Introits for Congregation and Cantor/Choir
  • I'm a long-time lurker, but this is my first post. It seems like every time I have a question worth asking, I do a search and find that someone else here has already asked it, and you all have already discussed it thoroughly.

    My primary occupation is as a homeschooling mom. I married my accompanist, and now we're building our own choir/orchestra of children who are working at becoming accomplished musicans in their own right, and now in the era of COVID, our parish is enjoying the fact that they can have an ensemble that can fit in the small space that they have for musicians. After experiencing the Extraordinary Form of the Mass and serving as cantors for some of the local Latin Masses, in the last several years, we have worked to incorporate propers into the Ordinary Form of the Mass as well.

    We have explored many of the available English language settings of the propers, but we have not found any that are exactly what we're looking for, including using the texts from the Graduale Romanum and allowing for congregational participation in the proper itself, following paragraph 33 of "Musicam Sacram," which reads, "It is desirable that the assembly of the faithful should participate in the songs of the Proper as much as possible, especially through simple responses and other suitable settings."

    With a degree in music theory, a working knowledge of gregorian chant, and over 25 years of experience as a parish musician in various settings, I am currently attempting to create a set of Introits that:
    -are in English (mostly Solesmes translations);
    -set a portion of the antiphon as a simple refrain for the congregation (no more complicated than a Responsorial Psalm refrain);
    -set the entire antiphon and Psalm verse to a chant based on its corresponding chant in the Graduale Romanum (though mine are simplified);
    -use modern notation;
    -contain a more complicated version for more experienced musicians (without requiring that they be experts in gregorian chant) and a simple version with verses on basic psalm tones for musicians who do not have the time or skill to prepare the more complicated version each week.
    -are set with simple accompaniments for the use of instrumental support for the singing.

    My ultimate goal is to be able to release them under an open source/creative commons license in order to be used freely and developed further by other musicians, as has been done with the traditional gregorian chants, after raising funds to compensate me for my time, and I plan to have bound books for those who would like a bound copy of the music for parish musicians or for the congregation.

    Working at the speed of a homeschooling mom, I now have a full rough draft and am working on my next round of edits. If anyone here would be interested, I am looking for volunteers who would be interested in taking a look at these Introits, possibly beta testing them in your parish, and giving me feedback on them. If you're interested, drop me a note, and I'll send you the ones for Advent.
  • My first impulse was to recommend Bruce Ford's American Gradual, which is the music of the Graduale Romanum excellently adapted to modern English.

    But then I read that you wanted something simpler that would incorporate congregational participation and I thought of Fr Columba Kelly's introits and communions which would more or less converge with what you describe that you want.

    Then I noticed that you are working on your own versions with the prospect of publishing them. I'm sure that there are many who would be interested in your work.
    Could you put some examples of your work up here for us to see?
  • JM, I've just send you a pm here on the forum. I'd love to see your propers. Thanks!
  • Could you post a sample Introit setting? I would be interested.
  • I'm still figuring out the forums here. Let's see if this worked to post a sample for the First Sunday of Advent and the refrains for congregation for Advent.
  • Very nicely and tastefully done.
    I especially like your fine sense of syllabification.
    Also the flowing chant-like melodies.
    And, especially, that each verse has its own distinct melody.
    Many thanks for posting this.
    (I suppose that this is unavoidable in what passes for 'modern' English, but, as one who was reared on Coverdale and Prayer Book English, the word 'you' stands out like a sore thumb - especially when it is drawn out over a series of notes. It will never sound right - but that's not your fault.)
  • These are wonderful. They allow congregational participation yet allow the choir to sing something more florid and interesting. I'm going to look at Advent 1 with my choir tonight.
  • Very beautiful. Are you planning on doing communion antiphons too?
  • M. Jackson, that first Sunday of Advent does have quite a bit of "you," doesn't it? If you want to substitute "thee," I don't have a problem with it, but it's not my translation, so you'd have to take it up with the abbey. Most of the other ones don't have quite as much of it.

    Nathan, Communios are likely to be my next project, but with my primary vocation as a mother and homeschooling my kids (and I had another baby this year), the Introits have taken over 2 1/2 years so far, and I still have at least one round of edits and then breaking them all into hundreds of images to put onto pages in a book. There are also a lot more Communios since they vary from year to year more frequently than the Introits. I can hope that the process will be quicker and easier without as much of the learning curve that I have experienced through this process, as much of what I've figured out for the Introits will carry over. In short, I do plan to, but I cannot guarantee a timeline.
  • The Introits got done first because of my (then) pastor's request that the congregation be able to sing the opening and closing songs, which pushed me from thinking about composing my own propers for congregational participation to actually composing them.
  • Does this mean that you are contemplating a complete set of propers using the Gregorian Missal translations? I hope so - Introit, Psalm, Alleluia, Offertory, Communion?
    This would be wonderful.
  • M. Jackson, one thing at a time. The Psalms and Alleluias are trickier because the Responsorial Psalms and Gospel Acclamations that are typically used are from the Roman Missal and owned by ICEL, not the Graduals, Tracts, and Alleluias in the Gradual Romanum and Gregorian Missal. Especially for the Graduals and Tracts, there would be a lot to consider for if and how to allow for congregational participation since those really are intended for a cantor/choir while the Responsorial Psalms and Gospel Acclamations are intended for congregational participation.

    That said, I do have most of a draft (though it needs a lot of heavy editing before being publishable in any form) of Alleluias based on the melodies in the Gradual, using one Alleluia refrain for each mode with varied verses based on the gregorian chant for the day, using the RM texts. I do hope to eventually add verse options for those who would prefer the GR texts instead or use both.
  • Just an update. Last night my tiny choir sang through Jeana's introit for first Advent and discussed the concept. We enjoyed the music, and I'll have a discussion with the pastor soon to get his take. He really likes congregational participation and isn't afraid of trying new things. Our accompanist at the rehearsal wanted to throw in a seventh chord at some point, and I had to quash that. :-)

    Well done, Jeana, and I look forward to seeing more of your introits!

  • JMJones, congratulations on the new baby. Of course your obligations to your family come before a bunch of music nerds you talk to online :). However long it takes to finish this project, I'm sure it will be well worth the wait.
    Thanked by 1marymezzo
  • Mary, I'm glad to hear it went well. I'm open to feedback on chords as well. A 7th chord is likely to sound more tonal than modal, as it creates a tension to resolve the 7th down by step. I could see it working in this case if it is part of a suspension with consonant preparation,dissonant suspension, and consonant resolution down by step.

    I have a few suspensions and diminished chords in these. I'm really not a pianist/organist, so feedback from someone who is would be appreciated. Part of this round of edits that I am working on is to add the chord symbols. I'm hearing from my husband and another friend who are both pianists turned organists that the chord symbols are helpful for filling in as well as for pedaling.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • Ha! Chord symbols are so tacky (and folksy [and guitary]).
    Why not a figured bass.
  • I don't love them, but a large part of my overall goal is to make these accessible to a wider audience... not just for music nerds and purists like we have here. I'd like these to be extremely workable for the average parish musician in order to convince people who have never considered the propers before to see this as a workable and tasteful way to incorporate them into their liturgies as well as to provide an additional option for us music nerds to do something beautiful while incorporating the congregation.

    An option I would consider would be to just put chord symbols on the "simple version" and leave the regular one clean. I think that a figured bass would appeal only to the music nerd crowd, and honestly, the chords that are there are really not that complicated and are really designed to just support the singers, not distract from the singing. I can see more need to fill in long lines on the simple versions.

    One philosophical issue that I have run into and have mixed feelings about is that I can easily look at my own musical situation and see that we have a (sometimes functional) organ and organist, and I can sing, but what about a more typical parish that maybe has an organist or at least a pianist at a couple masses and then also fills space with guitarists that just don't play a keyboard instrument because that's who the music director can get to volunteer? Set aside the cringing for a moment because I totally agree with you that it would be better to use approved instruments or go a cappella, but the reality right now is as it is. Is convincing a guitarist to start using propers an incremental improvement to support?
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 2,209
    Indeed it is too easy for the trained professional church musician to overlook the needs of communities lacking in resources. The 1996 compilation of Office hymns Hymns for Prayer and Praise by the English Panel of Monastic Musicians has this in the instructions -
    None of the harmonizations should be too hard for amateur singers and players. Howvever, in all cases the bass is sufficiently strong and complete to enable keyboard players of limited ability to settle for playing the melody and bass alone.
    That meets a need of many small monastic communities.
    Thanked by 1JMJones
  • As an organist, I find figured bass infinitely more helpful when sight-reading or improvising a simple accompaniment than chord symbols.
  • I like the concept of FB but I find it more difficult in practice than chord symbols. I suspect this is the case for most people since very few are actually taught to play FB. Many music schools simply reference it in history class but unless you take harpsichord lessons, you probably never touch it. FB is a discipline and speciality unto itself whereas chord symbols are common across multiple instruments and genres. (Don't get me wrong, I'm not a fan of chord symbols in liturgical music... I cringe every time I look one hymnal where every single page has a special note in bold with an asterisk at the bottom that says "*When playing with guitarist, use the provided chord symbols instead of the accompaniment provided." Barf. That said, I've also taken chant scores and written in a few chord symbols for myself so I could planned-improvise an accompaniment to them so I understand the use here.

    As for the concept of these propers writ large, I am very intrigued and think this is very nice. One quibble I have, however, is the style of modern notation. I concede that I've been contradicted in this before on the forum, but I find beamed notation terribly difficult to read when dealing with chant. It's all rather busy. I much prefer a modified modern notation that is stemless, at least where the melody is concerned. I find the advent 1 example a chore to read the notes even though I like the arrangement. Since it is chant, it is ultimately unmetered, however this style of notation was developed for metered music, hence the uncomfortable marriage, IMHO. It is much easier to feel the natural rhythm of chant when not dealing with stems; or at least when I look at advent 1 I find it all too instinctual to look at the hierarchy of eighths, quarters, and dotted quarters and try and measure them out relative to one another in normal mathematical terms as would be required for metered music.

    I'm attaching examples of what I mean by 'modified modern' notation.

    To JMJ, keep up the wonderful work. And I should also mention that the congregational/simple aid is fantastic.
  • I could see the first verse being rendered like this, for instance. You could use double heads for long notes, or just use white notes for long notes / cadences. There are a couple ways.

    Just a thought anyway. Still, even with the way you're doing it now, this is a wonderful contribution to liturgical music.
  • Addendum: I stumbled across Richard Rice's entrance antiphons and I find this edition eminently readable. https://stmichaelhymnal.com/files/DownloadableMusic/Entrance%20Antiphons%20-%20Part%201%20of%203.pdf Take my comments with a grain of salt. I note, however, that he only uses two note durations (eighth / quarter) and maintains regular beaming. There is also more gracious spacing in this edition. Perhaps it's a combination of these three things that I find difficult in the original post.
  • I'm agreeing with ServiamScores--that stemless notation would be easier to read. The danger in using, say, dotted quarter notes, is that the eyes and mind of the trained singer want to render them like modern notation even though the director is saying "we'll sing this like a chant." But as I've said, I love what I've seen.
    Thanked by 1ServiamScores
  • If you wish to show the Solesmes-style groupings into two or three notes with modern notation, either provide ictus markings or horizontal brackets above the notation. Beaming is unnecessary.
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,178
    Easy is whatever one is used to: in principal one should have no more difficulty with stemmed chant than with reading Chaucer in Helvetica instead of Caxton's blackletter. On the Anglican music list I used to be astonished at the moaning about white noteheads 'instinctually' demanding to be held for 4 counts instead of 2.
    Thanked by 2marymezzo CHGiffen
  • a_f_hawkins, that is excellent! I think I will include a similar suggestion in my introductory notes.

    I would include in my concern not only people who are lacking in resources, but also people who have not had much exposure to sacred music as the Church's documents describe. I was at a diocesan music conference a few years ago, and the speaker's topic was to dive into the Church's documents about music. She mostly talked about the idea of progressive solemnity in the Ordinary Form and was trying to get people to sing the dialogues, acclamations and Responsorial Psalm instead of just hymns, and she had to tell somebody who plays an electric drum set that this might not be an appropriate instrument for Mass, trying to get people just barely kinda sorta in bounds. Her primary resources were "Sing to the Lord" and the GIRM. I mentioned the propers, and practically everyone in the room seemed sure that this was impossible. One very talented music group sat with us at lunch and noted that they tried to do the Latin propers out of the Graduale Romanum for a bit, but it didn't go over well. I'm looking for ways to meet people where they are and tug a bit in the right direction.
    Thanked by 1marymezzo
  • Schoenbergian, I do personally find figured bass easier, though I haven't done much with either. I am not a keyboardist, but I did have to take 4 semesters of piano in college, and it was far easier for me to count intervals above the bass than to try to figure out what notes are in that chord and then figure out which note is supposed to be in the bass. That said, I think it's a less common skill to read a figured bass than chord symbols.
  • On stemless notation, I am using abc for engraving. (Gregorio is based on it and possibly more familiar to some of you here.) I have looked and looked, and I'm pretty sure that there's no way to hide the stems. I would prefer to not use stems on the simple versions but haven't found a good way to do that.

    I initially wished that I could use stemless notation on the main version, but the stems have grown on me for the purpose of showing the rhythm of speech. It's not that I want every few syllables accented, but the barring of notes together shows the little bit of accents natural to the syllables.

    I think that there is also a tendency in those who are not used to chant to read each filled-in note head as being a quarter note at 76 beats per minute or less, and the whole chant is painfully slow. My hope (and my limited experience) is that people see the eighth notes as encouragement to keep up the pace a bit more rather than following a bias that has chant slow and boring.

    I can certainly add some more space if that would be helpful and keep it less busy.
  • ...and for what it's worth, I have a really hard time any time I try to read something in the modified modern chant notation because you can't see the texture of the phrase as well. I would much rather read it in gregorian notation where the notes for each syllable are stuck together, and the phrasing of melismas is much more clear. This is what I am attempting to replicate. I realize that I'm creating a form of notation that doesn't exist. I also wondered what the rules should be on accidentals - the chant ones or the modern ones. I attempted not to resolve this issue and just placed an accidental on each note that was an accidental (unless it was tied to a not that was already marked as an accidental) and used courtesy natural signs the next time a natural note appeared.
    Thanked by 1marymezzo
  • I'm also looking on brainstorming ideas for a title.
    Thanked by 1marymezzo
  • I'm an awful keyboardist and learned to read figured bass fluently in six weeks. It makes one's life much easier and you're printing the bass line anyways.
  • JMJones, you certainly aren't inventing anything new in this regard and can leverage this to your advantage by looking at some of the previously published examples floating around. There has been a decades-long history of transcribing chant to more modern forms of notation. One example (perhaps the example) is the Organi Harmonia https://www.ccwatershed.org/nova/ which is partly why I advocate for the stemless version.

    To your point about being able to sense the flow of the line, ironically, this is precisely why I prefer stemless notation as I feel that the beams obscure it. We can certainly agree to disagree on this though; I'm sure it's largely a matter of habituation for each of us. One approach is to actually group the notes closer together and clump them into neumes. This is how the book Chants of the Roman Missal (LitPress / ICEL) as well as a few hymnals handle it. CotRM is eminently readable. I'm also noticing a modern trend to use reciting tones rather than 30 notes of the same pitch in a row. This is something (may I claim becoming a new "standard"?) that I've adopted in my own editions recently; my choir and cantors have a much easier time singing on reciting tones. This, I admit, is a step away from true gregorian tradition (as are beams), however it makes it much easier to sing with natural speech rhythm and spot when the pitch is actually supposed to change.

    I also believe more of the modern hymnals use stemless notation than don't; some better than others. A laudable example is the Lumen Christi Hymnal which does a great job condensing notes into readable "neumes" (see the Salve Regina pg 124). Less successful (and it's probably examples such as these that have turned you off from this system) are hymnals like Ritual Song and By Flowing Waters which are stemless but the notes are fairly spaced out making it difficult to read. In such cases I definitely agree with you. I also think that your point about singers perceiving the 8th note rhythm as a laudable one worth considering. A solution, as I said, is reciting tones; then they read the pitch once and simply focus on proclaiming the text naturally rather than slaving over a perceived or imagined rhythm.

    However, as I mentioned, there are also hymnals that have used stemmed notation to varying degrees of success. One example of stemmed notation is found in the Saint Peter Gradual (which curiously uses stems and slurs in tandem...). (And don't get me started on the Adoremus Hymnal which is a hot mess; square note, stemmed, stemless, different fonts... it's a wreck. I mean no offense if anyone on this forum was associated with that project, but I've never seen anything like it.) At any rate, it is sufficient to state that both stemmed and stemless notation each have their varying camps and histories and are both established methods, so I don't think it's necessarily a misstep to use one or the other even though I've obviously advocated for stemless (and I will give it a rest with this post, lol). I do think that adding more generous spacing in your posted edition might make things a tad easier to read, as you suggested.

    One last post script: Behind Bars is considered the definitive book on music engraving in the broader classical music world. This tome is jokingly referred to as "the bible" by many music engravers and Ms. Gould takes the official stance that the old-style one-stem-per-syllable/word system for general classical vocal music is not to be used since it obscures a singer's ability to properly read rhythms. While chant transcriptions don't fall strictly into this category, they do stray dangerously close. It seems almost comical to get this into the weeds about music engraving choices, but if you end up publishing your whole opus (and I hope you do!), you also want to make sure that it doesn't end up being hampered due to unique editing choices.

    PPS: the struggle is real, and I suspect that many of us here have also had to go to battle with all of these difficulties in our own transcriptions. As you can tell, I nerd out on this just a little bit, but this is largely due to the fact that I've been working through all the same problems for the last few years making transcriptions for my choir. So please take all of my comments in the spirit in which they are intended: hopefully helpful. I do not mean to detract at all from this wonderful project!
    Thanked by 2marymezzo JMJones
  • Gould takes that stance and then provides a laughably dense example to "prove" her point. In most of the music composed when that system was in vogue, and even in chant transcriptions, it's perfectly readable.
    Thanked by 1Richard Mix
  • I cringe every time I have to read any edition where every word has it's own eighth stem. At least with chant you're dealing with a more/less regular and predictable rhythm. With other rep you are not.
  • You exactly aren't, though. In chant editions the notes are beamed according to the rhythmic groupings, which is exactly what Gould advocates for modern music. It's not haphazard, it's following good notational practice. Beaming the notes "regularly" would make absolutely zero sense.

    I'm no fan of beamed chant notation, but let's stick to valid critiques of it.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 2,209
    The ICEL chants as set on their web page are the easiest for me.

    Which programs can produce this style?
    207K
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • Here are a couple more takes (only changing the original version, not the simple version) without chords and with adding extra space. I think a lot of the business of the original version was the chords. I'm concerned that adding a lot of extra space would significantly increase the number of pages. I could split the difference and increase the number of lines by a smaller amount, but I do like the fact that I have each refrain, antiphon, Psalm verse, and doxology beginning on its own line to make it easier to find your spot.
  • ...but I do like the fact that I have each refrain, antiphon, Psalm verse, and doxology beginning on its own line to make it easier to find your spot.

    Definitely. This is something I try to do too; it helps very much. Sometimes I will indent the start of each verse too (assuming the verse takes more than one line).
  • Beamed groups which cover multiple syllables are rhythmically confusing, strange, and do not convey any sense at all of real chant-like rhythm, interpretation, or performance. In my opinion there is no substitute for stemless note heads of varying sizes to approximate chant notation, with slurs to indicate a multiplicity of notes-neumes on one syllable. If one is eschewing actual chant notation this is as close as one can get to it in chant-like song. Mr Hawkins's example from the Roman Missal is a very good, though not perfect, guide. (And, I have to agree that one reciting note is far superior to and far less distracting to the eye and mind than an endless string of notes-neumes. Keeping up with and hammering out a constant string of notes-neumes when they are all the same anyway is a tiring distraction from the text. They are boring to look at and will result in a boring hammered out delivery.)
  • AF, I know for sure you can reproduce the ICEL style in Dorico.
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  • M. Jackson, I guess it depends on to what extent your singers are sufficiently capable of hearing and expressing the rhythm of speech and accenting their own syllables. By beginning each barred grouping with a relatively accented syllable, I think that helps to give people who are less experienced with chant some training wheels on note accents, and the constantly changing groupings discourage a mechanical reading of the rhythms.

    I can certainly see how this would be annoying to someone who is already competent in expressing the rhythm of speech, though, similar to how I don't like a lot of the features of new cars that seem to tell you how to drive or correct your driving for you.
  • I really do appreciate all of you who are acting as a sounding board for me here. I am at a point that I'd like to make some decisions about what I am doing going forward with an awareness of not letting perfect be the enemy of the good. It would be easy to stall out trying to come up with the perfect solution that doesn't exist.
  • ...the perfect being the enemy of the good...
    This, believe me, is not a slap to you, but a general observation that many who are seemingly concerned that the perfect not be the enemy of the good actually end up letting the good be the enemy of the perfect.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,016
    @a_f_hawkins

    That is accomplished in Sibelius with the (option-command-arrow) to close up gaps in the notes to more resemble chant neumes... however, as a rep for sib for years, and a power user, i don't recommend any modern notation for chant... use square note notation.

    Here is an example of setting English using the good ol' system...

    Another REALLY good reason for doing this is that the text does not get broken up and spaced out since the text dictates the placement of noteheads.
    Thanked by 1bhcordova
  • Francis, I had no idea you could accomplish this in Sibelius. I'm amazed. I *think* I could do this in Dorico with a custom notehead set, but I've never bothered to try. Perhaps I should.
  • M. Jackson, I think that there are competing goods here, and I while I am a perfectionist myself, I know myself well enough to know that at some point I'm going to have to publish, and despite my best efforts, it won't be perfect.

    I recently read JRR Tolkien's "Beowulf," written about a century ago and not published until very recently by his son because he struggled with getting it into a publishable form... and so did his son, but he finally gave us that imperfect gift anyway because it was a gift worth giving to the world. I'm not looking to assign one of my kids the career of cleaning up and publishing what I couldn't clean up and publish myself.
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,178
    (option-command-arrow) to close up gaps in the notes

    I would instead use smaller values than quarter notes for the ICEL slurred groups, Sibelius having an editable note-spacing rule that can exaggerate spacing. Once made stemless, crochets & semiquavers are identical black noteheads.
  • Here are a couple more samples from what I'm working on for a congregation book. As the Nativity one shows, sometimes the refrain for the congregation comes from the end of the antiphon rather than the beginning. In practice, this works well as long as the refrain is repeated at the beginning and end of the antiphon.

    In the Easter season, I set all the refrains as "Alleluia!" which comes back multiple times throughout the antiphon. My recommendation is to intone the refrain in the beginning and then have it come back every time there is an alleluia in the antiphon.

    Using these at my own parish, I was giving everybody a handout with just the refrains on them, and this worked well until Easter, when everybody got confused about having the refrain come back more frequently. This was fixed by me altering our handout to say:

    Cantor: Alleluia
    All: Alleluia
    Cantor: I am risen, and I am always with you;
    All: Alleluia
    Cantor: Your wisdom has been shown to be most wonderful, alleluia,
    All: Alleluia
    Cantor: O Lord, you...
    Cantor: Glory to the Father...
    All: Alleluia

    This worked for my purposes, but I don't like that it would tie a music group into doing it exactly that way. I'd prefer to leave open the option for needing to add more verses, add another refrain before the doxology, etc. Does this method of presenting the information provide clear information while giving the music group freedom to use the piece to meet their needs, or do you have any other feedback?
  • I really like the way these are formatted. It's very nice and clear; the fonts are lovely, and the way you provide the larger context of the antiphon with the extract in bold is really clever.

    My one suggestion would be that you need to capitalize the first word of the antiphons. I realize that they come from the middle of a larger sentence, however I think it's standard practice to capitalize when extracted since they are complete thoughts unto themselves. This is also how every psalm setting I've ever seen does it.
  • Capitalize the refrains, and what is your opinion on changing the punctuation at the end? Most would be proper complete sentences on their own (except those that begin with a conjunction and would be a proper ending to a sentence).
  • (And that conjunction is superfluous and could be dropped.)