Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Vatican Lacuna in Music

This reminds me of something.

There is a sort of musical paralysis, in Rome, around the celebrations of the pope. Benedict XVI's thought on liturgical music is very well known, it has been presented in his writings, very critical of the decline that has taken place. But almost nothing has changed, in more than three years of pontificate. The Vatican still has no office with authority on sacred music. The Sistine Choir, conducted by Monsignor Giuseppe Liberto, is a shadow of its glorious former self. And when the Sistine Choir is not singing at the papal Masses, what dominates is the theatrical style of Monsignor Marco Frisina, director of the choir at the Lateran, the cathedral basilica of Rome.

In this sense, too, the International Festival of Sacred Music and Art taught a lesson. To perform the Masses and motets of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Tomás Luis de Victoria, Luca Marenzio, Claudio Monteverdi – in short, the illustrious choir directors at the cathedrals of Rome and of Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries – the choir of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, conducted by Peter Latona, came from the United States, and from Germany the choir of the cathedral of Speyer, conducted by Leo Krämer

Many moons ago, a friend of ours was part of the Vatican bureaucracy, and was able to persuade Paul Salamunovich, KCSG, to bring his choir to the Vatican to sing for Mass. In addition, Paul was asked to spend a few hours with the Sistine Choir in a "workshop" format, with the idea of instructing them on vocal technique, choral technique, etc. Paul is one of the five or ten best choral conductors in the USA, and certainly the highest-placed Roman Catholic in that business, having been the conductor of the Los Angeles Master Chorale (equivalent to the Symphony Chorus, except they are paid union-scale), and for many years Roger Wagner's assistant. (In reality, Paul did 95% of the preparation work; Roger did the last 5% and schmoozed...) In addition, Paul was the Director of Chorus at Loyola/Marymount and was the church organist/choir director at St Charles Borromeo in Los Angeles.

(Besides all that, by the way, Paul is a genuinely nice guy--always a smile and an encouraging word.)

He spent three hours talking to himself...and could looks have killed, Paul would have returned from Rome in a pine box.

The Sistine Choir went on its merry way, bellowing and shouting. They were awful then, and may still be awful now.

It's B-16's temporal penance.

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