Monday, October 20, 2008

Musical follies

The music situation at our new parish has, if anything, become even harder to bear over the last few weeks than when we first started attending. I usually love singing at Mass, but I can’t bring myself to sing most of this stuff at all, much less with any enthusiasm, simply because it is so bland and/or even inappropriate for Mass. Two weeks ago there was a choir-only song at communion, with the first line “This iiiiiiis, the moment of graaaaaace,” which sounded for all the world like a Broadway number. Standard sweeping piano intro, soft start, rousing chorus, etc. A pure performance piece. In fact, when I googled it later, it sounded quite a lot like Jekyll and Hyde’s “This is the moment.” (Or Spamalot’s “The song that goes like this” - heh.) I like Broadway quite a lot. I don’t find it particularly liturgical, though.

Last week, in addition to the standard Gloria and Sanctus that involve multiple gratuitous repetitions of, for instance, “blessed is he, blessed is he, blessed is heeee” and “hosanna (ho-sa-ha-na), hosanna (ho-sa-ha-na), hosanna,” we had the regular children’s liturgy song for children to process out. (”Children, listen to the word of God!” - complete with “Children’s!” ™ type happy piano music.) We also had two hymns that were so awful liturgically that I was still shaking my head for days afterward.

The first was called “As a fire is meant for burning,” text by Ruth Duck, arrangement by Marty Haugen. Misleadingly, the tune was actually a traditional one, but the lyrics involved such choice lines as how we go out into the world “not to preach our creeds or customs / but to build a bridge of care.” Gee, I thought the Catholic Church actually cared quite a bit about our creed. Right? We do recite it every week. And “bridge of care”?? The hymn also contained a feel-good reference to being “seekers” and creating oneness “'mid earth’s peoples, many hued.” Yeah, diversity! (I only get this, oh, everywhere on a weekly basis since school ended, thanks to academic and legal profession publications, etc.) You could not come up with a better collection of hippie-type platitudes in this hymn if you were trying hard to parody it. A bit of research determined that Ruth Duck is exactly who you might come up with if you were trying to create a parody of a hippie-type “womyn’s” liturgist. Duck, who very unfortunately actually has an M.A. from Notre Dame, is an ordained UCC minister (hence the no-creed stuff - fits right in with the UCC, which honestly is great for her, but not the Catholic Church!) who lives with her “partner” (at least he’s a guy) in a liberal Chicago suburb, has written a book about revising the names of the persons of the Trinity to not be so male, and has made part of her approach to hymns to be to “revise old hymns that would provide an alternative to traditions showing God as exclusively male.” I could not roll my eyes any more than I am right now. Her music is used in many denominations, which - again, honestly - is great for her, but her theology is clearly not Catholic. I simply have no idea how this has worked its way into Catholic hymnody.

The second awful hymn last week, liturgically speaking, was called, “Let us be bread.” This starts off with “Let us be bread . . . life for the world / Let us be wine, love freely poured.” Okay. Well, while we are part of the Body of Christ, I’m pretty sure we aren’t the bread or wine ourselves. I’m pretty sure that’s just Christ. But move on to the first verse: we switch from at least singing in our own persons, to singing in the person of Christ (which we’re really not supposed to do), “I am the bread of life, broken for all / Eat now and hunger no more.” Back to chorus. Another verse: “See how my people have nothing to eat / Give them the bread that is you.” Again, this is a confusion of persons - I’m not even sure if this verse is supposed to be spoken as if Christ was saying to us, or what - ? What is this stuff? Whatever it is, the focus is certainly on us, much more than on the actual Body and Blood of Christ that we are supposed to be focusing on during the Eucharist. The writer of this hymn actually is Catholic, and unfortunately also has a degree from Notre Dame in music and theology. The focus is just unfortunate - I have to assume it’s the same poor catechesis so many of us have had in the last forty years.*

Here’s the thing - music during Mass is not supposed to be about drawing attention to the choir. It’s not supposed to draw automatic applause every week. It’s not supposed to be about telling ourselves how great we all are. And it’s not supposed to rely on sappy platitudes (contained in treacly musical numbers) that are completely devoid of any theological substance. It’s supposed to integrate into the liturgy as part of the prayer and worship, and it’s supposed to help us orient ourselves interiorly and exteriorly towards a more reflective, reverent posture in the Mass. I like participating in singing, but not at the expense of abandoning good music and good theology.

