NPM conventions tend to be friendly, casual and informal (though you see some dresses and neck ties and Roman collars and sisters in habit), high-voltage loud, extroverted, rather commercialized, and pretty joyful. Not quite the primary comfort zone of monkish types like myself (nor, I suspect, the current holder of the Chair of Peter). But still, it’s great to be a part of the excitement, and to take note of the US Catholic Church’s largest-by-far music organization. (Maybe there should be a new NPM section, “INTP Support Group.” My monastery actually once had an NT social group. I was a founding member. Beer and cheese & crackers and sharing of ideas, but no sensitivity to feelings permitted.)
Cardinal DiNardo, NPM’s episcopal moderator, was present for much of the convention and met with NPM’s national advisory council on Wednesday. He is very, very supportive of NPM, and he is greatly appreciated and esteemed by NPM. (He claims it’s because he’s about the only bishop who follows Sing to the Lord and sings all the celebrant’s chants!) Of course NPM’s decline in membership and convention attendance was on the meeting agenda. Cardinal DiNardo pointed out that every organization he is a part of, civic or secular or ecclesial, is experiencing numbers decline. Americans aren’t joiners like they used to be. So that was some consolation. It was also pointed out that 2010 was the first year NPM held two national conventions in a row. Now that national conventions will be every year rather than alternate years, attendance will probably not be as high each time. Still, 1,500 is not a small number.
Someone (you’ll never guess who) asked Cardinal DiNardo about the coming missal translation and Vox Clara’s massive changes to the submitted text and how the US bishops will respond. He is under the impression that only a few commas and semicolons are being changed, so it turned out to be a slightly awkward question. The bottom line was, “Let’s wait and see what it really is – and then we’ll all go forward.”
NPM is diverse in every direction – and that includes the classical high art direction. Lots of organ music and choral music (oh, and intensive Gregorian chant study!). Some of the finest conductors and musicians in the country regularly grace NPM conventions. This year, to name just one example from many, Kent Tritle of St. Ignatius church in Manhattan led a choral institute which performed at a very fine concert Thursday evening .
Lots and lots and lots of new Mass settings were set out and presented and sung at this convention. They all started to sound the same after a while. A few somewhat nice things here and there, but no apparent new “Mass of Creation” or “Community Mass” on the horizon. NPM gives each of the major music publishers (GIA, WLP, OCP) 75 minutes for a plenum “Industry Showcase.” (See “rather commercialized,” supra. I expect NPM will deal with publishers’ undue influence the same day US congress eliminates lobbying.) Tuesday was OCP, Wednesday was WLP – a mix of things for congregation, cantor, choir, etc., in both cases. Yesterday was GIA, and they did nothing but excerpts from new Mass settings. That seemed like an odd marketing strategy, since they can’t sell any of them yet. Maybe they had expected that by now we’d have a recognitio text, an implementation date, and full permission to publicize and sell Mass settings.
Convention attendees picked the new Mass setting Messa Rinnovare: Mass of Renewal by David Kaufman and William Gokelman, San Antonio, TX, as the winner of NPM’s competition. I expect it will soon be for sale at their company, “Good for the Soul Music.” Second place went to J. Christopher Pardini (Pittsburgh, PA), third place to William Glenn Osborne (Orlando, FL), and fourth place to Thomas J. Fielding (Raleigh, NC).
Lots of people came up to tell me how much they enjoy Pray Tell. I kept hearing things like “a much-needed moderate voice on the web” and “a sign of hope in our Church.” Which is to say, some folks are struggling to be hopeful about the Church. I was struck by how many people said things like “Church for me is my local community – I don’t identify with Rome or even the bishops anymore.” One person confided to me that the seminary s/he works in is becoming “sick, repressed, reactionary, completely out of touch,” which seems to represent to that person where the official Church is heading. This makes me wonder. How many lay ministers of music and liturgy have feelings such as these, and to what extent? How much opposition to the new missal is really about more generalized feelings, many years in the making, of disappointment or anger or disgust toward the hierarchy? Maybe somebody should get a Lilly grant and study this – it seems to me to be a very, very important issue for the Catholic Church’s evangelical effectiveness going forward. We can’t afford to be divided from one another and weighed down by negativity. I hope everyone in the hierarchy is keenly aware of these issues and addressing them with sensitivity and wisdom.
Anyway, the NPM convention ended Friday noon with everyone standing to sing a full-throated “Hallelujah Chorus” from Messiah. It was very moving. This is NPM at its best – loud and joyful. And then, the sadness of saying goodbye. Next year in Louisville.