KP: It is somewhat unusual for a bishop (Bishop Vigneron) in this day and age to have such a particular interest in sacred music. Does he have a musical background?
CS: I am getting glimpses of that. His principle musical background, so far as I know, was gained in his seminary days when there was apparently a very strong music program in the Detroit Seminary. That was back in the hey-day of the Palestrma Institute. He was particularly intrigued both in high school and in the college seminary by the classes in chant. To this day he can solfege the Kyrie from Mass XI with no dif ficulties at all and give you a fairly learned disquisition on the meaning of arsis and the sis in the rhythm of the chant. He is also a man of broad and extensive culture who lis tens to serious music of many kinds. He can discuss with me, for example, fairly ardc ulately the organ music of Cesar Franck. But he is also quite capable of discussing the nuances of various Victorian novelists or the merits of various historians of either Middle Ages or the American Catholic Church. He is rather a Renaissance man.
KP: We had spoken previously of the vernacular and musical settings of the vernacular, do you see the development ofa vernacular chant? If so, when and under what conditions?
CS: Here is another area, oddly enough, that ties in very closely with what I am doing at the seminary for two reasons. One is that the Bishop himself has expressed grave concern on this very subject. A continuing concern of his is the need for a quick development of what he refers to as "English Plainsong" by which he does not mean at all adaptations of existing Gregorian Chant melodies but simply something analogous to the way plainsong works in the Latin Liturgy so that there is a standard vocabulary, let us say for congregational Ordinaries and the like which are not metrical or in a hack neyed style. He would like to see something analogous to the Latin chant developing in English and has frequently encouraged me to write things along those lines. In fact, virtually every day I write a simple setting of the daily communion antiphon to be sung by a small group of singers and, in some cases, even congregational in a kind of free rhythm analogous to chant. I have been doing rather a lot of that and I think there is quite a future for this.
KP: Could the issue of the text you have to work with and the issue of translation hamper the development ofa body of English chant?
CS: Sure, if they are going to change the translations every 7-10 years there won't be much of a permanent body of work because unlike recited prayer texts, you cannot very well adapt a new text to an existing melody or at least if you try to the results are usually quite disastrous. That is a great concern, it would be nice to get a stable trans lation that will be around for a while.
KP: But do you think that it is possible, given the culture and the political situations we live in? I realize there is this new document (i.e. Liturgiam Authenticam) but the atmosphere seems to be politicized in terms of those in charge and perhaps the cultural situation is not fortuitous for the production of something beaut ful.
CS: That is very likely true. We may have to be content for quite awhile with less than adequate translations. One somewhat mitigating circumstance is that generally when new translations have come out there has been a kind of understood and gener al permission to use older versions for musical purposes.
KP: Would this mean being able to use a traditional English Psalm text, for example, the Douay-Rheims or the King James.
CS: I have not usually pushed it that far, but it does certainly seems to mean that we could use the Revised Standard Version which is of course at this moment still ap proved text (although it probably won't be for long), but since it had been approved I don't know why it would not be instantly permissible under that kind of provision.