Wednesday, February 28, 2007

choirs and congregational singing

So, I have a question to put to our devoted readers - actually, I suppose more of a scenario and request for commentary.

My new parish choir, capable as they are, has some members who have expressed a desire that I conduct them more often, even on congregational music. My problem with this is two-fold: one, this means I need to keep in sync with an organist and cantor, and it brings into question just who, the cantor or the conductor, is leading the music. The other problem is one of general principle: if the choir is singing as part of the congregation, and the congregation is not conducted, why should the choir be conducted?

What I feel this truly brings into question is the relationship between congregational and choral singing in the Mass.

When I first attended Mass in my new parish (“incognito”, attempting to be seen as just a regular parishioner), what I noticed was that when the choir sang harmonies with congregational music, if I sang confidently and well, I could not hear the choir’s harmonies. So, in order for me to hear the choir’s musical finesse, I had to stop singing.

Does singing harmonies, then, on a song like Haugen’s “Eye Has Not Seen”, undermine the choir’s task of supporting congregational singing, by giving them an incentive not to sing (i.e. to hear the choir’s harmonies)?

So, my first proposal would be that congregational music should contain either no harmonies, or just a soprano descant - something that can be heard and appreciated even when the congregation sings full-blast.

This, however, given our status quo of having the choir sing only offertories without the congregation, risks reducing the choir’s role to one of simply “learn a new anthem each week”. There are worse things, true, but what if we gave back some of the music that, now, is ordinarily given to the congregation, to the choir?

Monday, February 26, 2007

Lent 1--Year C

Lent 1 (2/25/07)

Processional: Invocabit me (chant--cantor)

Kyrie: Mass XVI

Psalm: Gelineau

GA: Worship 368 (Proulx)

Offertory: Miserere Mei (Lotti)

Sanctus: Mass XVIII

Memorial Acclamation: chant

Amen: chant

Agnus Dei: Mass XVIII

Communion: Scapulis suis (chant—men)

Post-Communion: Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days W 171

Recessional: Silence

Lent has begun. Our first mass went pretty well; lots of chant as you can tell. We're doing the "Jubilate Deo" mass parts at all the masses during Lent, which will be a bit of a shock to some of the congregations, I'm sure. Nevertheless, there's no question that these parts should be known by every Catholic world-wide. This will be a good start . . .

We had a weird week in regards to the choir; I had to move our Wednesday rehearsal to Tuesday (because of Ash Wednesday services) and had a pretty sparse crowd because of it. So Sunday we had quite a few folks looking at the Lotti for the very first time. We spent a large amount of time on it, but I still thought it best if the organ doubled the parts. Hopefully attendance will be a little better this week since Holy Week is coming soon . . .

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

An apology . . .

I have taken down my previous post entitled "Recording" in which I recounted the events of the previous weekend when the ensembles here recorded some tracks for an upcoming Marian CD. It seems that the post contained some uncharitable ramblings that offended some people involved with the recording.

Though this blog began as an anonymous venture, where we had hoped to express views and certain frustrations that accompany this profession, it seems to have outgrown its anonymity, at least in my current position. I believe it imperative at this point that I be quite a bit more careful when sharing my opinions in the future . . .

To anyone offended by the post in question, I beg for your forgiveness. I appreciate the dedication and hard work that all my directors put in to make this ministry as successful as it is. The fact that I may have hurt someone over my ramblings composed in a state of exhaustion saddens me greatly. I shall meet with the person in question and apologize personally.

Monday, February 19, 2007

the new job - so far, so good!

So, PT suggested I post here about how the first week in the new job has gone.

So far, things seem ok. There does seem to be more “bureaucracy” in the new parish, probably just as a consequence of the much larger size compared to my old one. I am supposed to be getting a nice new desk, and I could have gotten a nice Clavinova in the office or something, but really, I don’t need that, so I just got a $200 Yamaha keyboard.

The choir at the new parish has a lot of potential - there are several good readers in there, at least one in each section. The tone can use some work - but, how many volunteer church choirs can’t use work on their tone? Anyway, it’s up to about 30 singers now - we have gotten some new members now that the choir again has a regular director (me!). The new church building will, I believe, have seating for 60 or so. I honestly am not sure that will be enough; I would hate to have to turn some people away, though, or to have more than one parish choir just because the space does not allow for there to be only one.

There is also a children’s choir, which I am going to be taking over eventually, to some extent at least. I am kinda excited about this - I generally work well with kids; they seem to take to my sometimes-kooky demeanor.

