Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Pes’s plan for preventing popular singing

(Title changed from “popular participation” to reflect better the idea that singing and participation are not necessarily coincidental.)

Copied from TNLM:

1. Do not distribute anything with musical notation because most people can't read music. When you have an illiterate group of people, the last thing you want is for them to learn from seeing examples.

You’d be amazed (or, maybe not) how many people seem not just uninterested in learning to read music, but unwilling. It boggles me.

2. Do not distribute the words to any song not found in the missal or missalette. If the cantor sings a different responsorial psalm or text than that given in the missal/missalette, by no means should you provide it.

Actually, I have found responsorial psalms not to need musical notation or even words for the congregation. I would prefer to give it to them, but we don’t have a reprint license or the infrastructure for having weekly worship aids. And our hymnals don’t have music for the responses.

3. Have the cantor and choir seize responsibility for singing as much as they can that is licit.

Enh, I’m not sure this is that much of a problem. We expect congregations to sing too much, IMO.

4. If the cantor is female, pitch the melody to suit her range, not the congregation's. Especially if she is a soprano.

Time and time again, I find that male cantors are more effective in stimulating popular song, and their words are clearer for people to understand.

5. The cantor should sing as operatically as possible, so as to suggest that anything less than operatic is of lesser quality.

Being a classically-trained singer myself, I take some offense at this. :)

There is, of course, good operatic singing and bad operatic singing. Lamentably, we hear far too much of the latter, even on recordings.

6. Have the cantor hound the congregation into singing with histrionic gestures, thereby a) distracting focus from the liturgical action, and b) belittling the majority of faithful Catholic regularly-attending worshippers.

Gestures and cues need not be over the top. Just raising the arm does the job nicely. As I explain to my cantors, it should be seen as going along with a breath. Just as in choirs, if you encourage good breathing, better singing results.

7. Select melodies that are:
a) catchy and trite, so more than half the congregation will feel foolish for singing them, or

Catchy and trite are not the same thing. ENGELBERG is, to me, very catchy, but far from trite.

b) virtuosic in intervallic and/or rhythmic complexity, so that after a few bars 98% congregation will feel inadequate to the task, or

True enough - this infects much of the pop-ish stuff they put in hymnals. At the same time, a few guys, like Proulx, do a fine job of creating music that is contemporary, singable, and elegant.

c) blatant parodies (in the technical sense) of popular melodies, so that all the congregational (particularly the young's) focus will be consternation at the similarity, or

Maybe not “consternation”, but yeah. I do think a lot of people just don’t want to be reminded that they’re in church.

d) simply unknown to most of them.

Unknown melodies are part-and-parcel of music in the Church, I think. Yes, there should be a common repertoire, but we need not to emphasize it at the expense of the Mass Proper.

8. Have the musical choices at Mass careen wildly from genre to genre. When the congregation expects chant, pelt them with polyphony. When they expect contemplative beauty, shake them up with something contemporary. Nothing so effectively confuses and confounds as pastiche.

I’m not sure I agree with people who say a variety of styles in the same liturgy is problematic. I can see the argument, but I think counter-examples can easily be found.

9. Deploy unusual choices of instrumentation, such as guitars, bass guitars, synthesizers, drums, and of course obscure varities of percussion. The novelty and incongruity of this will strike many in the congregation as worth more notice than the words being sung.

Novelty only lasts for a short time. The first time we had timpani in our church, the people sang heartily.

10. Above all, deploy maximum volume. Cantors, especially if they have operatic voices, should belt lustily into a microphone. Choirs should always be amplified, no matter what their position. Organs, naturally, should "lead" congregational singing by effectively drowning it out.

Tom Day’s article in the latest Pastoral Music elaborates on this point. Good read.

Oh, and everything should be in 6/8.

The following all use compound meter (i.e. 3/8, 6/8, 12/8) and are sung very well in most parishes:

Glory and Praise to Our God
Mass of Light
Mass of Creation
Celtic Alleluia
Like a Shepherd
Silent Night
Away in a Manger (not one of my faves, but it gets sung)
Sing to the Mountains
VICTORY (The Strife is O’er)
Canticle of the Sun

The list goes on and on .... 6/8 appears tried and proven for congregational singing, just as much as 4/4.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Letter to Substitute Organist

This is an e-mail I sent out to one of my subs at my old parish. This mess occurred at the beginning of Holy Week when I was absent for a concert.

