Monday, November 17, 2008


I will be taking an indefinite break from writing, resuming at some point in the future. I want to thank all of my readers and commen-tators for their loyalty. It has been a grand experience and I wish you all God's blessings, peace and happiness.

Pax et bonum,

Kurt Poterack

Friday, November 14, 2008

J.S. Bach (Part V)

J.S. Bach

(excerpts from the book, Bach, Beethoven and the Boys by David Barber)

Bach's possessions included six claviers, a lute and several other instruments; a variety of candlesticks; two silver coffee pots, one large, one small; a silver teapot; and assorted pieces of furniture.  He also had three different coats (the silk one was somewhat worn, he says) and 11 linen shirts "at the wash."  He probably picked them up before he left town.

At the St. Thomas School, Bach was expected to teach the boys music, Latin, and grammar, while leading "a sober and secluded life."  He hired a man named Petzoldt to teach his Latin classes for him.

[Ed. note: Bach wasn't the first choice of the Leipzig town authorities for the job. Telemann was their first choice, because he was a graduate of the school and his music was more "modern."  The second choice was one Christoph Graupner, also a graduate of the St. Thomas School.  (Ever heard of him?)  Both men were competent, but neither could obtain release from their current posts.  It says something about the state of affairs at that time.  What existed were the remnants of the old Medieval guild system - there definitely were publicly recognized musical standards.  However this was combined with an interesting form of graft:  1) marry my daughter, or 2) make a "contribution," or 3) be a part of the old boys network, etc.  They didn't fully realize what they had in Bach.]

Bach was busy at Leipzig.  When not disciplining small boys he found the time to compose nearly 300 cantatas, the B minor Mass, and his mighty St. Matthew Passion.  In his spare moments he composed other things.  His old temper hadn't left him: when the university officials turned down Bach's application to compose a special piece of music and gave the job instead to a man named Gorner, Bach tossed his wig at him and said he would have made a better cobbler.  Bach's salary at the school was 700 thaler a year, with extra money to lead the choir for funerals.

The school's old rector died, and was replaced by Johann August Ernesti.  He was one of those progressive types who didn't care for music much.  He used to call the boys in the school orchestra "pot-house fiddlers," which was bad for morale. [Ed. note: I also read that he called them "beer fiddlers."]  Bach spent more and more time travelling around the country-side trying out new organs, as an excuse to get away.

In his last years, Bach was nearly blind and his health was declining.  It was all he could do to jot down the first 239 bars of the last fugue of The Art of Fugue, the most amazingly complicated fugal composition ever written.  An English oculist, John Taylor, attempted surgery on Bach's eyes but it did no good: the operation left him completely blind [Ed. note: the same oculist operated on Handel, I believe, with the same effect.  He traveled around with all of his equipment and assistants in several covered wagons with big eyes painted on them - pretty creepy!]  Suddenly on July 18, 1750, Bach's eyesight was miraculously restored, but he suffered a stroke and died 10 days later.

Anna Magdalena never remarried and tried to struggle along on a measly pension.  She died ten years after her husband and was buried in a pauper's grave.  Wilhelm Friedemann did pretty well as a composer and recitalist.  One source tells us that "he had a beautifully shaped long-fingered hand."  Carl Philip Emanuel worked for Frederick the Great, King of Prussia.  Frederick liked to play the flute, but took liberties with the tempo.  C.P.E. just played along and said nothing.  After all, Frederick was the king.  Johann Christian moved to London and wrote operas. [Ed. note:  However before this he spent considerable time in Italy and converted to Catholicism - an effect Italy tends to have on some people.  He studied with Mozart's counterpoint teacher, Padre Martini, and met and befriended the young Mozart.]

J.C. Bach is pictured above.

There were other Bachs but none of them amounted to much.  Bach's grandson, Johann Sebastian II, was a painter, but you can't get ahead that way.  By May of 1871, historian Sanford Terry says, "Bach's blood had ceased to flow in mortal veins."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

J.S. Bach (Part IV)

J.S. Bach

(excerpts from the book, Bach, Beethoven and the Boys by David Barber)

Bach spent nearly 10 years at Weimar, but then found it was time to move on.  The old duke was having a family quarrel with his nephew and Bach was caught in the middle.  So he accepted a job at the court of Prince Leopold of Anhalt - Cothen.  Bach didn't leave on the best of terms.  He spent nearly a month in jail "for too obstinately requesting his dismissal."  While he was under arrest he composed 46 chorale preludes, so the time wasn't completely wasted.

At Cothen, Bach had a 17-piece orchestra, which kept him busily composing.  The court bookbinders finally had to ask him to slow down so they could catch up.  He composed little instruction books for his son Wilhelm Friedemann, too.

Bach tried out for an organist job at the Jacobkirche in Hamburg and although he dazzled the judges with his playing, they wouldn't give him the job unless he made a hefty "donation" to the church.  Bach refused and the job went to a second-rate organist named Johann Joachim Heitmann, who just happened to have a spare 4,000 marks in his pockets.

Later, Bach composed a set of six concertos that he sent as a gift to Christian Ludwig, The Margrave of Brandenburg.  Bach copied out the score very neatly, tied it up with a nice ribbon and sent it off to him.  The margrave thanked him very much but probably never opened the package.  He didn't have an orchestra, so it didn't do him much good to have the music.  Well, it's the thought that counts.

After Maria Barbara died, Bach married again, this time to Anna Magdalena Wulcken, who at 20 was 16 years younger than he was.  She was a very good singer and a good copyist besides. [Ed. note:  There had been no pictorial evidence of Anna Magdalena, until Teri Noel Towe in a 2001  lecture at Queen's College put forward some interesting arguments that a couple in a 1736 engraving of citizens of Leipzig may indeed be Johann and Anna Magdalena Bach.  If this is true, one can see in the relevant portion of the engraving posted above that Anna Magdalena was pretty and, seemingly, taller (!) than her husband.  She vaguely reminds me of a certain choir alumna, but that may just be me.]

Bach's patron, Prince Leopold, got married at about this time, too, but he didn't do as well.  His wife was his cousin the princess of Anhalt-Bernberg and she thought music was a waste of time.  She liked to do needlework, but it's not the same somehow.  

So in 1723, Bach and his new wife packed up all their possessions and the kiddies (there were seven by this time, four boys and three girls) and moved to Leipzig, where Bach was appointed cantor and music director of the Thomasschule.

(to be continued) 

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

J.S. Bach (Part III)

J.S. Bach

(excerpts from the book, Bach, Beethoven and the Boys by David Barber)

All the years of practice, not to mention the walking tours, had made Bach into a terrific organist Once when playing a concert at the royal court of Cassel, he played an elaborate pedal solo so well that the crown prince took a ring off his finger and presented it to Bach. As one observer put it: "If the skill of his feet alone earned him such a gift, what might the Prince have given him had he used his hands as well?"

But through it all Bach remained the same humble man he'd always been. When someone complimented him on his playing, he once said: "There's nothing to it. You have to hit the right notes at the right time and the instrument plays itself."  That's easy for him to say.

Along about this time, Bach became friends with Johann Gottfried Walther, an organist and lexicographer.  He also won a public clavier-playing contest against the great French keyboard player Louis Marchand, who failed to show up.  On the day of the contest, Marchand suddenly remembered he had important business out of town,  You know how it is.  (Ed. note: I believe that the same thing happened with a keyboard challenger to the young Beethoven.  He heard Beethoven practicing the night before the competition and then skipped town.)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

J.S. Bach (Part II)

J.S. Bach

(excerpts from the book, Bach, Beethoven and the Boys by David Barber)

Having studied hard and soaked up everything, it was time for Bach to get a real job. His first position was as organist and choirmaster of the little church of St. Bonifacius in Arnstadt. The choir members, all boys, weren't very good singers and were very rowdy. The young Bach had trouble keeping them in line. His bullish temper didn't help matters. He once got into a street brawl with one of his choristers, a boy named Geyersbach, who called Bach a "dirty dog." (Bach had earlier called him a Zippelfagottist, or "nanny-goat bassoonist.")

[Ed. note: In the course of the fight, according to one source, Bach drew his sword and tore Geyersbach's clothes to shreds.]

A little later, Bach asked permission from his employers to go to Lubeck to hear the great Danish organist Dietrich Buxtehude.  They weren't terribly keen on the idea, but they gave him four weeks off anyway.  Bach set out, again on foot.  It was more than 200 miles, but he made it somehow.

Bach had a wonderful time in Lubeck and was thrilled to bits by Buxtehude's playing.  Since Buxtehude was thinking of retiring, he offered his job to Bach.  The only catch was that Bach had to marry Buxtehude's daughter Anna Margreta.  This seemed perfectly reasonable to Buxtehude, since he had done exactly the same thing to get the job from his predecessor, Franz Tunder.  Bach, however, was not so thrilled by the offer.  He said thanks but no thanks.  Two other great musicians of the time -- Johann Matheson and Georg Frideric Handel -- also turned down the offer of the job complete with wife.  It wasn't the sort of fringe benefit they had in mind.  [Ed. note:  OK, I'm sure you're all curious now.  The position was eventually filled by one Johann Christian Schieferdecker who, taking the whole deal, acquired a new Frau Schieferdecker.  Let's hope the Schieferdeckers were happy.  No historical evidence one way or the other survives - which may be a good sign.]

