Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sing to the Lord a new psalm

Once upon a time, choirs would chant the psalms every Sunday morning. (We could always tell whether or not choir practice was rushed by whether the choir agreed on when to leave the common tone for the closing pattern of each verse.)

I don’t know how many churches currently do so, but there is now a project by a Texas-based Catholic nonprofit to compile various settings for Psalms for each of the three years of the RCL. (28 Prayer Book parishes need not apply.) The material is made available free via a Creative Commons license.

The content is at, while the project is described at the website of Corpus Christi Watershed and also a posting at the First Thing Evangel blog. The project explains its project in Jan 2010 a commentary published in Homiletic & Pastoral Review.

I haven’t had a chance to go over the settings with the piano, but my impression is that they are mainly (or) entirely newer settings since the website highlights their contemporary composers. Four are in honor of historic Catholic leaders — including Thomas Aquinas — but no provenance is given with the settings.

Perhaps more interesting are the resources on Gregorian Chant, including a historical essay on accompanying the chant by resident composer Jeff Ostrowski and free copies of Nova Organi Harmonia (a 1940s compilation and harmonization of Gregorian Chant).

Overall, there is a wealth of material at the Chabanel/CC Watershed websites which certainly bear further investigation.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Name that Sanctus!

Last week, the organist wanted to pick a new Sanctus and so did a run through with interested members of the congregation. I knew most of them and so sang them (from memory — not sight-reading) so the others could get an idea.

The constraint was that it should be Rite I and from Hymnal 1982. We’d been singing the Proulx (S125) but people noticed that the Rite II words didn’t match the rest of the Rite I service (including what we say for the Sanctus if there’s a substitute organist.)

For our church efforts and this blog, I decided to do a Sanctus inventory, spending a few hours flipping through the back of H40 (both the 1943 and 1981 editions), the front of H82 and various other sources.

As is the custom in most American Anglican (or TEC) parishes nowadays, we use the combined Sanctus/Benedictus (“Blessed is He”) rather than ending on “O Lord Most High” as was the norm 40-70 years ago, when I was growing up and when Hymnal 1940 was produced. In fact, it wasn’t until the Supplement II edition of H40 (1981) that my favorite hymnal got the longer version of the Sanctus.

I’ve been accused of being biased against H82 (I’d rather think of it as it as a fair assessment of its strengths/weaknesses) but the reality that a) even more than for hymn melodies, service music chants are a matter of personal taste and b) both hymnals have included some dubious choices, where you say “why did they do that?”

In fact, it appears that one of the main reasons for a new hymnal nowadays is for the hymnal editors to put their friends’ (or personal favorite) hymns into the book and perhaps generate some royalties. There is evidence of this not just in H82 but also for H40 and the Lutheran Service Book.

To be fair, Hymnal 1982 has a disadvantage that to my knowledge no previous hymnal ever faced: the church couldn’t decide on a common liturgy, so there are separate settings for each of the two variant rites. (In a stroke of remarkable bad timing, the 2006 LSB went with the unfortunate “Also with you” just before the CCT and RCC (partly) corrected this error by switching to “And with your spirit.”)

The upshot:
  • The original H40 has seven settings of the Sanctus: four complete communion services (Merbecke, Willan, Oldroyd and the Douglas/medieval plainsong settings) as well as three additional settings of the Sanctus alone. The Supplement I (1961) adds four more complete settings: Sowerby, Bodine, Waters, Shaw. Overall, this means 11 settings of the Sanctus, plus (after 1981) a Sanctus/Benedictus version of the 8 primary communion services.
  • H82 offers five Rite I settings (S113-S117). It reprints (with tinkering) the three most widely used (and IMHO best) settings (Merbecke, Willan, Douglas) for Rite I, supplemented by two others: one from the C.W. Douglas Missa de Angelis and one that James McGregor claims to have adapted from a 16th century mass by Hans Leo Ha├čler.
  • In H82, these five Rite I settings are joined by (count ’em) 11 Rite II settings (S121-S131). (Does this perhaps hint where the hymnal committee’s priorites lay?) Among them are late 20th century settings by McGregor, Proulx, Martens and Hurd — names that show up repeatedly in the S-section of the book.
In our singoff at church, the Willan was very familiar and was briefly the favorite. This was the one I sang every week as a boy soprano in the pro-cathedral choir. Despite my medievalist biases, I think it has earned popularity far beyond mere familiarity. Willan is North America’s greatest Anglican composer and (after Vaughan Williams) probably the most important 20th century composer of Anglican church music. The one gripe (again legitimate) is that it requires a wide range that would be easier for the choir than the congregation.

