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The other day we visited Saint John the Baptist in Tryon, North Carolina, where renovations gallop apace. Here, today, you may tour — not for the sake of comparison; as we all know, comparisons are odious — my own parish church, inside and out.

Now, I love it, but as you can see, this is not what you’d call a “beautiful” or even a “promising” church, architecturally speaking. The space is not great, and there’s not that much to be done with it in the way of renovation. Still, Father has reconfigured things as best he could, moving chairs against the wall and curtaining what used to be an open space in that partial wall behind the tabernacle, so that the eye stops there, as it should.

The decorous lace doily hiding the bronze doors to the tabernacle, which made it look less like a tabernacle than like Great-Aunt Nanny’s toilet-paper cabinet, went away at the stripping of the church this past Holy Thursday and never came back. These things happen. You know how it is. Generally, too, the altar’s vested to look like an altar, not a console table.

We’re a small parish and not a wealthy one, and what we have is what we have. People fantasize about winning the lottery and giving millions towards the rebuilding of the church, but so far that hasn’t happened.

Lest you think I’m complaining, let me hasten to assure you that this is a post about what’s possible, about renovations that have little to do with the visible architecture.

What these photographs don’t show is, for instance, how you can rebuild a church, at noon, say, on a Thursday of intermittent thunder and sun, out of nothing more than one set of good vestments, two servers in crisp cassock and cotta, some gleamingly polished altarware, and a lot of quiet in which people can kneel and pray.

Our space is good for quiet: check out those ceiling tiles. You put those in office buildings, to muffle sound and keep things quiet so that hundreds of people in cubicles can check their Facebooks in peace. In church, where people have been encouraged to cultivate a habit of keeping quiet, you can let your soul rest and listen for something other than accounts of people’s knee replacements and complaints about the disappearance of the tabernacle doily.

Quiet, it now occurs to me, is an entirely different thing from silence. Silence invites discourse. Poetry and music are conversations with silence. The former plays give-and-take with the white space on the page; the latter with the resonances of a physical space. To have real silence, I think, you have to have resonance, and echoes that thin into nothing on the air. But as I’m neither a physicist nor a musician, there’s not much I can say about that with any kind of authority, so I think I’ll just cut to the chase.

To wit: I am not a musician, but my friend Charles is. He’s been directing choirs since he was sixteen; currently, at twenty–nine, he is full-time organist-choirmaster in a large Catholic parish in my hometown, where things do go on, daily, that aren’t manifestations of utter depravity.

Charles, for example, is a good thing. He has taken a parish choir of, largely, non-musicians like me, and has taught them to sing Palestrina’s “Sicut Cervus” and the Latin propers for Communion. He has built a successful treble choir program in which my older children sang for two years, and has this year begun a Schola Cantorum for advanced treble singers. All this he has done without tantrums or browbeating or preening — many of us have likely met music directors who did it with tantrums and browbeating and preening — and he’s done it while finishing an M.A. in organ performance and beginning doctoral studies and helping his wife to bring up their three little children.

As you can see, I am very fond of Charles. I’m fond of his wife and their three little children, too. Lucky for us as a family: they spent this past weekend with us. Even when you factor in their five-year-old’s coming down with pneumonia Saturday night and having to spend Sunday in the emergency room, we had a very good weekend together.

Even luckier for us as a parish, however, was that Charles devoted his North-Carolina-vacation weekend to leading a choral workshop for our choir-of-four and interested others.

On Friday, appropriately for the feast day of Pope Saint Pius X, we talked about the motu proprio of Pius X on what sacred music is (and is not), and on the role of music in the liturgy.

On Saturday we prepared the following for Sunday’s Mass:

Psalm 86:1-3 “Listen, Lord, and answer me.” (setting by Fr. C. Kelly, OSB; sung in English)

Hymn: “Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation” (tune: Regent Square)

Hymn: Word of God, Come Down on Earth The tune is “Liebster Jesu;” the words, by James Quinn, are under copyright, but as texts in Catholic hymnals go, they’re rather uniquely good

Latin Proper for Communion: Qui Manducat (Mode VI) You’ll have to scroll down and find it; all the propers are .pdf downloads, but the whole year is there.

Post Communion Motet: Ave Verum Corpus (J. des Prez)

The link is to the voice-part learning files; I was hoping for a YouTube video. I’ll keep looking . . . It’s a beautiful little 3-part polyphonic piece, for soprano, alto, and baritone. We had a soprano section of two women plus four girls aged 10-15 plus one 12-year-old boy; three women in the alto section; and two men plus my husky-voiced 11-year-old son singing the baritone line. I had sung music like this for years, but nobody else had had any real exposure to it. I wish we had a recording of how it turned out, not because it was perfect — in at least one spot, I lost count, fell off and had to get back on — but because what a group of people like this could accomplish in the space of a day was remarkable. Would have sounded better in a space with a different ceiling, but even so, it was transcendent enough that when it was over we all just stood there blinking with our music in our hands, not quite able to believe that we’d made it happen.

So, there’s another way to renovate a church, with only a judicial use of the hymnals in the pews and a bunch of public-domain stuff from the net, plus one providential friendship.

Oh! The other highlight of the weekend was a hymn-sing on my front porch on Saturday night. We had about thirty people over, including children, many of whom sang, and we gave my neighborhood a rousing, if un-asked-for, concert. So far nobody’s come over to complain about the noise.

Here’s a selection of what we sang, in no particular order:

Abide With Me
Ave Maria (Arcadelt)
Deck Thyself, My Soul, With Gladness
My Song Is Love Unknown
Glory Be To Jesus
O God Beyond All Praising (really exalted by the Holst melody)
Sweet Sacrament Divine

and everyone’s favorite, Long Live the Pope!
(here are the words, so you can sing right along)

Years ago we had friends who used to organize informal hymn-sings. He played the cello, and she played the accordion. The four of us together could cover all four parts. The result was way better than you probably think, and I’d wanted forever to do something like that again.

So if you’ve never had a hymn-sing evening at your house before: highly recommended. Many of the hymns we sang came from the Saint Michael Hymnal, which Father is trying to raise money to buy for the parish, to replace our current throwaway hymnals. Here’s hoping this was good advertising. At any rate, that’s another renovation in the making, and within our reach.

More on: Church (Other), Music

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