Reinventing the Wheel
  • As a new music director for a double parish with a splintered musical program, but priests working to better render right worship, I have acquired some realizations.

    First, regarding musical planning, it feels as though we are reinventing the wheel. In preparing for my first Christmas Holy Masses, two at each parish on the Vigil and back to back on the morning of, the scope of wrangling musicians and selecting appropriate music for each group of singers and musicians is daunting. It reminds me, unfortunately, that in all of this, there is one(!) book that contains everything needed for music at the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (the Gradual). Not that we ought to resort to only that, but that it contains everything we might need. We have all of these resources, beautiful as some may be, to select out of multitudes of music for each liturgy, when all of the liturgical texts and chants can be found and inspired by a single, magisterial publication.

    Second, a choir member today commented that many parishioners could feel accused of wrongdoing by suggested musical changes, as if they are at fault for doing things wrong and are in need of correction. It has not been my intention, but I can see how that perception might come about. What one must do is balance the desire for better worship with assurance that the parishioners are not being punished for their musical and liturgical tastes and habits.

    These are simply inchoate thoughts gradually taking shape in my mind.

    God bless you all!

    St. Cecilia, pray for us.

    Long live Christ the King!

  • Liam
    Posts: 4,374
    Three layers of music to consider:

    1. Presidential chant and dialogues with the congregation: a worthy place to start, but I'd suggest Xmas is not the day itself to start. That you have supportive priests means that you have an opening for this layer that many other DMs do not have.

    2. The ordinary of the Mass: Gradually growing and pruning the repertoire would be a good goal in many places. But again, Xmas is not necessarily the best day to start.

    3. What to sing at at 3 or 4 points where hymnody tends to prevail in most of the US. During the Christmas seasons of all seasons of the year, one tends to find the most-sung and most-beloved of hymns being sung by congregations. So I'd be careful about *displacing* that practice if it's been the long practice of your parishes..... Anyway, if one can bring the first two layers into alignment long term, the more common preoccupation with the third layer of liturgical musicians recedes a bit in importance.

    What's good is that the prospect of Christmas has prompted *you* to think about this. It doesn't necessarily follow that Christmas is precisely when you implement your solution to all of these things.

    Thanked by 1RomanticStrings
  • Oh, indeed, I suppose it did look like I meant I wanted to implement these changes at Christmas. The work of the season simply prompted me, in frustration, to realize how simple Mass planning ought actually to be. But I don't intend to make these changes at Christmas. I don't anticipate being able to use the Roman Gradual very often at all. Actually, I am implementing R. Rice's entrance antiphons at Advent, as they are in our hymnal, but I don't anticipate using them at Christmas yet. Perhaps if they become a regular fixture, I can get away with it in years following.

    Still, the work of creating a beautiful liturgy, at least as a new music director, shouldn't feel like it begins with half blank slate, half secret parish musical history that only slowly presents itself after much teeth-pulling. Every liturgy is already planned, and the act ought to be supplementing that plan, not starting new each time, trying to find hymns and songs that "meaningfully" relate to the Gospel reading.
  • I like the Burgess and Palmer "Plainchant Gradual" which appears to be the GR in English, and as far as I can tell it stays pretty close to the original Gregorian melodies.
    Thanked by 1Gavin
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    So I'd be careful about *displacing* that practice if it's been the long practice of your parishes.....

    This. Is the most valuable advice you will receive here. Liam is, to my knowledge, a free agent, with skills, experience and a true heart.
    Do not under any circumstances be swayed by either your own primary inclinations or the insistence of parish "loud mouths." That's it.
    Thanked by 1Gavin
  • The only parish in which change is at all possible is one where the pastor wants change and you, as a church musician, are able to communicate and confirm with him exactly what changes are necessary.

    You will read and hear all kinds of advice - to follow the GIRM, to stop singing hymns and only sing the propers - there's a huge laundry list that is pervasive.

    But only if the pastor and you are on the same page and work together consistently, can change happen. Doing anything else threatens your job and the sense of peace in the parish. As Mellowly Yello Fluent says, "Do not under any circumstances be swayed by either your own primary inclinations or the insistence of parish "loud mouths."

    In other words:
    It's not about you.
    It's not about them.
    It's about keeping the pastor happy.

    Thanked by 1melofluent
  • I am blessed to have been brought in by the pastor with the intention of bringing the parish back into conformity with Vatican II, especially exposing the parish to the "patrimony" of sacred music, specifically chant and sacred polyphony (his words). But he is also aware of the need for delicate, slow, steady movement. I want to follow his lead, and I know I need to pace myself. Still, I have his backing, because he asked me to come, knowing my strengths and weaknesses and inclinations.

    Christmas is not a time that I will bring out the Latin Propers, I can assure the congregation.
  • I'm curious about my second point. What are thoughts on ways of going about and presenting liturgical reform that does not accuse or lay blame on the parishioners for "doing it wrong"? I know speed is one consideration.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,410
    "Feel, felt, found."

    I understand how you feel. I once felt the same way. But when I learned X, I found that...

    This is a sales trick.

