Music ministry perfect fit for folk hobbyist

Women at Carmelina Home find joy in the 

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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New musical Mass settings remain a work in progress

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 Dutchman’s love of organs is transplanted to Canada

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.”

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Justus George Lawler defends popes, outs critics

Were the Popes Against the Jews?: Tracking the Myths and Confronting the Ideologues by Justus George Lawler (Wm. Eerdmans Publishing, 405 pages, hardcover, $38.99.)

Any book that attacks another book, especially if the target has been controversial and has burrowed under a few skins, walks a tightrope. The aggressor risks coming off as defensive and paranoid — ultimately lending credence to his prey.
Justus George Lawler’s Were the Popes Against the Jews? suffers from no such shortfall. In nearly 400 dense, carefully argued and eloquent pages, Lawler delivers a jeremiad against David Kertzer’s 2001 book The Popes Against the Jews, a book that styled itself as a scathing indictment of modern pontiffs. Kertzer gave us an image of the popes as gleeful anti-Semites who paved the road to Hitler’s gas chambers and even helped deliver the goods.
Kertzer’s book made a lot of people squirm. It quoted one modern pope publicly calling Jews “dogs.” Two other modern pontiffs are portrayed referring to Judaism as “Satan’s synagogue.” According to Kertzer, at the beginning of the 20th century, another pope refused to save the life of a Jew accused of ritual murder, despite knowing the man was innocent. Only a decade before the rise of Hitler, it is alleged another pope supported priests who called for the extermination of all the Jews in the world.
The Popes Against the Jews was hailed in the secular press and has been translated into nine languages. It also spawned a veritable cottage industry of similarly themed works slamming the Vatican, including A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen (2003) and Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII by John Cornwell (2008).
Lawler’s response is a relentless carpet-bombing. Rather than being “America’s foremost expert on the modern history of the Vatican’s relations with the Jews” (as Lawler dryly quotes from Kertzer’s own web site), Kertzer is presented as guilty of a litany of literary and scholarly sins: Omissions, doctoring of texts, truncations, “slanted” and “intentional” mistranslations, at least one “whole-cloth fabrication,” factual errors and various instances of “shocking rhetorical subterfuge” that approach the “wearisome.” There’s even Kertzer’s “bewildering” grammar. As if that isn’t enough, Kertzer is accused of a general proneness to hyperbole, non-sequiturs and mind reading, which he exercises “when (he) is attempting to clinch an otherwise implausible argument.”
In his more caustic moments, Lawler hears “a Monty Python voice” in reading Kertzer, and says the author, in places, “cannot but evoke Charlie Chaplin.” All of which “raises question of whether Kertzer actually saw the text of documents he keeps referring to or whether he lifted the information — as proved to be true — from secondary sources.”
Lawler can be plodding and pedantic but his attack is careful and does not deviate from Kertzer’s presumably anti-Jewish popes; their deriding Jews as “dogs” and the Jewish religion as the “synagogue of Satan” under Pius IX; their approval of blood libels and ritual murder during the reigns of Leo XIII and Pius X; and their emboldening of the exterminators of Jews under Pius XI and Pius XII (also considered is Benedict XVI, to a lesser degree).
Lawler does betray a defensiveness when he firmly pronounces that popes publicly calling Jews dogs is “a well-established myth.” But he then feels the need to add that at one time, Jews called Samaritans dogs; St. Paul referred to gentiles as dogs; the mishnaic rabbis called Christians dogs; and the ruling classes have for centuries referred to riff-raff or the mob as dogs. Why the other examples if the first never happened?
Examples of Kertzer’s supposed shoddiness abound in Lawler’s account. While serving as a papal envoy to Poland in 1921 the future Pope Pius XI “was not only guilty of perversely failing to envision the slaughter of millions of Jews two decades later, but he was also guilty of complicity in that slaughter.”
The duplicity of Leo XIII in ritual murder “is entirely of Kertzer’s making.”
Lawler quotes a historian who found that the vast majority of uprisings against Jews occurred in predominantly Protestant towns, while later in Russia, “it was the czarists not the papists who safeguarded the blood libel.”
The fact that Kertzer is preoccupied with Jews does not mean that every seemingly negative expression by anyone connected to the Church represents an attack on them, Lawler argues. Neither does it mean that Jews were the intended objects of the evil wrath of the pope.
Lawler, a liberal Catholic, emphasizes that nothing in his book is primarily (italics his) about correcting blunders and distortions. Neither is it about refuting serious errors of fact. Rather, Kertzer is motivated by a personal, obsessive, “almost pathological antipathy to these popes.” As one reviewer supportive of Lawler put it, Kertzer and his admirers “are endeavouring to replace an authentic historical narrative with an ideologically driven polemic.”
Lawler makes a convincing case in debunking Kertzer.
(Csillag is a freelance writer in Toronto.)

