Wednesday, September 6, 2006


A Trialogue on the Blogue

Pes' plan for preventing popular participation, as originally posted as a comment on The New Liturgical Movement - in blue.

Cantor's replies to the snippets from Pes, as originally posted in his own post in Cantate Deo - in red.

My own snarky little replies below - in black.

Pes: 1. Do not distribute anything with musical notation because most people can't read music. When you have an illiterate group of people, the last thing you want is for them to learn from seeing examples.

Cantor: You’d be amazed (or, maybe not) how many people seem not just uninterested in learning to read music, but unwilling. It boggles me.

BMP: In my own experiences - back in the mid 1980's, when many churches around my neck of the woods used the J.S. Paluch Seasonal Missalette as their pew book, I can recall teaching the congregation The King of Love My Shepherd Is. In itself, it was a fine move. However, I used the more popular tune ST. COLUMBA, while the missalette used DOMINUS REGIT ME. Assuming that hardly anyone read music, I figured, as long as the people had the words in front of them, I could get away with teaching the different tune. Wouldn't you know - on my way back to the loft, a lady pulled me over and said in a "neener neener neener" type of voice, "That's not the tune that's written. I know music!"

Pes: 2. Do not distribute the words to any song not found in the missal or missalette. If the cantor sings a different responsorial psalm or text than that given in the missal/missalette, by no means should you provide it.

Cantor: Actually, I have found responsorial psalms not to need musical notation or even words for the congregation. I would prefer to give it to them, but we don’t have a reprint license or the infrastructure for having weekly worship aids. And our hymnals don’t have music for the responses.

BMP: We don't either. Most will sing the Psalm response, whether the music is in front of them or not, or even if the music to the Psalm response is different from the one in the missalette (we have OCP's Today's Missal in the pew, but often use GIA's Worship as a Psalm source). That is, unless you're that lady I mentioned in my last missive above.

Pes: 3. Have the cantor and choir seize responsibility for singing as much as they can that is licit.

Cantor: Enh, I’m not sure this is that much of a problem. We expect congregations to sing too much, IMO.

BMP: True. In all actuality, I know a few progressives out there that still think that "active participation" means that the congregation has to sing EVERYTHING that has a dang melody to it. Sure, there are some cool anthems out there for choirs. If people in the pew want to try their hand at singing them, what's stopping them? What? You're singing the Mozart Ave Verum? Cool! I'm gonna sing it with you while I'm receiving - AH-VEEEEEEEEEEEEEEH, AHHHHHHHHHH-VE, VEEEEEEEEEEEH-RUUUUUUUM COOOOOOOOOOOR-PUS! The only things not meant for a congregation to sing are celebrant-only parts (collects, doxology to the Eucharistic Prayer - people join at "Amen", etc.) and cantor-only parts (Psalm intonation and versicles). If a congregant knows a choral anthem, they're more than welcome to take it on in the pew if they think they can hack it! ;)

Pes: 4. If the cantor is female, pitch the melody to suit her range, not the congregation's. Especially if she is a soprano.

Cantor: Time and time again, I find that male cantors are more effective in stimulating popular song, and their words are clearer for people to understand.

BMP: Both of my cantors are female. I train them to be as clear as possible when singing the cantor-only parts, though when I first took over, I'll admit that some people had felt "relieved" that there was a male voice at the console. I also let the cantor know that yes, they can back off from the mic in singing the people's parts. I'm a firm believer in that GIA button, Back off! Let the people sing! I open up the organ for that opening hymn no matter what, and even boldly sing with the cantor (she will get the Psalm verses and other cantor-only parts to herself, and with soft organ). If I wanted a "cantor" for the hymns, I would have asked for a "song leader". The organ is our "song leader". BTW, I make it clear that I do not raise the keys for the cantors, that I keep the people's sung parts (Mass and hymns) accessible to the people.

Pes: 5. The cantor should sing as operatically as possible, so as to suggest that anything less than operatic is of lesser quality.

Cantor: Being a classically-trained singer myself, I take some offense at this. :)
There is, of course, good operatic singing and bad operatic singing. Lamentably, we hear far too much of the latter, even on recordings.

BMP: Very much right, Cantor. My organ instructor from nearly 20 years ago has a good strong operatic bass voice. However, at the console, he sees to it to not be so heavy on the voice. In fact, he, too, will open up the organ for the people's singing. He, like me, would just as soon NOT use a microphone at all. On the other hand, I can recall one soprano whose vibrato was about as heavy and shaky as the San Francisco/Oakland earthquake of 1989. She was asked by the family to sing at a particular funeral. The pastor and I both agreed after - NEVER AGAIN! To us, it was just a bunch of loud shakes of the throat. You couldn't understand a bloody thing. This probably explains why I do NOT listen to opera (except for those you see in cartoons - Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd's What's Opera Doc comes to mind).

Pes: 6. Have the cantor hound the congregation into singing with histrionic gestures, thereby a) distracting focus from the liturgical action, and b) belittling the majority of faithful Catholic regularly-attending worshippers.

Cantor: Gestures and cues need not be over the top. Just raising the arm does the job nicely. As I explain to my cantors, it should be seen as going along with a breath. Just as in choirs, if you encourage good breathing, better singing results.

BMP: In fact, gestures and cues in many cases may need not even exist. In the case of Psalms and other "responsorial" pieces, that's where the difference in organ tones (verses on a lightly-registered swell, antiphon on a generously-registered great) really plays a key role, especially at those Masses where the cantor is also the organist. (On a lighter note, raising the arm could raise some hygeine issues if you're not careful. Make sure your top, whether it be a dress or a shirt, is sleeved. Also, wear plenty of deodorant, or as my mom used to call it in my younger days, "foo-foo juice".)

Pes: 7. Select melodies that are:
a) catchy and trite, so more than half the congregation will feel foolish for singing them, or

Cantor: Catchy and trite are not the same thing. ENGELBERG is, to me, very catchy, but far from trite.

BMP: I fully agree with the Cantor here. Now, if you really want "catchy AND trite", try the highly-syncopated, 5/4-timed, Sing of the Lord's Goodness.

Pes: b) virtuosic in intervallic and/or rhythmic complexity, so that after a few bars 98% congregation will feel inadequate to the task, or

Cantor: True enough - this infects much of the pop-ish stuff they put in hymnals. At the same time, a few guys, like Proulx, do a fine job of creating music that is contemporary, singable, and elegant.

BMP: once again, fully agree. Alexander Peloquin comes to mind as falling in the same category with Richard Proulx. Peloquin's music was very often contemporary, sometimes singable by the average congregation with no difficulty whatsoever, some a little more difficult, and very often elegant.

Pes: c) blatant parodies (in the technical sense) of popular melodies, so that all the congregational (particularly the young's) focus will be consternation at the similarity, or

Cantor: Maybe not “consternation”, but yeah. I do think a lot of people just don’t want to be reminded that they’re in church.

BMP: Try this little "before and after" parody:
Outside the snow is falling and friends are calling, "Yoohoo dwell in the shelter of the Lord..."

Pes: d) simply unknown to most of them.

Cantor: Unknown melodies are part-and-parcel of music in the Church, I think. Yes, there should be a common repertoire, but we need not to emphasize it at the expense of the Mass Proper.

BMP: Very true. Actually, how about we just make the Proper of the Mass (and hymns based thereon) THE ULTIMATE common repertoire?

Pes: 8. Have the musical choices at Mass careen wildly from genre to genre. When the congregation expects chant, pelt them with polyphony. When they expect contemplative beauty, shake them up with something contemporary. Nothing so effectively confuses and confounds as pastiche.

Cantor: I’m not sure I agree with people who say a variety of styles in the same liturgy is problematic. I can see the argument, but I think counter-examples can easily be found.

BMP: Thomas Day once (ok, more than once) said in his book, Why Catholics Can't Sing, that if you mix it up too much, "you get mush." I really don't mind a contemporary piece with some reverent flavor to it. However, I don't think I'd want to go to receive Communion or even leave church to the strains of Promenade across the church, throw yer partner from the perch, etc.

Pes: 9. Deploy unusual choices of instrumentation, such as guitars, bass guitars, synthesizers, drums, and of course obscure varities of percussion. The novelty and incongruity of this will strike many in the congregation as worth more notice than the words being sung.

Cantor: Novelty only lasts for a short time. The first time we had timpani in our church, the people sang heartily.

BMP: You want novelty (and a really good laugh)? Click here and here!

Pes: 10. Above all, deploy maximum volume. Cantors, especially if they have operatic voices, should belt lustily into a microphone. Choirs should always be amplified, no matter what their position. Organs, naturally, should "lead" congregational singing by effectively drowning it out.

Cantor: Tom Day’s article in the latest Pastoral Music elaborates on this point. Good read.

BMP: Wow! Pastoral Music actually publishing an article by someone outside of the Haugen-D'Hass regime?! I'm amazed. I won't say "drown it out". I'd hate to hear that most of my best singers in the pew are down with laryngitis next week. Generously registered? Absolutely.

Pes: Oh, and everything should be in 6/8.

Cantor: The following all use compound meter (i.e. 3/8, 6/8, 12/8) and are sung very well in most parishes:
Glory and Praise to Our God
Mass of Light
Mass of Creation
Celtic Alleluia
Like a Shepherd
Silent Night
Away in a Manger (not one of my faves, but it gets sung) Note from BMP: the Kirkpatrick tune is gorgeous; runs roughshod over the Mueller tune.
Sing to the Mountains
VICTORY (The Strife is O’er)
Canticle of the Sun

BMP: And let's not forget the previously mentioned 5/4 swing tempo in "Sing of the Lord's Goodness". I like to think of it as a minor key version of Everything's Alright from Jesus Christ Superstar. And let's not forget real hymn tunes such as ST. CATHERINE, ASH GROVE, and KREMSER, and a few good Alexander Peloquin goodies like Mass of the Bells, Jesus, Shepherd of Our Souls, and Lord Jesus, Come (from Lyric Liturgy). Speaking of Lyric Liturgy, check out the Gloria, written for the most part in a 5/dotted-quarter time signature (ya think 15/8 would have been easier?).



Dad29 said...

Good job of ID'ng Pes'/Cantor's strengths/weaknesses.

Most striking: your eminently sensible plea for STANDARD PSALMS as "gathering" and "communion" songs.

From your keyboard to the Music Committee's ears!

Brian Michael Page said...

It seems that Cantor and I agree on most of what he posted here. Notice Pes' title too - Pes' plan for preventing popular participation. So I can actually see where Pes is getting at, and I think those two agree on quite a bit. Most of it was more throwing in my own two cents, or in this case, maybe fitty cents, than disagreeing with anyone.

On the most part, I think these two guys did a pretty good job here.


Valerie said...

"'Sing of the Lord's Goodness'. I like to think of it as a minor key version of Everything's Alright from Jesus Christ Superstar."

Yes, oh yes! You would not believe the deer in headlights looks we would get when DH and I would make a similar comment about this song at our former parish. Glad to know there's someone else out there who "gets it." :-)

Heck, even our kids (who vary in ages from 12 down to 2) recognized the rip off from Superstar! Yes, I admit...our Lenten movie viewing consists of JC Superstar, Jesus of Nazareth, and The Greatest Story Ever Told.

This reminds me of Thomas Day's comparison of "Here I Am, Lord" to sounding eerily like part of the "Brady Bunch" theme song. Ack.

This was a very fun read. Thanks Brian.