Music News

VATICAN CITY - Sacred music can bolster people's faith and help lapsed Catholics rediscover the beauty of God, Pope Benedict XVI said.

"Sacred music can, above all, promote the faith, and, what's more, cooperate in the new evangelization," he told participants attending a conference and pilgrimage sponsored by the Italian St. Cecilia Association. St. Cecilia, whose feast day is Nov. 22, is traditionally honored as the patron saint of musical performers.

"Music and singing that are done well can help (people) receive the word of God and be moved in a positive way," the pope said in his address Nov. 10.

Many people, including St. Augustine, have found themselves attracted to God because of some profound experience prompted by the beauty of liturgical music and sacred song, he said.

In the church's missionary outreach, he said, it urges Catholics to recognize, respect and promote the musical traditions of the local people.

Traditionally Christian countries, like Italy, have a rich heritage of sacred music which can help lapsed Catholics rediscover God and be drawn again to the Christian message and the mystery of faith, he said.

Because of their important role in new evangelization, he urged church musicians to dedicate themselves "to improving the quality of liturgical song, without being afraid of reviving or emphasizing the great musical tradition of the church, which has two of its highest expressions in Gregorian and polyphony."

"Show how the church may be the place in which beauty feels at home," he said.

"Sacred song united to the words, form a necessary and integral part of the solemn liturgy," he said, quoting from the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy "Sacrosanctum Concilium."

The reason why sacred music is "necessary and integral," Pope Benedict said, isn't simply for aesthetic purposes, but because sacred song "cooperates in nourishing and expressing the faith and, therefore, in glorifying God and sanctifying the faithful."

Sacred music "is not an accessory or embellishment of the liturgy, but is the liturgy itself."

The pope thanked the men and women musicians and singers for helping the faithful "praise God and make his word sink deep in their hearts."

That evening, in the Sistine Chapel, the pope attended a concert with his brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, who was the director of the Regensburg Boys Choir for decades.

They listened to music from a Mass composed by Msgr. Ratzinger, as well as to pieces by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Msgr. Massimo Palombella -- the director of the Sistine Chapel Choir -- and Colin Mawby, a contemporary British composer who has served as director of music at Westminster Cathedral.

Supportive Catholic community helps Toronto singer become a star with The Tenors

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TORONTO - Victor Micallef, a member of the internationally acclaimed singing group The Tenors, began his successful musical career with a stroke of good fortune.

“I was always attracted to music,” says Micallef. “My sister was taking piano lessons when I was about three or four years old and my family couldn’t afford both of us taking lessons, so I just watched her take lessons and she hated it. She just couldn’t stand it,” he laughs.

“One day she turned to our parents and said she didn’t want to take lessons any more… that was victory for me!”

After his fortuitous piano incident, Micallef was led by his late father to the opportunity that would one day become his career and passion: singing.

“I was a very shy boy… I didn’t like singing in front of people. One day (my father) went to my parish priest (at St. Paul the Apostle in Toronto) who was Fr. Jimmy Zammit, and he just said: Vic wants to sing. I did a double take! I was petrified,” says Micallef, who soon afterwards began working as a cantor at the church.

“That was my early childhood education… Fr. Jim and my father influenced me to sing. It was good because, from a young age, I was singing in front of a large audience.”

Now, Micallef sings with The Tenors (formerly The Canadian Tenors) in front of much larger audiences that have included Celine Dion, Oprah Winfrey and Queen Elizabeth II. Much of his success, attests Micallef, comes from his Toronto upbringing in his Catholic parish and high school, Michael Power-St. Joseph in Etobicoke.

“MPSJ always seemed like an arts school,” says Micallef. “It was a great school to be at. The memories that were the fondest for me were the after school and the pre-school things… it was something that I loved to do — to stick around after school with my friends and make music.”

Micallef credits his experiences and teachers during his high school years as an integral factor in his current success. And the Toronto Catholic District School Board has since honoured Micallef, awarding him the TCDSB Alumni Award last year.

“I was totally blown away. I was absolutely honoured to be recognized in that way,” says Micallef. “Singing for the Queen and meeting all of these stars and being in those circles — it has its drawbacks too. I love my family, but I’m away a lot. When they came to me and said we recognize you as being a good representative, I was like, really?” he laughs.

“I do practice going to church and educating my four-year-old son in the same way… even more than that just trying to be a good person… As an alumni winner, you have a responsibility to be a good example,” says Micallef.

