What's Wrong with Hail Mary: Gentle Woman, et al?
  • bkenney27bkenney27
    Posts: 444
    After Sunday evening Mass this weekend, a parishioner waited for me to come down from the loft after Mass. Her first question was simple: Do you do Weddings? Why, yes, ma'am.
    Second one was a little more troubling/accusatory: "May is almost over and no one has sung Hail Mary: Gentle Woman! Why is that?" After some further clarification, I discovered she was not targeting my parish, but parishes across the state. She said she has some women's group and they were talking about how no one is singing these "songs" anymore; not just Gentle Woman, but On Eagle's Wings, Be Not Afraid, etc. Needless to say, I grinned on the inside as the fruits of our labors begin to ripen.

    As best I could I simply explained that, with regard to Gentle Woman, the composer doesn't have the best reputation among Sacred Musicians and that there is some debate over the lyrics of that particular song with regard to their suitability within the sacred Mass. With regard to the others, I explained that there is a movement across the Church toward more theologically sound hymnody, explaining that many of the lyrics of these songs are of human invention and are not as worthy or spiritually beneficial for the congregation as other hymns that directly quote or poetically paraphrase scripture. She seemed receptive, but saddened a bit. I assured her that we are trying to be sensitive to the generation that grew up with and formed legitimate attachment to this music but that the church is definitely beginning to move in a new direction. The conversation was a refreshing change from those that come up all angry demanding that OEW be played AT THE VERY NEXT MASS THEY ATTEND. She was genuinely curious because this change toward plainchant and traditional hymnody is noticeable elsewhere, not just at my parish which worked in my favor and made me less of a "bad guy."

    But I AM curious about your responses to this and, in particular, about Gentle Woman and Carey Landry's music in general. Simply stating that it is bad music doesn't hold much weight because as far as the average parishioner is concerned, that's a subjective statement, even though we all know it is not.
    Thanked by 1ServiamScores
  • Ben YankeBen Yanke
    Posts: 3,115
    When moving from crappy hymns to good hymns, there is somewhat of an argument, especially when things you are moving away from are partially scriptural, like "On Eagles Wings." It becomes a style battle, which is more difficult.

    But you have the truly strong argument when you move from crappy hymns to propers, because propers are on a whole new level.
    Thanked by 2bkenney27 Gavin
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    At the risk of incurring more of kenstb's wrath over semantical sensibilities, Ben, I ask you to define exactly what is a crappy hymn? Can one use that particular adjective to describe any hymn or song that, at its source, has a sacral intent?
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    bkenney27,
    I think you handled it quite well, except for the very first part, your own response within your heart. If you took schadenfreude from the parishioner's obviously serious concern, as she did wait for you to descend from the gallery, then there is much to still be learned.
    Did you offer up to her that every Sunday at the end of Mass you sang a beautiful Marian motet? Did you enumerate the titles of some of the most exquisite settintgs ever written in her honor from time immemorial? Did you mention that for many passing generations the lifespan of all hymns etc. often is brief in the Church's history, that the Ave Maria by RoSewig in Philadelphia was banned from use by fellow Philadelphian Nicholai Montani, whose own Marian compositions wouldn't pass muster against Rachmaninov or even Stravinsky, or the settings of Biebl or Part now are going to eventually be shelved for Lauridsen and LaRocca?
    Not that such an expiation would allay her honest emotional attachments,, but it is the way of all things. We too, shall pass.
  • bkenney27bkenney27
    Posts: 444
    Melo,
    You are right. It troubled me to see the sadness associated with the move away from these pieces, no doubt. It was not at all schadenfreude; much more accurately it was relief. Relief that I was not being targeted and berated as I have often been this past year, relief that there are others out there in my Archdiocese working toward the same goal, relief that this woman was genuinely curious and open to discussion. I regret that my wording above made it seem that I was taking pleasure in her displeasure. I was taking pleasure that our work to restore the sacred is taking hold in a big way. I'm not saying I don't have much left to learn; on the contrary, I have only just begun to scratch the surface. But, I'm not quite as vindictive as I'm sure I came across in the original post. :). My apologies for the language.
    I did point out that we sing the Regina Caeli every Sunday after communion, and that these songs are still prevalent in most funeral Masses that come through by request, etc. I'm looking forward to the opportunity to continue this discussion with her. She added that she almost called the Archdiocese to inquire and "chickened out," and doesn't feel comfortable conversing with her pastor (she technically belongs to another Parish) but knew she would feel comfortable asking me. I hope I served that pastoral trust as well as I could.
    Thanked by 3chonak melofluent Jenny
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,424
    I would try to suss out the question behind the question before committing to any kind of specific response. In my experience, questions about music and liturgy are never about the question being asked.

