Sunday, December 25, 2011

Getting to Know Franck and Vierne

Happy New Year to all! It promises to be an adventurous year, full of many challenges, changes, and decisions.  My strategy is to take them one step at a time. I go back to school on Sunday to complete the last semester of my senior year, giving my senior recital in April and graduating in May -- most certainly an idea that takes some getting used to.
I'm currently beginning work on my music history research paper (yes, one week before school starts the books for my research, which I ordered through interlibrary loan, finally decided to come in, haha). Nevertheless, already I am becoming intrigued. It's fascinating getting to know the character and personalities of the composers whose music I have been learning and performing over the past year -- Louise Vierne, Cesar Franck, Charles-Marie Widor. My paper is going to focus mainly on the work of the heavily influential Romantic organ-builder, Aristide Cavaille-Coll, a Frenchman who revived the art of organ-building and had a major impact on the compositions of the Romantic period. I'm just beginning to learn about him.
Cesar Franck,
French Romantic organist and composer
Meanwhile I am becoming acquainted with Vierne, Widor, and Franck. Franck and Widor both taught at the Paris Conservatory, and both were teachers of Louis Vierne, a late Romantic period composer and the organist at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Vierne idolized Cesar Franck from a very young age. He began studying composition with the organ professor prior to entering the Conservatory. No sooner had Vierne entered the Conservatory then Franck passed away, devastating the young Vierne. It was Widor who was selected to assume Franck's position after his death. Widor was a major contrast to the personality of his predecessor, though his skills as a teacher and his care and concern for his students were equal. Franck was challenging but very sweet, nurturing the individuality of each student and placing a great deal of emphasis on the art of improvisation. Widor, on the other hand, was much stricter, focusing on technique before even considering improvisation. Vierne grew to appreciate and love Widor, but Franck always held a special place in his heart. Here are some passages on the relationship between Vierne and Franck that I found particularly sweet. Vierne's uncle and aunt also worked at the Conservatory and had extolled Franck's virtues to their young nephew, while also keeping Franck posted on the progress of the budding musician. Vierne gives an account of his first meeting with Franck at age fifteen.

"How pale you are, my dear child. Do I frighten you so very much?" (Vierne had been born legally blind and was an extremely sensitive child).
"Oh yes, Monsieur Franck."
"Because you are a genius."
"Genius? Who told you that?"
"My Uncle Charles and everybody here. I heard you at Saint Clotilde when I was ten, and I nearly died from happiness."
"Because it was too beautiful. I wanted it never to end."
"As beautiful as that? And why did you think it beautiful?"
"Because it sang. It took hold of my heart. It hurt me and made me feel good at the same time. It transported me to a place filled with such music."
"In that place, my dear child, the music is better. Here, we learn. There, we shall know how. . . . Next year you will begin studying the organ. Apply yourself with all your might, and when the time is ripe I shall take you into my class at the Conservatory."

Louis Vierne, late Romantic composer
and organist at Notre Dame Cathedral
Uncle Charles had told Vierne of the beauteous music Franck made upon the organ, but even he could not prepare Vierne for the pain and rapture he felt when hearing the organist play at St. Clotilde. "Certain melodic turns, certain harmonies made me feel a kind of nervous malaise that was at the same time voluptuous pleasure. I could not keep back the tears." Vierne felt "A vague presentiment of the true purpose of music." At age 10 Vierne told his Uncle Charles, "It is beautiful because it is beautiful. . . . I do not know why. It is so beautiful that I would like to do as much and then die just after." (Vierne's words eventually came true, as he died moments after giving his last organ recital).

Upon Franck's death, Vierne struggled with the prospect of studying at the Conservatory without his beloved mentor. However, Vierne remembered, "To serve- [Cesar] Franck had once said, after an especially happy lesson- to serve always, in spite of everything, no matter what might happen, to love God, and next the love of God to love one's art, mindful of the good it could achieve, this Franck announced as his creed, which Vierne was to hand down in turn. 'These thoughts gave me courage. I was filled with elation at the idea of joining battle with routine, officialdom, the powers that be, of avenging the lack of appreciation, the jeers of which he had been the object.' To do less was cowardly betrayal."
This courage was tried and found true under the direction of Widor, Franck's successor. But Widor shall be left for another post. 

In the meantime, some exciting news -- I think I may be organistically related to J.S. Bach! I was doing a little digging, and some of my research demonstrates that I may be able to trace my line of organ teachers to Marcel Dupre and on to Vierne, Franck, and Widor, who if you follow his line of organ teachers far enough, reaches all the way to J.S. Bach! Oh joy! Rapture! 

Happy Christmas!

Wishing all of my followers a blessed, beautiful Christmas!

