All posts tagged: carolynpirtle

Where Does the Healing Power of Music Originate?

“Musick has charms to soothe a savage breast.” —William Congreve, The Mourning Bride (1697), Act I, Scene I Music seems to possess a boundless capacity to ease the suffering of a wounded heart. Whether at a funeral, a prayer service in the wake of a local or national tragedy, a reconciliation service, a regular Sunday Mass in Ordinary Time, or even in the car on the way home from work, music speaks to the heart in ways mere words never could, often requiring no words at all to bring a sense of peace and solace to those who suffer from emotional, spiritual, even physical wounds. Why? Woundedness, at its core, is the result of disintegration. There has been a rupture of some kind, and life’s relative equilibrium has been suddenly and perhaps even violently thrown out of balance, leaving a person feeling like she is no longer herself, like she no longer even knows who that self was in the first place. This spectrum of disintegration is vast and varied, including anything from minor events like …

Gravity and Grace and Lady Bird

Given its setting in a Catholic high school, Lady Bird is a natural draw for Catholic audiences, especially those who attended Catholic grade schools or high schools. Nearly all of the typical Catholic school jokes are there in some way, shape, or form: nuns performing random spot checks to make sure uniform skirts are the appropriate length, stolen glances between the boys and girls across the aisles during the all-school Masses, even leaving room for the Holy Spirit during school dances. What distinguishes Lady Bird is the fact that these jokes, these moments, are never mean-spirited toward the Catholic school or the Catholic Church as an institution. These moments are wryly-observed, lovingly crafted, and beautifully acted with a quietly joyous humor that disarms audience members who would view the Catholic school with scorn, and thaws audience members who would place the Catholic school on an idealized (and utterly unrealistic) pedestal. Even the moments that could be considered borderline irreverent never cross the line into sacrilegious, because these moments, too, are rooted in truth and joy …

The 2018 Best Picture Nominees and the Script of Transcendence

The nominations for the 90th Academy Awards were announced on 23 January 2018. In recent years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences received harsh criticism for a lack of diversity among its nominees which many interpreted as an indication of the Academy’s lack of cultural awareness in general, and many people have simply written off the Oscars as an awards show that only means something for people of a certain gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or political affiliation. This year, thankfully, the nominees include a more diverse array of incredible talents, but the perennial conversation serves as a reminder of the fact that movies and awards, like most everything else, have become politicized, and it’s not necessarily the best picture that wins “Best Picture.” But, in the end, it doesn’t really matter which film wins the top honor year after year, for in reality, every film in the category is worth our attention for one reason or another. What matters is the fact that the stories told in these movies have the potential to change …

The Church Life Journal “Carols of Christmas” Spotify Playlist

For my money, there is no better time for music than Christmastime. Whether sung by a choir of off-key, adorable preschoolers, or performed by a group of professionals, the carols of Christmas constitute some of the most beautiful, most profound music that has ever been written, all for the sake of helping us celebrate the moment when God definitively stepped in to human history with the birth of Jesus, the Only-Begotten Son, the Word-made-flesh. And so, as with our Advent playlist, once again I’ve turned to Spotify to assemble a playlist for the Christmas season. Even more so here than with the Advent playlist, I quickly discovered that it is impossible to include everything. The first version of this playlist was almost 6 hours long. It could have been longer. But after a great deal of thought and an even greater deal of exploring new-to-me recordings, I’ve whittled it down to a scant 47 songs, or 2 hours and 32 minutes worth of music. Again, as with the Advent list, this is a sampling which I …

The Church Life Journal “Sounds of Advent” Spotify Playlist

One of the greatest challenges of celebrating Advent is the fact that Christmas music seems to be everywhere beginning the day after Thanksgiving. It’s on the radio, in the department stores, in television commercials, you name it. As a musician, I’m often asked for Advent music recommendations, so this year, I’ve taken advantage of modern technology and curated an Advent playlist through Spotify which is by no means exhaustive, since it’s impossible to include everything. Instead, this is a sampling which I hope will inspire your own exploration of the music of this beautiful season of waiting in joyful hope. Below the playlist are “liner notes” for anyone curious about why a particular piece was included, which may be especially interesting with regard to pieces chosen for their relevance to a particular feast day. May this music create a space within your heart where Jesus may find a home on Christmas day. Veni Emmanuel (O Come, O Come, Emmanuel) The Westminster Choir Christmas with the Westminster Choir “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is, without doubt, the …

