How to plan the reform of your parish's music
  • I'm looking for wisdom from other music directors who have had success in implementing reform of music in their parishes, at least to the point of having the ordinary in latin and appropriate hymns, and even starting to introduce the singing of the propers. How did you do it? I may become director of music at two parishes back home with a very supportive priest, so much could be done in the coming years, but want to learn as much as i can from others how they implemented reform of the music, what was specifically done to support it? Also, if you have started singing latin propers, what do you provide for the congregation as far as translation, or do you?
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    Two words: Musicam Sacram. That is to say use the famous hierarchy of sung texts, and stick to it. Try to frequently have the prayers and dialogs sung. FWIW, I've given some thought to becoming MD at this one large church (the current guy told me he'll retire when I have a degree) which is basically "typical Catholic" but with an excellent choir. This is about the chronological order of what I think I'd do:

    1. Stop having the cantor "lead" all congregational music.
    2. Slowly eliminate all "contemporary" (in style, not time) congregational music. Simultaneously:
    3. Begin having cantor and choir sing propers in English.
    4. When transitioned to organ alone for all hymns, have the communion antiphon always chanted at the main Mass, sometimes using the Gradual in Latin.
    5. Begin using various chant ordinaries.
    6. Begin using Introits from the Gradual occasionally.
    7. Enjoy working at a Catholic parish!

    The key is to take things slooooowly. Some changes people won't notice. That's good. Sometimes they will notice, and that's when it helps to have been going slow. I would say, for my list above, probably one change per season.

    Here's how it went down at my current church:

    1. Pastor had done a lot of work already, and had been selecting hymns while they had substitutes, only selecting normal hymnody. Also he had done some directing of the choir.
    2. I was hired, and immediately set about doing fine (but easy) anthems with the choir.
    3. In the fall we began using the Introit and Communion at the early Mass, chanted by a cantor
    4. Advent we started using the "Jubilate Deo" Mass.
    5. Choir occasionally sang Communion chant.
    6. Lent I switched to a practice I call the "Communion Psalm" which is basically an extended Responsorial Psalm used during Communion. It lets the congregation sing without making it a chore.
    7. This fall we began having the congregation at the early Mass chant the Introit.
    8. This Advent we'll be introducing the "Mortem Tuam" chant and then the "Pater Noster" at the end of Winter.

    I mentioned the pastor chanting, but it also helps if he will use Latin during Mass regularly. Latin has a way of putting good music in the proper context. Even chant in English will just sound right when other parts of the Mass are in Latin. Also, use as much a capella as you can. Even if it's just chanting all to one note, it really helps things out.
  • Gavin:

    I'm in a suburban parish of 3,000 families. For a parish of this size, slooooowly means 5 -10 years. My pastor and I have been having discussions, and his idea of change is to eliminate "bad" songs (contemporary in style) with good hymns, at a rate of 3 per year. In the meantime, he has suggested that the contemporary ensemble should be given more exposure, perhaps playing for Masses other than the two per month they do now.

    While he understands everything I talk about in terms of what the documents (the real ones, not the confused junk from the USCCB) require, he seems to get it, but then he'll turn around and make some sort of compromise with respect to the contemporary ensemble. Unfortunate, because it's much like the "camel's nose under the tent." Give them an inch, they take a mile, then ask why they weren't given two! They refuse, flatly, to do anything remotely close to traditional music (chant, even Gelineau tones), and systematically replace hymns with praise choruses. All the while, I'm told that this is necessary for progress.

    Although jealousy is a confessible sin, I'm jealous of any music director who is capable of making the kinds of changes you've managed to make!

    I think this forum (all the discussions) are a great benefit. I hope my "rants" don't become a burden to others here, and I appreciate the insights of my fellow colleagues and participants.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    David, I understand your pastor's caution. And of course understand that for every complaint you get about your music from a congregation member, your pastor probably get 10 just for the music. Not to mention anything else he does in the liturgy, budget, space allotment, etc., etc., etc. My boss was sporadically cautious and I avoided needling him just because I know he gets enough trouble as it is. Now he's said he'll throw caution to the wind, and has mentioned a goal of celebrating an Extraordinary Form Mass in Spring. It seems to me that your boss is being WAY too cautious. In my case, we did eliminate Glory & Praise altogether at once and it went down rather well. It's probably the easiest change I made. I don't think that most people notice when "bad" music disappears. Sure at some point you'll have some people say to eachother "I haven't heard On Eagle's Wings in a while," and you might get some complaints about all the "protestant music", but that'd likely be the extent of it. And remind your boss, since he is sympathetic, that bad music IS a matter of the utmost urgency. It can be the difference between a visitor coming again or not, it can be soul-damaging in so many ways, and it gives a bad message to youth.

    Also, I forgot one thing for Kimberly (and anyone else interested):

    HAVE A PLAN!!! Know what you want to accomplish, even little things, and STICK TO IT!! Sit down on a sunny day with a sheet of college-ruled paper and decide what you want to change, what's most important, and place it strategically and pastorally within the year. General goals are fine, "Introduce new ordinary by Christmas", and then within the framework of that decide how to implement it. This is invaluable, and it keeps us on track quite well!
  • Gavin,

    Cheers, and thanks for your helpful advice. I've never been known for patience, and I guess I find my pastor's "mixed signals" regarding the music troubling.

    As you can well imagine, in a parish of 3,000 families, there are many, many people to try to keep "happy." It's a challenge I'm sometimes tired of rising to.

    By the way, where in Michigan are you? I just graduated from U of M with a DMA in organ.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    David, I'm in West MI. I'll put up my e-mail address in my profile, shoot me an e-mail and we'll chat (I have been in the AA area). I'll leave it up until I hear from you.
  • Reforming a music program in a parish is a BIG undertaking that will take many years to complete. In OF Parishes, I think musicians should be aware of the fact that a new translation of the Missal will probably be published in a few years, and that the music they choose should be able to be adapted to the new texts. The last thing that you want to do is to spend a few years getting the congregation to sing music that you then have to throw out. The congregation may also get angry at the number of changes happening in a short time.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    Palestrina is right. I, for one, am sticking to introducing only Latin and necessary (Community Mass) English ordinaries. If I do introduce more English, it'll be chanted tone style, so that one could easily rewrite it for the new translation. The protestant "Scottish Gloria" comes to mind.
  • In one sense, too, it is never completed. The ideal is always before us in the Roman Gradual and the vast treasure of polyphonic music, but there is probably no parish in which the full ideal can be achieved every liturgy. The key here is to always make progress in the right direction.

    I believe that drawing attention to the ideal is what the CMAA has to contribute to the culture of Catholic music in this country. These ideals have been lacking for a very long time, during which time musicians have been demoralized or lacked direction because of a confusion over what it is we are trying to do.
  • This is where I have a feeling that some of the music from the period between 1965 and 1970 could become useful (when the vernacular was introduced, but before ICEL translations appeared). I'd be looking at way of adjusting that for the "current" translations and also preparing the "future" translations for later use...