Original artwork by Mary Sullivan
O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord.

music by Morten Lauridsen sung at 
Westminster Cathedral, London 
for the Christmas Midnight Mass 2009

(Someday I aspire to have my own Church choir and my own Christmas Mass to plan for where we can perform this piece - this one or Louis de Victoria's version, or perhaps both!)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Take Him, Earth, for Cherishing - Howells

Take Him, Earth, For Cherishing is is a 4th-century poem by Aurelius Clemens Prudentius, translated by Helen Waddells. In 1963 British composer Herbert Howells was commissioned to set it to music for the memorial service in honor of John F. Kennedy. It is a beautiful memorial in honor of a departed loved one. Howells himself had lost his 9 year old son Michael to polio in 1935. He commemorated the anniversary of his son's birthday and his death in his journal every year. I am certain that he drew heavily from the loss of his son in composing the piece, as many of the musical compositions following Michael's death were deeply impacted by Howells' loss. 
Other influences on Howells seemed to have included British composer Vaughan Williams and early English choral music. I have recently begun researching Howells' in an attempt to explore his compositional styles while on break -- at least until some of my books on French Romantic organs come in at the library. I would like to get started on my music history paper before I return for my last semester. But the interlibrary loan system tends to be rather slow these days, so I'm not sure how much I'll be able to accomplish. Until then, I shall enjoy Howells, apply for organ competitions, and explore graduate school options. I am searching for a good recording of his setting of Take Him, Earth. I am enthralled by his setting of the first stanza -- what a beautifully haunting, English melody. I get a little lost towards the middle, but I think with a better recording and a few more listens I will quickly warm to the rest of it. In the meantime, check out the recording on youtube by the Boston Choral Ensemble.
Tombstone in the Zentralfriedhoff
(Central Cemetery), Vienna
Take him, earth, for cherishing,
to thy tender breast receive him.
Body of a man I bring thee,
noble even in its ruin.
Once was this a spirit's dwelling,
by the breath of God created.
High the heart that here was beating,
Christ the prince of all its living.
Guard him well, the dead I give thee,
not unmindful of his creature
shall he ask it: he who made it
symbol of his mystery.
Comes the hour God hath appointed
to fulfil the hope of men,
then must thou, in very fashion,
what I give, return again.
Not though ancient time decaying
wear away these bones to sand,
ashes that a man might measure
in the hollow of his hand:
Not though wandering winds and idle,
drifting through the empty sky,
scatter dust was nerve and sinew,
is it given to man to die.
Once again the shining road
leads to ample Paradise;
open are the woods again,
that the serpent lost for men
Take, O take him, mighty leader,
take again thy servant's soul.
Grave his name, and pour the fragrant
balm upon the icy stone.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

What Christians can Learn from an Atheist

Christopher Hitchens: God's Favorite Atheist?
Christopher Hitchens. Born 13 April 1949. Died 15 December 2011.  I was not familiar with this man until today, only a few days after his passing, however after reading a few articles on the man reflecting on his life and his zealous atheism, I am uncertain as to whether or not I would like him or if we would have been friends. He certainly seemed as if he was quite a likeable character even in Catholic and Christian circles. I think I would have at least held a considerable amount of respect for him.  I would also like to think I understand at least some of the reasons behind his disbelief. None of these reasons may have been decisive factors, but they certainly seemed as if they were contributors to his self-dubbed "anti-theism."  I would like to discuss two significant points that Hitchens made in a recent interview and their significance in evangelization. Hitchens was wrong about many things, but he was right on these two points. In an article titled Hitchens: God's Favorite Atheist? posted on the World Net Daily, author Art Moore describes an interview he had with Hitchens.

Noting that Christian evangelists say they are motivated by a desire to please God, I asked Hitchens – pointing to his "zeal" for his message – what motivates him.
"Well, intellectual scorn, really. Frankly," he said. "A sense of superiority, arrogance."
He quickly made it clear that he was speaking for himself.
"It's a feeling of just intense irritation that people are allowed to say that they are people of faith. They feel that by making this statement they have added to the argument," he said. "By announcing they believe something for no reason at all, without any evidence, they don't contribute to the discussion."
(Read the full article here:Christopher Hitchens: God's favorite atheist?

Christina's World, Andrew Wyeth.
This part of the interview reminded me of a point that my ethics professor, Professor Javier Carreno, made on the first day of class last spring during my studies abroad in Austria as part of the Franciscan University Austria Program. He told us about a fashion competition that took place a few years ago during which one of the judges, a homosexual, inquired as to the reason behind the traditional views on marriage held by one of the contestants who was a Christian. The contestant responded that she believed that marriage was between a man and a woman because that was what she was raised to believe. She had been taught that her whole life. The judge replied that her reasoning was stupid. When he finishing the story, I thought my ethics professor was going to uphold the bravery of the contestant for standing up for what she believed. However, my professor said that in a way the judge was right. The reason that the girl had given for her belief was stupid. It's not enough to say that you believe something because you have been taught it your whole life. This is poor reasoning, if it could be called reasoning at all. One needs to actively wrestle with their beliefs and either reject them or take them on as their own.  Christians, especially Catholics, need to take responsibility for their faith through ongoing conversion, forming themselves in their faith through philosophy and theology. Hitchens called attention to this fault in certain Christians who simply say they have faith, and think that this simple statement is good enough. Hitchens had every right to voice his irritation with such people. Catholics need to be capable of answering not only for what we believe but why we believe it.

