hymnal for school Masses
  • I'm new to a position which requires me to play for the weekly school Mass. Relations between the parish and school are somewhat cool, and the hymnal the kids have been using is terrible. The principal just asked for recommendations as to a new hymnal, and I though I should jump at the opportunity to improve the quality of music at these liturgies and to improve the parish/school relationship as well. Does anyone have hymnal recommendations? Has anyone created a booklet of their own perhaps? Thanks for the help.
  • Mike R
    Posts: 106
    A booklet of your own is nice, but I've found that the idea can expand very quickly and get out of hand, especially when it's for a weekday Mass. I constantly find myself wishing I had thought to include something relatively obscure for a feast day when it falls on our Wednesday night Mass (tonight, for example, I'm wishing I had included "By All Your Saints Still Striving" with an apostles verse or something).

    Assuming that the school folks will expect a variety of music, I'd take a good look at Worship IV. It seems to me perfect for this sort of situation - mostly traditional hymnody, but people in power who are opposed to that will not freak out like they would on a hymnal that doesn't include "Be Not Afraid." If they are more open to traditional worship than the typical Catholic school, look at the St. Michael Hymnal. I don't see the Vatican II Hymnal as a great resource in this circumstance, since its big selling point is that it includes the Sunday Mass readings and propers, and this is for a school, and therefore I assume almost exclusively for weekday Masses.

    I would suggest Liturgical Press's "Sacred Song" three-year paperback hymnal, but LP still has not made audio files available of any of its new Mass settings except the Psallite Mass. Not that you have to use the settings in the hymnal.

    If they absolutely want something more focused on contemporary music, I'd go with something from WLP. At least their Mass settings are useable.
  • BenBen
    Posts: 3,114
    I mind as well join the club:

    Vatican II Hymnal!

  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 5,121
  • Liturgical Press most certainly has made recordings of their new Mass settings available... Simply visit www.litpress.org and click SING THE MASS. Scroll down to view the settings made available as a digital download. Most of them now have recordings. Peace.
  • BruceL
    Posts: 1,071
    If cost/prep time/etc. is not as much of an object, I suggest you do your own. If they have a current book or a missalette, use that for your familiar things. If you are free to do this (and have some people on your side, including the principal and pastor!), I'd think about doing the entrance and communion antiphons in English as written. If you can't find settings of them, perhaps use the Sunday ones, or a common psalm. Once people get used to learning new things before the Masses, I think it works well: all you have to do is demonstrate the refrain to the kids ahead of time. It has worked well in my experience, but only when you can get people to sign onto the idea of the propers (or at least the benefits they bring to understanding the texts of the day). There often is a significant contingent asking, "Why can't we sing our favorite/cute/happy/random songs?" If they won't let those songs go, then offer to do an adoration/praise and worship hour every week or month where they can get those things out of their system. I know this is a lot of work, but otherwise school liturgies can be pretty miserable...
  • BruceL... Miserable is right - just got through one where they planned and sang absolute drek. I grew up in Catholic school and the music was bad then but it's gotten so much worse and the texts even more ego-centric. And they wonder why the kids don't sing...amazing. All the fans of the VII hymnal, I'm one of its strongest supporters, strongly recommending that my parish buy it and adopt it, but the school is as Mike and Bruce seem to understand. Getting them from singing their favorite ego songs at their self-worship which they call the Mass to understanding the Roman chant aesthetic and the place of the Propers...!!! You get what I'm saying. I'm not employed by the school you understand, just the parish so it will take someone on the "inside" to push Catholic music and worship as well. A meeting with my pastor sounds in order.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I think the above posters are going about it the wrong way. Let's instead ask the question: what is the purpose of a children's hymnal?

    I propose that a children's hymnal should have theological content graspable by children (which I'd say most of the traditional body of English hymnody fulfills), and, perhaps more importantly, should have hymns they're going to need for the rest of their life. I once hired a musician who was raised in the Evangelical tradition, and he didn't know basic Christmas carols. Had never heard "Angels We Have Heard on High" or "Joy to the World".

    Ask yourself, what hymns do a good Christian need to take with them forever? And make sure you have a hymnal with those. This list from Cantica Nova Publications is a very comprehensive list. Include a FEW chant hymns in Latin - don't go overboard. Your kids don't need to know the whole darn Nocturniale, but by gum they should be able to sing Creator Alme Siderum in Latin by memory!!

    That said, the VII hymnal has a fine selection, but quite a few hymns that you don't necessarily need to teach children. I like the concept behind the GIA "Catholic Community Hymnal" or whatever it's called. All you need is about 50 hymns.
  • BruceL
    Posts: 1,071
    Gavin, I understand what you say. However, as a convert, here's what I'm selling to cberry: we are not trying to just teach music, we are trying to teach a total aesthetic of worship and (I would say more importantly) a love of scripture and the liturgy. Hymns kind of build up devotional life, but ultimately they are superfluous to the liturgy. Now, at my place we do mostly hymns, but you might detect that is not my preference... Like cberry, I am a parish, NOT a school, employee. This is a mixed blessing when it comes to school Masses. On the one hand, I answer to the pastor, so if he and I are on the same page, it's great. The principal has no *direct* authority on me. In practice, it is rather more complicated. Anyhow, complicated situation. I'd avoid Latin hymns at all costs unless the pastor or principal is backing it: it is a "red flag" to progressives.
  • AngelaRAngelaR
    Posts: 294
    Bruce L,

    Thank you for posting. I am currently fording the waters of this battle at my own school. I am the music teacher, and am theoretically in charge of planning all the music. I am one of the biggest fans of traditional music, and even run a diocesan program in Gregorian chant. But kids, especially junior high, do not respond to the slow tempo and narrow set of really traditional hymns that the organist chooses and plays. I am proposing a list of about 15 hymns that will appear every week at our liturgy, some traditional, some more contemporary, but all with very sound theological content. These are hymns my kids responded to well at the last school. They are also hymns that I will slowly introduce into the classroom. I hope to start with some less traditional stuff, and slowly transition into more traditional (by less traditional, I mean a hymn like "The Cry of the Poor" or "Seek Ye First" -- not "Eagle's Wings"). Like you, Bruce, in theory I'm in charge of planning, but practically speaking it is very murky.

    Even among children, there are cultural biases and preferences that need to be slowly redirected. The older the children, the more time this takes. Saint Paul talked about not giving meat to those who are not ready, and I think this is true with music too. I will never waver in theological content, but I am more flexible with melodies, if it will ultimately pave the path for an openness to more traditional music (and in my experience with kids, it has done just that!).

    As far as Latin is concerned, I found it worked well when introduced by the choir as a special meditation piece. As MA posted in another thread, when kids are singing things and enjoying them, people know they will look stupid if they start complaining. Many of my pieces with the kids' choirs at the last school were in Latin, even if in a more contemporary style at times (like Taize). Ultimately, the school learned the Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei of the Missa de Angelis, and sang it well. But I only introduced those after two years of hard work in getting the kids on board with the Liturgy!

    Can you tell us more about your experience with the English propers? Did they really pick it up with just a short rehearsal just before Mass? I want to hear more!
  • AngelaRAngelaR
    Posts: 294
    P.S. These are *some* of the questions I consider when programming music for kids:

    1) Is it theologically sound, and does is the text in simple enough language that they will understand the meaning? (Unfortunately, older hymns contain archaic language which confuses kids -- even "all wreaths of empire upon His brow" from "At the Name of Jesus" requires some adequate explanation -- although that is still an AWESOME hymn for junior high boys.)

    2) Are the intervals and rhythms kid-friendly? (Octave jumps and unexpected rests are typically difficult.) Is the melody reverential and simple enough? (Again, keeping in mind the boys who are becoming men -- they don't want to sing what they perceive to be cutesy and feminine tunes all the time.)

    3) Will it lead them into more meaningful worship and a deeper reverence for the Liturgy?

    4) Is it something that will be referred to in the future? (Will they hum it to themselves at random times and make those words a part of their more daily life, or will they find the music sung at other Masses in other places in the future?)

    There aren't many songs that hit all these points, and I might be missing a couple questions, but I think you get the idea. I have to pull all our hymns this year out of "Breaking Bread".
  • Maybe we need to talk to Ostrowsky about a school (children's) version of the V II hymnal?
  • BruceL
    Posts: 1,071
    Ditto to all your points above, Angela. We are in the same boat with Breaking Bread, but it's not all bad (or worst). The musical considerations are important, especially in the younger kids. A lot of the hymnals have things pitched very low, too!

    I want to make to revisions to past statements: I am not at all against Latin. It's just that "Parce Domine" is pretty much all I can get away with all year. The children's choir can do as much Latin as we want, though, so I do plenty! The kids like it more anyway, although it is slow going at times with lots of 3rd and 4th graders.

    Also, we do propers mostly with choirs: I do occasionally use the antiphons during Advent/Christmas/Lent/Easter, but there isn't a lot of support for that here in the parish. So, if it's something used at all Masses, I'll usually kop a refrain from the Guimont GIA collection or something like that: it's "contemporary" enough that I don't get in trouble, but still is the right text and not necessarily a schlocky presentation. The kids are fine with doing the short refrains (they will do any music you give them, bad or good, if it's not ridiculously hard!), but the primary requirement for the Masses at school is frequently "fun" or "upbeat". This is a huge problem!

    As you say, competence of the organist is a big challenge: there is also a lot of animosity against the organ, for some reason—even if it is well=played, especially in regards to rhythm. This is a mystery to me, especially as you can do thing to help singing (like solo out a voice, etc.) that a piano can't really do.

    Depending on the "lowest common denominator" of your school, a plan might be this (in ascending order, depending on what you can do):

    1) Eliminate heretical texts. Anything that creates confusion in the kids is like teaching them wrong information in the classroom: it doesn't fly in the secular world, so why should it in church?
    2) Reduce/eliminate subjective texts. Stick to psalms, scripture, Fathers of the Church, devotional texts or hymns from the LoH. If you DO do something that isn't one of those three, make sure it is doctrinally acceptable.
    3a) Key the texts to themes of the day (i.e., the Latin Rite custom of often having the communion antiphon reflect the Gospel of the day).
    3b) Recover the "proper" responsorial psalm for Feasts and Memorials (hopefully this is already the case for Solemnities!)
    4) Some proper texts.
    5) Try more melismatic refrains to get the kids out of song/syllabic mode.

    Now (notice the above ignore stylistic concerns!):
    6) Introduce some more modal compositions, and perhaps explain (if necessary) why major does not = happy and minor does not =sad!
    7) Introduce vernacular versions of the propers in simple settings, ala "Simple English Propers" or the easier refrains from Frs. Samuel Weber and Columba Kelly's work.
    8) Introduce good translations of Latin hymns or sequences (preferrably ones that preserve the rhymes when they occur!)
    9) Introduce a Marian antiphon as a post-communion meditation or closing hymn.
    10) Try a more chant-like setting of the Ordinary, etc.

    This should come with the caveat that if you get to #9 or 10 and have accomplished all prior steps (without being fired!), you should probably keep this job until the day you die, all things considered! The hardest thing is getting beyond #4 and 5 because then you move from something concrete (words) to more abstract (chant as a basis, and evaluating musical styles on their closeness to it.) This is where the "ecclesiastical outlook" and pastor's support can make a difference. If you have a parish with good natured, orthodox folk who just don't know anything about the Church's musical tradition, that's relatively easy; also, a place where people are generally more progressive, but want to be know as people having "good taste", because they are more likely to appreciate the music for its own value. Harder is where people are 1) more interested in "what they want", or 2) they don't really care what the Church has to say on the Liturgy...and don't care about the ramifications that has in their spiritual life.

    I sometimes use a golf analogy for the proper texts, with varying success (perhaps because I am a terrible golfer?): from the pin, you can (in theory) reach the green with any club. If you use a putter (i.e., "option 4" in the GIRM), it will probably take you a long time, if at all. If you use an iron (i.e., a "better" hymn with a decent text), you will get there, generally speaking. However, the quickest way is with the driver (the propers, or at least a text from scripture, options #1 & 2): it goes right to the point. This is obviously a long par three course, but people more or less get the analogy!

    (Please realize I just threw this post together, and didn't ponder it for days or anything!)
  • I've taught 4 year college, 2 year college, and twenty years in public Middle/High School choral curriculum, and the last six at our parochial school, one session per week per class, K-8.
    What I'm having difficulty understanding, outside of some general principles such as Mary Ann advanced with others, is the deep conceptualization of "silver bullet" solutions without contextualization, such as there really are 360 degrees plus of divergent aptitudes, skills assessment/abilities, cognition et al the Ivory Tower Education jargon terms found in our primary, elementary and secondary grade level kids, not to mention the supreme and over-arching factors of parental (or other) guardianship and nuturing.
    No, you don't just hand 10 pounds of the VII hymnal to a second grader and an eighth grader and expect a "correct" outcome after some (how much?) pedagogy time when they're singing side by side at a school Mass.
    At the root of my job description philosophy isn't a stalk labeled "Teach them how to read music....or- teach them how to sing properly....or sell chant over hymn or song....etc." The root of what I'm asked to do is to simultaneously provide solid grade appropriate content and inspired technique that elicits a successful, positive and public outcome demonstrating that they are being taught how to become and then be "singing Catholics" at worship and devotions.
    None of the approaches above, per se, are counter to that philosophy. I'm just saying that to articulate them as prescriptive solutions, like if the kid can't concentrate, dose him/her with Ritalin, that'll prompt an immediate response!
    Each year the kids teach me more about how to re-craft my approaches to the situational outcomes particular to the curricular/liturgical calendar. Foundation and innovation are equally important every year.

    In paradisum>
  • BruceL
    Posts: 1,071
    Charles, no disagreement from me. I merely did my explanation and outline to suggest some basic ideas, since the OP didn't ask specifics. I know there's no "silver bullet", thus the endless caveats in my post! ;-)
  • AngelaRAngelaR
    Posts: 294
    What I propose is what I have found to work, given my gifts and my groups. But that isn't to say that someone else isn't able to inspire different kids in a different way, and according to a different approach. Every teacher knows a stagnant lesson plan is the death of successful teaching. Kids are surprising, and often will respond to things that we don't expect. We need to keep exploring.

    It is fundamentally key that we musicians build relationships with our choristers. Each musician and each group of kids is unique. Through these relationships mighty and unexpected things can happen!
  • Using a printed booklet gives you much more control over what is in their hands and saves money. It is easy to do 6 weeks at a time, adapting as you go along rather than buying or being given outdated breaking bread songbooks.

    I'd advice sitting down with any prospective hymnal and going through and finding out exactly how many of the hymns you will use. Last time, we used 40 of them, max. Waste of money and tress to buy the book.

    However, if you can buy the Vatican II Hymnal, do it without reservation. And do it now.
  • Mike R
    Posts: 106
    Thanks, Speravi. Totally missed when they put up those audio links, as I had only been checking their theromanmissal.org site.
  • Cberry,

    I would focus primarily on what is sung at the time of receiving Holy Communion. The Agnus Dei must follow the Church's directives; a very simple chant can be used for the Communion Antiphon -- which the entire school could sing if you have one of these Heads of School who feel so (irrationally) strongly about everyone singing everything; hymns, if you sing them, should focus on our Communion with God: talk to Him; thank Him for the many blessins He has bestowed on us, including Himself in Holy Communion; petition Him; adore Him, but for Heaven's sake don't talk about how wonderful we are, or behave as if He isn't there.

    Everything else follows from this.

    God bless,

  • With students, as well as adults, I find it useful to use hymns before and after Mass that relate to the feast or secular occasion, but always going to hymns at the offertory that focus upon the Eucharist.
  • Maureen
    Posts: 673
    What you need is a sort of McGuffey Reader of hymnals. If the kids may only get one or two years of musical schooling or Catholic religion, you have to give them age-appropriate slices of the great stuff, and nothing dumbed down.

    Of course, I speak as one who had a deep horror of "If I Was a Butterfly", with or without gestures, even back in third grade. Uh huh huh.