“Even with the other Tenors, they know me as the family guy who goes to church,” he laughs. “I try my best to be an example. I’m still that shy boy — we’ll be at a big event somewhere… and they’ll be like, ‘OK, Vic, lead us in prayer, we love when you do that!’ ”

Despite his grounding in faith and family, Micallef and the other members of The Tenors are in the midst of a whirlwind tour across North America as they rebrand not only their name, but also seek to create a strong image on which their group is based.

“Part of the rebranding was learning about what we represent as a group, and part of that is inspiring people and trying to give a message,” says Micallef, who also noted that dropping Canadian from the name was not a matter of being unpatriotic, but was done to retain their international appeal.

The Tenors released their newest album on Oct. 30, and that will be followed up with a December DVD release of the group performing live from Las Vegas.

“We’re really excited about this album — it’s like the next step. We have writing credits on it, and we’ve written with world-class writers,” says Micallef.

Particularly evocative of their image and mantra is the name of the album, Lead With Your Heart, which almost came too late.

“This one song came to us really late in the game and we already had all of our songs for the CD. It was written with us in mind and it was called ‘Lead With Your Heart,’ ” says Micallef.

“It appealed to us right away and the words were just so right… that’s what we represent. So we called the album that.”

Looking forward, Micallef hopes that the same programs that nurtured his love of music and performance will continue on in high schools and create opportunities for other TCDSB students.

“I’ve been very, very fortunate, because it could have been the exact opposite where people didn’t care… or if I didn’t have teachers who persuaded me to go sing in musical theatre,” says Micallef. “The people around me, like Fr. Jim and my teachers at school and my father, they all fed me and led me to doing what eventually would become my life.”

For young people and any others hoping to pursue a career in the arts, Micallef offers a simple piece of advice.

“Always follow your heart… it does tell you a lot. It’s that instinct. When you’re singing, or making these choices always try and ask yourself who you are and what do you feel happy doing.”

For more on The Tenors go to www.tenorsmusic.com.

Paying the piper

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TORONTO - For an organist, preserving an instrument’s sound is like maintaining a relationship. It calls for strict attention to atmosphere, communication and a whole lot of listening.

“You try as hard as possible to keep the air in the church as consistent as possible,” said John Paul Farahat, organist at St. Basil’s Church in downtown Toronto. “When you have changes in humidity, when you have changes in temperature, it really affects the pipes because they are all either made of wood or some combina tion of metals.”

In Grade 12, after playing the piano since childhood, Farahat began studying the organ. Now pursuing a masters of music and performance at the University of Toronto, Farahat, 23, has worked with the National Catholic Broadcasting Council’s Daily Mass since 2007.

Farahat took over as the principal organist at St. Basil’s in May 2011, meaning his relationship with the church’s 93-year-old pipe organ had officially become serious.

“What essentially I try to do as the principal organist here is try to maintain it,” said Farahat. “One of the things an organist can do, when you have a pipe organ, is you always make sure, first and foremost, that those expressive pedals are in an open position so that the shutters are opened. Gradual (temperature) changes ... have far less of an effect on how far the instrument goes out of tune.”

This allows air to flow freely around the pipes ensuring that when the temperature inevitably changes in the church it also changes in the boxes that enclose selected pipes.

During the summer months Farahat admits efforts to ensure a constant temperature are often in vain, though it hasn’t discouraged him from trying.

“In a church like this where there is no air conditioning, in the summer you are kind of at the mercy of the weather and the most you can do is just open the windows and hope for the best,” said Farahat. “In the winter (the University of St. Michael’s College’s) heating system is what runs this church and so you have a certain degree of control over the heat.”

But keeping things comfortable is only part of the equation. Like any relationship, the key to preserving an organ’s sound is communication.

“The second way to maintain it, really, it’s the one thing I know a lot of organists have, is a log book (to) record whenever you find something wrong,” said Farahat. “So when the maintenance crew comes in the next time, they look at this book. They don’t look at the organ and say what’s wrong because they would never get the job done... you essentially point them in the right direction.”

Farahat also goes through every note in every stop regularly — at least once between the three to four annual maintenance services.

It’s a practice veteran organ technician Robert Hiller encourages organists to do.

“It’s very important to have more detailed instructions (because it takes) less time to find the problem,” said Hiller, of Alan T. Jackson & Company, which has maintenance contracts for more than 200 organs, including St. Basil’s. “If it is only misfiring the odd time it is difficult to find where the problem is until it happens right in front of your eyes. Sometimes it is just a certain combination of stops that makes the problem happen.”

At an average cost of $500 per fourto five-hour visit, keeping troubleshooting short and sweet is the aim of the game. While many parishes, such as St. Basil’s, hold fixed rate contracts, it is those that try to scrimp and save who often lose out.

