Repertoire for an "average" Catholic parish?
  • baritenor
    Posts: 7
    What is some good basic organ repertoire for the average Catholic parish? For instance, I would love to learn more French music but much of it might be considered "scary" by the average non-musical churchgoer. What would you say are the pieces that are generally well appreciated?
  • Which French literature is it that you think might be thought 'scarry'? Messiaen? Litaize? Langlais? Tournemire? Some might think one or all of these and their colleagues frightfully modern and unpleasant. Others would not. I have had people tell me after recitals that included Bach and baroque pieces that their favourite piece was the Messiaen. Never fail to challenge people and give them credit - and broaden their horizons.

    Having said that, some relatively tame French literature would be the works of the XVIIth and XVIII century composers. Look into the various movements of their organ masses and magnificat suites. These make wonderful voluntaries before and after mass - or during the offertory if you play the organ then. Names to look for would be Titelouze, Lebegue, de Grigny, Raison, Clerambault, Couperin, Corrette, Marchand, and so forth. Most of the organ versets in their works are relatively short and are easily combined into little two or three movement suites to serve as a very fine voluntary before mass. Others serve very well at the offertory and during communions.

    There is a fear suffered by some organists that mass music (especially from the organ) must always be quiet, unobtrusive pablum. This is not so. It should reflect the tone of the day's celebration, whether meditative, prayerful, or joyous and exuberant. Aiding in communicating the tenor of the day's import is your goal as an organist. (And don't be too upset if one or two people have the ingratitude to complain about something that you played - think of all the two or three hundred others who didn't complain. They very likely either liked it or were indifferent. I have on a number of occasions had people come to me after I patiently listened to a complainer and say something like 'don't mind her [or him], we like your music'.)
  • baritenor
    Posts: 7
    For instance, I love this piece, but I'm waiting for someone to make a joke about it being Dracula music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iF4nm77eIBc
    Thanked by 1ClergetKubisz
  • I can't see Dracula in your example. More like the profound mystery surrounding the Godhead and the serene beauty of his house.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 8,404
    I like it. I am playing a piece by Boyvin tomorrow. Granted, a modern day Schantz doesn't sound like a French organ of his day, but still sounds pretty good, I think.
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,059
    The problem with Baroque organ music in a minor key (apart from anything that is obviously a minuet or a gigue) is that blasted d minor toccata by Bach (or not by Bach, depending on whether ot not you agree one scholar or another). That has been so overused in bad horror movies or Halloween skits, that anything akin to it makes the great unwashed masses think of Dracula. We organists may hear "lovely French Baroque prelude in g minor/mode 2", but the rest of the world will hear "Halloween". Yes, it's stupid, but, hey, that's life. (Vel, "Oui, c'est stupide, ah, c'est la vie.")
    Thanked by 1baritenor
  • I can't hear Dracula in it even after he has been seeded there by Baritenor and said to be culturally implicit by Salieri.
    It's a wonderful piece! Play it!
    I've played many such pieces over my many decades as an organist and no one, not a single person, has ever indicated to me such impressions or anything like unto them.
    Um, (with all due respect) the idea does seem to have originated in your own mind..
    _________________________________________________

    The Houston chapter of the AGO have an annual halowe'en bash every year, at which everyone wears ghoulish costume and plays ghoulish music on the organ which has had the misfortune to be the host instrument for this adolescent nonsense. Only in the organ world does one find such idiotic desecration of our sacred instrument - and its sacred space. I have never been to one of these witches' sabbaths nor would I be caught dead at one. Do any other AGO chapter descend to these sorts of things?
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,837
    That has been so overused in bad horror movies or Halloween skits, that anything akin to it makes the great unwashed masses think of Dracula.


    Musical illiteracy strikes again.
    Thanked by 1baritenor
  • baritenor
    Posts: 7
    The problem with Baroque organ music in a minor key (apart from anything that is obviously a minuet or a gigue) is that blasted d minor toccata by Bach (or not by Bach, depending on whether ot not you agree one scholar or another). That has been so overused in bad horror movies or Halloween skits, that anything akin to it makes the great unwashed masses think of Dracula. We organists may hear "lovely French Baroque prelude in g minor/mode 2", but the rest of the world will hear "Halloween". Yes, it's stupid, but, hey, that's life. (Vel, "Oui, c'est stupide, ah, c'est la vie.")


