Wednesday, March 12, 2008

“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.


EDIT:

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.

38 Comments:

At Wednesday, March 12, 2008 9:57:00 PM, Blogger Mike said...

Cantor,
before trying to address these thoughts of yours, I can't help but notice your emphasis on the word "performance".

Why performers? Is it a show?

I bring it up because I think there *are* objective criteria that can be discerned but they require a bit more radical thinking about the nature of liturgy and worship. Criteria that go deeper than, "can group A sing it" and "is it pretty".

As for altering the texts - I think this is already a problem with the modern selection of songs. It is the same thinking behind "gender neutral" language. On this count, I think obedience to the hierarchy is the only sound choice.

Peace,
Mike

P.S. yes, my formal training is in science and engineering. But part of the evaluation of scientific arguments is noticing the assumptions underlying those arguments and evaluating how valid they are. In this respect I hope to be able to think about more than just science and engineering.

 
At Wednesday, March 12, 2008 10:01:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...

Mike,

Fr. Ruff defends the use of the term “performers” in his book.

Feel free to offer thoughts on the objective evaluation of liturgical music.

I am not speaking of altering texts. I am asking a different (IMO, deeper) question about whether the given texts are always the best ones, esp. when the rubrics permit substitution of other texts.

I also have a bit of a background in engineering. My first job out of undergrad was actually doing web programming.

 
At Thursday, March 13, 2008 10:07:00 AM, Anonymous Alice said...

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

Why? This is not the way that the Church deals with liturgical music in her documents.

According to Pope Pius X, its principal office is to clothe with suitable melody the liturgical text proposed for the understanding of the faithful. (Tra la sollectudini)

Pope Pius XII says as much when he writes in Musicae Sacrae 43: This chant [Gregorian chant], because of the close adaptation of the melody to the sacred text, is not only most intimately conformed to the words, but also in a way interprets their force and efficacy and brings delight to the minds of the hearers.

Finally, Sacrosanctum Concilium says the following:
112.The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as sacred song united to the words, [the musical tradition] forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn Liturgy.

In my musicology and literature classes, I have never known anyone to separate text and music for very long either. Usually, students are warned against it, lest, like Marcel Dupre, we take a hymn of reverent joy (Christ lag in todesbanden) and turn it into a Good Friday dirge.

As such, I argue that the primary standard for judging liturgical music should be whether or not the melody is a fit vehicle for the liturgically appropriate text.

I agree that it is important to think about who is actually doing the singing; however, you might want to realize that calling something simple which a congregation can sing "non-choral" music is demeaning to the large number of small choir directors (Catholic and Protestant) who want something that a poorly trained choir can sound good singing. You may also want to watch the word "performer" since it often denotes a person who would take away from the Holy Sacrifice for his/her own vanity.

I agree that there can be some objective criteria applied to aesthetics, but you haven't named any that apply to liturgical music. If I were to argue my reasons for choosing "Sicut" over "Abba Father" in the liturgy, they would be the following. 1) "Abba Father"'s text is lacking. 2) "Sicut" grows out of centuries of Western liturgical tradition. 3) Palestrina has been held up as a model of proper liturgical aesthetic.

If we're talking about what I listen to in my car, I'll probably choose "Abba Father".

 
At Thursday, March 13, 2008 12:18:00 PM, Blogger Dad29 said...

I'll second Alice.

The principal consideration is text--either the specified one or (in some cases) a "suitable" alternative.

THEN one determines how well the music illuminates, or illustrates, the text.

The former is a judgment largely made by the Church (with a little discretion for composers, presumably writing in the proper spirit.)

The latter is a judgment made by a well-trained musician, also operating in the proper spirit.

Given the amount of music (from very simple to very complex) available for almost ANY text, the final consideration is 'who's gonna sing this'?

 
At Thursday, March 13, 2008 1:46:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...

Alice,

Text and music are indeed separate in the Roman liturgical tradition; otherwise, there would not be so many disparate settings of, say, the Gloria.

As such, I argue that the primary standard for judging liturgical music should be whether or not the melody is a fit vehicle for the liturgically appropriate text.

This is what I mean by the separateness of music and text: the text is (traditionally) a given, whereas the music is variable.

I am further questioning whether the given liturgical processional texts are the best ones - but again, that does not negate the above point of the separateness of music and text.

You may also want to watch the word "performer" since it often denotes a person who would take away from the Holy Sacrifice for his/her own vanity.

Please read my previous comment in response to Mike J.’s making a similar observation. I tend to believe that good liturgical music makes it pragmatically difficult for any one person to “steal the show”.

“Sicut” and “Abba, Father” are an apple and an orange: the first is for a choir, and the second is for a congregation (and poorly written for being so).

 
At Thursday, March 13, 2008 1:50:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...

Dad29,

Given the amount of music (from very simple to very complex) available for almost ANY text, the final consideration is 'who's gonna sing this'?

Not necessarily. The liturgy assigns roles for certain songs; for example, the thanksgiving after communion at Mass and the song of commendation/farewell at a funeral are both specifically designated as congregational song. This effectively proscribes, for example, a choral “Ave verum” (as a thanksgiving piece) or the difficult commendation responsories of the Roman Gradual.

 
At Thursday, March 13, 2008 1:51:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...

In addition, the choice of settings often is based on who will sing it.

If we really want, for example, the congregation to sing the Latin introit proper texts, Rossini psalm tones would be a good choice - probably a better pragmatic choice than the Gregorian melodies.

Depending on how much freedom a parish exercises, a metrical vernacular paraphrase of the introit text could also work.

 
At Thursday, March 13, 2008 1:54:00 PM, Blogger Mike said...

Cantor,
Citing Fr. Ruff and expecting the case to be closed is not exactly a knock-out argument. I don't have his book nor had I even heard of him prior to your mention, but maybe you could summarize his arguments for us.
-Mike

 
At Thursday, March 13, 2008 2:48:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...

Mike,

Fr. Ruff was one of the framers of SttL and is the head of NPM’s chant section. He’s a name to know.

He basically says that it’s a knee-jerk reaction when people dismiss the term “perform” in a liturgical context. The music certainly is “performed”, so it is sensible to refer to those who “perform” it as “performers”.

Not unlike how, although the USCCB doesn’t want us to call baptized Protestants who enter fully into the Church “converts”, they certainly are “converting” from being non-Catholics to being Catholics.

 
At Thursday, March 13, 2008 2:58:00 PM, Blogger Mike said...

"He basically says that it’s a knee-jerk reaction when people dismiss the term “perform” in a liturgical context. The music certainly is “performed”, so it is sensible to refer to those who “perform” it as “performers”."

Is that all the argument is?

 
At Thursday, March 13, 2008 3:12:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...

That’s the gist of it. I don’t have the time to quote it word-for-word.

There isn’t much argument against the term that I know of, either....

 
At Thursday, March 13, 2008 4:31:00 PM, Blogger Mike said...

Did that comment get eaten?

 
At Thursday, March 13, 2008 4:54:00 PM, Blogger Mike said...

apparently it did get eaten.
here's a second try

I would suggest that a distinction should be made between prayer and performance. Performance, as the dictionary can tell us, is carrying out an action. It is geared toward achievement of the goal – technical excellence is a focus because of this. Prayer is a specific type of performance because it's goal is not merely the carrying out of an action, but the carrying out of a specific action: communication. So the focus is not technical excellence, but the communication itself, the content of that communication. Which is not to say that technical excellence isn't part of it, but that it has become secondary.

Why is this distinction important?

The reason is that one can perform actions, such as singing a hymn and have no relation with the internal thoughts and meaning of the performer. This is the problem that Pharisees had in the Gospels: all style, no substance. They were white washed tombs full of corruption. All the while, a prayer may be performed all fine and well. Not that this is always the case, but it is permissible within the semantic range of the word.

Praying, on the other hand, carries with it the interior meaning of the exterior actions: the communication, since that is the primary focus. One can't PRAY and NOT mean the prayer. One can perform the prayer, and not mean the prayer, but the same can't be said of praying the prayer.

So, when one says that a prayer is PRAYED, it means that the interior action of the individual or group conform to the exterior words. It is just part of what the word means. The same cannot be said of the situation when a prayer is performed. The interior action of the individual or group is not assumed by the meaning of the word, only the exterior actions. This is why I think the emphasis on prayer over performance is useful.

Thoughts?
-Mike J.

 
At Thursday, March 13, 2008 9:57:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...

One can't PRAY and NOT mean the prayer. One can perform the prayer, and not mean the prayer, but the same can't be said of praying the prayer.

This, and all of the other commentary you make, is true, but ISTM that whether one means the prayer or not, one does at least “perform” the music.

But yes, overuse of the term could lend itself to forgetting that this “performance” is meant with a higher goal. In truth, that is what I love about what I do - that the music we sing is not “on display” but is really a part of people’s lives. We hear Psalm 42 really in connection with actual baptisms, not just in a glass case sung by a choir with applause afterward.

 
At Thursday, March 13, 2008 10:28:00 PM, Blogger Alice said...

Cantor, you're the one that put text dead last on your list of things to evaluate. How am I supposed to know that you put any value on how the text relates to the music if you never mention it? Also, you're the one that started comparing "Sicut" and "Abba Father".

Mike, I've never heard of Father Ruff either. I also agree that there is a huge distinction between praying and performing.

 
At Thursday, March 13, 2008 11:03:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...

Alice,

I meant to put texts as the 2nd of two equally important things to consider.

 
At Thursday, March 13, 2008 11:36:00 PM, Blogger Mike said...

Cantor,
I think this is the very attitude that lead to a call for reform at Vatican 2. Priests and laity alike were performing liturgy. It was felt that few were actually praying the liturgy.

This gets back to the original topic: what makes for criteria in picking music.

1) Official texts are given pre-eminence. Praying Twice has, on other occasions, given arguments that the GIRM is set up to show a clear order of preference in what music is to be sung at the liturgy. Sure, it *allows* other things but we're trying to come at the ideal model; not fall into some legalistic argument over what we can get away with.

The Church has given texts: the Propers of the Mass. Those are what is to be prayed.

Note also: The Church has two languages: Latin and the vernacular. That means there's a musical need for both.

Gregorian chant is optimal because it respects the texts given (it IS the text given). I would say that polyphony is only acceptable in-so-far as it respects those texts. Modern composition would only be acceptable in-so-far as it respects the translation and original.

This is just one criteria, and is probably enough to discuss for the moment. I think, however, that the prayer/performance distinction illustrates why difficulty isn't near the top of the list, in my opinion.

-Mike J.

 
At Friday, March 14, 2008 12:21:00 PM, Blogger Dad29 said...

for example, the thanksgiving after communion at Mass and the song of commendation/farewell at a funeral are both specifically designated as congregational song.

Citation? And please--don't cite USCC docs (or facsimiles thereof.)

 
At Friday, March 14, 2008 12:23:00 PM, Blogger Dad29 said...

If we really want, for example, the congregation to sing the Latin introit proper texts...

Never contemplated by any Vatican document.

Unlike the "interpreters" of VatII's Doc on Liturgy, the Vatican always preserved a place for a schola (and well-trained choir.)

 
At Friday, March 14, 2008 12:52:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...

Dad29,

Musicam sacram §33 and De musica sacra §25c & §31d all mention the congregation’s singing of the Proper, with MS specifically encouraging it.

 
At Friday, March 14, 2008 12:55:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...

Dad29,

To answer your other question, GIRM 88 describes the song after communion specifically as being sung by the entire congregation without giving liberty for it to be sung otherwise.

 
At Friday, March 14, 2008 12:57:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...

Mike,

Another point came to me this morning: all three of the following scenarios are possible:

pray and perform
pray, but don’t perform
don’t pray, but perform

The first is what we hope is going on whenever someone sings in the liturgy.

The second is what we want to happen with the congregation when the choir sings alone.

The third is what we hope never happens!

ISTM that there is a need for some term to denote the physical execution of liturgical song. IMO, “perform” is the most natural choice, but I suppose “execute” could be used, too...

 
At Friday, March 14, 2008 1:12:00 PM, Anonymous Gavin said...

I have to jump on the bandwagon as well; you really could have mentioned suitability of the text to the music. Look at WLP's hymnal setting of "Your Hands, O Lord, in Days of Old" set to MOZART. You're singing about leprosy to a jumpy happy tune. That's bad.

I think I agree on all of your criteria. Especially your point about the proper texts. Sometimes maybe a hymn paraphrase of the proper chant DOES have advantages that the chant does not.

 
At Friday, March 14, 2008 1:14:00 PM, Anonymous Gavin said...

And while I understand the negative connotations of "perform", "pray" doesn't cut it in this discussion. There are actions in the liturgy. Those actions are performed, by one person or group or another person or group.

 
At Friday, March 14, 2008 1:39:00 PM, Blogger Mike said...

Cantor,
I had a different set of ideas surrounding prayer and performance, though I think there is a different distinction in recent Church documents that get at the distinction you are suggesting.

First, the way I broke it down, prayer is a specific type of performance. That is, prayer is always carrying out an action (to perform or execute). Prayer is distinguished from general performance in its end: communication. All prayer is the performance of an action, but not all performance is prayer.

Recent documents have started making a distinction between interior and exterior participation (sometimes active and passive is used, but this has certain connotations as well). This is best seen when the Church tells people to actively participate in the prayers of consecration, though it is not appropriate for the laity to actually *speak* the words along with the priest. How does this work? One distinguishes vocal prayer and silent prayer because of this. That is, prayer is always being carried out (the communication), but in the one case it's an interior act and the other has the interior act AND an exterior expression. I think the distinction I make above holds up, but there is truth in separating interior and exterior participation.

Gavin,
Implied in your statement is a somewhat narrow view of prayer, in my opinion. That is, that there has to be words or text carried with an action to be prayer. Now, aside from the fact that pretty much every action (all of them?) by the priest has a “secret” prayer carried along with it, actions carried out during the liturgy carry ideas with them which form the basis of prayer. An example can demonstrate this:

Take, for instance, a profound bow approaching the altar during liturgy. There aren't specified words or prayers for this action, though it is true that it is performed. However, there is a meaning entailed in the action: respect for the holiness of the sanctuary. The idea is communicated through the external action of the bow. In this way, the action is a prayer because it communicates the idea... though certainly, retaining the distinction made above, the bow could become mere performance if that respect is not part of the interior response of the person making it.

Because of this, there is no area of the liturgy that can't be PRAYED. (in a side note, this also means that there is no area of life that can't also be PRAYER).

Regards,
Mike J.

 
At Friday, March 14, 2008 2:05:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...

Gavin,

Good point - editing the post.

Mike,

That’s a very good way, I think, to look at life: that all of life can be prayer.

Still, though, we need terminology to discuss the physical realities of liturgical action: walking, standing, processing, singing, speaking...ISTM that “perform” is no more out of place in discussing liturgical action than those terms are.

 
At Friday, March 14, 2008 2:43:00 PM, Anonymous Gavin said...

Mike, I'm pretty much defending the term "perform" in this context. I certainly wouldn't write in the bulletin that the congregation should "perform" the Entrance Hymn. For the most part all I'm saying (I'm not sure about Cantor) is that we don't need to argue about Cantor's use of the term "performer" to refer to those who vocally pray (or however you want to put it) the part in the liturgy.