Bach wasn't keen on Buxehude's daughter because he'd had his eye on someone closer to home.  Very close to home, in fact.  Her name was Maria Barbara Bach and she was his second cousin on his father's side.  She was an orphan, living with her aunt and uncle in a little house called "The Golden Crown."  Bach lived there for a while too, and that's how they met.  It was convenient, anyway.  She was cute as a button and had a lovely soprano voice.  Pretty soon the church authorities noticed that the two of them were spending a lot of time alone together up in the choir loft.  They truly were only practicing, but, well, it was kind of like Christendom College.  People liked to speculate.

And they were right.

[Ed. note:  Interesting difference between Palestrina and Bach in their choice of spouses.  Both of them married a second time after the first wife died.  Both of Bach's wives were, at least, amateur musicians - women who would have had a respect and, even, technical appreciation for what he was about.  Palestrina, at least according to the superficial evidence in both cases, seems to have had business considerations as an important factor.  The first wife had an inheritance, the second owned a fur business.  I don't know if either of his wives knew anything about art or music.  The marriages seem to have been happy enough, though.  While I greatly admire Palestrina's music, I don't know if I could have made the personal choices he did.  Perhaps, putting the two together, the ideal wife is a soprano who owns a fur business! ]

So all things considered, Bach decided it might be a good idea to move somewhere else.  He and Maria Barabara got married and moved to Muhlhausen and a new church job.  Bach's salary in Muhlhausen was 85 gulden a year and "3 measures of corn, 2 trusses of wood, one of beech, one of oak or aspen, and 6 trusses of faggots, delivered at his door, in lieu of arable."

When the young couple were married, they were helped along financially by an inheritance from Tobias Lammerhirt, Bach's uncle on his mother's side.  Fourteen years later, in 1721, when Maria Barbara had died and Bach was about to be married again, he got an inheritance from the widow of Tobias Lammerhirt.  (It was a good thing Bach did not marry a third time.  He was running out of Lammerhirts.)

Things didn't work out well in Muhlhausen.  The church authorities were a sour-faced old bunch who didn't believe in having any fun.  Within a year, Bach had accepted a job as court organist to Wilhelm Ernst, "His Ducal and Serene Highness of Saxe-Weimar." The duke offered Bach double his previous salary and Bach said, "When do I begin?" 

The duke was a kind man, if somewhat stern.  Everybody had to turn out all the lights by 8 pm (9 pm in the summer), and the duke had a habit of asking the servants at random about the subject of the chaplain's sermons.  He wanted to make sure they'd been awake.  The duke liked music and the organ at Weimar was a good one, but the first things Bach did was to install a set of chimes.  Then it was even better.

(to be continued)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Concert - Wednesday Evening

Wednesday, Nov. 12 Susan Duer will play an all Beethoven 'fortepiano' recital in the Chapel Crypt at 8 PM. I even forget that Beethoven's piano - though it was evolving - was still much closer to the wood-framed tinkly little Mozart type of an instrument than the modern piano.

J.S. Bach (Part I)

J.S. Bach

(excerpts from the book, Bach, Beethoven and the Boys by David Barber)

Just about everybody in the Bach family was a good musician, but nobody was better than Johann Sebastian. If you wanted to you could trace the Bach family back through five generations. But you still wouldn't find anybody to bear J.S. Various members of the Bach clan were organists, town pipers and instrumentalists in Thuringia, a small state in the eastern part of what is now Germany. As far as being musicians, the Bachs had Thuringia pretty much sewn up.

Johann Sebastian's great-great-grandfather, old Veit Bach, was a miller. He liked to play his lute while the millstones ground flour in the background. J.S. later said it probably helped him to keep time. Johann Sebastian's father, Johann Ambrosius, married Elizabeth Lammerhirt, whose family were prosperous furriers and part-time mystics.

Johann Ambrosius had a twin brother named Johann Christopher. They looked so much alike that not even their wives could tell them apart. Johann Ambrosius and Elizabeth had three sons: Johann Christoph, Johann Jakob, and Johann Sebastian.

Johann Sebastian was born on March 21, 1685 and baptized two days later at the little church of St. George in Eisenach. At last report, the church still stands, and the present pastor still refers to that historic event whenever he baptizes a new little baby in the same font. Maybe he figures it will give them something to work towards.

At age eight, little Sebastian was sent of to school, where he did considerably better than his brother Johann Jakob.  He was a good singer and was one of those pupils who always knows the answers to everything.

His mother died when he was nine and his father a year later, so Sebastian was shipped off to the little town of Ohrdruf to live with his brother Johann Christoph, who was an organist and a pupil of Johann Pachelbel -- the one who wrote the famous Canon.  Since money was scarce it was soon decided to send little Sebastian to the choir school of St. Michael in Luneberg.  The rules stated that the singers had to be the "offspring of poor people, with nothing to live on, but possessing good voices."  He seemed to qualify on all counts, so off he went.

The school paid for his tuition, room and board, and gave him candles and firewood.  When his voice broke, we are told, Sebastian sang and spoke in octaves for a week.  It must have been an interesting effect, but it didn't last.  Anyway, Sebastian was kept busy after that playing violin, viola, and organ.

One of the ways Bach learned about music was to copy the compositions of his predecessors.  He did a lot of this while at school.  Historian Cecil Gray says: "He absorbed all styles, instead of being absorbed by them."  Karl Geiringer says something similar:  "Young Sebastian absorbed all instruction as readily as a sponge does water."

For a while, Bach studied organ in Luneburg with Georg Bohm, who had been a pupil of a man named J.A. Reinken.  Bach walked 30 miles to Hamburg to hear Reinken play.  After arriving in Hamburg, Bach was hungry and tired from his long walk, but had no money for a meal.  As he tells the story, he was just sitting outside an inn minding his own business, thinking about food and rubbing his tired feet, when out from an open window were tossed two herring heads.  And as if that weren't enough, each fish head contained a Danish ducat.

(to be continued)

Friday, November 7, 2008



(excerpts from the book, Bach, Beethoven and the Boys by David Barber)

Palestrina's wife died in 1580 of the plague, which left the composer quite upset.  He composed the Super Flumina Babylonis.  For awhile he even considered giving up music and becoming a priest, but changed his mind.  Within eight months after his wife's death he married Virginia Dormuli, a rich widow, and took over her dead husband's fur and ermine business, which had a monopoly to supply ermine to the Papal court.

Palestrina went into partnership with the shop's young apprentice and together they made a killing on the market.  Palestrina's wife was no fool, either.  She invested 500 scudi into the business, which she later withdrew and lent back to Palestrina at eight-per-cent interest.  He owned four houses, which he rented out to quiet tenants.

Palestrina was very busy.  In the mornings he minded the fur store and unplugged his tenants' toilets; in the afternoons he composed motets and masses.  Somehow he found time to write 93 Masses and 500 Motets, not to mention the four books of madrigals and other assorted church music. 

But this is nothing compared to the vast number of works -- nearly 2000 -- composed by Palestrina's contemporary, Orlando di Lasso.  He was born in Belgium in 1530 or so and had such a fine voice as a boy that he was kidnapped three times by rival choirs.

Lasso did very well for himself, always managing to get hired by rich patrons who let him travel all over Europe in grand style.  Once when the church authorities organized a solemn procession through the streets of Munich the parade was nearly ruined when it looked like it was going to rain.  As soon as the choir began to sing a piece of his music, the clouds parted and the sun shone.  Thereafter, the same piece was sung at all processions, just to be on the safe side.

Lasso enjoyed tremendous popularity as a composer and had his music performed in all the best places.  Although he was quite wild as a young man, he got more serious as he grew older.  Towards the end he went bonkers.  He no longer recognized his wife and started to mumble.

For all-round piety it's hard to beat Tomas Luis de Victoria, who was a Spanish composer of the same period.  He was also a priest.  He kept saying that he was going to give up composing and devote himself to the contemplation of higher things.  But somehow he never quite got around to it.

Victoria studied in Rome before returning to Spain and admired Palestrina so much that he even took to copying his style of clothing and the way he trimmed his beard.

Victoria wasn't the only one who admired Palestrina, who even in his own time was better respected than most musicians ever manage today.  Just two years before Palestrina's death,  a group of composers got together and printed some music, which they dedicated to Palestrina, whom they called: "an ocean of musical knowledge." They said that compared to him they were merely, "rivers whose life is bound up with the sea."  Palestrina was flattered, but had to ask them to stop before his feet got too wet.

Palestrina died in 1594 and was buried in the St. Peter's cemetery.  Over the years, what with all the renovations and everything, we seem to have misplaced his grave.  But he's still there somewhere, decomposing.

Thursday, November 6, 2008



(excerpts from the book, Bach, Beethoven and the Boys by David Barber)

It might confuse you to learn that Palestrina is not a person but a place.  The composer was actually named Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina.  At various times he was also known as Joannes Petrus-Aloysius Praenestinus, Joannes Praenestinus, Giovanni da Penestrina, Geo Pietro Luigi da Pallestrina, Gianetti Palestina, Gianetto del Palestino, Gio Petralosis Prenestrino and Gianetto Palestrina.  Under the circumstances, Palestrina seems the least trouble.

