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The Saint Cecilia Society for the Preservation and Restoration of Gregorian Chant and Peking Opera comprises men who sing before their friends with all their might. We understand that plainchant is prayer. But, we also know that the nature and purpose of prayer has changed in this most secular of all worlds. Most members of the group don't pray, meditate, or levitate, but we have found that chanting evokes feelings not unlike those found in great meals, a good basketball team, a very hot Japanese bath, encounters with stunning natural wonders, good sex, creative ideas that work, a first-rate conversation, and in all of the mindboggling experiences we are capable of enjoying. What some saw as spirituality has become stress reduction, relaxation, mind expansion, left brain functioning, a substitute for alcohol and other mind destroying/altering drugs. These, and other effects of chanting, are some of the reasons we sing together. Some say we are a men's group sorting out our individual and collective neuroses, as well as solving the problems of the world in the process. We do agree that we are transported to another state when the chanting works, one might even call it an out of brain experience.
One Sunday afternoon in October l974 our founder heard a voice address him, on his car radio, during a time out in the second quarter of a San Francisco 49er football game. The voice was deep, but possessed no gender (It could have been God, however the consensus of the group is that it was St. Cecilia herself, besides God is dead). "Frank," the voice said, " it is your task in life to restore Gregorian Chant to pre-eminence among world musics. And while you are at it, lend a hand to Peking Opera. In fact, all endangered musics deserve salvation. You may do this in any way you like, preferably without the offices of the Roman Catholic Church, or any church for that matter. If you should choose to build a stone chapel to sing in, do so. And you don't need permission from the planning department. So, get to work in your unobtrusive way and prepare the world for the beauties of plainsong. It may require a great deal of time and effort, but you must accomplish this before you die, twenty years after the millennium."
So was born the Saint Cecilia Society for the Preservation and Restoration of Gregorian Chant and Peking Opera.
Click here for a lengthy digression on how we got a name and a four-foot high patron saint.
Click here if you're curious about Peking Opera.
Or read on if you are linear left-brained and can't be bothered.
Saint Cecilia is the patroness of musicians, and, some say, pigs. Our beginnings at singing Gregorian chant were rather shaky and we needed the intervention of a saint, or at the very least a beginning voice teacher. Someone at the Caffe Pergolesi in Santa Cruz suggested we sing chant live instead of just playing recordings at the Caffe. We began singing chant, inflicting our awkward efforts on unsuspecting customers. Herb Schmidt, some kind of chaplain at UCSC, encouraged us and helped find "Jubilate Deo" to sing from. This was a small pamphlet with common chants in modern notation. The group's salvation was Dan Landry, who became our music director and cantor. Dan had spent much of his youth singing chant with the Franciscans. He had a good voice and seemed to be the designated sacrifice to the church from his family. Vatican II and the discovery of women precluded his joining the priesthood. The crimes against humanity and the planet perpetrated by the Holy Mother Church, as well as a totally ridiculous theology also led Dan forego the mindless comforts of the church of his youth.
Later we acquired the book Chants of the Church, which used traditional notation, from the Gregorian Society of America. Still later, after scouring bookstores, we found 2 or 3 copies of the standard chant book Liber Usualis for from $10 to $25 each. We Xeroxed passages and learned some basic chants by listening to recordings and lots of practice, along with Dan's patient instruction in the nuances necessary for chant to sound right. Meanwhile, I haunted the St. Vincent DePaul thrift store in San Francisco twice a week on my lunch hour for 2 or 3 years. My diligence was rewarded by finding 10 copies of the Liber Usualis priced at 2 for 35 cents. I was charged 35 cents each, but did not complain. We still have 9 copies, all of which have been rebound inexpensively by some good Franciscans in Oregon. We have a good idea who walked off with one of the books, and hope that guilt will prompt return of the rare book. We are always in need of chant books, especially the Liber Usualis, but we can't afford the going price of around $100. Where have all the Libers gone?
Our membership has changed over the years. Five of the
been chanting for 24 years:
Dan Landry ---- Cantor & Music Director
Don Cochrane ---- Iconographer
Craig Johnson ---- Translator
Frank Foreman ---- Sec.
