent, although I'll stick with screen names on here for the sake of familiarity. (There's a chance I may not know if you're on the Forum or not, especially with the second conference; if so please message me and I will make the proper edits.)


    PART I -
    WHEN TIME RAN OUT - THE CINCINNATI ORATORIANS' SACRED MUSIC RETREAT

    Who? The Oratorians of Cincinnati & The Latin Mass Schola of Cincinnati [organized by our very own Incardination]
    What? Sacred Music Retreat
    Where? St. Anne Retreat Center in Melbourne, Kentucky.
    When? August 8-12
    Repertoire?
    ...deep breath...
    -Gregorian Masses III & VI, ad lib Kyrie I
    -Credo VII
    -Ave Maris Stella (Victoria)
    -Bone Pastor (Tallis)
    -Bonus Est Dominus (Palestrina)
    -Jesu Rex Admirabilis (Palestrina)
    -Jesu Salvator Mundi (Cordans)
    -Magnificat (both Besnier and Grassi)
    -Miseremini (Anonymous)
    -Miserere Mei (Lotti)
    -O Jesu Christe (Jacquet de Mantua)
    -Peccantem Me Quotidie (Morales)
    -Pontifical Blessing (harm. Besnier)
    -Quid Retribuam (Ravanello)
    -Sicut Cervus/Sitivit Anima Mea (Palestrina)
    -Te Joseph Celebrant (Ravanello)
    -a multitude of beautiful pieces by one of our presenters, Kevin Allen:
    Desiderio Mi Jesu
    Jesu Dulcis Memoria
    O Sanctissima
    Panis Angelicus
    -Full Gregorian propers for St. John Vianney, Pentecost XII, and the Requiem mass (preceded by the first nocturn of Matins and Lauds of the Dead)
    -Full Gregorian Vespers on Saturday and Sunday
    -Recto tono prime and compline every day (Salve Regina on drone)
    -Hymns:
    Help Lord the Souls which Thou Hast Made (Webb)
    O Praise Ye the Lord! (Parry)
    O Purest of Creatures
    O Turn to Jesus, Mother, Turn
    Rejoice! Rejoice, Believers
    Ye Souls of the Faithful
    Wake, Awake
    -Chanted Angelus for meals