Speaking of which, let me introduce another metric for consideration: the suitability of the music for prayer. This should count as a common sense judgment, as should text and music agreeing, but so long as we're being comprehensive I think it should be included. That is, is the piece going to foster prayer in those who don't perform it as well as those who do vocally pray it? (does that phrasing work?) One might point to a lot of Bob Hurd stuff. Fun music, but does it contribute to prayer? Is it relevant to the action of the sacrifice? Likewise, is something "too high" for anyone to even try to comprehend it as prayer? I'm not talking about dumbing anything down: in terms of organ music maybe some Dupre might be rather advanced for much of the congregation, but the exposure and context will help it as prayer. On the other hand, Messiaen might just be going too far.

 
At Friday, March 14, 2008 10:48:00 PM, Blogger Mike said...

Gavin,
you write that much of this is an argument over semantics. I agree with that somewhat. However, I think there is a very general tendency to focus on externalities (especially in liturgical music) and leave behind consideration of the movements of one's heart. I say this largely looking at the criticisms from the more traditional crowd who look at Sr. With-It with her guitar and dismiss her music as the equivalent to ugly or the like. Sure, that may be true, but that's also just a matter of aesthetics. No one has asked whether the good sister is giving true worship to God or not and what does “true worship” really entail? Hence: by what do we judge music especially separating music for liturgy from general worship music? The “to pray” verb which is given above, I think, keeps in mind both the external reality and internal focus and avoid what I think has been deficient from the criticisms I've seen in the past. Though if this is really a stumbling stone, I'll just have to let it be taken or dropped depending on the place a person is right now.

Which brings me to your metric: how does one judge what fosters prayer? To be sure, we all WANT to foster prayer, but does this not tend toward aesthetics again, for which, well... as they say... there's no accounting for taste. I do appreciate that music can be too low as well as too high, but I'm not sure this makes for a discerning metric. Can we add to it?

As a counterpoint, let me suggest a different metric in addition to adherence to text: Is it a development on the music the Church has given us, or is it a novelty? Not to say novel ideas are right out, but I'd suggest lending more weight to something with more history behind it. The idea is simple: the Church has been praying the liturgy far longer than of us, why aren't we paying more attention to it (or : If it was good enough for St. Thomas Aquinas, it's good enough for me!)? The Church's music for the liturgy is Gregorian chant, how does this get appropriated to the text in the vernacular? Why, oh why, we didn't see even an attempt at this until maybe the last decade is beyond my wits. Here I'm thinking of Fr. Weber's project in transforming the Gregorian Propers into the English language and a few other projects like the Mundelein Psalter. If chant is the natural means of entering into the prayer of the Church, why the heck aren't we chanting more?

Allow me to be a bit bolder and lay my cards out: I'd go so far as to suggest that we shouldn't just take the organ (or any other instrument beside the human voice) as a given in this discussion. As I mentioned in the other thread, if the liturgy has needed reform for longer than Vatican 2 (or 1 or Trent even), then it just makes the reform more serious, not less because the “deformities” have been around longer. I put this idea out not to say I'm fixed on the idea of “no-instruments” in the Latin tradition (I'll be honest though: I lean in that direction), but that I think this is something that should be given serious thought about WHY instruments are ok and helpful to the liturgy and the answer to THAT question should help inform the answers we give about the liturgy today. This is also why I don't think a “free-pass” should be given to polyphony for use in English liturgy. What makes it acceptable? As development of the Gregorian chant, I can see this since it is based on the Propers from what I can see. How can we call this appropriate to an English liturgy? I don't mean this as polemic, but these are the real questions, in my opinion.

Peace (or: let the flames begin),
Mike

 
At Saturday, March 15, 2008 8:29:00 PM, Blogger Alice said...

I'm not Gavin, but I'll take a stab at your questions.

No one has asked whether the good sister is giving true worship to God or not and what does “true worship” really entail?

I think we need to make a distinction between public and private worship here. Public worship consists in the liturgies and the administration of the sacraments. These are the ways that God has asked to be worshiped so we have a duty to worship Him in through the liturgy. The elements of this public worship have been handed down to us from the Apostles. It's nice when we "get something out of" public worship, but there is a duty to participate, even when we subjectively “get nothing out of” it.

Private worship (or private devotion) is different. It consists in the things we do to further our personal relationship with God. There are many, many different ways, both personal and communal, to take part in private devotions. For some, it can be a Taize service or a Praise and Worship evening, for others, it might be a Rosary group or a daily walk in the park with God. While it is safe to say that we have a duty to take part in some kind of private worship, we may choose what works for us based on our personalities and where we are in our faith journey.

Some people, often poorly trained in liturgy, seem to get confused as to what is proper for the liturgy and what is acceptable and even laudable for private devotion. Much of the music that we have added to the liturgy (especially Low Mass) in the last two hundred years or so began as devotional music in the oratory or for processions and pilgrimages. To get back to the original question, Sister (with her guitar) may be very sincerely trying to worship, but objectively, what she's doing is improper, in the context of the Mass.

Hence: by what do we judge music especially separating music for liturgy from general worship music?

Pope St. Pius X once said, “Do not pray at Mass, pray the Mass.” I think this can be modified to, “Do not sing at Mass, sing the Mass.” The metric here is, I believe, how close our singing comes to singing the Mass that the Church has given us for the day. For instance, “Praise to the Lord” may make a good opening hymn for a Sunday when the Antiphon is “Praise the Lord....” It is rather inappropriate for the opening hymn for Grandma's funeral. The best idea would be to sing both the Propers and the Ordinaries, but for various reasons this can only be approximated in most situations.

Which brings me to your metric: how does one judge what fosters prayer? (snip) I do appreciate that music can be too low as well as too high, but I'm not sure this makes for a discerning metric. Can we add to it?

If the music takes away from the liturgy, it is not fostering prayer. For instance, singing “Immaculate Mary” every Sunday at Offertory (yes, this has actually happened), does not foster liturgical prayer. If the polyphony is so dense that one cannot make out a word (think some pre-Trent polyphony such as Mouton's Nesciens Mater), then it is not fostering liturgical prayer. If the congregation hears only how beautiful the soprano's voice is, the music is not fostering liturgical prayer.

Is it a development on the music the Church has given us, or is it a novelty?
I agree.

The Church's music for the liturgy is Gregorian chant, how does this get appropriated to the text in the vernacular?

Luther and Cramner might give us some ideas for starters.

If chant is the natural means of entering into the prayer of the Church, why the heck aren't we chanting more?

Good question. I have a few hypotheses, but no theories.

As far as the place of instruments and polyphony in the Latin liturgy are concerned, you seem to be making the big mistake of considering everything suspect. If you are concerned about “deformities” in the liturgy, why not throw out the “Te Deum” and the “Gloria” along with the organ a la Calvin? Or, go even farther, and not allow any singing except for Psalms in private as another reformer did? Considering things that have been part of the Latin liturgy for over 1000 years and have received the blessing of several Councils and many popes suspect is a bit bold, IMHO. As to why the organ receives special mention, I think reading the documents makes that clear. (The organ can help support singing due to its ability to play multiple notes and its lack of die-away.) Polyphony itself grew naturally out of Gregorian chant.

How can we call this appropriate to an English liturgy?

What's an English liturgy? Isn't it a Latin Rite liturgy that happens to make (some) use of the vernacular (in this case, English)? Gregorian chant is the chant proper to the Latin liturgy, whether it be in an English speaking country or the Vatican.

 
At Monday, March 17, 2008 2:07:00 AM, Blogger Mike said...

Alice,
The questions were meant generally, though there were some points I was specifically addressing from Gavin's post. No matter who answers, it's carrying on the discussion.

I heartily agree in the distinction of private/public devotion, for which I have generally applied the terms "general worship music" and "liturgical music" though, I'm sure, there are other terms for it as well. I also agree that there is an objectivity in the liturgy which we may or may not subjectively experience, but (thank God) it happens whether I'm zoning out or not.

Here's the tension that arises in your next point: that St. Pius X tells us to pray the Mass even while we are not obligated to subjectively enter into it. I think what much of the liturgical conversation has revolved around since V2 is how to appropriately resolve this tension.

How does the liturgist foster Prayer? Also, in whom is the Prayer fostered? As we can see in the present liturgical landscape of the West, not everyone agrees on all the developments and I would suggest that things added as recently as 200 years ago (your low Mass comment) could be included for consideration. While I'm finding Thomas Day's book infuriating on several levels, his consistent use of "the people" (complete with scare quotes) is quite on target making the question rather broad.

So, where is the line drawn for what to consider? I raise the issue of instruments generally because I fear the day when the juice-harp band wants to help celebrate Mass. After all, if the argument is that the organ helps support singing, the juice harp could provide a pitch just as well as anything else and a juice-harp virtuoso could rapidly play arpeggio accompaniment to my favorite Palestrina and effect a sort of running instrumental line that would be both beautiful and terrible to behold!

What argument denies the juice-harp pride of place in the liturgy except that inconvenient age requirement which we shall (arbitrarily) set 2 centuries ago?

As per your final answer to what the English liturgy is... well, is that what it is? Is it holding the Latin alongside the English, is it complete vernacular use throughout? Is it a far more limited use of English that is currently used? If the answer is that chant is proper to the Latin liturgy, why do we even consider polyphony or modern composition at all, we have the Answer already! Or, should use of the vernacular look more like the manner the Eastern Churches have executed it? I lean toward the idea of a whole, integrated and seamless liturgy so it would look far more Eastern than the... "eclectic creation" that is typical today. Since much of ideas for the liturgical reform were, ostensibly, based on looking East, is that an off-base model?

Regards,
Mike J.

 
At Monday, March 17, 2008 8:26:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Citation?"

You've all missed the #1 citation. Look it up in thr rubrics. Liturgical law is more than the documentation given in Rome or wherever.

The apples/oranges conmparisons slay me. It's like trying to prove hockey is superior to basketball by comparing the Canadiens to my parish school's 5th grade basketball team.

If you're comparing games, seek equal level. If you're comparing relative skill of the athletes, find the same level. (If you're going to compare Sicut to Abba Father, at least find music people are still doing.

One last observation on the original post: you're applying the Three Judgments quite well. Appropriateness = pastoral; Aesthetic = musical; Texts = liturgical. Well done.

Todd

 
At Monday, March 17, 2008 12:18:00 PM, Blogger Dad29 said...

GIRM 88 describes the song after communion specifically as being sung by the entire congregation without giving liberty for it to be sung otherwise.

Really?

121. Afterward the priest may return to the chair. A period of silence may now be observed, or a hymn of praise or a psalm may be sung

You see "...the Faithful" in there?

Yes, it is encouraged in another section of GIRM.

 
At Monday, March 17, 2008 12:22:00 PM, Blogger Dad29 said...

As to the Propers: Musicam Sacram is subject to the general requirements of the Doc/Liturgy, which specifically states that Gregorian Chant gets "pride of place"--meaning that it should not be ditched in favor of congregational propers-singing.

The seeming contradiction is not surprising--see the multiple internal contradictions in the new Bishops' document on music in the US.

 
At Monday, March 17, 2008 12:33:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...

Dad29,

Your quote from GIRM 121 appears to be from the 1975 GIRM, not the current one. GIRM §121 in the current GIRM reads: “During the procession to the altar, the Entrance chant takes place (cf. above, nos. 47-48).”

Even that notwithstanding, the section of the 1975 GIRM that you quote explicitly references the section of the GIRM that specifies this song to be congregational.

I certainly don’t disagree that there is a substantial “internal tension” in a document that repeats the pride of place of GC in the liturgy but that encourages congregational singing of same, which is not a very congregation-friendly genre of music. Particularly in the case of the processional chants (En/Of/Co), there seems to me to be a strong case for opting for choral singing at those moments at least some of the time.

 
At Monday, March 17, 2008 1:55:00 PM, Blogger Dad29 said...

And one might add this pithy remark regarding the faithful singing everything in sight:

Cardinal Ratzinger wrote an entire book, The Spirit of the Liturgy, to explode this anthropocentric, community-obsessed view of liturgy. In his writings, he actually said of this perspective, that liturgy is all about maximizing the singing of the congregation, is "insipid pedagogic rationalism."

Rationalism, indeed...

 
At Monday, March 17, 2008 2:08:00 PM, Blogger Dad29 said...

After all is said and done, either there IS or there is NOT a reason to maintain and encourage "scholas" and "choirs."

If the general principles of the DocLit/VatII are to be believed, then the Proper chants should be sung by scholas. Your observation that Chant propers are not 'congregation-friendly' is likely the understatement of the year.)

And your practice of using a 4-part choir ALSO comports with DocLit/VatII guidelines.

I'm acquainted with a priest who was a Vatican insider for a while, and who is a very reputable liturgical scholar. He has often said that large chunks of Roman instructions since 1965 (or so) were written by people with an agenda inconsistent with (or flatly incompatible with) genuine liturgical tradition and even with genuine liturgical reform.

It is clear that B-16, who was an active participant at VatII, thinks that this is the case, too; he has been very outspoken about that, and his actions speak even louder than his words.

My own modus operandi has been to look at liturgy documents in light of PiusX's/Pius XII's writings and instructions. If the docs cannot be reconciled with the writings of those two Popes, I choose those of the Popes.

In that regard it is very important to understand that BOTH of those Popes were very much "reformers." But they were not revolutionaries. Pius X laid the groundwork for Pius XII's explicit admission of orchestral instruments to the Mass, and for women singing in parish choirs--not to mention the "Participation Mass," a major expansion of the part of the Faithful.

However, some later documents took that train of thought and action and basically ran it off the cliff; thus the seeming (actually, REAL) contradictions.

In that case, one is obliged to take seriously the previous 100, 300, or 500 years' teachings in preference to those of 30 or less years ago...

 
At Monday, March 17, 2008 3:10:00 PM, Blogger HilbertAstronaut said...

It's interesting that no one seemed to pick up on Cantor's statement here: "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?"

I remember walking into a Ukrainian-Rite parish on New Year's Day on year and enjoying a >2-hour Divine Liturgy. Despite being completely sleep-deprived, and the congregation singing in harmony (!) in Ukrainian, I was perfectly able to get something out of the singing (>95% of every vocalized word was sung) and even join in a little bit after a while.

Wouldn't it be nice to assume some musical understanding on the part of our parishes' visitors, rather than dumb down the music for them? And isn't part of the great attraction of high liturgy its very non-ordinariness?

Another comment: remember that "Gregorian chant" is a historical construct. I love it and sing it a lot. It's proper to the Roman Rite, but it's also a product of history, and even some spotted history (witness the loss of the Mozarabic chant tradition, the struggles of the Milanese to preserve their unique and ancient Ambrosian Rite, and Charlemagne's imposition of the Roman Rite on his Christian subjects on pain of death).

 
At Monday, March 17, 2008 5:25:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's hard to take seriously an argument tainted by caricature:

"I'm acquainted with a priest who was a Vatican insider for a while, and who is a very reputable liturgical scholar. He has often said that large chunks of Roman instructions since 1965 (or so) were written by people with an agenda inconsistent with (or flatly incompatible with) genuine liturgical tradition and even with genuine liturgical reform."

Would this insider put Musicam Sacram in this claim also? The documents in question are all available to be read. We spent a good part of the last several months on my blog looking at them in detail.

I think one can call to the table misapplications and misunderstandings of this documentation. The Catholic would be obliged to think the better of his or her adversaries, lacking any real proof of malice.

"In that case, one is obliged to take seriously the previous 100, 300, or 500 years' teachings in preference to those of 30 or less years ago..."

In its turn. REad the rubrics of the rites first, I would counsel. Then go to the instructions accompanying these rites. Then go to the documents. The proof-texting of documentation to catch the adversary in a gotcha! moment is unbecoming.

Todd

 

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