Two steps forward, three steps back...
  • I am the music teacher at a Catholic school attached to a very "Spirit of Vatican II" parish. With the support of my principal, I am trying to build a school music program based on authentically Catholic liturgical music. Over the course of this year, I have been slowly reducing the number of "contemporary" OCP songs used at school Masses and shifting more towards 18th/19th-century English hymnody. (I don't these people could handle the Propers for quite a while yet.) This parish has an evening Sunday Mass featuring guitars and electronic drums, and even the Sunday Masses with "traditional" music never use the organ, only the piano.

    Earlier this year I started playing a few of the hymns for school Masses on the organ instead of the piano, and now I am using it much more often. The kids LOVE it when I play hymns on the organ and constantly ask me questions about it. They have begged me to play only the organ for Mass (which will never happen because the Ordinary I am required to use by the parish does not work on organ at all). Some of them have even expressed frustration when I told them we were going to sing Gift of Finest Wheat yet again and asked me why we don't ever get to sing Gregorian chant.

    However, some things happening on the parish side are leaving me very frustrated right now. Occasionally, on Holy Days of Obligation, I have to collaborate with the parish music director on the music my students will sing for Mass that day. For All Saints and Immaculate Conception, she sent me a tentative list of songs and asked me if I had any input. However, for Ash Wednesday, she just sent me the final list, and it is a complete step backwards from what we have done so far this year. Here is what my students will be singing for Ash Wednesday this year:

    Entrance: O Breathe on Me, O Breath of God (a fine tune, we've done it before)
    Offertory: Beyond the Days, There Is a Longing
    Communion: O Lord I Am Not Worthy, Transfigure Us O Lord
    Ashes: With These Ashes, Led by the Spirit, Hosea

    My students have not sung most of these songs before, and it frustrates me that I will have to waste a lot of rehearsal time teaching them these '80s-era songs that we most likely will never use again. To rub even more salt in the wound, the parish music director informed me that the parish does not use the organ during Lent for any of their liturgies. (Not that they used it much in the first place...) But the guitars for the Sunday night Mass are still fine. Also, this parish has used the Jubilate Deo Ordinary for Lent in the past, but because of "the letter Pope Francis put out," they have now switched to the ICEL Ordinary for Lent. Argghhh...

    Any thoughts on how I can make the best of this situation? It just feels like a complete slap in the face, and I don't want to lose so much of the progress my students and I have made so far this year.
  • rvisser
    Posts: 47
    I was in a similar situation once, although I was the parish music director trying to do good music for school Masses, but my colleague who taught K-8 music pushed Praise and Worship and Gather stuff. We collaborated for holy days, similarly to your situation. I had a large parish children's choir that I had free reign to teach whatever I wanted, and I would teach them choral music to sing for special feasts (including the occasional school Mass). I started teaching them to chant the communion antiphon before I eventually left for a better job.
    Since you have the kids in the classroom, teach them choral music. Maybe one piece to sing during distribution of ashes and something else for Communion. Don't waste your precious rehearsal time singing the stuff from the 80s. Presumably the parishioners know these songs well enough to sing them without the kids' help. Let the children bring something beautiful to the liturgy instead. This strategy worked for me for several years and made it more tolerable when I still had to play the crappy music.
    You mentioned a supportive principal. Is the priest also supportive?
  • these '80s-era songs


    Looking at that list, you are mistaken unless you mean the 1880s:

    O Breathe on Me, O Breath of God - words first published 1878, so almost 1880s. I don't know what tune you use, but if this page says the most common one in the US was written in 1880s - or ST COLUMBA is a lot older than that.
    Beyond the Days - Manalo © 1997
    There Is a Longing - Quigley, first published 1992 (just maybe she wrote it in the 1980s)
    O Lord I Am Not Worthy -1880s perhap, though it was in the Catholic Youth Hymnal, 1871
    Transfigure Us O Lord - Bob Hurd, 2002
    With These Ashes - Chiusano © 2006
    Led by the Spirit - Hurd again, 1995, set to KINGSFOLD a traditional English tune, first notated by Vaughan-Williams in 1904
    Hosea - first release 1972

    The parish music director has to merge input from the boomers who pay the bills, the priest, the diocese, the choir members who actually are willing to show up, you, the trad-minded kids, their kids families (who may or may not like what you're doing), and the families who aren't trad minded but just keep away from the daytime mases.

