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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Second Thoughts: Second Advent

Looking back over last Sunday's readings, or rather, recalling what I was hearing over and over on Sunday, I realize that I was hearing echoes from the news, from social media, and from my own reflections over the past weeks when I had been pretty intensely preparing for some Advent presentations I did in the parish and elsewhere.

To me, the thing about Advent is that it's about preparing for Christmas. So somehow we ought to be thinking about what that means: preparing for Christmas. The General Norms for the Liturgical Year says there's a dual purpose to Advent, one, looking backward to Jesus's coming in history, and one looking forward to his coming at the end of time (#39). As I thought about that, it made me remember that, from God's perspective, those are the same thing. Along with those "two" approaches, or advents, there's also the approach of Jesus in the poor and needy, in all people's times of darkness, grief, and loss, and also the approach of Jesus in those who answer the call to participate in God's mission of reconciling the world. Also the approach of Jesus in the sacramental life of the Church, the ritual making-present of the saving life of God in baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, and the other sacraments and the people of the Church as well. All of that is God approaching us, bigger than we can imagine. Well, not bigger exactly, but vastly different from what we can imagine. Other than we can imagine. So much so that theologian James Alison describes the experience of encounter with God as a realization of the "concavity" created by God's approach, in that maybe we can't actually ever experience God directly, but sort of recognize God's "footprint," or the dent God leaves in reality, perhaps like Moses, who so wanted to see God as God truly is, and was only allowed to see God's arse ("hindquarters") after God passed by. And that made me think of the beginning of the letter to the Hebrews, which happens to the be second reading for the Christmas Mass during the Day, which a lot of us will never hear because of Linus van Pelt and the midnight mass readings:
Brothers and sisters:
In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways
to our ancestors through the prophets;
in these last days, he has spoken to us through the Son,
whom he made heir of all things
and through whom he created the universe,
who is the refulgence of his glory,
the very imprint of his being,
and who sustains all things by his mighty word.
So preparing for Christmas means preparing to celebrate this Christ, this human being who is the very "imprint of (God's) being," the visible sign of the invisible God. We only know this God through this Jesus, who is the refulgence of God's glory, the flash of a lightning strike. It's that God whom we come to know through this Jesus, for whom we have to prepare.

Sunday's gospel introduced John the Baptizer in the desert, so introduces us pretty much without our realizing it to the adult Jesus, who meets John at the Jordan, and to whom John sends envoys in next Sunday's gospel when he (John) is in prison. John and Jesus have a similar sounding message. John says, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," while Jesus will add, "believe the good news" when he takes up John's cry after Herod kills the Baptizer. What's the same about their proclamation is that both understand that things are wrong (this is not a revelation to anyone, we all know this!) and that those who believe in the God of Israel have to change direction (i.e., repent, metanoeite) and live a different kind of life from everyone else. The difference in their proclamation is what they understand God to be like. For John, "the ax is laid at the root of the tree," and there is "wrath to come" from which no evil can escape. John's approaching God is the god of wrath and vengeance, who will sweep the chaff from the floor and burn it in everlasting fire. John's messiah is the Terminator, who will bring God's judgment on the earth. For Jesus, on the other hand, God's judgment on the earth is mercy. Jesus is, in fact, God's judgment on the earth. For Jesus, God is abba, the householder of all, and what God wants is peace in the whole house among all God's children. When Jesus says, "Follow me," he wants to show us how that is done. Lesson one will be the Sermon on the Mount.

So for me, this past Sunday, as I looked forward to the Christ of Christmas and the Jesus of the gospel of St. Matthew, what I kept hearing was that word "Gentiles" which appears in the first reading, the psalm, the second reading, and is understood by contrast in the gospel when John reproaches the Pharisees and Sadducees for imagining that it is enough to be "sons of Abraham" to achieve God's favor.

First, Isaiah, out of the chaos of political defeat and captivity, describes the reign of God as ruled by someone who will be like God, that is, who, filled with God's own breath (life/spirit) will decide for the poor and afflicted. The reign of God will be characterized by non-violence among all living things, natural enemies will forego fighting, prey and predator will play together. The dangerous and endangered will be reconciled, says Isaiah, and after setting up the resolution of those natural dialectics, Isaiah dares to announce the end of an historical one: the difference between the chosen (Jews) and the nations (Gentiles, non-Jews).
On that day, the root of Jesse,
set up as a signal for the nations,
the Gentiles shall seek out,
for his dwelling shall be glorious.
Psalm 72, a coronation liturgy, goes on to suggest that the ascending regent will also be like God, for it prays that God will "with your justice endow the king, and with your judgment the king's son," i.e., the ascending monarch. This means that he "will rescue the poor when they cry out, and the afflicted when there is no one to help them." And "he shall have pity on the lowly and poor, and save their lives." But the psalm sees a dominion "from the river (the Euphrates, the east) to the ends of the earth (i.e., the coast of Spain, the west)," and a procession in which all the kings of earth will participate. In other words, the dominion of peace and justice is worldwide. Everyone is included.