    Presenters?
    Kevin Allen, composer, choir director of Schola Immaculata
    Nicholas Lemme, professor of music at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary
    Spiritual Director? Monsignor Andrew Wadsworth
    Social time? Deducted from sleeping time
    Things I Learned at This Conference:
    -Phrasing can make or break a musical piece.
    -Chant should be treated like a feather blown off the finger - cognizant of energy flying up to the apex, then floating gently back down on the thesis.
    -Rhythm is ever so slightly free on chant, especially psalm tones. (The analogy was rising from a chair, walking across a room, stopping to recollect, and then going to the window)
    -The relationship of Time to the Liturgy (especially in the philosophical understanding of Augustine) cannot be overstated. (During the chanting of the Office I couldn't help but think of T.S. Eliot: "Only through Time Time is conquered.")
    -ICEL aren't a bunch of milquetoast modernists. In fact, they are doing some great work towards a new translation of the Liturgy of the Hours.
    -Cough drops are not candy. They can save your life.
    -England operates by two standards of chronological measurement: Greenwich Meridian Time and Monsignor Wadworth Time.
    -It would probably be easier to find a guitar in Nicholas Lemme's closet than a necktie.
    -If you lose your arms in an accident and Kevin Allen is the only person who can drive, he recommends you steer the wheel with your stumps or use your teeth (his words, not mine)
    -Interrupt an MC at your own peril.
    -The story behind Incardination's screen name is much more mundane than I had expected. Unless he's hiding something.
    Pros:
    -Wow, What a Lineup - of music! A lot of great music to be sung, and a nice healthy selection that doesn't focus too heavily on one particular time period.
    -Wow, What a Lineup - of liturgies! How often does one get the chance to sing at not one, but two pontifical masses in one week? Especially one that is preceded by Matins and Lauds?
    -Wow What a Lineup - of people! It was Liturgical All-Stars at this event. Besides the spiritually edifying (and amusing) spiritual conferences given by Msgr Wadsworth and the top-notch direction by both Messrs. Lemme and Allen, Cincy has some really great musicians - the Bloomfields (the Castor and Pollux of Chant Programming), Anna Little (the quasi-operatic alto) Br. Brent Stull, assistant music director for the Oratory and organist extraordinaire, and, of course, Incardination himself. Anyone who knows him in person knows his classic definition of plainsong as "a huge vat of chocolate"; listening to his bass voice is nothing short of Fererro-Rocher. (That and Mrs. Incardination makes great desserts for the reception afterwards.) That's not including the out-of-towners, either: music theorist and luthier (!) extraordinaire Joseph Mullen of the Palestrina Choir School was there. Mary Catherine Levri, organist for the Athaneum in Cininnati, played improvisations nonpareil at the Pontifical Sunday Mass. Lo and behold, there was even a special guest star appearance by my fellow stateman, the Hoosier Fortescue himself, Fr. Duvelius.
    And then there was the Minnesota Delegation. Headed by NihilNominis.
    I'm not going to say anything about Nihil because anything I would say I know for a fact would fall short. It is terrifying how talented he is. Absolutely terrifying.
    Cons:
    -Wow, What a Lineup . . . This was a lot of music to cover in the space of three days. A LOT. And the amount of time spent rehearsing (three practices every day, each about two hours) in addition to the amount of time spent in actual singing, PLUS the spiritual conferences, left about fifteen minutes of down time a day. The social on Saturday consisted of singers going to one of two air-conditioned rooms in the facility and collapsing on the couches. It's quite a shame also, because the facility was located on some very beautiful grounds with a lot of hiking trails, and it's just a shame there wasn't more time allotted to explore the grounds. As Incardination said, it was a retreat for Marthas to be sure, but even Marthas need time to cool down and enjoy "the greater part".
    Summary: I should be worried if this conference were under-ambitious for its first time out. You get a lot of musicians together - great musicians, nonetheless - and obviously they're going to be gung-ho about doing what it is that they get so little opportunity to do. And, as always, there is grace under pressure; quite a few came away exhausted, but I doubt if any can look back on the proceedings of the past week and not feel spiritually fulfilled. If anything, this will be a learning experience for when (not if, when!) this conference is next held, as to exercise prudence in the organizing of time - time which, as Monsignor pointed out, if spent well, is so beneficial to our soul.


    NEXT TIME - THE SAINT MARY'S SSPX CONFERENCE: THE SWORD IN YOUR ROOM IS FOR DISPLAY PURPOSES ONLY
  • Stimson, I hate to tell you... we held several hikes at midnight, concluding with Matins / Lauds before returning to the retreat center. We figured you might be under the weather, otherwise we would have asked you to join us.

    There was likewise discussion about taking away the "optional" from Prime / Compline for future retreats.

    :) OK, I'm making the last part up...
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Carol
    Posts: 480
    Stimson, how long did it take you to come up with such a clever title for your post? Thank you for such a great synopsis of this conference and perhaps some time I will be able to do this.
    Thanked by 1Incardination
  • we held several hikes at midnight, concluding with Matins / Lauds before returning to the retreat center. We figured you might be under the weather . . .


    WHAT.

    Cardy, I don't care if I'm stuck in an iron lung - next time you do this, drag. me. along. I so rarely get to do Matins & Lauds in common. It may have had a salutary effect on my condition, anyhow. And it wasn't like I was sleeping anyways!


    perhaps some time I will be able to do this.


    If by "this" you mean "write a review of a sacred music conference" then by all means I concur that you should. I took my inspiration from some of the stuff Tim the Enchanter wrote, but also took the main format from "The Mystery Worshipper" at Ship of Fools.

    But, if by "this" you mean "attend the Annual Oratorian Sacred Music Conference in Cincinnati", then you need to help me cajole Incardination into doing it again and stop being such a stick in the mud. (And invite me to Matins/Lauds next time.)

