Responsorial Psalms Settings for Comment
  • JKWJKW
    Posts: 37
    I am looking to get helpful feedback on my psalm settings. These are some of my first compositions, which are just a sampling of a bigger project I am working on. Any and all composition advice is welcome!
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  • JKWJKW
    Posts: 37
    Please let me know if the files are not readable. I've had some trouble with uploading the PDFs. (Sometimes the image on the computer looks poor, but the document prints just fine.)
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,854
    The PDF viewer software in many browsers has flaws and makes files display poorly on screen; if you view them with Adobe Reader, they should display more accurately.
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  • As the recipient of generous comments here about my own compositions, I hope you will take my questions in the spirit in which they are intended.

    1) Do you intend the verses to be sung in parts, or do you intend it to be sung by a single cantor?

    2) You provide guitar chords. Do you intend the conservative Catholics whom I expect are the target audience of this piece to be drawn or repelled by the guitar chords?

    3) Does the psalm tone you use originate somewhere other than your own composition?



    I wrote a set of Responsorial psalms some years ago (seems like eons!) because I was leading a school music program, and doing all the cantoring myself. While I found them acceptable at the time, I'm considering a public burning of the whole set.

    I think you have made a valiant first effort, and I encourage you to develop your musical/compositional skills.

    Thanked by 1JKW
  • I will echo Chris' question: do you intend the verses to be sung by a cantor, or by a choir in Anglican chant style? If the former I would encourage you to provide for the cantor a distinct melody for each verse that is at least somewhat more developed than that of the people's responsory. In this way you would do much to liken your work to historic responsorial psalmody. Psalm tone derivatives really are not solo chants, they are for large groups of people - even though nearly everyone misuses them in an out of print these days. Cantors' music should be more, not less, elaborate than that for the people's responsory.

    I like your work. Only one of the responsories did I think a little on the trite side of the spectrum (I think it was the third one above). Your melodies are very well adapted to their texts. The chants of the verses, which are derived from Anglican Chant, are quite nice; but (as I noted above) they are not a genuine cantor's solo material - never mind that Alstott and everyone else misuses them these days. Write mildly elaborate melody for the cantor's verses. The people's responsories are fine, really nice and, most important, tasteful.
    Thanked by 1JKW
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 1,885
    By double-stemming upbeats I think you needlessly risk confusing choirs that don't assume the responses can't be sung in parts, and for verses I would prefer the repeated alto notes written out in black. But very nice, if in a familiar mold.
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  • JKWJKW
    Posts: 37
    I am very glad to get this feedback! The more straightforward the better. I am absolutely looking for suggestions and ways to improve - particularly in which format and compositional style may be best. As an organist by trade, I often think in "hymn" format with parts. However, since I am new at this, I was using Owen Alstott's settings inRespond and Acclaim as a template for the format. Please suggest other good resources (including any of your own) that you like so I can reference them.

    Also may be helpful to mention that my goal is to create very simple settings, both for the congregation and the cantor. I live in a rural farm area where musical training is very limited. I think there is a need for simple settings, but I am hoping to write ones with integrity and taste.

    Chris - It is my initial intention to have a solo cantor sing the verses, but I also wanted choir parts to be available with the verses. I chuckled when I read your second comment about the guitar chords I provide. You are correct in assuming that a conservative flavor is my goal... (classically trained organist here!) The chords were actually a compositional tool and I simply left them on the score. Would you suggest removing them? And your third point - the psalm tone is originally composed, however since I am most often exposed to Alstott-style psalm settings, it could be possible I "accidentally" used one of his tones! I have checked and at this point am pretty sure it is original to me...albeit Alstott flavor. I really appreciate your feedback!

    M. Jackson - As mentioned above, yes my intent was to have a solo cantor sing the tones. But my goal is also to create very simple tones so they can easily be sung by cantors with very little musical training, possibly even young cantors. With this goal in mind, would you still suggest trying to make the cantor part a bit more elaborate? Do you have a specific resource I could reference? Thank you for your suggestions!

    Richard - Was there a particular psalm above that you were referencing when mentioning "double-stemming upbeats"? I don't think I quite follow what you were explaining. Reducing confusion among church musicians is an excellent goal...one I'd like to strive towards! Any clarification would be helpful.