He was born around 1525 to Santo and his wife Palme Pierluigi, in a little house in the Via Cecconi in the tiny village of Palestrina, outside Rome.  When his paternal grandmother died she left him a mattress and some kitchen utensils. But since he was only two years old at the time they wouldn't have been much use to him.

Gianetto (as he was called then) was a happy, playful child who became an altar boy and sang in the local choir.  When he was twelve he went to Rome to a choir school, where he was taught elementary composition and how to make spitballs.  When he was 20 he got his first job as an organist back in his hometown.  He married a girl named Lucrezia Gori, whose father had just died and left her some money (she also inherited a house, a vineyard, some meadows and a chestnut-colored donkey).  Not long after, Giovanni Maria del Monte, the bishop of Palestrina, became Pope Julius III and moved to Rome.  Julius showed his appreciation of local talent by appointing Palestrina director of St. Peter's choir.  For this he was paid six scudi every month.  This would mean more if we knew how much a scudo was worth, but we don't.  Palestrina was later made a singer in that pontifical choir, even though he didn't have a very good voice (he was a tenor).  His pay went up to ten scudi a month.

Julius died in 1555 and was replaced by Pope Marcellus II, who reigned for a grand total of three weeks.  He died suddenly when he ate something that didn't agree with him.  Marcellus II would hardly be worth mentioning except that Palestrina dedicated his Missa Papae Marcelli to him, thereby single-handedly saving the future of music forever.  Well, that's what his biographer Giuseppe Baini says, and who are we to disagree with him?

It seems that church music at the time had gotten a little too racy and the new pope, Paul IV, called for it to be cleaned up.  Composers had been using bawdy songs as the basis for their church music.  Worst of all, no one could understand the words.

The story goes that some of the stuffier cardinals wanted to abolish polyphony altogether and get back to the basics with Gregorian chant.  Palestrina showed that some of this music could be quite respectable.  Evidently the cardinals fell for it.

Palestrina was by no means your typical artsy, head-in-the-clouds musician.  He was a pretty shrewd businessman who sold barrels of sacramental wine to the church to make extra money.  He wasn't very good at saving, though.  When his son Angelo died suddenly, Palestrina had to borrow money to repay the bride's dowry, which he'd already spent.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008



(excerpts from the book, Bach, Beethoven and the Boys by David Barber)

Through his connection with Porpora, Haydn soon got a job as a composer to the court of Count Morzin, a Bohemian nobleman.  From there he was offered the job he stayed at for the rest of his life, as court composer and Kapellmeister to Prince Paul Anton Esterhazy, a Hungarian nobleman.

Paul Anton didn't last long and was soon replaced by his brother, Nicolaus the Magnificent.  Nicolaus was a kind man and a decent musician, even if he did have a penchant for flashy clothing.  Haydn's own uniform was blue with gold trim.  Later it was red with gold trim.

Nicolaus liked to play an instrument called the baryton, which is a sort of cross between the cello and a guitar.  Nobody makes them anymore.  But if you wanted to learn it, Haydn wrote about 160 chamber pieces for the baryton, which ought to keep you busy for awhile.

Not content with the family palace at Eisenstadt, Nicolaus decided to build a splendid new castle, which he named Esterhaza.  He had it built in a swamp in the middle of nowhere because he was fond of duck hunting.

Esterhaza was a classy place, but Haydn and his musicians didn't like being stuck in the boondocks, so far away form Vienna, not to mention their wives and children.  The quarters were mostly single rooms.  Haydn had one of the few apartments with room for his wife, not that he spent anymore time with her than he had to.

This situation led Haydn to compose one of his best-known symphonies, No. 45 in F-sharp minor, known as the "Farewell" Symphony.  The joke comes at the end of the final movement when as the instrumental parts drop away, each player was instructed to snuff out his candle and leave the stage.  By the end there were only two violins playing, Haydn and Luigi Tomasini. Nicolaus got the message and everyone packed to leave the next day.

Haydn's compositions have more nicknames than those of any other composer in the history of music.  When you consider that he wrote, for example, at least 22 symphonies in D major, the nicknames become useful.  Altogether, he wrote about 107 symphonies, a dozen Masses, 52 piano sonatas and about 84 string quartets.  He had to have something to keep him out of the house at nights.

Even though his marriage was a disaster, Haydn had plenty else to be happy about.  He was well respected by his contemporaries, including Mozart and Beethoven, who both studied with him.  The members of his orchestra called him "Papa."  He had stubby legs and a big nose and a mischievous sense of humor.

When Haydn died in 1809, there was a simple funeral, since Austria was rather busy being invaded by Napoleon's troops.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008



(excerpts from the book, Bach, Beethoven and the Boys by David Barber)

For the next few years, Haydn lived a gypsy life as one of the many street musicians, or buskers, in the city of Vienna.  He made a little extra money giving music lessons , just enough to pay the rent at his tiny garret on the Michalerplaz.  Late at night he studied the keyboard works of C.P.E. Bach and composed his own music.

His first big break came when he and some fellow buskers serenaded the house of Johann Joseph Kurz, a comedian and pantomime performer popularly known as Kurz-Bernardon, after his most famous role.  Bernardon is a stock comic character, a simpleton also known as Hanswurst.  Kurz commissioned Haydn to compose the music for a comic opera, Der Krumme Teufel (The Crooked Devil).  Haydn got paid 25 ducats, which made him feel very rich.

After that, things started looking up for Haydn.  The court poet Metastasio lived in a nicer apartment in the same building and through him Haydn met Niccolo Porpora, a famous singing teacher and composer.  Haydn became his accompanist and valet.  From Porpora he learned not only fundamentals of composition but also how to polish boots and keep the lint off a velvet jacket.

It was about this time that Haydn fell madly in love with one of his pupils, a lovely young woman named Therese Keller, a wig maker's daughter.  Haydn wanted to marry her, but she decided she wanted to become a nun instead.  When she entered the convent in 1756 Haydn composed a little organ concerto for the ceremony, just to show that there were no hard feelings.

As a sort of consolation prize, Therese's father suggested that Haydn could marry her older sister, Anna Maria.  She was 31, he was 28.  Too upset to think straight, he said yes.  He lived to regret it:  Anna Maria was ugly, ill-tempered, and a bad housekeeper.  She had no appreciation of Haydn's life as a musician.  She didn't care whether he was a cobbler or a composer.  She would use his manuscripts to line cake tins, or cut the paper into strips to curl her hair with.

(to be continued . . .)

Monday, November 3, 2008

HAYDN (Part I)


(excerpts from the book, Bach, Beethoven and the Boys by David Barber)

Haydn had neither the flashy individuality of Mozart nor the brooding, romantic passion of Beethoven.  He was more of a middle-management type.

Haydn did spend a few years struggling to make ends meet as a young man in Vienna.  But he spent most of his life -- nearly 50 years -- at the same job, which offered him creative scope and financial security.  He was 24 years older than Mozart yet outlived him by 18 years.  And until his very last years he enjoyed, unlike Beethoven, good health.

He spent his final years in well-deserved, peaceful retirement, in comfortable surroundings and with a private stock of his favorite wine, a tokay.  Haydn died in 1809 at 77 years of age, with money in the bank and a wardrobe full of nice clothes.  If his love life had gone better, he would have been even happier.

Haydn was born into a simple peasant family in the little Austrian village of Rohrau, near the border with Hungary, in 1732.  His father was a second-generation wheelwright and his mother was a cook.  They christened their son Franz Joseph, but around the house they called him "Sepperl."

As a boy he was well-mannered and tidy.  He liked to pretend he was playing the fiddle on two sticks of firewood.  Well, it's a start.

When he was six, he went to live with a schoolmaster cousin in the nearby town of Hainburg.  This man, Franck, was a stern teacher who thought that his pupils could learn anything if only he beat them often enough.  Haydn did learn from him, at least enough to be accepted as a choirboy at St. Stephen's cathedral in Vienna.  He was auditioned by the choirmaster, George Reutter, who bribed him with cherries and taught him how to sing a trill.  Haydn said much later in life that he could never hear a trill without thinking of the taste of cherries.

Little Haydn was a good singer but a bit of a prankster.  One prank finally lost him his place: he snipped the pig tale off the boy in front of him and Reutter kicked him out of the choir.  It was just as well: his voice was beginning to break and there was talk of castrating him.  So there he was, 17 years old with just three worn shirts, a ragged jacket, and no money to his name.

(to be continued . . .)

Friday, October 31, 2008

All Saints Mass

This Saturday, at the 11:30 Mass at Christendom College, William Byrd's Polyphonic setting of the Propers will be sung by the Palestrina Chamber Choir. This will be an historic first!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Four Part Hymn Singing

It happens every once in a blue moon. Some convert who came out of one of those small, tightly-nit Protestant churches - population approx. 150-300 - wonders why Catholics don't sing hymns in four part harmony. Never mind the fact that most main line Protestants don't/can't do that. He (or she) wonders why what seemed so natural in childhood cannot happen, and immediately, in his (or her) new Catholic parish.