    Also, one more thing I forgot to add that I learned at this conference, courtesy Kevin Allen:
    - Proper placement of the "gra" in "gratias" at the final priestly blessing is so helpful, the congregation should give you thumbs up. So mass done properly should end like an 80s movie.
    Thanked by 1Incardination
  • I think Stimson means for me to stop being a stick in the mud, not you Carol! :)
    Thanked by 1Carol
  • CatherineS
    Posts: 230
    Thanks for the write-up. I love the idea of participating in one of these conferences. But that kind of schedule would be WAY too much for me, though. I can do an hour rehearsal, a Mass, and then I need a nap.
    Thanked by 1StimsonInRehab
  • Stay tuned Catherine, as I will be covering a conference on the complete opposite end of the spectrum - as far as rehearsal is concerned.

    And yes, naps are a good thing, and appropriately incorporated into the Divine Office (nota bene, Incardination.) I'm pretty sure we're all aware where "siesta" got its name. But let's not forget, as the great Daniel Bennett Page once pointed out, that all too obscure office of Prone.
    Thanked by 1Incardination
  • Prone? is that the one that's done recto tono, in the key of Z?
  • Carol
    Posts: 480
    Incardination may have called the "stick in the mud" in this case, but I have been (probably deservingly) called a "stick in the mud" more than once. Yes, attending an event such as this, is the "this" I meant. Once again, I am reminded of the need for precision in writing posts here, so as not to become the fodder for those who are even more "red-pen minded" than I. LOL
    Thanked by 1Incardination
  • Prone? is that the one that's done recto tono, in the key of Z?

    I always thought it was the accompanying drone in the key of Z. Organum, indeed!
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 672
    I find it too hard to sing in the key of Z. I prefer the key of R
  • I was given permission to post this link showing pictures from the retreat... I think the only reason we don't have pictures from the midnight hikes is because it was too dark.

    https://photos.app.goo.gl/1Y8cyhjhY9zo2doPA

    Enjoy!
  • matildacmatildac
    Posts: 15
    Thanks so much for this write-up, Stimson! Sounds like it was a blast. I'd love to do these things, so if anyone's organising any in Asia... Looking forward to part 2!
    Thanked by 1Incardination
  • I'm bubbling this up for several reasons... first, I would like to hear from Stimson about the other retreat and the experience there. Secondly, I wanted to mention that it is possible that within the next year or two there will be another Sacred Music Retreat, perhaps in a state north of the Greater Cincinnati / Northern Kentucky region... somewhere with 10,000 lakes (or so I've been told). :)

    Lastly, although I'm not planning another Sacred Music Retreat in the near future, I am having discussions with my group about another major music event (also with open enrollment) that I think would likely also be a very spiritually and musically uplifting experience. Stay tuned! September 2023 is right around the corner! It's not too early to start the fund-raising!
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • CatherineS
    Posts: 230
    I want to hear about the other, too!
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,152
    somewhere with 10,000 lakes (or so I've been told). :)

    O for ten thousand lakes around
    where we our voices raise,
    in songs of glory thus resound
    our great Redeemer's praise!

    (with apologies to Charles Wesley)
  • StimsonInRehabStimsonInRehab
    Posts: 1,570
    Well folks, after enough liquid courage on my part, and having racked my brain for the finer points of distinction, I think I can safely commence with my summary of

    PART TWO: THE SAINT MARY'S SSPX CONFERENCE

    A Prologue of Sorts: If Incardination's retreat was fairly Spartan in character, the retreat that followed could best be described as Pythagorean - in that it truly baffled the mind. Part of this, surely, can be attributed to the 10-hour plus car ride from one retreat to another. My first impression of the retreat - and the traditional haven which housed it (St. Mary's, Kansas) was homing in on the signal of the college's radio station somewhere around 3 o'clock in the morning. Realizing that my methods of navigating the vast agricultural plateau in the middle of the night needed all the help it could get, I tuned into 98.3. Finding my way through a static-filled sermon delivered by a French-sounding prelate, the signal suddenly became clear for a performance of Mendelssohn's "Ave Maria". "Ahh," I assured myself, "all shall be well. Beauty shall be my beacon to truth and goodness." I finally arrived in pitch black and found my way to the room designated to me by the house father of the dormitory whence I was staying. Dragging my bare essentials, I scaled the steps through much construction (the college is growing, Deo gratias) and upon entering my room was greeted with two surprises -

