• henry
    Posts: 216
    Our parish has nuns from Mexico. Several of them play guitar. Their songs are contemporary. I am the Parish Musician. I resist allowing them to play at Mass because the Church prefers the organ. She permits other instruments, but She prefers the organ. We have an organ and an organist (me). Therefore, I would like to provide, as much as possible, the music that the
    Church prefers. Am I being too stubborn about this?
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,509
    No, you are not being stubborn. You are fighting the mindset from my youth that someone has something to say, therefore the rest of us are required to listen. All contributions are not equal. Some are worthy and appropriate, while others are not. As I recall, much of the grief we have experienced liturgically over the last 40 years started with nuns with guitars.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,302
    Maybe it would be worth asking francis for an opinion. Lately he's trying to win over the guitar group in his parish: http://musicasacra.com/forum/comments.php?DiscussionID=1182&page=1#Item_7
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,815
    If you can insist on the organ DO IT! (that is if you have the backing of the pastor to do so). I am simply arranging the hymns and chant with guitar accompaniment and the group is loving the new and expanded repertoire. Once they are good enough to carry the pieces on their own, I will accompany them with the organ. Then in the end we will have a excorsism ceremony casting out the guitars, and they will all of a sudden find themselves chanting the EF loving it and wondering what happened. I don't know if this is an approach that will work, but time will tell.

    However, the problem you are running into is quite cultural for Mexicanos. The guitar grows from their bodies like an appendange. We have a Mexican congregation here, and so far, I am playing the organ along with them to win them over.
  • henry
    Posts: 216
    Thank you, everyone, for your comments. I have often heard that the guitar is very important to Hispanics, especially Mexicans. However, aren't there pipe organs in Mexico that are hundreds of years old? I wonder whether or not the guitar was played during Mass before Vatican II. If not, then there were organists in Mexico. Does the guitar in church really go that far back, then, or is it a product of the 60s like we experienced in the USA? I wonder whether or not organ is being taught there. I'd be willing to teach one or two of these nuns to play the organ, difficult tho that would be.
  • The guitar...and the piano...are incapable of supporting and sustaining the flowing harmonies of hymns. Hymns are the basis of all harmony education in music schools and conservatorys around the world and this four-part harmonic structure which is the basis of almost all good music today. From Juilliard up on the West Side of Manhattan down to the Henry Street Settlement on the lower East Side. Bach's 371 Chorales are the epitome of vocal part and voice leading for the sung voice.

    These percussion instruments cannot support the singing of this very involved harmonic music.

    They CAN play simple folk chords and rhythms. If a Liturgy in the mission field is there to attract the local, indigenous people to ceom to the church and eventually discover the beauty of the Roman Liturgy, that's fine. But to create it and sustain it as a norm is not what the church wants nor permits.

    A recent conversation about guitars at Mass with a Mexican aquaintance saw him turn to me in shock, "No, they play outside in the square after Mass.

    Now I can see the need for a Hymn after Mass! As long as it is outside in the square.
  • Yes, the organ has a deep history in Mexico. but what is wrong with Mass with no instruments? It worked for 1000 years.
  • But Jeffrey is right on....all singing should be done without the organ, so that when and IF the organ is played it enhances the singing, rather than making it possible.

    Any choir that MUST have the organ playing for it is a weak ensemble. Not without potential, but weak until they gain the confidence and ability to sign on their own.
  • RagueneauRagueneau
    Posts: 2,592