Fascism, Catholicism, communism — and an Italian cyclist

Road To Valour: A True Story of World War II Italy, the Nazis and the Cyclist Who Inspired a Nation, by Alli and Andres McConnon (Doubleday Canada, hardcover, 336 pages, $32.95).

If you were Italian or French and crazy about cycling you would know Gino Bartali’s name. But we are not a cycling nation, even if Victoria, B.C.’s Ryder Hesjedal, winner of this year’s Giro d’Italia, has nudged Canadians toward some kind of appreciation of the sport. Bartali won the Giro d’Italia three times and the Tour de France twice.
This true story of Bartali reads like fiction, so incredible are events and circumstances. The setting is mostly pre-war Italy under the rule of Mussolini but extends through the war and into the postwar period. Fascism, Catholicism and communism interject themselves into Bartali’s life.
What could be more normal than a young man who loved to ride his bicycle, who displayed his faith openly, who exulted in the joy of effort for all to see? Bartali was an advocate for Catholic Action. That wasn’t so startling. What was surprising was “how zealously and publicly the Church embraced Gino. He was described as a ‘magnificent Christian athlete.’ ”     
Sport can be a powerful instrument called upon to serve any purpose, personal or otherwise. In Road to Valour, Bartali and his cycling ability combine to create a national hero, admired by all. 
Mussolini’s Fascists wanted Bartali’s endorsement of their system of governance. The Christian Democrats wanted him to align his popularity with their party. The Church, aware of his Catholic Action participation, enlisted his support to help shelter Jews in the Tuscan area.
And then there was the case of Palmiro Togliatti, leader of the Italian Communist Party. It was 1948. The Tour de France was in progress. Togliatti was stabbed in an attempted assassination. He was left in critical condition and lapsed into a coma.
At this moment there is turmoil in the nation and Italy’s government. The Christian Democrats and Communists are vying for power. Italy is on the verge of civil war. Prime Minister Alcide DeGasperi of the Christian Democrates makes a phone call to his friend Bartali. There is still a week to go in the Tour de France. He has a simple request: “Try to make it happen...  it would be very important to all of us.” Bartali was also visited by a papal emissary and given a special medal. He was told “His Holiness wishes that you win the Tour as a loyal and athletic champion.”
Bartali did win the Tour de France. As if on cue, Togliatti awoke from his coma. His first two questions were: “What happened at the Tour? How did Bartali do?”
Bartali’s victory and Togliatti’s recovery, so close on the heels of each other, were summed up by the Le Monde correspondent in Italy: “No event in the world could have been as important as Bartali’s victory. This was clearly apparent on July 15 when the news of his exploits transformed the highly dramatic atmosphere into which Italy had been plunged following the attack on Togliatti.”
One Italian journalist wrote of the triumph: “Bartali wrote in these last two days — if one can write with pedal strokes and drops of sweat — perhaps the most beautiful page of his career.” As for Bartali, he was to express later that “Everyone in their life has his own particular way of expressing life’s purpose... I have my bicycle.”
Road to Valour is an excellent book that gives an informed snapshot of an era. In this case it was of Bartali and Italy, but it transcends that nation and could be descriptive of what happens in so many countries but is seldom recorded. Which is a shame because it leaves nations with nothing but cultural amnesia. The book is well researched and written, worth reading for pleasure, knowledge and a reminder of so many great stories waiting to be discovered.
(Cosentino is Professor Emeritus at York University.)

A serious musical you can blame on Rio

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 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.