  • JKW,

    "Conservative" is, in this case, descriptive but not complementary of a certain kind of Catholic. All the silliness inherent in Bugnini's original plan has been (at least superficially) rejected, but a proper musical Catholic replacement is still elusive. Imagine a train of thought that goes something like this:

    ----Whew! We finally and courageously rejected the worst abuses of the 1970s, and we can now use the electronic organ to play traditional Catholic hymns such as Amazing Grace and Holy, Holy, Holy. We don't want to be more Catholic than the Pope, so we should avoid all that chant stuff which neither we nor our parishioners understand anyway.... and, besides, we use Panis Angelicus for Eucharistic adoration and Latin in the Penitential seasons. Oh, and for the responsorial psalm, we should use Guilmant or Gelineau, because that's both serious and modern, because it follows what Vatican II really wanted.


    Me again. Jackson's right that cantors were assigned more elaborate (but not for that reason more egocentric) melodies to sing.


    Thanked by 1JKW
  • “We don't want to be more Catholic than the Pope, so we should avoid all that chant stuff...”

    Might want to check your sources on that one...

    https://youtu.be/nnBOUeXoe8M

    https://youtu.be/hcQWAcJFeu8

    https://youtu.be/mI36D9RDzZQ
    Thanked by 1JKW
  • davido
    Posts: 182
    I think they are very nice, although no better or worse than Alstott. Is there a reason you would write your own and not just use Alstott? I can think of a few Alstott ones I would replace, but most of them are nice.
    Thanked by 1JKW
  • Regarding OP, I think your work is a good start. As a cantor, I appreciate the reasonable vocal range and respect for downbeats (maybe strike the syncopated conclusion to ps 138 though). I’d compare it favorably to Guimont and Gelineau’s work that we currently use at my parish. I actually think including guitar chords is a good call, because love em or hate em, parish music programs will still use guitars in mass, and at the very least they shouldn’t feel like they have to resort to the Haugen/Haas stuff that everyone is getting tired of (except baby boomer DoMs of course). Rome wasn’t built a day, and I think teaching “guitar mass” musicians and congregants more respectable forms of sacred music in a medium they’re familiar with is a good start.
  • I think teaching “guitar mass” musicians and congregants more respectable forms of sacred music in a medium they’re familiar with is a good start.


    ….. as long as it's not also a stopping point.
    Thanked by 2JKW pfreese
  • Congratulations on these efforts. Best of luck with them. Here are my comments, which I hope are not too negative:

    Ps 25
    Tessitura is too low; E-minor would be more comfortable. The repetition for the extra line of verse two is not successful; maybe add an extra phrase for it (and others like it).

    Ps 145
    Verse harmony progressions are not strong, especially phrase two to three; final phrase has parallel fifths in the bass clef, as well as between the alto and tenor between first and second phrase. Such things are still worth caring about, especially in what is otherwise a thoroughly common practice style.

    Ps 138
    I get your wanting to keep the refrain metrical, but this one feels jarring and rushed in the third measure; all your others use eighth notes mostly for week syllables. For the psalm tone, I would suggest a penultimate note that is different from the final to make a clearer preparation for the ends of the second and fourth phrases (F and A respectively, perhaps).

    Jer 31
    The title of this confuses me, as it doesn't indicate what weekday of the 25th week, and the weekday cycle is I or II, not ABC (unless I am totally off base here). Again regarding the refrain, "guards" of "guards his flock" is given short shrift for the sake of the meter; maybe make that measure 6/8, quarter-eighth-quarter-eighth. I think verse two should begin, "The Lord shall ransom Jacob" (ah, cut-and-paste errors!) The end of verse two is an interesting problem; you want a week syllable on the penultimate note, but you get "Lord's", which cannot be week. An A-flat here, rather than the F, might help give it just a little bit of lift (see comment for Ps 138).

    Thanked by 2JKW CHGiffen
  • JKWJKW
    Posts: 37
    By "conservative" I intended to refer to a musical style within sacred music. Is this perhaps not the proper use of the word in this context? I agree that the availability of chords may be useful in some settings, but keeping in mind working towards music with beauty and integrity, and of course respectful compositions that reflect the dignity of the Liturgy.

    I appreciate the Alstott settings, but want to exercise my own beginning compositional skills using a responsorial psalm format.... less intimidating to me as a novice composer than attempting larger works.