But he said one of his "big quarrels with the Anglican church, the one in which I was baptized, is that it got rid of the King James Bible for the most part and the old hymnbook."
"They now sing and read these banal versions of [liturgy], which I used to enjoy," he said.
"I now go to an Anglican or Episcopalian ceremony, and I'm just horrified by what they've lost," he said, "what they threw away when it was unarguably a huge, aesthetic advantage."

Hitchens called attention to the need for beauty as well as truth in Catholicism. The significance of beauty in the conversion of the human person is often neglected when it comes to evangelization . . . at the expense of souls like Hitchens'. Beautiful art, beautiful music, beautiful language are what Hitchens calls "a huge aesthetic advantage." Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky said once, "Beauty will save the world." Pope Benedict XVI has called beauty the language of the human heart.  He says, "The encounter with the beautiful can become the wound of an arrow that strikes the heart and in this way opens our eyes so that we can see the truth more clearly." Note that Hitchens specifically mentions the language of the Anglican liturgy and the music. How we pray and what music we sing at the liturgy does in fact matter. Dr. Peter Kreeft gave voice to this in a lecture he recently gave at Franciscan University titled, "How to Win the Culture War," where he mentioned an instance in which he had accompanied a Muslim friend to Mass one day.  The Muslim said afterwards that while the beauty of the architecture had lifted his soul upwards, the language of the liturgy had left his soul horizontal and flat. In the same talk, Kreeft spoke of two separate atheists he knew who converted to Catholicism after hearing the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. For some people, it takes more than just the naked truth to draw them into the fold. It takes the harmonies of Faure's Requiem, the stirring use of shadow and light in a Caravaggio painting, the lofty spires of a cathedral. Benedict XVI calls sacred music "an audible and perceptible rendering of the truth of our faith. In listening to sacred music - suddenly we feel: it is true!" This is a principle that applies to all forms of art.  
Although the Catholic Church has always advocated the use of beautiful art as an integral part of evangelization, her support has not always been properly  represented in the liturgy or recognized by bishops, priests, and laity. Fortunately, this is beginning to change. With the arrival of the new translation, the language of the Roman Rite has improved immensely.  Through the work of our beloved Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI, organizations such as the Church Music Association of America and the sacred music programs of Franciscan University and Ave Maria University, sacred music is beginning to make a come back in the Church. These institutions and programs are helping artists and musicians to recognize the need to use their gifts for the conversion of souls. They are shown that it is not enough simply to create art. Rather, they must be taught the principles of beauty behind it so that they can create art and music containing the qualities of universality, goodness of form, and sanctity. I conclude with a passage from Bl. John Paul II's Letter to Artists

Statue of St. Paul at St. Paul's Outside the Walls Basilica, Rome.

 "Mine is an invitation to rediscover the depth of the spiritual and religious dimension which has been typical of art in its noblest forms in every age. It is with this in mind that I appeal to you, artists of the written and spoken word, of the theatre and music, of the plastic arts and the most recent technologies in the field of communication. I appeal especially to you, Christian artists: I wish to remind each of you that, beyond functional considerations, the close alliance that has always existed between the Gospel and art means that you are invited to use your creative intuition to enter into the heart of the mystery of the Incarnate God and at the same time into the mystery of man."

Hitchens may be counted among the victims of the rational and aesthetic impoverishments occurring within Christianity today, but I am praying and hoping that such times are coming to an end. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Delights of Drawing Again

The semester is nearly over and soon I shall have time for posting and blogging nonsense. But until then, I thought I would post a few drawings I accomplished for my drawing class this semester. The class has proved to be a wonderful refresher. I used to draw a great deal in high school but with the dawning of college and my conversion to a musician, the other fine arts I enjoy had to be put to the side. It was a pleasant diversion to be able to have a class where instead of writing papers or reading assignments I was able to take up a pencil and attempt to create something beautiful. The first is a drawing of the woman of Samaria at the well. I call it, "It was about the Sixth Hour."

The second is a still life of the torso of a cello with a decorative trumpet and a piece of draped fabric. I was delighted with the way that the cello's reflective surface transmitted onto the paper. I didn't think it would show as well as it does!

 The third is a section of a portrait that I had to do. I was not pleased with the way in which the entire portrait turned out, but there were elements of it that I liked, such as the way that the eyes, nose, and mouth turned out.