    1) A crusader's sword leaning against the window sill (which I didn't dare use, hence the subtitle of this chapter), and
    2) AIR CONDITIONING. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

    I slept the Sleep of the Righteous before waking up to the chime of the chapel bell for the 7 am mass the next morning. I walked down two flights of stairs to the chapel below me (St. Mary's has their chapel in the first floor of one of the dormitories - more on that later) to attend the first Low Mass I've attended with more than a hundred people since I was a teacher in a Society School way back. Afterwards, following the directions of the house father, I made my way over to the school commissary and then to the auditorium, whence began the brilliance that is the Society Music Conference.

    REPERTOIRE:
    I must say - I was pleasantly surprised with the music chosen for this conference:

    Nicholas Wilton, Missa Brevis
    Josquin des Pres, Ave Maria Virgo Serena
    Cardoso, Salve Regina
    Durufle, Ubi Caritas (full version!)
    Hassler, Dixit Maria

    Part of me thought that there would be no way to sing all of the music - and we almost didn't - but lo and behold, all the pieces were covered and sung. Except for the Hassler . . . almost! Which, being dropped from the Mass due to time concerns, Yours Truly brought it up at the Conference's conclusion that we sing it as a sort of 'farewell anthem'. I mean, you can't sing TOO MUCH at a musician's conference, can you?

    PROS
    The youth of the organizers of this conference is inspiring. Miss Brittany Walter, chief conference organizer, is directrix of the childrens' choir at the parish, as well as a trained music teacher in the Feierabend Method - in addition to being a student at the college.

    The original priest-organizer, the somewhat-recently-ordained Fr. Paul-Isaacs Franks, is a graduate of the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. Unfortunately, he couldn't make it this year since he is cycling across the United Kingdom in order to raise funds for his parish in Wichita. I do have fond memories of meeting this gentleman at ordinations a few years back, as he was playing guitar at one of many bonfires the evening after the ceremony. I suggested, somewhat facetiously, that he play "Eidelweiss", to which he consented - but not without coyly requesting that "word of this never makes it way back to 'Uncle Dick'!" In his place was another equally youthful priest, Fr. Patrick Rutledge, in his middle thirties and already head of the priory. It was Father who gave the opening discussion on the importance of music in the liturgy, as well as teaching the Gregorian Propers for the Mass. (His slight Georgia accent gave the proceedings, especially the plainchant, an air of Southern Gothic.)

    The presenter on the use of organ at mass, Miss Elena Baquierzo, is one of the youngest students ever to attend Juilliard for organ study. She comes from a musical family - along with a few of her sisters in attendance, her brother is also organist and seminarian for the Society Seminary in Argentina. Her presentation was the most practical and informative of those presented over the week, especially on the subject of proper registrations for different parts of the Mass and other services.

    Truth be told, there were young adults across the board attending as well, including a great deal of young married couples and some of the Franciscan sisters. Mealtimes and (Dr. Childs's favorite) cocktail hours were, after a few icebreakers, a fine scene for conviviality and conversation between attendees.

    CONS

    As this was the first conference of its type being put on by the Society, and as one of the original presenters had to drop out, there was unfortunately a lack of unity of vision, and this came out in quite a few of the presentations. One of the most prominent - and I find this to be a baffling example of cognitive dissonance amongst traditionalists in general - was the general aversion to anything of a French nature. Miss Baquierzo, for example, warned against choosing preludes or postludes of a French Romantic nature - then proceeded to play a piece by Cesar Franck. To say nothing of the fact that they forget from whence the founder of Society came!

