(Originally written on October 2, 2002)
It’s been a while since I last wrote a “musings column”, perhaps over a year. This time I’m answering to a potpourri of different things that I hear at Mass.
You play too loud!
That all depends on what I’m playing. Certain pieces are meant to be played softly, while others are meant to be played loud. Amongst the loud are processional and recessional hymns (in general), postludes (most of them), as well as Mass acclamations such as the Alleluia, the Sanctus, and the Amen (people’s parts, that is). These should be played using (at the very least) Principals (8-, 4-, and 2- foot scales – the smaller the pipe, the brighter the sound!). In larger buildings, a good chorus reed should be added, especially for final verses of processionals/recessionals. Oftentimes it is hard to establish a good 8-4-2 combination without going loud, but the brightness that stands out from it will support hymn singing far better than resorting to a mere set of 8’ strings and flutes.One time, after finishing a postlude, one gentleman approached me and told me it was too loud because “the people in the back couldn’t hear themselves talk”. OK! Since when does idle chat take place over liturgy? Oh, please!
You pick hymns we don’t know!
Oftentimes that is the fault of the accuser, not the accusee. Usually when a new hymn is introduced, we do a brief rehearsal roughly 5-7 minutes before Mass, then the new hymn is repeated for at least two more weeks. The new hymn then makes its way into the standard parish repertoire. For less familiar hymns, we use full verses for introductions before we begin singing. If you don’t take part in these rehearsals before Mass and you don’t know the hymn, you have no one to blame but yourself for not taking part. Sorry to be so harsh here, but it IS the truth. The purpose of singing at Mass is to reflect (hopefully) on the theme of the Mass for that day, and not just limit to a select few hymns. Incidentally, I don't recommend using the pre-Mass rehearsal method at a Tridentine Mass. They didn't do that in 1962.
Where are the Marian hymns on Mother’s day? (Or as one approached me and said: "Brian, it's May)
For that one you have to refer to the Marian Hymns article. I cannot express enough that secular feasts can not override the sacred feast we’re celebrating at Mass that day.
You are way too traditional!
Time for you to start reading the Snowbird Statement. It’s not so much that we’re too traditional. We’ve just emptied out the trash. My predecessor at my last parish had this knack for singing “Glory and Praise to Our God” at the Tridentine Mass. I actually saw this on one of the planning sheets she left lying around. What the heck was she thinking? I wouldn’t even touch this one at a Novus Ordo Mass, let alone Tridentine. Sorry, but drinking songs do not belong at Mass (in terms of the music, not so much the text). At our Novus Ordo Mass, yes, you will get an occasional “Here I Am, Lord”, “Taste and See” by James Moore, and even David Haas’ “We Have Been Told”. But “sing to the mountains, sing to the sea” – just as well be “drink to the mountains, drink to the sea”, in terms of the way it is written. This is not a matter of personal taste, but a matter of quality. The Lord deserves nothing less than the best.
Why are we singing in Latin at the Novus Ordo Mass?
First, let me say that we use Latin at the Novus Ordo Masses at most about 20% of the time. Second, when Vatican II gave the option for Mass in the Vernacular, it still called for the promotion of Latin. Vatican II never denounced it. Latin is still the official language of the Church, no matter which Missal you are using. The problem lies with Vatican II being misinterpreted by many, especially here in North America, misinterpreted to a point where altar rails and high altars were even ordered destroyed by some dioceses. Coming soon, a link to what Vatican II REALLY said about music in liturgy.
The 9:00 Mass is being said for my father. Can you play (insert title here) for us?
One – my condolences for your loss. Two – to answer your question, regretfully not, unless that title is already slated for the day's Mass by accident. As much as I appreciate one’s memory for a loved one, and how much money you shelled out to have the Mass said for said loved one, the reason a Mass is said for a loved one is for the parish and the celebrant to have prayers intended for the repose of one’s soul. This takes place in a couple of instances: 1) in the General Intercessions (immediately after the Creed), and 2) in the Eucharistic Prayer, usually during the second half of it. The music is provided to support the actual theme for the day, according to the Scripture Readings and (hopefully) the Homily. To request music for a loved one at Sunday Mass is known by musicians as “privatizing” the Mass, which is a bad practice. If I do it for one, I’d have to do it for all. The funeral Mass, or a memorial Mass outside the regular schedule would be a different story, provided the music is sacred.
You play the hymns too high!
Funny I never hear the Protestants complain about this one! Just think of the keys that hymns were taken at one point in Roman Catholic hymnals, before Vatican II. They were very high, basically because they were sung primarily by choirs and not congregations. Protestant hymnals also included very high keys on the most part, because, although congregational singing was already the norm back then, congregations were singing in harmony. In any case, most of the hymns had ranges in the melody reaching high “E” and even “F”. I even saw one a popular hymn in one hymnal, “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today” (tune: Easter Hymn), in the key of D. That means they had to reach high “F-sharp” in the third line. In fact, in recent visits to Protestant churches, I found at least a few that still are singing in at least two or three parts in the congregation. Back to the Catholic singing and where we are today. Around 1968, the J. S. Paluch Company introduced “Monthly Missalette” (now known as “Seasonal Missalette”). They, along with World Library Publications, produced accompaniment books in “Low Range”. This was “Low Range” ok, but to another extreme. The hymns were written more for alto and bass than for the middle ranges. Even the “D” was too high in most cases for these accompaniment books. The end result was this dead sound in the case of a good amount of the hymns, especially those written in minor keys. Then there was “Worship II”, published in 1975 by G.I.A. Publications, a hardcover hymnal for Post-Vatican II Catholics. This hymnal set the standard for most hymn ranges – the top note set at “D”. Further, in the rare case of any hymn extending above the “D”, an accompaniment in a lower key was provided. One of my former parishes, Holy Name of Jesus, used one of the latest of hymnals by the G.I.A. family – “Worship, Third Edition”. This hymnal was first published in 1986, and re-published in 1998 to accommodate for the most current changes in the “Lectionary for Mass”. We use this 1998 edition. The norm for hymn ranges remains the same as its successor. In the case of almost any hymn extending above the “D”, I do play in a lower key. I have no doubt that the “D” is a comfortable top note in most cases. It’s at the top of the range for most altos and basses, but still very comfortable for sopranos and tenors. This is one hymnal I would like to see in my current parish in the near future. Incidentally, J. S. Paluch Company, now merged with World Library Publications, have also been following the “D” standard recently, as well as Oregon Catholic Press. The Liturgical Press, known in the 1960’s for “Our Parish Prays and Sings” and currently for “Celebrating the Eucharist” and “The Collegeville Hymnal”, have used that standard all along. Therefore, I think we’ve been keeping up quite well. Oh, by the way, I’m a bass.
Incidentally, my former deacon used to tell me, "You play like a Protestant". In all actuality, I'm a lifelong Roman Catholic. :-)