Paul's letter to the Romans is addressed to a community whom he has not met yet but which he intends to visit as soon as he makes a trip to Jerusalem with alms from the Greek churches. He has heard that some of the same problems are arising there between the Jewish Christian and the Gentile Christians, specifically, that some Jewish Christians acting on their own authority and understanding of the gospel are teaching that Gentiles must become Jews (i.e., be circumcised and follow Mosaic food traditions) before they can be baptized. St. Paul, himself a Jewish Christian, uses all of his persuasive powers and knowledge of the law and the prophets to convince them otherwise. In this passage from the beginning of the letter, Paul is telling them that the whole purpose of Christ coming into the world was to demonstrate God's love for all and God's desire that both Jews and Gentiles are part of the divine family, Jews by birth, and Gentiles by adoption, Jews by the "promise" (i.e., the covenant) and Gentiles by God's mercy. This is a really big God, Paul is trying to say, widening the promise to include everyone in Christ. Paul wants this insight to produce "harmony" and "accord" in the community, urging them to "welcome one another for the glory of God" because of it.

So when John the Baptizer turns on the Jewish leadership in his baptism exhortation, he's saying to them, "You can't just say 'we're in because of Abraham' any more. You have to change too. God can make children of Abraham out of the rocks we're standing on." Everybody, everybody, has to acknowledge their sins and then "cross the Jordan" again into the promised land through baptism, remembering and acting on the memory of the God who brought them through that water the first time. There's been too much accommodation to Caesar, John is saying. We need to remember who the real God is, the one who led us through the Red Sea, out of captivity into freedom. We need to claim our freedom. When John says that no one can claim to be "in" because of being Jewish alone (i.e., "children of Abraham,") he's saying, in effect, "In the kingdom of heaven, no one can say 'I'm in, you're out.'" That's because the kingdom of heaven, which means earth, when God is in charge, is God's dominion, and everyone belongs.

I suppose I should try to sum up these thoughts somehow. It was pretty simple when I was thinking about it, but it all gets expanded in the "big picture" of Advent, which is about preparing for Christmas. To prepare for Christmas is to prepare for Christ, who reveals to us a specific God. This is a God, the second Sunday of Advent says to me, who doesn't let me live in a religious bubble, but who keeps reminding me that I'm only as close to God as I'm close to the person I like the least. This is not a god of retribution and war, but a God of distribution and peace, of utter justice (everyone should have enough to be happy and make others happy) and fullness of peace (there is no envy for what others have, but only joy that all have enough.) Whenever faith gets to a place where it suggests that some are in, some share God's favor, and others don't, and it really doesn't matter what the criterion for judgment is, then that religion has pitched its tent outside of the reign of God. That's probably enough for one Sunday.

Finally, the vision of Isaiah of the "peaceable kingdom" is not an optimistic vision or an idealized vision of world that is truly in chaos. The vision of the peaceable kingdom is the way things actually are, only a decision away. The road to the peaceable kingdom is being prepared by God through the wilderness, with God himself in the lead, perhaps as a little child, perhaps as an itinerant rabbi, perhaps as a population in desperate need of food, water, education or freedom, perhaps as a capital criminal nailed to a cross. This God sees that we've been captivated by other gods, other emperors, who want to make things better for our country, or another country, or our fellow rich people, or people who think like us, with their catechisms of violence, seizure, and the rule of power and money. But it is the God of blossoming justice and profound peace who is drawing near all the time, from inside of us, from outside of us, denting our broken reality with unrelenting love, inviting love, and being present to us from inside the darkness we create by building our houses and empires of false happiness on the misery, captivity, and desperation of others. It is this God whom we long for, whom we await, whom we prepare for at Christmas, the Christmas written on the calendar of every cell, of every photon and particle of matter in the universe. It is this approaching, inviting, abba-God who is drawing near to us again and again and again in Christ, and with a light that darkness cannot extinguish, shows us the way forward with the words, "Follow me."

Thursday, October 27, 2016

SongStories 48: Keep Awake (from Keep Awake, 2001, WLP)

I still find Keep Awake a pleasure to listen to. The songs did not "hit" with the audience, and did not appear in later editions of Voices As One, and as usual I'm at a loss to explain it. It could just be that they are too idiosyncratic, and not traditional enough in either words or music to appeal to churchgoers. They seem to have a life on Rhapsody and Pandora, which is encouraging. I'm particularly proud of "Apocalypse," which was our take on Daniel's vision, sort of expanded into a more general and universal "dream" of new world saved by a community in solidarity, and of the title track, "Keep Awake," another end-time song that ends with a litany I wrote, based on Mt 25, as a kind of homage to Bruce Springsteen's "Land of Hope and Dreams." Great guitar work and an outstanding vocal performance by Gary on that song really give it wings.

Claire and I wrote these songs well over 15 years ago, before she went to college, and long before she had a career as a brilliant and award-winning author and narrator of audio books with a growing portfolio of successes. I'm sure she wishes she had some of these album lyrics back (who doesn't?), but none of  us gets much of a second shot after publication! We knew what we were doing, because we had wanted to write some songs that might arise from the actual hopes and dreams of young people, and there she was, an actual young person, writing the lyrics. I had handed her a set of possible scriptural starting places, and told her to translate them into English.

