Accompanying Chant Is Not A Bad Thing....
  • Seriously, if you want chant to be accepted, insisting that the only way that it should be sung is unaccompanied may be the kiss of death to your dreams of chant being sung in your parish.

    Telling an organist that they are no longer needed is like trying to rip a baby kangaroo out of the pouch and telling it to hop away and go find their own food. It's painful and scary for organists, especially those who have little or no training, to be told that they no longer should play. Many of them have an incredible loyalty to the pastor and congregation and think that if they do not play, there will be repercussions, rumors, innuendo...basically, life will no longer be the same.

    How to deal with this?

    Let them play. The more that chant sounds like the music that the people are used to, the better the chance that they will sing it. Most people are unable to distinguish between bad contemporary music that hops between 3/4 and 4/4 time and chant....build upon this.

    In the long run, get the organist organ music to play that is based upon chant to use as introductions to new chants. Right now they could and should be playing as organ music all the new accompaniments to the new ICEL chant every Sunday...get them in people's ears that way and people will sing them.

    Instruct the organist to the importance and their role playing the organ and not just being the cart behind the horse...
  • +1
  • I'm a practical gal and agree that for political purposes of easing chant into the lives of the average congregation and average organist accompanying chant can be, perhaps should be, employed for a time.
    But the challenges you present can also be met other ways.

    If chanted/sung liturgy is the goal, then hire more degreed singers, who come with a different and specific skill set, to work alongside organists in a music program. Documents are clear that skilled singers should be employed, at least one in small parishes. How often does this happen? It would make a great difference.

    Chant fails not only because it is introduced too radically and without accompaniment, but also because there is often no one capable of siniging it beautifully and teach others to do so- with their voice, as aural traditional music is best learned by non-musicians. Also, most organists accompany too slow, at a rate where speech phrases are ground down. Congregations attempt to sing along and give up in frustration when this happens.

    I agree that many organists have their feeling hurt if you ask them not to accompany. But this just underlines how far we've gotten away from the tradition of sung liturgy that involves an aural tradition.

    In time, people recognize that accompaniment is a crutch, and often an obstacle to phrasing. They need accompaniment to an ordinary as much as they need an accompaniment to the Our Father or to their responses.
  • +1

    @frogman--we often use the Vade Mecum Paroissial as prelude, or other pieces that we want to introduce to the congregation. I call it 'sneaky learning'. It's lovely when people say to the priest, "Wasn't the X new? I thought we'd sung it before. It's really pretty-or-whatever adjective..." He just smiles, thanks them, and tells them he will tell me (and he does.)
  • MA, I agree with you 100%. I find it particularly counterproductive when an organist not only plays an accompaniment, but plays each and every chanted note--particularly in the ordinary--as it usually slows down the singing and chops it up, so the joy of singing beautiful phrases that have a rise and fall is gone. Occasionally I've heard the opposite problem in correction--some strong singer(s) in the choir starts to sing ever faster in order to try and pull the congregation along; that's also a mishmash.

    Unfortunately, getting a parish to hire singers--especially the small parishes that really need it--is beyond the finances, and even if the pastor is in favor, the 'pragmatists' shoot it down.
  • Also, most organists accompany too slow, at a rate where speech phrases are ground down.

    You know you have mentioned this before. In hymns organists can definitely lead or hold back singers, but in chant that's impossible. How can they influence a metric pattern that doesn't exist?
  • Holding back chanting with accompaniment is possible, and a common problem. Any time untrained singers think they are supposed to follow, they will drag behind to hear first and react by singing behind. The average organist accommodates this, and the tempo is wound down.
    Organists influence a tempo also by starting too slow. Especially when they don't sing along, they are disconnected from how it feels to sing the chant. If they try to play along with every note, it is very hard to keep up with the rate of sung speech, which is what chant is.

    You mention meter, Noel. Depending on how chords are played, a vertical structure (foreign to the chant) is also introduced. People begin listening to the harmonies instead of just singing their prayers.