    can you please write to me at jeff@ostrowski.cc ??
  • Sadly, the organ has been almost entirely abandoned for liturgical use in Latin America.
    Many instruments have been destroyed or allowed to fall into ruin.
    Some have been restored under the rubric of historical preservation.
    Several new religious orders (especially in Argentina and Chile) have shown interest in traditional music, including use of the organ.
    Nonetheless, the thriving urban Catholic musical culture that produced glorious Baroque music and organs in Mexico, Central America, and 'New Granada' and imported Cavaille Coll organs for major gothic-revival churches in Argentina and Brazil is no more. May something worthy of the liturgy grow to replace it.
  • The pipe organ (and viable electronic subs) are ideal.
    But I categorically reject Noel's insistent prejudice denying that "percussive (?)" instruments such as piano and guitar are incapable of sustaining hymnic accompaniment. It is just that, prejudice; which I can refute with nearly 40 years of practical success. Maybe not in his world, but certainly in mine. And it only takes one piece of factual evidence to cast doubt upon such prejudice. I was giving workshops in California cathedrals 25 years ago on just how to accomplish that task with competence and artistry. Yeah, like MJB, I think it's a bit insulting to turn a generality of strumming nun-style or static homophonic chord stacks as the sole determinant of how ALL guitarists and pianists articulate accompaniment that supports hymn melodies.
  • Well.. since you asked, the guitar has a long history in Spanish and Latin American churches. As villancicos (think sacro-pop of the 17th century) began to be used more and more as Propers replacements outside of Christmas and Corpus, Church authorities in Rome and Spain began to issue edicts about the number of them allowed at any one Mass. We forget often the Propers were often replaced during the Renaissance and Baroque eras by motets and popular devotional songs. So, while the organ has a rich history in Latin American churches, the guitar does as well. The only difference is that it probably was not the only instrument that backed the bouncy villancicos. There were probably other instruments in the band too. One would be surprised how similar a cathedral band in say, Puebla, was to a contemporary church ensemble in the U.S. today. Just think of the parallels to a harpsichord, recorder, guitar and viola da gamba or cello would be. In any case, authorities questioned the propriety of that practice then as well.
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    Charles, you are not suggesting that piano and guitar can be used in place of the organ, which holds the highest esteem in our church? Good artists can maybe play those instruments well and accompany hymn singings, but piano and guitar are used more often on secular occasions, while organ is almost exclusively for the sacred purpose for good reasons of the nature of the sound and the instruments. If you really need to ornate the singing in addition to organ accompaniment, you could add other instruments, carefully, and when there is no organ, you might need to use the piano or guitar (although acappella could be better.). But if you have an organ in your church, I don't see why you have to use them instead of the organ, which, besides being the most sacred intrument , has so much varieties and can do everything that the piano can do, and has much deeper sound? I'm a pianist myself and learned to play organ. I love to listen to piano music and go to piano recitals, but not at the church. Especially when I hear piano interlude at the Mass, it reminds me of either department store or a restaurant . You might think I'm prejudice too, but the organ reminds me of church and helps me to remember that I'm in the presence of the Almighty at the Mass.
  • mjballoumjballou
    Posts: 986
    The piano is a percussion instrument; the guitar is a string instrument. I'm on every side in this issue. Pianos (and I majored in the same) have overwhelmingly secular connotations, at best, low-church Protestant association. On the inherent sacred association of the organ, I appreciate where people "are coming from," as we used to say. However, I also remember cocktail lounges with organs and you can't beat a Hammond B3 for some jazz applications. "Happy Organ," anyone?

    Left to my own devices and a few singers with good voices, I'd go a cappella 90% of the time. The major problem with instrumentalists has been the abandonment of artistic excellence and aesthetic judgment in liturgical music. How many church websites have you visited where all are invited "to make a joyful noise"? And that's what you get - noisemakers.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I side somewhere between Charles and mia. To steal a joke from Fr. Z I'd say piano-led hymns should be safe, legal, and rare. Guitar accompaniment should also be safe, legal, and rarer. I've mentioned before, in evangelical contexts I've heard amazing renditions of traditional hymns on piano, and the assembly even sang in harmony on them - as did I! It's actually easy to sing with in the right style. I have no doubt the same could be said of guitar accompaniment in the hands of our friend Charles. Should these replace the organ? No, and I don't see Charles saying as much. Can they supplement it? Rarely. Maybe a verse in alternatim or something, but beyond that I would avoid the use of these instruments unless necessary.

    Guitar and piano have their usefulness in the mission field, I'd say. If you have a Mass in a college chapel, for example, and the only instrument available is piano, I'd say one should probably have a competent hymn-leader play it. And part of good accompaniment, on any instrument, is helping the congregation to feel at home with a capella singing also.
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    There are always exceptions in eveything. I don't think I was talking about the use of instruments based on those exceptions.
    In my expereince working with many different MDs, I saw the opposite most of the times. The musicians I know are concerned more on artistic or interesting music than what is sacred. They want to display their artistic talent and control the music the way they want, and not paying attention to what is sacred and what the Church asks. For example my church youth director, who is a very very good musician (He was in a seminary in Rome and in a prestigeous music group in Vatican) and almost like a genius with sound systems, refuses to use any chanting style for responsorial psalms and follow the official text, even if the priest asks him to do. He will change the psalm text, if Haas' melody sounds better. He doens't think chanting style of the psalm is musical(or interesting) enough for him. He often makes his own music with all different kinds of background music. He uses mostly contemporary style, sometimes mixed with classical or even with Latin text. Artistically maybe good, but he does what he likes to do. He doesn't believe the Eucharist is the most important in the Mass. Music and people are his priority. And he doesn't follow what the Church asks or the priest. He says that the Church changes all the time, so he does the music according to what he thinks is right.
    His artistic talent is very valuable, but is this the attitude we share in our church to deepen our faith?
  • Mia, of course I did not suggest such a disposition.
    My intent is simply, as MJB and now Michael have pointed out, that declaiming absolutes fail to account for real life situations involving real life people. If you have a "John Williams" (the guitarist, not composer) at hand, but you don't have a decent organ, and you want to sing FINLANDIA, why not utilize that artist's talents to accompany the singing in lieu of a capella? (Unless your congregation sings SATB either like Mennonites or Sacred Harpers, which is what I think MJB was alluding to regarding her 90% maxim.) And for her next statement, "The major problem with instrumentalists has been the abandonment of artistic excellence and aesthetic judgment in liturgical music." - that presumes that pre-conciliar practices across the board in cathedrals and parishes as far back as one wants to research superceded the quality of post-conciliar practices. Frankly, the issue is the same to me: bishops' and parish pastors' interest in securing excellent (not just competent) musicians was and still is as varied as a 180 degree compass, despite exhortations and documents from popes Pius X to Benedict XVI.
    Just to reset the premise: the piano and guitar (harp and accordian) cannot support ALL congregational singing. But they can support the singing of hymns (in combination with those "strong voices") which leads "to a joyful end."
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I should add that I was bothered by Noel's assertion that they cannot support hymns not only because of its absolute nature, but also because he's defining "hymns" too narrowly. He's defining hymns as 19th century protestant 4-part strophic writing. That's the bulk of the modern Western practice, yes, but it's not exhaustive of hymnody, nor of "alius cantus aptus". For a counter-example, I find chant VERY well-performed with piano, especially with an almost jazzy harmonic vocabulary. And Byzantine chants would be ungodly if performed with organ.

    It reminds me of a Lutheran blog I frequent, where someone commented about an orthodox service "if they don't use hymns, why do people bother converting to it?" Sorry, but the Orthodox PIONEERED hymns, and their liturgy is filled with it. They just don't have organ-led 4/4 SATB chorales written in Germany. Just because it doesn't fit your concept of what a "hymn" is doesn't mean it's not one.
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    "I find chant VERY well-performed with piano, especially with an almost jazzy harmonic vocabulary."

    When you accompany chant, do you play melody also on the piano or just sustain the chords underneath the singing?

    "And Byzantine chants would be ungodly if performed with organ."

    How is that? Would you give us some example of that? Or it's just your personal taste?
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    Just chords, which is why I find it so effective. I usually just give barely enough to keep the rhythm going, and it really colors the chant as well as letting the chant keep its own color.

    Mia, are you familiar with the Byzantine chant tradition? To be fair ALL THINGS are personal taste and decided by culture. But I think most of us in the West can agree that the Byzantine style is not compatible with the organ. If you're not familiar with it, it's an a capella tradition which utilizes lots of isons (drones), singing in harmony, and non-Western harmonic progressions. It leads to an overall effect where the "chord", if you will, changes very rarely. It would sound ridiculous to sing along with an organ holding a long F chord! If you don't get what I'm saying (and I'm having a hard time explaining it since I don't KNOW Byzantine chant well) try to find some and see what you think. Unfortunately, I don't know any sites that have free recordings of byzantine chants.
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    Thanks, Gavin. One of my schola member belongs to Byzantine church, and he is a good musician. I'll see him this week and I'll ask him. (So, if the organ is not good for the Byzantine chant, the piano or guitar would be better?, or it simply is that acapella is better like other chant singing)

    You said you are sustaining the chords on the piano for chants accomp. But why on the piano, why not on the organ? 7th chords works well on the organ, and it sustains better. (although you will not be playing the full chords whether it's piano or the organ)
    Anyway I like playing only chords, not the melody, either on the piano or on the organ for the chant accompaniment.
  • But Gavin, the accompaniment is not to determine the rhythm in chant. The rhythm comes out of the chant.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    Mia, I have a theory that guitar miiight work for byzantine chant. But you should understand the Eastern Rites do not believe in toying around with the liturgy at the whim of the pope and bishops, so they still have an actual condemnation of instruments in the liturgy. They consider it a pagan thing, and even bells were frowned upon for some time. So while we can theorize about the music, it still has no possibility for accompaniment in the liturgy, and aesthetically it's better without it (and the same should be said of our chant!!)
  • Stick to your guns. One of our parishes has nuns from Mexico and they play the guitar and it is not a joyful noise, not at all. The singing is also rather nasaly, and, as well-intentioned as they are, they do not have a sense of what is appropriate for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The guitars are strummed to sound like un-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta, un-ta-ta-ta-ta and the songs they choose are more about the community than about worshipping God. Some also use neocatechumenal songs that are not at all suitable for the Mass.
  • Francis: "The guitar grows from [Mexican] bodies like an appendage" -- That's what I thought too, before living these past five years in Mexico. From my present perspective I can't see that much difference between Mexicans and Americans. About the same percentage play the thing, most of them by artless strumming.

    Henry: "Aren't there pipe organs in Mexico that are hundreds of years old?" Yes, and most of them are not in playable condition nor is there anyone to play them. So far as I can gather, the liturgy here was musically trashed at the same time it was in US. The rejection of the organ here is more thorough than in US. Some places use organ, but they are rare.

    My observations are based on what I have seen for myself and heard from Mexican friends, i.e., pertaining to the recent past. I can't speak for any earlier time.