    It works.
  • Romantic Strings,

    You could try terms like "deeper spirituality" or "next level"; or you could presume no guilt on their part, assuming that they acted in good faith, but presenting principles which have applications to the change needed.

    PM if you would like specific help along the lines I've suggested.


  • You could try terms like "deeper spirituality" or "next level"; or you could presume no guilt on their part, assuming that they acted in good faith, but presenting principles which have applications to the change needed.

    Good points. I might add that you also need a priest that sees the need for the "deeper spirituality" and the "next level," or you will never achieve them because he will stand in your way. A great question to bring up here would be this: "How do we educate priests on the need for deeper spirituality and going to the next level of sacred music without making it look like we think we know more than they do about spirituality and liturgy?" We don't want our dear Pastors to feel foolish for not understanding, yet sometimes their education and continued formation is what is necessary.
  • I would avoid talking about it. Period.

    Make changes with the pastor's support. Action, not words.

    Words can be used against you and the changes, all that matters is creating the musical experience. The spiritual aspect should be handled by the priest.

    No one in the average congregation has any experience or training to understand what you are doing. To attempt to explain or justify what you are doing only adds fuel to the fire of those in the congregation who are discontent for other reasons.

    Never ever refer to "the documents" or use Latin names for them.

    The General Instruction to the Roman Missal is the church's IRS Guide, written in the spirit of Vatican II. And just as popular with many priests, whose training and experience has not been in support of it.

    Vatican II has two faces.

    People refer to it today to support going back to chant. People used it to get rid of chant. Mentioning it fuels the fire on both sides.

    All that is important is the stamp you put on the music while you are there. Your work may be continued after you leave, or completely destroyed.

    When you build a house it's yours, when you sell it, it's someone else to do with.

    Be in the moment, smell the flowers.

  • "Deeper Spirituality" and "Next Level" have the benefit of being language that many of them will already speak, or nod toward. It has been my experience (listening to radio broadcasts of an entirely secular nature) that these terms hold hypnotic-like power over people. Who, after all, would oppose "taking it to the next level"? Who would oppose "deeper spirituality"- -- since no one wants to be thought of as shallow?

  • There's not a one size fits all approach for this.

    Usually, with smaller, less earth shattering changes, I've found that it's rare for people to say "So you're saying we've been doing it wrong all these years?" Every now and then that question does come up, and I say "Well, no, not WRONG, this is just preferable, that's all." I definitely make it clear that I'm not criticizing them or my predecessors. I sort of make it into a sentiment of "We're always striving to do better and better, just as my predecessors were." The comments from Noel about not referring to documents and giving long, academic explanations are right on. Keep it succinct and short; "This way is even more preferable for a lot of reasons," and try to find reasons that they will agree with. For instance, if you are replacing generic Communion hymns with Psalm settings of the propers, point out how now the Communion song has a refrain, which engages more people into the singing.

    Now for large scale, huge changes (which you should only be undertaking in union with the pastor,) there might be no side-stepping it. An example of this would be when my pastor made the decision to wash the feet of only men on Holy Thursday. In that case the conversation really did come up about whether they were "wrong" all these years, and whether the bishop was "wrong" when he washes the feet of women. Even in this case we sidestepped for the most part issues of "right and wrong." My pastor simply gave a heartfelt explanation that regardless of what other priests and bishops do, his conscience won't let him wash the feet of women when the letter of the document clearly says "select men." This was a rougher change, but we've survived and the parish didn't implode.

    Finally, the only time that I get into the documents is when someone comes to me one on one with questions and I sense that they are being open minded (i.e. ready to really learn, not just pick a fight.) In that case, when they say to me "Can you help me understand why it is preferable to use these propers instead of the hymns each Sunday," then I will give them a brief explanation of what leads me to believe that. But this is the only instance that I talk in those terms.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    I have to admit I don't quite understand any portion of "blaming" or placing of responsibility for a perceived deficiency in worship practice upon the parishioners. There are two ways of regarding the passage "All we like Catholics sheep." There are many more factors at play here concerning activating a "deeper spirituality," ie. Real Presence, Sacrifice/Banquet, ars celebrandi and homiletics, all of which are in the hands of a shepherd, a pastor. And in this case as well as I've dealt with for the umpteenth time in 44 years in the last six months, a pastoral re-assignment can change the landscape in a heartbeat. As can a vicar's reassignment or replacement.
    "You can lead a horse to water..." is a good cliche to keep in mind. I can (and am) place beautiful Ordinary settings (Giffen, Jernberg, Mueller) and support the FCAP angle, but never do I assume those mere decisions and actions determine the outcome or efficacy in the larger scheme. Nor do I assess "blame" upon PIP's if they choose not to take up song personally and make an obvious audible joyful noise. Intentionality is THE issue. Humility is the vehicle.
    Brick by brick, another cliche with multiple meanings, remains the only viable method if one chooses to build or rebuild. Deconstructing or even destroying an ediface (such as we're again, sigh, seeing via Ferguson MO) is a lot easier, but pointless within a Christian ethos.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen