Are hymns boring?
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I had meant for some time to compile this into a large essay, but I'm more interested in interaction than form on this, so I'll just spill my guts and we can have at it. (Note that by "hymns" I'm primarily referring to the protestant-developed repertoire, namely what, besides chant, we would typically use for "alius cantus aptus" in a Catholic church.)

    I (finally) completed Music Theory IV last semester, which mostly was composed of the prof (a distinguished composer in his own right) lecturing us on the techniques and examples of expanded traditionalism ("mainstream") and the avant-garde. Basically the techniques of 20th century composition. Between the beginning of the class and an exposure to Rameau's Treatise on Harmony, the thought occurred to me that our hymns are stuck in the 18th century and haven't moved since then. For the past 300 years, they have consisted of:

    - Strophic texts
    - Strict voice-leading according to the principles of Rameau
    - Tonal (Major/Harmonic Minor) 4-part writing
    - Unchanging meter
    - Extremely predictable harmonic formulation: ii-V-I, or the hymns which go AABA with B in the relative minor/major

    I ask: is this boring? Is this something we should seek to change? I would say this is one area where the introduction of chant hymns is a great thing: it gives variety and interest to the liturgy, veering off from the predictability of hymns and 18th century tonality. The same can be said of Lutheran chorales in their original (irregular meter) form. Responsorial/"refrain" songs also break up the monotony of the strophic text form, as does the chant developed at the Taize community. There are certainly some decent attempts to thwart traditional harmonic and rhythmic passages in hymns, such as in the tunes by Sowerby.

    And yet, is this a necessary evil? The function of hymns, as we use them, is a form of participation in the liturgy by people who are musically untrained. They can't join in our motets or (much of) our propers, so we give them a hymn after or before Mass. Does this not necessitate a lesser level of difficulty in them? Doesn't the ii-V-I function as a predictable way to end a hymn, and aren't the principles of good voice-leading just a means to the end of making the melody more intuitive to the congregation? Isn't the strophic form more quickly learned than a through-composed tune? Aren't irregular meters difficult for even trained musicians to learn? Yes to all of the above!

    I still maintain there is much that can be done to make hymns less boring. If anything, the modern attempts are very tame and conservative. Sowerby mostly relies on common dissonances, and changing meters are a mere 3/4 interspersed with 4/4. Where's the use of more radical dissonances, innovative text forms, or asymmetrical meter? One will be quick to point out that even getting a congregation to sing a Sowerby tune (let alone Vaughn Williams' SALVE FESTA DIES) is difficult - for a PROTESTANT congregation, let alone Catholic! I say we need to make more usage of what we have in the way of novelty (while not neglecting the treasures of the past!), and perhaps in the future expand to more radical ideas as congregations adapt to early 20th century ones.

    What say ye? Are hymns dull? What's the solution? Banishing, appreciation, expanding, what?
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    The class made me similarly wonder if avant-garde techniques have a place in church as well (outside of the congregational realm, of course!!). Serialism? Maybe a bit far-fetched, although it's now considered conservative in concert halls and the academy. Aleatoricism? Isn't this essentially what we organists do when we improvise? Minimalism? An offensive one, but think about it: much minimalism has the advantage of being aleatoric in duration. Isn't that suitable for a procession? Think Terry Riley's "In C" for a procession... the musicians gradually stopping as the procession ends. Perhaps something better written that won't give people headaches, but it's an interesting concept to me.

    Even the more extreme avant-garde can have a place, it seems. Jeff Tucker often expounds upon the importance of silence in church - I recall his quote at a workshop that "music must be very good indeed to beat silence." What else is he proposing but an abbreviated performance of Cage's 4'33" at Mass? Just some thoughts, although I'd first like to hear back on hymns.

    EDIT: almost forgot microtones! After all, some Greeks use them!
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    Great topic.

    Strophes of text in regular meter are at the root of all this. A four-line stanza in ballad meter pretty much demands what is now the traditional treatment. The cadences are just *there*, and it's hard to imagine alternatives. There's little room inside a stanza for modulation, especially if you want congregations to sing robustly. Changing key for the final verse is an option, but more adventurous harmonizations within a stanza? Difficult. Results can sound crammed.