“If we don’t go regularly then the list of troubles will take more time and you are spending more money,” said Hiller. “If you don’t maintain your organ regularly, if you are someone who calls only the odd time, then you won’t get that kind of service. We’ll have to bill by the hour.”

St. Peter’s Church on Bathurst Street is a parish without a maintenance contract and it shows. Built in 1927, the open concept church was acoustically designed to maximize the potential of the organ, which has since taken a turn for the worse.

“The organ has been here since the church was built in 1927 and the organ has been very much a part of our tradition,” said Fr. Jim Haley.

“We would love to have it up to par.”

It’s a matter of dollars and cents which prevents the much needed restoration — not to mention a tuning.

“If I had some extra money I would gladly put it into the organ to see if we could build it up,” said Haley. “Right now we have some other priorities in the parish that we have to attend to.”

This is the story for many parishes where a once enchantingly booming organ now screeches off key, if it makes any noise at all. Hiller said full restorations of traditional electro-pneumatic organs, which often means converting them to digital-console organs, costs between $50,000 to $150,000.

Finding a balance between liturgy and performance in music ministry

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TORONTO - Those involved with the music ministry at their parish are often faced with a difficulty that comes from the intrinsic duality of their role — how to maintain a balance between the performance aspect of their craft and the importance of being liturgically sound and engaged with your community.

Fr. Ricky Manalo, CSP, is a highly regarded liturgical musician, Paulist priest, teacher and composer. He will be in Toronto Nov. 3 to host an all-day interactive session, “Sing to the Lord: Liturgical Music in Today’s Church,” at downtown Toronto’s St. Peter’s Church examining the dual role.

“The first part of my talk will be focused not on music and not on any pastoral suggestions, but more on the deeper, ecclesial identity of the Church,” said Manalo. “In other words, how do we ground ourselves to first understanding that when we celebrate liturgy it’s a celebration of the whole community.

“From there we can go into some official documents, particularly what emerged out of the second Vatican Council, that called for more full, conscious and active participation.”

Manalo, whose 2007 hymn “That All May Be One in Christ” won the national hymn competition sponsored by the National Association of Pastoral Musicians in the United States, feels that the skills and talents of ministers can be used as a way to promote participation during the Mass.

“When I studied as a musician at the Manhattan School of Music, the goal there was art for the sake of art: musica pro musica. Whereas, in liturgy, it’s not art for the sake of art itself, but for the worship of God. All things should point to that,” said Manalo.

“This also doesn’t mean that they should pay less attention to the performative skills that they have already; that’s also important. But, it’s a difference between a liturgy and, say, performing in Carnegie Hall,” he laughs.

Manalo also points to the challenges that come from our secular society, in that we are awash with myriad musical styles and cultural influences. However, these challenges may also yield favourable results.

“The liturgical theologian Anthony Ruff has pointed out that even during the Baroque era, a lot of the musical styles that were sung and/or performed during Mass came from secular styles that were occurring outside of the Church,” said Manalo.

“There will always be various musical styles — whether they be a particular culture, a traditional repertoire that Catholics hold dear or whether they be styles that come from Africa or a generational culture group. What followed after Vatican II was an openness towards various musical styles.”

For more information on Sing to the Lord: Liturgical Music in Today’s Church, contact sbossi@ paulist.org (tickets are $30).

St. Hildegard’s living light

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TORONTO - St. Hildegard of Bingen was a mystic prophet who challenged the status quo of her medieval society with her vast written legacy of medical and theological texts, musical repertoire and a penchant for challenging her superiors in the Church. One could be tempted to argue that Hildegard was the original feminist.

Now, in addition to her being named a Doctor of the Church on Oct. 7 (only the fourth woman to receive the recognition), she can also add film and theatre star to her impressive resume.

Linn Maxwell, internationally recognized mezzo-soprano, is coming to Toronto on Oct. 23 and 24 with her one-woman show, Hildegard of Bingen and the Living Light, which has also been recently released as a film adaption. The show tells the story of Hildegard and her mystic visions which ultimately led her to leave a profound mark on the history of the Church.

“She (Hildegard) kind of directed the whole project — I am convinced that this wonderful saint has been behind this the whole time,” said Maxwell of her show, which has now reached audiences across the globe. “When I was writing it... I always felt like there was this little voice behind me saying, ‘no, just tell my story, be truthful, and be chronological.’ ”

In her production, Maxwell has interspersed the life story of St. Hildegard with her original compositions, which she sings and accompanies on traditional medieval instruments.

