The Final Musings of a Music Director

Aside

I love music.

From a popular, upbeat song on the radio to a good country folk band on Spotify or the latest Taylor Swift CD on a long drive, I fill my head with a lot of music.  Growing up, Mom would always put in a CD with older songs (Queen was a favorite) or a CD for the season (“Disco Duck” on our Easter children’s CD) as we went about cleaning the house.  I grew up playing Mozart, Bach, and the like on the piano since second grade and moved on to trombone, tenor saxophone, and bass guitar in the band throughout junior high and high school.  I was involved in school musicals and finally was influenced to join the high school choir my sophomore year, of which I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to be a part of, as I developed a love of singing classically in a group.  My decision to join seminary, while an exciting one and a decision that I did not doubt, was also a difficult one because it meant that I would not be able to be a part of any band or choir on campus due to the large time commitment that both the music groups and the seminary demand.

I was thrilled, then, when I discovered that there was a small choir, traditionally known as the Schola Cantorum, whose main purpose was to enhance mass and other liturgical functions through music.  There was also the possibility of taking private voice lessons on campus.  It was through this that I was given the pleasure of learning under Mr. Nathan Medley, a professional countertenor who traveled around North America and Europe performing on top of his teaching career (for those interested, here is the link to his website: <http://nathan-medley.com/Nathan_Medley_Countertenor/HOME.html&gt; ).  I also began to learn organ, which I am now able to play every other weekend at the seminary for Sunday mass or for major feast days of the church.

Right before Christmas break of my freshman year, I was approached by the rector of the seminary and asked to lead the Schola in light of the current director taking a semester to study in Rome.  I was thrilled at first, but also quite nervous, because I had never led a group before and did not really know where to start.  We started out with fairly straightforward hymns with one hour practices a week, and while there were plenty of successes, there were times when I knew that songs had not turned out as well as I would have liked.  It was a learning curve for all of us, particularly for me.  I was among guys who enjoyed to sing, but most of them had not had the musical background that I had experienced.  There was more to learn than merely the notes; guys had to learn to listen to each other, read music, sing with dynamics, and such.  I can be a perfectionist when it comes to music, and there were many frustrating moments at the beginning because of my desire for perfection and the unfortunate reality that perfection can NEVER be reached in ANY musical group.

The Schola Cantorum of Bishop Simon Brute College Seminary, Christmas 2013

The Schola Cantorum of Bishop Simon Brute College Seminary, Christmas 2013

And yet, perfection is not what we were striving for.  As stated before, our job as a Schola was to enhance the liturgy that we were part of.  Once I was able to get a better grasp of this, the group began taking off.  As my sophomore year began, I was asked again to be in charge of music at the seminary, along with the other Hess of the seminary, Andrew.  It was wonderful having his experience, knowledge, and creativity to lead the group.  He also began to challenge me and the group to go outside of the songs in the hymnals and begin to look online for songs unfamiliar and yet beautiful.  This led us to the opportunity of singing a number of beautiful Phillip Stopford hymns (at the end of this post will be a number of links), a challenging O Holy Night (by far my favorite Christmas tune), and Franz Biebl’s “Ave Maria” which remains my favorite song sung while I was part of the Schola.  After debating for a number of weeks, the group decided to put together a homemade Christmas CD that was available for family and friends of the seminary as a Christmas gift.  For Easter, Corey, a seminarian from Owensboro, Kentucky, organized a brass quintet that would play with the organ and the schola to the hymn ‘At the Lamb’s High Feast.’

As is the case, there is an ending to every endeavor.  After a year and a half, the torch of music director was passed on to two other members of our seminary community, and I was put in charge of organizing special events and overseeing a number of other jobs. It has been a thrilling time for me, and I cannot thank the gentlemen who worked with me enough.  They have been so selfless of their time and talent, and it is because of them that I have enjoyed working with the music as much as I have.  I look forward to working with many of these same people as we return next year to be a part of the Schola and other musical functions of the seminary.

As we began every practice for the Schola, so I end this post by asking for the intercession of the patron of musicians, St. Cecilia:

Saint Cecilia, heroic martyr who stayed faithful to Jesus your divine bridegroom, give us faith to rise above our persecutors and to see in them the image of our Lord. We know that you were a musician and we are told that you heard angels sing. Inspire musicians to gladden the hearts of people by filling the air with God’s gift of music and reminding them of the Divine Musician Who created all beauty. Amen.

–The following is the youtube channel of Dominic Rankin, who recorded many of the songs that we sang during my time in the Schola.

https://www.youtube.com/user/DMNCRNKN

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Autumn in Ourselves

Aside

maple-in-autumn-1920x1080-wallpaper-3470-1024x576This year especially, I have found the autumn season beautiful.  The weather has been crisp and clean, and the colors of the trees have been exceptionally bright in my mind.  My German class took a trip a couple of weeks ago to a park here in downtown Indianapolis, and while there we walked a short way on a path through a woods that surrounds a water reservoir.  We stopped at a point on a hill to eat some traditional German cookies and cakes, and I could not help but gaze at the scene that unfolded around me.  I have also taken particular notice of the bright red leaves of the trees on campus and the beauty of contrast in the still-green trees with the fiery orange and soft yellows on the neighboring trees.

I think this increased sensation of beauty this year has also added to the sense of sorrow when I see that trees are beginning to become completely bare.  Leaves fall in the wind to the ground, almost as if they are foreshadowing the snow that will most likely be falling within a month.  And with that snow comes the lack of beauty in the dead-looking trees, with their hard, grey, angular branches bared for the whole world to see because they lack the cover of their leaves.  It is almost disheartening to see them in this unsightly phase of their cycle.

After reflecting on this aspect of the month of autumn, I began to reflect on its relevance to every day life.  And how relevant it is.

What do we fear in life? We fear vulnerability.  We fear weakness.  We fear death.  We fear being known to the fullest sense by everyone.  We fear having ourselves bared for the world to see, much like the winter tree bares its true form without the cover of leaves.  So we put up greenery around ourselves so as to keep this from being seen.  We blend in with the rest of humanity so that we will not be pointed at by people who wonder what made us vulnerable, weak, dead.  These secrets are ours and ours alone, ones that we can deal with if we keep them covered up so that everyone, including ourselves, can ignore that they are there.

But they are there.  So how do we deal with it? How do we accept these shortcomings? How do we view our self-observed ugliness?  By going through autumn in our own selves.  As we begin to break the barriers around our person, our fears begin to die and fall away.  And what a beautiful process this is.  We transform ourselves through this into unique, colorful, awesome creations.  As our fears fall away like leaves, we grow comfortable with the fact that others will see us for who we are, no matter how bared we are.  And once we have found ourselves, once we have discovered our true form underneath all of the cover, we can become transformed again.  Remember when I said that the leaves falling foreshadow the coming of snow in reality?  The shedding of our fearful, leafy barriers precede the falling of the grace and love of God, which gently falls and lands on our frail and bared selves.  Thus, we are cloaked with the whiteness that comes from Christ’s salvation, a creation that all of creation takes a moment and stares at in awe.

Tree_winter_snow_for_windows_vista

This makes everything sound all sweet and easy, which I know from experience is not in any way true.  But it is an endpoint that we must strive to achieve, even if it is one that we may struggle to reach.  We must go through this process of self knowledge so as to fully accept God’s love for us.  It is a challenge and a promise, a promise to realize how lovable we really are in the eyes of our eternal Creator; lovable not for keeping our outer selves looking like we have it together, but because we accept the truth of who we are.

” I love autumn, the one season of the year that God seems to have put there just for the beauty of it.”  –Lee Maynard

Family is Not Necessarily Biological

Aside

When I first entered seminary last fall, there was one thing that I could not stand, one thing that started getting on my very last nerves.  One phrase that was repeated over and over again.  It went further than any caribou, Alka-Seltzer, Cincinnati and K-Mart, or 296 comment that Justin and Adam tortured me with (and still do).

“Seminarian Brothers.”    “Diocesan Brothers.”

Now don’t get me wrong.  I love the role of older brother I have in my life.  I love talking to Shannon about some new song I heard on the radio and end up practically singing it word for word to her.  I love being able to compete with Justin for almost everything.  I love being able to tickle Adam and hear his giggle.  I love picking them up from a school event just to spend a little time with them.  I love being there to cheer them on and experience their successes.  Towards the end of high school, particularly when I gained a leadership role as field commander in band, I grew further in this role of older brother by being both the leader and the person that everyone felt comfortable talking to.  To cheer them on and support them in their struggles.  To stay up late nights texting or talking to them.  So I guess you could say that I would be used to the idea by now.

But the term “brother” thrown around what seemed like haphazardly, on the verge of carelessly, seemed out of place.  Wrong.  It didn’t feel right to walk into a new way of life with people I had never met before and instantly feel comfortable calling them family.  Family was important, sacred, to me, and that wasn’t something that I was willing to change, even if it was merely by acknowledging that the term brother could relate outside of family.

Things began to change towards the end of my first semester when I finally considered the idea of brotherhood as something possible for those not named Adam and Justin Hess.  It began to dawn on me that, on this discernment journey, there were difficulties that I was not going to be able to deal with on my own.  And there were people who cared for me that I could go to, much like many came to me in my high school years.  I began to have my own older brother for the first time in my life, someone who I felt comfortable going to, even if i didn’t reveal every deep and dark secret.

You see, I realize now that calling others “brother” is not a defilement of my personal, selfish definition of family.  My family is still there, loving and supporting and annoying me.  But my definition of family only included biological family, when as Christians we should rather be defining family as each and every one of our neighbors.  We should be there to help and support all those in need.  We are all part of the Body of Christ, giving aid to those crosses others carry while also accepting aid for our own crosses.

I found the end of the year difficult to come to grips with at times.  As excited as I was to see my biological family, I came to realize that I was saying goodbye to some of my dearest family members for an extended period of time with little or no contact.  I wouldn’t be able to go down the hall to pick on a red head.  I wouldn’t be able to go across the building to see what is going on in the Pope or Brute rooms.  I wouldn’t be able to make fun of how Kentucky people talk.  I wouldn’t be able to “study” and instead talk in the Chapter Room late into the next morning.  I wouldn’t be able to go up the stairs and just around the corner to throw a tennis ball at a wall while we talk about everything and anything.

I understand why people were so quick to use the term brother now.  They understood the need for this type of family before I did.  They realized the similar journey we are all on towards the Roman Catholic Priesthood and how difficult of a road it can be at times.  And they realized it a lot quicker than I did.

Thank you to each and every one of the seminarians I have been blessed to journey with this year; you have become more than what I could have ever hoped for:

Friends

Brothers

Family

 

“I’ve heard it said

That people come into our lives for a reason

Bringing something we must learn

And we are led

To those who help us most to grow

If we let them

And we help them in return”

———“For Good” from the musical Wicked