    Richard R. - I was very glad to get your thorough comments! Thank you! One does not grow without being open to ways to improve.
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 1,885
    "double-stemming upbeats"? I don't think I quite follow
    In your first example, the first note of "Remember your mercies, O Lord" is notated as a unison. In a keyboard accompaniment an alto 'voice' isn't needed until the rhythms diverge in the first full bar, and the left hand should not be split into 'tenor' and 'bass'. In the Jeremiah the upbeats "The Lord will" likewise look funny with downward stems, and the left hand should probably have eighth rest followed by quarter rest; in the next bar an eighth rest in the 'tenor' would make things absolutely clear. For that page's 1st verse, the alto (if the choir sings) needs to know GIA conventions to repeat the f at "Hear the word of the Lord, O nations".

    What I like about "How good is the Lord to all" is that (unlike much of Guimont) there is no doubt about how the repeat fits into the meter: 1-2-breathe-"How…". If you were to hand me "In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord" I would emend the penultimate word to be two quarters and waste rehearsal time on that.

    Davido's comment "no better or worse" sums up my feelings; while there's value for oneself in learning to emulate, the market, such as it is, is probably for something a bit different. The Parish Book of Psalms has material for unaccompanied cantor (we've used it for Lent), and I posted an example of what I think a choral Responsorial Psalm ought to look like in this thread.
    Thanked by 1JKW
  • What is needed is a complete break from the 'Alstott method' of treating our responsorial psalmody. It is assumed that a cantor (or a would-be cantor) has some degree of talent that exceeds that of his congregation. As a matter of historical precedent the cantor's verses should be more, not less, elaborate that the congregation's responsory. It is a joke for the congregation to sing a more or less fitting melody and the cantor to sing nothing more than a psalm tone. I have argued this elsewhere, but it is apt here. I think that if someone such as JKW has it in mind to compose responsorial psalmody that is truly tasteful and different from the Alstott mold he or she would make a complete repudiation of that mold in favour of music that relates to historic responsorial song by giving the cantor verses that are challenging and more elaborate than the responsories. Psalm tones are NOT solo chants; they are relatively simple for the very reason that they be musically simple enough for congregations of monks or people to sing psalmody in unison. They are not solo chants. It is time to break the very stale Alstott mold.
  • JKWJKW
    Posts: 37
    I appreciate your perspective, M. Jackson. It has inspired me to think a bit more creatively. Do you have a resource I might reference that would reflect the ideal you are suggesting? Unfortunately it cannot be assumed that a cantor has more talent or skill than that of the congregation. It is an ideal to strive towards (indeed crucial!). I deal with cantors who may even have less talent than the average congregant. I want to explore the possibility of having very accessible verses so that, despite the simplicity, the Psalms can be sung with confidence and some degree of excellence. When the Psalms are more complex, the beauty and excellence suffer simply because of the lack of training of the cantor. It seem a challenge to balance the ideal of psalmody composition with current practicality. I hope to have both practicality and beauty. I'm very open to learning how to break the Alstott mold. It has been the mold I've primarily been exposed to most of my life. Any recommended resources would be very helpful!
  • JKW,

    Let me put this delicately, because I recognize that you may be describing reality on the ground. Cantors should be trained well enough to do their jobs well. There are three distinct reasons for this

    1) We should always offer God our best. (Cain, Abel.....)
    2) The public worship of the Church should draw man toward God, not repel him because of its objective ugliness or because of slapdashedness.
    3) Bad habits are hard to uproot: "My pastor didn't have any problem with ……."
    Thanked by 1JKW
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,088
    I have no problems with those guitar chords, and I am about the most conservative organist/director you will find anywhere. For our morning masses I use psalm settings that are more conservative than those used by the "folk" mass group and they have guitar chords. The more contemporary group is using our psalms and playing those guitar chords leading them to perform better music. You have to start somewhere and simple is good. At the times when I don't care for the accompaniment for whatever reason - usually because it throws the singers off - I play those psalms from the guitar chords and make my own accompaniment. I am glad they are there.

    Yes, we should offer God our best. Best can vary according to the abilities of the singers.
    Thanked by 1JKW
  • I like the chords. For those of us who are less skilled on the organ they are very helpful.
    Thanked by 1JKW
  • JKW,

    "Conservative" is used to mean "this set of policy ideas", rather than "aiming to keep what the past has validly handed on to us.