I've wanted for a very long time to try to write some songs based on apocalyptic literature that opens up their meaning for contemporary people, rather than just putting up more roadblocks to internalizing those hope-filled texts that rise up in times of great distress, as I like to say, sort of like the freedom songs of the slaves in the USA, or like dissident underground newspapers of the French resistance or the eastern European countries of the Cold War. This album had two attempts in which I had filtered my desire to do this kind of thing through Claire's inchoate poetic imagination. The other song, "Apocalypse," about which I have previously written, plays with the idea of "son of man," i.e., the "human being" whom God will send to clean up the mess of injustice in the world, and tries to suggest that the "son of man" not only could be any of us, man or woman, but that we are called together "like a light upon a hill" to be that person. All times are rehearsals for end times. Christ is ever present in the need of victims of violence and injustice, as well as in the compassionate response of Christians to those victims. 

"Keep Awake," on the other hand, is about watching for the signs of the times, about praying for the coming of Christ (Maranatha) while at the same time being aware of the presence Christ has promised would always be among us. "Christ at the margins" of our world, of time and space, is the Christ of the last Sundays of the year and of Advent, when these apocalyptic narratives are generally proclaimed. Maybe, when I get it right some day, the music will resonate with a wider audience!

The above clip is from the first half of the song, a sort of "folk song" section, with a string of scriptural allusions with the interjection "Keep awake!" being a percussive refrain that moves the lyric forward. Below, a second clip is from the second half, the "litany" section. The two choral motifs on the triple "Keep awake" and the "Maranatha, come" texts form an ostinato over which Christ speaks the exhortation to us to love our enemies, come to the help of the desperate, and find him in wakened hearts and acts of service to the broken-hearted and marginalized.

Keep Awake by Claire Cooney & Rory Cooney 

Keep awake!  When the clouds will gather warning of the storm,
Keep awake! Hear the groan beneath the wind.
Keep awake! by river for the river flows to the sea,
Keep awake! as world becomes another Galilee.

Keep awake! See, the sun calls forth the darkness, not the light.
Keep awake! see the shadows on the moon,
Keep awake! under heaven, as the heavens fall to earth,
Keep awake! earth is shaking like a woman giving birth.

(Maranatha! Come, O Lord! Maranatha! Come, O Lord!)

Keep awake! Watch for summer in the greening of the leaves,
Keep awake! Note the tenderness of trees,
Keep awake! I am near you, as the dawn is to the day,
Keep awake! Everything you know is passing away.

Keep awake! Let your hearts be open wider than before,
Keep awake! For the hour comes at last,
Keep awake! None can show you when the ending will begin,
Keep awake! Not the beasts, not the children, not the shining seraphim!

Keep awake, keep awake! Keep awake!
I may enter like a thief in the dark of night,
Like a lover in the morning light.
All the ones you cast aside will become my bride,
All the silent, broken losers, all the prostitutes and boozers,
Maranatha! Come, O Lord!
People of the street, all the foreigners you meet,
In the enemies of your nation I will foil your expectation!
Help me! I am waiting at your door! Help me! I’m a prisoner of war!
Help me! I am hungry, sick and sore!
Look around. I am waiting to be found. 
Look around. I am waiting to be found.

Copyright © 2001 World Library Publications. All rights reserved.

Friday, October 14, 2016

[UPDATE] Cropwalk 2016 - Sunday, October 16

I just want to say something to everybody:  THANK YOU.

Thank you because Team HopeMusic, along with the entire St. Anne Community, is doing very well raising funds for hunger relief and awareness this year. I have raised my personal goal and the team goal four times, and I have no doubt that we will cross that threshold.

I'm proud and happy that Sr. Lorraine Menheer, SSSF, of happy memory, encouraged me to do this several years ago, and she and Sr. Margaret Eisele would be on the walk with us. Now both of them have gone to God, but the walk goes on, this year with the wonderful Adrienne and Paul Kalmes leading the way, and the parish coordination done by the Cerretani family. Our new coordinator of Hope Ministries, Mary Howard, is going to take time from her busy schedule and walk with us too. As I'm sure you know, all (or nearly all) the churches in the village take part, as does the Barrington High School football team, and lots of others of an altruistic bent.

I'm putting up our website one last time in case anyone would like to make a donation between today and next week. The website will keep taking donations for a few weeks, but I won't be paying much attention (except to write thank you notes!) after Sunday.

Again, I want to be clear that, especially this year, with political candidates scrambling for every interested dollar and the huge humanitarian tragedies caused by Hurricane Matthew last week (link to Catholic Relief Services), not to mention all of our ongoing quotidian charity requests, that I'm so inspired and grateful that so many people from all over the country have responded to our calls for help for the hungry.

The weather here in Barrington is a little iffy for Sunday—I'll do the walk, if not Sunday, then another day next week, every last centimeter of the 10K, I promise, even if the walk itself is canceled! As for me, I'm holding out for morning storms, afternoon sunshine.

Keep a prayer on your lips and a song in your heart as we do this on Sunday. Remember the hungry at your worship service this weekend. No more mendicant emails, texts, or Facebook posts from me for eleven months!

Rory Cooney (personal fundraising page)

Team HopeMusic fundraising page

UPDATE: Sunday afternoon, 16 October, 3:40 p.m. - Our little team HopeMusic has finished walking with the rest of the walkers, and have raised to date over $4800.00, with a few checks still coming in. If there are folks you (team) know who haven't given you their checks, get them when you can and bring them to rehearsal or church. Or, it's REALLY easy to use one of the links above which will be active for a few more weeks, and the money will go right to Church World Service for Crop Hunger Walk. Again, thank you all so much for walking, donating, praying, working, singing to help end hunger. Keep doing what you're doing, because through it, God is saving the world.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Gratitude into Grace (C28O)

Healing of the Ten Lepers, by Jesus Mafa, Cameroon
(Vanderbilt Divinity library, Art in the Christian Tradition)
In getting ready to send out another round of support requests for CropWalk, I was thinking about the coming weekend's gospel and what it has to say to us Samaritans. Do you know what I mean? Do you sometimes have the sense that, of all people, it was you who received some blessing of healing, or forgiveness, hope, or restoration? You, the one person that you are certain had no claim on God's kindness, or human kindness for that matter, but it came anyway? And here you are, healthy, or happy, or with a full belly, and with so much suffering around you.

That's what it's like for me. And the gospel Sunday sort of brought that home to me. Do I think that the other nine lepers weren't happy and grateful that they were cured of their disease? Of course not! They did what they were told, and went to show themselves to be clean to the authorities. But the gospel says that the Samaritan leper, the one who caught Jesus's attention a second time, walked back to him to give thanks. It took another journey, maybe a risky one, if he was breaking Jesus's command to go to the priests, but it was a journey of his heart's certainty. This Samaritan had probably known some pain, insult, and bad treatment in his days. He knew a blessing when he got one. That blessing was his heart's new home, and the new, real life he'd always wanted. 

Gratitude for blessing translated into action. That's why I walk in the Crop Hunger Walk, and that's why I'm not ashamed to ask for your help and support. Real people, just as worthy as we are, are still hungry in this country and in every nation on earth. We can do something about it. This is one small way of turning gratitude into grace for others. Will you join us?

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Responsorial Psalm and Hearing the Word of God (C15O)

I've been writing weekly "liturgy updates" called Liturgy Corner for our parish bulletin, the Clarion, since Advent of 2015. For a while I was using and adapting parts of material from Modern Liturgy and what they called "Liturgical Bits and Bytes," a subscription service. Then RPI went off the scene, and Liturgical Press chose not to continue that resource. I continued to adapt material, but found that I needed to nuance it and adapt it for our community so much that I started writing my own columns, and that may be one of the reasons that I've fallen so far behind in writing this blog. Also, it's just a busy time of life for me. I haven't forgotten or given up—I just needed one more thing to feel guilty about, I guess.

Anyway, when I was looking over music for rehearsals and going back over notes for the last few weeks, I came to discover that I had overlooked a change from the 1970 lectionary to the 1998 lectionary. Maybe you don't look at what music you've done in previous years as you are choosing music for your current year, but I do, and one of my most frequent holdovers is the psalm setting. For this Sunday, the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, the 1970 lectionary had Psalm 69 as the psalm, and it is the only time in the 3 year Sunday cycle that that psalm is used, with the refrain "Turn to the Lord in your need, and you shall live." As I was looking over the USCCB website readings again for Sunday, I discovered that in the 1998 lectionary, a second option was provided, Psalm 19, with the refrain "Your words, O God, are spirit and life." This made me start to wonder why, and as I was writing my piece for the Clarion, the fourth of four pieces about the structure of the Sunday lectionary, I tried to tackle at least one possible solution to that question.

Benedictine Sister Irene Nowell wrote in the introduction to her unique book Sing to the Lord (Michael Glazier, 1993) that the responsorial psalm helps us both “understand and appropriate the readings.” By this she means that, first, being the linchpin between the first reading and the gospel, the psalm helps us to “unlock” the texts themselves and understand what God is trying to tell us is different in the reign of God from the “kingdom of this world,” or what I would call “business as usual.” Then, they help us “appropriate” the readings by allowing us to participate in proclaiming God’s word by our physical participation in the psalm event: we actually sing the psalm, hear the text, and are able to take it into ourselves along with any insight that might come from our liturgy. Sr. Irene quotes the late Notre Dame liturgist Ralph Kiefer in saying, “The responsorial psalm constitutes a summation of the liturgy of the word for that day. If there is a theme, it is in the antiphon of the responsorial psalm.” (The quote is from Kiefer’s book, To Hear and To Proclaim: Introduction to the Lectionary for Mass with Commentary for Musicians and Priests.)

Last Sunday, the 14th in Ordinary Time (Year C), in the first reading from Isaiah, we heard the word of the Lord promise comfort and prosperity to Jerusalem, and that “the Lord’s power” would be made known through this gift. In the gospel, Jesus gives the disciples power to cure the sick as they preach the gospel in the towns of Galilee and Judea, and to announce that “the kingdom of God is at hand.” Psalm 66, the responsorial that day, is about the wondrous deeds of the Lord bringing salvation (by which the scripture always means salus or “healthy living” and freedom) by the events at the Red Sea and then in the life of the psalmist. We sang together, “Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.” The gospel has come to the whole whole world, which should “cry out to God with joy,” but not just any God, this God, the Father of Jesus, who brings peace and community through the Holy Spirit.

