Ever feel guilty about changing nothing?
  • Every summer, I make it my goal to plan the next full liturgical year of music from Advent to Christ the King. Obviously, this is done with the understanding that I'll have to be flexible throughout the year, but for the most part it's very helpful when everything gets busy during the other seasons.

    When I arrived at Good Friday to plan, I went through last year's plan and thought, "I don't think I want to do anything differently at all," I I feel guilty about that for some reason.

    Once you're using the propers of the liturgy and your choir has become competent in good settings of them, is there reason, other than variety, to make alterations? There are many settings of each of these texts, and I see value in using more than one, but in the busy season of the Triduum, when you're already learning and working on a metric ton of music, how important is variety?

    Just looking for thoughts out there. For what it's worth, I'm changing a couple of things but leaving the rest the same. I still feel weird about it, though.
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,687
    Variety at the Triduum is more for the benefit of relieving boredom of musicians who rehearse things many times, not the congregation. With that in mind, I am as a general matter in favor of rotating the Ordinary settings to discourage musicians from falling into the trap of treating it like musical wallpaper as compared to juicy anthems and what not.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,886
    Guilt? What is this "guilt" of which you Latins speak?

    I tend to use the same psalm settings for Easter Vigil. Most of us are too rushed to deal with learning new ones. Given what's in our hymnal, great variety is not possible from year to year for most liturgical dates.

    Divine writ, given to the ancient fathers by God concerning planning:

    "What fools these mortals be!"
  • PaixGioiaAmorPaixGioiaAmor
    Posts: 1,473
    Yeah, I feel that Andrew.

    My schola, or full choir for that matter, will learn a piece, maybe it's something like Byrd's "Ave Verum," or whatever. And we sing it a decent amount, get really good at it. And then I think "I'm robbing the people of all the other beautiful settings of that text - and what about other great motets, like Messiaen's "O Sacrum," etc.?

    Same with organ music - I'll play a lot of Bach and then think "They deserve to hear Vierne, and Widor, and more Langlais, I should learn more music."

    I also go through the feelings you do about year after year - "We are going to do these Good Friday motets again because they were so effective, aren't I depriving the people of the chance to hear other great motets for Good Friday?"

    In the end, I've come to believe that repetition might not be bad for musical literacy though. Imagine if we got to the point that people from the congregation would hear Byrd's "Ave Verum" and say "I LOVE that piece! It's so moving to me!"

    So I believe that I've come to fall on the side of repetition, letting music sink in with people, so that they might even come to recognize some pieces, as well as their musical characteristics.
  • donr
    Posts: 940
    I have programmed the same music during the "Seasons" just so the PIPs start to use and remember the Antiphons and become more familiar.
    Our choir learns a new Antiphon every week, so when they hear a familiar one they like it.
    I will change maybe one or two pieces a year just to have something new to work on but that's it.
    We are all volunteer amateurs though, it might be different with a more professional choir.
    Thanked by 1Andrew Motyka
  • BruceL
    Posts: 995
    I think this is a particular thing about Holy Week: I always hesitate to change if it "works", but the "guilty feeling" is probably us telling ourselves that it can be a rut. What I've found works is to do 2-3 years max with any given motet/antiphon/etc. We've done Victoria Reproaches for two years now, etc., so it's time to switch. And so on.

    The other benefit to this is that it forces one to program different sorts of repertoire. For example, a large number of our parish really like Renaissance polyphony: it works well in the room, is the tradition here, choir sings it well, etc. However, there are also many people (including, I think, the rector!) who would like more Baroque and Romantic rep. So, I try to accomodate that, too, knowing that it's like a workout for the choir, keeping them in shape.
  • G
    Posts: 1,387
    I don't really think the word "rut" applies for liturgies that happen only once a year.

    I can't even describe the visceral reaction I had, (as a PIP,) to a deacon's choosing to tack on a different ending to his rendition of the Exultet, a rising series of extravagant "amens" which he tried to bring the people in on, in a call-and-response manner.

    I think I would have had this reaction even if he hadn't been the sort of person that liked to have a "speaking piece" to pass to people at meetings... but maybe not.

