Music at Mass Review: 12/12/10

Parish C this week with the boys (girls had theater gig, went to early Mass with Mom).

It being both the Happy, Holy and Blessed feast of Our Lady of  Guadalupe as well as Gaudate Sunday, they had the Tagalog choir singing, in lovely rose (well, pink) shirts.  Some Jebbie or Jebbies seem to have written most or all of the hymns in Tagalog, in a curious style – a little pop, a little show tune, a little I don’t know what. The choir clearly loves to sing them. But as a non-Tagalog speaker, it was a little rough. Plus, they didn’t hand out the music – trying to sing words phonetically to tunes you don’t know – well, I can’t. But is sounded good, and was sung enthusiastically by the choir, at least. Hard to speak to its liturgical appropriateness, as I have little idea what they were singing about.

BUT – they not only did the simple Latin Agnus Dei, but they did it unaccompanied – cool. For some reason, most of the time it seems the pianist or organist just can’t sit out, and chant with accompaniment is just, well, lame. The people didn’t need it – in Spanish, English, and Tagalog the Latin is the same.

All in all, the Mass was beautiful, mostly because the people were beautiful. The Lord can work with questionable music and falderall provided we give him a chance. These are people doing the best they can for God, and it shows and is infectious.

Music at Mass Review: December 5, 2010

Credit where credit is due: Parish A is going with the simple Latin Agnus Dei this Advent. I’ve long wondered how it escapes notice (or is otherwise dismissed) that more people sing these simple chants with more vigor than all but a few contemporary-with-our-hippy-foreparents tunes. Because, if we were really in favor of full, active participation, that would seem to be important, right?

But I digress.

Mostly good solid Advent hymns. The closing hymn was In the Day of the Lord, by an M. D. Ridge, which name returns addresses in Maryland when Googled. Once found, Ms Ridge turned out to be a friendly-looking woman with, evidently, actual music training in her background. At least, she wrote a pretty good song:

In the day of the Lord, the sun will shine
like the dawn of eternal day.
All creation will rise to dance and sing
the glory of the Lord!

1. And on that day will justice triumph,
on that day will all be free:
free from want, free from fear, free to live!

2. Then shall the nations throng together
to the mountain of the Lord:
they shall walk in the light of the Lord!

3. And they shall beat their swords to plowshares;
there will be an end to war:
one in peace, one in love, one in God!

(we only sang the first three verses, so that’s all we’ll discuss.)

Two big positives: the music is fairly interesting, and the text is straight outta Scripture. I imagine the music is probably easier to sing if you don’t read music, because it notates rather more funky than it sounds (a number of time signature changes, including one from a 4 to a 6/8 and back, which my amateur brain still trips over).  The themes are appropriate for Advent.

So it comes down to taste. In this case, I have no problem with this song being used, and sang it as enthusiastically as I could at 8:00 in the morning pre-coffee. Given the option of using any one of several other very good, more traditional and easier to sing Advent songs (I’d probably use People Look East four Sundays in a row, for example), is this a good choice?  I’m OK with it.

The bigger question, one I’ve only touched upon, has to do with the overall goals and consistency of the people responsible for Mass. Assuming it’s not terrible or heretical (sadly, not safe assumptions when picking tunes right from the disposable hymnals), just about anything could conceivably be used at Mass.  The question is whether it SHOULD be.  Too big a question for this post.

Music at Mass Review: 11/21/10

At Parish A this week. Feast of Christ the King. The first and last tunes were good traditional numbers – Crown Him With Many Crowns and  All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name. These tunes not only are fairly musically interesting and have something to do with the feast being celebrated, but contain actual coherent theology – they assert things recognizable and understandable within the context of a Catholic Mass.

Not so the other hymns, not so!

Aside: when singing at Mass, I like my mysteries to be the mysteries of the faith – such as the mysteries of the Incarnation or of the Redemptive suffering of Christ. Not so much with the mystery being what in the world the lyrics of the songs could possibly trying to convey.  The test is that you can say, for example,  about the two hymns mentioned above that the mysteries are the Second Coming and the Kingship of Jesus and the Incarnation, and that the writers have tried to express those mysteries in poetry and song as best they could. But, as demonstrated in the songs below, that is not always the case – instead, we’re given lines that defy understanding as English words, let alone map to any coherently expressed theology.  Anyway:

Bernadette Farrell’s lyrics are almost as baffling as the popularity of her music. She penned a couple ditties that were employed as the offertory and communion songs. Let’s look at God Beyond All Names: Continue reading “Music at Mass Review: 11/21/10”

Music at Mass Review: 11/7/2010

Attended Parish C today. Children’s Choir.

Parish C has, by far, the highest commitment to liturgical music of any of the local parishes. Adult choir, kid’s choir, two separate ethnic choirs, two excellent keyboard dudes, instrumentalists – it’s  good to see that level of commitment and involvement.

They also seem to, you know, READ THE LYRICS before foisting them off on the congregation – while ‘lame’ happens sometimes, heresy is avoided. I love that.

For the last 40 years, children’s choirs have usually meant 1) suffering and 2) near occasion of sin. It is best not to even think about the smiley-faced abominations we’ve endured. So, I was very pleasantly surprised today when the children assembled in choir robes as if they were going to be a real choir. And, wonder of wonders, they even sang a *Greek* Kyrie, and not a wimpy one, but one with a little meat to it. Cool! (I was sitting up front, and the  kid’s choir director mouthed ‘thank you’ to me, as I was probably the one person in the congregation that a) knew that Kyrie, and b) has a loud voice – otherwise, the poor kids would have not heard much of a response. as I mentioned, it wasn’t a super-easy Kyrie.)

The kids made a yeoman’s effort at a couple pieces that I’d never heard before, clearly written for children’s choir but also not silly. One sounded a bit like Faure, for crying out loud, with the kids having to follow that modal slippery-slidey-ness of that style. They weren’t great, but it was such a relief to hear them try some real music.

They did do a couple goofy songs – that Gloria *clap*clap* thing, Gather Your People, O Lord – but adult choirs inexplicably do those songs, too.

All in all, there’s still hope in the world. Kids singing chant – whoda thunk it?

Songs at Mass Review (10/31/10)

Oh, boy. At the early Mass today at Parish A, got both a winner of a song and shanghaied into singing it.

The long term choir director, who is a very nice guy and a good musician, in whose choirs I and my kids used to sing years ago, saw me in the pews and collared me to help him lead the singing – he had issues with his voice (cold?) and had only one other person in his choir show up, and I’m loud and can read music, So –

I’m standing at his side at a lectern very purposely set so that one’s back is directly to the tabernacle, singing  this beauty:

What Is This Place

  1. What is this place where we are meeting? Only a house, the earth its floor.
    Walls and a roof sheltering people, windows for light, an open door.
    Yet it becomes a body that lives when we are gathered here, and know our God is near.
  2. Words from afar, stars that are falling, sparks that are sown in us like seed:
    names for our God, dreams, signs and wonders sent from the past are all we need.
    We in this place remember and speak again what we have heard:
    God’s free redeeming word.
  3. And we accept bread at this table, broken and shared, a living sign.
    Here in this world, dying and living, we are each other’s bread and wine.
    This is the place where we can receive what we need to increase:
    our justice and God’s peace.

By some act of divine mercy, I have for nigh these many years been spared this, this *thing*. Let’s dig in:

Continue reading “Songs at Mass Review (10/31/10)”

Music at Mass – road trip – 10/24/10

This past week, was out of town on business, attended Mass at a hip parish near the convention I was attending.

This parish had money – it’s in a resort town full of the kind of people who move some place to retire. (Aside – if I ever am so foolish to move away from where I’ve lived my life in order to retire with a bunch of elderly strangers, just shoot me.) The church building was in the modern ‘talk show set’ form factor, with amphitheater-style seating, huge speakers hung from the ceiling, an orchestra pit to the left for the musicians, and a tabernacle tucked away on the right so that, unless you were really looking, you’d never see it.  The sanctuary was dominated by a huge crucifix that looked like happy-bendy bronze Jesus sitting on the cross-piece of a giant upright X. His limbs were flat and twisted – the theological and artistic reasons for this are just one of the baffling items that we must accept, it seems, as mystery here. The quality of the structure and furnishings was high. Continue reading “Music at Mass – road trip – 10/24/10”

Another Song from Mass 10/17/10

Parish A this week. Wading into the enigma shrouded in mystery wrapped in a ‘huh?’ that is: Marty Haugen.

Eye Has Not Seen

Eye has not seen,
ear has not heard
what God has ready
for those who love him;
Spirit of love, come,
give us the mind of Jesus,
teach us the wisdom of God.

Continue reading “Another Song from Mass 10/17/10”

This Week’s Song from Mass Review

Early Mass at Parish A today. The Entrance Song was a little C+ effort from freshman-year harmony and comp class called One Spirit, One Church:

We are a pilgrim people,
we are the Church of God.
A fam’ly of believers,
disciples of the Lord.
United in one spirit,
ignited by the fire.
Still burning through the ages,
still present in our lives.

1. Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest,
and in our hearts take up thy rest;
come with thy grace and heav’nly aid
to fill the hearts which thou hast made.

2. O Comforter, to thee we cry,
thou gift of God sent from on high.
Thou font of life and fire of love,
the soul’s anointing from above.

My first consideration: Can I sing this song in Church? Answer: Yes. While the music – the new part, not the sadly maimed but still noble (like the battered corpse of a great man is noble) Come Holy Ghost – is execrable drivel, the words, while not quite rising to the level of doggerel, are not overtly heretical, and in fact are blandly orthodox.  So, yes, I sang my guts out on this tune – think of it as a musical hair shirt.

The most striking thing about this ditty is the dazzling cluelessness of the composers – do they not recognize the vast gulf in quality between Come Holy Ghost, with its instantly recognizable tune and lines of actual poetry like “come with thy grace and heav’nly aid to fill the hearts which thou hast made” and the infantile melody and insipid text of “We are a pilgrim people, we are the Church of God. A fam’ly of believers, disciples of the Lord.” It comes off a little like seeing someone blow their nose on the corner of a linen tablecloth.

(BTW: Just because some earlier poets got away with “heav’nly” doesn’t mean you get a pass on “fam’ly” – you gotta establish that you can walk up the hillside of Parnassus before you get to try the slippery slope of willful elision.)

In freshman music, it’s not unusual for a teacher to assign the task of writing a melody over the chord progression of a well-known song, or, slightly more advanced, a counterpoint of sorts to the existing melody – that’s what we have here. I give the student a generous C+ for effort – points off for 1) changing the time signature – Come Holy Ghost is in a swinging, inexorable 3, and suffers greatly from being shoehorned into 4 time; 2) the new melody is really, really, lame; 3) the new melody doesn’t blend stylistically with the old. This effort should have never moved beyond scribbles in a notebook headed for the trash at the end of freshman year.

Finally, the lyrics. Come Holy Ghost is a classic intercession after the model of the Psalms: you ask for God’s help and praise Him for his mercy and works. The new text (again: the writer read CHG and his effort and said to himself: yea, these new words really kick this up a notch!), OTOH, simply states how wonderful we already are – no intercession (what could we possibly need, given how rockingly happening we are?) no overt acknowledgment of God’s infinite glory and our need for His blessing and mercy.

Lame. It’s worrisome that so many composers think the purpose of sacred music is nothing higher than self-affirmation.

But not doctrinally evil, gotta give ’em that!

A little socio-geographical-religious background:

We live roughly equidistant from 3 Catholic parishes. I like the people and priests at all three. The liturgy is divinely efficacious in each church, which, I remind myself (sometimes through seriously gritted teeth) is the important thing.

A. Our official parish church, about 1.25 miles away, is the mother church for the area, currently housed in a no nonsense 1950’s era building lovingly remodeled to make no artistic or liturgical sense whatsoever. It’s ‘Built of Living Stone’ compliant, I guess, but then, BOLS is fairly strong evidence that LSD flashbacks are, sadly, not entirely a thing of the past within the community of people who write up stuff for the bishops. BOLS reads like something written by 70’s high school students sitting on the floor getting in touch with their feelings with a guy who dropped out of seminary and grew a beard. Other than that, it’s OK. We attend Sunday mass there about half the time. Three of our children were baptized there.

B. About one mile away is another parish, whose church design was donated, legend has it, by an architect from the community about 20 years ago. It’s of the multi-no-purpose-room school of church design, featuring a large unfocused square box nave-thing, comfy chairs, a claustrophobicly-overbearing ceiling that feels as if it could somehow fall on you at any moment (you’d be squashed like bug – you’d have to see it – it’s really weird-looking), and – a very nice Perpetual Adoration chapel off the main building. So, we almost never go to Sunday Mass there, but do often go to daily Mass on Saturday in a small innocuous side chapel, and do do a lovely middle-of-the-night Adoration shift there. I have nothing but affection for this parish, other than needing to avoid any activities in the main building for health reasons.

C. About 3 miles away is another parish housed in a large modern building that does immediately evoke the reaction ‘This is a Church!’ It’s peaceful inside. People instinctively behave reverently(ish) inside, by modern standards. Even though this building includes a little side chapel used for daily Mass and clearly intended by the builders to house the Blessed Sacrament, a saintly, clear-headed pastor a few years back took it upon himself to move the tabernacle from this chapel and put it right smack in the middle of the sanctuary. Not because he’s some sort of old-fashioned fuddy-duddy, but because he’s a convert from Protestantism, and knew very well *why* he’d converted. We go to Sunday Mass there about half the time.

I will not criticize the priests or general parishioners on this blog or anywhere else for that matter (private whining to my long-suffering wife excepted) because it is not helpful and is a near occasion of sin. Art, music, architecture and egregious liturgical practices I will comment on, in (I pray) a spirit of charity. For example, the charitable response to most modern music for the liturgy is to wish all copies to be cast into Gehenna strapped to a leaky barrel of lighter fluid. It would uncharitable to wish physical harm upon the composers and performers of such music. See? That works.