Don Day ---- Scribe
Other members are:
Phil Pinto ---- Astrologer
David Lewis ---- Staff Photographer
Waldemar Huala ---- Fishmonger & Innkeeper
Takashi Yogi ---- Quantum Mechanic
Steve Dye ---- Projectionist
David Evans ---- Minister of Defense
P.J. Sonnichsen ---- Ear of God
Norman Packard, Christopher Meyers, Craig Andrews, Brian Tollivar, and other absent members join us when they return to Santa Cruz.
We also import hired guns to beef up the group when we have important performances--Gene Lewis, Sasha Bogandovitch have been valuable additions. Membership requires one or two chanting sessions each week, a perverse sense of humor, publication in Scientific America, a love of plainsong and cappuccismo (our eucharist is cappuccino because of the many years of singing in cafes).
We have sung in cafes, churches of various persuasions, schools, music festivals, cathedrals, universities, living rooms, stairwells, parking garages, and even on the streets of San Francisco's financial district on Good Friday. (We were asked to leave the foyer of the Bank of Guam.)
Click here to for e-mail notification of performances
A tape of the chant by the St. Cecilia Society is available. It includes:
Requiem & Doctoribus recorded 2/l8/89 at Bear Creek
Missa in Albis recorded live at Mission Santa Cruz on St. Cecilia's Day l989
Tapes can be ordered for $10 plus $1 postage from St. Cecilia Society, P.O. Box 454, Santa Cruz, Calif. 95061-0454 Make checks payable to Frank Foreman.
We have no clerical pretensions. We merely lay claim to a music that was formerly the province of clerics and college glee clubs. The Church has all but abandoned plainchant, in fact it has killed it.
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Our friend Karen liberated a rather stern, very Protestant looking four- foot plaster statue of St. Cecilia which had languished her high school basement for many years and seemed destined for the flea market. The statue naturally became a prop for many photo opportunities at Reed College in the sixties, check out the Reed yearbooks of the time. Karen, it should be noted, entered our lives as a girlfriend of Don Day (a long standing member of the society), who was also sometimes a Reed student, but mostly he lived with us in our North Beach apartment. Karen visited our place on acid and KNEW we were to become the caretakers of St. Cecilia while she ran off to Europe to join the circus. Sometime thereafter, Karen offered the saint to us. We transported her across state lines in the backseat of our VW bug, along with some Tillamook cheese.
She resided as the main attraction in our living room in North Beach for many years. We uprooted her to Santa Cruz in 1972, where she suffered the indignities of being adorned in various costumes our children devised; we, of course, could not keep out of the fun. She wore sun glasses, bonnets, Mexican wrestling masks, Batman garb, feather boas, a glow in the dark squid, cowboy hats, W.W.I aviator goggles, berets, assorted costume jewelry and all kinds of sequined accessories, Groucho nose & glasses, wreaths of flowers or garlic, which transformed her into a middle-European folk dancer, or the martyred saint she is. Now she sports a classic Borsolino, a priest's crucifix (with bones of saint, which the Church considers relics, hidden inside) on a chain with a pair of dice and she has painted roofing nails at her feet along with various other offerings, such as dried flowers. We all considered her our doll for dressup. She has tolerated our loving wardrobes with aplomb. On trips to Europe we found that Virgins, usually black, were ritually dressed in different robes daily. We began seeking them out. The Infant of Prague, reputed to be the best dressed statue in the world, has well over 50 different costumes (we have the post cards to prove it), including a silk dragon robe from China. The Virgin statue at Maria Einsiedln in Switzerland is but one of the many competitors in the undeclared contest for the Best Dressed Saint in the Universal Church. Where do you think Mrs. Handler got the idea for Barbie's many costumes? Is there a Barbie nun yet?
In short, St. Cecilia is the one family member who is always at home, providing us with burglar protection as a scaresaint and constant reassurance with an expression of mild disapproval. She spent a few years in the early 90's residing with Karen in Berkeley. The change was good for her. Julian, Karen and Wale's son, had a chance to dress her with a Swiss hip-hop flair. She now proudly graces the main room of the Hermitage of St. Cecilia in Santa Cruz. Lou Harrison deplores her tattered state and has wanted for years to repaint her. We, on the other hand, embrace the wabi-sabi aesthetic of distressed saints, besides we can always put new costumes on her.
There are touching legends surrounding our patroness and her life stands as an example to all virgins. Her death in her bath, not unlike Marat, seems an ideal way to leave this world. She heard the angels singing in her death throes, so it is written. Bathing in the Japanese style and at hot springs is an important sacrament for the fratres here at the Hermitage of St. Cecilia. We honor her memory while indulging in bodily pleasures. Her story is recounted in Butler's Lives of the Saints, (and in other Lives as well), but is a bit too saccharine for our wanton pagan tastes.
So now we have the St. Cecilia part of our name. We are aware of the St. Cecilia Societies that flourished in Europe over the past few centuries and the role these amateur musicians played in promoting music, and especially Gregorian Chant.. But why Preservation and Restoration? In 1974 the edicts of Vatican II were taken seriously, so much so that Latin masses all but disappeared. The celebration of the mass was relegated to wishy- washy Protestantish folk songs accompanied by guitar. A few Benedictine monasteries in Europe continued the tradition of Gregorian Chant, but only old men were keeping the tradition, as Dan and I found on our 1977 search for chant. We feared it would die out. So our layman's group of irreligious, non-singers dedicated our free time to preserving plainsong, plain chant, or Gregorian Chant, the more common usage, as part of our group's name.
We know with certainty that chant is one of the universal beauties created by so-called civilized man. We certainly claim that the resurgence of chant is partly due to our efforts and are amused to find it adopted as the darling of New Age music. Utter amazement and rowdy laughter was our response few years ago when Gregorian Chant topped the pop charts in America and Europe. This is more than we bargained for, and we now fear that it will become music's smilie face. A direct benefit is that the monasteries of Europe are filling up with young men who seem bent on preserving the tradition. The Church, however, still wallows in wasteland music, but it has become clear that Gregorian Chant may be sung and is not forbidden. Delightfully, there has been a movement in the conservative tentacle of the church to utilize Latin and the great music of the past. There are even schismatic groups. Ironic it is that the generation of Roman Catholics who grew up without chant discovered it on pop radio stations and MTV.
Now it appears that Gregorian chant is being preserved (it is being digitally archived at the Benedictine monastery of Solesmes, the officially designated curators of the music) and restoration is not many centuries off. (The Church, she moves glacially.) Is there any reason to continue our quest? We think so. We gain great satisfaction from singing the music, and outside of monasteries it is not sung well very often. It is, after all, prayer. Don't forget that a prayer sung is twice said, so said St. Ambrose or some other saint. Furthermore, it is really not performance music, and to hear it live, one must get to a monastery, or be fortunate enough to chance upon us singing in one of our rare public performances. We plan to chant for several feast days in 1998 at one of the cathedrals in Santa Cruz. Find us if you can. Click here to request e-mail notification of performances. Also, we feel an obligation to sing requiems to honor our friends and those we admire from afar. We seem to sing all too many of this mass for the dead.
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So, Lou Harrison recognized that the apparent incongruity of the two musics was in reality our attempt to honor the great universal music traditions, both at the time suppressed by two of the most powerful monolithic bureaucratic institutions in existence---The Roman Catholic Church and the Chinese Communist Party. Peking Opera has yet to hit the western pop music charts. It has, however, become a tourist attraction and is on the upswing in Chinese communities throughout the world. So the need to preserve Peking opera has diminished, and we have not done any for some time.
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Although cappuccino is important to our ritual, it is not an article of faith, and we accept members who choose not to participate. As evidence of this enlightened toleration, in marked contradistinction to the inquisitorial and dogmatic attitudes of the historical church, a member is allowed to get hot water from the espresso machine to brew a cup of tea, in accordance with his diverse but equally fervent belief. In return, the same tea- drinking heretic has engineered a digital electronic proportional temperature controller to keep the water at the precise canonical temperature of 197 degrees Fahrenheit. ----- -T. Y.
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