Dear Sub,

It is with much regret that I write the following. After speaking with a number of people that were present for mass last Saturday (Palm Sunday Vigil Mass), I'm afraid that due to certain events, your services will be needed rarely, if ever, at St. X from here on out.

Three things have prompted this response:

1) The extended organ solo at the end of the offertory. It was conveyed to me that at the conclusion of "O Sacred Head Surrounded", you proceeded to play a lengthy organ piece that extended well beyond the allotted time for such an interlude. What was reported to me was that Father was clearly ready to move forward into the Eucharistic Prayer, but was made to wait for a significant period of time due to the ramblings of the organ. Not only are the rubrics clear that, " During Lent, . . . the use of musical instruments is allowed only to support the singing." (Ceremonial of Bishops 252--in other words, no solos), but the fact that the presider had to further delay what was already a lengthy mass puts into question the liturgical judgment of the substitute organist. Common sense seems to say one of three things:

a) Due to CB 252, no solo piece should have been played in the first place.
b) Since an offertory hymn was sung by the congregation, a shorter interlude should have been programmed.
c) If a longer interlude was scheduled, a suitable cadence should have brought the piece to an end when it became clear that the piece was becoming a detriment to the liturgy.

It was also reported to me that congregants were actually laughing as the debacle was unfolding. The fact that the whims of the organist became primary over the needs of the Holy Mass is reprehensible.

2) A recessional was sung against the express wishes of the regular organist. I know that I made it very clear over the phone, on the music board, and on the planning sheet on the cantor stand, that WE WERE TO RECESS IN SILENCE! Regardless of whether or not you had good intentions to plan a sung recessional, the fact that you would do so after it was made very clear that this was against my wishes is very offensive to me. To draw an analogy, imagine if you had invited me over to house-sit your place, and returned to find that I had remodeled the living room according to my tastes. To learn that you have such little respect for me and my liturgical judgment is disappointing to say the least.

3) Pressuring the cantor to announce and lead a recessional after she was given instructions by the regular organist to allow the priest to recess in silence. Cantors are volunteers who give of their time and talents to assist with the liturgy. As if standing in front of a hundred people to sing solo wasn't stressful enough, the fact that one would be put into such a last-minute dilemma due to the pressure put onto her by a guest organist, personally I find despicable.

If the previous three points are inaccurate as I have written them, I would welcome you to provide a defense and clarify anything that was conveyed to me incorrectly. If I have conveyed them accurately through my writing, then I am afraid that you will be moved down the sub list at St. X from "first to call", to "only in case of emergency." I have many other subs who are fine musicians and more importantly, have respect for the liturgy, have respect for the presider, have respect for me, and have respect for the cantors that I provide them with. They will be scheduled in your stead in the foreseeable future.

Good luck with the Easter Triduum at your parish.

God bless,

I never heard back . . . needless to say, he was not hired again.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A great parish web site

St. Dominic’s in San Francisco

(Incidentally, the parish also seems to have a fine - and well-funded - music program.)

Anyone else have any really nice parish web sites to pass along?

Proper Discepancy

Well, I've been looking everywhere for an answer to this question and I haven't come up with much as of yet. So let's try it here . . .

Question for everyone: I was perusing the Propers for 23 OT when I noticed a discrepancy between a few different sources:

Communion 23 OT

Grad. Rom. and Greg. Miss.: Ps. 75 (76): 12, 13

GIA Sunday Word, Ps. 41 (42): 2-3

Daily Roman Missal: Ps. 41 (42): 2-3 OR Jn 8:12

What gives?

As BMP has pointed out, this occurs with the Introit texts occasionally as well.

21st Sunday in OT--B

21 OT--B

Same Ordinary as last week and throughout much of the semester.

Introit: Incline Your Ear, O Lord (Tietze--Introit Hymns)

Psalm: Psalm 34 (Gelineau)

Offertory: Taste and See (Vaughan Williams)

Communion: De fructu operum (Graduale Romanum)

Hymn of Thanksgiving: Father, We Thank Thee Who Hast Planted

Recessional: Love Divine, All Loves Excelling

20th Sunday in OT

Well, I'm finally in a position in which I'm not somewhat ashamed to post my music selections for the week :) Here's what we had last week:

20 OT--B

Entrance: Behold, O God (Tietze-Introit Hymns)

Kyrie: Community Mass (Proulx)

Gloria: Community Mass (Proulx)

Resp. Psalm: Ps. 34 (Gelineau)

Gospel Acclamation: chant Alleluia

Offertory: Panis Angelicus (Franck)

Sanctus: Community Mass (Proulx)