This Sunday, we have that interesting change in the lectionary from the 1970 version. Today’s first reading from Deuteronomy tells us that the word of God is close within us, easy to comprehend, in fact, already in our hearts and mouths. In the gospel story, Jesus and a lawyer discuss the law, "which is the greatest commandment?" When they agree on that, the lawyer pushes the question, “Who is my neighbor?”, and Jesus replies with the parable of the Good Samaritan with its famous “punchline,” “Go and do likewise.”

I mentioned that in the original (1970) lectionary, the responsorial psalm for today is from Psalm 69, “Turn to the Lord in your need, and you will live.” At first blush, this may seem strange, until we realize that there is an interpretation of the Good Samaritan parable, perhaps a dated one, that sees Jesus as the Good Samaritan who comes to the aid of mortally wounded humanity, left for dead by the roadside. In this scenario, “Turn to the Lord in your need and you will live” sounds like good advice! (Well, it is good advice, but…) But when we begin to see the parable in its context, as a midrash from the rabbi Jesus on the law to "love your neighbor as yourself," taken together with the first reading, the scripture is not so much about turning to the Lord as it is seeing that God’s word, God’s “law,” changes us, it gives us spirit and life, and acting upon it moves us from the “business as usual” of prejudice and suspicion and into a new world of community and interdependence, as shown in the parable. For this reason, I decided to go with Psalm 19 this year, rather than my usual choice, Psalm 69, because Psalm 19 opens up the scripture more fully in a way that is consistent with the way the homily generally goes.

It’s good for us to wrestle each week with the responsorial psalm. If Sr. Irene Nowell is right, and I think she is, it can lead us more deeply into the other scriptures, even finding resonance, Sr. Irene reminds us, with that “rogue” second reading once in a while!

Monday, April 18, 2016

More about iPad and church music—the basement tapes

Because I'm such a Chatty Cathy, the overworked editor at World Library Publications was forced to truncate my previously published article by a few dozen paragraphs to get within an order of magnitude of my required word count. These paragraphs are included below for your edification and amusement...

Tips for using forScore with Finale 

For your original music and arrangements of
public domain music, you don’t need to have a special file to create good-looking forScore documents. What will help is to do two tasks one time, and you will have access to them forever – first, create a tablet-sized page for the Finale “page set-up” task, and then create a tablet-sized paper size for printing, so that when you create your PDF it will be the perfect size for an iPad. For a Mac computer using Finale 2014.5, the steps are described here. Remember, you don’t need “margins” on your iPad – maximize screen real estate by printing almost to the edges of the document. These steps will help you do this.

  1. Navigate to the file “pagesizes.txt”. In Finale 2014.5, you will locate it here:
  3. Open the file in TextEdit or another text editor.
  4. Type in the following information under the bottom line of the listed paper                            iPad = 5.8, 7.75; .1, .1, .2, .1, .5
  5. The first two numbers are width and height of the page, in this case, the iPad screen, the next four are the page margins. The last number is for left-margin instrument scores…probably you don’t need to know that. The top and right margins are assumed to be negative, no minus sign is required. 
  6. Next, in Page Setup (under the “File” menu), choose “Paper Sizes” and then “Manage Custom Sizes.” Click the “+” sign to add a custom size, name it “iPad”, and enter the iPad screen dimensions, 5.8 X 7.75, and either “0” or a small number like “.05” in the margin boxes. Your margins are already fixed in the Finale page size. Click OK. Now you’re ready to print to an iPad screen size. 
  7. As you finish a Finale file,
    you will choose “Print PDFSave as PDF…, and navigate to the folder where you want to save the document, either on your hard drive or on the cloud drive.
From inside Acrobat, File -> Properties will let you
store the name and composer as properties of
the PDF itself. These will be recognized by ForScore
so that you can readily add them to the app.

Tips for scanning music into forScore. 

Use the lowest-resolution scanning setting you are comfortable with (I use 200dpi), and black and white image source, scanning directly to PDF. When in "Preview" mode during your scan, crop the preview of the final document to as close to the edges of the music as you can. Remember that you don't need to see the title of the song when you're playing, because the file itself will be the title of the song. You want your scanned music to be as much music and as little extraneous information as possible. If your scanning software doesn't allow you to do this, you can also crop the music from within ForScore, maximizing the screen real estate for the music itself, which is what you want to see.

When saving the PDF to your cloud source (e.g. Dropbox), save the actual name of the song and the composer to the “title” and “author” information lines of the PDF. This way, the information will be available to forScore on import.

Handy functions in ForScore

ForScore has a lot of ways to conveniently store and manipulate your music. One handy feature is the "notes" feature, which I use to create notes for myself that "overlay" the songs in a set list that I might use at a concert. This helps me to store ideas for introducing songs and see them when I'm about to play them. Annotations, both written annotations attached to the score and simple color highlighting are available.