Choral repertoire is generally limited to offertories, but this is fine for the time being. Hopefully I can get some choral communion music eventually, occasionally at least, since Communion takes quite a long time here. (One of those times when you wonder, what would happen if EMHCs were really as rare in practice as the documents say they are supposed to be?)

Anthems/offertories: This past Sunday was Hopson “Sing Praise to the Lord”. Ash Wednesday will be Attwood “Turn Thy face from my sins”. 1st Lent will be the Lotti Miserere (from, and 2nd Lent will be Farrant “Hide not Thou Thy face”. Palm Sunday will be the Carlo Rossini setting of the proper offertory (Ps. 69:21-2, IIRC). Other days are a bit up in the air - actually, it’s all up in the air at this point, as I am still figuring out what the choir can and can’t do every well. There are some who don’t read music, so I can’t go “hee-haw” on polyphony just yet.

On Gregorian communions

In response to Klaus’s brief defense of the use of psalmic Gregorian communion chants (i.e. chants that, unlike the bulk of communions, do not connect with the readings) in my previous post, I wanted to expound a bit on the origins of Gregorian communions and their development.

NB: I am not a liturgical scholar nor a chant scholar. Most of what I know is gleaned from practice and from the books I have read, esp. Tietze’s book on the origin of the introit chants.

A couple things interesting from Tietze’s book:

His defense of using introits seems to rest on the observation that the entrance chant in the Roman Rite traditionally has texts that do not generally connect to readings. Communions, however, *do* connect with readings more often than not.

It was not so in the beginning, though: psalmic communions are older than their non-psalmic brethren. This could indicate a development in the theology of the communion antiphon: the reception of the Eucharist was accompanied by singing of the Word (usu. the Gospel): we receive the Body of Christ as food, in the same way we have received Christ through hearing the Word (esp. Gospel). Thus, a connection is established between the reception of the Word and the reception of the physical Body.

Apparently, the goal of supplying lection-centric (?) communion chants simply was never completed before the Proper became (more or less) fixed.

Of course, the dramatic changes in the selection of readings makes it hard to maintain much of a connection between communions and readings - Solesmes seems to have done a fairly nice job of that regardless in the post-V2 Cantus ordo Missæ. However, since the introits are generally not related to readings, the Lectionary changes don’t affect them so much.

In short, those of us who advocate for Gregorian communion chants proper to the day do have some answering to do when we advocate “Passer invenit” in place of a newer tune that does quote the day’s Gospel. (Too lazy right now to look up the Gospels on 15OT, which is when Passer invenit comes up.) In this sense, a project like Psallité seems to have more merit than the Gregorian propers.

A couple interesting tidbits: Lenten weekday communions go from Psalm 1 to Psalm 26, more or less in sequence. (Tietze talks about this at good length.) 25OT through 28OT all use Ps. 119 (the really long psalm) - this sequence is also present in the pre-V2 Missal, though there are only 3 in sequence (weeks 19-21 after Pentecost, I believe).

The above, in conjunction with the fact that the Missal antiphons are generally not connected to readings, would suggest a justification for psalmic antiphons: they are additional Scripture excerpts to be sung in the Mass.

Anyway. Those reading this post looking for a nice, concise “wrap-up” might, now that I am finishing up, be frustrated. I don’t really have a good, polished answer to these problems. At the same time, there is definitely wisdom in implementing the Church’s liturgy as given officially (even when other options are given) - including the use of psalmic Communions.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

OT 7--Year C 2/18/07

OT 7 Year C (2/18/07)

Processional: In your most steadfast love ( SWABIA )

Psalm: Ps. 102 (103): 1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13 The Lord is kind and merciful W 579

Offertory: Lead Me, Lord (Wesley)

Communion: Narrabo (chant--women)
Salve Regina (Lassus)

Recessional: God, My King, Thy Might Confessing W 100

We recorded yesterday so I re-used a recording piece (Salve) and slapped on a piece we did in November (Lead Me, Lord) to fill out the line-up. I hate having to plan music according to "How quickly can we get this ready" compared to "What is the most appropriate setting of the Proper" or, at least, "What fits well with the readings."

Oh yeah, this is post number 200! Sure took us long enough!

OT 6--Year C 2/11/07

OT 6—C (2/11/07)

Processional: Be my protecting, saving God ( ST. ANNE)

Psalm: Ps. 1: 1-2, 3, 4, 6 Happy are they who hope in the Lord. W 576

Offertory: Benedictus es Domine (Lassus)

Communion: Manducaverunt (chant—men)

Recessional: Praise to the Lord, the Almighty W 231

I was sick as a dog that morning so one of my choristers had to take the reins. A shame, since you know I love Lassus.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

They missed one???

Someone try to find this: The communion chant for the Saturday of Easter week VI when Ascension is transferred to Sunday (as it is in most places in the U.S.).

I cannot find this! I can find chants specific to each Lectionary cycle for the 6th Sunday, and specific chants for each feria (weekday), but ISTM there is a “Sabbato” missing....?

Before I email Solesmes about this to clarify, can someone make sure I am not simply missing something? Especially, if someone has a copy of the Vatican’s Ordo cantus missæ and chould check that, this might shed some light.

Speaking of which, it is lamentable that the OCM, which costs under $10, is (apparently) only available directly from Rome and costs more to ship than to buy! I would like a copy, but I’m not forking over that much....

(NB: This post edited from the original, which asked about when Ascension is not transferred. I didn’t have a Graduale in front of me and forgot that the issue is when Ascension is transferred.)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

CMAA: constructive critiques

Since CMAA does not allow comments on their weblog (probably a good thing), I will post here some reservations about this organization.

But, first, some praise.

It is astounding, and incredibly useful, to have resources like the 1961 Graduale and a complete pre-V2 Missale made available for free download, in text-underlaid PDFs. These alone would prompt me to continue my CMAA membership.

Sacred Music has some interesting articles in it. I very much enjoyed Tietze’s article, I think an issue or two ago, about differences between the processional antiphons in the Graduale and the Missale. Mahrt’s article a few issues back further about the musical constructions of the proper chants was very handy knowledge.

Given the apparently small number of leaders in the organization, there is a lot of cool stuff happening with the group: t-shirts and mugs, downloadable PDFs, weblog posts, and more.

In general, the organization has much more tech savvy than, well, just about anyone. From this I get a warm, fuzzy feeling of being “at home”, being myself a musician with a strong technical bent (who did work full-time as a programmer in years past). I think this will help attract the right minds to the organization’s work.

But, here are some beefs:

An obvious oversight: why is there no email list for CMAA members? (Ok, Jeffrey says there is one. I don’t recall being invited to join it, though, until emailing him.)

Another oversight: there is no hint of regional chapters. We may gather that membership is not exactly booming in comparison to NPM, but even knowing if there are one or two other CMAA members in my area would be of great help in advancing the cause of chant/polyphony/good-modern.

There is too much “head-in-the-clouds” about the reality of how things are today. I mean, really. I work in the trenches of parish music ministry. I deal with the parishioners who hate Latin and want to sing David Haas and Spirit & Song (or at least to try to sing them). The priests and liturgists may be more open to it, but they know there’d be hell to pay. It’s all I can do to get any chanting, even Gelineau and Guimont responsorial psalms, to be accepted in the parish’s sung prayer. There are some who do like traditional Catholic music at Mass. Some. Just as there are some who appreciate the use of Latin. But in my experience, and I would imagine in that of most FT Catholic church music professionals, traditional Catholic music is a hard, hard sell to the mainstream of Catholics. Chant CDs may sell well, but apparently that doesn’t translate to widespread acceptance of the form at Mass. The relatively few who do like these things (which, I agree, should be experienced and made a part of every Catholic’s liturgical participation) have fled to those few speciality parishes (themselves indulging in the post-V2 error of “go to the church you like the best”).

I should add, Gavin is one of the lucky few whose pastor truly seems behind the cause of traditional Catholic sacred music.

The paraphernalia that CMAA would have me distribute to my parish’s music ministers, let alone to ordinary pew Catholics, might as well be in another language. I would hazard a guess that none of its authors is a teacher, for whom one of the fundamental rules is: “start with what the students know”. In this case, if you want to talk to Joe Catholic about sacred music, start with “Here I Am, Lord”, because that’s what he knows.

Sacred Music could really use some more contributors.

Along the line of Sacred Music, did the magazine ever print a recognition of the points Paul Ford raises in defense of his book “By Flowing Waters”, a book which Calvert Shenk apparently dismissed in the Spring 2004 issue?

This is a critique that would go for much of the Reform2 commentary, but in particular with CMAA, come observations on Haugen/Haas music that is at least less offensive would go much further toward reaching Joe Catholic (and even Joe Liturgist) than the seeming universal condemnation. Whether we like it or not, the music of the SLJs is probably here to stay for some time. The best we can hope for in the immediate time frame is coexistence with the 600-pound gorilla.

And, lastly, a Dies iræ wall clock?!? Could be just me, but that’s something my non-chant-enthusiast friends would buy for me as a gag gift. I mean, it’s funny, even hilarious, to me, but I guess I’m not sure it’s intended to be funny. (And I say this as one who laments the removal of Dies iræ from the Mass.)

I am hoping that these critiques will be a catalyst for some positive changes. I know the guys at CMAA are doing everything they can to further the cause of sacred music, but I wanted to throw this out there to see what other folks think of the direction in which we seem to be headed. There is so much good possible from this organization - I guess I simply worry that, unless we “come down to earth”, all people will see in us is fanaticism.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

5 OT--C

OT 5—C (2/4/07)

Processional: Bow down before the Lord (DARWALL’S 148TH)

Psalm: Ps. 137 (138): 1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 7-8 In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord. W 573

Offertory: Perfice gressus meos (Franz Xaver Witt) (Marc and Peter)

Communion: Introibo ad altare Dei (chant—women)

Recessional: To Jesus Christ, Our Sovereign King W 282

The choir’s been singing well these first two Sundays. As we keep adding voices, you can feel a greater sense of comfort within the ensemble. Strength in numbers, not to mention the fact that imperfections are less conspicuous within a larger ensemble.

I came across the Witt piece over at when I was searching for some of the Propers. Extremely charming duet; my paid tenor soloist will be singing the alto line (he has a nice counter-tenor voice) and one of my finer basses sing the lower part. It worked out quite well, and it definitely saved me some rehearsal time with the choir to work on some CD stuff.

4 OT--C

OT 4—C (1/28/07)

Processional: Let searching hearts rejoice in God (OLD HUNDREDTH)

Psalm: Ps. 70 (71): 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 15-17 I will sing of your salvation W 570

Offertory: My eyes for beauty pine (Howells)

Communion: Illumina faciem tuam (chant—men)

Recessional: How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds (ST. PETER)

My choirs will be recording a Marian CD next month so much of our precious little rehearsal time has been spent on the repertoire for the recording. So I’ve been searching out motets/anthems that won’t take up too long to learn and polish. The Howells was a nice choice; a nice melody with only one small section in 4-pt harmony (the rest is unison) and some nice meter changes to keep the choir on its toes (and the conductor: I haven’t conducted 7/4 since college!).

Had three men join already this semester which is quite exciting, and I’m now up to like 8 basses! That’s great, of course, but I lost two altos to heavy classloads and I can hardly muster up 3 of them on a Sunday. Actually, the balance isn’t too bad at this point; we’ll see if any other stragglers join as the semester progresses.

3 OT--C

Sorry for my absence; the semester had me overwhelmed right out of the gate and I’ve been struggling to keep my head above water. Lots of neat stuff coming up, but it’s a bit overwhelming . . .

OT 3—C (1/21/07)

Processional: O bow down before the King (LUBECK) (Tietze Introit Hymn)

Kyrie: Mass for the City

Gloria: Mass for the City

Psalm: Ps. 18 (19): 8, 9, 10, 15 Your words, O Lord, are spirit and life. W 567

Gospel Acclamation: chant

Offertory: Dextera Domini (chant—Marc)

Sanctus: Mass for the City

Mem. Accl.: Mass for the City

Amen: Mass for the City

Our Father: chant

Agnus Dei: Holy Cross Mass

Communion: Comedite pinguia (chant--women)
Ave Verum Corpus (Mozart)

Recessional: How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds W 125

Only had one rehearsal before this mass so I whipped out an oldie-but-goodie (the Mozart). This one’s a gem, no doubt, and not too difficult, so it’s great in a pinch.

Also, I broke out the Gloria from the “Mass for the City” for the first time. Knowing I only had about 5 Sundays to really get it in people’s heads before Lent, I took five minutes before mass to introduce some of the main themes. The pre-mass rehearsal didn’t go over very well I don’t think; I asked the choir not to sing so as not to deal with the time delay but I wound up singing solo basically. One of the great things about this church is that it’s actually quiet in the church before mass; very reverent. So I think I ticked off the congregation by taking away some of their quiet time. Duly noted . . .

I’ve axed the thanksgiving hymn for right now . . . I like the idea in principle but it wasn’t working real well in reality. Not many were singing and it was prolonging our already-lengthy liturgies. They may make a return in Easter . . .