“It was a journey... I chose the chronological order of things, and I chose her words as much as possible,” said Maxwell. “The first hurdle was choosing the seven songs that I use in the play — the music should carry the action forward.

“The next challenge was to do dialogue and then a song, and then dialogue again so that it’s seamless and organic.”

Born into a noble family in present-day Germany, Hildegard’s parents had a religious disposition and promised their child to the service of God. Invested with the habit of St. Benedict, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, she was appointed superior of her order in 1136, eventually moving the order to Bingen on the left bank of the Rhine.

In her journey to capture the spirit of Hildegard’s story, Maxwell found herself in Bingen, Germany, and eventually Disibodenberg where the ruins of Hildegard’s first monastery are located.

“It was just incredibly amazing. I was there all alone — I think she arranged it so that there would be no one else there. I stayed two or three hours until it got dark and I finally had to leave,” said Maxwell. “I just felt her presence... I felt like, ‘ah, I’ve gotten in touch with her.’ ”

The challenge in performing the show comes not only from Maxwell’s embodiment of such a powerful and unusual woman, but from the interpretation of musical texts that are devoid of rhythmic notation.

“The Sequentia recordings were somewhat of an inspiration for me,” said Maxwell, who is a colleague of Ben Bagby, director of the Sequentia Ensemble for Medieval Music. “You go with the flow of the phrase,” Maxwell added of her own interpretations.

Hildegard’s music holds a certain relevance today, as it defied conventional structures of the time to some extent.

“Hildegard was unusual. She was an extraordinarily learned person at the time,” said John Haines, a professor of history and culture at the University of Toronto and a scholar of medieval music at U of T’s Centre for Medieval Studies.

“It is chant — it looks like plain chant in that it’s just one melody, but, generally speaking, compared to... most of the chants that survive from that time period, it’s very wide in range,” said Haines. “Her music is very compelling... it’s difficult to perform too.”

Haines notes that only about one per cent of the population at the time would have been able to write, so the fact that Hildegard’s compositions survive, and are written by a woman, is somewhat remarkable.

Additionally, he points out that Hildegard embraced unusual choices in modality and in the textual and musical relationship, where she employs the use of melisma more than her contemporaries may have done.

“Hildegard tended to favour this one mode on E, which features a half-step from the first tone to the second — it’s very easy to recognize,” said Haines. “Which for us gives a kind of eerie sound to her music, but it’s a very specific type of sound that makes it even more idiomatic.”

Maxwell said Hildegard’s message is “more urgent today than ever before,” and perhaps so; her position as Doctor of the Church means that her theological contributions are still teachable and important today.

“She was a trumpet, proclaiming the word of God,” said Maxwell of her muse and inspiration. “When I’m done, hopefully the audience will know Hildegard.”

For more on the Toronto dates for Hildegard of Bingen and the Living Light or to purchase the film, go to www.hildegardofbingen.net.

A reworked Sister Act still packed with laughter

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TORONTO - Sister Act, on stage at Toronto’s Ed Mirvish Theatre, will awaken your urge to boogie like it’s 1978.

In Philadelphia, we find wannabe star Deloris Van Cartier in thigh-high purple boots and a short leopard print dress. She’s just seen her married lover murder a man and now, under witness protection, the police have hidden her in the last place anyone would think to look — a convent.
Whoopi Goldberg, one of the musical’s producers, who first played Deloris on-screen, made Sister Act the film popular in 1992. And it is with this memory that many theatregoers walked into the performance. But with Ta’Rea Campbell as Deloris on stage, it’s easy to forget anyone else donned the black and white habit.

Campbell’s transformation from nightclub diva to divine singer was believable, while never losing the boisterous (in the best sense) personality of her character.

“She lacks a bit of self-control,” Campbell said about Deloris in an interview with The Catholic Register. “Not in a bad way. Just in a way that she only knows how to be one person and that’s herself. And sometimes, we as adults get to modify our behaviour when we’re in certain situations, and I don’t think Deloris Van Cartier is able to do that.”

It’s this freedom of spirit that comically conflicts with the convent’s Mother Superior, played by Hollis Resnik.

“I have to embody this very stern, rigid, pious nun,” said Resnik. “There’s a stoicism about her, there’s a strong belief system in her.”

An entire musical number is devoted to Mother Superior attempting to put Deloris in her place. Mother is traditional where Deloris likes change, stiff where Deloris is flexible, quiet where Deloris is loud and conservative where Deloris is anything but.

Though the characters are butting heads, the actors are in sync, finishing each other’s sentences during the interview.

