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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Presider Silencer: The Musical Gospel according to Mark (Karney)

21. The priest joins with the congregation in singing the acclamations, chants, hymns, 
and songs of the Liturgy. However, the priest does not join in the singing of the Memorial Acclamation or the Great Amen. To the greatest extent possible, he should use a congregational worship aid during the processions and other rituals of the Liturgy and should be attentive to the cantor and psalmist as they lead the gathered assembly in song. In order to promote the corporate voice of the assembly when it sings, the priest’s own voice should not be heard above the congregation, nor should he sing the congregational response of the dialogues. While the assembly sings, the priest should step back from a microphone, or, if he is using a wireless microphone, he should turn it off. (emphasis mine)

Once in a while, even the U.S. bishops get it right, and the 2007 document on music in the liturgy, called Sing to the Lord, pretty much gets it right from top to bottom. This is due to the fact that it was largely written by a team of actual musicians and liturgists and not by administrators; the document was, miracle of miracles, written by people who know what they’re talking about, who work in the field, and (2nd miracle of miracles) who did a large-scale consultation with other people in the field, including people from every theological and liturgical spectrum. What you see above is paragraph 21 of 259.

This new document is comprehensive, replacing and expanding the innovative Music in Catholic Worship (1972) and its more experienced successor Liturgical Music Today (1982), and is longer than both of those documents combined. Whereas the earlier documents spelled out a proto-theological vision of liturgical singing and advanced a theory of judging the worthiness of liturgical song along a triangulated structure of musical (formal and aesthetic), liturgical (structural and utilitarian), and pastoral (all the human considerations that come up in real life), Sing to the Lord covers that ground quickly, and applies its principles not only to the musical needs of the Eucharist but to the other sacraments and the Liturgy of the Hours as well, and even addresses cultural issues in the music of the American church.

But that’s just to situate it in history, and I’m not even interested in that except to give it as background to paragraph 21 above, which has to be music to a church musician’s ear. Why? Well, you work hard to pick good music and you get good musicians. A choir. You work hard with them, and they work hard with you, having invested their time and talent, at rehearsals. You have an enthusiastic assembly even, maybe, that really wants to sing. Then an inattentive priest shows up and wears his microphone while bellowing out the song at the procession or having conversations at the presentation of gifts, or joking with servers, all while the assembly and choir and cantor are singing, and your good work just goes for naught. This isn’t even (necessarily) egotism, it can be just forgetfulness, but there’s no cure for superloud clericalitis, the priest whose voice is unleashed into the lavalier.

No cure until now, that is.

Mark Karney, entrepreneur,
and electronic theologian
My good friend, Mark Karney, proprietor of the friendly and well-equipped Norwest Communications studio in the basement of the Starbucks Coffee in Barrington where I live, produced for me the little miracle shown above. His studio has engineered almost every album of mine and Terry’s since 1993, and now this crowning achievement, the Acme Mark 1 Presider Silencer, installed at the piano in the worship space. Stunning in its simplicity of design, proudly bearing the Acme brand and the grinning visage of Wile E. Coyote, the Presider Silencer has just one button on it. Press it, and the bellowing tones of priest (and deacon!!) singing overpoweringly over the better-rehearsed choir and struggling assembly are cut down to the happily absorbed decibels of a single human voice, unenhanced now by 800 watts of pre-amp power. One gentle pressing of a little red button and a grimaces all over the church turn into smiles. A warning light reminds me that the mute is on, lest I forget and some important catechetical morsel or homiletic gem be lost because of lack of amplification. Yes, gentle reader, this is the raison d’être for geekdom, the avatar of technology-as-ancilla Domini, the handmaiden of the Lord.

In days of the Roman empire, there was a title given to those who helped the cause of the emperor that was an honorific that accompanied the so-named wherever s/he went, and that title was “Friend of Caesar.” It may be time for such a title for the friends of art, worship, and pastoral musicians who make a Nobel-level contribution to orthopraxis and the mental health of music directors. Perhaps this could be called “Friend of Saint Cecilia.” Yes, Mark, you are a Friend of St. Cecilia. Your hard-wired balm of Gilead heals the ear-sick soul. Thank you a thousand times.

I’m sure Mark will make you one for a modest fee. Write to him here.

A few more words on the document Sing to the Lord which deserves a whole series of articles in a blog like this, but it’s too left-brain for me right now:  It was passed in the general vote of the US bishops at their November 2007 meeting by a vote of 183-22, with 3 abstentions. For it to become national law, it would have to have been passed unanimously, so it becomes an advisory document, which is good. It’s more detailed and less invigoratingly written than MCW, but what it lacks in dynamism it makes up for in detail. The document is not being submitted to Rome for approval, as the liturgy in the United States is in the provenance of its own bishops in these matters of adaptation. Where this new document quotes Musicam Sacram and other Roman documents with the force of law, it is legislative. In general, though, individual bishops can and will depart from it, like they can with virtually everything in the church. In a diocese, a bishop is a prince of a guy, and really can’t be overruled on anything by another bishop (or, to some extent, by the pope.) You can download Sing to the Lord here.

Those who come to St. Anne to play and substitute for me at times are rightfully jealous of this wonderful pushbutton innovation. I can’t wait to press the button again. The joy of it! One little button that restores lost equality, evening the aural playing field at the bodily cost of less than a calorie. I’m in heaven. Next, Mark promises a voice filter that will allow live editing of homilies and intersticial fervorinos. I can’t wait....I’ll be king of the world.   ☺