First, one could enter into that whole discussion about the difference between liturgical music and 'popular religious music.' Even though hymns can and should be a part of people's popular religious devotion, they are not, per se, liturgical music. But add to this the fact that most Catholics in America do not have that tradition of hymn singing in the home, except maybe some Christmas carols. Add to this the fact that most Americans do not sing - not regularly - except "Happy Birthday" and maybe a college fight song, and a few other pieces when they are schnockered. (Listen to the quality of singing in most Catholic parishes. You are lucky if you can get any sort of sound for the melody, let alone for four parts.)

Finally, in the handful of places where I have heard four part singing from a congregation, I don't like it past a certain point. I would never say this to a devotee as I would quickly be accused of being a snob, but I tire of it quickly. It is like a perpetual fourth choir rehearsal. Things reach a certain level of competence, but, without a director, it stays at about the same mediocre level ad infinitum. Every verse of every hymn has the same harmonies without variation, AND the sopranos are slightly sharp, the altos slightly flat, the tenors, too loud, etc. over and over and over . . .


It doesn't lift my mind up to God.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Some Brief Notes About the "Uzi Stories"

In writing these stories, I write what I know, both settings and characters, and then I expand on these things using my imagination. Particularly in regard to the characters, I often, though not always, use a real-life person as my starting point. For example, Anthony Smitha was my starting point for Texas Schola Dawg. But Texas Schola Dawg is NOT Anthony. I tried to make this point by including Anthony himself within one of my stories along with Texas Schola Dawg. Now, Anthony is a particularly rich source for characterization and was a good starting point, but that is all. So I do want to caution my readers against assuming that a particular character IS someone whom they know.

That is simply not the case. Even when Anthony himself made an appearance, I expanded on some of his traits using my imagination. Things which were obviously false. Anthony never owned a "be-bop record shop." As far as I know, such things ceased existing even before I was born. I don't think Anthony was ever a small-time pool hustler. I do know he is a devout Catholic who has very eclectic interests. So, even in drawing a character who is real, I used things which, strictly speaking, are false, but humorous, and draw out the truth of his eclectic interests and commitments.

(I suppose I could have said, "Anthony Smitha, amateur body builder, devout Catholic, and motor cycle enthusiast" which would have been true and funny, but for some reason I wanted to go for the even more outrageous, "small-time pool hustler, devout Catholic, and one-time proprietor of a be-bop record shop" precisely because it was false and thus even more humorous - and yet, in a sense, true - at least in terms of the variety of his interests.)

Sometimes my characterizations are funny because they are totally false: Bruce Hacker as a German spy, Greg Townsend as a secret agent for the Red Chinese. Some of the characters, like Uzi, have no starting point in real life and some do, like Polly, but I would never publicly reveal this and it's unimportant. Polly could have been based on a number of different women I know and if the real starting point is revealed, then people will always be making a comparison, "so-and-so would never do that, etc." That's not the point. The person who is the starting point is merely a frame upon which modelling clay is added, so to speak, to create a character.

Still you have to be careful. Sometimes I will change a person's name, but they are pretty close to the real thing (e.g. President Mike McConnell). It would be very dangerous for me to make him do something bad of his own free will, for instance.

Irish Setter O'Shaughnessy clearly is very much based on a real man with comic exaggerations added - but the comic exaggerations, though extreme, are based on a real dichotomy in the man's life. Obviously his name (and his species) were also changed.

The whole dog thing has perplexed me. I liked the Underdog cartoon and wanted to use that graphic. It inspired the whole series, but, really, dogs going to a Catholic college and praying in the chapel? Or functioning as chaplains? Speaking to human beings? It is all so fantastic. I just stopped worrying about it at a certain point. It's not supposed to all logically cohere.

As for my writing style, I wouldn't mind some comments. Obviously, I am a bit of a devotee of the incomplete sentence. (I know that classically a sentence needs a noun and a verb.) Even the one word sentence. Even the one word paragraph.


I know I took this directly from Ralph McInnerny, although he probably got this from Hemmingway. Am I right? I like alliteration also. Anyway, if my writing style is analyzable (or worth analyzing) let me know.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Beato Fra Angelico

Just a reminder,

the Beato Fra Angelico Fine Arts Series will continue with two concerts:

  • Wednesday, Nov. 12 Susan Duer will play an all Beethoven 'fortepiano' recital in the College Library at  8 PM.  I even forget that Beethoven's piano - though it was evolving - was still much closer to the wood-framed tinkly little Mozart (tuned wood peckers) type of an instrument than the modern piano. 
  • Saturday, Nov. 22 the Fairwinds Woodwind Quintet will be a concert of music for woodwind quintet in the St. Lawrence Commons.  It will include music by such composers as Barthe, Milhaud, Danzi, Piazzolla, Ewazen, and Mahler.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Old Choir Director and Friend

I received a phone call from my old choir director - teacher, mentor, and friend a few weeks ago. It seems they are merging his parish and the local "student parish." Guess who the new pastor will be of the conglomeration? The pastor of the student parish. Obviously, he is concerned for his job. Now he is a retired University Professor with a pension. Church music is not his sole or main source of income, but he has a great love for church music and hates to see his work of over 30 years just go down the drain. (If I recall correctly he told me that he had been music director since 1972 or 1973.) Although we had our disagreements when I was with him, he gave me some important initial training and inspiration. He would like to retire soon and hand his program on, but fears that the program itself might be destroyed.

Ah, church music.

In your mercy, say an Ave or Pater for the man.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Workshop in Stevens Point, WI

A brief sketch of my Chant Workshop in Stevens Point, WI:

I was invited to do a Chant Workshop at St. Peter's Catholic Church in Steven's Point, WI which is in the diocese of La Crosse - of course, this is Archishop Burke's former diocese, before he moved on to St. Louis and then the Vatican. [He was born and raised in the area and, in fact, the pastor of the parish, Fr. Louis, is a nephew. (I could see the family resemblance.)] Although the current bishop is good by all accounts, part of Archbishop Burke's legacy is that the diocese still requires ANY public speaker at a parish - at least one that is publicized widely through diocesan channels - to have the mandatum. I don't have the piece of paper, because Bishop Loverde considers our public oath to the magisterium in front of him to substitute for the mandatum. I had to explain that, so I was told to have a letter from my pastor assuring them that I was a "Catholic in good standing." Fr. Fasano was glad to provide this.

The workshop started on Friday (10/17) at 1 PM, so I had to take a 6 AM flight out of Dulles Airport, which meant I had to leave my apartment that day at about 3:30 AM. Anyway, I arrived on time and was picked up at the Wausau airport by Patrick Burkhardt, the music director at St. Peter's, and dropped off at the Bed and Breakfast where I was lodged for the weekend (more about this later). Then he picked me up for a quick lunch with two of his teenage sidekicks, Alex and Eric - an interesting pair.

I began with my standard talk on how to read Gregorian chant notation, following to some degree the summary in the back of the "Parish Book of Chant," of which everyone received a copy. Later I took them through the Ordinary from Chant Mass IV, Gloria XV, several Propers and some polyphony - the Byrd Ave Verum and Non Nobis Domine. With breaks and time off for dinner, we went until 8 PM. We all were tired.

On Saturday, we worked from 9 AM until 3 :30 PM - again with a few breaks and time off for lunch. I also gave my talk on "Gregorian Chant: the Splendor of Forms" - which always seems to be a winner. It was a typical workshop concatenation of voices - bad breath support, poor intonation and blend, no sense of a unified vowel sound. But I worked with them and they got better, it was heartening, although it wore me out - I did earn my fee. We sang for the 4 PM Saturday Vigil Mass.

Later that evening, Patrick Burkhardt played a recital which was quite good. The parish has a 30 stop, 3 manual , 1930 M.P. Moeller. It was voiced with an English Romantic sound. He had been the organist/choir director at St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha and was quite the suberb organist. He closed the recital with Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor which he played with real technical accuracy and panache. Not an easy piece to play.

Had dinner with Patrick and the pastor, Fr. Louis twice. I always enjoy this. They are trying to move things in a better direction. They are good hearted "reform-of-the reformers" and I wish them much success, but they have their work cut out for them. Just like in Lincoln, NE, although the bishop is orthodox and there is an overall solidity to most of the clergy, the state of the liturgy and music in the parishes sometimes leaves much to be desired. And many of the people are quite content with things the way they are.

There were several Christendom connections. I met a cousin of Prof. Snyder's wife, the godchildren of Prof. Townsend (or was it his wife?), anyway they wanted me to give him a package. Finally Fr. Louis worked with Fr. William at the Josephinum and said, "he is a real card once you get him going." (Fr. William will DEFINITELY be coming to my Nov. 1 party, so I promise you I will "get him going.")

Finally, the bed and breakfast. It was neat and clean - even had a tub with a whirlpool, which I didn't find as enjoyable as I thought I might. The place had a nostalgic theme, but wasn't unified. There were 1920's artifacts (old radio, etc.) and artwork from the 1880's - 1890's - rather Victorian looking. Overall, however, my room had the look and feel of the bedroom of a teenage girl who was into country arts and crafts. Lot's of old-fashioned dolls in gingham dresses, a pillow with the word "love" stitched onto it (and flowers growing out of each letter) and a bed spread with lacey sides hanging down. I am sure some of my readers will get a kick out of me having to spend the night in such a room - the only thing funnier would be imagining Texas Schola Dawg having to spend the night in such a room.