    It's an impossible job. She probably thinks she's given you a balanced programme including several 18th / 19th century English hymns, some 1990s, plus a nod to the 21st century and to the 1970s.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • You mentioned a supportive principal. Is the priest also supportive?

    The priest liked the musical status quo before I arrived - he thinks it is "intergenerational." However, he cares a lot more about the quality of execution than what the music actually is. He supports my principal in trying to get the school curriculum more rigorous, but he hasn't quite connected the dots in extending that to better music at Mass. He's probably more in a neutral position rather than supportive or adversarial. He's fine with anything that doesn't outright drive parishioners away.
  • Laura,

    I recognize the situation you're in just now. I'm too tired for PTSD, but the situations aren't exactly identical anyway. I had a pastor who had hired me for "detox" (his expression), and a catechism teacher informed me that all the songs at First Communion had to be sung by the children. I had had a request (I'll spare you the details) to have my cantress to sing Schubert's Ave Maria... and the Catechism teacher vetoed the idea because it couldn't be sung by the children. Saner heads prevailed. I will never use Schubert's Ave Maria again, but that's not why.

    My solution, then, was to write a set of parodies. It didn't change the catechism teacher's mind (because I never showed them to her), but it helped me smile when I thought of the mess. See... we used the Baltimore Catechism and Glory and Praise, in her world.

    Those parodies are available hereabouts.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,697
    Holy, Holy, Holy Cow!
    Heaven and earth are full of Our Glory!!!
  • To rub even more salt in the wound, the parish music director informed me that the parish does not use the organ during Lent for any of their liturgies. (Not that they used it much in the first place...) But the guitars for the Sunday night Mass are still fine.

    I find this claim exceedingly odd, and it likely driven by the "agenda". If Guitars (a street/band instrument expressly forbidden by Pius X) and piano (an instrument similarly condemned) are OK, than THE instrument of the Roman rite (apart from the voice, of course) should certainly be permitted. It is drastically more appropriate than piano, at any rate. Unless the masses are a cappella, there is no reason why the organ should be forbidden to you, particularly considering the plethora of things various church documents have to say about it.
  • I find this claim exceedingly odd, and it likely driven by the "agenda".

    Agreed. Rather than simply switching back to piano for Lent, I'm seriously considering trying to have them sing as much music a cappella as possible. Probably not what they were looking for, but it's technically following the directions.

    Also up there in strangeness is the implication that TC's release forbids us from singing even the most basic Latin Ordinary...which Pope Paul VI said all Catholics should know how to sing!
    Thanked by 2tomjaw CHGiffen
  • Serviam,

    Don't find it odd. Rather, discover the philosophical tenets which underlie it.

    1) The past has nothing to teach us: (Instruments are now allowed, which were previously prohibited, and vice versa).

    2. The liturgy must express the local community: (What we want to use matters, and whether or blood relations or forebears in the faith would have allowed it is, almost, immaterial, because they're dead and we're not).

    3. The Council changed all that. (Sure, it didn't, but people up the food chain to Pope Francis say that it did, and we're the loyal Catholics, while you're just a stuck-up old-fashioned person who hates children and......)

    Thanked by 1LauraKaz
  • Again, point people to Sacrosanctum Concilium 54b:
    54. In Masses which are celebrated with the people, a suitable place may be allotted to their mother tongue. This is to apply in the first place to the readings and "the common prayer," but also, as local conditions may warrant, to those parts which pertain to the people, according to the norm laid down in Art. 36 of this Constitution.

    [b]Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.

    This is what the almighty [non-dogmatic, "pastoral"] council specifically asked for. And your point about Paul VI is prescient too, considering Jubilate Deo was promulgated after the council.
    Thanked by 1tomjaw
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,943
    I have often compared working in music in a Catholic church to be like sitting on a razor blade trying not to get cut. It is often a no-win which is why I retired from it.

    To rub even more salt in the wound, the parish music director informed me that the parish does not use the organ during Lent for any of their liturgies.

    You know, I like the Snow White method - poison that music director. Sometimes I think that would be the most satisfying solution.
    Thanked by 1tomjaw
  • The Ash Wednesday selections aren't the worst I've ever seen. I question a couple of them as Ash Wednesday hymns/songs but they are at least decent to play and sing.

    Be kind, be persistent, but be willing to give in a little as well.
  • but be willing to give in a little as well.

    To narrow this focus a bit: if you get only 5%, make sure it's the right 5%! If you "compromise" (a word I think is often a euphemism for "surrender") make sure that what you have is honestly worth keeping.
    Thanked by 1tomjaw

  • I hear you frustration but you're being a bit dramatic.
    If the kids are as excited as you describe them being about chant and organ, one mass will not be "three steps backwards."
    Though I wouldn't have chosen them all, this is a well-balanced selection between traditional and modern. You also come off as combative right away.
    Kids will take their cues from you- you can introduce the music neutrally- if someone asks, you can honestly answer that the music is different because someone else chose the music. Your rehearsals aren't wasted because you can still focus on good technique which will carry over into your other selections. You don't want your distate for the music carrying over to the kids while they participate in the sacrifice of the mass. Tell them to sing their best for God. If the complain, tell them you have the chant planned for another mass.
  • Steps backward:

    1) You taught us to love this, and now someone else is showing/telling us to hate it, so we'll never see it again!

    2) This music is children's music.... so when the children don't like it any more, they'll think they've outgrown the church.

    3) A few years from now, the children who were told that music had to cater to them, wherever they are, will still expect this, and expect the church to modify both her teaching and her practice to continue the catering service.

    I'd say 3 steps is about right.

    this is a well-balanced selection between traditional and modern.

    The question of balance needs to ask, rather, "what is being balanced?" and "How is the balance accomplished?"

  • be willing to give in a little as well.

    Yes, absolutely. I have made many, many concessions over the course of this school year. On the first day of school I had the kids sing Hail Mary Gentle Woman, and every school Mass for the entire fall semester has included a few modern OCP songs. It has been a slow process to get to where we are right now. In fact, as of right now I don't have any Gregorian chant planned for the rest of the school year, since I know that programming anything in Latin would cause complaints from parishioners. Also, the settings of the Ordinary that the parish uses are...somewhat lacking (to say the least), but I have not pushed back on them at all.

    I understand that change takes a long time. It's just hard because these kids are longing for authentic music from the Catholic tradition, and the parish music director is shutting it down. Regardless, she is not going to hear a word of complaint about this from me. However, it's still frustrating because I have already let so many things happen "their way" and it feels like they are unwilling to give even an inch.

    On an unrelated happy note, this past Sunday I went to another parish for the TLM and saw one of the school families there. I think they just started going, as I had never seen them there before. So maybe there is some progress somewhere...
  • francis
    Posts: 10,697
    NO COMPROMISE... compromise toward modernism ends up in YOU forfeiting your morals. Liberals will always compromise to the nth degree, and then steal your soul in the end.
  • Update on this situation: there is some good news! They are OK with the school Mass not having a recessional hymn during Lent.
  • Does that mean you’ll be singing the seasonal Marian antiphon? Silence?
  • We will end in silence. Unfortunately, this parish would not be able to handle the Marian antiphons yet.
    Thanked by 1ServiamScores
  • Very late commenting on this, but wanted to throw in 2c.

    First, you are, as many MD's are, being put in an impossible situation, although the troubles you face may be better attributed to ignorance than malice. It's easy to think we more trad music dir's are being set up by some nefarious cabal, but often it's just simple people not thinking things through as far as we do. Often times they even think they're helping, which is why our sporadic victories are often immediately undermined by some turn of luck - except in extremely fortuitous or extremely toxic situations, I've come to realize we don't really have allies nor enemies - we have a plethora of people who mean well but whose superficial understanding of what we do, why we do it and how, makes them more of a hinderance than a help. You'd almost prefer the evil cabal to that.
    Thanked by 1LauraKaz
  • I appreciate the thoughts. Yes, it seems to me that the parishioners and the parish staff are very stuck in their ways (ill-informed as they may be) and highly resistant to anything different.

    Since I posted this, there has been a lot of drama caused by parent complaints about the religion curriculum, which resulted in my supportive principal being immediately removed. As he was my biggest supporter in navigating the parish dynamics, I am effectively back on the hunt for a new position. While most of the fire was not directed at me, I am collateral damage in a sense. The odds that the next administration will like what I have built are very slim.
    Thanked by 2tomjaw CHGiffen
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 5,159
    Prayers for you, your school, and your parish, Laura.
    Thanked by 1LauraKaz
  • francis
    Posts: 10,697
    NO COMPROMISE... compromise toward modernism ends up...
    ...earlier comment

    you will be in my rosary this week
    Thanked by 1LauraKaz