So there are just a few things that have been occupying my time as of late. I just received more of my drawings back today, so I shall be posting more of them on my blog within the next couple of weeks, along with updates on the beauties and trials of the semester. But first, to conquer my finals and an organ studio recital! 

Friday, November 25, 2011


Illustration by Rob Woodrum,
Margery William's The Velveteen Rabbit
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
“I suppose you are real?” said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.
“The Boy’s Uncle made me Real,” he said. “That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
- from The Velveteen Rabbit  by Margery Williams, 1922

This was one of my favorite books during my childhood. I did not return to this book until this past summer when I read it to my sister as a bedtime story and was moved to tears by the tragic beauty of it. I had forgotten what a bittersweet tale Margery Williams' book was. It is certainly on of those children stories that C.S. Lewis would have designated as a "good" children's story, as it is appropriate for adults as well as children in its beautiful message. The book follows the relationship of a toy rabbit and his loving child owner from its beginning to its conclusion. The rabbit becomes the child's favorite plaything only to eventually be cast aside. 
The velveteen rabbit shows where true beauty really lies -- not in appearance, for the longer he is loved by the boy the more tattered and worn he appears. On the contrary, Real lies in loving until it hurts, and being loved by another. The same can be said of people -- the people who dare to live and to love, even if it hurts. These people love come what may -- partings, illness, death, hurt. REAL people, as described by the Skin Horse, are those who have been tattered and torn yet still dare to live and to dream. They have been hurt deeply and they have loved deeply, their hands are gnarly and wrinkled from caressing the heads of children and wiping away tears and sweat. Their joints are achy from lifting a helping hand to assist both neighbor and stranger, from dancing with their spouse, parent, child, from rocking children and grandchildren to sleep. Their mouths are lined from years of smiles, laughter, singing, speaking words of blessing and encouragement. Real people are those who have the courage to get up to face the mundane tasks of life and to sacrifice for their loved ones, to speak the truth and to live it. After all, the fate of the rabbit himself may actually be similar to the one we will experience at the end of our life. Perhaps it may be said that after our death in eternity we shall "become Real." Perhaps that is where life truly begins. If this is true, I hope that one day that I shall, like the velveteen rabbit, become Real. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Happy Feast Day to St. Luke!

I still have 43 minutes to celebrate the feast day of St. Luke, so I thought I would do it by putting up a photo of his attributed masterpiece, Our Lady of Czostachowa, one of the Black Madonnas. According to legend, this beautiful image of the Madonna and Child was painted by St. Luke on the wood of a table built by Christ. The image has been nearly stolen by pagans and desecrated, yet she is still there, gesturing to her son. Some of the desecrations are still miraculously visible, namely the marks on her face. The monks tried to repair the image but any paint that was applied to the area refused to remain. She is known as the Queen and the Protector of Poland for saving the monastery of Jasna Gora from Swedish invaders in the mid-1600s. Jasna Gora is now her home, and I had the privilege of visiting her in February 2011. Ever since that visit I have had a very strong devotion to her, and I have St. Luke to thank for it! Pray for us, St. Luke, and pray for the artists and the doctors of the world!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

On Libraries, Books, and Kindles

Danielle: It makes me want to cry. 
Henry: Pick one. 
Danielle: I could no sooner choose a favorite star in the heavens. 
Henry: What is it that touches you so? 
Danielle: I suppose it is because when I was young my father would stay up late and read to me. He was addicted to the written word and I would fall asleep listening to the sound of his voice. 
Henry: What sort of books? 
Danielle: Science, philosophy... I suppose they remind me of him. He died when I was eight. Utopia was the last book he brought home. 
Henry: Which explains why you quote it. 
Danielle: I would rather hear his voice again than any sound in the world. 
[Henry smiles, then the smile fades and he begins walking down the stairs away from Danielle] 
Danielle: Is something wrong? 
Henry: [turns to face her] In all my years of study, not one tutor ever demonstrated the passion you have shown me in the last two days. You have more conviction in one memory than I have... in my entire being. 
[laughs slightly, walks away, Danielle follows] 
Danielle: Your Highness, if there is anything I have said or done... 
Henry: Please... don't. It's not you.