    But matters of disagreement came up even between the presenters. Another example. The main host of the week, Dr. Andrew Childs [Professor of Music at St. Mary's and a bit of a soi-desant "Golden Boy"] gave quite a few lectures, ranging in topic from the 'right' dynamics for a liturgical choir, resources for quality music, and proper vocal technique for singers. All very good presentations, with quite a smattering of good advice to be taken away. However, the last-mentioned talk mentioned how vocal coaches could come up with 'tricks' and helpful practices' that would aid in the production of sound. This was given before the by the director of music for the old Society seminary, Professor David Lee Echelard, a man who in my opinion, must've banked on getting his job because he was the spitting image of J.S. Bach. Even down to his hairstyling. I'm not joking.. He proceeded to demonstrate all of the little 'tricks' that Dr. Childs had argued against. (In honesty, Prof. Echelard's discussion was amusing for its relative incomprehensibility - lots of pops and whistles. While all of the conferences given this week had an air of haphazard, I can't in all truth remember anything of what Prof. Echelard had to say, except that he was enthusiastic. Which counts for something!)

    And then - there's the eccentricities for which our beloved Society has become (in)famous for. There are Prof. Echelard's coiffures, as mentioned above. Then there's the anecdotal evidence. One young couple shared stories of how their loft had a stanchion and velvet rope placed to separate the women's sections from the men's sections - "because that's what Musica Sacra had legislated in 1958", according to their director. And then there was the aged usher who followed immediately upon our closing hymn for the Assumption with a shouted reminder that the room was to be cleared immediately in order to tear down the seats (mass being held in the gym due to the size - 4,000 congregants).
    Thanked by 1Incardination
  • StimsonInRehabStimsonInRehab
    Posts: 1,570
    IN CONCLUSION (cause my original article was too damn long)

    I left the largely deserted campus the day after the Assumption, having bid farewell to friends old and new. It's a rare chance to sit in on an undertaking 'from the inception' but such was what I had done at this very conference. I've come away thinking and hoping that it might be a learning experience for both attendees and presenters. As I'm sure, any first attempt at this sort of thing will involve a lack of refinement, so to speak. I couldn't help but wonder if CMAA Colloquiums, in their nascent stage, weren't akin to this outing. Which serves as a beacon of hope. One looks forward to many more of these conferences by the Society, to promote a higher standard of music in their chapels.

    And a final aside - they really should do music for more than just the Mass. They celebrate Compline every day, as well as First and Second Vespers for Major Feasts - why not have Solemn Vespers? Hopefully, once they get more liturgical 'manpower' on board, this will become a reality. It would be a shame to miss the opportunity of exposing these beautiful services to faithful Catholics who don't regularly get the chance to see them.

    Okay. Now I'm off my soapbox.

    ***

    I've been inspired to finally getting around and concluding this post of mine as promised, both to fill you in on last year's conference, as well as to inform you of news for this years SSPX Music Conference, again at St. Mary's, August 11-15.

    This year the topic will be more specialized: the works of William Byrd, which will conclude with Solemn High Mass and Byrd's Mass for Three Voices - and I'll wager a life's supply of Nutella that they'll be singing his Ave Verum Corpus as well . . . but hopefully some other fun Byrd pieces besides!

    Anyhow, I've received words from the coordinators that this year's conference is in danger due to the fact that they don't have their quota signed up for attendees.

    So if you know of ANYONE who likes Sacred Music and supports the mission of the SSPX, please have them look into joining us for a week of great liturgical music with like-minded friends. I've attached their brochure. God bless, and here's my (much belated) original article above.
    Thanked by 1Incardination
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,099
    I have given up attending retreats since the distinction between a "retreat" and a "rout" is so slight as to often not be evident. Then there is the thought of exchanging interacting with one group of insufferable people I can't stand for another not any better. Hope this retreat was an exception.
    Thanked by 1StimsonInRehab
  • StimsonInRehabStimsonInRehab
    Posts: 1,570
    Charles, I've lucked out in that the retreats I've attended have, for the most part, been of like-minded people who desire a chance to talk shop, perform music usually outside their parish repertoires, and otherwise recharge their batteries. You do learn to be selective in which retreats you choose, though!
    Thanked by 1CharlesW