    Good responses in that vein include:
    -Why do you ask?
    -What are your thoughts on that?
    -Do you miss those songs?
    -Why do you think people aren't singing them anymore?
    -Do you wish we sang that music here?
    -What was your experience with that song?

    Beyond that, I might say something like:

    Those songs represent a very specific and somewhat unusual period in the life of the Church. Like all fads, they have started to fade away in favor of the timeless and traditional music of our heritage.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,900
    Adam has a good point: there is an ordinary process at work; new music is written, and may become popular for a while, but still fade from use. Later it may be revived, or perhaps it may never regain the popularity it once had. Even Bach was forgotten after his death, for 150 years.
  • kenstb
    Posts: 364
    Why Melo...you have never incurred anything like wrath from me. While I do sometimes disagree with you, I admire and appreciate your input and the passion with which you share it.
  • kenstb
    Posts: 364
    I have had the same experience in my parish where five elderly parishioners asked me why I haven't played Gentle Woman during the month of May. I'm not sure that the explanation about the composer or any of my concerns with the lyrics could satisfy them. They don't examine hymns as I do. They simply miss the song. Prior to my arrival, they sang it all of the time on the first Sunday of the month when the Legion of Mary had their regular mass. I was able to placate them because they also love the Salve Regina and the Regina Coeli, which I am more than willing to do.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,910
    define exactly what is a crappy hymn? Can one use that particular adjective to describe any hymn or song that, at its source, has a sacral intent?
    Interesting question, although unfortunately it made me think, "Holy cr*p!" [purple bold snark humor alert]
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,646
    Fortunately, Gentle Woman is not in the hymnal we have been using for approximately 15 years. They haven't heard it unless they heard it somewhere else. No one asks for it.
    Thanked by 1Gavin
  • donr
    Posts: 969
    I have not played Gentle Woman at all this year and have not had anyone ask me for it, or why I didn't play it. I have had people come to up to me and thank me for the music we are doing now.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,824
    There is (A grade) excellent authentic sacred music...
    then there is B grade religious music...
    then there is C grade religious music...
    then there is D grade religious music...

    I have three questions:

    1. Should I go on creating more categories?
    2. To which category above is 'Gentle Woman' ascribed?
    3. Does the piece in question need yet another categorical description?

    I am temporarily placing my mind in the state of 'Aggiornamento'.
    Thanked by 1Gavin
  • kenstb
    Posts: 364
    We should have more empathy for folks who, often through no fault of their own, do not share the musical tastes or education of a trained liturgical musician.   We shouldn't presume that there is only one way to see something. In the entire universe, God never created anything with only one side.  

    I am fine with the choice to use other music during the mass. I am even okay with the textual or musical reasons which make the choice necessary, but the judgmental grading of music and the categorizing of things as authentic and otherwise is unhelpful. We are, after all, hoping to touch people's souls with our music and our example. How will we move people if our responses are condescending?
    Thanked by 2Gavin Spriggo
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,824
    kenstb

    You are free to express your opinion just as much as I. You are actually being condescending toward me as though I have no right to express my opinion. I am fine if you think there are many sides to the universe and if you feel 'other music' is permissible at the Mass. I am not treading on your opinion, I am simply stating my own with good reason and decades of thought and experience performing the piece myself as I have played it hundreds of times. IMHO, music such as this is not fitting for liturgy. It is banal and sentimental. There is a reason it has disappeared from the newer hymnals.
    Thanked by 1Chris Hebard
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,900
    Some of this is a quibble about terminology.