Adding scores to ForScore is as simple as drag-and-drop from within iTunes using your desktop, or can be done on the fly by storing your pdfs on the cloud in Dropbox or other online storage, like Google Drive. Just direct the "Cloud Services" icon to your storage location, and you can add pdfs to your setlist from anywhere.

For my money, the best feature in ForScore, aside from being able to crop your purchased or scanned music of its unnecessary margins, is the ability to create smart jumps, so that when you get to a repeat bar on page 5 of a score you don't need to page back 3 pages to page 2. The app allows you to set a jump point with a dime-sized colored circle on the page to another place in the score. You can do this more than once within the score, too, in case you need a coda jump as well.

What's changed since the article appeared?

The big thing, literally, is the release of the iPad pro, with a screen size roughly the equivalent of a sheet of letter-sized paper, minus the margins. Music on the Pro is so beautiful that Apple includes ForScore on the demo tablets in the Apple Store so musicians can stand in front of them and drool (that's what the buckets under the counter are for.) A Facebook friend in the city remarked that using a Pro in landscape view would allow for viewing two pages at a time, reducing the requirement to turn pages by a substantial margin with a minimum reduction in page size for those accustomed to the size of the current iPad. I still haven't made the jump, since my iPad Air still serves well, and it's a chunk of change to invest in one of those late-model behemoths (though the price came down a bit at the last Apple event.)

For more information on ForScore, see their website, or go to the forScore page at the iTunes App Store.

and PLEASE! Only make legal copies. 

If I’m making a PDF in order to avoid buying a piece of music, I’m making an illegal copy. Ask yourself this question – when this copy is being used, is there a physical copy on a shelf on the premises for every electronic copy? Every scanned file I have must have a physical copy not in use.

iPad® and iTunes® are registered trademark of Apple, Inc.
PowerPoint® is a registered trademark of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries.
YouTube™ and Android™ are registered trademarks of Google, Inc.

Bluetooth® is a registered trademark of Bluetooth SIG.

Friday, April 15, 2016

iSing, iPlay, iPray — using tablets in a parish music program

This material, written in late 2012, was originally published in the Fall 2013 issue of AIM Liturgy Resources, copyright © 2013 World Library Publications, Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved. 
In a subsequent posting, I will include specific instructions on how to create the most useful PDF format from Finale for uploading (or directly loading) into ForScore. 
Specific questions? Add them to the "comments" area, and I'll try to answer those as well. If I can't, I bet another reader will.

ForScore app allows you to make fully
editable playlists: "Funeral" contains
80 songs I can reorder on the fly.
How we’re using tablets in our parish music program

What you’ll need: a tablet device (like an iPad); a desktop computer; a Dropbox or similar online storage account with sharing privileges (; a scanner; appropriate licensing or legal copies; “forScore” app (

It didn’t take long from the day the iPad was released (April Fools day, 2010, for those keeping track of these things) before a lot of us realized the possibilities for adapting the use of these devices in music performance. Technological entrepreneurs began writing apps to showcase the versatility of Apple’s tablet, videos of performances by geek bands using only iPads for instruments began popping up on YouTube, and sound technicians wandered the stages of concert and theatrical venues, iPads in hand, adjusting sound with suddenly ultra-portable remote mixers.

It was about five minutes after I discovered that there was an app for importing, sorting, and storing musical scores that I dove into the tablet market myself. In the guise of a small and yet completely legitimate tax deduction, I bought a first generation iPad in July of 2010, and used it the following Sunday to play the charts for that day’s services. I’ve done so ever since, nearly every week, as well as used the iPad for workshops notes and presentations (Powerpoints, including movies), and as a replacement for notebooks of music when I occasionally do a concert in a parish. As those of you who have an iPad or a similar Android or other tablet know, this barely scratches the surface of what we use them for, but it’s the domain of this article, so here we go.

You can maintain multiple playlists, while
storing most of your catalog in a master
song list in your device and/or in cloud
storage like Dropbox.
Since my experience is with the iPad, I’m going to say “iPad” when I mean a tablet device, mostly because I’m not sure where they diverge from one another in their abilities and available apps.  ForScore is an app exclusively for iPad. MobileSheets is an analogous app for Android, but I have no firsthand knowledge of it. (Search for “mobilesheets” at

Right now we have about a dozen iPad users in the choir, to a greater or lesser extent. For some of us, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, but there are some drawbacks. Here’s a bit of values clarification, stacking up the positive against the negative:

Portable – goes everywhere, becomes a customary companion because of other uses.
Versatile – “forgotten” or misplaced music recovered on the fly
Eco-friendly – in the long run, especially as it replaces paper from the source (publisher) rather than at the end user (the church or user through scanning), less paper being consumed
Great app – the forScore app allows for multiple setlists, resizing on the fly, rearranging pages, setting up smart repeats (from page 5 back to page 2, for instance), and annotation with a stylus or a finger in different colors, as well as highlighting and typed notes (say, different hymn numbers in different worship books, or workshop/concert commentaries).
AirTurn – for instrumentalists especially, this Bluetooth-enabled pedal enables handless pageturns. Sweet!