In any event, rolling my eyes throughout Mass is not a good posture to be assuming. I know that. So last week I decided to try and do something about it, and have reached out to my new music director to see if we can visit a bit and discuss the music at the parish. I have tried to take a very respectful, conciliatory tone, and he has been surprisingly receptive so far (and hey, we even got a "Holy God, We Praise Thy Name" yesterday at Mass - a good sign!). Even if it eventually comes to nothing, I appreciate the music director's willingness to listen - and at least I’ll have tried!

*For instance, one random thing I realized last week at Mass was that the first time I ever heard the words “dona nobis pacem” and sang them was in my eighth-grade public school choir. (!!!) The next time probably wasn’t until I moved to Maryland after law school and started attending my little parish there - I distinctly remember that I had to pay attention to learn “qui tollis peccata mundi”. Even at ND, attending the more informal dorm Masses every week (which I did love) the traditional Agnus Dei was rarely heard (though I have good word it is heard regularly at all of the Basilica Masses).

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Alaska moose rap

I think Sarah Palin showed herself to be a great sport on SNL last night. Amy Poehler's Alaska moose rap was pretty entertaining, but just watch the Governor dancing along. Heh.

This blogger has more analysis and the first "press conference" skit as well.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Getting it

Surprisingly nice video from MSNBC on how Sarah Palin has connected with other parents of special needs children around the country. I keep thinking she must be overwhelmed by the response to her (since she's only six months into being such a parent herself) but the joyful way she reacts to and engages with such other families indicates rather that she's probably encouraged herself by this community of parents.

Here's the transcript of her speech in Johnstown, Pa. (that the excerpt is taken from in the video) where she spoke more at length about how she reacted to news about her son's Down syndrome and why abortion is the wrong answer.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Not Murphy's Law

There must be some other name for the football law that says, pretty simply, the team with the fewest turnovers wins. The Irish were able to escape that situation against SDSU this year, but otherwise, you can pretty much be assured that if you turn the ball over five times in a game (while not taking it away the same amount), you're going to lose. Which is what happened Saturday, as the normally extremely accurate Clausen made a couple of common mistakes and threw some ill-advised passes. The most devastating was the first pass of the second half, and out route that should never have been thrown unless the lane was completely clear, because it's far too easy for an LB or safety to step right in the lane and return it straight back for a touchdown, which is what happened. That ended up being the difference in the final score. Argh!!

One offensive note this week. Even with the interceptions, Clausen had yet another career passing day, with 383 yards and a pair of beautiful touchdown passes. Among the regular completions were a 47-yard completion to Tate. I know rushing is absolutely essential for a team to be successful over the long term (especially given what it says about the offensive line's effectiveness), but an effective passing game is so much fun to watch. It did lead to a solid halftime lead on the road in this case, before the turnovers did the Irish in in the second half - though even then, Clausen was cool enough to direct one last long drive down the field in the final 1:45 before coming up short in the (crazy) finish.

For the record, on the crazy finish, I thought Floyd was trying to flip the ball up to the refs so it could be spotted, my husband thought Floyd fumbled, and lots of other people, including the players, thought Floyd was trying to lateral to a teammate to keep the play going. If it was that unclear to all of us, there's no way this was an indisputable call! The refs may have blown it in how they handled the replay because of when the whistle blew, whether the Irish had snapped the next play, etc., but in the end - you just don't win with four turnovers in the second half, so no sour grapes here. The Irish just need to go out and beat Washington 50-0. I'm pretty sure we have a good chance of that.


Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Showing up an aspirational peer

A few thoughts on Stanford:

- It didn't take long for Clausen to have another career day. The run game receded a bit this week from the showing against Purdue, forcing us to rely more on the passing game, but - we have an increasingly effective passing game, and it's outstanding to watch. Spreading the ball around to seven different receivers - WRs, RBs and the tight end - show Clausen is seeing the field well. (Weis said he was happiest about a check-down short pass to Allen that Allen then turned into the game's first Irish touchdown.) The audibled bomb to Floyd was perfect. I even saw Clausen shrug off a pass rusher this week like Quinn made a habit of doing so well by his senior year. In short, while the offense has not yet been consistent throughout an entire game - causing the lackluster and shaky efforts I noted in the SDSU and MSU games earlier this season - Clausen is looking every bit as sharp and composed as anyone could have hoped he would this year.

- One point I thought, after watching the Purdue game in particular (with that fantastic fourth-and-seven TD reception) but also the other ones this season, is that Grimes has stepped up his game a bit with the emergence of Floyd and Tate (and also now Rudolph). Having solid receivers on the outside allows him to play the middle a bit more and get open himself. His seven receptions Saturday for a solid 60 yards fit him comfortably in the mix of this newly-effective offense.

- Special teams overall has been improved this year. (In particular, it has been great to watch walk-on Anello being the first guy to the return man on almost every kickoff, and even when the coverage isn't great he's still impressively determined. On one fourth quarter Stanford punt, Anello missed the first shot, but jumped up and ended up in on the tackle most of the way back across the field. Not a great result for the Irish, but I can certainly admire the pursuit.) Nonetheless, Saturday wasn't the best game of the season for this unit. Walker's unfortunate mental block on field goals will inevitably cost the team again this season if no solution is found, and kickoff coverage was not as strong as it has been to date.

- The defense has also been a bit confusing. Sometimes we're better defending the run, other times the pass. The opportunism in creating/taking advantage of turnovers has been exciting to watch, but the tackling often leaves a lot to be desired. Weis tried putting this in perspective during his press conference Sunday:

You know, defense yesterday in the first quarter, our run defense was bad. I mean, they had a bunch of long runs. They rushed for over a hundred yards. I mean, they were gashing us pretty good. We didn't handle the shifts and unbalanced very well.

But you realize after the first quarter, they averaged two yards a carry in the run game. So you say, Well, how can we be getting gashed like this? Okay, but for the rest of the game, they had one long run in the fourth quarter, 27-yard run at the start of that drive. But including that one long run, it was two yards a carry for the rest of the game after the first quarter.

So I think he's concerned, but there's still some good results to be found. UNC will be one of the tougher rushing opponents we face this year (like MSU), and on the road (also like MSU), so the team has to find an effective way to shut down the run.

- Finally, 4-1 after five games? You betcha I'll take that! :)

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

And we're back

This past weekend provided a MUCH better experience in South Bend than last year's sole trip, which was (sadly) to the USC game. Saturday, we had the best offensive showing in two years. After a slow start, the defense (led by true freshman Blanton's interception return for a TD) kept us enough in the game that when the offense finally started to click, it was a great thing to behold. In particular, Armando Allen finally showed the speed we had been promised since his first appearance, with over a hundred yards rushing and even more all-purpose yards. Clausen had a career day (although I'm sure there will be more to come) - he rarely misfired and a few of his tougher passes were so perfectly thrown, they couldn't have been done any better. His third quarter touchdown pass to Grimes on fourth-and-seven was dropped in perfectly in stride. I think even Quinn didn't have that same touch on long passes. Finally, Kyle Rudolph marked our return to having a good blocking/receiving tight end, which I'm always happy to see, and the offensive line did a quite creditable job of giving Clausen time to see the field and move around. The defense did follow a bend-and-don't-break strategy (intentionally or not), but Purdue always seems to rack up passing yards against us. Scoring defense and a few big plays along the way did the job. So, a beautiful day in South Bend! (And best seats I have gotten to be in, also. Check out the view!) Go Irish.