"Planning for Beauty" by Joel Morehouse in First Things
  • The article may be read here.

    My thoughts...


    1) The author, almost thoughtlessly, and certainly without citation or argument, maintains that the Ordinaries, semper et ubique, ought to be sung by the entire assembly if possible, without even making a Msgr. Schmitt-esque distinction between, say, the importance of congregational singing of the Sanctus vs. that of the Gloria.

    2) The Recessional Hymn is lambasted without qualification as foreign to the Catholic tradition, and ducking-out praised as time-honored and appropriate (his words, not mine!). Why can't the recessional hymn be consciously viewed as an act of corporate thanksgiving, leading into the individual thanksgiving that is hopefully to follow?

    3) Somehow, the asterisk in the Graduale Romanum is supposed to mark out the "congregational" bits in the Minor Propers, thus effectively reducing the role of the schola cantorum in his mind-world to that of supplying verses to which the congregation sings responses; at no point does the article discuss the role of the choir's song, except in passing reference to the "permissibility" of substituting a piece of polyphony for a proper, and in reminding us that we are not museum keepers.


    1) He stresses the importance of planning.

    2) He underlines the importance of consistency.

    3) He views the Graduale Romanum as the indispensable key to planning liturgical music, and emphasizes the importance of text.

    4) He makes a great deal of the musicians' role as educators.

    ...in short, I am very grateful for the article, and agree strongly with its major points, but, just like when I read a passage of St. Thomas that mentions fire as a specific example of any broader principle, I wish very much that he'd stuck to the general premises without resorting to inaccurate concrete examples.

    Your thoughts...
    Thanked by 1Adam Wood
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,390
    like when I read a passage of St. Thomas that mentions fire as a specific example of any broader principle,

    Your analogy reminds us to take similes metaphorically.
    Thanked by 1NihilNominis
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,910
    The sacred curriculum also includes an equally authoritative textbook of sacred music: The Roman Gradual. ... and carries the same authority as the Lectionary or Missal.

    It has not been my experience that the GR has the same authority (de facto at least) as the Lectionary nor the Missal.

    Most modern Catholic parishes have fallen prey to the “four-hymn syndrome,” which was ultimately borrowed from our Methodist brethren

    Does anybody know if that is actually true? If it is, I've got some other comments to make about the subject.

    Young monks or cantors would sing the difficult parts, and the rest of us would slog our way through the easier remainder.

    Maybe Dr. Mahrt can enlighten me on this one, but this seems factually incorrect.

    Most parishes fly by the seat of their pants, using missalettes and throw-away liturgical planners, with no master plan.

    Yup, and priests just hand us the liturgy magazine that comes with the missalette subscription and say, "pick from here."

    Reserve a meaningful part of the parish budget to provide quality music for Mass.

    Sound advice, but I know at least one priest to whom music means nothing beyond schmaltz and making people feel good. I mean, exactly how much should we pay for entertainment?

    Think of your music director as a qualified educator, not a soloist or entertainer, and pay appropriately

    Again, sound advice, but I actually AM a qualified educator, with a license and experience teaching music, but I was never treated as such by my former boss.

    Is the parish choir or music ensemble healthy and growing?

    This may not be under the control of the music director nor pastor.

    My point is that even though there are good points in the article, and most of us know what the Church wants us to do, it is meaningless without a priest who is willing to allow it.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    The Roman Gradual, however, is a complete map of the Church’s thoughts on music, refined over the course of fifteen centuries. It’s the official curriculum, and any responsible pastor or church musician ought to consult it regularly.

    *The first and last sentence are reasonably correct, however Mr. Morehouse does not provide enough emphasis that his prescriptions are singularly dealing with the Ordinary Form. He infers that in his opening paragraph. But the Roman Gradual he alludes to as a fifteen century dialectic is substantially different depending upon which rite and Missal Mass is celebrated. Which leads to calling it a “curriculum.” It is less so a didactic method of learning than it is a calendar that observes the calendars of salvation history and specific saints.
    The Ordinaries are singable and workaday, and not deeply beautiful or emotional. Leave the sweet stuff for dessert. Good habits are praiseworthy and essential, and the ordinaries ought to be a habit. Parishioners should be able to sing without looking at a book.