“Deloris Van Cartier would like to take a bedazzler and bedazzle the habit if she could,” said Campbell. “Maybe I can jazz this outfit up a little bit,” she said mimicking her character’s attitude.

“It doesn’t cry out for accessories,” replied Resnik instantly in Mother Superior-mode.

The cast has great chemistry, but the music remains the main draw. If patrons expect songs from the movie, they will be slightly disappointed. Though productions such as this attract patrons who hope it will be a nostalgia-fest based on the film, the audience will still get value for their dollar because the show includes an original score by Alan Menken with lyrics by Glenn Slater. Hits such as “My God” from the film have been replaced with “Take Me To Heaven” where the nuns belt out cheeky lines, such as “I’ll take any vow, just take me now” and “I’ll get on my knees, just take me please.”

In “Sunday Morning Fever,” the sisters encourage the faithful to “shake it like you’re Mary Magdalene.”

Breakout musical performances also include Kinglsey Leggs as Curtis Jackson, Deloris’s mobster boyfriend, singing “When I Find My Baby.” Effortlessly switching from a sinister to a sweet tone, he promises to never let his baby go. Jackson’s clueless henchmen, played by Charles Barksdale, Todd A. Horman and Ernie Pruneda, also deliver a completely satisfying performance when they brainstorm via song ways to tempt the celibate nuns. In “Lady In The Long Black Dress” they promise to give the sisters something to confess.

Opening night was filled with plenty of laughs, including from the nuns in the audience. But there is a take home message in Deloris’s unexpected journey from sin to redemption, from loneliness to discovering the joy of sisterhood.

“Just be good to each other, no matter what the circumstances are,” said Resnik. “There’s always something to be learned and found in every relationship.”

No matter your religious beliefs, said Campbell, “It’s important to be good hearted, it’s important to respect other people, respect their journey, respect their path (and) respect their soul.” Amen, sister.

Putting Jeremiah’s journey to music

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TORONTO - The idea to capture the voice of “the weeping prophet” Jeremiah came to composer Peter Togni back when he was 19 and listening to Jeremiah’s lamentations as composed by Orlando di Lasso.

“It just blew me away, and I had this idea tucked way in the back of my brain that maybe one day I would end up writing that,” said Togni.

“No matter what religion you are or aren’t, the message of Jeremiah, to me, is a universal one. It’s really about somebody who tells the truth, and is disregarded. That’s the whole piece, in a way.”

In his work Lamentatio Jeremiae Prophetae, Togni, who was recently the recipient of the Queen Elizabeth medal, has charted the journey of the prophet in a four-movement concerto for bass clarinet and choir, the third of which will be showcased during Toronto’s Nuit Blanche art festival on Sept. 29-30.

“It’s the personal journey of Jeremiah through various stages of his experience of being a prophet. Imagine waking up one day and discovering that you’re called by God to be a prophet; it’s a rather difficult thing to have to assume,” said Jeff Reilly, renowned bass clarinetist, who is on both the original recording with the Elmer Iseler Singers and will be performing with the Nathaniel Dett Chorale during Nuit Blanche.

The composition has a profound effect on Reilly, as Togni (a long-time personal friend and musical collaborator) wrote the piece for Reilly specifically.

“For him to write something for me was probably a very natural extension for him of our working relationship, and, for me, probably the greatest gift I’ve ever received from any human being in my entire life was that piece,” said Reilly.

“I still look at it as an act of grace — that that piece exists.”

The four movements of the concerto act as a vehicle for Jeremiah’s suffering, contemplation and eventual acceptance of the task set before him. Togni deftly weaves the Latin text of the choir with the bass clarinet as the voice of Jeremiah — both areas work as a counterpart to the other to advance the plot and emphasize the prophet’s journey.

“In one way, it’s a virtuosic concerto… it stems from the early meanings of the word concerto which means to play together,” said Togni. “Sometimes the choir is kind of like a Greek chorus, like an architect of the space. The bass clarinet is Jeremiah, speaking in that space.”

Togni also notes that the concerto is reflective of a 21st-century paradigm, wherein he is able to allow Reilly a great element of creative control in his own right.

“The piece is 75 per cent composed, and 25 per cent improvised. Jeff is 25 per cent improvised, so he feels things in the moment. It’s kind of as if I would write a concerto for Miles Davis,” said Togni. “There’s an awful lot of trust.”

“That’s a hard thing to do,” said Reilly of the juxtaposition of sung phrase, to the instrumental evocation of Jeremiah. “They’re singing words… and they have a certain way of working and thinking as an ensemble. There is a real challenge there.

“It’s an extraordinary piece of music, and it’s an amazing performance piece.”

The original recording of Lamentatio was on the renowned ECM label, and was the first work by a Canadian composer to appear there. At Nuit Blanche, the Nathaniel Dett Chorale (which was founded by Brainerd Blyden-Taylor, artistic director) is working the movement into their set titled Oblivion, which is an exploration of silence.

“The third movement is Silentio, the one that I’m playing this weekend, and that’s his acceptance of grace,” said Reilly. “It’s a very powerful and a very beautiful movement. He takes refuge in the silence of the Lord.”

Lamentatio will also be featured at the opening gala of the Winnipeg New Music Festival in January, where it will be performed again by the Elmer Iseler Singers.

“The truth of the matter is that we’re all called upon to certain roles in our life that we don’t necessarily want to take on. But, by the grace of things beyond yourself, you have found yourself in a position to take on responsibilities, and assume a part of yourself that is bigger than the way you looked at yourself before,” said Reilly.

“It’s a beautiful story and it’s something that I think we can all relate to in a personal way. We all have to take on roles that we don’t particularly want to.”

For more information on the Nuit Blanche performance, see www.scotiabanknuitblanche.ca.

Music ministry perfect fit for folk hobbyist

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Women at Carmelina Home find joy in the 
experience

Every Wednesday night, Deacon Philip Allard drives through rush-hour traffic across Toronto to Carmelina Home, a long-term care residential program run by the Passionist Sisters for women recovering from addiction, substance abuse and emotional issues.

Allard takes with him his guitar.

A social worker by trade and a folk musician by hobby, Allard joined the diaconate 12 years ago and has held a ministry position at Carmelina Home for seven years, playing his guitar and leading a sing-song with the women who live there.
Before that, he dabbled in ministry work at a hospital and at Providence Centre, but found those placements to be too similar to his profession.

“I was looking for a unique and different experience,” Allard said.

Allard admits he didn’t know what a deacon was before he looked into becoming one himself. He did, however, feel compelled to do more.

And his ministry at Carmelina Home has turned out to be the perfect fit for Allard, who on top of playing the guitar has performed in community theatre, even playing lead roles in several Gilbert and Sullivan musicals.

“I didn’t go there with any specific agenda,” Allard said of how his ministry at Carmelina Home came to be one of music.

“I thought music would be nice, (and) they really took to (it). I’m building my repertoire and having a lot of fun.”

Carmelina Home boasts a strict and intensive two-year program, so Allard tries to keep Wednesday evenings light and enjoyable. The songs are not strictly religious, though Allard said he tries to pick ones with uplifting and positive spiritual messages.

One crowd favourite is “Lean on Me.”

“It’s not a religious song, but it’s very inspiring and encouraging.”

But he said the most encouraging songs of all are ones that involve everyone.

“Musically, it’s always nice when you’re including other people,” Allard said. “Some of the women really like to sing so it gives me an opportunity to throw in a couple harmonies.”

For Allard, one of his best experiences at Carmelina Home is singing with the women for their annual gala several years ago.

“All the women there really wanted an opportunity to sing, with me leading the song,” Allard said. “Just the excitement in the home the weeks leading up to that, that’s probably the most memorable.

“It seemed to be a very happy time for the women, to share joy in that experience.”

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A Dutchman’s love of organs is transplanted to Canada

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Klaas Bos, the founder and owner of the Classical Organ Centre in Norwich, Ont., first fell in love with the instrument in his native Holland.

“When I was back in Holland, I immigrated (to Canada) in 1989, I got interested in organs. A lot of times, like on a Saturday afternoon, we’d go to an organ dealer and play a couple songs,” Bos told The Catholic Register.

While there, he got to know an organ dealer who, being wheelchair bound, would ask Klaas to assist him with deliveries and in fixing small parts.

“I got acquainted with the organs, like the ‘guts’ side of it,” said Bos.

After moving to Canada, Bos wanted to get back in the organ business, and decided to start up a market for European-style organs.
“I bought myself a ticket, went back to Holland and met with seven of the dealers that I knew personally and I knew wouldn’t ‘pull the skin over my nose,’ ” laughs Bos.

So, in 1992, the Classical Organ Centre was born, with an emphasis on the Content brand of instruments — a make of pipe organ from the Netherlands that was not common in the Canadian market.

“It was not known here, so this was a big step for me to do,” said Bos.