Memorial Acclamation: A Festival Eucharist (Proulx)

Amen: A Festival Eucharist (Proulx)

Our Father: chant

Agnus Dei: A Community Mass (Proulx)

Communion: Qui Manducat (Graduale Romanum)

Hymn of Thanksgiving: At That First Eucharist

Recessional: Now Thank We All Our God

Notes: I've inherited the Community Mass/Festival Eucharist mix. They've been doing this combo for about as long as I've been alive . . . change must come sloooowly, as I learned in my previous position. Also, since it was technically the first time I met my choir, I had the cantor do the Communion chant. Unfortunately, he did the Introit chant! When I asked him about it, he stated that the previous director had asked him to do the Introits for communion since they were lengthier. Just lets you know you can't take anything for granted . . .

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Precursor to Dies iræ

I remember singing Hindemith’s setting of this a few years back. Great piece.

Apparebit repentina dies:

No later than 7th century in origin. Hmm - does this mean the people who decry Dies iræ as an over-the-top medieval “accretion” are ignorant of this prayer, which contains many of the same ideas (at least, the “over-the-top” ones)?


The more I learn this guy’s music, the more I regret not being born in time to have met him.

Yesterday was a rough day for me, and it may take me a while to cope. Popping in his opera “Saint François d’Assise” (Nagano conducting, on D-G) is like a balm. He was such an oddball, and as on fire with the faith as it seems any could expect to be in his profession. A genius, he basically won every prize he could have applied for - piano, organ, history, composition, counterpoint, ... and his musical œuvre is (almost) all directed to God.

This opera .... I dunno. It’s hard going down at first, but it’s nothing like Schoenberg. It fills four CDs, and the score is in 8 oversize books - quite heavy.

His was such a joy-filled faith - nothing on pain or suffering in his work, but all about things like the appearance of the Eternal Church, the Ascension - the glory stuff. (Kind of an antithesis of the doom-and-gloom image some paint of the pre-V2 Church.)

He wrote one piece of liturgical music (that I know), an “O sacrum convivium” from the 1930s. It is simply stunning. Simple in form and even in texture - all homophonic, but his harmonic language is so original and passionate. I have begun to think, too, that the “et futuræ gloriæ” is meant to be a musical “orgasm” - tying in the joy of the marital act to the Eucharist and to the “future glory” of salvation. (Decades before JP2’s Theology of the Body!)

I also highly recommend the Turangalila Symphony - the Naxos recording is unusually good.

New chant

One of our readers pointed me to a comment he had made here supporting the idea of composers writing new "Gregorian" chant for the liturgy. Cantor supports the idea as well if I understood him correctly in one of his previous posts (here). I must admit a bit of ambivalence myself for a couple of reasons:

1) There is the implicit assumption that something is lacking in the melodies that we have been given.

2) If there is one thing I learned by spending a week with the renowned Fr. Samuel Weber, it's that I know nothing about the sacred chant even though I thought I did. It seems to me that the only people we would want composing these new melodies are someone like Fr. Weber, who has studied this music his whole life and knows the true spirit of the chant. Yet when someone has reached that point, I would venture to say that they would be dead-set against composing new chant melodies in the sacred latin text. Once you've discovered the genius of the Gregorian repertoire, why would you want to compete with it? It would be like a famous expert on Beethoven announcing that he's ready to re-compose the 5th Symphony.

Heck, if our choirs and congregation are resistant to chant that has survived the test of time, why in the blazes do we think they'll be open to learning chant that hasn't?

If I can be convinced otherwise, I'm open to other opinions . . .

Hymn tournament . . .

. . . going on here. Join in the fun.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

MS 42-46

V. Sacred Music in the Celebration of the Sacraments and Sacramentals, in Special Services of the Liturgical Year, etc.

42. The Council has stated as a principle that whenever rites according to their specific nature make provision for communal celebration involving the presence and active participation of the faithful, this way of celebrating them is to be preferred to a celebration that is individual and, so to speak, private. [26] From this it follows that singing becomes very important, in that it more strikingly expresses the "ecclesial" aspect of celebration.

Public rites done in a public manner: good. Singing expresses "ecclesial" aspect of celebration.

It's refreshing to read through this document and see the esteem in which the Church holds its most precious art.

43. Certain celebrations of the sacraments and sacramentals are particularly significant in the life of a parish community: confirmations, ordinations, marriages, the consecration of a church or altar, funerals, etc. As far as possible, therefore, they should be carried out with singing, so that even the solemnity of the rite may contribute to a greater pastoral effectiveness. Every precaution is to be taken, however, against introducing into a celebration under the guise of solemnity anything merely profane or out of keeping with divine worship; this applies particularly to marriages.

