• jenross
    Posts: 5
    I hope this is the right spot to post this. I am new to the group but it looks like it should fit here. Anyway I am going to school for a BA in music and just recently have gotten into composing. I was thinking of composing something for my choir based on one of the psalms for the day. Is it appropriate to skip verses as long as I note it in the title? i.e. based on Psalm 23 vs 1-2; 6.
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,895
    Not sure about appropriateness, but that's because the notion of what is appropriate requires a standard to which you compare it. However, what you describe has been done many times and can be seen in many hymns deemed appropriate for Mass.
    Thanked by 1jenross
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,398
    Good question, jenross, and welcome to the forum!

    Others may weigh in with views of their own, but I'll just say that almost anything is done with respect to titles. It is certainly the case that, more often than not, titles make little or no reference to the completeness of or gaps in any biblical text contained in the works. It is often the case, though, that titles are simply and "incipit" ... that is the first few words or phrase of the text, such as "Benedicam Dominum in omni tempore" (or " I will alway give thanks unto the Lord") for a work whose text begins with these words from Psalm 33(34). Often, however, in the space at the left, just above the beginning of the music, the composer will include a reference to the specific text, eg. "Psalm 33:2-5,9 (34:1-4,8)".
    Thanked by 2francis jenross
  • Bobby Bolin
    Posts: 389
    Are you actually using it for the psalm or will it be a choral piece done at another time in the mass?
    Thanked by 1jenross
  • Jen,

    Welcome to the forum.

    When you say
    I was thinking of composing something for my choir based on one of the psalms for the day.

    I would agree with Bobby Bolin (above) that before you can answer the question of appropriateness, you need to know "appropriate for what"?

    If you mean that it should be a choral setting of the appointed psalm, to be sung between the two readings, but not using the same text, I would think that the answer is no, this is not appropriate. If you mean to set a text to be sung at some other time in the Mass, the only problem I can see would be if you did something like this:

    "And Cain killed his brother Abel; Go thou and do likewise".


    Thanked by 1jenross
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    By all means welcome to the forum.
    Consider this approach as an option-
    Avoid employing, for now, the texts from the Mass Ordinary and even all scriptural texts or excerpts, particularly if in the Latin language.
    Spend some considerable time examining religiously inspired poetry or prose authored by whomever, a Catholic such as St. Hildegard, and find a whole or partial text that really inspires your own prayerful heart. (I'm thinking of some of the texts Dr. Kwasniewski has set in his new choral compendium like O CLARISSIMA MARIA.) Finding a text with which your soul finds resonance allows and serves your skills and the compositional impulse, to honor God, to find your voice (your craft), and to affirm those skills within you.
    It is my long-lived conviction that too many composers appropriate Latin texts and/or famed texts such as Ps23 as "auto pilot" vehicles for already imagined musical motives and constructs, and then figure out how to unite the pieces like they are from a puzzle.
    So, you might discern this a better and more fulfilling way to enter the "arena"- and the text is all important and the primary concern before a note is written down. (Or keystroked!)
    Charles in CA
  • My music professors would have scoffed at the idea of creating something worthy of singing at church as it wouldn't have been contemporary enough. They'd say something like, that's nice but what does it have to do with 21st century music? I guess it means sometimes you have to compose for yourself and sometimes you have to go thru academic exercises that may stretch your own sense of taste and propriety. It seems like some professors couldn't be satisfied unless robots and bowed cymbals were involved.
    Thanked by 1jenross
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,398
    Jen, you're getting lots of advice already!

    Melofluent makes a salient point about choosing texts that resonate with your spirit and craft, although I don't think it's necessary to avoid scriptural or liturgical texts if they are what you feel drawn to. I do note that you said you are thinking of composing something for your choir, and I'm sure that this also influences your choices.

    Continuousbass is probably right about what your music professors might say or think of your efforts being worthy of church or contemporary enough. You have to find your own compositional style and how it fits any text that inspires you to compose for it.

    All our suggestions, reservations, caveats, and anecdotes aside ... wade in! get your compositional feet wet! bathe yourself in your own music! And be not afraid to find yourself surprised by some efforts, disappointed by other efforts, and thrilled to your core at your best efforts, sometimes when you least expect it. Don't be afraid to share your work, not only with your choir, but with people here who, by and large, will try to be most helpful.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    "Professors/Scoffers"- in many cases oxymoronic. :-)
  • Jen,

    Let me add, since I have done some composing over the years, that you may find that what strikes you as a utility piece at one point in your composing life may strike you as unbelievably trite later. This is to be expected, since you're learning something about the craft.

    Unlike my esteemed colleagues here, I'm going to suggest that you listen to, and simultaneously read, some particular kind of music to which you feel drawn - so that you can learn by studying those who do well what you esteem worthy of doing.

    It's common practice around here to post works in progress for the commentary of the readership, and I encourage you to follow this practice. Are there some who will be dismissive and unhelpful? Probably, but you'll find that most who will comment will take the piece for what you intend to do, and help you say better what you're already trying to say.


    Thanked by 2CHGiffen jenross
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,888

    Wow. Is that STILL the case with college profs? I thought all that went out mid 80's. I had one prof who used to make a vomiting action when I showed him my sacred music comps. He also told me he would never compose music for the organ because it was an instrument that didn't breathe. God help his poor soul.
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 1,636
    If you're setting the psalm to be used liturgically in the place of the psalm (and note that the psalm doesn't have to be responsorial, though try telling a priest that, and it SHOULD be if you want performances) then it must be the text of that day. If it's a free motet, do what you will... and I don't think you're obligated to state anything in the title. You could call it Fred even.

