Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Catholic All Year Giveaway

Kendra Tierney at Catholic All Year is hosting another Sacred Art Series giveaway. Please head over to her site to enter! She's also promoting our Daily Sayings of St. Philip Neri.

Friday, October 20, 2017

New CD from Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist

The Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist have a new CD out. Though we're still a few months until Christmas, this album of Christmas music would make a wonderful gift.

Jesus Joy of Man's Desiring: Christmas with the Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist is available at Amazon.com.

Here's a trailer that samples the project.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

October is the month of the Most Holy Rosary

October is the month of the Most Holy Rosary. The feast of Our Lady of the Rosary is October 7. And the 100th anniversary of the last apparition and great miracle of Our Lady of Fatima is October 13.

One of Mary's principal messages at Fatima was "Pray the Rosary every day."

So this October, let's rededicate ourselves to praying the Rosary every day. This is a great practice to teach our children. If they're little, try beginning with just a decade at a time. (We pray our family decade after dinner; during October, it's time to return to a full five-decade Rosary.)

And don't forget about the Sacred Art Series Rosary Flip Book. It can help us all concentrate better. (Click here.)

Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Recommendation - Online Piano Lessons with Piano Marvel

The Good, the True, and the Beautiful

As a parent, I want to share good, true, and beautiful things with my children. And of course, I want to share these things not only with my children, but with the children of my family and friends, and more broadly, with the world. In fact, this is the principal motivation for my Sacred Art Series, by which I share the Gospels illustrated with sacred art, the Rosary, and the Life and Sayings of St. Philip Neri. It is also my motivation for my personal efforts to preserve the Church’s liturgical heritage of Gregorian Chant, to promote good habits of prayer, and to preserve the Church’s traditional liturgical practices.

In this post, I’m going to share something that is secular rather than sacred, but something that is good, true, and beautiful; that can bring great joy and happiness; and that can also be used to promote sacred things and to lead us to God.

That thing is music. And more specifically, a certain musical instrument--the piano.

A Reluctant Musician

When I was a kid, I had several years of piano lessons. I was a reluctant student. I didn’t like the piano. I didn’t like the lessons. To me, piano was boring. I didn’t want to practice. I’d rather watch TV and play sports.

Little did I know that, despite my reluctance, my parents had planted a musical seed in me. Even though I didn't yet realize it, I’d been given a great gift. I now had some basic knowledge of the musical scale and chords, an improved musical “ear”, and a decent foundation for singing. This seed would eventually bear fruit.

Over the years, gradually, I returned to music. I started playing acoustic bass and acoustic guitar when I was about 14. I wasn't good, didn't have any particular talent, and didn’t have good practice habits or technique--but it kept me interested. In college and law school, I sang in some church choirs; this helped my singing. Then things finally started to click when I began learn banjo over spring break my first year of law school. After a week of practicing each day, and seeing steady improvement, I resolved to practice an hour a day for the next year. I also focused on technique, found good materials, and started playing with my siblings and with other musicians. Eventually, I began practicing even more and then applied this improved musical ability to other instruments--the guitar and mandolin--and rapidly improved on each. I also developed my singing with bluegrass harmonies and, later, Gregorian Chant. (Though not the purpose of this post, here's a link to some of my bluegrass music, which is available for free at SoundCloud.)

Building a Strong Musical Foundation - Piano Lessons

I mention my own musical background because I now realize that my musical foundation could have been built much more surely and quickly had I stuck with the piano in my youth. If only there were a way that my parents could have kept me interested and motivated . . .

A few weeks ago, I discovered just that. I was looking for something that was less expensive than the piano lessons we’ve been paying for for my two oldest kids (ages 7 and 9), but that would be an adequate substitute. I found two such online programs that were the most highly recommended and selected Piano Marvel, since it had a free trial and since it had a much broader musical library and less of an emphasis on “pop” music.  

I signed up for Piano Marvel’s free trial, bought an inexpensive piano keyboard, connected it via USB to my computer, began some lessons . . . and promptly saw its advantage. I then let my 5, 7, and 9-year old kids try it--and soon saw its genius.

Piano Marvel Online Piano Lessons - Educational and Fun

Piano Marvel has four main activities: songs categorized by style and difficulty, lessons in method, lessons in technique, and sight reading tests. For each activity, sheet music loads in an online midi player. Click play, the music counts down, and you begin. Upon completion of the song or lesson or test, Piano Marvel scores you from 0 to 100. The scoring is based on whether you played the right note, and whether you played the right note at the right time. If you get it right, the note appears green on the musical score. Get it wrong, and a red note appears showing which note (or notes) you played and when you played it; that is, the red note (or notes) appears either above or below or before or after the note you should have played.