Well, I'm glad I was able to be of some help to the people of the Diocese of LaCrosse and wish them all of the best. And Christendom Choirs - I do appreciate you more after experiences like this!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Liturgy and Contemplation in Byrd's "Gradualia"

Liturgy and Contemplation in Byrd's Gradualia

William Byrd's Gradualia (1605/1607) is one of the most unusual and elaborate musical works of the English Renaissance.  This large collection of liturgical music, 109 pieces in all, was written for clandestine use by English Catholics at a time when they were forbidden to practice their religion in public.  When Byrd began to compose the Gradualia, he turned from the penitential and polemical extravagances of his earlier Latin motets to the narrow, carefully ordered world of the Counter-Reformation liturgy.  It was in this new context, cut off from his familiar practice of choosing colorful texts and setting then at length, that he first wrote about the "hidden and mysterious power" of sacred words to evoke a creative response.

Liturgy and Contemplation in Byrd's Gradualia responds to Byrd's own testimony by exploring how he reads the texts of the Mass and the events of the church calendar.  Kerry McCarthy examines early modern English Catholic attitudes toward liturgical practice, meditation, and what the composer himself called "thinking over divine things."  She draws on a wide range of contemporary sources -- devotional treatises, commentaries on the Mass, poetry, memoirs, letters, and Byrd's dedicatory prefaces -- and revisits the Gradualia in light of this evidence.  This book offers a case study of how one artist reimagined the creative process in the final decades of his life.

Kerry McCarthy is Assistant Professor of Musicology at Duke University.  Her work on English sacred music has appeared in several research journals, including early Music History, Music and Letters, and Early Music.  This is her first book.
This will be on display at my Nov. 1 party.  I had exchanged an e-mail or two with her and published an article of hers when I edited Sacred Music.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Uzi - Super Schola Dog: A President Gone Mad

It was a scintillating, September Saturday morning on the Christendom College campus. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, an Indian Summer was in full bloom.

God was in his heaven.

Uzi thought he would drop in on a choir rehearsal. Sure enough he heard it. The choir director's usual patter. "Sopranos, you're sharp! . . . but . . . uh, in other places you're . . . uh . . . slightly above average."

And all was right with the world.

Nothing wrong here. Uzi smiled inwardly and proceeded on up to the chapel to say a prayer of thanksgiving. He had heard some strange rumors, but dismissed them. He now felt more secure. In fact Uzi was not the only one. The choir director himself had received a call earlier in the week from the college president, or someone sounding like him, trying to convince him to change the name of the "Palestrina Choir" to the "Palestinian Choir" in honor of "the late, great Yasser Arafat." The director had laughed it off, assuming that it was a prank by one of those students good at doing imitations. (The voice at the other end of the phone had also suggested that the schola be renamed "Podiddy and the Schola," which really made the director think it a student prank.)

As Uzi reached the vestibule at the top of the stairs, he saw a big banner stretched across the inner entry to the chapel. It said, "Imagine. Inspire. Innovate. Engage. Evolve." His heart dropped to his feet. In fact he felt like the ground underneath him had collapsed. He felt very sick. There it was. He could see with his own eyes that something was wrong. And that banner had not been there the night before, as students later confirmed.

Still, he had to pull himself together. He was a super hero.

He sensed that he should walk toward the library. Sure enough, on the path he encountered almost the entire board of directors running out of their quarterly meeting which was being held in the library board room that very morning. The men in their suits and ties, but screaming in terror; the women nicely dressed, but in tears. It was hard to get much out of them except that the College president, Mike McConnell, was saying disturbing things. He was using phrases like, "I am passionate about the power of inclusiveness and the power of individually diverse perspectives," and "I am committed to collaborative processes of creative re-imaging in which appropriate individuals with their diverse strengths and empowerments are involved."

This was NOT Mike McConnell. Not even close. He was a good orthodox Catholic, a pious man, a political conservative - someone who made fun of the sort of jargon and left-wing ideas he now seemed to be spouting. He was very philo-Irish, true, once playfully misquoting the College's motto as "Instaurare omnia in Hibernia." This got annoying at times, but it was nothing compared to his current position. If it was HIS position? Was this an imposter? Or had some sort of block been put on his free will? If such a thing was possible. Uzi couldn't quite piece together what was going on. What to do? What to do?

This super-hero was clueless, but on the other side of campus, another hero was very clued-in.

Hearing the phone in Padre Pio ring, Irish Setter O'Shaughnessy put down Machaut's "Livre du Voir Dit," one of his favorites, which he was reading in the original Medieval French, and answered. "Yes, President Bush. Yes . . . Umm-hmm . . . Yes, I received a call from His Holiness earlier this morning. Yes, I realize this is a national security issue as well. Umm-hmm, umm-hmm. Of course, for God and Country, I will do the best I can. Christendom College is too strategically important. Yes, yes, I realize it may be time to 'blow my cover' as you say - at least to Uzi."

Irish Setter O'Shaughnessy was an older chaplain who was specifically placed at Christendom by the Vatican, with the approval of the United States government - to keep an eye on things. Although no one on the local level really knew that. Not even the College administration. (They thought THEY had hired him.) The College was too important to the Church and the Nation. In fact O'Shaughnessy deliberately threw everyone off the scent. He adopted another persona, that of the "old duffer." Think of the character played by Wilfrid Brambell in "A Hard Day's Night," - the mischievous, old Irish duffer with sass and an eye for the ladies, or as Paul McCartney said in the movie, "he's a king mixer and he'll cost you a fortune in breach of promise suits."

But the point was, everyone thought he was a harmless, old man - slightly naughty and cantankerous - but harmless. Not to be taken seriously.

At least that was what he wanted any sleeper agents to think.

Another part of his false persona was that he was physically kaput: old, a cane user and often in pain. True, he was almost 80 years old, but in actuality he had the strength of a man one quarter his age. A martial arts expert, he would put these skills to use soon. Still, no one man could do this by himself. He needed help, he needed Uzi. Time to let the young whipper-snapper in on this caper.

Uzi went into the chapel to pray before the Blessed Sacrament, first ripping down the offending banner. It was a FELT banner! (Ugh) After awhile it hit him. Where did that circular white thing out in Kelly's field come from? He was always suspicious of it. It was supposed to be an 'observatory,' but . . . really . . . No one saw it delivered to the site or constructed on the spot. It just appeared one morning. Almost as if it emerged from out of the earth. From below. From under. From . . . down under?

Of course, Professor Townsend.

He was Australian, right? Or was he a New Zealander? Whatever. Close enough. "The Land of Down Under." Sure he had that gentle, teddy-bear personality but, as Uzi was soon to learn, things were not what they seemed. Later, O'Shaughnessy filled him in. Townsend was a sleeper agent. Himself presenting a different persona, pretending to be the gentle orthodox Catholic, "tradition loving koala bear," spouting science and St. Thomas in that really cute accent. Harmless, harmless . . . harmless?


In reality he had been trained back in the late 60's and 70's as a very young man by the late Wo Fat, Steve McGarrett's old nemesis, to be an operative for the Red Chinese. The perfect scam. A white New Zealand orthodox Catholic. It seems the Chi-Comms wanted to destabilize the country, maybe even build a missile base on the campus. A dagger at the throat of the nation's capitol. They were going to realize their pernicious plans by first destabilizing the college itself. But how did Agent Townsend gain such control over President McConnell? Not even O'Shaughnessy quite knew at the time.

Uzi heard a commotion outside. President McConnell was outside the chapel trying to tear down the statue of Christ and replace it with a big sign that read, "Self-Actualization Fellowship Chapel." O'Shaughnessy snuck up behind him and gave him the Vulcan nerve pinch. "Uzi me laddie," he said, "we have to get out to Kelly's field and into that so-called 'observatory.' No time to explain."

They left the president lying by the statue, unconscious, to be dealt with later. It was decided that O'Shaughnessy would go first as a decoy because, sure enough, Townsend's young goons were there protecting the observatory. There were twenty of them, students, all wearing short ties in imitation of their merciless master. O'Shaughnessy came up to them on his cane, playing the old fool to perfection. "Well, me laddies, I just got me dispensation from the pope to marry one of these young Christendom beauties. Now what was her name . . . Sheila? . . . Mary? . . . uh . . . uh . . ." The guards started smirking. O'Shaughnessy bent over faking heart trouble. "Oh, its too much good news for me ticker to take . . . uh . . . a young colleen . . . uhhhh . . ."

A couple of the guards came forward to help. "All right gran' dad, you've had enough excitement for today." Whack! Whack! O'Shaughnessy straightened up and knocked them both unconscious with his cane. Five more of Townsend's goons came at him, but he whirled with one of his legs extended. It was just like in The Matrix - in slow-motion with everything coming to a stop as he made contact with them while in mid-kick - then everything sped up again as he knocked them all over like a row of bowling pins. This continued for about two minutes after which, with Uzi's help, there were twenty unconscious students lying in Kelly's field.

The two of them broke the lock on the observatory door and found some sort of ray-emitting mind control device inside. It had only two settings: 1) Annoying Secular College President, and 2) Annoying Irish-American Catholic College President. Uzi thought to himself, "you mean those are our only two choices?" O'Shaughnessy said, "let's just destroy it," - an idea to which Uzi readily agreed.