Ugh. I need to carry this one in my pocket and read it to prospective wedding couples. The most recent requested "Cheek to Cheek" for the recessional. You get the feeling Palestrina AND Irving Berlin were rolling over in their graves at the thought of that selection.

Once again, the document avers that singing adds to the solemnity of a celebration and therefore, a "greater pastoral effectiveness."

44. Celebrations that have a distinctive character in the course of the liturgical year should also be marked by greater solemnity through singing. The rites of Holy Week should be given a unique solemnity; through the celebration of the paschal mystery these rites lead the faithful to the very center of the liturgical year and of the liturgy itself.

Notice that the document constantly reiterates the term "singing" instead of merely "music." The use of our God-given instrument takes precedence . . .

45. Suitable melodies are also to be provided for the liturgy of the sacraments and sacramentals and for other special services of the liturgical year. These melodies are meant to favor a more solemn celebration even in the vernacular, in keeping with the norms of the competent authority and the capability of each liturgical assembly.

46. Music also has great power to nurture the faithful's devotion in celebrations of the word of God and in popular devotions.

No arguments there.

The model for celebrations of the word of God [27] should be the liturgy of the word at Mass. [28] Among the important resources for popular devotions are the psalms, musical works taken from the treasury of the past and the present, the religious songs of the people, the playing of the organ and other suitable instruments.

Notice the hierarchy here:

1) Psalms

2) Treasured works of the Church

3) Religious songs of the people

4) Organ and other instruments

Musical pieces that no longer have a place in the liturgy, but have the power to touch religious feeling and to assist meditation on the sacred mysteries are very well suited for use in popular devotions and especially in celebrations of the word of God. [29]

This is addressed more fully in no. 53.

26. See Sacrosanctum Concilium art. 27.
27. See Sacred Congregation of Rites, Instr. Inter Oecumenici, 26 Sept. 1964, nos. 37-39.
28. See Sacred Congregation of Rites, Instr. Inter Oecumenici, 26 Sept. 1964, no. 37.
29. See no. 53 of this Instruction.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Interesting in the latest Pastoral Music

1) The nascent chant section of NPM has 95 members - pretty impressive for having been nonexistent in 2004.

2) The issue leads off with an article titled “Etiquette for Cantors for Facilitators of Song” which first takes issue with overamplified cantors. (My mother, in a recent visit to my parish, confirmed that we have a problem with this,’s political, alas.)

But, just when you thought it was safe to play outside....

3) Look at the following paragraph:
The priest celebrant would speak the prescribed texts while the congregation sang a versified paraphrase - in the best conditions - or otherwise a familiar devotional song. .. The Second Vatican Council, in the interests of such “active participation,” charged the congregation with singing the actual liturgical texts, but proper chants are not easy, and so bishops seized on the exception clauses in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy /Sacrosanctum Concilium/ encouraging the use of the “people’s own religious songs” even “during the services of the liturgy itself” (118) and allowed easier and by now much more familiar hymns to substitute for the appointed chants.

Nowhere in the English translation of the CSL does the phrase “religious songs” appear. The CSL does not discuss replacing the Proper texts of the Mass with other texts (at least, not at article 118); it encourages congregational singing, but it does not describe the terms of such singing.

Only in the 1967 instruction “Musicam sacram” do we find explicit encouragement for popular singing of the Proper of the Mass, and even here, replacement of the Proper is not discussed. Singing the Proper is the “third layer” which, according to that document, should be achieved only when the first two (basically the dialogues and the Ordinary) are done as well.

That all being said, the article is actually quite in favor of a balance between congregational and non-congregational singing, with a glowing review of a Mass at St. Mark’s in Venice that made frequent use of plainchant and polyphony.

Weekend in Milwaukee

A good friend of mine (a musician) was married last weekend (to another musician--both high school choir teachers) in the Milwaukee area. I was the best man as well as the choir director. So not only did I have to prepare a speech for the toast, but I also had to prepare a one-hour rehearsal for a pick-up choir to sing the Durufle Ubi Caritas as well as a setting of Set Me as a Seal (Gresham) the morning of the wedding! Luckily, most of the singers were choir directors themselves and they knew their music cold.

The wedding was one that would make a catholic envious: great music, excellent preaching, a congregation that sang, a couple who were truly making God the center of their marriage . . . now if they were only catholic! (Trust me, I've been working on them:)

While I was in the area, I also had the opportunity to attend Sunday mass at the Milwaukee cathedral for the 8 AM service. Yes, the interior is as uninspiring as everyone says . . . why would you rip out your pews and put padded seats in their stead? The contemporary art and lay-out was a bit of a turn-off as well.

The music selections were adequate, but not spectacular. Here was the line-up (they had Ritualsong in the pews):

Processional: Joyful, Joyful

Kyrie: spoken

Gloria: New Plainsong Mass (Hurd)

Psalm: Proulx/Gelineau

Gospel Acclamation: St. Louis Jesuits Mass

Offertory: A Transfiguration-type text set to PICARDY--can't remember the name

Sanctus/MA/Amen/AG: Community Mass

Communion: Take and Eat (Joncas)

Recessional: Can't recall . . .

The organist did a nice job and the instrument they have in the gallery seemed of a very high quality. The one thing that disturbed me though was a note in the worship aide to remain standing after the Agnus Dei. I and a family in front of me both ignored the directive and knelt. I struggle with this kind of thing . . . I mean, I don't want to affect the unity of the gathered congregation but my conscience just will not allow me to honor such a blatant disregard for the rubrics.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Theater in the Liturgy

I've been meaning to forward this post along from DarwinCatholic for quite some time now. It really hits at the heart of what a good liturgical celebration usually entails: "Theater without the Theatrics" or "Drama without the Dramatics."

I must say I've always been a bit turned-off when I hear of a parish acting out some of the readings during the Easter Vigil. I actually saw a video once in which an "actor" was about to sacrifice his son Isaac on the actual altar in the sanctuary. It's not only the blatant disregard for the instructions handed down to us to follow by the powers-that-be that gets my goat, but the thought on the part of some liturgist who said to everyone at the liturgy committee, "Hey, let's spruce up this long boring service by making the Liturgy of the Word into a show!"

By the way, this was also the service in which singers with tambourines walked through the crowd while everyone sang a silly, pseudo-Jewish setting of the Song of Moses. Yeah, extremely high cheese factor going on there . . .

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

MS 37-41

Okay, I won't comment on the below section of MS since the singing of the Divine Office doesn't affect me in my current position and I have so little experience with it. Of course I have included it for the sake of completeness . . .

IV. Singing the Divine Office

37. Celebration of the divine office in song is more in keeping with the nature of this prayer and a sign of both higher solemnity and closer union of hearts in praising God. In keeping with the explicit wish of the Constitution on the Liturgy, [23] therefore, the singing of the office is strongly recommended to those who carry it out in choir or in common.
At least on Sundays and holydays it would be well for them to sing some part of the office, especially morning prayer and evening prayer, the two principal hours.
Other clerics living together in centers of study or coming together for retreats or for other meetings should take the opportunity to sanctify their assemblies through the singing of some parts of the divine office.

38. In the singing of the divine office both the law in force for those bound to choir and particular indults remain unchanged. But the principle of "progressive" solemnity is applicable; namely, the parts that of their nature are more directly designed for singing (dialogues, hymns, verses, canticles) are sung and the other parts recited.

39. The faithful are to be invited, and also instructed through proper catechesis, to celebrate some parts of the divine office together on Sundays and holydays, especially evening prayer or whatever other hours are customary in different places or groups. All the faithful, especially the better educated, are to be guided through proper instruction to use the psalms in their Christian meaning for prayer. In this way the faithful will be led gradually to a fuller appreciation and use of the Church's public prayer.

40. Formation in the use of the psalms is particularly important for members of institutes professing the evangelical counsels, in order that they may posses a rich resource for nurturing their spiritual life. They should, if possible, celebrate the principal hours of the office, and even with singing, so that they will take part more completely in the public prayer of the Church.

41. Clerics must retain Latin in the choral celebration if the office, in conformity with the norm of the Constitution on the Liturgy that is based on the centuries-old tradition of the Latin rite. [24]
The Constitution on the Liturgy, [25] however, also makes provisions for the faithful, nuns, and other nonclerical members of institutes professing the evangelical counsels to use the vernacular in the office. Attention should therefore be given to providing melodies for the vernacular singing of the divine office.

23. See Sacrosanctum Concilium art. 99.
24. See Sacrosanctum Concilium art. 101, §1. See Sacred Congregation of Rites, Instr. Inter Oecumenici, 26 Sept. 1964, no. 85.
25. See Sacrosanctum Concilium art. 101, §§2 and 3.