    *The texts of the Ordinaries are to be at best “singable.” That means nothing as the entire Mass is a sung ritual. “Workaday” is relative. Sure, in monasteries for those centuries the tradition and regimen validates that adjective, but not in the semantical meaning Mr. Morehouse meant. But to advocate they purposefully avoid the qualities of “deeply beautiful” or even emotional constitutes what I’d call an earthbound sin of commission. Each Ordinary movement has its own character in text and intent. But the hymn of the Angelic Hosts and the acclamation of Saints and Angels present before Almighty God, Creator with whom we conjoin in their songs are pre-emptively cautioned to not be beautiful??? The very notion is repugnant, and I don’t care what musical style or genre is invoked to convey those sacred texts. Parishioners are obliged to consign these texts to mind, heart and spirit. The metanoia process will best be served by deeply beautiful settings, not by banality and boredom.
    Then there are Propers, the 5 percent.

    *I don’t know how long Mr. Morehouse’s career has extended, but this “quantification” reminds me of the vocabulary of Vatican II apologist Fr. Gene Walsh, who basically confected a graph not unlike an illustration of the Dow Jones Average for any given day or week in the stock market. Who besides me remembers Geno putting the Gloria at a higher peak than the Kyrie, the Sanctus was the Matterhorn, the Anamnesis Pike’s Peak and the Great Amen as Everest? The notion is ridiculous prima facie.
    A Responsorial Psalm from the Lectionary may replace the Gradual or Tract chant. An Offertory Hymn or choir motet may replace the Offertory Chant from the Roman Gradual. A Communion hymn (preferably one with a refrain, so people can receive communion without bringing a book with them) may replace the Communion antiphon and verses.
    *Finally the author seems to notice the oft-confounding (to some) system of options that are purposefully provided for in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. He should have started with this premise and reality, because a capable and well-informed Director of Music would be able to navigate these options with alacrity. Again, none of this has to be viewed in the spectral light of repertoire genres.
    But for Catholics, there is no such thing as a closing hymn. It does not exist in the Catholic liturgy. When the priest says go, we go.
    *Contrary to the MSF OP’s (Nihilnominus, clever) declaration, this is the only maxim that Mr. Morehouse states accurately. Ask Dr. Paul F. Ford if you don’t believe my assessment. When the priest or deacon says go, they can literally go! It is only manners which compels congregations to remain standing as the celebrant processes either to the narthex or sacristy, or to at least wait for the crucifer to pass their plane. Think of the “ite Missa est” as one of the Eucharistic acclamations. An acclamation needs to be fairly rendered immediately or it’s emphasis will be diluted. That’s why postludes are quite handy.
    Ordinaries ought to be sung by all. As a teacher working with amateurs, your parish music director ought to gauge his or her success by the confidence of the average person in the pews. Are people singing the ordinaries? Is the pitch in a comfortable range? It’s not your solo; it’s their prayer.
    *Again, consult the GIRM, Mr. Morehouse. It’s not that I don’t agree with this specific interpretation of FCAP, and as mentioned in many threads on this forum over many years, there is nothing more edifying than sacred song taken up by entire congregations. But that is not the sole arbiter of efficacy. And to suggest that the use of a choral Agnus Dei, Credo or really any portion of the Mass may be delegated with GOOD REASON is the result a self-serving agenda is insulting. All of what we do is prayer, no matter who is singing it at any given moment.
    Of course chant and sacred polyphony are our richest resource, but we are not museum keepers. Maybe if we become more practical about music in our parishes, we can build something of value.

    "Resource?" It is the particular Treasury Vault, the Fort Knox of the Catholic Church inclusive of not only the Roman Rite, but so many others still alive because of the Communion of Saints and the extant forms (Ambrosian, Syriac, Byzantine, etc.) celebrated to this day. And their mention in the prevalent documents isn't a mere nod to an old uncle in the corner of the birthday party, their legacy is meant to inform composers of all eras that there, in fact, is a specific and native culture, for better or worse how its observed. Filling the gas tank on your car is a practical activity. Offering fit worship to God is quite another matter.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    It occurred to me after posting the above, where were the editors of the once great "First Things?"
    Thanked by 1irishtenor
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 1,262
    He really confused me when he talks about a cantor. I first sang a Proper in the beginning choir at last year’s Colloquium with Jeffrey Morse. It was the Introit Suscepimus Deus. “Suscepimus” uses the common mode I opening figure...and is the easiest part of the chant.

    Among other things, the cantor chooses Do.

    Dr. Mahrt regularly reminds us that we can’t expect a congregation to sing all of the Propers according to the Graduale Romanum. The author seems to think the people can sing far more of the Propers than is possible. Even monks don’t sing all of them...in fact, that is the only group capable of it, but it betrays a misunderstanding of chant to do so, in my opinion. We need to sing chant, but we also need to be able to pray the chant while listening to someone else singing. Saving the voice is a reason to alternate in the office, but it has immense spiritual value as well. The same applies to the role of the schola and the others participating in the liturgy.

    I am puzzled by his comments on polyphony. I would love to have a choir sing the Palestrina Sicut Cervus at the Easter Vigil. The church encourages polyphony!

    Morehouse is too didactic in focus. The liturgy as the first place of catechesis and evangelization is mystagogical and vertical more so than it is horizontal as Morehouse seems to frame it. For comparision, Cardinal Burke’s points on this topic are spot-on.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,427
    I liked a lot of what was said in the article, but would correct one little detail:
    The Roman Gradual . . . was published after the Second Vatican Council in 1974, and carries the same authority as the Lectionary or Missal.

    The 1974 Gradual was published by Solesmes as a "private edition" (see the footnote on page 8) which intentionally omitted a few chants which the Holy See chose to retain as options in the 1972 Ordo cantus Missae. The only decree of approval in the '74 Gradual was the decree of approval for the OCM; so it's fair to describe the Gradual as modeled after an official liturgical book - but not completely following it, and not bearing the same authority.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    I am puzzled by his comments on polyphony. I would love to have a choir sing the Palestrina Sicut Cervus at the Easter Vigil. The church encourages polyphony!

    Nailed it, Matthew. I've had choirs since 1980 sing the Palestrina (Latin or Lindusky) with appreciated reception. But I've generally mixed certain of the seven psalms with various congregational settings in a variety of genres. It's called "balance."
    Actually, the whole thrust of my commentary is to reject Morehouse's prejudices. Even to the point that congregations can enjoin the Introit at the basic level of the Lumen Christi, SEP, and the Kelly's, not to mention other vernacular settings. But that is not the measure of progressive growth in liturgical aptitude. Anyone who crafts a maxim like SttL that the faithful must sing and stand throughout the whole procession as a signifier of unity is a tyrant, pure and simple, lay or cleric. Such folk are likely to also try to legislate additional prescriptions, such as staying, singing and observing a reverence for the dismissal hymn. It's customary, not universal and the documents by omission do not endorse such unilateral decisions. If your pastor can sell folks on such, then by all means go for it. But don't fudge the truth.
    Polyphony, gild-threaded with chant, is a prelude of the heavenly choirs.
    Thanked by 2Vilyanor CHGiffen
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,910
    ...the faithful must sing and stand throughout the whole procession as a signifier of unity...

    This. It's like the congregation has to prove somehow, at every Mass, that they are one in Christ. When I hear statements like that (such as from SttL), I can't help but feel like it's just for show.
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 1,262
    And when they do that, the people miss the procession and the words and music become blurred. I find we are less receptive to the text when we have to sing all of it. There is a great video of the Westminister Cathedral choir singing the Dominus Dixit ad me for the procession at Christmas Mass during the Night. They sang extra Psalm verses, and they sang the Gloria Patri and final antiphon during the incensation of the altar. That would have been less able to leave a mark on the soul had everyone been singing.

    Then at the recessional, one ought to do a hymn and strike everyone with a beautiful (and outrageously simple, all things considered) descant on the final verse.
    Thanked by 1ClergetKubisz
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,522
    Then at the recessional, one ought to do a hymn and strike everyone with a beautiful (and outrageously simple, all things considered) descant on the final verse.
    Not quite sure about the "outrageously simple, all things considered" part and not restricted to the final verse, because it consists of one descant on verse 2, another descant on verse 3, and both descants on the final verse 4 ... but here is the recessional hymn from opening Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit at the 2011 Colloquium:

    http://music.dierschow.com/2011Colloquium/14Tuesday/Mass/Come Down O Love Divine.mp3

  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 1,262
    Well, if you are doing the full load of Gregorian propers, a polyphonic Mass, plus polyphonic motets, a descant is simple in comparision...

    I specified the final verse only because that’s the way I’ve been exposed to descants. :)
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,156
    Well, descants will typically be placed in the penultimate verse (and sometimes the second verse) if the ultimate verse involves alternate keyboard harmonization - confronting the congregation with the latter AND a descant if the tune is not, say, something like the Old Hundredth, may end up leaving the congregation in the dust.
    Thanked by 1eft94530
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,522
    Which is why it is traditional to have the non-descant singers of the choir sing the melody of the hymn during the descant(s). In the Colloquium recording above, the organist (Ryan?) also played the melody in the pedal on the final verse.
  • Many thanks for the above recording. One's heart is raised on high. Methinks, though, that a descant on every or too many stanzas really spoils the effect, which should be sudden enthrallment, not a less enthralling continuum. I, as an 'ordinariatist', do, though, as anyone might expect, quite love descants. They have much more effect if they are on the penultimate stanza, leaving the ultimate one free for the organist to improvise upon. If they are sung on more than one stanza, the stanzas ought not to be successive. Just my very, very, lowly and humble opinion.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,156
    And here's Richard Marlow with Trinity College Cambridge - single descant on v 3 and double descant on final verse:

