Presentation and questions
  • IdeK
    Posts: 9
    Hi everybody,

    I'm a French young woman, living in the Paris suburbs. I'm one of the six to eight volunteer cantors here at our parish, and I would like to ask for some advice to have better music.

    Here is the state of things :

    1. No need to say, no one has ever heard about Propers, or about instructions about music such as De musica sacra or Musicam Sacram. Sacrosanctum Concilium, they know it exists, but we are only two to have set an eye on it.

    2. It has been decided that all Masses of a said sunday should have "the same music", which in fact means the same three hymns (Entrance, Communion, Recessional). These hymns is chosen by a meeting of the cantors, sometimes up to two or three months ahead - usually quite cheesy stuff, the more recent ones having at least biblical lyrics, but the music is most often either sugary or bouncy, or both. At the date of the hymn choice, we don't know who will cantor on which day. I think all this is stupid for several reasons : there is organ accompaniment for the saturday evening and the sunday morning masses, but not for the sunday evening masses ; then the cantor does not necessarily know the hymn well. I do learn music quickly enough to be able to discover the music on saturday and sing it unaccompanied on sunday, but some of the others don't, and then they however insist that the chosen hymn must be sung, even if the cantor doesn't know it well. That has already lead to some amazing failures, or, more usually, to the cantor saying in the mike "Well, as a recessional hymn, we will sing XXX on page YY, but I don't know it well so those of you who know it please sing very loud" (yes, it did happen).

    (As far as the ordinaries are concerned, at the same meetings, we choose two or three series of ordinaries, in French and in Latin. No gregorian chant in Latin ordinaries, of course - the latin words are set to bouncy musics, usually made by autodidacts from the Communauté de l'Emmanuel, a french recent community - I'm afraid they are not much learned in textes history and structure, because I still have to understand how came this idea the Gloria could get a refrain and verses)

    That doesn't let much space to move, I'm afraid. I feel the only free space I can move on is the Responsorial Psalm (I have some free space, too, with the Alleluia, but, well, much less, so I will begin by the Responsorial Psalm). Thus I think I'm going to quit the missalette stuff we usually sing as Responsorial Psalm and go to more chant-like stuff. My problem is I don't feel able to compose anything chant-like - I'm a historial/art historian, not a professional musician, and definitely not a composer. Then I thought I could adapt from the collections of Responsorial Psalms composed in English. Truth is I feel the most easy to adapt are those of Ms. Arlene Oost-Zinner, but then, I don't think it is correct to do it without asking her first, since, hey, it is her work. And I don't know how to get in touch with her... If anyone could help me here ??

    At any rate, if anyone has any suggestion or advice for this situation, and especially for the lock over the "same hymns at all masses of a said sunday" principle, I would be quite grateful.

    Thanks by advance. I apologise if my English is too ugly, but then, I'm French, so please be merciful on that regard.
  • Paul F. Ford
    Posts: 743
    The most salient answer to this problem is in the attached document. I will pray for you.
    Thanked by 2Heath CHGiffen
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 781
    If my French were as good as your English, I think I would be doing marvelously well! To say it another way: your English is terrific!
  • Kathy
    Posts: 4,676
    Why not take a Sunday off (quiet Masses) and bring your cantors to go enjoy the Mass at Notre Dame.

    There they will experience a much different sensibility.
  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 5,017
    I haven't an answer for your dilemma, but your English is charming!

    Kathy's suggestion of visiting the cathedral, as well as other churches that may have exemplary music programs should be enlightening to you and your cantor colleagues.
    Sad to say, many people perform unfortunate music because they know nothing better.

    The rule about having the same music at every mass seems to me unwise, considering the variety of talent amongst your cantors - especially since it seems to guarantee that a cantor may be leading music that he or she cannot sing well.
    Reviewing the wisdom of this rule would certainly be appropriate..
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,805
    The rule about having the same music at every mass seems to me unwise, considering the variety of talent amongst your cantors - especially since it seems to guarantee that a cantor may be leading music that he or she cannot sing well.


    Yes, this was also the rule when I was a DM. I was never certain of where it originated, and I just thought that it was something the pastor wanted specifically. I agree with you that this rule is not reasonable.

    *MINI RANT*

    I also suspect that such a rule can be used to keep "high liturgy" out of the parish, thereby eliminating the prospect of being able to use chant or Latin. As I've said before, I think that's more about the Latin than the chant.

    *END MINI RANT*
  • Liam
    Posts: 2,998
    It would seem the charmingly expressed request is first and foremost for guidance on resources for Sunday responsorial psalmody (presumably in French)* where the kind mademoiselle has most freedom of maneuver.

    That said, it might help for us to know if she believes it would be acceptable in her parish to use the seasonal common psalms? That might reduce the scope of her burden if it were the case.

    * For example, in English:

    http://www.ccwatershed.org/blog/2014/jun/25/common-seasonal-responsorial-psalms/

    http://catholic-resources.org/Lectionary/1998USL-Psalms-Alleluias.htm
  • Andrew Malton
    Posts: 615
    .
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 1,283
    All the same music does sound unwise in your situation, but it can cut both ways. I sometimes hear rumblings about each Mass wanting its own personality and the expense of having a professional cantor at each.
  • IdeK
    Posts: 9
    Thank you very much for all those suggestions ! I think I'm going to propose an outing to some other parish, maybe in one of the numerous parish in Paris where there is a gregorian and/or polyphony schola singing the ordinary form - or would you think it wise to have it to the TLM of the neighbouring parish ? At any rate that will have to wait until September or October, since it's the summer holidays here and everyone is gone on vacation trips and so forth.

    For the responsorial psalm, thanks for the suggestions. I'm afraid I'm supposed to stick to the lectionnary, so no common psalms. The scope of freedom I have is that in truth, people seem to think "music is the same" means "lyrics are the same", no matter what the music truly is, so I can sing the psalm to whatever music I want, provided the text comes from the lectionnary - it is understood to be "the same music". I take that as an opportunity to make people reaccustomed to modal sonorities. I didn't find much French resource for modal responsorial psalms, so I thought I could adapt, but then, not much resources in latin either, so I thought I would try from English, since it seems there are lots of resources for English responsorial psalms. But then those resources are recent ones, so I'm worried that the authors might disapprove of my adaptations.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • igneusigneus
    Posts: 197
    @IdeK The Trappist abbey of Sept-Fons has been developing it's repertoire of "gregorian chant in French" for the past 15 years or so, so it might be worth asking them if they have prepared, and if they would eventually provide you, also responsorial psalms for the Mass.
  • roy2
    Posts: 5
    @IdeK Do you live near a university or seminary with a good library? A few years ago I spent a couple of hours browsing the shelves at my local university library to see what is available in terms of different settings of the responsorial psalm. (I live in Canada, and unfortunately our English lectionary translation is different from the US/UK translations which most of the English-language resources use, so I did not find very much, but I discovered many other wonderful things!) Maybe it will be worthwhile for you to look. Many resources are still only available in print and not online.

    Do you know if the lectionary used in France is the same as the lectionary used in other French-speaking countries?

    For example, D'une même voix seems to be the official French-language hymnal published by the Canadian bishops:
    https://esubmitit.sjpg.com/cccb/index.aspx?component=ProductDetails&id=181-330

    And here is a collection by Michel Guimont:
    https://fr.novalis.ca/products/celebre-ton-seigneur

    I don't know whether these settings are more chant-like. Probably not. But next time I'm at the university library here I will check for you. Maybe your library will also have resources from Wallonie, Switzerland, French-speaking African countries, etc.? (I wonder what they use at Cardinal Sarah's home cathedral?!)

