Tuesday, September 11, 2007

An Interview With Susan Treacy

An interview from the Athanasius Contra Mundum blogsite...

Dr. Susan Treacy is a professor of Music and the chair of Music at Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida. She has a long background teaching music and Sacred Music.

1) How did you come to the appreciation of true Sacred Music, as understood by St. Pius X's Motu Proprio (Tra le solicitudini)?

I guess you could say that I have always appreciated true Sacred Music, even before I knew about St. Pius X's Motu Proprio. I am a convert to the Catholic Faith (since 1990) from the Episcopal Church and am a classically-trained musician. I grew up singing in our church choir, where we sang good music regularly, and I fell in love with liturgy from an early age. I was a kid when the Vatican Council II was in session and I remember thinking, "Why did the Catholic Church drop the Latin Mass, with all its beautiful Gregorian chant and sacred choral music?" There was a period in my life where I was away from God, but thanks to His mercy I had a conversion to Christ.After my conversion to Christ there was a time right before I became Catholic when I tolerated, out of obedience and without total enthusiam, the pop-style music that has dominated the post-Vatican II Church. However, since I was not yet Catholic, I never actually had to endure it in church. Actually, one reason I postponed entering the Church was because of my ambivalence towards the music and liturgy found in typical Catholic parishes. I actually did not know what the true teachings of the Church on sacred music were, according to the documents of Vatican II, until 1991. Also, I did not know that there were any Catholic parishes where good music was still done. All that changed when I read the documents, and when in 1991 I started attending the Sacred Music Colloquium, held by the Church Music Association of America (CMAA).

2) In your professional opinion, has the Church in terms of practical effect essentially spurned Sacred Music in the last 42 years?

Theoretically the Church has never spurned sacred music, but in terms of practical effect it would seem that this has happened. I am sometimes frustrated when statements are issued by the post-Vatican II popes that, rightly, promote Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony, but do not "name names." In other words, they do not name specific types of music or specific types of musical instruments that are unacceptable for liturgical use. That said, I do believe that Pope Benedict XVI has something up his sleeve for sacred music. With what I know about his love for music and about his way of teaching and reforming, for example, with the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, I believe that he will fuel the sacred music revival that is already going on.

3) Do you believe that the Motu Proprio of Pope Benedict will help restore Gregorian Chant and Sacred Polyphony to the Liturgy, or has the talent and ability been lost through neglect?

To continue my thoughts from Number 2), I would say that, yes, I believe that the Holy Father will do this. Simply by issuing the Motu Proprio, he has assured that Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony will have a home because of its inextricable link to the Traditional Latin Mass and the Divine Office. Certainly, Gregorian chant is not as widely taught and practiced as it was before the Council, but there is an exciting revival going on, thanks to CMAA and many others. You can find out more about it at the CMAA website or at the New Liturgical Movement blog

4) How hard is it for either the priest or a nascent choir to learn sufficient Gregorian Chant in order to sing a Missa Cantata or a Solemn Mass?

usical talent is helpful, of course, but desire is also extremely important. The CMAA is sponsoring a workshop for priests in October at Saint John Cantius Church, in Chicago. The priest's parts are very simple, encompassing a range of four notes, at most. A good temporary solution for a choir just starting out to chant the Proper chants at Mass is to sing the psalm-tone Propers arranged years ago by the Reverend Carlo Rossini and recently republished by The Neumann Press. After the choir becomes accustomed to chanting these, they can proceed to the true Gregorian Propers, as found in the Liber Usualis or the Graduale Romanum. The Communio is a good place to start because it is the easiest of the Proper chants. After that, try the Introit and then the Offertory. The most challenging Proper chants are the Gradual and the Alleluia.

5) You previously taught at Franciscan University of Steubenville, which has a reputation or "orthodoxy" in all things Catholic. How would you describe the liturgical music there, and do you perceive that there was/is a positive reaction on campus either amongst students or faculty and staff to Summorum Pontificum?"

Praise and worship music" is the most prevalent type of music at liturgies in Christ the King Chapel at Franciscan University. When I taught there the Schola Cantorum Franciscana was gradually able to make some inroads with Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony. My admirable successor, Paul Weber, is carrying on that tradition. As for the reaction at FUS to Summorum Pontificum, I can't really answer, as I have not recently been in touch with anyone there. I do know, however, that there are a number of faculty who would be happy about the Motu Proprio. Also, there has always been a contingent of tradition-minded students at FUS.

6) In your experience and in your professional opinion, is charismatic music and the instruments it makes use of suited to a truly Catholic liturgy?

No. They are eminently suitable for personal use, or for a prayer meeting or a festival of praise, but they have no place in Catholic liturgy, which is solemn and sacred. If one truly understands the Faith and the liturgy through the Church's eyes, he will see this. As Catholics we believe that the Holy Spirit speaks through the Church, therefore we should be yearning to do what our Mother asks and to love what She loves.