One that was also familiar was the Merbecke from The Book of Common Praier Noted (1550), the first English language setting of the mass. Unlike the 1662 prayer book — or the 1928 where it was optional — the first Anglican Sanctus included the Benedictus, matching the words of the original 1549 BCP:
Holy, holy, holy, Lorde God of Hostes: heaven (& earth) are full of thy glory: Osanna, in the highest. Blessed is he that commeth in the name of the Lorde: Glory to thee, O lorde in the highest.
The Merbecke is a great choice, but our rector veto’d it as too somber for all but the penitential season, which he defines as including Lent but excluding Advent.

So we probably would have gone with the Willan until a new parishioner chimed in “What about the Schubert?” I had to admit she had a point. During my Lutheran days, I’d previously sung the English translation of the Sanctus with the setting from his 1827 Deutsche Messe (D.872). Unlike most service music (notable exception: the Scottish Gloria), it has a beautiful and singable harmony — of great personal concern now that I’m decades removed from my boy soprano days.

As with a lot of other Romantic era compositions, the piece a tendency to be sappy but I think our organist will avoid that. Listening German and English versions available on YouTube, the two are quite different. The German original is very slow (literally Sehr langsam, 3/4 with 50 bpm) which wouldn’t be sappy but would probably be too slow for weekly worship use.

The other problem for us is that Schubert is published by H82 (S130) as part of the 11 Rite II majority rather than the 5 Rite I minority. The H82 words are the Rite II favorite:
Holy, holy, holy Lord
God of power and might
Heaven and earth are full of your glory
Hosanna in the highest, Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord
Hosanna in the highest, Hosanna in the highest.
Taking the German
Heilig, heilig, heilig, heilig ist der Herr!
Heilig, heilig, heilig, heilig ist nur Er!
Er, der nie begonnen,
Er, der immer war;
Ewig ist und waltet, sein wird immer dar
Allmacht, Wunder, Liebe, Alles rings umher!
from Yahoo and other sources it appears that a more accurate translation would be:
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord!
Holy, holy, holy is He alone!
He, who always was
Is eternal and reigns, and will be forever.
Eternal, and prevails, will be accessible is
Omnipotent, miraculous, love all around!
So no “Power and Might.” But then the Luther text used by Schubert is not the same as the English translation of the Latin.

The words and music were adapted by Richard Proulx, who is described by his Facebook group as follows:
Richard Proulx (1937-2010) was a widely published composer of more than 300 works, including congregational music in every form, sacred and secular choral works, song cycles, two operas, and instrumental and organ music. He served as a consultant for such denominational church hymnals as The Hymnal 1982 (Episcopal Church), New Yale Hymnal, the Methodist Hymnal, Worship II & III, (Roman Catholic Church), and has contributions in the Mennonite Hymnal and the Presbyterian Hymnal. Proulx was a member of The Standing Commission on Church Music of the Episcopal Church and was a founding member of The Conference of Roman Catholic Cathedral Musicians. 
On the one hand, Proulx had a front row seat to get his music into H82. On the other hand, he seems to be solely responsible for taking the Sehr Langsam Sanctus in German and adapting it for congregational singing in English. Another hymnal lists it as 1985 — the same copyright date as on p. 930 of H82 — while an entire arrangement of the mass by Proulx was published in 1989.

So we have a piece out of copyright for more than a century, with a new arrangement that includes a non-literal translation. It appears there is only one version of this arrangement that uses the Rite II rather than the original BCP words. (Too bad the question didn’t come up before he died in February, or we could have emailed him.)

The Rite II words, derived from the ICEL texts, are now considered obsolete by the Catholic church. Instead, consistent with the other liturgy changes, English speaking Catholics will soon revert to Cranmer’s original 1549 words stripped of the thees and thous:
Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes
in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.
I’ll be curious to see if the AMiA, ACNA and of course TEC will adopt the more accurate text, and thus bring along the service music with it. One distinct advantage is that the Rite I/II then become a syllable-for-syllable equivalent and thus could use identical settings.

If he were alive, we know that Proulx — as the former organist of the Catholic cathedral in Chicago — would have updated his Sanctus for the Vatican-approved text. One eulogy called him “one of the last great composers within the Catholic milieu who came of age in a time before commercial-style pop music came to dominant American parishes” while another called him “the leading champion of traditional Catholic church music post–Vatican II.” He sounds almost like a 20th century John Mason Neale.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Ephemeral Orthodox worship

As an Anglo-Catholic, when I thought of Catholic worship I thought of Latin, profound reverence, bells & smells. These guys (and they’re all guys) still hold to tradition with a capital T as part of a strong central authority and a continuous line back almost 2,000 years.

Alas, I found out that since Vatican II, American Catholics are almost as likely to have a sappy praise band as the average liberal Protestant denomination, and only slightly less likely than the average nondenom evangelical church. In fact, when flipping channels in my car radio to EWTN last month, I heard the same sappy CCM praise hymn that I recognized from my rare (but sometimes unavoidable) visits to Evangelical Rite II Anglican services. Yes, Pope Benedict hopes to restore some sanity to the RCC, but I think even his goals are modest.

Well, I thought, at least there’s the Orthodox. Ever since defecting from Anglicanism to swim the Bosphorus, JLeebcd has been signing the praises (sometimes literally) of his new denomination — while attacking the contradictions of his former denomination with the vengeance of a true convert. To listen to Mr. Leebcd, the Orthodox faith was Paradise Found, the one True Church preserving the historic traditional liturgy.

One of the links he’s been sending me has been to Ancient Faith Radio — chief propaganda ministry for the Antiochian Orthodox Church, sort of an online-only version of EWTN (or Issues Etc.). Perhaps the most prominent discussion of hymns and liturgy at the site are the podcasts of Father John Finley in a series called “Singing the Triumphal Hymn.” I checked out a few podcasts before realizing that the AOC is also afflicted with the CCM disease.

The autobiographical series traces the journey of Fr. Finley from his childhood and college upbringing as an Oklahoma Baptist to the AOC by way of the Antiochian Evangelical Orthodox Mission. His podcast biography says that he is “with the Missions and Evangelism Department of the Antiochian Archdiocese,” but doesn’t say what authority or role he wields.

In particular, I learned the most about Fr. Finley (if not the AOC) from his initial podcast in November 2008 entitled “Music to My Ears,” apparently reading from a 2003 article he wrote for Again Magazine, a defunct publication from Concillar Press.

After talking about his various praise compositions — first for evangelicals and then for the AEOM and AOC — about four minutes before the end Fr. Finley explicitly stated his thesis demanding contemporary hymns tied to the contemporary culture:
Whenever the subject of changing or modifying or developing the music is discussed, it seems that someone will always say. “We’re Orthodox, we don't change.”

Then I can certainly understand this statement when spoken in reference to the canon of the Holy Scriptures, the creeds, the doctrines of the faith, the structure of the services, and so on. But when we consider church art, this attitude relegates the artist — whether a musician or an icongrapher or an architect — to the role of scribe.
He argued it was essential for the church to encourage artists to continually develop new forms of expressing devotion through these arts:
The only alternative is to stagnate in the preservation of what might be called “museum quality music,” reducing the church's artistic relevance in society to that of a curator.
This candid egocentrism is appalling on so many level: the urgency of continually messing with the liturgy — as witnessed by the many faithful — is driven by the need for self-expression by a handful of self-nominated (or politically connected) artists.

I certainly agree with one part — the stuff that’s survived for centuries is “museum quality” and the stuff from the last 20 years is not. Fr. Finley sang some of his music and the most charitable thing that could be said is that it’s good for American Orthodox praise music. Unlike Sister Toolan’s greatest hit, I don’t think these 20th century contributions will survive (except in archives) into the 22nd century.

It’s ironic that the AOC (like JLeebcd) proclaim their message as one of “Ancient Faith,” while the American Orthodox church suffers from the same desire to chase the contemporary culture as their Roman brethren. To quote my comments on contemporary Catholic worship 19 months ago on this blog:
But, overall, the hymn choices seemed to alternate between lounge singer and bad campfire music. So not timeless (as in the centuries of Catholic heritage), not chosen from the best of the past 50 years of modern Christian music, and not even the sort of professionally composed CCM that might be heard on a praise music radio station.
(I was inspired to reuse this earlier passage by the praise of Vicar Josh Osbun.)

Pop Goes Religion: Faith in Popular CultureTo respond to Fr. Finley (Baptist to Orthodox) and Mr. Leebcd (Episcopalian to Orthodox), I pull out my trump card — religion writer Terry Mattingly — who is Baptist-to-Episcopalian-to-Orthodox (AOC). He has frequently criticized the efforts by Christians to chase the culture, first with his book Pop Goes Religion and then with various appearances on the Issues Etc. (Lutheran) radio show. Like me, he strongly favors timeless hymns rather than the transient and contemporary ephemera of modern praise music.

Let me close with two quotes from his Issues Etc. interviews:
How many of us will be singing songs that our parents and grandparents sang? (March 19, 2006)
So is there anyone in the church older than Boomer rock? Are there any ties that bind this congregation to the church of the ages? It would seem not. (Nov. 11, 2007)