For a less wordy explanation, watch Piano Marvel's intro video.

With songs, Piano Marvel allows the student to practice the songs in sections. So if a song has 16 measures, Piano Marvel might break the song into four sections of four measures. And for each section, Piano Marvel can further break the song into right and left hand sessions. The practice sessions for each section also begin with a slow tempo, then move to medium, and then to full speed.

Anyone who has achieved some skill on an instrument will quickly see the brilliance of these practice features, for Piano Marvel is not just encouraging the student to practice, but encouraging the student to practice perfectly. And equally important, practicing the piano with Piano Marvel--and getting instant feedback--is lots of fun! With each try, the student naturally wants to play each section better and better until it’s perfect; then, the student moves on to faster tempos; and eventually to coordinating both right and left hands together; and eventually masters the whole song.

I soon personally saw the benefits as I played “Tarentella” faster and more accurately than I previously thought possible given my abilities. My wife began the lessons, promptly besting my sight reading score--and motivating me to do better myself. My 9-year-old soon began tackling new and more difficult songs and improving his timing and accuracy.

Piano Marvel is Also Great for Beginning Piano Students

And most impressive to me: I had my 5-year-old, who has never played the piano nor taken any lessons, begin with Piano Marvel’s very first lessons to see how he would do. For comparison, I had my 7-year-old, who had a year of piano lessons, face off against him. All I did to coach my 5-year-old was help him to find middle C and show him how to place his hand on the keyboard.

The 5-year-old's first attempt was not perfect. He may have scored a 50. Playing notes metronomically was not easy--at first. My 7-year-old also struggled with the timing, but still beat him with a 60. The 5-year-old soon scored a 70 or 80. The 7-year-old beat him again. And soon, both scored perfect 100s and moved on to the next lesson. Over the last week or two, they've been gently competing against each other and steadily progressing in their lessons. And all five of us have been competing with each other for practice time.

A Culture of Beauty through Music

I am convinced that one of the best things we can do to counteract the dangers of the modern world is to make beautiful things--whether crafts, art, cooking, or music--rather than simply consuming them. Piano Marvel gives everyone an opportunity to become a musician, and it does it in a way that is thorough, but also inexpensive and fun.

Recommendation - Piano Marvel

I highly recommend Piano Marvel. You can sign up a for a free account here. The free account gives you access to over 100 songs and the first level of lessons. It's great for beginning students and will give you an idea of the program's capabilities and value. Premium accounts are $15 per month. Use my link or the referral code "will" and you'll get 20% off. (I'll also earn a referral, so you'll be supporting the Sacred Art Series.) The best value is a $99 per year premium account. For the annual membership there's no discount for using my referral code, but it's the best value (and I'll also earn a small referral fee).

Reminder: To access all the benefits of Piano Marvel, you'll want a digital piano keyboard and a USB cable. Here is an inexpensive keyboard/cable package that I found recommended for this purpose. (This link is my Amazon affiliate link, so Sacred Art Series will also benefit when you purchase by following this link.) It's also the one I purchased and it's worked great for me so far.

UPDATE 2/21/18:

It's been six months since we began using Piano Marvel. All of us continue to progress, and I remain extremely satisfied with the product. Below are my sons competition videos for the Piano Marvel Competition 2018. The first video is of my 6-year-old son. He'd never played piano before starting with Piano Marvel in August 2017. The second video is of my 9-year-old son. He already had three years of private lessons before he began with Piano Marvel in August 2017, but he's never progressed so rapidly.

UPDATE 3/15/18:

Piano Marvel has announced their 2018 finalists and both Henry and Dominic made it into the finals in their respective age groups. Here are links to YouTube playlists of the Piano Marvel finalists for 2018 for age groups 5-7 and 8-10. There are some really impressive pianists in the 8-10 category! Piano Marvel 2018 Competition Finalists - Ages 5 - 7

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Our Lady of . . . Notre Dame?

I highly recommend reading the series of blog posts written by the photographer of the below photo, which was taken last December at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.

Here's the first post. The following posts are linked therein and are also worth your attention, including the artwork found in the fourth post. I'd post that artwork here, but it's better to read the posts in order and draw your own conclusions.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Holy Saturday - Christ's Descent into Hell

From an ancient homily for Holy Saturday (from today's Office of Readings):

Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated. For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

Below: Christ's Descent into Hell by Duccio