    All this being said, I am not rigid about using accompaniment when it's really needed. But I wouldn't advise using it just to make an organist feel needed. That's out of balance. You are confirming my hunch that when organists claim "the congregation can't sing this acapella" it can sometimes mean the organist doesn't have the resources to build up acapella singing and/or the organist is looking for a way to accompany the chant because they like it or feel if they don't they will be out of a job.

    Organists (long may they live!!) have nothing to fear in allowing chant to be acapella. They have a noble function in ornamenting the sung liturgy in a way no one else can. Preludes and postludes are a magnificent and valuable addition to the sung liturgy.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,518
    I am going to disagree, somewhat - but you probably expected that. Singers are enamored of their own voices. They will sing long after the congregation has tired of hearing them. I like a little textural and tonal balance in the liturgy. It's good for our ears. Organs have been used and approved in the Roman Rite for a thousand years. I don't recall any documents from Rome apologizing for that. On the other hand, organs can be used too much, just like any other instrument, including the voice. Since I don't do EF masses, I have no desire to restore chant and only chant to English OF masses. I am not sure one can restore something that wasn't there to begin with. However, balance is a good thing. Using unaccompanied and accompanied chant, good organ literature, and some of the best choral music ever written, seems to me a worthy goal. That goal would be a vast improvement over what currently exists in most parishes, I am afraid.
  • I agree that your goal is better than what exists in most parishes. And it's a worthy goal, CharlesW. But it's just not as appealing to me as the goal of sung liturgy, as laid out in Musicam Sacram. That's more my goal.

    Your oft-repeated sentiment of not wanting chant alone will have a lot more relevance when the average parish regularly sings chant at all.

    As far as singers listening to their own voices, that's also true. But as long as the SUNG mass is normative, that will be an issue. Organists who like to listen to their instrument is also a reality, and that approach can become a further obstacle to the SUNG mass.
    Everyone knowing their part (priests, deacons, servers, choir, organists, and congregation) and striving to contribute as a servant in the sacred liturgy seems the best way to achieve the goal of the sung mass.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,518
    Balance, I think, is everything. And that seems to be exactly what you are saying, as well. Again, keep in mind that I don't work with EF masses. That's a whole different kettle of fish with its own requirements.
  • JMO, that setting of Credo IV is magnificent!
  • Ben YankeBen Yanke
    Posts: 3,114
    Accompanied chant can be a very good thing, but it must be done well. It's not as simple as giving the organist a NOH and telling them "play this instead of the hymn." As others have mentioned, there's a whole different technique needed.

    I've always loved this video (Midnight Mass introit, Dominus dixit ad me) from NLM. It shows how amazing accompanied chant can be, when it's done well. btw, it might be a little biased, because this is already one of my favorite chants :)
  • @ MaryAnn Carr Wilson
    Also, most organists accompany too slow, at a rate where speech phrases are ground down.

    Any time untrained singers think they are supposed to follow, they will drag behind to hear first and react by singing behind. The average organist accommodates this, and the tempo is wound down.


    So, you're really referring to untrained organists who work with untrained singers, since this wouldn't otherwise be the case. Either way, you're also insinuating that the average organist is untrained. Personally, I don't have any evidence to say it's either way.

    Organists influence a tempo also by starting too slow.


    If we're talking about chant here … then there is no elaborate intro needed to start a chant. Just the first chord is suitable to get it going - which means it's not possible to start it too slow.

    You are confirming my hunch that when organists claim "the congregation can't sing this acapella" it can sometimes mean the organist doesn't have the resources to build up acapella singing


    Sometimes, a congregation can't sing accompanied. So, the problem isn't with the organist. GIRM 104:
    "104. It is fitting that there be a cantor or a choir director to direct and support the people’s singing. Indeed, when there is no choir, it is up to the cantor to direct the different chants, with the people taking the part proper to them."

    So, by "organist", I hope you mean "music-director-who-also-has-to-play-organ".

    Also, there needs to be a distinction made between an organist who perhaps mainly plays "traditional music" and one who mainly plays the "contemporary stuff". These are two different kinds of breeds.
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    benyanke, thanks for the link. It's very beautiful, and the accompaniment is really well done, but I don't think I'll miss the accompaniment if there wasn't any. (unless I want to hear a well performed chant accompaniment.) Is there any video of this same group singing chants a cappella?
  • Ben YankeBen Yanke
    Posts: 3,114
    @Jeffery

    So, you're really referring to untrained organists who work with untrained singers, since this wouldn't otherwise be the case. Either way, you're also insinuating that the average organist is untrained. Personally, I don't have any evidence to say it's either way.