Front-end labor intensive.  The first time any song is put into the database, it has to be scanned and uploaded, or purchased and downloaded. Once it’s there, of course, it can be moved around and indexed in various ways.
Page-turn psychodrama. 95% of the time, no issues. But for the nervous cantor or music director, there will be the time that the page turn doesn’t go the way you planned (user error) and it will always be on the song you didn’t quite have as committed to memory as you wished you had. Since receiving an AirTurn device as a gift, the page-turning issue has receded. Controlling page turns via Bluetooth has been more reliable for me.

Cost. At this time, it is not cost-efficient to buy an iPad specifically for church use. But most users would find church use a small percentage of the actual amount of time we use the tablet for. It is difficult to overstate the utility of a tablet computer, which is capable of being a Skype phone, movie player, e-reader, word processor, presentation source (and even creator), social networking tool, email system, gaming device,…The list goes on. If a tablet already fits your lifestyle needs, it will be most helpful at the piano bench or in choir. 

iPad® is a registered trademark of Apple, Inc.
PowerPoint® is a registered trademark of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries.
YouTube™ and Android™ are registered trademarks of Google, Inc.
Bluetooth® is a registered trademark of Bluetooth SIG.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

SongStories 47: You (Stony Landscapes, 1994, GIA)

Psalm 65 just comes around once every three years on Sunday, on the day when the parable of the sower comes up as the gospel. I wanted to write a psalm setting that drew attention to the sower in the parable, hence, the simple title "You," and the repetition of the word throughout the paraphrase of the psalm. The antiphon given in the lectionary, "The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest," in my view hides the central truth of the parable, which is that the Sower is so abundant with the sowing. While the lectionary refrain seems to emphasize a moralistic interpretation of the parable, that somehow we're responsible for the kind of "ground" we are, the parable itself, allegorical interpretations aside, emphasizes the sower, who throws that seed everywhere! That the gospel writer goes on to give an allegorical interpretation to the parable is undeniable, but its quite likely that the interpretation is not the point that Jesus tried to make in the telling.

As I wrote in a blog post from July 2014, the last time this psalm and gospel were used, "the reign of God is God's work, and it is being sown everywhere. Also, and perhaps more importantly, failure, miracle, and normalcy' are all part of the way the kingdom operates. In the beautiful conclusion of Bernard Brandon Scott,
In failure and everydayness lies the miracle of God's activity. The accidents of failure are not exploited for their possible moral overtones, but are coordinated with the harvest. The hearer who navigates within this triangle can experience God's ruling activity under the most unfamiliar guises, even among prostitutes and tax collectors–in the everyday... Both the ordinary and the unclean belong to the miracle of the kingdom. The kingdom does not need the moral perfection of the Torah nor the apocalyptic solution of overwhelming harvest. (Hear Then the Parable, Bernard Brandon Scott, © 1989 Fortress Press)
Aside from its use again on Terry's 2003 album Family Resemblance, this was the only time we've used pedal steel guitar on one of our recordings.

The rhythm section included the awesome Beth Lederman on piano, Tim Downs on drums, and Jon Murray on bass, aided by Todd Chuba on percussion and Gary Daigle on guitars. This link will take you to the page on the GIA website where you'll find more information on the music and CD.

You (Psalm 65)  by Rory Cooney

You visit the earth
You make it fruitful
You make it bloom
Your rivers overflow
Spilling to earth in the rain
You call forth the grain.

To you belong the sowing and the harvest,
To you alone the rainfall and the sun
We will praise your name
You have staked your claim
On the fierce and stony landscape of the human heart.

You send us the rain
Water the furrows
Soften the land
You bless every seedling
You crown the year every spring
With the bounty of your hand. (ref.)

Wherever you walk
The earth begins to blossom
Even desert pastures
Are kissed by the dew
Flocks in the meadows
Wheat in the valleys
All sing their joy to you
To you.

To you belong the sowing and the harvest,
To you alone the rainfall and the sun
We will praise your name
You have staked your claim
On the fierce and stony landscape of the human heart
On the fierce and stony landscape of the heart.

("Psalm 65: You" by Rory Cooney © 1994 GIA Publications)

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Second thoughts: Is the Lord in our midst or not? (A3L)

A couple of weeks ago, Terry and I did an evening of reflection with Jennifer Budziak and the wonderful musicians of Old St. Patrick's church in the city as part of OSP's Lenten mission. I began by speaking about growing up in a desert climate not unlike parts of Israel. I was a boy in Arizona, and went to high school and novitiate in California, so even before the twenty years I spent there between 1973 and '93 I had a long experience of being a desert dweller. Like the people of the scriptures, I had an appreciation for rain, rivers, and that rare exotic glimpse of a lake or ocean. Before I was twenty, I had had two very good friends who died from exposure to the unforgiving heat of the Mojave desert.

So the song we began, after an opening prayer hymn called "Be Thou My Vision," with "Your Mercy Like Rain," my setting of Psalm 85, a ritual prayer for prayer for good rain to bring a good food crop, that associates God's mercy and justice coming to earth with the rain that falls from the sky. It is a prayer that God make present for us the love and safety that we remember was given to our ancestors. "Let us see your kindness; grant us your salvation." But as interested as I am and was in that aspect of the psalm, it is the reference to water in the desert as a sign of God's promises kept and ongoing favor that I wanted to latch onto. Throughout the Hebrew scriptures, one of the most repeated signs of God's favor and the approach of God's reign is water in the desert: justice rolling like a river, and integrity like a flowing stream, the desert blooming like a garden, richly watered, a river flowing out from city of God, making all the surrounding countryside fertile.

