Music used to ‘bind’ people torn by two Polish tragedies

TORONTO - The Our Lady of Sorrows Chorale and Ecumenical choirs will lift their voices in song April 15 in a memorial concert for the 72nd anniversary of the Katyn Massacre and the second anniversary of the Smolensk tragedy in Poland.

“Music is a force that can bind people or tear them apart,” said Gordon Mansell, music director and organist for Our Lady of Sorrows parish and concert organizer. “It is a language that transcends all others and its meaning can forge close ties and bridge cultures. When great sorrow is experienced, it is the sighs of humanity that call our attention to action. 

Dramatic Jesus Discovery documentary lacks hard evidence

The problem with The Jesus Discovery is that it’s not really about the archeology. It’s about making a documentary movie.

Simcha Jacobovici’s documentary, to be aired in Canada on VisionTV, presents us with a dramatic plot full of twists and turns. Jacobovici turns in a fine performance as the stalwart and stoic hero who patiently overcomes each obstacle on his quest to make a movie. Tight editing and subtle use of music add to the tension.

The story of how the movie got made reveals a great deal about contemporary Israeli society and contemporary American media culture. We’re treated to CNN talking heads sputtering outrage over any information that might challenge their settled world view. We watch as ultra-orthodox Jews in Jerusalem impose their will on the film crew by leveraging mob rule.

Catholic Movie Reviews - Mirror Mirror, Wrath of the Titans

While everybody is still busy talking about The Hunger Games (read our review here), this week's two releases will provide an alternative to audiences. Wrath of the Titans is a sequel to 2010's Clash of the Titans, while Mirror Mirror sees Julia Roberts playing an evil queen who steals control of a kingdom in a new adaptation of the Snow White fairy-tale.

Exploring art’s religious angle

Engaging in a retreat often suggests a certain solitude while withdrawing from the world to contemplate and renew. The summer programs at Living Water College in Derwent, Alta. combine both mental and spiritual renewal with intensive arts studies to create unique experiences.

College president Deacon Kenneth Noster describes the programs as a “a great opportunity to develop skills, while refreshing your mind and spirit amidst some of Alberta's most beautiful countryside.”

“No matter what your faith background, you will grow here,” he said.

The college has enlisted instructors with an impressive range of experience to teach two courses — Iconography and Sacred Polyphony — being offered in July and August respectively. In keeping with Living Water's central tenets (art, faith and reason) the courses are designed to promote artistic and spiritual growth.

“That's one of the reasons why we've crafted the course the way we have,” said instructor Frank C. Turner, who has been studying  iconography since 1991. “You can learn the physical techniques of iconography, and you can get okay results. But icon is a prayer.

“As Thomas Aquinas says: 'Prayer is the raising of the mind and heart to God.' Iconography is the raising of inanimate substances to the glory of God. And so that's a prayer.”

Part of the iconography experience involves creating an egg tempera paint solution by mixing one part liquid egg yolk, two parts white wine and essence of lavender. That particular mixture, which pre-dates Christianity, was taught to Turner by master iconographer Fr. Gianluca Busi while studying in Italy.

“In many ways, I mean, I have a great devotion to iconography because of the subject, but the little techniques within the process are very fascinating,” Turner said. “I really enjoy making my egg emulsion every time.”

Turner believes artistic workshops set in a religious context work much better than those that are simply a craft workshop.

Sacred Polyphony is similar. The course seeks to explore some of the Church's oldest musical repertoire through polyphony and Gregorian chant. Maestro Uwe Lieflander, the instructor, has a strong musical pedigree, having studied at the Regensburg Akademie für Kirchenmusik in Germany and at The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.

In addition to studying the complexities of the music, which formed the foundation for choral music as we know it today, students perform Franz Schubert's second setting of the Latin Mass, his Mass in G major, as well as Vivaldi's Gloria. Both works provide opportunity for vocal coaching for singers of all levels and solo work for professionals.

Both the iconography and polyphony programs combine a spiritual element with a precise study of two of the Church's oldest and most celebrated art forms.

Exhibit showcases L’Arche artists

Biologically speaking, we can sustain life without art, but it wouldn’t be a very human life. L’Arche is all about sustaining and celebrating a fully human life, which makes the April art exhibition at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts so important, said Colette Halferty.

Halferty is part of the team at L’Arche Daybreak putting on With Our Own Hands, an art exhibition featuring the work of L’Arche core members and other artists who participate in L’Arche day programs.

'Hugo,' 'I Am,' 'The Way,' 'Modern Family' win Catholic group's awards

STUDIO CITY, Calif. - The feature films "Hugo" and "The Way," the documentary "I Am" and the television sitcom "Modern Family" have been named winners of this year's Catholics in Media Awards.

The Martin Scorsese film "Hugo," the filmmaker's first feature given the 3-D treatment, is getting the Film Award from Catholics in Media Associates, sponsors of the prizes for the 19th year. "Hugo" won five Academy Awards in February.

"The Way," starring Martin Sheen and directed by his son Emilio Estevez, won the group's Board of Directors Award. Both films were made available on DVD in February.

Catholic Movie Review - The Hunger Games

NEW YORK - Though presumably targeted -- at least in part -- at teens, the dystopian adventure "The Hunger Games" (Lionsgate) involves enough problematic content to give parents pause. Responsible oldsters will want to weigh the matter carefully before giving permission for clamoring kids to attend.

At first glance, the depressing futuristic premise of the piece -- inherited from Suzanne Collins' best-selling trilogy of novels, on the first volume of which the film is based -- makes it seem unlikely fare for a youthful audience.

In a post-apocalyptic North America, have-not youngsters from oppressed outlying districts are chosen at random to participate in the titular event, a televised survival tournament staged each year for the entertainment of the decadent elite who populate their society's luxurious capital city.

Chesterton gives us best understanding of Dickens

As the English-speaking world celebrates the bicentennial of Charles Dickens’ birth — according him a crown second only to William Shakespeare’s for sheer fecundity in the service of literary genius — we should also acknowledge how our understanding of Dickens was framed by the great Catholic writer and apologist G.K. Chesterton.

His acclaimed biography of Dickens was published in 1906 when Chesterton was 32. Today a literary biography usually includes a fair amount of material recounting its subject’s life. That was not the tradition a century ago, when biographical detail was lightly sketched and most attention paid to a writer’s books. It might be more accurate to call Chesterton’s biography a critical study, though even that term would mislead, suggesting as it does a level of objective detachment which the ever-exuberant Chesterton never displayed. It might be truest to call it a celebration.

The value of all of Chesterton’s biographies, particularly his Dickens, wasn’t so much their biographical veracity — the strokes were much too broad and even reckless for that — as Chesterton’s uncanny ability to isolate and magnify important truths about his subjects’ writing and thinking that no one had identified before. 

Early on in the book — and writing at a time when not so much was known about Dickens’ appalling treatment of his wife or the tetchiness of his relations with his publishers and professional colleagues — Chesterton makes a situation from Dickens’ infancy serve as a kind of template for his life. Commenting on how Dickens’ father would get the boy to sing for his elders, Chesterton writes:

“Some of the earliest glimpses we have of Charles Dickens show him to us perched on some chair or table singing comic songs in an atmosphere of perpetual applause. So, almost as soon as he can toddle, he steps into the glare of the footlights. He never stepped out of it until he died . . . Dickens had all his life the faults of the little boy who is kept up too late at night
. . . . In all the practical relations of his life he was what the child is in the last hours of an evening party, genuinely delighted, genuinely delightful, genuinely affectionate and happy, and yet in some strange way fundamentally exasperated and dangerously close to tears.”

Chesterton’s book appeared 36 years after Dicken’s death in 1870 at the age of 58, so the gap between their lifetimes was not unfathomably large. It would be like someone writing today about J.R.R. Tolkien or P.G. Wodehouse. Though Chesterton was born four years after Dickens’ death, in most ways they occupied the same world. Chesterton wrote at a time before Dickens was regarded as a classic writer.

The cultural overlords of the time tended to sneer at Dickens as today’s academic and critical writers reflexively dismiss a novelist who cranks out bestsellers a little too quickly. In the years between Dickens’ death and Chesterton’s book, the literary fashions of realism and expressionism led to criticism that Dickens’ world view was un-lifelike, that the perils his characters faced were exaggerated and their outcomes overly optimistic.

Chesterton argued that, of course, Dickens exaggerated, but like any self-respecting artist he only did so “when he found a truth to exaggerate. It is a deadly error (an error at the back of much of the false placidity of our politics) to suppose that lies are told with excess and luxuriance, and truths told with modesty and restraint. Some of the most frantic lies on the face of life are told with modesty and restraint; for the simple reason that only modesty and restraint will save them. . . . Truth alone can be exaggerated; nothing else can stand the strain.”

Chesterton believed Dickens achieved a rare and mystical balance in his books that awakened a drive for social reform. He makes the salient point that “this happy dreamer, this vulgar optimist
. . .  alone of modern writers did really destroy some of the wrongs he hated and bring about some of the reforms he desired. Dickens did help to pull down the debtors’ prisons. . . Dickens did leave his mark on parochialism, on nursing, on funerals, on public executions, on workhouses, on the Court of Chancery. . . If Dickens was an optimist he was an uncommonly active and useful kind of optimist.”

Chesterton’s biography of Dickens was an enormous commercial and critical success which, one typical review said, “marks the definite entry of its author into the serious walks of literature.” The book not only established Chesterton, it re-established Dickens as marked by the publication the very next year of the Everyman editions of Dickens’ entire oeuvre, with specially commissioned introductions by Chesterton to all two dozen volumes.

(Goodden is a freelance writer in London, Ont.)

Catholic Movie Reviews - Message of pro-life 'October Baby' film hits close to home for one of its stars

WASHINGTON - Actress Shari Rigby sat right across from her interviewer, her legs crossed. On the instep of her right foot was a tattoo of a flower. She was asked what it was.

"Her name would have been Lily," Rigby answered, "and so that's there to remind me."

She was talking about the baby she had aborted 20 years ago.

Bite the dust: Vatican Museums employ old-fashioned way to preserve art

VATICAN CITY - To counteract the onslaught of 20,000 visitors a day -- upward of 5 million a year -- the Vatican Museums have adopted an old-fashioned method to help protect its priceless works of art: dusting.

Current best practices for the preservation of museum pieces entail preventing or hindering problems from developing in the first place, Antonio Paolucci, director of the museums, said at a March 15 conference.

So-called preventative conservation includes high-tech solutions like climate control, protective displays and lighting systems that keep delicate colors and media from damage and deterioration, he said.

But the most overlooked -- and yet, best -- solution is the low-tech practice of dusting, buffing and tiny touch ups, he said at a conference on the museums' efforts to better protect the Vatican's artistic heritage.

With 200,000 objects -- 20,000 of which are on public display -- 27,000 square feet of frescoes, and 4.35 miles of exhibit space, the Vatican Museums have plenty to keep clean and cared for.

Past practice had been to care for items by restoring them after they succumbed to the forces of time and nature, said Vittoria Cimino, head of the museums' Office of Conservation.

Prevention, however, is the best medicine and in that effort, Paolucci established the conservation office in 2009 to be "the eye of the museum director to track the health of the (museums') heritage," he said.

The office then began a systematic protocol of dusting, monitoring and documenting every object, and storage and display room in the museums' custody.

Five days a week, every afternoon, four specialists trawl a designated area with brushes, dust cloths and specialized vacuums strapped to their backs. Workers may be mounted from cherry pickers, ladders or scaffolding to reach high ceilings, window sills and walls, bent over floor mosaics, gently polishing pottery and marble or sucking dust from the velvet drapes of gilded papal carriages.

The experts photograph every object and area they clean and write up a report documenting its current state and potential problems, Cimino said. Every department, including the restoration department, then have access to the data and know exactly what got cleaned and how it looks.

The cleaners make at least two rounds a year while heavily trafficked areas get a cleaning seven or eight times a year, she said.

The office has also installed nearly 100 sensors in various places to monitor and record everything from temperature to humidity and UV light intensity. Remote radio sensors relay the data to the central office in real time, allowing workers to pinpoint problems immediately and contact the appropriate technicians to intervene, she said.

Unfortunately, only a small portion of the museums is properly climate controlled. And custodians opening the windows to alleviate the stifling heat and humidity in the summer only make the problem worse, she said.

Some areas now have special drapes that reflect the sun's rays cutting down on the amount of heat and light pouring through, she added.

Paolucci said establishing the conservation office was one of his proudest achievements.

He said it is helping him fulfill his duty to his clients: preserving what was handed down from the past for "the men and women who stand in line waiting to see the museums and the men and women who have yet to born."

Autistic Edmonton artist finds a voice with her work

EDMONTON - Meghan Burnside has been painting proficiently for seven years — about as long as she has been able to speak more than a few words.

The 27-year-old Edmonton artist is autistic and for the first 18 years of her life barely uttered a word. But last month one of her paintings — The Sacred Heart of Jesus — went on display at City Hall after she won first prize in a competition sponsored by Grant MacEwan University.

Tapping on heaven's door: New York Seminarian keeps a foot in the dance world

VATICAN CITY - David Rider still does the occasional barrel roll, but now he usually does it wearing a Roman collar. He's kept his tap shoes since entering the seminary, but his goal has changed dramatically.

"I just want to be a normal parish priest. What I see myself doing is the thing I'm preparing to do, which is celebrate the Mass devoutly, hear confessions, baptize babies, and bring God to people in their suffering and their joy," the 27-year-old New York archdiocesan seminarian said.

Getting to the heart of the legend of Joan of Arc

The product of a decidedly old-world upbringing, French-Canadian filmmaker Dany Chiasson has produced a thoughtful meditation on one of the world’s great saints that feels utterly timeless.

Chiasson grew up with her five siblings in the remote Iles de la Madeleine region of Quebec. Raised in a devoutly Catholic home, as a young girl Chiasson would make the long trek to Mass each Sunday and would listen, enthralled, as her grandmother talked about the saints, most particularly Joan of Arc (1412-31).

“Through Joan of Arc’s story, I learned about devotion, courage, going beyond our limits, France, the medieval times, women, the Catholic Church, the big schism, royalty . . .  all that was fascinating to me,” said Chiasson, wife of Toronto director Bruce McDonald.