    I'm not sure that this is completely true, at least in every case. The organist at my parish is highly trained, and most in the choir are also trained, I believe. But still, when we pull out the chant (some of the Jubilate Deo ordinary, and sometimes the introit as prelude) every lent, unfortunately it is always accompanied, and always dragging. Anything else they do is always amazing, including polyphony and other choral works, but when they start singing chant, it's really frustrating... [/vent]
  • Steve CollinsSteve Collins
    Posts: 1,003
    So many thought here. I'll try to hit a few:

    The vertical music issue is taken out of the equation simply by using Nova Organi Harmonia. I have not seen ANY other accompaniment that moves internally, complimentary to the melody.

    Following that, the organist MUST sing the text along with the accompaniment, even if only in his/her head. Chant rhythms are very natural.

    The, following that last thought: it doesn't take a "degree" to learn ANY of this - either singing or playing the organ. All it requires is the desire to sing to God well, and openness to learning how to do so, and the best printed resources. I began learning chant in 4th grade. It has been a part of my life through everything since, including the bad 1970s when I always felt like I was banging my head against a brick wall in parishes RULED by liturgists! That I survived it is a testament to those who taught me chant and GOOD Catholic music 50 years ago! I consider those barren years to qualify as my degree from the College of Hard Knocks! It may be the best place of higher learning the Church has ever created - at least in the USA - when you look at the idiocy going on at "c"atholic universities!
  • Steve CollinsSteve Collins
    Posts: 1,003
    And then there's the organ, its origins in the Church.

    I don't believe that the Church brought a pagan, Roman carnival instrument into sacred space just to provide Roman carnival music before and after Mass. It was introduced to aid the singing, and Gregorian chant was the only game in town at the time. I consider much of organ repertoire, through each and every period of music history, to be versions of loud carnival music, and that it has no place in the Liturgy, even before and after.
  • I don't believe that the Church brought a pagan, Roman carnival instrument into sacred space just to provide Roman carnival music before and after Mass.


    Well, unless of course, they play on this.

    It was introduced to aid the singing, and Gregorian chant was the only game in town at the time


    So, one could argue that the organ was brought into The Church to accompany Gregorian chant in the first place.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,870
    JMO

    Love it! That demonstrates an organist who knows HOW to ACCOMPANY a schola. Too few can do it.

    I think chant is good both ways, people... the NOH is a wonderful collection of truly well composed organ accomps.

    Noel

    yes... for political reasons, I can see what you say, but education about what the chant is at its purest form (unacompanied) needs to be understood and promoted.

    I am an organist and a chanter... I like both. They should not be at odds with each other, but respectful of each domain. The organ sometimes sings alone, so should the chant.

    Interesting discussion.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,518
    "I am an organist and a chanter... I like both. They should not be at odds with each other, but respectful of each domain."

    You are correct, Francis.
  • When an organist seems to be holding a chant back, the director is not leading the singers.

    The organist is not there to lead or hold back, but to stay under the singers wherever they go.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,353
    the director is not leading the singers.

    Or the organist is not watching the director.
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  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    Accompanying Chant Is A Bad Thing.

    Let's say (God forbid) I enter a church where chant has not been done, although there is no antipathy towards it and the priest is supportive. So I pass out Roman Graduals to the choir, instruct them to sing the whole Mass next Sunday, and plop a NOH on the music rack and everything will go great.

    ...NOT!

    More likely, I would ask the priest to chant "The Lord be with you", the prayers, and the "amen". The congregation will do this without accompaniment. I challenge anyone to publicly state that they would accompany a single-pitch "amen". Then I would approach my choir: "We have this lovely hymn in the Parish Book of Chant, Ave Verum. Will you join me in singing it for communion in a few weeks? This is how the notes work..." I will do this without accompaniment. I repeat my challenge: what choirmaster will say to their choir "I do not trust you to sing these four notes without an organ"?