    That's what I was getting at. To a parish that has only known Catholic Top 40 and sentimental piano arrangements of American Protestant hymns for the past few decades, anything loud in a minor key can be dismissed as scary. I've even heard someone question an instrumental as lovely and well-known as Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" by insisting it's more appropriate for a wedding Mass than a Sunday Mass. Most American Catholics just don't know what they don't know.

    So, to restate my question: giving the widespread musical illiteracy in many Catholic parishes, what are some good instrumental pieces, composers or even general styles to play to help parishioners appreciate our Catholic liturgical music tradition?
  • ViolaViola
    Posts: 171
    Try something by Jeanne Demessieux. There is a very useful collection published by Summy-Birchard, called Twelve Chorale Preludes on Gregorian Chant Themes; obtainable from Amazon. Listen to this one, based on Rorate Caeli:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lvm_QlKraJE
    This is the easiest one, some are more rousing and they cover most seasons of the Church's year.
    Thanked by 2CharlesW baritenor
  • I was at the music shop this windy day (the sky was dark grey it was trying unsuccessfully to rain) and ran across a multi-volume set of pieces by Gerald Near based on Gregorian chants from the propers for various solemnities and ordinary Sundays throughout the year. Though I don't remember the title of the series, the word 'Gregorian' was in it. They were nicely done, and I would recommend them to any and all. The pieces range from easy to very moderately difficult or so, and are in a quasi-improvisational style, some being vaguely reminiscent of Tournemire's work. They range from two to three or four pages and each bears the Latin incipit of the proper chant on which it is based.

    I also saw a set of three hymn-tune preludes by RVW. It contained a nice sort of fantasia on Bryn Calfaria, which with its tremendous gravitas is one of my favourite tunes. One rarely hears it this side of the pond, a thing which should be remedied. Other than its appearance in a Lutheran supplemental hymnal back in the seventies, I've never encountered it over here. As paired with 'Lord enthroned in heavenly splendour' at no. 319 in The English Hymnal it is all but spell-binding.

    (I once had an LP of a thousand Welshmen singing Welsh tunes, including Bryn Calfaria. Russian Orthodox chant has hardly more profundity than these Welshmen.)
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 8,404
    Don't forget "Ten Chant Preludes for Organ" by Gregory Hamilton.
  • MarkS
    Posts: 161
    The Gerald Near collection is called 'A Gregorian Liturgical Year'—last Sunday I used the setting of the Communio for Transfiguration, Visionem, as a communion voluntary. Many quite lovely things. Near is not afraid of some dissonance, however!

    I also second the RVW 'Three Preludes on Welsh Hymns'—I play all three every year. The last is a stirring setting of HYFRYDOL (spelling?) which is also one of my favorites.
  • baritenor
    Posts: 7
    Thanks everyone for the great suggestions! Feel free to add more if you think of them!
  • MarkS
    Posts: 161
    I hear a lot of Guilmant in area Catholic churches (well, those that actually include organ music, which are but few in my parts) and, although I don't play him, he seems a useful composer to know. There's also a lot of simpler Vierne and even some Langlais that seem to be played often.
  • You can never go wrong with Flor Peeters.
  • Baritenor
    have been meaning to tell you about a short piece by Lefebure-Wely that our organist uses, from time to time, which you might like (no one has ever reported it to be 'scary'). It's at IMSLP
    http://ks.imslp.net/files/imglnks/usimg/f/f6/IMSLP131037-WIMA.b8b0-Lefebure-Wely_01_4.Communion.pdf
  • ...can never go wrong with...

    I've never liked Peeters' music at all.
    I am aware, though, that he does have quiet a large following.
    If I never again hear his (incredibly gaudy) Entrata Festiva I shall remain joyful.
    Aeons ago I was at a parish at which that was the default piece for every special occasion..
    It's not that his music isn't good. It is. It's just not interesting.
  • MarkS
    Posts: 161
    If I never again hear his Entrata Festiva I shall remain joyful.


    I don't particularly care for that piece either! I personally don't think Peeters is best represented by his big 'popular' pieces. But there are a number of chant-and-hymn based preludes that are absolutely exquisite, and more than a few make lovely grand statements that make for effective postludes. I've jokingly referred to Peeters as 'the poor man's Hindemith' but really that's doing him a disservice—at his best he has a lovely melodic gift combined with a personal but evocative feeling for harmony, all of which is built upon a deep understanding and reverence for historical models. Thus ends my Peeters apology!