7) Are there any documents that support the use of piano, guitar or bongos at modern celebrations of liturgy?

Not that I know of. The documents, from Vatican II to the GIRM 2003, do not recommend these instruments, but the documents are somewhat ambiguously worded, so that proponents of these instruments could rationalize their use. Again, it's a question of "naming names."

8) In the current climate at Ave Maria, do you find the student body in general favorable to Sacred Music? I notice that the University has the Novus Ordo in Latin several times a week, are you able to sing Gregorian Chant and Sacred Polyphony for those Masses?

I believe that there is a lot of interest in sacred music at Ave Maria University. We have a Men's Schola Gregoriana of approximately eighteen members and a Women's Schola Gregoriana with about the same number of members. The AMU Choir has about 60 members this semester, and there is a Chamber Choir of about 16 members. This year we are starting a new, dedicated liturgical choir to sing sacred polyphony at Mass, The Oratory Singers, an elite choir of 12 members, several of whom have won the first scholarships in our new Choral Scholars Program. We will also be offering an organ scholarship each year. We offer a BA with a concentration in Sacred Music, and also a Sacred Music Minor. Last year's freshman music theory class had six students; this year there are 22. Remember, this is a new university with about 500 students, and we are just at the beginning of the fourth year of our Music Major program. Every Sunday there is a Novus Ordo Latin Mass at which the Schola sing. This semester the Latin Mass is at 8am, and at that the Men's Schola chants Proper chants and leads the congregation in the Latin responses and Ordinary chants. There is also a small, student-directed vocal ensemble that provides sacred choral music. The Women's Schola does the same thing at the Noon Mass, even though that Mass is said in English. When Feasts and Solemnities fall on weekdays the Schola are there to chant; an example would be yesterday, September 8th, when they chanted for the Feast of Our Lady's Nativity. Next Sunday will be the debut of The Oratory Singers, who will sing sacred polyphony every week at the Noon Mass.For more information, please visit our departmental website which is a work in progress; more is coming soon on music ensembles, new faculty, the organ and Sacred Music-related topics.

9) Concerning Summorum Pontificum's legislation on the Traditional Liturgy, the chaplain at Ave Maria University said the following:
It may happen that a priest wishes to celebrate the extraordinary form of the Mass of the Roman Rite, a Mass in accordance with the Roman Missal of 1962, commonly called a “Tridentine Mass.” This may be out of personal preference or in response to requests from the faithful. In accord with the provisions of “Summorum Pontificum,” the Holy Father’s apostolic letter given “motu proprio” (“on his own impulse”), arrangements will be made beforehand through the Chaplain’s Office to celebrate properly the Tridentine Mass in the Ark Chapel or in the Library Chapel. At the present time, the Tridentine Mass will not be available in the “Ballroom.” Since the Ballroom is the location where the official public Masses take place, is it fair to suggest that the chaplain is saying there will be no official public celebrations of the Traditional Latin Mass

I'm not quite sure how to answer that. Certainly, there will be plenty of people attending the celebrations of the Traditional Mass, once they begin, but officially, I guess, these celebrations might be considered private Masses if they are not held in the "Ballroom" chapel. Some people were concerned about this very thing.And are these chapels mentioned fitting places for the Traditional Mass? The Library chapel is not yet ready for use and I have not seen the Ark chapel, which, I believe, is in the Student Union building. As an aside, the Library chapel will have the best acoustics for music of any of these chapels.

10) Will you be able to lead a schola for the Traditional Latin Mass? Or will the said celebrations be Low Mass only?

I have not been told whether the Traditional Masses will be Low Masses or whether they will be a Missa Cantata (probably not a Solemn High Mass, for lack of many clergy who sing). I have alerted my Schola that we might be chanting at the Traditional Mass.

11) Is there interest among the student body at Ave Maria for classical sacred polyphony such as that expressed in Byrd, Palestrina, Victoria, Desprez or Tallis?

Yes, I would say so. The students have already sung works by all these composers, except Desprez, and they love the music. My esteemed colleagues, Dr. Timothy McDonnell and Mr. Lynn Kraehling, as well as myself, are eager to do as much of this music as possible.

12) Do you find that resistance to Gregorian Chant and Polyphony emanates from the lack of real musical erudition and appreciation in American and contemporary European culture?