THis is one of my favorite scenes in the chick flick Ever After, where Prince Henry takes Danielle to the library at a nearby Franciscan friary. I usually tend to dislike chick flicks, but this one carries a special place in my heart. First of all, it's a fairy tale, a Cinderella-retelling, so some of the outrageous things that occur like falling in love within a matter of days doesn't bother me. Second, it's a great portrayal of what a female role in a relationship should be: Danielle is confident in herself, she possesses self-knowledge and this is part of what draws Henry to her. She calls Henry on to become a better person while not being overbearing, and he rises to the occasion. Plus the scenery and the costumes are just beautiful, there's two scenes of beautiful chant and polyphony, there's Leonardo DaVinci (he's the fairy godmother character, LOL), there's sports, true love! What more can you ask for? ;-)
Anyway... I'm bringing up this whole topic because today during the liturgical conference held on campus, Dr. Bergsma gave a lecture on the nuptial and liturgical orientation of salvation history. During the section on the bridegroom imagery of the Old Testament, Bergsma compared the bridegroom Isaac to the well-beloved, popular protagonist, Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. He specifically mentioned the scene where Lizzie begins falling in love with Mr. Darcy after seeing his magnificent estate. Bergsma said she was drawn to his wealth, but I disagree. Wealth was a part of it, for sure -- a woman likes to see that a man can provide for a wife and a family. It's a definite plus! But it was more so the fact that it now becomes apparent to Lizzie that Darcy is a man of taste and a man of class. The scene in Ever After is a bit different from this incident with Lizzie and Darcy. At Danielle and Henry's first encounter, it seems that Henry doesn't have much appreciation for literature, or at least not for St. Thomas More's Utopia. But his lakc of appreciation is what makes their little field trip to the library even sweeter, in a way, because he's trying to branch out and appreciate her interests. He's trying to gain some "class"-standing in her eyes, and I think it does work. Personally, it would have been rather difficult for me to resist Henry's intentions if I were taken on such a date: books, Franciscan friars, a beautiful cloister, and chant, beautiful chant. I mean, what's not to like? Especially if you're a nerd like me? FYI to all ye men in want of a wife, women do appreciate men with class, even if the women themselves don't appreciate it! ;-)
And another point : I didn't intend to add this point but I'm going to anyway, a plug for books vs. kindles that was made by roommate and one of my best friends who is also an English major. Now, I'm not going to say that kindles should be obliterated from the face of the earth because they do have their uses and their advantages -- however, I DO think that the world is going to experience a grave impoverishment if books and book binding are lost for the sake of creative destruction, and I think this scene and a similar scene in Beauty and the Beast prove this. What do you think would have happened if Prince Henry had taken Danielle to a digital library? Would it have been as moving an experience? In the Disney classic Beauty and the Beast when the Beast shows Belle his beautiful library and gives it to her, do you think she would have been as impressed?  There is something about the physicality of a thing that rings true within our souls. It's similar to how we are beings composed of body and soul, physical as well as spiritual. I suppose it is similar to the experience of going to see the Messiah performed live as opposed to listening to a recording of it from itunes. It's beautiful and it can still move you, but it's not quite the same as being in the concert hall and thrilling at the "Alleluia" chorus. Similar to a book vs. a kindle: the kindle still communicates the words to you, but it's not quite the same as smelling the pages of the book and feeling the cover between your hands. It's a more personal experience! It will be a sorry existence that bids farewell to the physicality of a book.

I conclude with a quote about libraries:

“A library is a good place to go when you feel unhappy, for there, in a book, you may find encouragement and comfort. A library is a good place to go when you feel bewildered or undecided, for there, in a book, you may have your question answered. Books are good company, in sad times and happy times, for books are people - people who have managed to stay alive by hiding between the covers of a book.” --E.B. White

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Dandelions or Roses?

This semester I am currently taking Principles of Biblical Studies I with Dr. John Bergsma, one of the highly acclaimed theology professors at Franciscan University of Steubenville. Much of our homework assignments consist of reading passages from the Bible, and for this semester will be limited to mainly the Old Testament. This week we were required to read Genesis 1-11. For each reading assignment we have to write a one page theological reflection on something that struck us about the passage.
The most intriguing to me of what I read for my Scripture assignment this week was the story of Cain and Abel. Both Cain and Abel brought offerings or sacrifices to the Lord. Each had a different occupation - Abel was a shepherd, Cain a farmer. Each offered a sacrifice according to their trade: Abel offered lambs, Cain the fruits of his harvest. According to the account in Genesis, Abel "Brought some of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions." In other words, he brought his finest lambs to be sacrificed, giving his best when it came to divine worship. We are not told the precise nature of Cain's offering in the Scripture passage.  However, I think we can gather from what the account doesn't say is that it wasn't exactly spectacular. There was something very wrong with his offering, whether it was solely interior, or what was interior was reflected in the exterior of the offering. What Cain offered may have been done in a half-hearted or lackadaisical manner. His offering may have had all the trimmings, but his heart did not have the proper disposition -- the disposition of humility, reverence, charity: true adoration. Abel's offering was praiseworthy both in its interior and exterior. He gave his all to God, offering his whole self, which was reflected in his sacrifice. He offered both a beautiful soul and a beautiful sacrifice. This is a lesson we need to keep in mind when we participate at Mass, particularly when we are assisting in a liturgical ministry. Our hearts and minds should be properly prepared to receive Our Savior in the Eucharist -- we must not only be in the state of grace but also strive to offer ourselves to the Father (this is the essence of active participation in the liturgy) as if this is our first, last, and only Mass. But the Mass must also reflect such a disposition in its exterior as well. We cannot afford to be lax or lazy in the greatest act we can give to God. On the contrary, we must give to God our very best -- the best we can afford. This should be reflected in the art which adorns the church and the liturgy, the music, the attire we wear to Mass, even the very manner in which the text of the Mass is said. Not just any style of art, music, or clothing will do when it comes to showing our love for God. There must be in everything a sense of devotion, honor, reverence. We do not give our loved ones dandelions for Valentine's Day, but the best roses we can afford. A similar attitude needs to be reflected in our liturgy as well as in our hearts. Don't be Cain and give God dandelions! Be Abel and give God the loveliest roses money can buy!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Working with a White Canvas