    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)

  • For any given year I have always employed a rough regimen of change vs. sameness for choir anthems and hymnody thus: 1) approx. one third the same as last year, 2) approx. one third from various past years, and 3) approx. one third new. With propers, of course, it is different because they are prescribed... but, any desired change may be availed of by varying settings from plainchant, to Anglican chant, to faburdens, and to polyphonic settings (especially for solemnities). With ordinaries a congregation should ideally have a repertory of at least three for any given year: 1) Advent and Lent, 2) Christmastide and Eastertide and solemnities, 3) Ordinarytide. Of these ordinaries it may or may not be desirable to learn a new one every few years. (If plainchant is a minimal experience in one's parish, one should take pains to see that it is not restricted to penitential seasons.) Lastly, it shows a paucity of imagination, talent and repertory to repeat the very same music year after year during holy week and on the great solemnities.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • We sing the full chants for the Triduum, with the exception of one of the responses for Good Friday (to be added next year).

    Having worked as music director for other parishes that don't use much chant, I can say that singing the full (Gregorian) propers is incredibly demanding of the Schola as it is. Though, maybe in 5-10 years it won't be...

    So I've had to make fewer changes as a result of our focus on the chant, roughly using Bruce's 2-3 year plan for motets and some hymns. One exception to that may be Allegri's "Miserere", which our pastor has requested to be sung every Good Friday, provided we can sing it well.

    Our organist is free to include many new things, and of course his own improv, at his discretion, so a good bit of variety comes through lovely, ornamental organ selections.

    At the stage of my choirs, I choose new rep most often for the sake of training them in standard Catholic repertoire and- always- music literacy.

    When it comes to making changes for the sake of variety, I consider the following groups, and in this order:
    1) Priests
    2) Congregation
    3) Choir and schola
    4) Music Director and Organist

    My reasoning is that we are servants of the liturgy, and that the congregation doesn't get tired of repetition as quickly as the choir anyway.

    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,886
    My reasoning is that we are servants of the liturgy, and that the congregation doesn't get tired of repetition as quickly as the choir anyway.

    I believe this is true. By the time the choir practices something repeatedly, they are tired of it. The congregation isn't.
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,586
    A choir is hopefully improving from year to year, so one is able to tackle more difficult antiphons (unless one is already using the entire GR/LU), more intriguing polyphonic ordinaries, motets of greater difficulty, etc.
  • Sometimes the change serves to show us that what we were doing before was JUST FINE! I have been playing the same Christmas program for a local church for eleven years now, and there have been two attempts to change the program. The first time everyone complained that there wasn't enough time to learn the new music, so we went back to the original one. Then the director retired and someone new came in, saving some of the old songs but adding new ones. The congregation didn't seem to like them as much. Now the audience is half of what it used to be for the program. :-( I heartily agree with Mary Ann's post- music directors should be last, not first.
  • BruceL
    Posts: 995
    I don't really think the word "rut" applies for liturgies that happen only once a year.

    I disagree. I don't think PIPs would perceive it as such, but in our heart/mind, we know we should challenge ourselves and our congregations... I mean, there are analogies to all aspects of life in this regard, but how many things do you know that have stayed really constant for 5-10-30 years? I feel like there are some Midwesterners on here, so how many of you still think your college football team runs an I-formation most of the time at games? No one.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Ben YankeBen Yanke
    Posts: 3,114
  • BruceL
    Posts: 995
    Hey Yanke, Urban Meyer says, "Hi!" ;-)
    Thanked by 1Ben Yanke
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    I also'd be aware of crossing paths with the Cornhusker of Cornhuskers, Ms. Jessica Haphold, DM of the cathedral in Lincoln, NB, who tuteledged under the Fab Abp. Bruskewitz.
    I do confess to having a tenor "Badger" fanatic in my schola. They're fiercely loyal.
    Enough digression.

    Since coming to full time DMhood ten years ago, every ordo for just over three cycles of Sundays is on a hard drive and backed up elsewhere. It's an invaluable tool for me to be able to revisit and reconsider choices that I made in confidence the last time around and the time before that. And yes, I will go with a virtually identical ordo, tinkering with only whose proper setting, a hymn choice no longer available, or a choral motet/anthem that is most appropriate beyond just the textual content.
    And I have the other thirteen years on discs at home! Yikes.
    Liturgy Guides. Liturgy Guides?!? I don't got to choh joo no steenking Liturgy Guides!*
    * Not being culturally insensitive, it's paraphrasing a famous line from the film TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE.
    Thanked by 1BruceL
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,090
    Littergie geydes? What beez thim?f

    Ben, I got my B.A. from UW-Madison more than half a century ago. But I didn't get Badger fever until long after I had left. Their (Rose) bowl history was not particularly good.

    Thanked by 1Ben Yanke
  • Andrew et alia,

    I had the same guilt feelings you did -- and then I started reading Matthew Fox. Just kidding. No, I tried varying settings of the Reproaches and the Easter Psalms and so forth, and as time went on, I found that the choir seemed more satisfied returning to "old favorites" and that they put their heart and soul into it, because there was a sense of coming full-circle liturgically. I think part of the beauty and strength of Gregorian chant is that you get to sing the same antiphon melodies as you move through the annual cycle of Sundays and feasts. And there is something analogous with choral music: if Byrd's "Ave Verum Corpus" is the piece you do on Corpus Christi, why not make it a tradition? As long as one doesn't beat the same piece into the ground by constant repetition, it's a positive thing to have small-t traditions like that within a community.

    One small variant that has worked well is to keep 2-3 settings of some text (e.g., Reproaches, Vidi aquam, Ubi caritas) in the choir folder, and one can go from one setting to the next as the years pass, without any modification in text in the liturgy guide/worship aid/booklet. After all, we are not giving the music to the PIPs but a translation of the text (or even a vernacular text, if we think it will help them pray better).
  • BruceL
    Posts: 995
    I suppose I was trying to say what PK stated much better: use the proper text in different settings. I'm not against the Victoria Reproaches; on the contrary, he is one of my favorite composers. Just switch settings to keep interest. This is just like trying to pray in different ways; it keeps things fresh. Plus, I hope it's an incentive for composers to keep working on new settings!
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,894
    Change and variety can be good, but I will admit that people including choirs PREFER the old favorites. However, and especially for a Catholic school, change and variety are a must. These kids will grow up with the four hymn line up and know nothing else if we allow it, because the generation before mine will make sure of it (general statement that applies in my area, YMMV). We need to show the children in our schools that the Mass doesn't have to be the way it's been for 50 years: hymns aren't all that's out there. It may be necessary to explain it in the form of a worship aid or something the first time you introduce something, but it would go a long way in formation of educated parishioners.

    This year, we are doing the Communion propers from SEP every MWF at Mass, followed by a Communion hymn related to the proper. The rest of the Mass will likely be hymns, except for every once in a while, I will supplement the liturgy with organ music instead of a hymn (in one slot). The Mass setting will be ICEL with organ accompaniment.
  • G
    Posts: 1,387
    how many things do you know that have stayed really constant for 5-10-30 years?

    In the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? FAR too few.
    That was actually my point.
    Whether or not the musicians "feel challenged" is WAAAAAAAY down on a long list of priorities in planning, I would think.
    Changing what either didn't work or that with improved skills or increasing numbers I can replace with something better, (finer musically, better suited to a changing congregation, more appropriate liturgically,) are valid reasons, IMO, my boredom is not, any more than my personal preference is.

    You think this is the year to graduate from a hymn in that slot to the proper? GREAT reason to change. Same ol' Latin chant pange lingua for the procession to the place of repose?
    Not so much.

    Change your harmonizations, switch up the assignments of cantors/choir, add brass fanfares, try something a capella you previously accompanied, use organum.

    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)

    p.s. All this flies out the window if you hand the pastor the music program and he moans, oh not THAT again, I HATED that last Christmas/Holy Thursday/St Swithin's Day....
    Thanked by 2melofluent CHGiffen
  • StimsonInRehabStimsonInRehab
    Posts: 1,487
    If our group was doing nothing in the past, and now we're doing something, then how can I feel guilty about doing something, when something is a change from nothing, or is nothing something?

