Friday, June 30, 2006

one style of music?

I’d be grateful for commentary on this idea: there is only one style of music suitable for congregational singing, which is congregational music.

Defining traits:
  • One clear and obvious musical line emerges as being primary. This single line (the “melody”) generally spans about an octave and is easily singable.
  • Instrumentation is not necessary for the musical integrity and singability of the melody; it is there only to beautify and to make the music more easily singable.
  • Instrumentation generally plays a chordal accompaniment; drums and other unpitched instruments can contribute to the musical texture as well.


Haas’s “Mass of Light” definitely loses something without the instrumental accompaniment that Proulx’s “Community Mass” retains in that setting.

I am more and more convinced that the “style wars” some have described are really a non-issue. Give people music they *can* sing and that, by its nature, invites congregational singing - this was Thomas Day’s argument, and it is mine as well. Foley “Come to the Water” is too sustained for congregations to sing it well.

At the same time, we need to give more place to the choir and instruments to do their own, non-congregational music making. In my parish we generally use Guimont psalms - brand new music and text for the folks each week, and yet we get pretty good congregational singing there. Why? I have a hunch that it’s partly because the musical form of those types of psalm settings makes it simple and obvious that there are times when the assembly does sing, and there are times when they don’t sing.

In short, let’s accentuate the technical distinctions between congregational and ministerial music.

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