  • It is always possible to plan...build a descant on a reharmonization for the last verse.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,522
    It is always possible to plan...build a descant on a reharmonization for the last verse.
    Indeed, and it's something I've done a few times.
  • mediantmediant
    Posts: 13
    It's fun for me to see these comments for the first time, more than six years after I wrote the article under discussion. I stand by what I wrote, and the intervening six years have not changed my opinions.

    Today, Catholics largely still do not know how to sing, nor how to read music; and while we all enjoy listening to a great choir sing polyphony during Mass, the documents of the Second Vatican Council and earlier call for the congregation to sing. Most congregation members don't know how to sing, and therefore they don't sing. How do we bridge that gap?

    We plan and follow a curriculum.

    I actually did my thesis for second masters degree (Choral Music and Organ) on this very topic, supervised by a board of entirely secular educators at Syracuse University. FYI, my first Masters is in Education, Literacy, and Curriculum development. My second masters thesis sought to understand the factors that lead to strong congregational singing and musical literacy. This was a huge challenge as a Catholic, to try to explain things which are matters of the heart and mind (a Catholic mind, at that!) to folks who had no background or shared experience. Anyhow, to provide a common language with my board, I decided to approach the question using data. I conducted surveys and used the data to perform statistical analysis. Accordingly, with this empirical data from across the world, hundreds of churches, I have a good say on what leads to good singing and musical literacy in Church. This was the impetus and focus behind the article and the recommendations, of course coupled with my 20+ years of professional experience as an organist and choir director.

    The purpose of the article was to outline practical ways and next steps that a mainstream parish can follow to raise the musical literacy of the entire congregation (which in the end will make your choir better and more capable!). Prudence is not a rule, but an approach and a virtue; and certainly I wasn't writing the article to be dogmatic or suggest rules will bring about the best results for one particular parish. The more important thrust of the article is that if anyone cares to improve the music in their parish, certain approaches can raise the musical literacy across the entire parish (which, at least in theory, will help improve the quality of the choir). I have seen these approaches bring about this result in the parishes where I have served. The approaches I recommended are not saying "sing garbage and abandon polyphony" but rather to take an educators eye to things and allow opportunities for the congregation to learn and improve over time.

    Readers from this forum are welcome to share disagreements with me, or claim that's not how Bill Mahrt or Jeffrey Morse or others do things. That's okay by me - I am friends with both of them and relate as an equal. However what I can't abide is the comment that people did things differently at the HOLY SACRED MUSIC COLLOQUIUM!!! ...as if a gathering of like-minded traditional Catholics who love traditional music is in any way representative of the culture or realities in any average American Catholic parish, where the real work of renewal remains. Come on, y'all, the COLLOQUIUM is preaching to the choir, literally! I've been to these events and enjoy the hope and energy they provide for all of us, but by NO means are the experiences there liturgically normative or authoritative for other situations.

    Every community is different and based on my experience in mainstream parishes, the revolution for great music in our parishes is not won through tactics but through a long strategy, one that follows educational best practices such as I have outlined in my article and really gets the average parishioner in the pew interested and involved in the music. Without that engagement, the most common comment will be "why can't we sing XXX, not this Latin stuff that nobody knows." As I've experienced painfully at a few times in my career, no pastor will keep a music director for very long when the feedback from the congregation is overwhelmingly negative and people are leaving and collections are tanking... no matter how excellent the music may be from an academic or performance perspective. The strategies I outlined are ways to engage the congregation in its own renewal, to avoid this negative outcome we've all seen so many times.

    To those who commented above, I guess I can see the criticisms mounted as remotely or possibly valid for a more traditional parish (i.e. oh yeah, all of our people know Mass II by heart, we sing it every year at Christmas!!), but I cannot see the criticisms as valid for mainstream parishes (i.e. our people sing Mass of Renewal and few OCP things well, otherwise they don't sing and don't want polyphony or things that will make Mass go long). The mainstream parishes were the target audience for my article; and based on the wide readership the article received at FT, the discussion it stimulated and the FT editors' praise of it, I think it's been a success.