We've picked that up in our Christian hymnody, as I'm sure you've already begun to recall. "Let Justice Roll like a River," we sing, "Down by the Riverside," "Shall We Gather at the River," "There's a Wideness in God's Mercy (like the wideness of the sea...)," "Come to the Water," "Lead Us to the Water," "Healing River." One of my songs from the late 1980s, "As We Remember," asks God to "show us your mercy, harsh and lovely as the sea."

All of that was fresh in my mind as I was hearing the readings Sunday, though I was admittedly distracted by a respiratory ailment I was fighting. In the first reading from Exodus, it is a lack of water that frustrates and panics the wandering Jews during their desert sojourn after the Exodus. Moses, also frustrated with them and understandably sympathetic a little irritated with the freedom they had received being so full of deprivation and scarcity, appeals to God for some help. The "something out of nothing" God, the God whose name turns out to mean something like, "none of your business", gives them a flowing stream of water out of rock. Health and safety (i.e., salvation) in the real world, just in the nick of time.

Flowing water is the subject of the gospel as well, although perhaps this water, quenching the thirst of the two involved in a cross-cultural courtship at a well already famous for its matchmaking, is more important for its meta meaning than its chemical nature or nutritional value. Here, water that quenches inner thirst is copious and flows from the heart of God; the sere and desiccated human desire to know and be known, to be released from all kinds of prejudicial judgment, is slaked from an ocean of living water that promises no thirst ever again. It is such a torrent of life that, in the case of this story at least, it is able to drown the enmity of rival cultures, that of Jew and Samaritan, in its sweet flood, and bring them together in a way never before imagined possible in the experience of the wide-open reign of God that was preached from the heart of this itinerant rabbi and his slow-to-learn Jewish disciples. So complete was this transformation that scholar John Dominic Crossan conjectures that it may even have been a Samaritan convert to Christ who was the author of the fourth gospel.

The key for me is that it is, in this story, not the Samaritan woman whose thirst opens up the conversation, but that of Jesus, the thirsty heart of God made flesh at the well in Samaria. It is God's thirst for us, God's mostly unrequited love for humanity, that opens up the conversation that reconciles the world of the Samaritan woman and her Jewish suitor, and previous rival. God's thirst for a people kept Israel safe through its desert sojourn. And St. Paul, in Romans 5, tells us in plain language what we need to know about that thirsty love: that it precedes our own, and makes our love and forgiveness possible.
And hope does not disappoint,
because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

For Christ, while we were still helpless,
died at the appointed time for the ungodly.
Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person,
though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die.
But God proves his love for us
in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.
It was nothing that we did that merited God's love and forgiveness. Nothing that we did makes it possible for us to believe, have hope, and love. It is "the love of God poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit" that makes that possible.

My "so what?" Well, it's something to imagine that the risen Christ, the one who awaits humanity at the well, who awaits me with all my needs and thirsts and prejudices and rivalries, is the very one who summoned "something out of nothing." The one who looks at me across the empty bucket, me, who get a lot of what I feel about myself from what others feel, who sometimes feel only as alive and worth knowing as other people see me, that one knows everything I've ever done and loves me, likes me, anyway. What's more important, Christ feels that way about everyone at the same time. I'm not in rivalry with anyone for God's affection, nor is there any rivalry in God for mine. Love is patient.

What does it mean for us to be loved with the regard of one who is "something out of nothing," who does not know either death nor scarcity, but is the source of abundance and possibility, whose love precedes any desire or asking for it? Well, for one thing, it means that those who preach scarcity and need and division are not preaching the same God. It means that they are failing to understand the simple truth that the only way to have enough is to make enough available to everyone. It means that those who cling and pander to prejudice and fear against others who are in need and asking for assistance are not in touch with any actual Christian idea about who God is, what God wants, and what Christ came for. To me, it means that fear is useless and vain, and the best way to get whatever we need to assuage our thirst is to give a drink of water to that nagging voice that is asking us for a drink, no matter what language the words are being spoken in, or what side of our border the words are coming from. It may be the voice of the perceived rival, maybe even enemy, that will awaken in me my own thirst, and giving water to the thirsty other will finally make me alive with an unquenchable life.

“If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,' you would have asked him 
and he would have given you living water.”

This seems about as relevant to my life as anything in tomorrow's newspaper. Is the Lord in our midst, or not? It seems so. It just might be that God's voice sounds like that of someone we suspect is out to get us, wants our job or our best stuff, and is asking for something they really need. And the only way to get to God is to risk whatever bucket it might be we're grasping, risk alienation from our in-group, risk our identity as us-and-not-them, and give them what they're asking for. The conversation that starts when we're both sipping from the bucket we were hiding might turn us from burned-out phonies clutching the pursestrings of our ennui into surprise witnesses to something new happening: the appearance of "Something-out-of-nothing" right here among us, like a brook bubbling out of a rock.