Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Dancing the Magnificat w/Rory Cooney

The very first liturgical dance that I did, I'm proud to say, was "Holy is Your Name"  the Magnificat  Mary's prayer of social justice, which she said when she visited her cousin Elisabeth after having learned that she, of all people, was about to give birth to God. Since the words of the Magnificat are not specific to her situation, it was most likely a common Jewish prayer of the day. So, in her unimaginable situation, Mary fell back on a prayer she had most likely repeated many times before. Her reliance on rote prayer in that time of trial reminds me of a Catholic friend of mine, who doesn't understand why I dance the rosary, admitting that, in childbirth, much to her surprise, it was the "Hail Mary" that came out of her lips. 

Anyway, I was at Old St. Pat's on Sunday afternoon, spending much more time "rehearsing" than the piece actually required. What I was really doing was praying, praying the song in my body over and over again in the near empty church. I knew I was off with the tempo and timing, and I was a bit frustrated. (This was before I had learned to ask the musician with whom I would be collaborating to make a recording of the song for me to use for rehearsal.) Eventually, preparations began for the 5PM Mass, and a man sat down at the piano and started playing a few notes. Seeing my chance, I went over to him and asked, very politely, if he might do me the great favor of playing "Holy in Your Name," just once through. I could get him a copy of the sheet music. He said, "Oh, I don't need the music" and then proceeded to play the most voluptuous version of the song I would ever hear, and I danced with abandon. Good music is so essential to good dance. That ad-hoc rehearsal was the worship; the later prayer service a required coda. Several of the people in the church commented to me later. It was one of those magical, Holy Spirit moments. Only afterwards did I learn that the musician was Rory Cooney  a composer (not of that song, but) whose church music I have always loved.

Anyway, last week, I happened on Rory's blog and share a link to a great entry. Insightful and humorous, the blog exudes Rory's wonderful personality. I'm not a sport's fan, but I've always been interested in secular ritual. Rory's comments on what liturgists can learn from baseball games is quite pertinent. Thank you, Rory.

Congregational singing at Wrigley 

"The experience of shatteringly good ritual singing, like an assembly of 40,000 being led by an organist and a tone-deaf trio of basketball players from Northwestern, is something to which all church musicians ought to aspire. We can learn a few lessons from this experience, to wit:
  1. If the assembly knows the song, it doesn’t matter how bad the cantor is.
  2. If you don’t change the song all the time, people learn it by heart, and teach it to their kids.
  3. Rhyming is good
  4. Concrete language is good (e.g., “peanuts and crackerjack,” instead of “snacks and candy”; “Cubbies” instead of “home team” ☺)"
(updated link)

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