Thursday, June 16, 2011

New Translation Thursday: A Little Bit of Musical Heaven in Grand Rapids

Welcome to this installment of "New Translation Thursday." First of all, a big congratulations to all the Boston Bruins fans out there; a job well done!

I am here in the Diocese of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Last night, at the Cathedral of Saint Andrew, I delivered a talk at the annual banquet for the Grand Rapids Chapter of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians.

What a delightful group of musicians! I am giving a plenum address at NPM's national convention next month in Louisville; I have been testing out some of my thoughts for the address as I speak to musicians. The talk seemed to go over well, so I am feeling more comfortable with putting the finishing touches on the plenum.

One of the things that I talk about with musicians is the sense that I have that we musicians really do have an edge when it comes to the new translation. We have art. Pastoral musicians, I find, rarely envision themselves as artists. During my presentations I share one of my favorite commentaries. This is a snippet of a speech given by Paul Tillich, "Address on the Occasion of the Opening of the New Galleries and Sculpture Garden of the Museum of Modern Art" in New York in 1964:

"The artist brings to our senses and through them to our whole being something of the depth of our world and of ourselves, something of the mystery of being. When we are grasped by a work of art things appear to us which were unknown before--possibilities of being, unthought-of powers, hidden in the depth of life which take hold of us."

Composers have created musical settings for the newly translated texts, many of which are beautiful works of art that have the potential to reveal and lead us to the mysteries we celebrate in the Eucharist. The chant settings, a kind of unique Catholic work of art, do this as well. In my travels I have found that those who are most anxious, angry, or doubtful about the new translation seem to be touched when we move beyond the changed texts to singing those texts. Don't get me wrong. There are texts that I believe have been translated poorly but, at least for the peoples' parts that are sung, the newly composed settings support the new text and, because we employ the musical arts when we play and sing them, there is the possibility that we are taken to a deeper level by the art of music.

One of the real gifts for me last night was the private tour I was given by the cathedral music director (and one of WLP's fine composers) Nick Palmer. In 2002, through the generosity of a donor and donations by the people of the diocese, three pipe organs were installed at the cathedral, one in the day chapel, one in the sanctuary, and one in the loft. For you organ enthusiasts, here's a link to the Letourneau Organs page describing these fine organs.

When Nick brought me to the organ loft, he invited me to take a seat on the bench.

I just sat there, awed by the four-manual, 72-rank instrument that was ready for me to play. I just began to improvise on some hymn tunes and Nick moved back and forth around me, changing the registration, suggesting that I play on one of the manuals for the next section, suggesting that I play a solo line on another manual. When he pulled out the true thirty-foot pedal stop, the whole gallery trembled, as did my soul. Folks, this was one of those rare moments that God gives in life. It was, in a word, glorious. After I finished playing for about ten minutes, I just looked at Nick and told him how incredibly blessed he is to be the musician at the cathedral. He is a fine, fine musician. What a blessing for the people in the Diocese of Grand Rapids.

Tonight, it's back to the cathedral for a WLP choral reading session. We will focus on new and revised musical settings of the Mass, as well as a few choral pieces. The piano I will be playing to lead the session is a concert grand, a Bösendorfer. This is one of the finest brands of piano in the world. And they tell me that they will be moving the organ console in the sanctuary to the area where the musicians will be gathered, so that I can lead some of the Mass settings from the organ. Folks, for a church musician, tonight sounds like it's going to be a little bit of musical heaven!

Thanks for listening today.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

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