    So the way to create more room is to ditch regular meter and go for chorale-like text with freer rhythm. Bach showed what could be done, and maybe there's too much anxiety of (his) influence since then. I've always longed for the "Catholic chorale" to come into existence. The market needn't be cornered by Lutherans. ELCA Lutherans certainly have no problem singing (Catholic) imitative polyphony, at least in my experience.

    Once you depart from metrical strophes, you depart from "hymnody" as it has been defined for centuries. So yes, that would be more radical. To get into really adventurous harmony, you have to start using more accidentals in the melody, yes? I think congregations could follow a short whole-tone phrase. Maybe they could even tolerate some compressed chromaticism for short stretches. Pop music certainly hasn't been our friend in stretching their ear for melody: for the past fifteen years, it's been rhythm rhythm rhythm.

    I do think congregations would follow modal melodies, even those that feel really Phyrgian or Lydian. Those half-steps sure are potent, but they're do-able. So are tritones.

    One composer who pushes the envelope just enough for me is Gabrial Faure'. Listen to his "Chansons d'Eve" (get the Elly Ameling/Gerard Souzay collection). His melodies in there are relatively simple, but wow, do they range across some spectacular territory. Here's a youtube version:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3IeQI0bOII&feature=PlayList&p=1C854E27482875AC&index=74
  • Donnaswan
    Posts: 585
    No reason for hymns to be boring- a good organist and lot of practice with the many alternate harmonies available for practically every hymn ever written, and also think about doing the occasional verse a capella with choir singing in parts. And good descants for sopranos (or tenors) not to mention changing stops. The thing is to get the congregation used to things like this. After awhile, they'll sing very nicely with alternate harmonies etc.
    The thoughts of serialism or aleatoric music inthe Mass reminds me very much of the experimentalism of the 60s. Let it go! The Ivory Tower is the place for it. LOL
    Donna
  • Hymns are most defintely not boring. At least not ipso facto. Donna rehearses several treatments to add interest, and, there are others of which most of us on this forum would, no doubt, be aware. I would suggest that it is rarely the case that really good and deserving hymns are boring, but, rather, that it is persons or individual musicians who are themselves bored. Why? There are ample means of inventive hymn playing and arrangement which would, tastefully utilised, eliminate boredom. Are you mentally involved with the text? Are you praying or praising genuinely from within? Nor is the problem one of harmonic idiom. Anglican chant is not boring (and there are, in fact, some very modern Anglican chants). Psalm tones are not boring. Sequences and plainchant hymns are not boring. (Even endless Byzantine hymns are not boring!) Quite the opposite: all these are fascinating in their capacity to engender continued interest. And, as Gavin himself points out, there are numerous examples of XX. century hymnody by men such as Sowerby (who is not alone) and our contemporary, David Ashley White. There are numerous tunes (Engleberg, for one) that defy the predictable closing harmonic formulae. Far from being boring, there is a discernable and engrossing rhythm in the unfolding of meaning in successive stanzas and the treatment (interpretation) of them by the organ, instruments, or choirs. Far from being boring, hymns are an at least potentially rich 'sacramental' and a deeply moving act of communal worship. (It goes, of course, without saying that we are discussing hymns that are genuinely fine literature and tunes that are genuinely good examples of the hymnodists art.) Perhaps it is not so much that the 'common practice' is boring but that we, legitimately, thirst as well for hymns and tunes that are really modern (and you understand, of course, that by 'modern' I do not mean 'contemporary'). And, lastly, as an addendum, I would emphatically resist the insinuation that Catholics cannot sing music as challenging as some Protestants. They are the same, quite intelligent, human beings. What is needed are genuine church music programs, competent and spiritually motivated choirmaster-teachers, and clerical support and emphasis. One does sometimes get the feeling that there are those who really don't want their congregations to sing too well because it would, somehow, not be 'Catholic' - it might wake them up!
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,079
    I think one has to keep in mind what the hymns are for. I find they should serve the same purposes as chant. They are not entertainment, so it is not the organist's job to include every novelty to keep the congregation from being bored. Harmonizations and descants are fine as long as they don't overpower or impede the singers. In my largely Protestant area, going to any kind of workshop on hymns means being taught the practices for hymn playing in those churches. Sometimes it's a mistake to bring the way the Presbyterians do it back to a Catholic church. For example, the style of hymn singing and playing developed for German Protestant churches does not automatically work in a Catholic church. Yes, I know that the Germans developed beautiful 4-part hymns, and I love many of those hymns, too. In my own church, however, unison congregational singing is our tradition and that's what we do. The Venerable Bede remarked about the English, "The English follow everything novel, and hold fast to nothing." That's not the musical model I want to follow in church music. Some in the congregation may also find chant boring, but I don't plan to change it radically to hold their attention.
  • mjballoumjballou
    Posts: 986
    Hymns with good texts and strong melodies aren't boring to most of the congregation. They can be boring to the organist in a Catholic Church who may find himself playing the same music at several Masses, especially if the choir director forbids alternate harmonies, etc. The congregation only goes to one Mass and is happy to sing something with which they're already familiar. The secret is making them familiar with quality music, not sentimental quasi-show tunes.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,079
    mjballou, I am in complete agreement with you. Often, what enthralls organists and choir directors, is of little interest to the congregation. The hymns need good, doctrinally sound texts, and melodies that are within the vocal ranges of the congregation. I have four masses every Sunday, and the congregation sings differently at each. In essence, they are 4 unique congregations often singing the same hymn 4 different ways.
  • Donnaswan
    Posts: 585
    Charles, I was not suggesting the congregation sing in parts. At our Choir Mass, the choir sings first verse in unison, rest in parts, if there are parts. I'm not saying EVERY single time you sing a hymn it must have all the bells and whistles. Everything gets stale if it is done every single time.I think alternate harmonization on one verse,and descant on Recessional is a good place to enlarge on the music . If you have instrumentalists,use them there.
    I hire instrumentalists for anthems when needed, and then use them also on the Respond and Acclaim Psalm and the entrance and Rec hymns. (I like to get my money's worth, esp if it's brass! LOL)

    Donna
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,079
    I understand, and there's nothing wrong with some variation. It's when the variation takes over, it becomes theater more than worship. I would say we do some of the same things you do - not surprising since there are three Catholic churches in town with good liturgical music, and yours and mine are two of those three. For the most part - no pun intended - the congregational hymnals don't even have parts. I use instrumentalists for special occasions, or for anthems that have an instrument part, but never hire them. We are much too cheap for that. ;-) Organ descants are occasional, as well. Unless the choir is present to lead, the organ descants seem to pull the congregation off the melody. Full-organ harmonizations do the same thing. I have been fortunate in having cantors at the non-choir masses who actually want to start congregational singing, not perform. That helps tremendously.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,283
    Hymns certainly aren't boring. What is boring is hymn after hymn and nothing else. I have two or three instrumentals at every liturgy. Prelude, Postlude, and then sometimes an offertory or communion piece. I draw from the schola, the SATB choir and the elementary choir for special pieces for communion and offertory too, or an instrumental solo with accomp. Because the Ordinary is our main focus of singing during the Mass, hymns are one of the options among many choices.

    Being an organist AND the DoM has its advantages. I have rule over the arrangement and registration of hymns. Sometimes I add a small interlude between verses, especially on long hymns. I sometimes change up the harmony simply by inverting the chord structure. Sometimes more radical, and improvise a progressive harmony, but usually not until the last couple of verses of a longer hymn. The choir and congregation seem to have enough steam at that point on their own where I feel free enough to 'wander' about.

    I do like the irregular metered hymns, but that takes a lot of work for congregational learning. Lutherans come to church to sing hymns. (At least, that used to be the case... not sure anymore since they have also wandered into the sacropop scene too) Catholics come to church to attend Mass. In their minds, (although we know it is improper), music is a 'wonderful plus'. Our choir isn't big enough to support four-part hymn singing, so most of the time it is unison.

    To encourage hymns and chorales, here's another one from my own ancient archive.

    Can be heard here:

    Hear a Sibelius Simulation Here

    In JMJ,

    FK
  • If the hymns are not boring for you as a church musician, you are not programming them frequently enough for the people to learn to sing them and eventually love them.

    Anyone can star in On Golden Pond in a community theater. Only a professional can perform it daily for a year. There are elements required to get a congregation singing a hymn. It require consistency and repetition. If you follow the rules that are required to make a hymn singable long before it becomes a congregational staple you will be bored with it. And that boredom has to be overcome or at least suppressed if you are truly going to serve the church.

    HYMN PLAYING THAT WORKS

    Consistency is essential.

    There must be a clear visual guide to what number the hymn is, through the use of a hymn board or a printed bulletin.

    Announcing of hymns is an interruption in the Mass that should never be tolerated by a congregation.

    The Introduction:

    The hymn introduction must start from the beginning and continue to the end. If, and only if, the format of the hymn is AAB, it is permissible to play just AB. But if so, it must always be played AB. This is a clear reminder to the congregation of the melody.

    The volume of the introduction must be at the same level as the first verse to be played. This indicates to the congregation the level at which they should sing.

    The tempo of the entire introduction must be the exact tempo of the hymn. Slowing down to indicate the end of the introduction is specifically banned. This tells the congregation what tempo to sing.

    There should be a pause, in exact tempo, when the organist lifts the fingers from the keys that indicates that it is time to sing at the end of the introduction and each verse.

    All elements of the introduction are solely to provide a solid presentation to the people who are about to sing.

    An improvised introduction is appropriate only on hymns that the people can sing the first verse of from memory. Once they know a hymn that well, your introduction merely needs to indicate the melody to them. But all other hymns, if you want them sung, must always be introduced in the same manner.

    For this reason, it is best if there is only one organist playing for the hymn singing at all Masses, whenever possible. Consistency.

    The Hymn:

    No fluctuations from tempo are permitted.

    Volume levels, through the use of the expression pedal or stop pistons, should occur during the silent pause between each verse. However, the expression may at times increase the volume level during the last line prior to choosing a louder stop setting in the break.

    During the last line of the last verse only there may be a ritard or no ritard.

    The organ shall hold the last chord without diminishing the volume, instead letting go of the chord with a clear cut off, as a choir would. The organ has its own voice. Hushing it during the last chord is inappropriate.

    Frequency:

    By the time a hymn is first sung in the church, the organist has played it many times, first when learning it, second when teaching it to the choir. The congregation will have heard it only one time, as it is introduced. It takes at least 10 singings of the hymn before the average person in the congregation becomes comfortable recognizing it and at this point they are still not solid singing it.

    Do not sing hymns that cantors and choir members like, instead concentrate only on hymns that the congregation will sing and that are worth spending the time to teach them through repetition.

    Choice:

    You must determine if the hymns in your church are congregational or are primarily solos for cantors and choir.

    You may schedule a few hymns and get a lot of people to sing them, or choose a lot of hymns to more exactly match the scriptures of the day and have just a few people singing them.

    And, special services, such as funerals, require careful attention. Only the most familiar of hymns and chants should be chosen for congregational participation.
  • Noel alludes to that boredom which we do, in fact, often experience in the act of repetitive performance which we call the learning process. (Practice, practice, practice!) And, yes, in this context, hymns may indeed become as boring as a Bach fugue can be when we are playing it (or a part of it) for yet another time, for yet another hour... until it becomes a part of us - then, voila!, it is no longer boring but is a vehicle for self expression, for praise, for prayer; it has become the means for an almost unlimited kaleidoscope of emotions which cover the entire spectrum of human knowledge and feeling. We are changed and our world is richer. This is as true of hymn playing as it is of great organ literature (of which hymnody is a part, perhaps, the crown). I think, in fact, that when boredom creeps in it will be perceived properly as an impediment to fruitful mental involvement with the object of the boredom: it is, at a certain level, a reticence to become involved on its own terms with that which we are learning. I would question Noel on a few finer points, but think his precepts are for the most part sage counsel.
  • Maureen
    Posts: 652
    Granted that anything can get boring if you have to practice it enough... I think that most really good hymns have a sort of interest in them that doesn't wane. You can repeat them over and over again until they are really ingrained in you, but they aren't so much boring as inevitable.

    Sort of like (to pick something on a smaller scale) nursery rhymes. I mean, not exactly complex, definitely repeated a zillion times, and yet they don't really get old. Diametrically the opposite of Barney kid songs, which pretty much made you want to shoot yourself in the head as soon as you'd heard them two or three times, or even once. (I worked in the children's clothing department for a long while after college, and the general consensus was that any TV show was better on the monitor than a Barney videotape.)
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,079
    I can't say I ever get bored with a good hymn. The better hymns have text that is timeless and worth reading or singing again and again. The trick to hymns is to select first-rate hymns to begin with.
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    What of Gavin's point that most hymns don't venture beyond Rameau's harmony? I think his post was coming off a buzz from Music Theory IV. Are you all saying that hymn harmony is now basically a closed system?
  • Hymn Harmony has to be a closed system...otherwise, it's not a hymn. Like chromatic chant. The moment you go beyond the norm, you take a chance on being out of form and unacceptable.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,283
    Out of form? In celebration of Corpus Christi, I give you 21st century harmony in the traditional German chorale style!

    Hear a Sibelius Simulation Here
  • Looks like a hymn, sounds like a hymn. Fits the form and is gorgeous.
  • Donnaswan
    Posts: 585
    I can't imagine ever getting tired of singing Down Ampney, or lasst uns erfreuen or Kingsfold, or Liebster Jesu or Bryn Calfaria or Rhosymedre, or practically any Welsh hymn tune etc etc etc. Draw us in the Spirit's tether, In babilone, Wachet auf, Herzliebster Jesu, Song 46 Heinlein. Enough. You get the point- truly great hymns which marry the perfect words to the perfect tune are timeless and never boring- they are among the great prayers of the Church.
    Donna
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I now work at an Episcopal church (well, as of Sunday), so I'm familiar with the technique of good hymn playing. I typically improvise my own harmonizations as well as using published ones. "boring" isn't the most accurate word (although the most interesting). I suppose "limited" would describe my complaint. Henry Ford was famous for saying "They can have their car in any color they want, so long as it's black." It seems hymns are so flexible that we can have them in any harmonic idiom we want, so long as it existed in the late 18th century.

    I will say I've written some very pleasing-to-the-ear harmonizations in quartal harmony. I suspect they wouldn't be too challenging for a congregation, but I've yet to try them out.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,283
    Concerning the performance of Tantum Ergo (3rd entry above this one) I forgot to mention that the proper way to sing the text in measure 8 for the Bass is to extend the "di" for three eight notes instead of two (as in the other parts).

    illustration: (bass notes in measure 8)

    C - B - A - D - G
    di - - - - - cti - o

    This will make for a smooth transition in the diction. This rule can be applied in many chorale style hymns where the parts are more mellismatic.

    PS. I think four-part harmony a cappella is the most beautiful music this side of heaven! Up with polyphony! Forever live hymns! Sometimes I have the choir sing the hymn without accompaniment. It is stunning if they have a half decent blend.
  • Donnaswan
    Posts: 585
    There is nothing more spine tingling than to hear the choir sing a good hymn a capella perfectly in tune.
    Besides several settings of the Requiem (Faure, Rutter, Mozart) I have 10 or 20 favorite hymns to be sung at my Memorial Service. I expect it to last several days. :)

    Donna
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    Properly speaking, a hymn is not polyphony, unless we're talking shape-note tunes.
  • But polyphony can be four-part harmony.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,283
    While a hymn may not be polyphonic, in my thinking, a chorale can be considered so if its parts are somewhat independent.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    True, there are some of the settings by Praetorius, Walther, and some passages by Bach. But I'd say that's still limited to the middle of "fuguing tunes".

    Frankly, I think the term "polyphonic" needs to die, because the voices, except in the Trecento (why do we do none of THAT in church???) and very modern compositions, are NOT free, but bound to thematic and harmonic regulation. I prefer the term "contrapuntal".

    Interestingly, in my ethnomusicology class we learned of another type of texture: heterophony. It involves multiple voices playing the same music at the same time, but with each voice making a variation upon it. Isn't this descriptive of so many of our churches on Sunday? (a joke)
  • mjballoumjballou
    Posts: 986
    On the subject of heterophony, Gavin, read "An Infinity of Little Hours" to learn about one Carthusian novice's experience of the chant at Parkminster.

    And yes, I've often been present at the rebirth of polyphony at daily Masses.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,283
    from Britannica:

    polyphony
    music
    Main
    in music, strictly speaking, any music in which two or more tones sound simultaneously (the term derives from the Greek word for “many sounds”); thus, even a single interval made up of two simultaneous tones or a chord of three simultaneous tones is rudimentarily polyphonic. Usually, however, polyphony is associated with counterpoint, the combination of distinct melodic lines. In polyphonic music, two or more simultaneous melodic lines are perceived as independent even though they are related. In Western music polyphony typically includes a contrapuntal separation of melody and bass. A texture is more purely polyphonic, and thus more contrapuntal, when the musical lines are rhythmically differentiated. A subcategory of polyphony, called homophony, exists in its purest form when all the voices or parts move together in the same rhythm, as in a texture of block chords. These terms are by no means mutually exclusive, and composers from the 16th through the 21st centuries have commonly varied textures from complex polyphony to rhythmically uniform homophony, even within the same piece.

    ...Whatever you want to call it all is fine with me as long as we keep singing and playing it.
  • Noel's list is wonderful. The two greatest "sins" that I hear, in both Catholic and non-Catholic churches, are tempi that are too fast and the lack of a proper pause between verses. The great English composer, Eric Thiman, wrote that special harmonization of hymns should be used sparingly.

    Sometimes, the most "drab" hymn tunes pick up steam as the verses progress. An example might be TALLIS' CANON which in HPSC has 7 verses. (#252, O LORD, YOU ARE MY GOD AND KING). I change registration on some of the verses. In others, I simply play the melody in octaves (with pedal). On verse 8, I will add a descant or the "canon" if there is a choir. Or, use a Rawsthorne harmonization. When ever we sing this wonderful text (by John Dunn), the congregation raises the roof by the final verse.

    And sometimes, a really "catchy" tune such as DIADEMATA can sound tired by verse five. Too much chocolate is not always easy to digest!

    Our Catholic hymnals have mostly neglected the great French "diocesan" hymns: CHRISTE SANCTORUM, COELITES PLAUDANT, ROUEN, ISTE CONFESSOR etc.... Many of these great Catholic tunes can be found in Vaughan Williams' ENGLISH HYMNAL. There is something about these tunes that can set the most tepid congregation on fire. Perhaps deep within our souls and DNA, we recognize a genuine hymn tune of the faith which enables us to "Sing Like A Catholic" if I may quote Brother Tucker's book.
  • Donnaswan
    Posts: 585
    Strange how these French tunes are found more plentifully in an Anglican Hymnal.
    Here's a funny story-when we were stationed in England, not three miles from where VW was born in Down Ampney, I eagerly got up and attended church in Fairford Parish Church the very first Sunday I arrived- and found not one VW tune in the Hymnal- of course, it was Hymns A&M. At that time did not realize all his tunes were in The English Hymnal. I was crushed. The other letdown was finding out they served instant Coffee after Mass. LOL

    Donna
  • The story behind SINE NOMINE is that V. Williams wanted to include the hymn, "For All the Saints", in his English Hymnal but was prevented from doing so because the tune was owned by Hymns A&M. They weren't going to give permission to use that tune unless a lot of money was paid. (Doesn't this sound familiar?) So rather than go through all that mess, V. Williams simply composed his own tune, SINE NOMINE, which is the tune by which this text will be associated with forever. In the newest version of Hymns A&M, SINE NOMINE is now used. (Total victory for V. Williams!)
  • Donnaswan
    Posts: 585
    Joseph Michael : Hooray for RVW! Sine Nomine is first on my list for my funeral hymns. Whether my family and friends think I am a saint or not! Strange that he is so loved for his hymn tunes when he himself was at best an agnostic. God works in mysterious ways etc I think the other tune is by Joseph Barnby? There may be others, too.

    Donna
  • The original tune coupled with the text "For All the Saints" was SARUM by Barnby.

    When V. Williams published his SINE NOMINE, the folks at Hymns A&M retaliated by linking the text to Stanford's ENGELBERG which is a great tune but even this failed to supplant the hold that SINE NOMINE had on "For All the Saints".
  • Are Hymns Boring???
    Only if people sing the hymn boringly, in which case, to be precise, it is not the hymn but the people who are bored (boring), and intend to project their boredom onto the hymn.
    Have we not all heard some of the most seemingly boring or schmaltzy Victorian three hanky hymns made to sound quite fine by the applied artistry of an English choir of men and boys? Yes, we have!

    I think that a fine choir could make even the most purply harmonised, schmaltzy, weepy drivel sound rather good by the application of all the artistry they could muster. (Or they could, as an exercise in irony [or something] purposefully make it sound even worse.)

    Once (just once, I'm happy to say) I had to play some so-called 'Renewal Music'. Well, I played it very seriously as I would an ordinary hymn with steady rythm and dispensing with any written or perceived syncopations and other rhythmic tinkerings. The choir were delighted. They beamed and said 'You took the COUNTRY out of it - it's so much better'. Best of all, some of the people who really like those songs approached and said 'you didn't play those songs the way they go, but you made them sound better, like real music.'

    Herein is a hint for those who have to deal with Glory & Praise and such. Take the country out of it. Perform it, treat it with all the seriousness and propriety one would apply to the likes of 'Lauda anima' , etc. Take it oh so seriously, do it oh so properly - all with an oh so unalterably straight face and purpose.
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    MJO

    You are a genius. Can you give us an example of a G&P tune that can be transmogrified in this manner?
  • In agreement with M. Jackson Osborn and would like to add a famous quote by Arthur Fiedler (Boston Pops): "There's no such thing as good or bad music. Only good or bad performances." Taking the "country" out of some of those G & P tunes is a step in the right direction. As much as possible, I avoid using the Gather Book, but when I must play from it, I try to do so with taste and care.

    Of course, treating (so called) contemporary music with care is one thing. Dealing with the (often) bad (and unorthodox) text is another!
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    "Glory & Praise to Our God" is, I'd say just as valid as a "organ hymn" as a guitar hymn. In fact, I've never associated it with the folk nonsense. Take it at a very stately one, play it on organ, and cut the silly last verse and you have a serviceable hymn. I still don't miss it in the Hymnal 82 though.
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    A Lutheran choir director and organist I know took a service firmly in hand and created a "contemporary ensemble" for it. Instruments: a woodwind quartet with piano and electric bass. No drums. All the musicians read their parts straight from the harmonizations, so that "This Joyful Eastertide," for example, with its marvelous bass line, sounded like no folk ensemble I've ever heard.
  • Gavin, I couldn't disagree with you more on your contention above Pes'. Can you likewise take any sea chanty or brisk-tempo'd Viennese waltz and NOT have it remniscent of Pizza n Pipes?
    Pes' friend's solution for those G&P tunes that still have some merit worth programming is sensible and proper to the genres. And, JM, as much as I enjoyed Fiedler as one enjoys Yogi Berra, the time has come and gone for certain pieces to be ever employed at Mass: "Blest be the Lord.....Sing a new song....GUI....." you get my drift.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I don't disagree with your final sentence, Charles, but the question was which Glory & Praise songs can benefit from a serious treatment. As I likewise indicated, I'm fine with that whole repertoire disappearing. However, some of those songs are more serviceable than others. Some of them just can't be done well - I would propose "Be Not Afraid" as a song with 0 merit.
  • And I agree with that first statement, Gavin. As I've often told students and colleagues, most hymn or song tune merit can be determined simply by reading the melody off the page. Then, I suppose taste becomes a factor whether you proceed to its harmonic, textual and other factors. I kind of think that for every GUI or BNA there's an Engelberg or Ebenezar that needs a suite in a retirement villa.
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    Can you likewise take any sea chanty...

    That's part of the reason I asked MJO for an example. There are, as we all agree, some tunes that are so silly as to be irredeemable by re-arrangement, orchestration, etc.

    A literary friend of mine, an editor at a venerable journal, once told me that she used to conduct a simple first test on a poetry submission: if she read it aloud in a high-pitched, silly voice, and such a reading seemed totally inappropriate to the content, then she would save the submission. There had to be something irreducibly interesting and good to make the silliness seem like a complete misfit. If the silliness was *not* contradicted by the content, then off it went to the trash. She said she got through thousands of submissions this way. There were other tests of course, but this was an important first cut.