    Probably most of us would rate various works on a scale from "excellent" down to "bad". The question is where to start calling works "good". If you want to be generous, it might suffice for a rating of "good" that the music and text be at least inoffensive and devout.

    Under that standard, "Hail Mary, Gentle Woman" could qualify as somewhat good. It's a devout little song.. It starts with Scripture and the rest is a poem with praises and petitions. On the good side, the song's mood is reflective and reverent, and the text of the first verse is perhaps the most beautiful thing ever said to a mere human being.

    On the down side, the song is long (nearly 4 minutes), and lacks an interesting melody. Also the pairing of the Biblical text with the mediocre poem is not a good match.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    What's wrong with Hail Mary Gentle Woman is that it's not suitable for congregational use. The rhythm is bizarre, too much depends on performance, and it's harmonically static.
  • kenstb
    Posts: 364
    Francis, you misstate my point rather than to actually answer it. If you read what I wrote, you will see that I never suggested any such thing like I "feel 'other music' is permissible at the Mass." This is a perfect example of the kind of rhetoric that turns people off, and which I am suggesting we avoid if we wish to reach parishioners like mine. If you're going to disagree with me, at least quote me accurately. What I did say is that I haven't played the piece myself for the very same reasons put forward in this thread. I do not think that the mere dismissive relegation of a piece to the "inappropriate for mass" category, without more is a workable solution. I don't presume to know where you work, but in my parish I couldn't approach it that way without starting a fight.
  • +
  • kenstb
    Posts: 364
    By solution, I mean an answer to the question of a parishioner who only knows that she likes the tune and couldn't care less about the analysis I subject it to. Oh...BTW...by other music, I meant music other than Gentle Woman, which (unless I totally missed something) is the hymn this thread is about.
  • Jani
    Posts: 429
    The intro, which is the entirety of the Hail Mary, is quite lovely and could stand alone as a....a..... something or other- an interlude, maybe? The verses and refrain just aren't that great, in my opinion.
    Thanked by 1Ignoto
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,900
    Ken, you've found a solution for your situation: the opening tune of the song is rather like a psalm tone, so it's not surprising that the people in your parish who like it also like a chant such as the Salve Regina.(simple tone, I presume.).
    Thanked by 1Ignoto
  • kenstb
    Posts: 364
    True. It's also in G major (in our hymnal), so it's not too high.
  • Andrew Motyka
    Posts: 935
    If anything, I've always found the beginning far too low for regular congregational use. Low A's?

    (I've never seen it in G; it's always in E so the guitarists can play it easier.)
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,824
    kenstb

    OK. bkenny asked this:

    But I AM curious about your responses to this and, in particular, about Gentle Woman and Carey Landry's music in general.


    So, there are two veins here:

    1. How to address the parishioner. I play the piece... artistically as possible. If it's not in the hymnal, doesn't matter. They know it by heart. Most of the congregation doesn't sing it... ever... in all the parishes I have worked. In general, they don't sing contemporary music; they just want to hear it and melt within themselves. It is what I call the navel gazer mentality. That is why it has nothing to do with the Mass and is inappropriate for the same.