Moving into a white space every year I return to school is always an enticing and fun experience for me. There are few things I like better about college than to be able to express myself through my dorm room. The school year is a great time for a fresh start, a clean slate, and so is my living space! This year I am living in an apartment with three other girls, so there is much more white space to fiddle around with, as well as other opinions to consider at least in the public spaces, although this shouldn't be too difficult as we seem to have relatively similar tastes. 
My room is not finished yet -- there are more things I want to do with the walls and the decor, but it is off to a great start, and I think what I have up will do for now until I find a few more works of art and quotes to add to my collection. This year I put up a lot of the postcards and artwork I collected during my studies abroad in Europe and the British Isles. I have found it often is very hard to remember that I even went to Austria -- it is so removed from anything else that I have ever experienced, that it almost feels like another world altogether. I can certainly relate what the Pevensie children in The Chronicles of Narnia felt like when they return from Aslan's magical land to reality. I do not think that this is a bad thing. There is a need to remember that it happened, but there is also a need to look forward, to look ahead to what else God has in store for  you. It was a beautiful experience to study abroad in Austria, but there are more to be had and there is beauty to be found in so many places, persons, and things. The world can be a blank canvas, a white dorm room, but if you see it through the correct lens (with a Catholic perspective, seeing the beauty and light of grace, seeing everything as God sees it), there is so much color, beauty, and light to be seen! 
So here's a quick look at my room and what I'm doing with the place. More photos of the rest of our "bachelorette" pad are forthcoming! 

My desk!

Travel photos and postcards and my nerdy organ calender...

My makeshift closet!

Some of my favorite things in my room... Hopefully they'll help me study!

My funky glitter lamp and my Mozart bust from Vienna.

More Austrian adventure treasures in my holy corner...

Here's my lov-erly wall! So artsy and purdy...

Friday, August 19, 2011

Papa Benedetto "Playing" With His Food!

Stumbled upon this today when I was browsing the web. Can I just say our Holy Father is so cute? I want to give him a piano cake!  And did you know that his favorite composer is Mozart? And here is an excerpt from his address to the professors of Spain during World Youth Day. As a Dominican, I really appreciated it: first off, because it's about truth, and Catholics are all about truth; secondly, because we are all called to be catechists in some way, shape, or form, whether professionally or not. And thirdly, it's Pope Benedict, so you can't go wrong!

"I urge you, then, never to lose that sense of enthusiasm and concern for truth. Always remember that teaching is not just about communicating content, but about forming young people. You need to understand and love them, to awaken their innate thirst for truth and their yearning for transcendence. Be for them a source of encouragement and strength. For this to happen, we need to realize in the first place that the path to the fullness of truth calls for complete commitment: it is a path of understanding and love, of reason and faith. We cannot come to know something unless we are moved by love; or, for that matter, love something which does not strike us as reasonable. “Understanding and love are not in separate compartments: love is rich in understanding and understanding is full of love” (Caritas in Veritate, 30). If truth and goodness go together, so too do knowledge and love. This unity leads to consistency in life and thought, that ability to inspire demanded of every good educator."

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Hand of God in Beauty and Learning to Trust

" ... The evening was bathed in a wonderful silence - and there was a sudden rift in the curdled clouds westward, and a lovely, pale, pinky-green lake of sky with a new moon in it.
"Emily stood and looked up at it with clasped hands and her little black head upturned. She must go home and write down a description of it in the yellow account book, where the last thing written had been, 'Mike's Biograffy.' It would hurt her with its beauty until she wrote it down. Then she would read it to Father. She must not forget how the tips of the trees on the hill came out like fine black lace across the edge of the pinky-green sky.
"And then, for one glorious, supreme moment, came 'the flash.'
"Emily called it that, although she felt that the name didn't exactly describe it. It couldn't be described -- not even to Father, who always seemed a little puzzled by it. Emily never spoke of it to any one else.
"It had always seemed to Emily, ever since she could remember, that she was very, very near a world of wonderful beauty. Between it and herself hung only a thin curtain; she could never draw the curtain aside-- but sometimes, just for a moment, a wind fluttered it and then it was as if she caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond -- only a glimpse -- and heard a note of unearthly music.
"This moment came rarely -- went swiftly, leaving her breathless with the inexpressible delight of it. She could never recall it -- never summon it -- never pretend it; but the wonder of it stayed with her for days. It never came twice with the same thing. Tonight the dark boughs against that far-off sky had given it. It had come with a high, wild note of wind in the night, with a shadow wave over a ripe field, with a greybird lighting on her window-sill in a storm, with the singing of "Holy, holy, holy" in church, with a glimpse of the kitchen fire when she had come home on a dark autumn night, with the spirit-like blue of ice palms on a twilit pane, with a felicitous new word when she was writing down a "description" of something. And always when the flash came to her Emily felt that life was a wonderful, mysterious thing of persistent beauty."   
- L.M. Montgomery, Chapter 1, Emily of New Moon.

A sunset in Assisi, March 2011
L.M. Montgomery's Emily of New Moon Trilogy is one of my favorite pieces of literature. I was smitten with the series' heroine by the first chapter when I read this passage. I found in Emily a kindred spirit in the wonder she holds towards beauty or what she calls "the flash." I don't know if this is simply an artist's quirk, or the blessing of being a seeker of beauty, but I definitely understood what she was trying to communicate in this little passage! I experienced it so many times in Europe: experiencing a Novus Ordo Mass said "ad orientum" in Latin in the Chapel of Our Lady of Czestochowa complete with Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony; enjoying a sunset by a castle wall in Assisi; going to Vespers at the London Oratory; visiting the Basilica of St. Cecilia in Rome. But rather than calling it "the flash," I would call it "the hand of God." To me, the flash is when the curtain between this world and the Beatific Vision is lifted just enough that we get a glimpse of what heaven might be like.
One of the more recent times when I felt this thrill of beauty was when I first listened to the third movement of Dr. Paul M. Weber's composition, "Wilt Thou Forgive." Based on John Donne's poem of the same name, the piece beautifully depicts through music the emotions of a troubled soul as it poses questions to God about whether or not God will forgive him of his sins even though he continues to fall into them. The first and second movement are plagued by dissonance and unrest. The third movement, the text of the last stanza of Donne's poem, begins dark and foreboding, imitating the chant-like melody of the first movement in the cello's opening line as the author expresses the unrest of his soul, "I have a sin of fear that when I have spun my last thread, I shall perish on the shore..." But then the piece takes on a decidedly different feeling. These dark, fearful thoughts begin to disappear when the oboe comes in, like the first golden touches of sunrise chasing the night shadows away. The tension builds until the sun bursts onto the horizon with the basses, "But swear by thyself, that at they death thy Son shall shine as He shines now and heretofor..." The soul begins to soar, caught up for a moment in a gust of beauty, and almost touchs heaven! 
However, the piece concludes on an interesting note (no pun intended). The poem ends with the words, "And having done that, Thou hast done: I fear no more." This can be interpreted in a number of ways, depending on the reader, the speaker (if the poem is recited), or in this case, the music. It could be confident, hesitant, or doubtful. In Weber's musical interpretation of the poem, I feel there is a hint of hesitancy, like a small child placing his hand in the hand of a relative he is still learning to trust. There is neither a perfect nor an imperfect authentic cadence to conclude the piece. Rather, the piece ends on a G major chord in a plagal cadence after a series of suspensions.  The speaker has asked God to swear by Himself to save his soul, but he doesn't know that his soul is saved. The salvation of his soul depends on his choice, not God's. And the choice to save one's soul is a constant battle within the human self to forsake our will for the will of God.  God is merciful and forgiving, but we have to make the decision to turn back from our sinful ways and take up our cross. We have to remember that God the Father, like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, will come running the rest of the way to embrace us, and He will sustain us throughout our trials. "My yoke is easy and my burden light." In the words of Fulton Sheen, "The whole cross is easier to carry than a part." Perhaps this is what is being said through the final chords of this movement. We, the small children, have so many times dropped our heavenly Father's hand for some fleeting earthly pleasure. Realizing our error, we have come running back to His mercy in the sacrament of confession. Now we must take our heavenly Father's hand once again and let Him guide us, renouncing our will for His. We are still learning to trust, we haven't made it back to that major I chord yet, but we are learning. "Unless you become like a little child, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven."

(I had no idea I was going to end up on this subject when I began this post, but I'm kinda glad it came out that way. I've been wanting to gush about this piece for a while. I hope you won't be bored by the nerdy commentary. But definitely give the thrid movement a listen; it's a stunningly beautiful piece! Please... pretty please.... with a cherry on top?)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Summer Finds

Hello all! Just got back from vacation at Catholic Familyland! They had some cool new stuff at the bookstore this year, including this lovely holy water font I purchased for the apartment I'm sharing with three other girls this year. You can see a close up of it in the second photo! This is a painting by Bouguereau, I believe, who is known for both his religious and secular art, both of which are wondrously beautiful, but his religious art is absolutely exquisite! I hope it appeals to both my music major roommate and my Dominican roommates with its inclusion of our beloved Mother of the Church and the Infant First Truth.
I also included in the first photo a recent purchase from Amazon: *drum roll, please* The Simple English Propers by Adam Bartlett! This is the music of the Mass, the text of the Mass set to simple chants in English for Catholic parishes all over the English-speaking world! These chants have long been absent from the Mass in many English parishes due to the option in the GIRM for "another suitable song" to take its place - although fortunately the new translation of the GIRM (only recently released) correctly states "another suitable chant" may be substituted. THis is definitely a step in the right direction. But the Propers themselves have a special place in the liturgy, for they are the text of the Mass, integral to the liturgy itself. Thus there is a deep loss when they are omitted. Singing these texts are part of what it means to "Sing THE Mass" vs. "Sing AT Mass." I am hoping that the arrival of this beautiful book will help particularly in this circumstance. Okay, I'll stop preaching now. I am hoping to incorporate these into my 4 pm Sunday Mass Choir this coming semester. I love the cover of this book, though, they did a very nice job with it and the binding. It will look lovely both on and off of my music shelf.

I'll add a couple more photos tomorrow of another lovely find...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Piece of Art and a Quote

A piece of art I studied in my art appreciation class from the Neo-Classical period. I'm afraid I can't remember the title or the artist though. But I still love this piece! I'll add a little quote to it as well, from Madelaine L'Engle. I've read but one book by her, A Wrinkle In Time, an excellent book, although it made a strange movie.

When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability… To be alive is to be vulnerable.   -- Madeleine L’Engle

Friday, July 8, 2011

"The Way of Beauty" & "The Rhythm of Life"

David Clayton, St. Thomas More College of Liberal Arts
It is such a joy for me when I discover a fellow "artist" (I would say musicians also fall under that description) who has been called to serve God through beauty, has answered that call, and has risen above the challenges such a life can encounter. I recently found such a person in David Clayton, iconographer and the Artist-in-Residence and Lecturer in Liberal Arts at St. Thomas More College of Liberal Arts. Clayton's story is intriguing in that he was not originally pursuing a career as an artist. One day a friend asked him if he was happy in his work, to which he replied that he was not, or at least that he could be happier. The friend advised him to instead pursue something that he enjoyed, something to which - if he had so much money he would never have to work again -he would be happy devoting forty hours a week. You see, God wants us to be happy in our work, so long as said work is not inherently bad. He wants you to do something that you love and enjoy, that you are passionate about. Clayton realized this as well, and with his friend's guidance was able to pursue his dream to be an artist. He took risks, but not foolish ones, focusing on one step at a time. He always kept his dream at the forefront. You can read the full story here.
Matthew Kelly,
Author of The Rhythm of Life
Clayton's story and message to people in similar situations, who want to pursue a life as an artists or really any dream, is similar to the message of a book I read during my Christmas break of 2009-2010, The Rhythm of Life by Matthew Kelly.  I received this book as a gift for my high school graduation - the couple that gave it to me gives it to the high school graduates they know as an experiment to see how many of the graduates actually read it! Well, I was one of the graduates that read it - though I'll admit it took me until sophomore year of college to pick it up. But don't let that discourage you from reading it. This book changed my life! Matthew Kelly gives advice similar to that of Clayton's friend - God wants you to be happy and wants you to pursue your dream, to be who God created you to be and to do what you love to do, to thrive on what you do instead of making do with a less-than satisfactory career choice. Kelly's book gives logical steps on how to live this out through a balanced life style, caring for yourself emotionally, physically, spiritually, and intellectually. I learned how to focus on my goals, to prioritize, to pursue what I love, and to be happy and thrive vs. survive. I learned to live my dream: to serve God and people through the art of music.
A word of caution : dreams and goals don't just come to you, they must be pursued. You can wait around all you want and hope that something happens to you so that your dream is realized, but it's not that easy. Dreams and goals take sacrifice and hard work. You will be met with tough choices. The good news is that if it is something you love, then these sacrifices are worth it. And if you keep your ultimate goal at the forefront, you will be able to make your decisions accordingly. The sacrifices make the dream all the more worth it in the end - not to be cliche, but "It's not the destination it's the journey." ;-)
Bl. John Paul II, Pray for us!
The Rhythm of Life teaches you how to live a good, full life. In his Letter to Artists, Bl. John Paul II gives two definitions of artists: there are artists like Clayton who create beautiful things, but the pope also says that every person is called to be an artist in that we are all called to live a life of beauty - we are all called to become saints, to live a beautiful life for God. In short, we are all called to be artists! And Kelly shows you how to do it by helping you become what he terms "The best version of yourself." I am glad to have found someone pursuing the life of an artist in both senses of the word in David Clayton.

Check out David Clayton's website here: