Saturday, May 18, 2002

John is a lot smarter than me. See below.

Cranky Pedantry Alert in the Mailbag.

Hmmm. As a medievalist I think that Renaissance polyphony is packed with
cultural baggage - the adaptation of Gregorian chant to a very new mode of
music and of performance, leading directly to Baroque and the cult of the
virtuoso performer, and then the 18th and 19th century habit of having opera
soloists perform the musical parts of the Mass, and then the 19th century
liturgical reform spearheaded by Solemnes to restore chant, then the 20th
century liturgical reform to introduce congregational chant, and then the
deluge of the 70s. Oh, well. I like Palestrina, but he's just as baggaged
up as Marty Haugen, just in a different way!

I agree that the intrusion of popular tunes is the most tedious part of
contemporary liturgical music, but I'm not sure that it hasn't always gone
on. One of the things people always say about St. Ambrose was that he wrote
such 'singable' hymns!

My response sent today:

Ok - agree with me on this point:

There's a key difference between how secular characteristics infiltrated
music during the Renaissance and today.

During the renaissance, composers hid secular tunes inside of the polyphony.
The style remained intact while little tidbits of secular ditties were
quoted in the pieces. Today, we just drop the words "Christ" "God"
"Peace" and "Service" into any old secular tune and we have instant sacred

Another key point from a musical standpoint, the sacred and secular styles
were separated by the modes they were written in: today's major key was the
secular mode of choice during the Renaissance, most sacred music was written
in a different mode a distrinction between the sacred style and secular

Ok - time for more coffee. Enjoy your weekend.
Musical Definitions:

string quartet: a good violinist, a bad violinist, an ex-violinist, and someone who hates violinists, all getting together to complain about composers.

detaché: an indication that the trombones are to play with their slides removed.

glissando: a technique adopted by string players for difficult runs.

subito piano: indicates an opportunity for some obscure orchestra player to become a soloist.

risoluto: indicates to orchestras that they are to stubbornly maintain the correct tempo no matter what the conductor tries to do.

senza sordino: a term used to remind the player that he forgot to put his mute on a few measures back.

preparatory beat: a threat made to singers, i.e., sing, or else....

crescendo: a reminder to the performer that he has been playing too loudly.

conductor: a musician who is adept at following many people at the same time.

clef: something to jump from before the viola solo.

transposition: the act of moving the relative pitch of a piece of music that is too low for the basses to a point where it is too high for the sopranos.

vibrato: used by singers to hide the fact that they are on the wrong pitch.

half step: the pace used by a cellist when carrying his instrument.

coloratura soprano: a singer who has great trouble finding the proper note, but who has a wild time hunting for it.

chromatic scale: an instrument for weighing that indicates half-pounds.

bar line: a gathering of people, usually among which may be found a musician or two.

ad libitum: a premiere.

beat: what music students do to each other with their instruments. The down beat is performed on top of the head, while the up beat is struck under the chin.

cadence: when everybody hopes you're going to stop, but you don't.

diatonic: low-calorie Schweppes.

lamentoso: with handkerchiefs.

virtuoso: a musician with very high morals. (I know one)

music: a complex organizations of sounds that is set down by the composer, incorrectly interpreted by the conductor, who is ignored by the musicians, the result of which is ignored by the audience.

oboe: an ill wind that nobody blows good.

opera: when a guy gets stabbed in the back and instead of bleeding, he sings.

collective noun: a plague of conductors.

Friday, May 17, 2002

MAILBAG :: Good Friday Reproaches. Dave Pawlak writes that his parish does the Good Friday Reproaches every year. As promised I'll put a buck in the poor box!

St. Anthony's in Milwaukee ( uses the
Reproaches every Good Friday. So far, they have received no complaints.

Dave Pawlak

-- Id quot circumiret, circumveniat.

Thursday, May 16, 2002

Anyone considering the Summer Music Colloquium at Christendom College this summer? It looks promising!

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

Question from Integrity:

Any tips, John, for those tone deaf parishioners like me who would love to be able to carry a tune at least half-respectably so we can join the song?

First, let me say that I think everyone should sing in Church. The idea regarding congregational singing is that our intent is what's important, not how well we actually sing. It strikes me that if more people around you were singing with gusto you wouldn't feel like your sticking out. Granted, it's tough to know you're not singing well and have everyone around you hear it.

From an actual singing standpoint, there's two kinds of "tone deafness" - one where a person is just not used to matching pitch, sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. The other is real tone-deafness - never being about to match pitch. It could be that you just need a little practice, I would recommend getting some CDs you can try to sing along with and see how that work. Try it with whatever music you like and see how it goes. It could be you get better over time.

Tuesday, May 14, 2002

A reader asks:

What I want to know is, why does our local First Presbyterian Church have beautiful sacred music concerts, including their choir singing Mass, and the Catholic Church does not?

They have done a number of sacred music programs, open to the public. I find this so embarrassing! I am glad they are doing it, but I am ashamed that even our Cathedral does not present this classic music.

Quick answer: 1st, some Catholic musicians don't think concerts are appropriate in church. Sounds weird, but I know many liturgists/organists who keep their own choirs away from "performing" even if they have a concert series at their cathedral that has outside folks come in. Some parishes are so hung up on performing that they go nuts if you mention doing a Mozart Stabat Mater during Lent or a Finzi Magnficat during Advent.

The flip side is, many parishes would love to do concerts, but it's all they can do to get Sunday's music together, let alone do a concert of some tough music that would require extra rehearsal, extra bodies, an advertising budget, etc.

Another point (since I am bullet-point man tonight) - lots of concert music is largely inappropriate for Mass. Nearly all the classical Mass settings are not considered to be appropriate for today's Catholic liturgy because they preclude the active participation of the congregation. Here's some fellas that wrote some sacred music you won't hear in a liturgy in the USA: Mahler. Brahms. Samuel Barber (I'm thinking of his Agnus Dei.)

And I guess that's why it's a good idea to have concerts in churches with a good acoustic - because we can experience the beauty of God's creation outside of the public prayer of the Church.

-=- Singing and Speaking -=-

The first thing a choir needs to know is that you can't sing the way you talk. I say this to my choir at almost every rehearsal. Vowels need to get rounded out so our twangs go away. Noise in the voice needs to be turned to the purest sound possible. A good demonstration of this is the word "love." Most Americans actually pronounce this "luhv" - I always make my choir drop their jaws and sing "LAAAAV" - it replaces a speech vowel with a singing vowel.

That's all for tonite.

Monday, May 13, 2002

:: Words

Well now that a few of us have totally unloaded on Marty Haugen and his publisher, I am compelled to write about what we need to remember about some church music, even if we would rather boil our shoes and eat them then hear this music at Mass. We need to remember a couple of things. Their words as prayer and/or praise and their place in the Mass. I'm talking about music as prayer and/or Scripture, like the Gloria, Psalm, Alleluia, Sanctus, etc. All the choirs of angels in Heaven sing the Sanctus when we sing the Sanctus. Even if it's a rock-a-billy Holy, Holy. Are the angels singing the same version we are? Maybe I can get Peter Kreeft to weigh in on that one. I don't know. I doubt it. I hope to find out some day!

What else about the words? There are great songs of praise out there with wonderful lyrics even if it sounds like a drinking song. I can't think of any right now - it's been a long day. I try to meditate on the words if I can't bring myself to sing. It's hard. Now, I grant you I have issues with hymns and songs that go back and forth between Jesus or God saying something and other people saying things, especially if it's not clear who is saying what when. The Good Friday Reproachments are an example of this. You have to treat that carefully in order for the congregation to understand it. Who am I kidding? No one does the Good Friday Reproachments in this country. I'll put a buck in poor box for anyone who emails me and says they did them this year. I also have issues with composers who write lyrics sung as something Jesus says in first person. I don't mean something quoted from Scripture, I mean people just writing like they were Jesus and having it sung in first person. If the Vatican signs off on their private revelation I'll take it, but otherwise I don't think we should make up things Jesus might say in first person.

YOU'VE GOT MAIL :: In his own words

Sent in from Kevin James of the Goliard Blog, this is from an interview of Marty Haugen on Marty Haugen and Marty Haugen's music.

Haugen says he is both gratified and surprised to find his music used by many different Christian churches--even though most of the people in the churches don't know who wrote it. He compares his authorship
of sacred music to medieval craftsmen whose anonymous work was "for the glory of God." No one knows who wrote the chants from the Middle Ages, he points out.

Good God, can he really be this foolish or blind? EVERYBODY knows his name and what he has written. You can't find a three-bar snippet for the "Great Amen" printed in a parish songsheet without a prominent composer's credit and copyright notice. And that's one of the things that bothers me about these people. Just imagine a Liber Usualis chock-full of composer's credits and copyright notices, and you will see how wrong the typical OCP publication can appear in my eyes.

Here's an analogy that will illustrate this idea of musical craftsmanship. Palestrina built a Gothic Cathedral. Haugen built an igloo.

YOU'VE GOT MAIL :: Haugen's Enabler

David Alexander of Arlington, VA has gotten to the root of the liturgical music problem in his email to me about my Marty Haugen rant.

Oregon Catholic Press. The people whose pewbooks fill nearly half the pews in the USA, or so they say. The people who bring you "thirty percent fewer pronouns" with every annual release. They are a most clever lot, changing the rules of English grammar for us so we won't notice.

Several years ago, when Gregorian chant was experiencing a comeback in the popular music charts, I called OCP and left a phone message, asking why there wasn't more plainchant in their hymnals, and citing its popularity in mainstream culture as cause for a second look. This was before I had e-mail for exchanging ideas and stuff. Anyway, I got a voice message back from an editor of the hymnals. He suggested caution on their part, in the event that the interest in chant was not merely a fad, "like Milli Vinnilli." (I am NOT making this up; he said that!) So I called him back, and left him another message. I reminded him that, unlike Gregorian chant, the decree on Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council did not give the music of Milli Vinnilli "pride of place, all other things being equal." He called back. I got a little more respect this time.

What a doofus.(emphasis mine)

Since then, the folks at OCP have thrown devotees of plainchant a bone, by including maybe, oh, double the amount of chant. (What is not too damn much times two?) And one of their stable of artists, Bob Hurd (okay, okay, I love his early guitar work!) came out with his original plainchant collection "Ubi Caritas," which was touted as a "return to his roots" (with extra reverb thrown in for good measure). If you really listen to Gregorian chant, as it is meant to be sung, it doesn't have to sound so dreary to get its point across.

Never mind Marty Haugen. I'm sick of his publisher.

Sunday, May 12, 2002

:: Who else is sick of Marty Haugen?

Let me clarify before I sin gravely against charity. I don’t know Mr. Haugen. I’ve never met him and I don’t expect that I will in this life. I hope to do so in the next. With all respect that can give to a fellow human being, I am sick of singing in church what Mr. Haugen has written. Now that I have nearly avoided the near occasion of sin, let me use today’s Psalm to elucidate my position.

We sang his setting of Psalm 47 “God Mounts His Throne.” For all those following along in their Ritual Song hymnal it is number 80.

We did it start to finish without using any of Haugen’s compositional parlor tricks. He’s written it so that you can do the psalm refrain in unison or as a canon, and you can use the psalm refrain to accompany the verses.

This is a part of the presentation of Scripture during the Mass. All Scripture whether read or sung should be done in such a manner that the congregation can understand the words. Now imagine doing the refrain in canon, using the refrain as the accompaniment for the verses, and adding to the ensemble piano, guitars and one of them shaker things. With the best of intentions you’ve made the Word of God totally incomprehensible to the congregation. The Communion of Saints probably couldn’t understand it either without the Seraphim holding up flaming cue cards.

I’m sick of singing Mr. Haugen’s music because most of it is just like this. I’ll blog on about lyrics one of these days – no time today.

“Well, Mr. Snooty Liturgical Music Purist,” someone with a guitar might say. “You did ‘O Rex Gloriae’ by Palestrina today. People couldn't understand the words in lating and it’s polyphonic like Haugen’s canon – how can justify that?"

I’m glad you asked.

There is a difference between Scripture set to music, music that is prayer or praise, and music that is sacred art. Bare in mind music in Church can be one, two or all three of these. They are not exclusive. As I said Scripture set to music should be set in such a manner that the words are totally clear. You can’t meditate on the meaning of Scripture without comprehending it. A good example of music as prayer or praise is the Gloria or the Alleluia before the Gospel reading. The last category, music as sacred art, is where ‘O Rex Gloriae’ belongs. We presented (notice I didn’t say “performed”) while the gifts were being prepared. It was a musical offering. A translation was printed in the congregation’s program. It wasn't perfect but for 20 volunteers, all but three without any vocal training, we did great.

Here’s a translation:

“O King of glory, Lord of virtue, Which hast this day triumphed and ascended above all the heavens, leave us not as orphans but send that which the father promised us: the Spirit of Truth. Alleluia.”

It was a beautiful, prayerful work that was wonderful to do on the Feast of the Ascension. My heart if filled with joy we bring the best art we know to the Lord as music and prayer.

Quick tidbit for today:

If your choir does any singing in Latin, it should always sound like Latin.

For instance: Alleluia is a common latin word that is often mangled by Americans. It's not A-LAY-LOO-YUH. Say it like you're from Georgia and you'll get the drift.

It's always A-LEH-LOO-YA.