    I wonder whether, if we turn this around, we could apply it to melody. If you took a melody like "Be Not Afraid" and put silly lyrics to it, would the melody contradict the attempt to be silly, or support it? Sing it to these words:

    Rainy parade
    see all the children running
    come, to my tree
    to dry your dripping head


    The melody does not, I'm afraid, make this text inconceivable. In fact, you can hear this kind of melody to children's songs everywhere. There is nothing that suggests its sacred usage. Now try singing the communio "Qui vult venire post me" to those same words:

    Re fa fa-mi sol-la te-la fa-sol fa-mi-re...

    Ridiculous. But couldn't we make up *other* silly words to "Qui vult"? Try it, and sing them to the melody. Does the melody resist or support your attempt to make it sound trivial? If they support the attempt, then something isn't right about it.
  • Pes - I'm sorry I cannot be of further help here because (I'm so happy to say) I don't know, nor have I heard, any Glory & Praise music. (None other than Bach, Tallis, and Gregorian chant, that is!)
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    Oh, rub it in why don't you!
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,846
    Can you likewise take any sea chanty or brisk-tempo'd Viennese waltz and NOT have it remniscent of Pizza n Pipes?

    That reminds me! I've arrived early at Chicago, and have time to run up to Milwaukee this weekend to visit the Organ Piper Pizza restaurant. If I'm lucky Ron Reseigh may be playing the Wurlitzer there. (I'd better call to confirm.)
  • Sorry! Pes - There really was no intent to 'rub it in'. I have had actually at times in the past to perform my share of rubish. The startling thing about the people who peddle the rubish is that they ACT as though there is nothing wrong with it. (They are VERY good at this ACT.) They can't seem to let on that it is not on a par with what they MUST know is genuine church music. I don't get it and never have. It is a grand charade in which chosen ignorance is a poseur for legitimate art. One would never have taken them seriously if one's superiors didn't seem to be afraid of offending them - or were in cahoots with them. (As our Lord said of Herod, they are 'foxes'.)

    Meanwhile - I like to deny those who engage in these charades a monoply on certain words by which they make sow's ears of silk purses. - - - Bach, Byrd, Palestrina and Tallis & cet. are certainly the real Glory and Praise Music. - - - Gregorian Chant is certainly charismatic music (and the people who sing it are, it seems to me, charismatics) - - - Stand fast and do not yield the mantle of legitimacy for words or music to the pedestrian scale. The game is serious, and we are faced with dreadfull cultural rot. How often in our times do certain types kidnap legitimate words and apply them (somehow!) successfully to that which is culturally and spiritually antithetical to that to which such words and concepts should by custom and usage apply. - 'Christian Music'? That's chant, Victoria, Vaughan Williams, and 'Lauda anima', isn't it!
  • G
    Posts: 1,387
    "Meanwhile - I like to deny those who engage in these charades a monoply on certain words by which they make sow's ears of silk purses."

    I love that tactic.
    The one I try to get in before it is appropriated by the Forces of Dimness is "uplifting."
    They:Let's program the Celtic Alleluia
    I: No, we should do something uplifting, like Gregorian chant.

    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,283
    Celtic Alleluia... wow, do people still request that one?
  • Steve CollinsSteve Collins
    Posts: 1,003
    Yes, Francis. It is still very popular. My problem with it was its use at an in-law's wedding. The verses are useful as a "formula", so I put 3 of the Nuptial choices to the melody of the verse. (I was also preparing the entire worship aid for the people.) My sister-in-law refused to use any of them because "they weren't in the book" - the OCP Missalette! Never mind that the composer DID set quite a few verses for it, though not these specifically. There were only a small handful of "general purpose" Gospel verses provided in the Missalette. I then refused to do any more liturgical or musical help at their "gatherings"!
  • G
    Posts: 1,387
    Yes, Celtic is probably the only Gospel acclamation ever "requested" at our parish.

    One of the lines in the sand I drew when I started this job was ONLY the appointed lectionary psalm (unless of course, someone would let us do a gradual :o)) and the correct gospel acclamation.
    At first, as a transition, I wrote them out using the melodic and rhythmic formula you mention, but eventually I moved to chanted on a psalm tone or a faux bourdon for the choir.
    No ifs and or buts.

    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)