More young people are starting to know and love the Church's heritage of sacred music. The lack of musical erudition and appreciation (for higher culture) is something that has long been an undercurrent in our country. The fabrication of the "teen culture" and the advent of rock music certainly contributed to the lowering of cultural standards in the United States. The "progressive" response to Vatican Council II seemed to be the "kiss of death" for Catholic culture, especially in its efforts to cut Catholics off from their cultural patrimony. American pop culture has unfortunately infiltrated Europe and Asia, as well. Most Catholic young people born after Vatican II are not to be blamed for their lack of musical erudition and appreciation (for higher culture). They have been deprived of their true culture.Consequently, do you believe a reintroduction of Sacred Music into Church life might influence a renaissance of classical learning amongst the youth?I believe that this renaissance has already begun, thanks, in large part, to the home-schooling movement. This grassroots movement amongst the laity has given impetus to the work that the CMAA has been carrying on for years in its efforts to preserve and foster the heritage of sacred music. Another exciting development is the youth movement, Juventutem, which was born in 2005, in preparation for World Youth Day at Cologne. A major component of the movement was the first-rate sacred music prepared and sung by the young people at their traditional liturgies during World Youth Day.

13) At a 24 June, 2006 concert of sacred polyphony in the Sistine Chapel, Pope Benedict made the following remark:
“All of the selections we have listened to – and especially in their entirety, where the 16th and 20th centuries stand parallel – agree in confirming the conviction that sacred polyphony, in particular that of what is called the ‘Roman school’, constitutes a heritage that should be preserved with care, kept alive, and made better known, for the benefit not only of the scholars and specialists, but of the ecclesial community as a whole. [...] An authentic updating of sacred music can take place only in the lineage of the great tradition of the past, of Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony.”

Why do you suppose that Catholic media did not air this more, and that music directors, universities, Bishops, parish priests and choir directors throughout the whole Church did not act on this and begin a study of Gregorian Chant and Sacred Polyphony?

They didn't want to. I think that there are a multitude of reasons. Many of these people just let these changes happen because they were a part of the revolution in our society. Now, even if they realize that they personally would rather have good music, they don't have the courage or the industriousness or the faith to make the effort to act on the words of the Holy Father. They don't, on principle, want to do what the pope says, and they are afraid to challenge their people. Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony are so counter-cultural! There are, of course, many faithful Catholics laboring behind the scenes, lovingly promoting this priceless treasure. May their number increase!

..... There are so any excellent points made in this interview that I wouldn't know where to begin. Ms. Treacy shares my very strong suspicion however that B16 has something "up his sleeve" concerning Sacred Music, and her very shrewd observation that the problem with past "posturing" towards supporting actual Sacred Music by previous Popes has been the failure to "name names..", to come out and say that not only is this music appropriate, but this music over here is not appropriate. I agree with her feeling that that is soon to change...


Dad29 said...

While a Cardinal, of course, Jos. Ratzinger was VERY clear about rock'n'roll.

He has a two-fold problem, beginning with "What the MASS Is," which is not, frankly, known to many priests.

Once that gets straight (and he's trying, I know...) then "music for Mass" will be a bit easier to wrap one's head around.

Chironomo said...

This was a fascinating interview to read, mostly because the interviewer asked all the right questions. True, one could hardly call Ms.Treacy unbiased, and clearly her sentiments are with the traditional crowd, but what I found most interesting was the conviction that there is real change taking place, and for the most part, aside from those on the inside who we see panicking at this time, very few people have any idea what is happening from within the church. Ave Maria University does not wield the kind of influence in this Diocese that many major universities do, but I have no doubt that the next generation of Sacred Musicians will be coming from schools like Ave Maria, and although it will take time, I think at least I will see these changes during my lifetime.

Dad29 said...

Christendom's been pumping out some pretty good Lit Musicians, too, for several years.

I agree with T's premonition about B-16's intent, by the way. He's clearly disturbed by what he sees and hears.

On the other hand, going back to "white-list" ain't high on my list.

Chironomo said...

I have to say (as I'm sure you've read in my posts before) I think he has something a bit different from a "white list" in mind. I think his point is to usher in a "new era" of liturgical music and composition rather than specifying a body of actual songs to use. Lit Authenticam was very specific in calling for a "repertory of TEXTS intended for liurgical singing". The intention here was to define an unchanging canon of lyrical texts which would become the basis for all future compositions, such as was the case with the texts of the Ordinary and Propers which were historically the basis for all liturgical music. I think it would go without saying that all currently approved liturgical texts would be part of this "canon"; the purpose of an additional list would be to define which other texts would be admitted as approved liturgical texts. Somehow I think that "Big Giant Love Ball" would not cut it a liturical text! Once this canon of texts was defined, it would then be a matter of setting up some proscriptions concerning form, structure and the ever-elusive "style" of future compositions to bring them into the kind of continuity with tradition that Benedict keeps talking about at every chance he gets! I know this sounds way far-fetched... but who would have foreseen Summorum Pontificum even 5 years ago? We will have to wait and see what becomes of the "Directory for Music and the liturgy" that is currently languishing at the CDW awaiting a recognitio. If it is kicked back to the BCL stamped TRY AGAIN..AND THIS TIME FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS IN LITURGIAM AUTHENTICAM... then we can begin to prepare for some radical reforms of he kind I'm talking about.