Having done this, they raced back to President McConnell to wake him up. Finally, he was free from those terrible rays. Free after almost thirty years. Free was his will, no longer impeded. Free to be the man he truly was with no undue outside influences. What would that be? They shook him. He rubbed his eyes, saying, "Where am I? What day is this?"

"You are at Christendom College and this is Saturday, September 27th," they both responded.

Suddenly he sat up and, looking at his watch, he beamed.

"Only 172 days and 13 1/2 more hours until St. Patrick's Day!"

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Talented Mr. Ripley

Do you love beautiful scenery in Italy? Rome, Venice, Naples? Do you love good music of all types? Opera, Schubert trios, Classic Jazz, obscure Italian pop songs from 1958? Do you enjoy Matt Damon, Gyweneth Paltrow, Cate Blanchet, Jude Law and director Anthony Minghella? Then this MIGHT be a movie for you.

Then again it might not be, as a theme of the movie is "trouble in paradise."

The basic story is about a young man, "Mr. Ripley," played by Matt Damon who is sent by a wealthy ship builder (Mr. Greenleaf) to Italy to bring his spoiled young adult son back to America. Ripley is mistaken for a Princeton alumni, because he is wearing someone else's Princeton jacket, but he never has the guts to correct Mr. Greenleaf, who honestly thinks that he must have known his son, Dickie (played by Jude Law who affects a very good American accent). Thus the whole adventure begins because of a willfully allowed misunderstanding. As Ripley says, however, "I would rather be a fake somebody, rather than a real nobody.")

Ripley, takes advantage of the situation to see Italy and pal around with the Princeton alum ex-patriot rich kids over there. He and Dickie become friends and conspire to keep the charade going. Well, this is a troubled young man - a homosexual - and he ultimately develops a crush on Dickie Greenleaf. Dickie is not exactly Mr. Clean-Bill-of-Moral/Psychological-Health, himself. He has a main girlfriend, played by Gweneth Paltrow (Marge) who wants marriage, but has other "girlfriends" as well. He gets one of the local village girls pregnant, and she commits suicide.

So he has problems, but the basic human social skills and normal developments are there. He likes women - although in a very self-centered and destructive way.

Anyway, when Ripley reveals his feelings for Dickie he gets rebuffed and then an ugly scene ensues and a fight and Dickie ends up dead. This takes place in a row boat. The scene ends with an overview shot of Ripley laying down and hugging Dickie Greenleaf's lifeless body in the row boat which is rocking in an absolutely gorgeously blue Adriatic Sea.

This is a visual symbol of the theme of the movie which is "trouble in paradise." Gorgeous beauty outside, but all is not well. It also perfectly illustrates Ripley's psycho-sexual immaturity. He is not a well-developed man. First of all, his love is wrongly directed, then when it is rebuffed it turns violent, finally when he kills his "beloved" (not on purpose, though, it was "involuntary manslaughter" and partly accidental) he turns smarmy and sentimental. The visual symbol is beautiful and yet creepy. He is hugging someone who cannot choose to "hug back," but neither can a dead body refuse an embrace. (So that's good enough for him?) Kind of like a child hugging a teddy bear. An immature love. OK for a 2 year old, but a 24 year old?

And this is one of the things - aside from the gorgeous scenery and music - which I enjoyed about the movie. Verisimilitude. Even though all of the people who made the movie were classic Hollywood liberals (i.e. pro-homosexual). The psychosexual-development issues which generally lead to male homosexuality were all present in Matt Damon's character. I don't think this was the conscious intent of the director, at least judging from his commentary. And Minghella might even have denied this, claiming that Ripley was merely a "repressed homosexual" who needed to be freed up. Indeed there is a more "mature homosexual" in the movie for a brief time. I suppose for balance. Nonetheless, the characterization of the Ripley character by Damon (and Minghella and whoever the script writer was) is quite spot on - especially for those of us who have had to deal with male homosexuals (and you do in the secular art world).

Not to give the whole plot away, but it gets worse. Because Ripley looks somewhat like Dickie Greenleaf, he is able to pass himself off to people who didn't know Dickie using his passport. He steals his identity. But then he has to be "himself" around all of the people who did know Dickie well, and yet keep Dickie alive by claiming that he had just seen him or talked to him. (Dickie's body never turns up because Ripley buried it at sea).

Furthermore, the people who think Ripley is Dickie talk to the people who know he is not Dickie and he has to be very careful not to be in the same room with both groups of people. There are some very close escapes.

Well, he kills other people to keep this charade alive, but he is so good he never gets caught - but in a sense he wants to be caught and end the whole thing, but of course he can't quite do that. This is a line of deceptions which started with Mr. Greenleaf. He can't stop. He has a compulsion. And this is his punishment. Kind of like a Greek myth - the myth of Sisyphus? - he is doomed to stay in this state of guilt all by himself endlessly, because of his one talent of lying and deception.

The tension is almost unbearable, but the only way out is to confess, but with the bodies piling up (3-4 murders? I forget), this would mean life in prison if not execution.

He is trapped.

Because he wanted to be a fake somebody, he is loaded down with guilt and is all alone - a real nobody.

Monday, October 20, 2008

New Christendom CD!

The fifth Christendom College CD entitled "Cantate Domino" should really (honestly, I mean it!) come out by this Christmas.  By the time you read this I will have made the final corrections to the text and submitted them to the printer.  This medieval sequence is what will be on the cover.  The CD will consist of the five or so newly recorded choir pieces and the several newly recorded schola pieces, plus the "best of" of the last three CD's.  It is meant to replace the first CD which is a "generic - non-thematic" CD which the College gives out to potential students and donors.  This one is definitely of a higher quality.  (I have a sentimental attachment to that first one from 2000, but it needed to be replaced.)

Some of the tracks are quite stunning.  Especially the most recently recorded.  This is some very good singing for liberal arts students.  I don't mean that as a put down.  Those of us who specialize sometimes can't think our way out of a paper bag.  I greatly admire the intensive liberal arts training that the Christendom students receive.  You all will have an important influence on the culture in whatever you do, even (no especially) as parents.  I just wish that it would have been combined with certain basic training in music (also a liberal art) that started in grade school and that I could then further refine instead of having to start at a more basic level.

But, as I said, for a group of people who weren't music majors nor ever had to take a music class, you have done astoundingly well in some of the tracks.  Astoundingly well.  Far better than what I can remember of my college choir - which I wasn't in, I was a real "bando" at the time.

Friday, October 17, 2008


Very sorry to do this to you, but no Uzi today. I have extensive notes and the basic plot worked out, but not the 2-4 hours it takes me to write and polish these little stories. I will definitely put it out next week - as I will be on Fall Break - and will try very hard to do it by Wednesday. First I will be in Stevens Point, WI doing a chant workshop at a parish.  This workshop is basically affiliated with the CMAA. (Anyone at Scott Turkington's workshop in N. Virginia the same weekend, send my regards.) The stipend from this workshop will pay for my new computer. ("Baby needs new shoes!")

Oh, yes. And I also will be spreading the good word about how to sing the "music proper to the Roman Rite."

Then I will be in Grand Rapids, MI visiting my mother, sister and my friends from the Schola of the Chair of St. Peter.

Resting a bit. Maybe even polishing another artistic gem - and then, back to the Christendom grind. (It is a good place - very good, actually. I'm very blessed.  The institution does very good work and I am blessed with some good friends whom I hope to get to know even better.)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Ed Feser Blog

Conservative Blogger and Thomistic Philosopher, Ed Feser, writes on everything from Mind/Brain Reductionism and The New Atheism to Austrian Economics. [And ladies, he's handsome, too - well, in a slightly rugged sort of way.] Check out his blog which is Here is a sample:

Some brief arguments for dualism, Part I

It is unreasonable to expect even the best argument for a controversial philosophical position to be capable, in one fell swoop and all by itself, of convincing the most skeptical opponent – or, indeed, even to move him slightly in the direction of reconsidering his position. That is (usually, anyway) simply not how the human mind works. A dispute over some particular argument for the existence of God, mind-body dualism, or traditional sexual morality (to take just three examples) can reflect a tacit disagreement about fundamental metaphysical assumptions that is so deep and unconscious that the parties to the dispute (or at least one party, usually the skeptical or “naturalist” one) are barely aware that it exists at all, and often talk past each other as a result. What seems like an obvious objection to an argument can often constitute in reality a failure to see the point of the argument, and in particular a failure to see that what the argument does is precisely to call into question the intelligibility or rational justifiability of the objection itself. While the argument in question can in many cases be stated fairly simply and straightforwardly, pages and pages, indeed an entire book, might be required in order to set the stage so that its terms and basic assumptions are properly understood, and that countless point-missing objections might patiently be swept away like so much intellectual rubbish standing in the way of understanding.

Some common objections to dualism are like this. They falsely assume, for example, that any argument for dualism must be something analogous to a “God of the gaps” argument – a “soul of the gaps,” as it were – which seeks to exploit some current lacuna in our knowledge of the brain and to suggest that the “hypothesis” of an immaterial substance might explain what neuroscientists have so far been unable to. It is then objected that such an explanation would violate Ockham’s razor, that neuroscience has already “explained” x, y, and z and thus can be expected to explain everything else, etc. etc. I hear these objections frequently. They are often presented by people who mean well, and who are not entirely uninformed about some of the arguments presented by both materialists and anti-materialists in the philosophy of mind. But they nevertheless reflect a very shallow understanding of the debate. For the main arguments for dualism do not have this structure at all. They are not quasi-scientific “explanatory” “hypotheses” which “postulate” the existence of this or that as one way among others (albeit the most “probable”) of “accounting for” “the evidence.” They are intended rather as strict metaphysical demonstrations. They either prove conclusively that the mind is immaterial or they prove nothing. And if they work, there can be no question of the materialist looking for other possible ways to explain “the data.” For the existence of an immaterial mind, or an immaterial aspect to the mind, will, given such a proof, simply have itself to be taken as a piece of data for which any acceptable theory has to account.

Again, this doesn’t mean that one should judge such arguments based on one’s immediate reaction to a first reading; to prove something conclusively doesn’t mean to prove it instantly, to the immediate satisfaction of the most hostile and stubborn skeptic. Even properly understanding an argument, especially in metaphysics, can require a great deal of effort and sustained thought. Still, some dualist arguments are straightforward enough that at least their basic thrust can be put fairly succinctly, even if a complete treatment would require various further explanations of this or that premise or key concept. In this post and several succeeding ones I want to present some of these arguments, in as brief a form as possible. (Further elaboration can be found in my books Philosophy of Mind and The Last Superstition.)

One aspect of the mind that philosophers have traditionally considered particularly difficult to account for in materialist terms is intentionality, which is that feature of a mental state in virtue of which it means, is about, represents, points to, or is directed at something, usually something beyond itself. Your thought about your car, for example, is about your car – it means or represents your car, and thus “points to” or is “directed at” your car. In this way it is like the word “car,” which is about, or represents, cars in general. Notice, though, that considered merely as a set of ink marks or (if spoken) sound waves, “car” doesn’t represent or mean anything at all; it is, by itself anyway, nothing but a meaningless pattern of ink marks or sound waves, and acquires whatever meaning it has from language users like us, who, with our capacity for thought, are able to impart meaning to physical shapes, sounds, and the like.

Now the puzzle intentionality poses for materialism can be summarized this way: Brain processes, like ink marks, sound waves, the motion of water molecules, electrical current, and any other physical phenomenon you can think of, seem clearly devoid of any inherent meaning. By themselves they are simply meaningless patterns of electrochemical activity. Yet our thoughts do have inherent meaning – that’s how they are able to impart it to otherwise meaningless ink marks, sound waves, etc. In that case, though, it seems that our thoughts cannot possibly be identified with any physical processes in the brain. In short: Thoughts and the like possess inherent meaning or intentionality; brain processes, like ink marks, sound waves, and the like, are utterly devoid of any inherent meaning or intentionality; so thoughts and the like cannot possibly be identified with brain processes.

You can, as I have implied, look at this as just a “puzzle” for materialism – one which might be solved by developing a complex functional analysis of mental states, or by framing materialism in terms of the concept of “supervenience” rather than identity or reduction, or whatever. Or you can see it as a very simple and straightforward statement of an objection that, while it can also be formulated in much more sophisticated and technical terms and in a way that takes account of and preempts the various objections materialists might try to raise against it, nevertheless goes to the core of the problem with materialism, and indeed shows why materialism cannot be true. This latter view is the one I endorse. I maintain that the problem for materialism just described is insuperable. It shows that a materialist explanation of the mind is impossible in principle, a conceptual impossibility. And the reason has in part to do with the concept of matter to which materialists themselves are at least implicitly committed. Some of the further posts in this series will develop this suggestion. Along the way we will see (among other things) that the common materialist claim that “everything else has been explained in materialist terms” is an urban legend, based on nothing more than conceptual sleight of hand coupled with historical ignorance. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Lecture at the College Tonight

"The Mass: How Extraordinary?!" is a lecture that will be delivered by Fr. William at the Library Coffee Shoppe tonight at 8 PM.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Successful Party!

Well, I had my first party Sunday night at my apartment after my new steps were completed. I had students, former students, two of their children (ages: 1 1/2 and 1) - all told, around 15 people. I actually prepared too much food. It will go to use, later. I good time was had by all - as they say. Lots of good conversation and we all watched Hitchcock's "The 39 Steps" to celebrate the completion of the steps. It was my first time for that movie, and I still am not clear what the title meant, except that it was the name of the secret organization of spies. Why they choose that name, I don't know, but no actual "steps" were involved in the movie.

Oh, well.

I am planning on another party for the evening of November 1 (All Saints), so keep that free my dear blog-readers. I will send out a formal invitation soon. This will kind of be a "Byrd party." We will have sung the Byrd polyphonic propers from the Gradualia at Mass that day. Also, I have a movie on "The Two Lives of William Byrd" and will have two books: "Liturgy and Contemplation in Byrd's Gradualia" by Kerry McCarthy and "Byrd: a Celebration," which is a compilation of addresses given at the annual Byrd Festival held in Portland, Oregon.

More later.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Summer Reading

I read four novels this summer and I am going to blog briefly about them before I forget too much. It was back in June, so I already have forgotten a fair amount anyway.

The first novel was - get ready for this - Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye." I read it because there was an article in the Remnant criticizing it, and I have heard about it for years, so I thought it was time to read it. It is a novel about this teenager, Holden Caufield, who is a bit of a conceited punk - a smart aleck - who has been kicked out of various boarding schools. Unfortunately, he is rather funny, an amusing person. He leaves the current boarding school he is at after he receives a gift of some money from a relative, and ends up spending the weekend in New York City. I won't say much more - because I can't remember much more - except that it is a coming of age novel. He actually is not the worst person and has some concern about a younger sister and little children in general whom he wants to protect from the harshness of adult life. However, he comes to a conclusion that I just can't agree with - but I can't for the life of me remember what it was.

Next novel.

The reviewer at the Remnant said that a better coming of age novel is "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," so I read it. It is very well written and not as full of profanity as "Catcher in the Rye" but it has some problems. It takes place in a neighborhood in Brooklyn and follows a family with an alcoholic father and a hard working mother, but focuses on the young daughter from the age of 10 through 18. It begins about 1908 and therefore ends in 1918. It was made into a movie in the 1940's and has a "heart-warming" feel, kind of like the Waltons but with some key differences - and these are why I could not recommend it to a "young person." The movie, I understand, cleaned up all of these things. The Aunt (I think her name is Aunt Sissie) is a bigamist. The joke is that, "because she is Catholic she doesn't believe in divorce. That is why she didn't actually divorce any of the four men whom she married." Of course, she married all of these men in civil ceremonies in different jurisdictions, and if no one was motivated to look into this . . . Anyway, these marriages would have all been invalid in the eyes of the Church. She is a certain real character type - I can think of several real life women whom she resembles: a kind of bold, amoral earth mother type.

Actually the main problems I have in the book have to do with the notion that "experience" is key to life - any experience. In one passage, the daughter, at about age 17, has to deal with a young American soldier whom she is dating who wants her to sleep with him before he ships out to France. She turns him down, but thinks that he loves her. She later finds out that, shortly after that, he married his fiance! Heartbroken she tells her mother the whole story. Her mother then proceeds to say that, as a mother, she would say that she did the right thing by refusing; but, as a 'woman,' she would have told her that she shouldn't have denied herself this 'experience.' (I am trying to imagine my great grandmother telling my grandmother that in 1917. Nope. It doesn't ring true.) This and other similar passages seem to be the projections of a 1940's Ann Arbor coed, Betty Smith - the author, who ultimately picked up these 19th century Bohemian artist ideas from her liberal professors at the Univ. of Mich.

Third Book. "The Magnificent Ambersons" by Booth Tarkington. I was looking for his novel "Seventeen" which was also recommended by the Remnant reviewer as a good coming of age novel, but I couldn't find it. I settled for the "Magnificent Ambersons" as it was available and I had heard of it before. I was curious. This novel had a somewhat similar theme to that of the movie "Alfie." Not in that it was about a playboy, but in that it is also about a very self-centered headstrong young man - a spoiled rich kid, in this case - who has to get the stuffing beat out of him (figuratively, through bad experience) in order for him to undergo a moral conversion. This was Orson Welles' second movie, right after "Citizen Kane." I have never seen it. The story takes place in late nineteenth century America.

Finally, I figured, "well I'm in the nineteenth century, so I might as well read some Jane Austin. I read "Pride and Prejudice" and have spoken about it before so I won't say too much. I had never read Jane Austin before and had been given the impression, by a certain GNF, that it was the literary equivalent of those frilly things that some women wear. Character development and interaction aside, I was impressed by its architechtonic strengths - how's that for a masculine compliment! I could detect an almost symphonic structure in it.

Well, that's all for now until I get a chance to read at some length again.

Friday, October 10, 2008

A New Characrer on Uzi - Super Schola Dog

No story for this week, but get ready for the introduction of a new character: "Irish Setter O'Shaughnessy." Probably next Friday.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Six Elements Common to Many Woody Allen Movies

1) New York City.

2) Good '40's big band jazz (and often classical music) on the soundtrack.

3) Woody Allen playing a neurotic character who is a real schmuck.

4) Relationship "issues" typical to upper-income Mannhattan types and, therefore, his own rather messy life.