“Obviously, trying to market something that people know is a lot easier than trying to market something that people don’t know about. But, I thought to myself: ‘I’m going to stick to my guns.’ ”

That attitude has paid off, as Classical Organ now exclusively sells the Content brand, a move Bos feels secures his company a certain niche in the organ industry.

“The capabilities that are in the Content organs, they go far beyond what any other organ in the industry can do at this moment, especially with the new Cantata series,” said Bos. “Everything is totally adjustable.”

The Content brand, while digital, allows for a user-friendly set up that can be easily modified to suit the needs of the setting or player. The style of play can be adjusted to suit different voicing, such as a more European-style Baroque sound to a Romantic sound, from a symphonic pipe organ to a cathedral pipe organ.

Additionally, the Classical Organ Centre will also accommodate existing manual pipe organs by creating a hybrid instrument — the melding of some the original pipe work with an electric instrument so that both components can act together.

“We set it up for the customer — we ask them what do they like, where do they want to be. From there we follow up a bunch of times to see if that’s exactly where they want it,” said Bos.

“For all these extra features and options, the price doesn’t go up.”

From a performance standpoint, Bos also notes that the sheer adaptability of the Content organ can allow the player a multitude of different musical experiences that he may not have previously been able to have.

“When I started, I was always a more Romantic-style player,” said Bos. “Now, because it’s just a matter of hitting a button and you have a totally different organ, I’m getting more interested in Baroque music and symphonic music.

“Because it’s on here, I practise with it and see the value of the different organs.”

For more information go to www.classicalorgan.ca.

New musical Mass settings remain a work in progress

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Sept. 25, 2011 marked the launch of the newly minted musical settings that followed the complete liturgical overhaul of the Roman missal.

In parishes around the archdiocese of Toronto, congregants were greeted with the small, floppy Celebrate in Song hymnal — a book that contains three freshly commissioned musical settings of the Mass. Much like the often overlapping of the spoken “and with your spirit” with the erstwhile “and also with you,” the musical settings presented congregants with a fresh challenge — adapting responses that had been previously learned en rote to a completely different, and sometimes complex, vocal line.

“I think that for people, change is death. Change is a metaphor for death. Nobody likes change,” said Peter Togni.

Togni is one of Canada’s most noted composers, and his choral works are heard in parishes across the world. Having set the Mass to music before, Togni provides an interesting view on the musical tradition that some congregants are still adapting to.

“I think the language that they’re using, in many cases, is more elegant and more directly translated from the original Latin, which goes back to what Paul VI really wanted,” said Togni.

“But, I understand the paradox, because in some ways there’s kind of a wooden link to Latin for some people — the sacrilization of Latin, almost, just for its own sake and I understand that this gets in the way of ecumenism for some people. But, from an artistic standpoint, setting the text to those words is in some ways easier and prettier, you know? ‘Lord, God of Hosts’ is easier than ‘Lord, God of Power and Might.’ I like that from a purely artistic standpoint.”

However, the adaptation, despite what may seem a more poetic version, hasn’t necessarily lent itself in all cases to the accompanying musical line. Thus, there lies an imperfect synthesis of text and music which is crucial to the participation of the congregants.

“One of them that I’ve heard, I find very awkward,” said Togni. “In the congregation that I go to now, the congregation doesn’t sing very much with one of the Mass parts because there’s so much for them to do that I find it’s overwhelming for them, and frankly, most people don’t sing.

“I think it’s the integration with the music and that text,” Togni said of what may be the inherent problem with the adjustment to the changes.

“I think different composers might have done different things with that text. Not that the text is perfect… you can get in sort of a dualistic all or nothing thinking — this is totally right, that’s totally wrong. I don’t think you can do that.”

Togni does note that the textual changes certainly serve to unite the Church across the country.

“You’re talking about universality, right? The beautiful thing about the new text, if we’re asked, is, for the French they always say ‘avec votre esprit.’ We now say, ‘and with your spirit,’ but the French have been saying it for years. So, it links us up with them,” said Togni.

Looking forward, Togni suggests that perhaps the music will adopt a more Gregorian tradition and create a solid chant-like structure that would accommodate and highlight the textual changes.

“Even if you read the Vatican documents, the chant is supposed to have lots of room. We had an opportunity to write an English setting that I think could have been more people friendly and more chant-like,” said Togni.

“No matter what you do to ‘people of goodwill,’ it’s hard to set. But, then, English is cumbersome anyway,” he laughs. “I get the sense that there’s something sort of artificial with what they ended up with.”

It’s not entirely unsuccessful, though. In particular, the Angeles “Agnus Dei” has been particularly well received by congregations that Togni’s witnessed, and musically well executed.