    Re Melo's comment: I see what he's getting at, but I disagree. Any text is fine, as long as it speaks to you. But we're in agreement that it should speak first, when choosing it. You want to be careful to keep the micro and macro in balance. My bad habit is to get hung up on individual words and "Mickey Mouse" them, or over-madrigalize them.It's best if your ideas reflect the text as a whole; you can still point up words or phrases, but don't let that destroy the unity of the concept.

    Simple is better than complex, as long as it's not simple-minded. If you have to do something that's hard for a performer, make sure that you're doing it in the easiest way possible. If you can't sing a part accurately, first time every time, chances are that it won't be sung accurately ANY time.
  • Ralph BednarzRalph Bednarz
    Posts: 477
    For the propers of the Mass: the entrance and communion chants, and the responsorial psalm only specific verses of the psalms are assigned and many, many verses are skipped. Only with the responsorial psalm of the Mass are we are required to sing all of the selected verses, ( typically only 4 verses). With the entrance or communion chants: These are assigned refrains and a few prescribed verses, but it is not necessary to sing all of the selected verses, nor is it even necessary to sing any verses or even the antiphons. In other words the Church routinely edits its presentation of the psalms.
    Only at the Liturgy of the Hours are psalms sung completely, and there are 4 psalms that are never said at any liturgies.
    Thanked by 1jenross
  • Wow. Is that STILL the case with college profs? I thought all that went out mid 80's.
    It's still true. Maybe not so much at a religious institution, but I went to a public school. One professor always scoffed at me during juries because I wasn't an expert in his favorite contemporary composer. Brilliant artists, though, lucky to have studied composition with them, even though they were intimidating, quirky folk.
  • Only with the responsorial psalm of the Mass are we are required to sing all of the selected verses, ( typically only 4 verses).

    Is this so? I have one cantor that only ever does three verses, no matter what... Whereas I always sing the whole thing no matter what.
  • jenross
    Posts: 5
    Wow thanks for all the suggestions guys and the warm welcome!!
    As fot my piece I am just going to use it as an choir anthem at the offertory time. Also I was just using Psalm 23 for an example of how I would note it in the title. I would never cut any of those verses. Those all go together but there are other Psalms that I look at and I like the first couple of verses but feel that the ones in the middle even though they are part would not fit.
    I like very much like Melofluent's idea of starting with religious poetry. I am going to start looking today.
    I tend to lean towards the English composers like Williams, and Rutter since I must confess that I work for a protestant church. But I am finding a lot of useful things here and I know there are knowledgeable people here that can maybe help with the writing process.
    My teacher is great she really encourages me to write. I took her 18th century counterpoint class this last semester and never in a million years would ever have thought I would have been able to compose anything. I actually wrote a two part invention and a fugue. The fugue I actually just finished reworking and turned it into a fugue and variation on Nicaea. Outside of the counterpoint class the teachers are great because they encourage any style of writing. So this is my next goal is to compose something for my choir!!
    Thanks again everyone!!
  • jenross
    Posts: 5
    Oh yes I should thank Chris and Jeff too very good points. I just re-read them. Let the words speak and if I can not sing a part I should not except my choir to be able to do so!!
    I will keep you all posted!! Off to pick text!!
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,630
    If you want to look at religious poetry in English, be sure to look through John Donne, Henry Vaughan and George Herbert for Anthem texts. Some poems by Henry Van Dyke could be good texts.

    I would echo, however, Melo's shrewd warning against setting certain texts like Psalm 23, or Psalm 100 - surely there are enough good settings of those by composers over the centuries that are accessible to most parish choirs that we really don't need another one - they've been Donne to Death.
    Thanked by 1jenross
  • kenstb
    Posts: 362
    Jen, welcome to the forum. All of the advice that you have been given is wonderful and you should take from every one of them the wisdom that their experience has gained for them. Nevertheless, if you wish to compose, then you are (like many of us) a person who goes through life with a song in your heart. The methods which you employ to compose are secondary to the voice in your mind and heart that sings to you. If you have a song to sing, you must sing it. Enjoy the act of creation. It is a gift from God.
    Thanked by 1jenross
  • jenross
    Posts: 5
    I found my text nice and simple it really spoke to me. There are phrases that I can play around with and already have the melody for verse one. I am making is easy and just repeating it in different parts for each verse and then all together in unison at the end.

    Much agreed on popular psalms or any well known scripture piece. My theory is like that of the movies rarely can you produce a sequel to a hit. I feel that the same thing goes with good music. You can not usually come close to a good standard repertoire that has already been done since it is always the one people remember the most.

    "they've been Donne to Death."
    Love the pun Salieri
    John Donne is good I enjoy his hymn Wilt Thou Forgive

    and as for me I am Donne for today.

    Life is a Journey
    by Anonymous
    Life is but a stopping place,
    a pause in what's to be,
    A resting place along the road,
    to sweet eternity.

    We all have different journeys,
    different paths along the way,
    We all were meant to learn some things,
    but never meant to stay...

    Our destination is a place,
    far greater than we know.
    For some the journey's quicker,
    for some the journey's slow.

    And when the journey finally ends,
    we'll claim a great reward,
    And find an everlasting peace,
    together with the Lord
    Thanked by 2melofluent CHGiffen
  • Jen,

    Do you mean Ralph Vaughn-Williams? I've never heard him named "Williams". Did you mean John Williams (of movie-sound-track fame)?

    Which Rutter? Some of his stuff is wonderful, but others of his opera smack of "how do I get this to market quickly"?


    Thanked by 1jenross
  • jenross
    Posts: 5
    Oh no I am sorry I for sure meant Vaugh-Williams sorry about that. I like most of Rutter's things I love his Christmas Lullaby.