    2. My comment above was simply a musical judgment. Nothing more. This is a forum for those who promote, observe, appreciate, educate, dissect and examine the rudiments of sacred music as it applies to the liturgy. Take it for what it is worth to you.
    230 x 291 - 49K
    Thanked by 1ClergetKubisz
  • PaixGioiaAmorPaixGioiaAmor
    Posts: 1,473
    We only use it at weddings and funerals, really. It's not inappropriate. There's just better stuff out there for Sunday mass. But if something came up that pushed me into using it, I would. This weekend we're singing "Here I Am, Lord." Haven't sung that on a Sunday in at least 4 years (that's how long I've been where I am.) In fact, we haven't sung anything by David Haas in at least 4 years too. But it's the deacon's 25th anniversary of ordination and the song means a lot to him; something about it being used when he was in the seminary. And SAT night is confirmation, and I know the kids know it. So I just made it the Communion hymn, since it would be useful/called for at 2 out of our 3 weekend masses.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    I have to ask, in general, how much value there actually can be shared by these occasional forensic deconstructions of songs such as the Landry? (Or Toolanbread/OEW/BNA et al.)
    In watching a news tribute to Maya Angelou a minute ago, a quote of hers was restated (I paraphrase): "People don't remember (you) so much for what you've said or done, but for how you made them 'feel.'"
    I think that's the basis for the immense popularity of such songs. Forensically, the Landry's a mess- it mixes modality (bVII chord) while elsewhere using a secondary dominant (II-7), has a literally pedantic melody, and the tessitura has been mentioned already. It's a country song. And people gravitate towards this inexplicable, blatantly sentimental stuff without fail or embarrassment. And yes, Virginia, they do sing 'em, low A's an' all. And, as also mentioned above, dressing up these little piggies if you have the skills might at least keep your mind in the game as you appease the folks.
    We, OTOH, just have to think two or three steps down the dialectic road ahead of our pastoral bosses or the sentimental PIPs and subtley shift their sensibilities towards that which is authentically both Catholic and aesthetically even more nutricious for the soul. The Arcadelt is just as accessible as the Landry as music, and can move the heart just as easily. The Biebl can make a listener melt. The Rachmaninov (tho' not an AM, technically) will take the heart to heaven's gates itself. And the GC chant is, as always, a virtual gem with facets galore that the voice can sail through.
    Little coda- many of us should be familiar with John Michael Talbot. Name his greatest Marian song in your mind in less than a second....
    Remember now "Holy is His Name" now? PIPs love that just as much, but why don't they insist upon its use like the Landry? Because it's not petitional to/thru the person of the BVM, it's her reaction, the Magnificat, in that ethereal Talbot carriage. So the character of the tunes are similar, but the devotional attachment of the Landry makes it more personal to the peeps.

    Oops, I just did an autopsy. Well, don't do as I say....;-)
  • bkenney27bkenney27
    Posts: 444
    Adam, THANK YOU! Responding with questions is a great way for me to get more information while also asking the person in question to think a bit more about their attachment to the song.

    Something about the "poetry" doesn't sit right with me. I have always tried to use JUST the Hail Mary portion when asked, but obviously it's not long enough to serve any purpose. Once we get into "gentle woman, quiet light. Morning star so strong and bright. Gentle mother, peaceful dove, teach us wisdom, teach us love..." What? I just don't get it. What exactly am I singing or asking,m there is also something about the verses that bothers me: "Blessed are you among women. Blest in turn all women, too. Blessed they with peaceful spirits, blessed they with peaceful hearts." I'm not sure exactly what, but something bothers me.
  • Jani
    Posts: 429
    What bothers you is that the verses are cheesy.
    Thanked by 2bkenney27 ryand
  • G
    Posts: 1,391
    At my last parish we sang HMGW often for funerals, as a request. We also sang it on many Marian holidays and one Sunday in Advent at pastor's request, (it was his very favorite song.)
    I think it was sung frequently enough that people did not complain that I didn't program it as often as my predecessor had, the way they did complain about not hearing Eagles Wings and He I Am often enough, (I think, I hope I was kind to parishioners when fielding these complaints, although I know a remark I made to another musician got back to my pastor, whose taste it implicitly impugned. And once, another priest, a musician was good-naturedly lambasting me for programming HMGW around the rectory dining table, and the pastor and I were both squirming.)