Despite that, perhaps the root of any musical problem in the liturgy lies with what could be described as a lagging musical culture in the Catholic tradition.

“Church choir attendance is getting smaller and smaller and smaller, in some places,” said Togni.

“In our culture, we’re not a singing people. We’re just not… I think we need to find a Mass setting that’s more people friendly, melodically; simpler rhythmically. Let’s face it — not many people sing any more.”

Another factor of the tradition that could be remedied is a less performance-like aspect to the melodic line, which would allow the cantor to interact more thoroughly with the congregants, some of whom may be averse to singing entirely, he said.

“In the Gloria, for example, I don’t know why there isn’t more refrain for the people and then the cantor or the choir can do the rest of it,” said Togni.

“It’s just so much easier. If you’re going to have the entire text, then you better make it singer friendly, and it’s not,” said Togni, who notes that some of the song selections in Celebrate in Song lend themselves well to congregant participation.

Hopefully, the new settings will entrench themselves in the musical tradition. That, or adapt to what the congregants need.

“What is that Latin phrase? ‘Lex orandi, Lex credendi’:  the law of prayer is the law of belief — what we say in prayer expresses what we believe. That’s really the crux of it,” said Togni.

“It doesn’t sound like an entirely successful experiment, artistically, so far. Not yet.”

A serious musical you can blame on Rio

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The history of American musical theatre has served up plots and song lyrics so brainless they could make opera blush. But a new Canadian musical set among the homeless children of Rio de Janeiro takes on serious issues as it dances, sings and jokes its way across the stage.

Rio: The Musical is getting a critical test run at the New York Musical Theatre Festival this month. If it passes the test it could wind up playing to New York audiences on Broadway, telling a story of murder, homelessness and family to a samba beat.

“There are certainly frivolous musicals,” veteran musical composer Joey Miller told The Catholic Register. “I save my money.”

From South Pacific’s take on racism to Cabaret’s exploration of Nazi rule, there are plenty of examples of serious theatre in the guise of musicals. Miller and his writing partner Mitch Magonet want to fit their musical into that tradition.

“There has to be a theatricality to it, but it has to be truthful,” said Miller.

Miller and Magonet have worked on Rio off and on for eight years. Getting into both the New York Musical Theatre Festival July 9 to 29 after having already been in last year's National Alliance for Musical Theatre festival Oct. 11 and 12, both in New York, gives their project a certain cachet among new musicals.

Miller frankly admits he and Magonet stole the plot from Oliver Twist. Twelve-year-old Pipio arrives in Rio from Brazil’s poor northeast during Carnival on an impossible quest to find his mother. He falls in among homeless children who steal for an older master thief and he befriends a young woman trapped in an abusive relationship. A murder right off the top sets things in motion.

Musically, Brazil was the right place to set the story, said Miller. A percussionist by trade, Miller has spent decades studying samba, bossa nova, forro, choro and countless Brazilian rhythms.

“They say about Brazilians, without music they can’t exist,” said Miller.

Miller and Magonet use rhythms as leitmotifs, signature music attached to each character.

“It was the music that drove us. It’s like an inspiration,” said Miller.

But Brazil is also right culturally, he said.

“There’s something special about Brazil. It’s the samba, it’s the favela, it’s the whole culture with the importance of family,” Miller said.

Once in the New York festivals, Catholic University of America chose Rio as an ideal challenge for students of its Benjamin T. Rome School of Music musical theatre division. Dark, gritty subject matter set in a very different culture was part of the attraction for Denise Puricelli, Catholic University assistant professor of music. For Puricelli, serious intent fits with a Catholic university.

“One of the things we’re charged to do, actually, is to encourage people to contemplate social ills and contemporary problems,” she said. “It is a question — what kind of material should we do? You can either hide from it and only do things that are very wonderful or you can talk about things that make people stop and ponder... Schools that hide these strong, ugly parts of life are doing the students a disservice.”

Puricelli was musical director for a two-week workshop of Rio. It was opportunity for students to be part of the process as the writers and director edited, pruned and added songs and dialogue.

“For the kids, being able to have the composers right in the room, being able to ask questions from them — it was a great experience all the way around,” said Puricelli.

Crowdsourcing on Kickstarter.com raised $40,000 to mount a bare-bones production for the NYMF festival, along with $80,000 from a private backer. Very early in its development Mirvish Productions in Toronto workshopped the first act. Miller doesn’t yet know what will happen to the play after the New York festivals. Miller would love to see a full production on stage in Toronto, in New York, even in Rio.

“This is where we turn to prayer,” he said.