Thursday, December 14, 2006

Psallite: a new Mass proper

They don’t want to sell it this way, probably because so few now know what the Mass Proper is (even including those who purchase music for liturgical use), but that indeed is what I see here:

What Psallite gives us is three types of song: “Song for the Week” (Entrance/closing), “Song for the Word” (after 1st reading), and “Song for the Table” (Communion). Putting aside the flower-child-y ring of the names, it’s a laudable idea: to create music that “catches” so people take it with them and make it part of their “life’s soundtrack”. And, at least insofar as the “Table songs” go, it is also based on tradition; Gregorian Communions are often tied to the Scripture readings of the day and generally have non-psalmic antiphons.

I have to confess, I just don’t like this collection. The music, which I hear colleagues praise as inspired and so forth, seems to me so bland and uninteresting. (Could be my own bias, as I often write music quite similar in form and function to these pieces.) The sample recordings don’t help - the singers (presumably the composers) sound awfully rag-tag and give amateur musicians little to which they might aspire.

The description is a little curious: “inspired by the antiphons and psalms of the Roman Missal”. Antiphons and psalms in the Missal? (I’ve corresponded with a couple of the composers, and I still don’t really have a straight answer on what exactly that means.)

What is nice, though, is how a collection like this might focus people’s attentions on the idea of what traditionally is called a Proper of the Mass. It could help other projects to bear fruit, especially if translations/adaptations of the Proper could be made that are:
  • freely usable and adaptable
  • faithful to the Gregorian texts
  • easily able to be set to music, be it metered or unmetered

The above is what I would rather see come of the efforts at a standard body of sung texts than a generic corpus of hymns.

Incidentally, Adoremus has commented briefly on this collection; sadly, though, they look no further than the choice of translation used for the psalm verses. I agree that using the 1993 Grail is a poor choice in light of the direction in which things are moving overall, but Psallite is much more significant for its other characteristics. (Might I suggest that comments refrain from repeating Adoremus’s condemnation of the translation, instead focusing on the effort itself?)


At Thursday, December 14, 2006 11:07:00 AM, Blogger PrayingTwice said...

I'm with you, Cantor. The concept is nice but the result is pretty poor. Some of the tunes are just silly; they try to incorporate many different styles, completely acappella, and some just don't work.

At Thursday, December 14, 2006 11:28:00 AM, Blogger Jeffrey Tucker said...

This collection is an embarrassment to Catholicism, from its opening March of the Picnic Ants to this du wop arrangement of Follow You. In so many ways, this stuff makes me so sad.

At Thursday, December 14, 2006 3:00:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...

Jeffrey - ROFL! “March of the Picnic Ants”!!

Ok, this one seems to be just about the nadir of the collection.

At Wednesday, December 20, 2006 10:39:00 PM, Blogger Todd said...

On the other hand, I'm waiting for the Adoremus crowd to tell me what "he" is in Latin. Precision indeed!

At Sunday, December 31, 2006 11:20:00 AM, Anonymous Ephrem said...

Sadly, I have to agree about the music. Yet I think it's a laudable effort nonetheless. It seems like there are a lot of people taking incremental steps towards a more substantial liturgy--and that's what this is. They are trying to base liturgical texts on the propers. Can't complain about that.

We're living in liturgical music history, and many of us are trying to make it. With Jeffrey, the idea is: straight to chanting propers in Latin. Ultimately that is what I would like, too, but I haven't yet been convinced that the best idea is to leap to that end straight from the current hodgepodge, or mosaic-of-diverse-musical-cultures, or whatever it is we're at now.

Psallite's idea of a first step is, first, set the proper texts to the in-use musical genres. Mine is, write good hymn texts in order to raise the bar and promote biblical literacy. Christoph Tietze's is to set the propers to hymn meters.

I think time will tell which of these approaches is best, or rather, whether they combine somehow to shift us towards chanted propers.

At Sunday, December 31, 2006 12:25:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...


Actually, I am fairly sure that what this is is a new set of texts, not based on the Propers - or, if it is, only in certain instances.

In a sense, this could be the right approach - after all, the Mass has changed quite a bit since the Roman Mass Proper texts came into being; the fact that Psallite bases its text on the modern 3-year Lectionary cycle may be a good thing.

Tietze’s book about his introits also illustrates that the Mass Proper kinda looks like a project that never reached its completion - or at least, bears the marks of an effort that was not a unified scheme with a definite finished product, as Psallite is.

What piques my curiosity about Psallite is why, for example, they chose not to use Psalm 68 on Pentecost - they could have, had they so wished, based their work more on existing work/practice/tradition than they did.

That being said, I am not intimately familiar with the project. I have listened to a handful of the recordings and seen some privately distributed samples as well as listened to a recording CD with more samples.

At Thursday, January 11, 2007 1:17:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...

Incidentally, there are plans to move Psallite to the upcoming (LitAuth-savvy) revision of the Grail psalter.


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