    I think I need to lie down for a bit.
    Thanked by 1Gavin
  • G, wise comment. Keeping musicians from boredom is not a priority. OTOH, a rigorous choral program does involve a challenging musical formation- but of course that must reside in a liturgical, sacred context.

    If musicians are bored, I encourage them to keep up musical activities and outlets outside of the parish. I apply this to myself all the time. The parish is not where I go to fulfill my own musical desires- I'm a servant of the sacred liturgy and I expect those under my direction to be also.

    I think directors, organists, and choir singers need to be aware of the creeping tendencies that lead away from servant leadership.
    Thanked by 2melofluent CHGiffen
  • kevinfkevinf
    Posts: 1,063
    I had the good fortune to sing with Paul Salamunovich a number of years ago and in a Q and A after a rehearsal one afternoon, some one posed this question about stability and change in terms of repertory for liturgy. I remember him being quite forthcoming about two matters: developing a repertory that was stable and not being afraid to allow new settings to challenge us as well as our choirs.

    Many of us who live in this forum are working in programs that are A) OF parishes and B) in the midst of reform. Establishing a repertory is a long and arduous process and can take years upon years to develop ( an argument for long tenures, which do not seem to be the norm). Even so, we do ourselves well to place ourselves in the cradle of the tradition ( propers and texts) and yet allow new settings to challenge us. I find it patently arrogant and musically lazy not to investigate new settings. That is the business of our tasks: to illuminate the texts in new ways so as to see things in a new light. The question regarding that is not the "creeping tendencies" referred to earlier, but the search to balance the age old message of the words clothed in new and sumptuous ways. Old is not bad and new is not good can also be said in reverse: old is not always good and new can be good. Church musicians tethered to the tradition can make this work. But please note my words: "tethered to the tradition." Its the trouble with our profession: the latest and greatest may not be rooted in the ethos and tradition we work.

    Charles Tournemire, in his preface to each suite of l'Orgue Mystique notes " plain chant which is really an inexhaustible source of mysterious and splendid lines-plain chant, triumph of the modal art is freely paraphrased for each piece in the course of the works forming this complete set." I use this quote to illustrate that taking the source of our tradition musically, we can bring new things forth just as Tournemire did in L'OM. Knowing our roots is essential, but we might find in Tournemire a model for looking to the future, both harmonically as he did in L'OM, but also as a spiritual mentor, willing to develop beauty fashioned in new clothing, ever old and ever new.

  • I find it patently arrogant and musically lazy not to investigate new settings.

    I don't think anyone is saying that this is a good thing.
  • kevinfkevinf
    Posts: 1,063
    The 7 last words heard, "We have always done it that way."
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 1,224
    Especially when there's been a big change (pastor, choir members, director, etc.), that alone is the worst reason to do something. Kevin, I think you said it nicely.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,130
    If I was to choose the ideal music for liturgy, it would be utilizing the official music books of the church, and adding polyphonic motets (propers and ordinaries) both old and new along with organ music. That would be it! Absolutely no hymns except those prescribed by the church (old Gregorian ones) for the sequences, and other highly selective places during feast days perhaps. Otherwise, hymns would be outa there. Don't know if I will ever get to use that 'model', but that seems it would be it. I would steer clear of English whether it was an OF or EF.
    Thanked by 1Felicity
  • kenstb
    Posts: 358
    Francis, my friend, I would agree with you in principle. Unfortunately, I have yet to see the ideal parish setting for choosing music for mass and other liturgies along the lines that you suggest. It has been my lot to work in places where the ministry of music must be built or rebuilt from the ground up. It is unfortunate, but true that in many places one must gently guide the singers, musicians, priests and congregation towards that notion that MACW called "servant leadership". It often takes quite an investment of time, patience and prayer. It also imposes upon us the responsibility to see to the on-going training of our colleagues in liturgy, music and administration. I hope for the day that I can implement what you have suggested.