    But one Mothers' Day, maybe 7 years ago, I was accosted by numerous people wanting to know why the choir had not sung "On This Day Oh Beautiful Mother."

    And they were all in tears, really weeping. Several different incidents throughout the week.
    It was my second year at the job, and although I hadn't known the song before moving there, and didn't like it when I learned it, I had programmed it the previous year.
    But then Mothers Day had fallen on some major feast, and I didn't think it was important enough to slip "On This Day" in anywhere.

    I was wrong. (Mind you, this choir's practice was to sing several prelude pieces, so I wasn't sticking schmaltz into the Mass itself.

    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,912
    Prior to my arrival, they sang it all of the time on the first Sunday of the month when the Legion of Mary had their regular mass.


    2 things:

    1. Is there something special about having Mass with the Legion of Mary? We have a chapter at our church, but we don't do anything like "have Mass with the Legion of Mary." I mean, they come to Mass obviously, but we don't do anything special for them because they are there.

    2. Sounds like a small percentage of people started a tradition for themselves, and now they want to keep it, which is actually understandable. However, it also sounds like perhaps there are some who want to expand the tradition to the whole parish, perhaps because they simply like the song and think it should be sung by all. We've got people like that at our church, too, especially those with strong devotions to Mary: they tend to want to include Marian ideology whenever they can push it into the Mass, at least those at our church do. YMMV as usual.
  • bfranckbfranck
    Posts: 23
    Carey Landry? Infantile, at best! Ever seen a picture of him without a guitar in his hands? The worst of the lot: i.e. St. Louis Jesuits, Haugen-Daas duo, pretty pathetic!
  • kenstb
    Posts: 364
    Francis, I don't think we truly disagree. I don't play Gentle Woman at all. I think there are hymns available which speak more deeply to the majority of my congregation. I just don't think that the way I look at the hymn is a satisfactory explanation for its exclusion to someone without my training and experience. My concern was and is with how to make my concerns better understood by a parishioner who only likes the piece because she can sing it and knows all the words.

    Ben, I looked at the hymnal and you are correct. The hymn is in E major. My mistake.
  • bkenney27bkenney27
    Posts: 444
    My concern was and is with how to make my concerns better understood by a parishioner who only likes the piece because she can sing it and knows all the words.


    Exactly. This is why I said before that the music or poetry being bad is not sufficient for someone who is emotionally attached. Where do you go from there?
    Thanked by 1kenstb
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    If you want a sacropop alternative, Greg Norbert's AVE MARIA is a step up from the Landry, IMO.
    An African-American tour de force tho' not difficult for choir would be Leon Robert's (RIP) Canticle of Mary, must have a serious soprano soloist not afraid to ornament the basic verse melody.
    Thanked by 2bkenney27 kenstb
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,824
    kenstb

    I don't try to explain anything to PIPs if I can avoid it. Just play the piece, even if its just for them in the choir room.
  • bfranckbfranck
    Posts: 23
    I am sorry to whomever "G" is, but I will not edit my commentary above. It is time we call a spade a spade and face this "blasphemy" in church music for what it really is! Many of us who have worked in Catholic church music for decades have suffered horribly at the hands of these "predators" and the priests, nuns and laity who have been sucked in by them. Having to play this sort of "dribble" on a week to week basis creates a dulling sensation which can leave one feeling numb artistically and in one's chosen career. I am sorry for those who feel that my position is hardened now, but I am no longer redeemable in this matter. [...] [edited by admin]
  • G
    Posts: 1,391
    I see.

