Sunday, August 13, 2006

Welcome to Hell. Here's your accordion.

I apologize in advance to all polka, zydeco, or mariachi fans who might be offended by the title of this post. It's more of a pop-culture allusion (Gary Larson's Far Side) than anything else. And, in actuality, the allusion was triggered via free association (and the otherwise odd workings of my brain) by another Far Side cartoon in which Arthur Fiedler is guided to his room in Hell, an orchestra hall filled with banjo players.

My father works with a boys' chancel choir at my church. It's a very traditional sort of gig: men and boys only, mostly Latin Psalms and Renaissance liturgical music for Compline and Vespers, cassocks and surplices, and the whole nine yards. The director is a professor of music at the local university, a stern former high-church Anglican with a huge tenor voice who occasionally uses it to chide the boys into submission. The director was on vacation this last week, but he had arranged for the choir to participate in Mass at another parish. Since he was out of town, my dad asked if I could lead the rehearsal, with a slight possibility that I might need to lead the choir at Mass if the director missed his return flight.

Now, I'm barely fit to direct myself in music matters, so I strongly recommended that my dad find someone better suited for the task. I've led one rehearsal for him before, but I'm only fit for sectionals at best. Fortunately, he enlisted the help of the parish school's choir director.

Those of you who've followed this blog for a while probably know that I'm opinionated when it comes to liturgical music. I'm not big on "contemporary" (chinga chinga) choirs. Oddly, I love contemporary Christian music (be it Stephen Curtis Chapman, Skillet, or Gretchen), but I don't consider that appropriate for Mass. Anyway, I had seen the music selections for the Mass, and I knew they were hardly the sort of thing a chancel choir would perform, unless the St. Louis Jesuits had some unknown collection of polyphonic works in Latin for boys' choirs. I was willing to help out my dad, but I wasn't exactly enthusiastic. The news that my dad had found a more qualified director pleased me on both our accounts.

As it turned out, the regular director's flight did not arrive on time. The choir arrived today to find a "contemporary" choir all ready to join them during Mass, with a full complement of instrumentalists on guitar, upright bass, tambourine, and banjo. My dad thought it best for the regular director's health that he were not present today given that the presence of a banjo might cause some hemorrhaging.

My comment to him? "So I guess they didn't have anyone to cover the washboard part."

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