5) Modern Philosophy [I mean real 'old-fashioned' modern philosophy - Nietsche, Sartre, etc. - nothing post-modern (although "Deconstructing Harry" might be an exception - I haven't seen it), very little before Descartes. He will mention Plato or Aristotle, but clearly doesn't take them seriously, isn't interested, etc.].

6) References to old movies, sometimes cleverly integrated, like Shakespeare's "play within a play" as in Hamlet (e.g. the way "Double Indemnity" is worked into the climactic shoot-out scene in "Manhattan Murder Mystery")

Of course, I haven't seen all of his movies, and - I suppose I neeed to specify for some of my readers - I fully recognize that parts of them are terrible, but parts of them are hilarious and they can be cleverly done.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Liturgy Joke

In discussing with someone the new English translation of the Mass, which, among other things, will render "et cum spiritu tuo" more correctly as "and with your spirit." (it would be too much to hope for "and with thy spirit") we wondered out loud how easily many Catholics will be able to make the switch. The still current ICEL translation, "and also with you," is so ingrained that at the one Anglican Use Mass held at Christendom about five years ago, the otherwise very conservative students just instinctively replied, "And also with you" - even though for the Anglican Use requires "and with thy spirit," which was carefully printed in the program.

This reminded me of the joke about the priest who was having trouble with his microphone at the beginning of Mass and then, as he was saying to himself, "there must be some problem with the microphone," it suddenly went on.

The people instinctively, without thinking, replied, "and also with you."

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Poetry at Christendom! (Cancelled)

Update: Sorry, just found out this evening that it was cancelled.

Tonight, Tuesday October 7, at 8 PM in St. Kilian's Cafe. The poetry of Pavel Chichikov. A live reading by the poet himself. 'Pavel Chichikov' is the pen name of an American who spent part of the Cold War on Soviet territory. His wrting career goes back to the 1970's, when he published poems in The New Yorker, well before his reception into the Catholic Church in 1988. He has published two books of poetry, and his photography has won awards from the catholic Press Association. He lives in Washington, D.C.
Oh, and happy Feast of the Holy Rosary. Say at least one rosary to our Blessed Mother today! (I went to the Tridentine Mass at the College this morning which is now scheduled for every Tuesday at 7:30 AM and Thursday at 5:15 PM!)

Monday, October 6, 2008

Latin Saying About National Vocal Characteristics

"Galli cantant,

Italiae capriant,

Germani ululant,

Anglici jubilant."

Tough to translate, but I think it would be rendered:

"The French sing,

the Italians bray,

the Germans howl,

the English joyfully shout.

(quoted by Ornithoparcus, "Micrologus," 1517)

Friday, October 3, 2008

Texas Schola Dawg Meets His Mentor

Polly was in the choir director's office on a Saturday afternoon cleaning and straightening things up. Not that he had asked her to do so, but it needed doing. She had gotten a key from one of the sacristans. The Director was brilliant, but disorganized. No domestic sense. She sighed to herself, "a typical man." As she walked out the door to fill up a bucket with water, she almost ran straight into her archnemesis Texas Schola Dawg. "I dreamt about your long blonde hair last night, heh, heh, heh," he said, leering at her.

She rolled her eyes. Polly was used to this, but still couldn't quite understand it. It's not that she wasn't proud of her hair, but this tendency of some men to detach parts of a woman's body and almost bow down and worship them like little idols always puzzled her. She wouldn't mind a man loving a feature of hers because it was part of her - the woman whom he loved - but this was . . . yuck . . . . She was even more annoyed that Texas Schola Dawg, of all people, was a stimulus to philosophical reflection. Whatever.

"What do you want?"

"Well, now that you ask, darlin', heh, heh, heh . . ." Polly felt pretty stupid. That certainly was the wrong question to ask.

"I need to get in there and borrow a copy of Durufle's 'Ubi caritas,' it's not on cpdl . . ."

"so you can then make some illegal photocopies?" she completed. "Oh no you don't! The copyright to that piece is still in effect!" She had mistakenly left both of the double doors open, and he tried to pass to her left side. She moved and blocked his way. Then he tried to go around her right side. She blocked him again. He tried another move but she kept with him. Polly felt like some sort of silly combination offensive guard/beginning ballroom dance student. She could think of better ways to spend her Saturday afternoon.

Finally Texas Schola Dawg stopped, but with the biggest sinister grin on his face she had ever seen. "Well if you're not going to let me borrow 'Ubi caritas,' then perhaps I am going to have to show you 'where love REALLY is,'" he said pointing to his puckered lips. "Oh, no, what am I going to do now?" thought Polly. "There is no way Uzi could get here this fast and, besides, he is out of range on a special mission in the Diocese of Las Vegas, Nevada." Yes, that's right. Las Vegas. A place where the stakes are high - and the Masses are low.

Uzi had his hands full enough as it was.

Texas Schola Dawg reared back ready to charge her. He looked like a raging bull, albeit one who had just sucked on a lemon. She decided she had to be a dancer rather than an offensive guard at that point, so, executing a quick left chasse to get out of his way, she let her right foot drag just enough so he tripped over it. Flying through the air into the office, he landed on the music table which she had just polished. The slickness of its newly polished surface catapulted him head first right into the file cabinets where he lay unconscious. Little stars circled around his head just like in a cartoon.

Next something strange happened. Was he dreaming it or was it real? He felt a big hand pick him up by the scruff of the neck and pull him out of the choir director's office into another dimension. Another dimension of time and space? . . . of greatness? . . . of blogdom? . . . of . . . of . . . Was it really him? THE MAN himself?

Yes, it was.

Anthony Smitha.

Small-time pool hustler, devout Catholic, and one-time proprietor of a bebop record shop, Anthony currently works in computers. He is better known, however, as what the IRS designates as a "GNF," or Gentleman Nuisance Flirt - a role model, mentor, and gold standard for all such men worldwide.

He held Texas Schola Dawg by the scruff of his neck while his little legs kicked in the air. "Bad doggie. You've been a bad little feller," Anthony roared. He next administered a quick firm admonitory tap with his right index finger to the dog's nose. Then, having been dropped to the ground, Texas Schola Dawg quickly assumed a prostrate posture of worship before his hero. "Oh, sire, what have I done to incur your wrath?"

"Get off your knees. I'm not God. So don't worship me . . . too much!" "Haw, haw, haw, I pulled your leg there little feller," he said in a big booming voice, almost like the Jolly Green Giant. "You have been way out of line and giving us GNF's - and the State of Texas - a bad name. Don't you remember our Latin motto?" Texas Schola Dawg pronounced it slowly, syllable by syllable, like a catechism answer he had learned in childhood, "Sem-per vex-a-re, num-quam pec-ca-re." (Always to Annoy, Never to Sin). "If you are going to annoy a woman, let it be without sin. That is the code of the Gentleman Nuisance Flirt," Anthony said sagely. "Never actually touch the woman," he emphasized. "I have been watching you for some time and you have real talent. A God-given gift to annoy women, so use it properly, don't abuse it!"

[Editor's Note: Although the Federal Government does allow for the deduction of business expenses on a special Schedule C-GNF it actually stands for "General Nuisance Flirt." Not "Gentleman Nuisance Flirt." But don't tell Anthony that. Or Dr. Poterack. It will ruin the premise for his entire story.]

"But what is the concrete advantage of being a gentleman? Do the women ever actually respond to you?" Texas Schola Dawg asked. Anthony was caught by surprise and replied quite candidly, "Well usually I am just told 'no,' but I also have been slapped, kneed in the groin, and had ice water poured down my back. At the end of the day, however, I know that the ladies respect me and THIS is the advantage of being a Gentleman Nuisance Flirt." Having listened carefully to what he just said, Anthony was seized by a sudden inner doubt, but, squeezing hard, he fought it off. "I gotta do it for the kid. I gotta do it for the kid."

Then he delivered his coup de grace, "And, if all else fails, its just fun to annoy women!"

"But how did you get your start?" Texas Schola Dawg asked. "Well, I started out doing small things when I was a boy." Anthony said, "I used to make nuisance phone calls collect to a girl who, being so impressed by my technique, would accept the charges. I knew I had a gift. It blossomed from there. You have a gift, too," he said giving an encouraging wink.

Anthony was about to hand him a list of tips:

1) Pray the rosary
2) Lift weights
3) Fanatical devotion to Dr. Poterack
4) Shop at Jos. Banks
5) Cornball sense of humor.

He quickly scratched out number three, saying to himself, "the kid's just not ready for the big leagues yet."

"Anything else, oh, great one," said Texas Schola Dawg feeling a renewed vigor in his vocation.

"Oh, yes, here's a zinger I want you to use on Polly. Get ready for this one: 'Polly, frankly beauty makes me want to vomit, so, on this - the first anniversary of us not dating - I want to show you just how beautiful I think you are.'"

"Haw, haw, haw . . ."

"Heh, heh, heh . . ."

Polly stood in front of an unconscious Texas Schola Dawg, lying on the floor in front of the filing cabinets in the Choir Director's Office. She actually began to feel sorry for him. Then, all of the sudden, she heard him laugh in his unconscious state, "heh, heh, heh . . ."

"Oh no!" thought Polly, "Oh no!"