Thursday, August 6, 2009

Notes from the Choir, Vol. 3

I'm posting this quickly today; I didn't think we'd be making our choir practice this evening, and now it looks like it might be possible after all. So as we gather up our music and glance over the sheet for this week, I see that our Processional Hymn is one that I really do enjoy:

Love divine, all loves excelling,
joy of heaven, to earth come down,
fix in us thy humble dwelling,
all thy faithful mercies crown.
Jesus, thou art all compassion,
pure, unbounded love thou art;
visit us with thy salvation,
enter every trembling heart.

Come, almighty to deliver,
let us all thy life receive;
suddenly return, and never,
nevermore thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
serve thee as thy hosts above,
pray, and praise thee without ceasing,
glory in thy perfect love.

Finish then thy new creation;
pure and spotless let us be;
let us see thy great salvation
perfectly restored in thee:
changed from glory into glory,
till in heaven we take our place,
till we cast our crowns before thee,
lost in wonder, love, and praise.

The lyrics to this song were written by Charles Wesley, and I noticed as I copied them to paste here that there are a few differences in the version I have in our Catholic hymnal; alas, I don't have time to post them and try to uncover the reasons for the changes.

Still, the song is vastly better than many of the more modern hymns available to us, and certainly the musical setting most often used in Catholic parishes (the one at the link) is majestic and glorious, transcending the mundane and everyday and putting the congregation in the proper frame of worship right from the start!

What a change from last week, when, sadly, we had to sing "Gather Us In." Uggh. If I never have to sing that dreck again it will be too soon--but unfortunately I've learned that the selection of songs can be pressured by the pastor's preferences (and some pastors are more musical than others, shall we say), the perceived need to tie the songs in to the readings, and even from complaining from parishioners, some of whom have--pardon me for saying it--execrable taste in sacred music. There's nothing quite like singing one of those ugly modern pieces and then being told after Mass something like "Oh, I'm so glad you sang that song! It's one of my favorites--I wish you'd sing things like that more often. The old stuff is nice, but I really like 'Gather Us In' and 'Be Not Afraid' and 'I am the Bread of Life,' don't you?"

And we hear that more than you'd think.

So the lesson is, if you do like the traditional hymns, tell the music director/choir director/choir members as often as possible. Positive feedback about the dignified, traditional music is the only weapon we have when others in the parish complain about the "old stuff" and wonder audibly if anyone likes that music anymore.


Anonymous said...

I enjoy your 'notes from the choir' posts. I am a cantor for my diocese and specifically at our Shrine, which caters to tourists... so the music director sticks with Mass of Creation and the cheesy modern hymns like Bread of Life, Eagles Wings, etc. in order to cater to the parishioners visiting from all across the country.

I can only hope I'm shaving time off my purgatory stay with each 'Be Not Afraid' I've had to lead!

Heaven for me will be filled with Latin hymns and not one Life Teen Mass tune!

Red Cardigan said...

You have my sympathies! :)

I keep hoping "Mass of Creation" will be retired when the new Mass translations make too many of the Mass parts obsolete...

Here's hoping!

NancyP said...

I didn't think about that...I'm pretty tired of MofC and all the other Mass settings we've been using. Someone (a talented someone) needs to compose some new ones!

I have never met anyone who said they liked "I am the Bread of Life" - interesting. It's hard to sing; even our cantors mess it up on occasion.

Karen said...

We also sang 'Gather us in last week ugh! We did however,' skip the 2nd verse (which I can't stand- that and verse 4).

The range on "I am the Bread of Life" is ridiculous for a congregation to sing. I barely make a sound on the beginning, way too low for me (a soprano).

I've made it very clear to the music director and for the most part she has listened. I think that people do request those songs and like them and they serve in a pinch to reflect the readings.

Gee, I hope this grumbling doesn't add back my time off of purgatory for singing these songs!

Scott W. said...

Somewhere I read a good litmus test for hymns. Remove the lyrics and words and just listen to the music. Does the music sound like it belongs:

A. in a rock concert
B. around a campfire
C. in a New Age massage parlor
D. on a merry-go-round or with an organ grinder and a monkey
E. in a church

If the answer is anything other than E, THROW IT OUT.
Gather Us In is an great example of D.

Dawn Farias said...

Well, I don't even know the difference between the execrable and non-execrable songs. I sing what they give me.

However, I have used my SAT skills to decipher a meaning of 'excecrable' from the context and am now off to to get a precise one.

Anonymous said...

Reading these posts, I think I'm about to throw a little vinegar into your punch bowls.....please stop being so musically arrogant.
I don't understand the insipid dislike for "contemporary" songs used in Catholic liturgy, in particular the Gather series. Our church uses both Gather and Worship. While they are rather outdated, they are sufficient for the time being until the new language editions are published.
I am a classically trained singer, majored in vocal performance in college, and have spent 42 years as a professional musician, both full-time and part-time.
I currently sing and or direct both a "traditional" adult choir which sings traditional hymns and choral classics, including chant. The "contemporary" choir sings some traditional music, but primarily the "Gather" style songs. And I love them both.
Not every poem in a collection of Robert Frost works is a classic, and not every Shakesperean play becomes standard repertoire for generations. Is Shakespeare better than Frost? and vice-versa?
Beautiful music is in the ear of the beholder.
And what of this notion that the organ is the "instrument of choice" espoused by many in our business? The earliest organs date back to around 45 B.C., but it did not become an accepted church instrument until the early 2nd century. So what was the "instrument of choice" in the meantime? It was primarily the human voice. What little I know of human nature, I have no doubt that there were naysayers in those days decrying the intrusion of this "monstrous noise-maker" (as it was frequently called)into the sacred repertoire of a capella chant.
Beethoven's music was considered trash in the beginning, yet today we consider him one of the greatest composers of the all time. Likewise, Charles Ives' songs were mostly written off as aural cacophony, yet many of his works are standard repertoire today.
My point is that there is good music and bad music in every generation of composers. We may not like everything, but we need to have an appreciation for all types. A song like "Be Not Afraid" may seem like bland schmaltz to most trained singers, but to those in the pews, it is apparently speaking to some part of their soul and it helps them to pray and experience liturgy in a more meaningful way. And that, my cantor colleagues, is the main reason why we are called to that ministry: to help bring others to prayer through song.