    Regarding the three hymns, I suggest starting with small steps. For example, if you focus your energy on advocating for 1 selection every 3 weeks and don't fight the others on the remaining 8 selections, at least now you have improved the situation by 11%! Communion is probably the best place to start. The assembly is most likely to accept a change at this part of the mass. When we introduced the propers for the first time at our organ-cantor mass, we started with the communion psalm, and we have now been doing it for more than a year. If you start with good-quality communion hymns, that will go a long way to retraining the ears of your fellow parishioners.
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,805
    I'm not sure if you are aware of this resource, and I'm not sure if it is usable in Canada, but Michel Guilmont also has published Lectionary Psalms, which I have found to be a very beautiful collection of Responsorial Psalms for the Church Year.
    Thanked by 1roy2
  • roy2
    Posts: 5
    Thanks @ClergetKubisz Unfortunately (for me) that collection uses the US lectionary translation. On the occasional Sunday when the US and Canadian lectionary translations of the refrain match, we typically have used the Lumen Christi collection. But thanks for reminding me of this - maybe I'll take a look at this collection too for those occasional Sundays.
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 1,283
    (I wonder what they use at Cardinal Sarah's home cathedral?!)
    Google is your friend, but maybe you'd sooner not know.
    Thanked by 2Settefrati93 igneus
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,805
    I like the Lumen Christi collection also.
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 1,210
    Bonjour et bienvenue ! Il y plusieurs francophones ici, dont moi.

    I think that a TLM is best for your outing, because first, it is the TLM and second, everything will be chant or polyphony for the Mass texts. Unless you go to a church where you can guarantee what is sung, you risk taking one step forward and two back. This is a typical European combination. Mass VIII (or some Renaissance polyphony...) and some of the propers with spoken readings, possibly a spoken Credo (or Credo III...), bad music for the psalm...maybe some polyphonic motets.
    Thanked by 2CCooze Joseph Mendes
  • bonniebede
    Posts: 716
    THe Schola St Gregoire in Le Mans does good work , as well as running a summer nusic school they can come to a parish for workshops etc, you will find their web site easily, and Mr Claude Pateau the Directeur is most helpful and kind.
  • IdeK
    Posts: 9
    Thanks everybody for all those ideas. I will actually follow a Gregorian Chant formation provided by my diocese this autumn and winter (eight two-hours courses every other saturday), and I intend to see how to continue with the schola Saint Grégoire.

    As for my psalm question, I got a small crisis over it with the replacing organist yesterday before mass : when she saw what I had prepared, she said "where on earth did you learn to sing the psalms ? Psalmody should never have more than two or three notes, and you must stick to the pointing given by the usual missalette stuff. Besides, your response is quite too resembling to the psalmody, which shouldn't be the case. What ? Your psalmody is a gregorian psalm tone ? But that should never be done. Gregorian psalm tones are for Latin, not for French".

    I was rather taken aback. I had never heard that kind of speech before. What is the problem with a response close from the psalmody ? Have you already heard about that "no more than two or three notes" stuff ?
  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 5,017
    IdeK -

    Your 'replacing organist' hardly qualifies as an authoritative voice in these matters. I would pay him or her no mind at all.

    As for singing the Gregorian psalm tones to French words. By all means do this if you wish. There are, indeed, those who argue that these tones were devised for Latin. They are correct. However, this does not prevent them from being adaptable to English (Anglicans have been doing this for aeons) or to French or to other languages. The Gregorian tones are superior to any other modern alternatives for singing psalms and, with the application of artful musicianship are quite adaptable to languages other than Latin.

    The Responsory, though, should indeed be to a different melody entirely from that of the verses.

  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 1,210
    MJO, I get that, but the problem is that the plebs sancta Dei, les biens chers fidèles are expected to sing the response which is far more complicated than the psalmody, but at least in my experience, it was never close to being the same thing twice. On a related note, am I the only one who hates singing the whole response twice at the beginning and also (sometimes) at the end?

    IdeK, what you do sounds great.
  • IdeK
    Posts: 9
    Thanks to M. J.O. for your advice ! I gather the first part of my response was quite too close to the psalmody (the second part was different though). I'll be more serious on that point next time, and continue my work without any other regard to this replacing lady. Besides, next time I cantor, the Titular of the Organ will be back from holidays, and she seems to like my work.

    M.R. thanks for your appreciation. I don't know if you "work" for French or English-speaking liturgies, but I feel a problem we have in French is that the official text of the response is very long, which makes it complicated to catch for the assembly. The English responses seems quite shorter, except on occasions. I'm going to try to find the latin text to check how is the reference text.

    My last weeks experiments, though, seem to show me that modal and very simple things are quite easier to catch than the singy-songy usual stuff or the complicated Gouzes we sometimes get in the missalette for a change (and which often turns to disasters in my parish, as I understand). My too-near-from-the-psalmody response of last sunday got quite a success in that regard (I didn't expect it to work so well and was even a bit surprised how heartily they sang it from the first time !). And this even though people are really not accustomed to that kind of sound and rhythm.

    Never heard the response repeated twice at the end of the psalm, but that seems quite weird. Before the psalm, the organist plays the music, I sing it alone, and then I sing it with the people. Is that what you hate ? I feel it is rather repetitive, but then, the people need to hear it at some point before singing it themselves, so I don't have a better solution. My fellow cantors do worse : after the organist has played the tune, they say the text of the response, then they sing it, and then at last the people is allowed to sing.
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 1,210
    I think the problem of most commercially published collections is the same, exactly as you describe it for France.

    I do dislike that. It should be sung like one would intone a Gregorian proper or antiphon. But, yes, they have to hear it, don’t they? Maybe it is an American thing to sing it twice at the end, which I’ve definitely heard...
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 470
    after the organist has played the tune, they say the text of the response, then they sing it, and then at last the people is allowed to sing.
    Yeugh! That is a serious distraction from the worship of God.
    I suggested in a recent thread that we should try inverting the responsorial structure: cantor has the complex tune, and people sing the psalm verses, even possibly to the simplified GS tones, no rehearsal neccessary. After all most of our congregation is now literate.
  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 5,017
    Except, Mr Hawkins, that would make the psalm worse than it is.

    Actually, the responsory should be a realtively simple chant-like tune, and the cantor's verses should each have at least a moderately developed chant-like melody of its own.

    The responsorial psalm has received much bad press, much of it earned because of the dumb music which is common for it. It needs refinement and musical worth, not dumbing down. As for the fad for creating a responsory out of a psalm tone - that is absolutely stupid. The people are not idiots - and everyone should stop treating them as thought they were.

    When I have occasion to lead the psalm, I improvise for the people a very simple responsory based on one of the modal scales, or the pentatonic scale, and then improvise a melody more or less as interesting as the introit puer natus, different for each verse.

    Cantors should be trained to do this. Then they would be real cantors.
    We could use a published book of such psalms composed by Fr Columba or Fr Weber, or someone else.

    The practice of cantors singing the verses to a mere psalm tone is also 'chant for dummies'. The psalm tones exist for group singing of the psalter, groups such as choirs, monastic communities, congregations, etc., and are therefore more suited to antiphonal or in directum singing by larger groups. They are not for responsorial chant or cantoral solo singing.
  • tomjaw
    Posts: 946
    This responsorial psalm in the NO was made up, has been a total failure...etc. Can you* please throw it in the trash and go back to the Gradual.

    * I have not heard this so called Responsorial Psalm for over 20 years.

    the practice of cantors singing the verses to a mere psalm tone is also 'chant for dummies'. The psalm tones exist for group singing of the psalter, groups such as


    So how many times has the Vatican allowed changes to the text of the psalms over the last 100 years? If the number is more than one they clearly do not expect anyone to sing them confidently.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 470
    I may well be misunderstanding, but I imagine something akin to Simple English Propers. In that case, rather than stopping the liturgy to teach the congregation a tune, you give them words they can sing to a known tune which is notated with the text.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 470
    This example of Ainslie's work, could be used in the way I suggest. No rehearsal of the verse needed by the congregation, the 'antiphon' would be a different matter. I am not trying to suggest what should be, just trying to get those of us stuck in the wilderness to an oasis. With God's aid we could then press on to the promised land.
  • IdeK
    Posts: 9
    M. Hawkins, your suggestion is quite interesting, thank you. It reminded me of what had been tried to do at my former parish : the "response" at the beginning and the end only, the verses sung on a psalm tone alternatively men and women, without interruption for the response, and then the response. It didn't work very well, because people couldn't get used to that, but if not beautiful, it was very prayerful. Better a poor psalmody without bouncy response than with it. But of course it had a "Liturgia horarum" taste.

    Now in my present parish none of these ideas would work. My talkative fellow cantors would take that as an occasion to speak even more, saying "now we take the psalm on page X" : o horror, horror, horror !