    Perhaps a few weeks later I will give them the "Anima Christi" chant to sing without accompaniment. In a few months, Father will sing the dismissal to a simple tone. At Advent we will sing a simple, familiar chant (O Come, O Come Emmanuel) without accompaniment. Maybe, for Easter, Father will rehearse with the congregation to chant the Preface Dialogue - I will not accompany it.

    I will not predict an uprising, or mass hysteria and confusion, or sounds of cacophony. There are those on this thread who say that neither a congregation nor a choir can sing a capella. I believe I have just demonstrated their error.

    I will accept that there ARE situations where accompaniment may be helpful in bridging that gap. In situations where one wishes to disguise chant as something else, by all means accompany. For very early Masses, I prefer no singing whatsoever, but accompany if there is to be complex chanting. Where one wishes to go ahead of where the congregation or choir's competency lies, by all means I'll accompany an Offertory chant if the choir still struggles with "Ave Verum" - though I find that a poor choice of repertoire. If there is a strong, well-supported tradition of accompanied chant, certainly continue!

    But don't use inauthentic performance as a crutch. TEACH THEM to chant, and that means GO SLOWLY! Then you'll have a solid and expanding foundation for bringing chant into the liturgy, whether for the choir or the congregation.
  • We've had similar discussions about organists before.

    It is not a proven fact that most organists accompany too slow, so it's unfair to say that. Instead, say this:

    Most organists I've met seem to accompany chant too slow, but maybe it's really the choir director's fault.
  • Again I think Noel has a pretty good bead on the subject. The schola director's job is clear, whether accompaniment is desired or not, namely to affect the chanters' ability to render the text in an ideal and natural manner, and beautifully. The organist's role in that is incidental to the situational factors in each scholas' practice.
    One thing missing from the discussion (made obvious by Adam's comment) is the absolute need for all concerned to listen acutely as well as being visually aware of the chironomy. And that listening activity must also be anticipatory and somewhat intuitive. Those skills have to be acquired by each singer and an organist/accompanist.
    I would imagine if all involved in chanting were in "in this zone" the issue of horizontal being affected by vertical would vanish.
    Celestial objects in the sky can be imagined into very beautiful cerebral organizations/structures, whether or not they're envisaged alone or in relation to the tabula that "hosts" their presence.
  • Steve CollinsSteve Collins
    Posts: 1,003
    The only thing "inauthentic" about accompanying Gregorian chant borders on the antiquarianism that Pope Pius XII warned against. I.e. while chant DID begin as unaccompanied music, accompaniment is NOT a modern addition to that chant. In 2,000 years of the Church, almost 500 of those years include the organ in worship, even if only in the western Church. Accompanied Gregorian chant IS, and will continue to be throughout future history, a part of the Church's tradition. It behoves all involved in sacred to music to consider both as authentic, adequate, and even beautiful - and to learn how to perform them.

    No, you cannot just plop the NOH on the music rack and solve all the problems. You need to determine which rhythmic technique you will follow (preferably consistently), and make the appropriate markings on your accompaniment page for the notes that will be held a bit longer. The real problem is not how slow or fast, but that the melody flow with the text, and the accompaniment help, not hinder that flow. And repeated melody notes are OK when leading the congregation - the harmonies either held through or moving in total legato smooths everything out. They are not so necessary when accompanying a schola/choir.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,353
    Does "I like it better unaccompanied," count as a good argument?
    Because I do.
  • Steve CollinsSteve Collins
    Posts: 1,003
    Yes. I believe it counts. But so should "I like it better accompanied" count just as much. I really do think (try not to feel too much!) that it should be taught BOTH ways universally.
  • +1 Steve

    actually, +2
  • I spent 4 years with an organist who refused to ever take a tempo.

    We reached the point where after her introduction, the choir followed me and we suffered through her adapting over a measure or two to our tempo.

    To me the kiss of death is the organist who sets a tempo and then slows down before the choir/congregation begins singing.

    And then also slows down at the end of each verse.

    Sort of the Ebb Tide school of organ.
  • Ben YankeBen Yanke
    Posts: 3,114
    I am an organist and a chanter... I like both. They should not be at odds with each other, but respectful of each domain.


    Wow. I've never heard it said in a more eloquent way. I'm going to have to reuse that.
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  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,353
    FNJ
    You just described my (otherwise very competent) organist.
    Any suggestions?
  • FNJ
    You just described my (otherwise very competent) organist.
    Any suggestions?


    A suggestion: Have your organist sing and/or conduct (seated at the organ) a matching phrase to their intro, then have them play their intro at that tempo. Then, conduct a full measure before their intro so they get used to taking your tempo.

    I'm sure this takes some time to fix.
  • The registrations should be subdued 8' with possibly soft 4'...maybe a flute. The organ should be soft, under the chant. The organist may best accompany by leaving out the melody notes.

    It should be like walking on an expensive oriental rug. It should not be like walking through a cornfield or the jungle.

    The organist should imagine grasping not a tennis ball, but a cotton ball...when accompanying chant.

    Subtle signs need to be worked out between the organist and director that the director can use to tell the organist to play softer. Subtle so that it does not become a matter that singers observe. Keep it between yourselves. No one can expect an organist to know how loud to play since they are usually not in the center of the group.

    Time should be spent rehearsing conducting a tempo and having the organist pick it up from you Adam. Make the way the you set the tempo very clear and very consistent.

    I recently played a continuo cello part with an organist who said 1 2 softly and began playing. The day of the public performance, she dropped the 1 2 at rehearsal...we put it back in and things went well.
  • Carl DCarl D
    Posts: 992
    Here's another aid that might help: Have the schola record the chant, unaccompanied. Then let the organist practice with that recording as many times as necessary until they can match the tempo. Since they can't change the speed of the recording, they'll be frustrated at first, but will adapt because the recording is so consistent.

    I found a similar thing with the practice recordings I did for my schola ... it was important to record them at tempo, not slower than normal. But then I can't change the tempo when I'm directing, unless I tell people exactly why I'm doing that.
  • My own views on this are no secret. But Richard Rice drew my attention to an extremely important provisio: acoustics. IF the church is carpeted and otherwise dead, the chant will probably require some lift from the organ. I've sung in churches like this before and it is demoralizing for singers to have their voices project and hit a pillow. The only real way to deal with it is accompaniment. So I think he is correct about this. It is not ideal but sometimes it is probably necessary.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,870
    also if the acoustic is live, it can support a slower tempo with more rubato or longer fermatas... no two settings will ever be the same
  • Gavin, BRAVO! You basically outline the degrees of participation proposed in Musicam Sacram. Let the people sing their responses, then acclamations, then they will gradually and naturally sing the ordinary. This does hinge on a singing celebrant, but then again the SUNG mass is a constant dialog...

    There are practical considerations to be made, and JT, with the help of RRice, mentions one of them. But, and I say this with all love and reverence for organists, sparing the organist's feelings is not a good reason. Accompanying because you like playing along is not a strong enough reason. Accompanying because its more comfy for the parish musician or because people don't want to hire or train *singers* to *lead singing* is also not a strong enough reason.

    Also, building on Adam's claim, it makes sense that what one likes can be a very important thing. How the people like singing matters, as responses, acclamations and ordinaries are THEIR prayers. I like Prof. Mahrt's observation that choirs and congregations who are trained carefully and get used to singing without accompaniment don't want to go back. Singing cantillated prayer with organ is most often (yes! I believe in exceptions!) like someone playing along to vocal prayer. It changes the dynamic and focus of the melodies that are wedded to the text. As our organist (God love his humble soul!) points out, even well-composed and well-executed accompaniment *changes the composition*. To the faithful who become used to singing their responses and acclamations, who are simply singing their prayers, it doesn't FEEL like chant anymore.
  • And to those who gave practical ideas about how to work with the organist who doesn't keep tempo, these are good.

    And thanks to you, Noel, for constantly providing us with posts that give us a chance to wag our respective flags and reevaluate things. We differ, we all wrestle, we all do our best in the situation we have... because hopefully we care. And...

    Caring About Chant Performance (Acapella or Accompanied) Is Not A Bad Thing.
  • IF the church is carpeted and otherwise dead, the chant will probably require some lift from the organ. I've sung in churches like this before and it is demoralizing for singers to have their voices project and hit a pillow.


    Yesterday, I was thinking ... when you think about Gregorian chant you think of ... cathedrals. Naturally, as we all know, cathedrals have those suitable acoustics for such music. So, in a dead space, like in a more "contemporary" type of church perhaps, like you say, accompaniment would be necessary.

    Is there any historic evidence of accompanied chant in smaller churches because of the acoustics? I wish there were more historic documents on accompanied chant to put this issue to rest.
  • Accompanying because you like playing along is not a strong enough reason.


    Tell that to the folk group guitar players.
  • LOL! Just to make sure we have a point of alliance, Jeffrey, I would not mention folk guitar players in the same breath as organists. God love them, I assume the folk guitar dudes and dudettes are strumming for love of Jesus. But that's not to say that the organ isn't king. It is.

    And my husband is a classical guitarist, so I love the guitar.
  • jpal
    Posts: 365
    This discussion is actually pretty refreshing.

    Maybe someday, instead of your standard parish fare of Praise and Worship Mass, the Contemporary Mass, and the Traditional Mass, we'll have the GR-propers-unaccompanied Mass, the GR-propers-accompanied Mass, and (scandalously!) the SEP-with-ICEL-ordinary-and-even-some-hymns-at-communion-and-recessional-and-ALL-of-it-is-accompanied-(except-during-Advent-and-Lent) Mass! And the leaders of the various groups will still go at each other's throats like at most parishes today, except it will be about such things as the merits of the old Solesmes method, or whether there should be accompaniment to chant, or whether the seasonal Marian antiphon or an organ postlude should be the recessional, or whether a Victoria motet ought to have organ doubling the voices.

    Now THAT is diversity - the coexistence of several GOOD options, rather than a competition between various bad tastes, with a hat tip to tradition and authentic beauty. If only debates about music in parishes today were not based on false premises!

    Jon
  • When developing The Catholic Choirbook Anthology I made the decision to include accompaniments for every motet to be used for rehearsal purposes. But also for directors who are keyboard players and rely upon playing the music on the keyboard to learn it.

    Of course, there are those that will say that anyone who is going to direct a four-part motet should be able to play it at sight from the full choral score. And these are people who strive to keep their art from others lesser than they who attempt to do what they do.

    Having accompaniments available for chant opens doors that otherwise might be closed.
  • Jon,
    Your description is and has been SOP at our parish(es) for nearly two decades. Deo gratias.
    Hopefully, after we celebrate Mass for our 150th anniversary of founding, we'll be able to post some examples of compositions (video/pdf) I've prepared that reflect, hopefully, viable amalgams of traditions.
    C
  • I truly believe that a capella chant was rarely the norm throughout history. Organists were paid well at most cathedrals and I'm sure it wasn't just to fill in between choir chants and polyphonic works. I'm also pretty certain the accompaniment style changed over the years to reflect the changes in musical styles.

    Today? I like both ways. There's a special sound to a capella chant that I love, but sometimes I really like that supposedly anachronistic accompaniment. It brings chant into our time very effectively, I think. It keeps it a living music.
  • I truly believe that a capella chant was rarely the norm throughout history.


    Then why are some people against accompanied chant if it was normal? If we leave out personal taste in terms of style (like leaving secular-styled music out of church), then why choose personal taste about chant? It's like having double standards.
  • "a capella ... norm throughout history..." Presumably yes - at least in some sense - since a cappella is "as the church" does it. Maybe safer to say, monophonic a cappella was not a norm, or ideal, until modern times.
  • I'm wondering about a straw man here. Who is making an argument that playing along with chant is a new thing? Most musicians who feel accompanying chant is a crutch/obstacle/not needed much of the time are fully aware that accompaniments have been used for centuries.

    So it's been used for a long time because of practical or political reasons, to support singing when singers were untrained or an organist liked playing along or when playing along was the only or most comfortable way of leading... Kinda sounds like present times.
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