Monday, March 24, 2008

Triduum Music

Holy Thursday--2008

Processional: Then Let us Glory in the Cross (Tietze--OLD 100th)

Kyrie: chant

Gloria: Community Mass

(Organ turned off)

Psalm: Weber

Gospel Acclamation: chant

Washing of the Feet: "A New Commandment I Give You" from By Flowing Waters

Offertory: Where Charity and Love Prevail

Euch. Accl.: chant

Communion: This is My Body--English, newly composed

O Sacrum Convivium (Polleri)

Transfer of the Holy Eucharist: Pange Lingua (chant)

As I mentioned in a previous post, our Holy Week coincided with the school's spring break, so I had limited resources. I was able to put together a small choir that did an admirable job. I did have a few folks that had little Latin exposure, so I had to do quite a bit of English to keep things manageable.

We were actually able to all the Proper texts in some form or another. The Tietze hymn is a paraphrase of the Introit text. The BFW tune was spruced up a bit by adding a couple drones in octaves to keep it interesting. "Where Charity" is an English paraphrase of "Ubi Caritas", and a fine melody to boot (I believe it's a modification of an office hymn melody, though it never gets credited as such). One of my previous student directors was kind enough to compose a re-working of "Hoc Corpus", put into English. He made it a bit more syllabic in some places, and made it easier to prepare in our short amount of rehearsal time. It's an excellent setting; I hope to modify a couple things and then (with his blessing) make it available on-line somewhere.

"O Sacrum" is a 3-part piece from the Ravenello collection over at the CMAA site. I put the tenors on the top line, basses on the bottom, and the ladies in the middle; dignified setting, and easy enough to put together in a couple short rehearsals. They did it quite well.

Good Friday--2008

Psalm: My setting, with Chabanel verses

Passion: chanted

Veneration: The Reproaches (Sacramentary refrain with Penkala Trisagion)
Adoramus te, Christe (Haugen)

Communion: O Sacred Head
Were You There

I was a bit nervous about the Passion, as I had lost my voice about a week prior. I did fine, I think, as it was at about 90% by then. My other two chanters are excellent musicians, and we didn't even have to give it a full run-through anytime prior to its performance.

I love the Sacramentary's setting of the Reproaches; the "My People" melody is very effective, and when coupled with the "Eastern-sounding" Trisagion by Gary Penkala, it's been quite moving both years that we've done it, in my opinion. The Adoramus te, Christe is Taize-like, and malleable enough to extend or shorten as the liturgical action requires. The Communion hymns were sung beautifully by the choir and the congregation from what I could tell.

(No Easter Vigil this year for a variety of reasons)

Easter Sunday--2008

Processional: Christ the Lord is Risen Today (LLANFAIR)

Kyrie: Mass for the City (Proulx)

Gloria: Community Mass

Psalm: Gelineau

Sequence: Victimae--English setting

Gospel Acclamation: O FILII ET FILIAE

Sprinkling Rite: "Springs of Water" from BFW

Offertory: Alleluia for Easter Sunday (English-set by Bruce Ford in The American Gradual)

Euch. Accl.: Community Mass

Agnus: Holy Cross Mass

Communion: "Christ Has Become . . . " (Weber)

Recessional: Jesus Christ is Risen Today (Lyra Davidica)

Only had four gents this morning, so we did mostly chant. I was a bit distracted throughout most of Mass by my overtired, whiny children (so much for a family Mass), but the "Schola" sang well and we had a nice crowd downstairs.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Lent 4, Lent 5 and Palm Sunday

Trying to catch up before I post my Triduum music . . .

Lent 4--2008

Introit: "Rejoice, Jerusalem" -- Tietze Introit hymn

Psalm: Chabanel

Offertory: Aus der tiefen from BWV 129 (J.S. Bach)

Communion: Lutum fecit (chant)

A somewhat more festive atmosphere for Laetare Sunday. I had a violinist come in for the Bach, which went surprisingly well; we had some difficulties in rehearsal, as we don't do much Baroque music and the exposed entrances were initially unsettling.

Lent 5

Introit: Judica Me

Psalm: Chabanel setting (by Arlene Oost-Zinner)

Offertory: Confitebor tibi (Lassus)

Communion: Videns Dominus (chant)
Purge Me, O Lord (Tallis)

We did the Lassus with a quartet which turned into a trio for the second half as my alto turned to the wrong page and didn't get back on until the end. : )

The Tallis is beautiful. I'm very intrigued by his music; he's clearly firmly entrenched in that 16th-century style, but he really seemed to go his own way. His treatment of dissonance is unique and fascinating.

Palm Sunday

Processional: All Glory, Laud, and Honor (ST. THEODULPH)

Psalm: Chabanel

Offertory: Improperium (English chant--Bruce Ford)

Communion: Pater, si non (English chant--Bruce Ford)

Recessional: O Sacred Head

The beginning of our spring break. I actually jumped ship to catch a performance of the Bach "St. Matthew Passion"; my cantor took the reins and did the two chants with a remnant of my males. I heard things went well!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Three nice “Ego sum panis vivus” settings

Michael Haller

Josef Surzynski

Juan Esquivel

To my surprise, this text is not part of the Mass Proper. It is the Benedictus antiphon for Lauds of Body & Blood.

The Haller, especially outside Easter season (where the “Alleluia” can suitably be omitted), would make a good “quick” choral communion motet, perhaps preceding a congregational song in parishes where congregations expect to sing at communion.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A really nice Ascension anthem

I find that Ascension is a difficult time to plan music. Very little of the standard congregational repertoire fits it well, and while there are lots of choral Psalm 47 settings, very few seem to be well-known or accessible. For exeample, RVW “O clap your hands” has 4-part male divisi. Finzi “God is gone up”, while awesome, is way beyond most parish choirs’ limited resources.

If you haven’t yet picked up this collection for your SATB church choir, you really should grab the “Sunday by Sunday II” collection from St. James Music Press. Several of the anthems in here are top-notch pieces, and you can reprint as many copies as you want for only $55.

Another such anthem is “Go Forth and Tell” by David Ogden. The theme reflects the Gospel reading (in all 3 Lectionary cycles) of going forth to baptize the world.

It teaches easily, with lots of unison and a very broad, sweeping, majestic melody.

The niggle is that there is a lot of high soprano descant in the last few pages. That could be rewritten pretty easily, though, if needs be.

“Metrics” to evaluate liturgical music and texts

I believe, based on his recent comment, that Mike J. is an engineer. :)

I think it is difficult to establish any objective criteria for evaluating many things, perhaps most, in life in general. That said, I will try to offer these as criteria for evaluating liturgical music:

(Since I really think texts and music should be evaluated separately, I am going to do so here.)

Appropriateness for performers. Does the music adequately suit the nature of the performers’ liturgical role? For congregations, this means a question of how accessible the music is and, perhaps, how memorable the melody is. With what degree of ease could a Southern Baptist, who is visiting a “papist service” for the first time, pick up and sing the music?

For choral music, this means a question of how “choral” the music is. A piece like Kendzia “Pietà” fails in this regard, IMO, because it’s all homophonic, the SATB parts are mostly a chorale, and the congregation is intended to sing part of it. In short, it’s too simple not to ask a congregation to sing it. By contrast, Berger “The Eyes of All” is also all homophonic, but its harmonic activity and range very clearly are written for a choir, not for a congregation. Likewise, most chant and polyphony are too tricky to ask an unrehearsed congregation to step in and to sing them.

Aesthetic value. How on earth do we evaluate this? I imagine every reader here would consider a good performance of Palestrina “Sicut” to be of more aesthetic worth than, say, Sr. With-it strumming a guitar and singing “Abba, Father!” But how can we demonstrate this with any objectivity - especially since there are folks out there who think Renaissance polyphony is like nails on a chalkboard and that any guitar-accompanied music is an improvement upon the “old stuff”.

That said, I do think that, if we go to extremes, there is objectivity in aesthetics. All humans, for example, would probably dislike a very loud screeching noise, for example, or a very loud chomping sound. These are things that we instinctively perceive as threats.

Certainly if we go to other senses, we find objectivity in human aesthetic judgement: facial symmetry (quoth my undergrad psych professor), sexual intercourse, ice cream .... is there anyone who would contest the idea that anyone in a normal psychological state enjoys these aesthetic experiences?

Texts are another matter. The question that I see is: do we accept as unimpeachably perfect the liturgical texts as given? In my opinion, we should not do this, but I also think more weight should be given to the chant proper texts than is currently done.

For example, an improvement on the Gospel reading for All Saints that I can see is including the last line of the Matthew Beatitudes: “For thus did they persecute the prophets who came before you.” (Hel-LOO?!?!?? All SAINTS?? Prophets???) Lucien Deiss felt that improvement could be made to the Pentecost introit, as he wrote in “Spirit and Song of the New Liturgy”. (I disagree with him that the given text is poor, but I do think other texts could work as well.)

But if one takes the tack that the currently given liturgical texts are the de facto “optimal” texts, then yes, we have some easy criteria with which to evaluate the suitability of sung texts: specifically, the closer one gets to those chant texts, either with the chant melodies or in other settings, in Latin or in translations, the better job we have done of choosing texts.


Gavin pointed out an additional concern in the comments: suitability of music and text to each other.

Many, for example, might question the somber character of the sinfonia of Bach BWV4 for Easter Sunday. Likewise, it would be strange to many people to use a bright, confident melody with, say, Brady/Tate Psalm 22. Gavin’s example of “Your Hands, O Lord, in Days of Old” to MOZART is more food for thought.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Lest we become what we behold....

The following forum thread has gotten me thinking....

ISTM that it was an act of closed-mindedness to close and sink a thread that directly deals with the “600-lb. gorilla” facing many who decry the use of Marty Haugen’s music: what, specifically, is it in the music that makes it unsuitable for the liturgy? Those few who work with “scholas” that sing for liturgies that focus overtly on tradition can avoid this, but the majority of us who grunt and sweat in average parishes need to address this issue head-on and in very intricate detail.

I am glad to be a member of CMAA because of many of the helpful (philanthropic?) endeavors that they pursue (e.g. Communio, PDF of the 1961 Liber Usualis, book reprints), but more and more I am glad that this organization remains “on the fringe”.

The current CMAA leadership sometimes appears to have no grip on the reality that those of us in average parishes face. I mean, imagine showing CMAA’s Sacred Music FAQ to Joe & Jane Catholic with 2.5 kids and a dog who enjoy singing “Here I Am, Lord” at Mass. You might reach a handful of them with a taste for the esoteric, but by and large, the “start from the ground up” approach that the FAQ uses is asking for people to ignore it. It might work with brand-new Christians, but not with very many cradle Catholics. Every good schoolteacher knows this axiom: “start with what they know”. Every good liturgical music director, too, knows to “start with what they know” when going into a new parish - even if the intent/hope is to introduce radical change eventually.

If you are ever going to critique, say, Haugen 51, there has to be some basis for that critique besides the simple, emotion-laden dismissals like “boy, I’m glad I don’t have to do this music” in the aforementioned thread. And I would also suggest that tales of the difficulty of teaching it to cantors carry little weight with those of us who have worked with many, many volunteer cantors who have little trouble singing it (and/or who have just as much trouble singing unpulsed or Gelineau psalms). Frankly, I have no empathy with the “pain” that these pieces have caused because I consider them all to be of at least decent, if not outright good, quality. (see below) Certainly none offend me.

What is desperately needed, eventually at least, is a real, unbiased engagement with the musical status quo in American parishes. What is good in it? The answer cannot be “nothing of the status quo is good; it all must be discarded.” (Nor do I think the answer can be “things are perfect as they are.”)

This relates well to Todd Flowerday’s situation. He did invite the scorn he experiences of late, and much of his criticism of Mahrt’s SttL appraisal seems unfounded to me, but I do think we need to examine, for example, with as little bias as possible, whether anything good comes from having the piano in church. Is a harp ok? If so, what if I play it by striking the strings rather than by plucking them? If so, what is the difference between that and a piano? I am of the opinion that the piano, just like the organ, can be played in ways that are sacred and in ways that are secular. (organ accompaniments to silent films, anyone?) Let us not forget that organs were BANNED in early Christian liturgy because they were secular instruments!

I am often frustrated with NPM because of the closed-mindedness I see in that organization. The Church’s rich patrimony of sacred music is relegated to the fringe; just recently have they finally added a section to deal with chant - the very music that is intrinsic to the Roman Rite! Many prominent voices in contemporary liturgical music still insist that the congregation must sing “everything”, giving no thought to the singing of dialogues and readings.

But I cannot and will not stand with people whose only expressed opinion on the music of Marty Haugen is “I’ve had such soo so much exposure to this music and am soo so glad I don’t have to deal with it.” This is an opinion that deserves to be closed and sunk, frankly, and is more harmful to liturgical music than Carey Landry’s entire oeuvre. It encourages us to close our minds and to replace thinking with simple emotion. It encourages us to sit on our laurels and not to grow. It closes us off from other people. In short, it’s not very catholic. Were I to stand with such people, I would be no better than the people who so frustrate me in NPM.

My own thoughts on the proposed list of Haugen psalm-songs:

The texts of all are just fine.

best: 51. Straightforward, simple, and pretty.

then: 33. The 3rd and 4th verses don’t “work” as well as the first two, IMO. But I do really like the deceptive motion from G to D/A in the 1st/2nd verses.

then: 22. Again, simple and straightforward. The verses’ octave leap is unnecessary, IMO, but the harmonic motion is effective throughout.

then: 34. I liked the harmony in this more some years back. The cross relation (tonic to flat-3) motive has worn on me, but overall I still think the setting is pretty good.

then: 66. What I have always liked here is the unpredictable-yet-natural harmonic motion in the refrain. The verses don’t work as well, though, IMO.

In my parish, we use Haugen psalms at communion only, and somewhat sparingly. It’s a large enough parish that 3 communion songs are usually planned, so there is a lot of need for communion music.

Lest anyone think I am some enemy of traditional liturgical music, we definitely do more Gregorian chant and polyphony than does the average parish as well. So far this year, we’ve done or planned:

Byrd “Lord, Make Me to Know Thy Ways”
Anerio “Ave maris stella” (chant/polyphony alternatim)
all 7 O antiphons
Farrant “Lord, For Thy Tender Mercy’s Sake”
Lenten communions: Visionem, Qui biberit (2nd melody), Lutum, Videns
Mandatum & Si ego foot-washing antiphons
Pange lingua (Aquinas)
Crucem tuam
my Reproaches setting (incorporates the “Hagios” lines from the Gregorian)
Palestrina “Sicut cervus” (we did “Sitivit” last year)
Pascha nostrum communion
Victimae sequence
Viadana “Exsultate justi”
Veni sequence
Veni creator
Byrd Ave verum

And last year, many of the aboves plus:
Anerio Miserere
Palestrina “Sitivit anima mea” (2nd part of “Sicut cervus”)
C. Rossini “Improperium exspectavit”
Duruflé “Ubi caritas”
two more foot washing antiphons
Tallis “If Ye Love Me”
Aichinger “Confirma hoc, Deus”

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Lent 3--Year A

Lent 3--Year A

Processional: Oculi (chant)

Kyrie: chant--my arrangement

Psalm: Chabanel

GA: Proulx w/choral verse

Offertory: Iustitiae--Rossini (male quartet)

Communio: Qui biberit (chant)
Like as the Hart (Howells)

The Introit for this week is a long one. We axed the verse and the repetition of the antiphon since the priest was raring to go by the end of the first antiphon. My men (who are singing these for Lent) are discovering that the Introit is definitely more of a challenge than the Communio.

This is one of the rare weeks that we got to do all the processional Propers. The Iustitiae is a homophonic arrangement of the Offertory set for TTBB. I'm so torn about some of this music written around let's say 50-70 years ago. It's not Palestrina by any means, but it's turning into a guilty pleasure. This particular motet has some good part-writing and an extended harmonic vocabulary. I know, I know, I'm supposed to shun this stuff . . .

We used the easier melody for the Communio. The choir sang it well though we cut it somewhat short to fit in the Howells. Like as is one of my favorites; truly a wonderful setting of the text. It's not hard, but I always underestimate the time it takes to really do justice to the setting. I had to axe the descant since I only had one soprano on Wednesday (had 3 on Sunday for the actual performance). The only drawback to the piece is that the altos are twiddling their thumbs most of the time. Despite a little "hairiness" in the pre-Mass rehearsal, it really came off well for Mass.