    Conservatives who bash chant or speak ill of the Traditional Rite (whatever may be validly said about those who attend it) aren't holding a Catholic position.

    In this context, conservative means "restrained"..... but unless it includes Gregorian chant, it excludes what is proper to the Mass. 4-hymns +Gelineau + Marty Haugen may equal the Conservative position, but it doesn't match the Catholic position.


    Restraint is a good thing, if wild Bacchus has been the order of the day, but replacement is to be preferred as the end goal, not restraint. A restrained concert by Madonna is, after all, still a concert by Madonna. [I'm using the example for illustrative purposes, not equating Alstott to Madonna.]
    Thanked by 1JKW
  • JKW -

    I know of no resource which would serve as a tutorial for what I have described. Basically, the principles I put forward are in conformity with responsorial psalmody as found in the Roman Gradual Responsories as found in GR (and also the Alleluyas & Verses, which are properly understood as a responsorial form), and numerous other responsorial forms as exemplified by something so well known as the Advent Prose (Rorate caeli) and the Lenten Prose (Attende Domine). There are many others, some more or less well known, and others less known. These illustrate what genuine responsorial psalmody or responsorial song really is.

    I have composed my own settings (and Fr Columba composed some for me) for a number of occasions and they have been very well received. My settings are chant, written in chant notation. It is certainly conceivable that non-chant settings (such as yours) could be composed following the same principles. In composing non-chant responsories it is paramount to avoid like the plague any little melodies that even remotely have the air of a catchy hippety-hop, skip-to-my-loo feel to them. We have had enough of that idiocy. The responsorial psalm, like the Roman Gradual Responsory which preceded it, is essentially meditative, and any music for it should be conducive to and suggest meditation on the sacred text. Music which does not engender meditation is ipso facto inappropriate, inapt.

    I do not know how to put musical examples up here as others do, or I would share some of my work with our forum members. If you wish to send me your mailing address I could mail you copies of some of my responsories.

    The Alstott mold is mouldy and needs to be cast aside.
    Thanked by 1JKW
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 1,885
    I think someone did once post examples along the lines MJO suggests, though I can't help thinking if they were anything as beautiful as the Proses Attende, Rorate, or Juizio fuerte I would certainly have bookmarked them.

    Another (conventional) approach is Jonathan D. Eason's in this thread.
    Thanked by 1JKW
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,481
    What the Church asks for:
    #21. Provision should be made for at least one or two properly trained singers, especially where there is no possibility of setting up even a small choir. The singer will present some simpler musical settings, with the people taking part, ... Musicam Sacram
    Reality (also for us)* :
    Unfortunately it cannot be assumed that a cantor has more talent or skill than that of the congregation. It is an ideal to strive towards (indeed crucial!). I deal with cantors who may even have less talent than the average congregant. (JKW)
    However:
    Psalm tones are NOT solo chants; they are relatively simple for the very reason that they be musically simple enough for congregations of monks or people to sing psalmody in unison. ( M. Jackson Osborn)
    Which suggests that, if you are in our situation you persuade the cantor to practice the response, and get the congregation to sing the verses.
    * AFAIK there is now not one trained cantor in the whole country (though I should mention that we have only 7 churches in 3 parishes).
    Thanked by 1JKW
  • The reference to the Advent and Lent proses as an example of this style has reminded me of some of the compositions of Leo Nestor. In these, he sets a simple congregational refrain, with the cantor or choir having varied chant verses. You can see the scores at GIA:

    Come Back to the Lord - for the imposition of ashes at Ash Wednesday

    Father, If This Cup May Not Pass - communion antiphon for Palm Sunday
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,088
    Alstott I do not know since we have never purchased OCP materials. I believe they own the copyrights for his works.

    Conservative means traditional English, oh ye of picking incessant nits. It is chant, older hymnody, and compositions from earlier, pre-hippie mass days, in English. This does not mean TLM since that is a horse colored differently.

    Bacchus? You are older than I thought.


    JKW, keep up the good work.

    Thanked by 1JKW
  • Thanks and please upload more of these. These are very helpful. God bless
    Thanked by 1JKW