Thursday, September 13, 2012

More Awful Hymns

I hope you all saw this recent article from Crisis Magazine: Paint-by-Number Hymns.

I can't say that I've had the displeasure of singing any of the hymns described in the article, although I have certainly had my fill of Hallmark Card-grade poetry in hymnals.  Go, read, laugh.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Nativity of the Theotokos

Tonight I sang for Divine Liturgy for the Nativity of the Theotokos.  Yes, the feast is tomorrow, but Byzantines count the day from the evening before.  The Proper texts for the feast are beautiful.

The troparion and kontakion:

"Your birth, O Virgin Theotokos, heralded joy to the universe; for from you arose the Sun of Justice, Christ our God.  Removing the curse, he gave the blessing, and by destroying Death, he granted us eternal life.

"At your holy birth, O Immaculate One, Joachim and Anna were freed from the reproach of childlessness and Adam and Eve from the corruption of death.  Your people, delivered from the guilt of their faults, celebrate your birth and cry out: The barren woman gives birth to the Theotokos and the Sustainer of our Life."

The Magnification:

"Extol, extol, O my soul, O my soul, the Virgin Mary born of the barren woman.  Virginity is something foreign to mothers, and childbearing is strange for virgins.  But in you, O Theotokos, both the one and the other have come to pass.  Therefore, we, the peoples of the earth, unceasingly extol you."

The kontakion text, at least part of which is also repeated in the Divine Office for the day, especially touched me.  "Joachim and Anna were freed from the reproach of childlessness."  In the ancient world, childless couples might be considered either cursed by a wicked person, or punished by God for some unknown sin.  So, others might have thought Joachim and Anna were childless because they were sinners, when really it was a natural phenomenon that God chose to override by giving them a child in their old age--and what a child!  The only woman ever born sinless.

These days, many couples really are childless because of their sin--the sin of contraception.  Unlike in the ancient world, these couples choose not to have children.  In many places, they are not reproached for this decision.

However, some couples are childless not because of their own sinful choices, but because of disease or malfunction of the body, or just because, for some reason, God has chosen not to bless them with children.  In the Catholic world, childless couples are sometimes viewed with suspicion.  People make assumptions that the couple are childless because of sin, rather than because of nature.  This is really unfortunate, because often the couple long for children and the insinuation that they have deliberately prevented themselves from having children is hurtful. Yet, infertility is a very personal matter and can be uncomfortable to discuss, so correcting these assumptions is difficult.

Remembering the joy of Joachim and Anna, like the joy of Elizabeth and Zechariah and all the other couples who were thought barren but were blest by God, gives me hope.  Maybe God will bless us with children, and we will no longer suffer the reproach of childlessness.  Or maybe He will bless us in other ways, who knows?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

New Skills

After my experience leading the singing at the Byzantine parish on Sunday, I started thinking.  Always dangerous, I know.  What I started to think was that there should be a merit badge system for church musicians, like scouts.  There should be a set number of badges at each level, earn a new badge and you move up.  We could name the levels after the choir of angels.  The lower level would include things like join the choir and play in the handbell choir.  Somewhere in the middle is planning the music for an ordinary Sunday Mass with choir.  Advanced levels are singing all the Gregorian propers for High Mass all by yourself, acting as cantor for a rite that's not your own and conducting a choir in a polyphonic Mass setting.

What's that you say?  A convenient coincidence that I've done all the things I've proposed as "badges" to earn?

Nope, not a coincidence.  I just like to brag.  I suppose there is a super-advanced level that I have not yet achieved, for example, singing at Holy Qurbana or the Liturgy of St. James would be truly an accomplishment for a Westerner.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Happy Byzantine New Year!

I'm a day late, I know.  I was with my Byzantine brothers and sisters this morning to celebrate.  Actually, I was filling in for their cantor who was, I guess, gone for the weekend.  It was my first time being anything other than a member of the congregation for the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.

My singing didn't sound like this.  I was late on a couple of entrances.  Near the beginning, I got flustered and turned over two pages instead of one.  Father stopped and asked me to go back to the antiphon that I had accidentally skipped.  That was embarrassing.  It got better as we went along, and three or four people came up to me afterward and said, "I've had to fill in as cantor too, it's hard, and you did it much better than I did!"  Father said it was fine and that he hopes I'll come back again and help out, so I guess I didn't do too badly, or at least, not worse than other folks who've filled in for the regular cantor.

And now, back to your regularly-scheduled Roman/Dominican liturgical programming.