Skip to comments.Five Problems, Five Solutions (Catholic Caucus)
Posted on 04/05/2010 4:09:27 PM PDT by Desdemona
After years of observing the Catholic music scene, particular as it affects the liturgical life of the Church, I think I can narrow down the most pressing problems of our time. The good news is that all five problem have answers that are readily at hand. For this reason, we all have cause for being extremely hopeful.
1. Musicians do not have a model, much less ideals, in mind. Catholic musicians are very sincere people who aspire to do research so that they can do their jobs well. They order book after book and read many official documents. And yet even after this, the music they sing in Mass seems like a big blur. They pick a Mass setting, some hymns, and slog their way through various small bits but otherwise have little understanding of the structure of what they are doing.
The best solution for these people is to break down all the things they sing during the course of a Mass and classify them as: ordinary, propers, and dialogues. They need to come to recognize that their hymns are substitutes for propers, that they need a stable and predictable model for dealing with dialogues, and that the ordinary of the Mass, which is changing, involves only a narrow set of music. Understanding this would go a long way toward stabilizing and eventually solemnizing the liturgy.
As a second step, musicians need to come to realize that in every case, there are ideal solutions to all these musical questions. That ideal is found in the chant tradition in general and the Roman Gradual in particular. Many musicians would be amazed to discover that they are singing nothing but substitutes for the music that the Church has given us long ago to sing at Mass! This understanding would be a major step in the right direction.
2. The music resources in the typical parish are nothing short of pathetic. Every weeks, I'm reminded of this when I attempt to sing a regular hymn and discover that the words in the missalette are different from the choral books from which the choir is singing. Sometimes whole verses are missing. The Psalms that mainstream Catholic publishers are pushing are a mere shadow of genuine Christian Psalm singing. The arrangements range from bad to ghastly, pointlessly changed from traditional arrangements only so that the music can be recopyrighted. The missalettes even leave out sequences and important chants for Holy Week. Believe me, this short summary only scratches the surface. The resources available today for Catholic musicians are a grave embarrassment. The worst nightmare of any Catholic musician is to have a Presbyterian or Episcopal friend visit the loft and see what we are using!
Here I can only praise the glories of digital media. On the internet, we can find all that we need to displace and replace the whole of this garbage cluttering up the pews and the loft. There are Psalms. There are free propers in English and Latin. There are free settings for the ordinary chants in English and Latin. There are tens of thousands of motets and other pieces. There are tutorials and sound files and more. It is all 100% freed. It is really incredible. Now, to be sure, you have to know something of what you are doing to make your way around the resources. We are all working together now to make all this material more accessible. The time will come. In any case, this is the source of our salvation.
3. The musical competence within the typical parish is shockingly low. Many parishes of 500 families have only a few people who know how to read music at all. Among them, very few are willing to commit to singing every week or volunteering to direct. As a result, many parishes lack even the personnel to begin a serious sacred music program.
I can't speak to how matters were before the great meltdown of the 1960s but it is fact, undeniable, that musical competence was depreciated after the Council. Many people came to believe, during the great folk movement, that competence was a bad thing that prevented people from creating art from the heart. You know the old story. Anyway, we are stuck with the results. The mass of Catholics can't find their way around a four-part hymn. Musical notation is Greek to them.
Fortunately, chant can be sung without formal training in musical notation. Often it is best sung by amateurs who care. Above all, sacred music requires a king of humility. People without training are more adept at humility simply because they have spirits that are more teachable. It's not that a lack of technical competence is a good thing, but I do think that Catholic music is not thereby shut off to them. In fact, to begin in ignorance is not necessarily a disaster. We can work around this and turn it to an advantage.
Another important element here: children's choirs. This must never be overlooked.
4. Catholics lack of a universal song. This problem shows up not just between countries but between parishes and even within parishes. The early morning Mass is traditional. The mid-morning Mass is adult contemporary. The evening Masses are divided between student populations. And so on. And none use the music you hear at any other Mass. It is the Tower of Babel. We are divided and fractured, and sometimes out of necessity to keep the peace.
But clearly this will not do for the long term. We need a universal Catholic song, and the answer here is clear: there is only one viable body of music to claim this mantle and that is chant. It is the music that can brings us all together. It is the music of the rite itself, and its style knows no demographic or period of time. It has lasted and lasted, as much as a thousand years with a tradition that stretches back perhaps three thousand years. It will be around long after we are all dead. By singing it, we are becoming part of something larger than our own generation. We help link the past with the future. It makes our musical efforts mean something. Then we can actually come together as a parish or even as Catholics from all nations and sing together.
5. The final problem involves orientation and I do not just mean the orientation of the altar, though that is a symptom. We need to make a decision here. Is Mass by and for the people or is Mass by and for God? There is a crucial difference here. If we are properly oriented to God, turning toward the Lord must be a pervasive action and activity not only of the celebrant but of everyone and everything. We become less demanding that our needs are met by happy clappy music. With a proper orientation, the people will demand music for prayer, and prayer will become our main need. This, after all, is what liturgy is all about: removing us from our mundane fixation on our earthly needs to prepare us for an eternal encounter. If all we do is demand more of what we can get outside of Church, we will never really find fulfillment in liturgy.
Perhaps this last point is the most serious of all, and there only way to address it is through pastoral leadership. We need people like Moses who will condemn our Golden Calfs made from our own possessions and lead us to higher goals. Once our orientation is right, the rest follows. We will find our voices, find our song, find the resources, and develop our knowledge and talents.
Along with this sound, a couple other things happened - at the Mass of the Lords Supper, the congregation was most vocal and confident for the Agnus Dei, which was from one of the chant Masses. As we were processing to the Pange Lingua, I walked by an elderly priest who was singing his heart out in Latin. This is the heritage that was all but discarded. The Exultet was chanted in Latin at the Easter Vigil and, frankly, it might be a little early for this. The English translation was in the program, but without having the Latin next to it, several of us got a bit lost.
We choir members were talking amongst ourselves and it seems that the Mass is headed back to the chant tradition. The article above does not address that exactly, but does make a partial case for reverting to chant. I think the author has some interesting things to say, while not necessarily agreeing with him. First off, all the books - useless. A good number are USCCB inspired and are more about how to plan than how to sing. And if you dont have a director who knows how to draw beautiful sounds, all the reading isnt going to do much good. As far as the music resources being pathetic - yes and in multiple ways. For a couple generations now, weve relied mostly on volunteers rather than employing professionals who could make the beauty happen and train willing volunteers. This was another place where tradition wasnt simply allowed to die - it was killed. The author does make a VERY good point about the copyrights, something thats bugged me for a long time.
Part of what we are facing is a couple generations who have never been taught how to sing, how to make music, the details of being a choir member, etc. Theres quite a bit that goes with it. To be blunt - you dont simply start singing motets or chorales or Renaissance pieces. Just the rhythm requirements alone require a pretty competent level of musicianship.
Yes, chant is easy to start with, except that as a church weve forgotten how to chant (we figured that out in the last couple weeks). Its easier to get the idea while reading neums (which is NOT hard to read at all). And I completely disagree on the untrained having a sense of humility. Not in my experience. The more experienced, trained, section leader sorts are usually the show up and sing people who are willing to sort music and get dirty under the organ. Its the ones who overestimate their level of competence that are a problem.
The other points arent exactly musical, but very true observations. That all does need to be addressed, but it would be nice if that could be somewhat separated from the actual musical issues. The non musical points are more a matter of catechesis.
There's loads of good music out there.
Most can be found here:
Desdemona is absolutely right about music directors and music education.
1. Hire a good music director for the parish. A real musician with a Catholic music background. Ours is a treasure. You have to spend the money to get a good man.
The Episcopalians may be a bunch of heretics, but they take their music seriously. In our former ECUSA parish, the vestry asked the music director what he needed for his budget, and then everybody else fought over the rest. I am not kidding - that is exactly how it worked. Until you make music a top priority, it won't improve significantly.
2. Bring back music education in the Catholic schools and in Sunday School. Our parish school is doing this already, with fabulous results. The choirmaster teaches a credit course in Western Church Music to great acclaim -- and the kids get extra credit for singing in one of the choirs.
3. Children's choir. I have already sent our children's choir director all the links and information on the Royal School of Church Music program -- it has ranks and awards for passing various music exams, the kids get medals with different colors of ribbon depending on the level of exam they have passed. There is also a national exam which entitles a kid who passes it to wear a special medal of bronze, silver, or gold. Nothing like a little competition and reward to get the kids going. It sure worked in our former parish!
I agree wholeheartedly with what you say.
One thing I hope we can all agree on is that all OCP influence, followed quickly by GIA influence must be utterly wiped out!
Um, did you read what I wrote? As a church, we’ve forgotten how to do that. In my choir, which includes about 12 trained voices, it took two weeks to get the feel of the chant, the right tone quality, pitch and rhythm. It’s not hard, but we have to relearn it - and then spice things up with anthems, motets, etc.
You all sing Palestrina too? We do at least one Palestrina a month.
For children’s choir, you might look into Pueri, too.
I thought that was a standing Free Republic rule.
(Or did the rules change during my absence for Lent?)
(with apologies to Cato the Censor)
Whatever that stuff is, it's not music. It's anti-music. I have never heard such damnable (I speak advisedly) tripe in my life.
As our choirmaster remarked about Haugen's "Massive Cremation" - "The first time I heard it, I said to myself, 'it's absolutely horrible, and everybody is going to just love it.'"
I like the St. Gregory's Hymnal to sort of ease people into the chant. It's the proper Graduale, but transcribed into ordinary staff notation. Once you have that mastered, you start handing out the original Solesmes notation.
I of course had never seen neumes until I converted -- but it is not difficult to learn. Of course I could read music about as soon as I could read print (mom was a prof in the Music Dept at GA State Univ, teaching "Music and Movement" i.e. teaching singers how to stand on a stage as though they belong there). So I don't know how hard it is for non-music readers. It may actually be easier to learn it cold, because the neumes look suspiciously like ordinary staff notation but function differently.
It's on it's way out in some places, but not everywhere. The problem with OCP is that it all comes as a package. It's easy. GIA does produce decent hymnals. It's their original stuff that's not all that great. Although now that Richard Proulx had died, even that should start to go away.
I'm not arguing, I'm just stating that chant doesn't solve all the problems.
I understand and agree. There is far too much good music and far too few good musical memories.
I would say that of the European Catholic composers, we sing mostly Palestrina and Victoria, with occasional excursions into the Germans, mostly Telemann, Hans-Leo Hassler and Bach, and the modern French (Faure', Poulenc).
But the 16th century English composers are probably our mainstay. They have the pleasing quality of setting good Latin texts, but nobody set English texts better than they did. Our music director points out the natural declamatory effect of the English in works like Thomas Morley's English/Latin "Nolo Mortem Peccatoris", which we sang for Good Friday.
Agree. Husband goes to the 8:00 Mass because it doesn’t have music.
And yeah, I know Bach and Telemann and Hassler were Lutheran . . . but we ignore it. Just like we ignore that the later English Edwardians were really Anglicans, albeit ‘high’.
We do a lot of Palestrina, Victoria, Tallis (a LOT of Tallis), Byrd, Mendelssohn, some Brahms, the occasional Mozart, etc. Easter was Bach overload. Zzzzz.
Fortunately, the guys going through the seminary now are fans of this sort of music. You should have seen what they requested for the Transitional Deaconate Ordination. All good stuff.
We really put on the dog for Easter Vigil -- four anthems (with visiting violinist who is truly excellent, she can play the Telemann Psalm 117 off the page, taking pieces from the Violin I and Violin II parts), the Exultet chanted in its entirety, the Sequence, and two handbell pieces to boot.
We use the Massive Cremation occasionally to mollify the superannuated hippies in our midst, but we chant the Ordinary in Latin every First Sunday (including yesterday), and our choirmaster has composed his own four-part setting which we use as often as we can. We do have to sing the horrible Becker "Litany of the Saints" at the Vigil because one of the priests likes it, but he's a wonderfully kind, orthodox and holy (if not very musical) man so we are happy to indulge him. (I also think he likes it because it was sung at JPII's funeral and he's one of the JPII priests). Hopefully we can eventually wean him to a more traditional chant setting though.
Some of the English Renaissance dudes were really Catholic, but posed as Anglican as a cover. It’s fine. We’ll take it.
Wrt Bach, one of the parishioners said absolutely the weirdest thing to our music director. She asked him why he played so much Bach for preludes and postludes, because "it sounds like squirrels in a box."
He was glancing over his shoulder for lightning bolts . . . .
He still plays Bach but also a lot of Buxtehude and his favorite 20th c. French composers (he did a Fulbright at the Lyons Conservatory).
One thing you have to remember, there is a difference between music and noise. Yes, some of us are massively picky about that.
They weren't shy about it either, but the royals knew better than to mess with them. They just looked the other way.
I don't know about Morley or about my new find -- Thomas Weelkes. We sang his "Alleluia - I Heard A Voice" recently, and it's like skyrockets going off all over the place. You can hear a snippet of it here.
Well, when a church that seats 1500 uses one cross for veneration, it takes a while. With the number of seminarians, Dominican, and wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles YOUNG JESUITS (who came to us rather than their own church nine blocks down the street, where the 100+ rank organ pipes were thrown in a dumpster), we were halfway through it (about 10 minutes in) before the cross left the sanctuary. We sang every note in our binders - about 12 anthems - on Friday. And then there was communion.
I prefer the more chaste and restrained English Renaissance myself, but that's just me. Probably my Anglican raisin'.
We've started doing Anglican Chant for the Psalm occasionally, just to vary the mix a little bit. I don't think it's actually been revealed that it's Anglican, but they all like it.
Wrt Proulx, he has some excellent stuff -- and his work on the 1982 Episcopal Hymnal alone would get him gold stars. Musically that volume is superlative. The usual deadwood - just multi-culti deadwood instead of the treacly Victorian kitsch of the 1940 edition - but plenty of pure gold. I think he wrote the descant for "Crown him with many crowns" which is more fun than a day at the races.
Funny story (stop me if I've told this one :-D ). Our music director has a doctorate from Juilliard in organ performance and is a big fan of the Frenchies, as I mentioned.
When BXVI celebrated Mass at St. Pat's in NYC, the music program was posted on line . . . but not the organ postlude. I was listening to it and thinking, "Darn, that sounds 20th c. French" (I'm beginning to recognize the style since I hear it so often), so I asked our choirmaster the next day if he knew what it was. But he had to go somewhere and missed the tail end of the Mass, so he didn't know.
Sometimes the obvious thing is just to ask - so I Emailed the music director at St. Pats -- and he Emailed me back very promptly with the info that the work was "Tu Es Petrus" by Henri Mulet.
I relayed that info to our man on Thursday night at choir practice -- and he regaled us with stories about Mulet (apparently he retired at the height of his career to go raise chickens in Provence). And guess what the postlude was on Sunday?
It ain't easy: Tu Es Petrus
But our man plays it considerably more up tempo . . . he loves to rip through stuff like a buzzsaw. I dunno how he does it, but it's magnificent to listen to.
The old ones are o.k. too -- it's the ones in the middle that are the problem. My daughter's confessor at college is a 90 year old Jesuit. I thought she was just kidding me about his age til I saw his pic on the parish website - he really IS about 90 years old! Cent' anni! He's one of the good ones.
I can't tell from a cursory look at the website whether they have the course program with achievement levels and awards. That was a big selling point to hard-charging musical kids.
It's also been used in our altar server program with good effect -- the kids work hard for promotion and master a considerable amount of difficult material.
Our Cantor sang the Exultet, near the beginning of the Vigil Mass, then the Litany of the Saints, which another choir member and I punctuated at points with handbells. It was lovely!
It's funny, the junk is losing its appeal for a lot of directors, but not so much for some of the people. I think it's hit and miss. Not all parents see the value in learning classical musicianship. Sad.
I LOVE the "Oxford Book of Hymns"! The hymns are gorgeous, and are seriously Christian in their content.
Two of my FAVORITES!
Great post. I’ll read it thoroughly in a bit.
And sort of unfortunately, last night we kind of got into a rather arcane discussion on English Renaissance and French organ masters, along with a few Italians and a Spaniard. If you’re not really into this stuff.... It doesn’t change that as a church we’ve forgotten how to chant and even for those of us who are classically trained singers it takes a while to get it to sound like chant and not a Wagnerian opera.
Is chant that easy? I do not know. I am a member of a parish choir and just doing the last two verses of the Holy Thursday procession hymm ( in Latin ) before the body of the Lord was placed in speical adoration alter by St. Thomas Aquintas was very hard.
I did get for my birthday on Saturday the two “Chant” cd’s from the Spanish Benedictines to listen to. Love the chanting, but to listen. Could I learn it, but as a child of VC 2, I just do not know.
Could the chant music be translated into English?
Teach the chants in English, that is translate them, kept the beautiful sound part in the translation.
I heard a beautiful English translation of the Exultet by a deacon who transfered from another parish about close to a year ago Holy Saturday. If that can be done, then the chants can be done in translation.
My parish has a wonderful lady music minister. Knows her music well.
During the last few months, she had to take a leave of absence for medical reasons, will be back this week. The sub taking her place, taught some beautiful songs, one a spiritual. Sprituals are from the heart to God, in song prayer form. One is “Change My Name”.
Not only the notation is different - the manner of singing is different too. Let's leave aside for a moment all the little performance minutiae that the Solemnes monks have laid down, and just talk about basics.
Chant is sung as though you were speaking, with the emphasis on the words just as they would be spoken. It doesn't have a strict meter or time -- again, you chant the words just as they would be spoken, with the natural rhythm of a rather formal speaking - "declamation" as our choirmaster says. You breathe where you would breathe when speaking (the Solemnes notation kindly gives breath marks for you, they do make sense, but if you have the music in ordinary staff notation just make a tick mark where you should breathe, just as a reminder.)
As far as the tone itself, it should be a simply produced, rather "straight" tone - i.e. no vibrato or quavering, no swooping from note to note. Each note should build or flow from the previous one, from the beginning to the end of a phrase. Simplicity, solemnity, purity is what you're aiming for. If your usual music is towards the "pop" end of the scale, or the romantics, you'll have to rethink the style a little bit.
Since I came from the Episcopal Church which never abandoned chant, I was taught the basics of performance style very early on (in fact, I was instructed to "warm up" my tone a little bit because I was taught the "Anglican hoot" - which is a very straight tone with no warmth at all). But I had to learn to read the notation, which the Piskies do not use.
What you can do to practice is call up YouTube and search for it - especially the versions that run the text and music visually on the page together with the sound. Sing along. We sang the "Tantum ergo" also while processing to the Altar of Repose (actually we sang the entire "Pange Lingua", which is the longer hymn from which the "Tantum ergo" is taken. We had quite a distance to hike!)
Here's the "Pange Lingua" in its entirety, with the music flowing along so you can follow it. "Tantum ergo" begins at verse 5. The performance is very good, very simply sung with no vibrato and nice carrying tones - although their rhythm is fairly strict for chant:
Just found the origin of the title of above song is “If He Change My Name?”
Thank-you, that would interest me. I can learn it, it will be done a little more careful and with effort to listen to the person(s) next to me.
I prefer the English version in the Episcopal hymnal. This is the translation of the "Tantum ergo". As I noted above, the Piskies' theology and politics are suspect, but their musical taste is impeccable.
"Therefore we, before him bending, this great Sacrament revere.
Types and shadows have their ending, for the newer Rite is here.
Faith our outward sense befriending, makes the inward vision clear.
Glory let us give and blessing, to the Father and the Son
Honor, thanks, and praise addressing, while eternal ages run,
Ever too his love confessing, who from both with both is One.
But once you get into really singing liturgical music with the idea of being as good as you can possibly be, for God's honor and glory, then all this stuff becomes fascinating (well, o.k., at least to me it does).
The deeper you go into it, the richer and more entrancing it becomes. After all, the style has survived for hundreds and hundreds of years and will survive long after Haugen/Haas and the St. Looey Jebbies are nothing but a bad dream.
Our Episcopal choirmaster used to essay a spiritual every now and then, then he'd throw down his baton and look at us all with total disgust and say, "You all sound so . . . white!"
"Well - DUUUHHHHH!" we would all chorus back.
Since I'm Scotch-Irish to the bone, singing the "Sacred Harp" spiritual songs comes much more naturally.
Last Advent, during a carols and leasons presentation at my parish, the regular music minister taught the choir and I a beautiful song about the Blessed Mother.
The chant song is called “Felix Namque”, “Thou Art Glad Indeed”. First I remember the English words were spoken first, then the song was sung in beautiful Latin. I did the whole song in Latin, by lots of practice and listening to the next person.
I do believe that learning chant can be done.
This is a rather difficult chant tone.
This version of “If He Changed My Name” by Jeniffer Bynun Greene.
Beautiful and touching. :)
The Pange Lingua? We sang 17 verses this year. I guess since I've sung it for about 25 years in a row... It's not so much that chant is hard, it's about getting the right sound.
Part of the problem is that some of the chants don't translate well. It's generally the case that music fits best in the original language. And most singers will tell you that the roughest language to sing in after French is English. It's true. Latin is pretty easy IF you hear it all the time, which is a big issue. I'm a classically trained singer, so I can actually just ask which IPA sheet are we using (none of them are actually what we sing in church), but I am completely cognizant that this is more the exception than the rule.