    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)
  • bkenney27bkenney27
    Posts: 444
    Goodness! And I thought *I* was at the end of my rope. I agree wholeheartedly, but I'm not sure I would [go that far -- edited by admin]. We are still very much in the exploratory stages of implementing Vatican II and the only good I think that came from these folks is that we have discovered it doesn't work. Thank you very much, Sirs Haugen and Haas, but on to something new ...er... ancient!
    Thanked by 1Jani
  • TCJ
    Posts: 813
    Most likely, bfranck just wrote out something similar to what many of us probably have pass through our minds at one time or another. While I've yet to express my frustration in such a manner, I do hear myself screaming internally fairly often.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    bfranks will always be among us, and should be. There are degrees of apostleship, but we all far short of true discipleship in some ways. Even John the Baptist needed some affirmation while incarcerated. And then look who became the first bishop of Rome, for heaven's sake.
    Zeal is always a two edge sword, and generally wielded by youthful folk. But Jesus drew the line in the dirt regarding judgment of others, and there's no difference between our spittle and stone bricks if we hurl such at others we've condemned.
    There are parts of getting old that I actually like. I'll turn 63 in Indy. Maybe some zealot can give a shot at offering me martyrdom! Likely not, so I'll slog towards remaining a good husband, dad and grandfather as long as God needs me around here.
  • hartleymartin
    Posts: 1,447
    Traditional is the new trendy.
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,038
    Some call it 'Retro'.
  • JennyJenny
    Posts: 147
    Melo- we must have a party then! I hope there is some place near the hotel to get a birthday cake!
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,646
    63 in Indy. Sounds like the makings of a good country song. LOL.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    [...]
    Earlier I stated that there is probably little to be gained by beating the sacropop horse indiscriminately. What that leads to is a been there, done that reality in American RCC music history. Nicholai Montani, under minimal pretense and possessed of influence via the Caecilia Society managed to pretty much forever wipe the memory of his Philadelphia predecesor RoSewig's opi from posterity, while at the same time cornering the market for his own collection of service music eventuating in the St. Gregory Hymnal. That's not just cannabilism, it's essentially anti-catholic.
    bfranks' intolerance is a problem because it ignores specificity. The OP asked a reasonable question about a specific piece of music (if Cage is "music," Landry's stuff is also music, sigh.)
    [...] [edited by admin]
    Thanked by 1bkenney27
  • Ralph BednarzRalph Bednarz
    Posts: 486
    If I could present "Gentle Woman" really well I would. - for those who cherish it.
    Thanked by 1bkenney27
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I used to be like bfrank, always angry and unpleasant about bad music. Then I found a more productive way of dealing with it:

    I stopped programming bad music. It's been probably seven years this May since I ever LOOKED AT "Gentle Woman", let alone played it. Now I'm much more excited about the good music that I do than I was angry about the bad music I did.
  • hartleymartin
    Posts: 1,447
    The published accompaniment for Hail Mary, Gentle Woman is rubbish. I always end up improvising my own, playing in a way that imitates the Schubert Ave Maria.
  • kenstb
    Posts: 364
    bfranck, when we allow bitterness to make us angry and resentful, no one wins. The composers you're so upset by have merely offered their music for consumption. We all do the same. None of us have any control over how our work will be received. Perhaps their music just touches some people. Good for them.

    What we must avoid at all costs is the temptation to be far too judgmental of others. We convert people to the cause of excellent liturgical music by gentle persuasion and exposure to beautiful music. I have found that if we come across as angry, frustrated people with an axe to grind, the very folks we wish to persuade will be turned off by our attitudes and we will have forfeited the chance to win them for Christ. If we bear the name Christian, we have to stop wishing ill on others and pour our energy into producing wonderful music to the glory of God.
    Thanked by 1aria
  • bfranckbfranck
    Posts: 23
    Actually, Melofant, you sound to me like you really have a brilliant mind! [...] [edited by admin] I really don't think of myself as a "jihadist". You did miscalculate on guessing my age though. I will be the same age as you will be except towards the of July.
    I do have to thank Chonak, however, for his understanding. Is Maine really that much of a "cesspool" for the Church? We have had more than our share of church building closings, school closings and elimination of multiple Mass schedules due to a dwindling priest shortage. We are down to about eight or nine "cluster" parishes for the entire Diocese of Portland and only three ordinations this year. That number will be declining in future years.
    Thanked by 1melofluent