Things Go Wrong

(Posted with my choir members' permission.)

Since I'm trying to help you figure out what to do, and why it's important, I tend to focus a lot on The Ideal. Just in case you think that The Ideal is somehow attainable, and therefore you are failing desperately since you can't seem to reach it, I'm going to tell you what it's really like. Good liturgy, just like good theater, involves staying in character. Mistakes get made, but you can't say "Oh whoops, I mean this instead" or it distracts from the liturgy. This is especially true when you're working with others.*

On Holy Thursday, I completely forgot to put numbers up on the board for the congregation, and when I began to announce the opening hymn, I had to stop mid-sentence and flip through the book to find the number. Then at the end, I announced that we were going to sing Pange Lingua in English, then in Latin, even though I don't like our translation. We didn't have time for any Latin. Also, before singing, I reminded my singers that it was women, then men, alternating until we hit verse 5 - and then they reminded me that we actually rehearsed to do the opposite. Thank goodness for choir members who take notes.

On Good Friday, we sang The Seven Last Words, a little collection of seven mini-motets, each with one of the final sayings of Jesus during His Passion. But because of Covid, there was no kissing of the crucifix during veneration, only genuflecting - consequently, we only had time for three Last Words, and we had a little go stop go stop confusion before realizing that I had robbed the choir of the chance to venerate the cross through my indecision while time ran out. Sorry, choir. This also meant that I did not have time to sing even a single verse of the English adaptation of Crux Fidelis that I had spent four hours tweaking and typesetting earlier in the week, and of which I was so proud. (I post it here to make myself feel better.)

Our pastor was too ill to sing, and our associate pastor is not a singer (he thinks), so I arranged to have the oldest, most competent altar server sing the acclamation for the veneration of the cross, then promptly forgot to meet with him to practice. But he's good, so surely he'd do fine and we could pick up the response, right? Wrong. I completely botched my response to his acclamation the first time, but managed to pull it together for the second and third. Chagrin all around. (I should also point out that he absolutely nailed the rising half-steps, no easy task.)

Easter Vigil was all kinds of fun. As it turns out, the dollar store no longer sells dim, pathetic little book lights anymore, because everyone has a phone with a much stronger light. The ones I have at church were purchased at least seven years ago, and only three shed any kind of light at all. I hopefully asked choir members to manually adjust the brightness on their phones and use the screens instead of the flashlights, but after they gave that a try, most of them decided that their memories were good enough, since they were only singing refrains, and we hadn't changed our psalm arrangements in over 20 years.

This turned out to be only mostly true, and in one case, too true. Our cantor for the third Psalm was singing that one for the first time, and accidentally sang the much more familiar tenor line he had memorized instead of the melody. I froze up, but the choir was on it - they plowed right ahead with the correct melody in response, and the congregation was fine. On at least one psalm refrain, the basses followed whoever was the most confident, and it was probably one of the basses who had not attended rehearsal. (Fortunately, they are good enough musicians that even when they err, they err together, and on a concordant note.)

Then I misread the missal and was following the Baptismal Rite blessing of the water (we had no baptisms) which has the sprinkling rite in a different place, had the sopranos begin singing - only to have the psalm interrupted by Father just talking right over us, continuing with the rite. We stopped awkwardly and waited our turn, then plowed on with the Latin version to cover our tracks.

All this in addition to the usual occasional missed note, organ clunker, bobbled cue, and an organist who was somewhat distracted by the fact that his wife is due to have a baby literally any time now, and who needed frequent reminders of what was happening when, and with whom I had not gone over all of the tempos, intros, and cues, due to a shortage of rehearsal time. Some near collisions happened between people, and over chairs, both in the dark and with the lights on. And my seven-year-old daughter attended all of the Triduum liturgies for the first time since doing so strapped onto my chest in a baby carrier, and was full of questions - and still empty of the knowledge that we whisper in church when we want to know something. As the liturgies stretched on, she became possessed of a need to be no more than a few inches from my leg, so I definitely tripped over her more than once.

Overall, how was it? It was wonderful! It was another perfectly imperfect Triduum, offered by mere humans, to add our drop into the ocean of wonder and glory and beauty that is the Easter Mystery.

*Honestly, when I need a semi-day-off, I prefer to sing and play the organ on my own, just to spare myself the mental energy of coordinating with someone.


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