Catholic-Jewish tensions as seen through the lens of the Dreyfus Affair

The prodigious Catholic novelist, historian and journalist Piers Paul Read has just produced his 23rd book, a non-fiction account of the most infamous miscarriage of justice in French history, The Dreyfus Affair. Read’s account of the wrongful conviction of junior military officer Alfred Dreyfus in late 19th-century France on charges of treason — and the campaign to overturn that injustice which set off riots and exposed the shocking depth of anti-Semitism bubbling under every strata of society — represents a perfect marriage of writer and subject.  

Read’s skills as an historian would be required just to do justice to the main event of this many-peopled saga that takes almost 12 years to play out from Dreyfus’ exile and incarceration on Devil’s Island to his full social restitution. But Read’s story is much larger than that. To properly set the scene, Read devotes the first 70 pages of this very readable account to exploring the historic tensions between Jews and Catholics in France, going back to the French Revolution a full century before. And on the other side he brings the story (or at least the implications of the story) forward to the mid-20th century, showing how the Dreyfus Affair gave the world a nasty foretaste of the widespread persecution of the Jews that would be the distinctively horrific hallmark of the Second World War.

16th-century Peruvian convent and its historic art eyed for restoration

LIMA, Peru - Half-hidden behind palm trees at the end of a once elegant avenue in a now rundown neighborhood, the Convento de los Descalzos -- the Convent of the Barefoot Friars -- has witnessed half a millennium of Peruvian history.

Age, economic woes and benign neglect have taken their toll, and the convent has fallen on hard times. But Alberta Alvarez, the director of a foundation established less than a year ago to revitalize the convent, is trying to change that.

Catholic Movie Reviews - The Amazing Spider-Man, Ted, Magic Mike, Stella Days & more

The latest adaptation of the Marvel Comics favourite Spider-Man hits theatres today. We've also got reviews for some of the other latest releases including Ted and Magic Mike.

Taking the glory out of war

What We Talk About When We Talk About War by Noah Richler (Goose Lane Editions, 376 pages, $24.95).

Noah Richler, son of novelist Mordecai, product of a liberal upbringing in Montreal and London, has crafted an interesting and aggressive defense of Canada’s history as a peaceful nation.

I was immediately struck by the question, “Who would read this book?” The hawks won’t want to read it since this book clearly implies — from the title to the picture of the haunted face of the Afghani woman on the cover — that war is on trial in these pages. Dedicated doves don’t need to read it, since they are already convinced of Richler’s arguments. Richler says he wrote it for the rest, the undecided, “the vast majority of Canadians … who depend on what they learn from others for the views they take on. “

Actor Gary Sinise wins Gabriel Personal Achievement Award

INDIANAPOLIS - Actor Gary Sinise, a Catholic actor who stars in the TV drama "CSI: New York" but who is perhaps best known for his role as Lt. Dan in the 1994 film "Forrest Gump," received the Gabriel Personal Achievement Award, presented by the Catholic Academy of Communication Arts Professionals.

Sinise, who was not on hand to receive the award, donates much of his time to entertaining the troops in Iraq and is co-founder of the nonprofit charity Operation Iraqi Children, which provides schoolchildren with basic school supplies.

Finding the story behind the church through photography

When Ottawa-based photographer Mark Schacter realized he had amassed a pretty extensive collection of church photographs, he was a bit surprised.

Schacter will be spending the next year building on his library of church photos, following in the footsteps of some of the great photographers of our day, from Ansel Adams to James Nachtwey. Schacter is adding more churches, as well as synagogues, mosques, gudwaras and temples, for his Houses of Worship project — a book to be published in 2013. The book of photos and essays will concentrate on architecture inspired by faith in Canada and the United States.

Priest and musician brings his music to Canada [w/ video]

For Fr. Robert Galea, music is the language of the heart.

“And what better way to preach the Gospel than through the language of the heart?” asks the 30-year-old Maltese singer, songwriter and priest serving in Shepparton, Australia.

Sponsored by Salt + Light Television in collaboration with dioceses across Canada, Galea will be on tour in Canada in early July with stops planned in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Winnipeg. Specific dates were not yet confirmed by press time.