The Mysteries of Life, Death, Life After Death, and Coco

As someone who has been a fan of Pixar since Toy Story first graced the silver screen in 1995, I have been looking forward to seeing Coco since the release of the teaser trailer in March. Pixar (now Disney • Pixar) has a well-earned reputation for tapping into the universal elements of human experience through the particularity of remarkably specific storytelling. Who’d have ever thought that the plight of a missing clown fish or a lonely robot could be so . . . human? Or that the story of a geriatric widower ballooning to South America would appeal to audiences of all ages? Or that seeing emotions emote and remember would help people tap into their own feelings and memories? Pixar films introduce audiences to incredibly detailed and wildly imaginative worlds—worlds that are often unfamiliar and yet still somehow feel like somewhere we have been before. With Coco, Pixar has outdone itself, ushering audiences into a visually spectacular world where the practices of a particular culture are brought to life in such a way that …

Jazz: A Foretaste of Eternal Life

Throughout Scripture, there are more than 1,000 references to all things musical—songs, singing, instruments, and the like. These passages identify music as a beautifully appropriate way to praise God not only here on earth, but also in the eternal joy of heaven. As a lifelong musician, I’ve always been especially comforted by the reassurance that, whatever else life in heaven is like, music will definitely be a part of it. More recently, as a composer, I’ve often found myself wondering what exactly this music will sound like. Some Scripture passages seem to imply a capella (unaccompanied vocal) music, for example, “I thank you, LORD, with all my heart; in the presence of the angels to you I sing” (Ps 138:1). On the other hand, Isaiah tells us that “we will sing to stringed instruments in the house of the LORD all the days of our life” (Is 38:20). That sounds appealing; who doesn’t love a good string quartet? The psalmist goes several instruments further in his final song of praise: Hallelujah! Praise God in his …

Beauty Already Has Saved the World

Editorial Note: This essay was originally delivered as a presentation at “Illuminating the Incarnation: A Musical Meditation on The Saint John’s Bible,” a multi-disciplinary concert sponsored by the McGrath Institute for Church Life, directed by Carmen-Helena Téllez of Sacred Music at Notre Dame, and performed on September 24, 2017 at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center at the University of Notre Dame. St. Paul concludes his letter to the Philippians with an exhortation: Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. This is what we come here today to do: to place ourselves in the presence of something lovely, something excellent, something beautiful. Yet, this afternoon’s concert is not something that is merely meant to entertain us. This afternoon’s concert, like all great art, is something that is meant to transform us. We’ve come here to experience the beauty of Scripture in all of its truth, purity, …

Formed in Wonder, Love, and Praise

If you were to survey members of a Roman Catholic congregation as they exited the church after Sunday Mass by asking what facet of the celebration made the greatest impact on them that day for good or for ill, odds are high that many of those surveyed (if not most) would name the liturgical music in their response. More than any other element (with perhaps the exception of preaching and the architecture of the church itself), liturgical music has the greatest capacity to shape how we celebrate the Sunday Mass week in and week out, season after season, year after year. Ask those same congregation members if they can remember the readings or a central point from the homily and it’s likely you won’t get an answer; ask them if they can remember one of the hymns and it’s likely you’ll get a serenade. Many parish communities view the music of its liturgies as a hallmark of their identity; many people seeking parish communities often site music as one of the reasons for or against …

“For the Life of the World”: Nourishing the Catholic Imagination for Liturgical Celebration

In the life of the Church, the liturgy, especially the Mass, is something of a lightning rod. Mass attendance (or lack thereof) is viewed as the basic litmus test for a parish’s vitality, and many programs and initiatives are undertaken at the parish and/or diocesan level for the purposes of either increasing the numbers of those who attend Mass regularly or making the Mass a more meaningful experience for those who already go. Why this emphasis on the liturgy, and particularly the Eucharistic celebration of Mass? At the surface level, it’s because the Mass is the central point of entry for most parishioners into the life of their church. If the Sunday Mass is poorly attended, it’s a safe bet that other parish programs like catechesis, youth and young adult ministry, and sacramental preparation are probably struggling as well. As goes the Sunday Mass, so goes the parish. At a deeper spiritual level, the Eucharistic liturgy is most often the central focus of parish ministry because it is in the liturgy that “the work of …