Discrete use of organ in OF (Latin)
  • David AndrewDavid Andrew
    Posts: 1,191
    I had a roommate in college who offered this advice: "Never pet a burning dog."

    I'm going to pet a burning dog here.

    I had the rare opportunity, owing to the vagaries of my parish schedule of duties, to attend the OF in Latin at St. Agnes in St. Paul, MN this last weekend. For anyone who lives within a reasonable driving distance of the Twin Cities, even during the summer when the orchestral Masses are suspended, this is a wonderful experience. There is a men's schola that sings the chants, and the priest celebrants all know how to chant beautifully. Take your Gregorian Missal with you, be sure to at least wear dress casual clothes, and ladies, don that mantilla!

    I noticed one little thing, which is where the burning dog comes in. The people sang all of the responses in dialogue with the priest, as well as the Pater Noster. (The schola chanted the Gloria and Credo, and those who felt comfortable sang along soto voce.) While these responses were all sung very well, certainly well within the accepted definition of "full, active and conscious participation," nothing was together. The pacing of the chanting was all over the board, and because everyone was singing quite full-voiced, there was absolutely no sense of cohesiveness to the responses. It was quite a frustration to try and sing with this, as it seemed that everyone picked their own pulse, so changes in pitch were blurred to the point of sounding more like Charles Ives than Gregory the Great.

    The schola sang everything in a very strict rhythm, so I would have thought that the people would have followed suit. Not so.

    Now, the congregants of St. Agnes have been singing chant to one degree or another for a long time, and yet they as a congregation haven't developed a way of singing chant "congregationally." (Warning, the burning dog appears =>) Would this be a case where judicious use of the organ would be warranted to accompany the congregation's singing? If not, what is the practical solution for this problem, or better still, if one is going to introduce (for the first time) the singing of chant by the congregation to them, how does one go about teaching it so that this kind of chaotic singing doesn't become a problem to be solved?
  • Andrew
    Posts: 22
    Despite the "official" dictum against accompanied Gregorian chant, I can tell you that I have heard the organ accompany the Gregorian Chant (Mass and various offices) at Solesmes.

    Ditto Saint-Benoit-du-Lac in Montreal, Einsiedeln and Engelberg in Switzerland and the Abbey Saint Hildegard in Germany.

    All these Benedictine houses used the complete Latin services.

    I actually have a two volume book from France published by Desclee which provides organ accompaniment for the Graduale Romanum (pre-Vatican II) for every day of the liturgical year.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,005
    I don't want to get into teaching chant, since I am no expert on it. But there is a good reason old Catholic churches have organs. They used them. They use the organ at St. Peters, too. The instrument is there to accompany singing. I don't buy into the position that chant has to always be unaccompanied. I wouldn't do it at my church because the congregation and the choir would be neither together nor in the same key.
  • Andrew
    Posts: 22
    Solesmes has published a three volume accompaniment to the Graduale Romanum by Abbé Ferdinand Portier.

    It is available for sale on-line from the Abbaye de Solesmes - Catalogue.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    You're talking the responses, right? Or the ordinary and/or propers also? If the responses are sloppy, much as I hate to say it, I think they need to start over and re-learn them. That is to say, go back to reciting them until everyone's reciting in unison. Then recto tono. Then simple forms of the responses, then more elaborate. If ordinaries and/or propers, use the organ. The issue is that we can't just go from recited Mass to all sung instantly. People need to have a firm foundation and know the music WELL. I know it brings fire and brimstone into heaven, but yes rehearse before Mass or during announcements. (I'm only half being sarcastic, I hate announcements and pre-Mass rehearsals as much as anyone, but it WORKS) My last boss, when he introduced the sung introductory rites, rehearsed them for a few weeks with the congregation. With the Gloria, he took the time to teach them proper pronunciation of the Latin. This stuff helps a LOT, but in a community like St. Agnes they've built up the structure of singing without any foundation. I guess when you get to the point in your community where you can start teaching them new ways to sing the Mass, make sure you set that good foundation.
  • Jan
    Posts: 242
    I think this topic has been discussed on another thread but I can't remember which one. Sounds like a couple of issues here: 1) the need
    to keep the congregation & schola together & on pitch and 2) the issue of a cappella vs accompaniment. Lots of folks would agree that
    Gregorian chant sounds best (when sung well) a capella. In our parish, when the men's schola & the congregation sings Gregorian chant for our OF Mass on a 'regular' Sunday, it's always a capella. We've got the men's schola up front & they have practiced and sing well. We keep the ordinaries simple & try to keep the same one for many Sundays so the congregation isn't lost. With no organ accompaniment, it sounds great (if I say so myself). However on Holy Thursday, we've got the parish Adult Choir leading the congregation in singing the Gregorian chant Gloria. The rest of the Mass is a mixed bag of music. We have the organist play the Gloria with the congregation since the rest of the music is the Mass is accompanied. This works best here because of the context.

    I think our OF Gregorian chant sung Mass works best a cappella because our schola is well rehearsed and sings well. I've heard examples of
    Gregorian chant at Masses on You Tube that sound terrible with or without organ.

    I've also heard a few recordings of accompanied Gregorian, some fair to ok and some terrible. What bothers me the most about accompanied chant are poor harmonic choices & organists who plays too loud. There's a real art to accompanying Gregorian chant. It would
    be terrific if someone where to post examples good organ technique for accompanying the chant.

    P.S. I've got the Solesmes 3 volume accompaniment to the Graduale Romanum & the harmonies sure don't work for me.
  • RagueneauRagueneau
    Posts: 2,592
    Jan, I don't know if this would be of interest to you, but I discuss why I personally don't think that the Portier accompaniments work HERE --- use the search function (CONTROL + F on most computers) and search for "Portier."
  • Jan
    Posts: 242
    Yes, that's the source. Thanks Jeff.
  • RagueneauRagueneau
    Posts: 2,592
    My pleasure.
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    The organ became obsolete when Dom Mocquereau invented the ictus, much like the problem of choral diction was forever solved when Robert Shaw invented the shadow vowel.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,005
    I'm afraid that in the Catholic music world of today, it is Dom Mocquereau who has become obsolete. I find organs in many places that would not recognize either the ictus or Dom Mocquereau .
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    I knew my sarcasm was going to go unappreciated...
  • I've held off till now, but I'd propose that the thought that the organ is in the church to accompany chant is not historic. The organ is in the church to give pitch for chant and to play when music is needed while people are not chanting. The use of the organ while people are chanting does not and cannot lead them, otherwise the chant itself is invalid as the rhythm comes from the chant not from the chordal support under the chant. When composing or improvising chant accompaniment it is necessary to totally avoid providing strong rhythmic chordal progressions.

    Thus a well-wrought accompaniment can assist in maintaining a pitch center, but that is about all. Jeff Ostrowski is much, much more knowledgeable than I would ever clam to be...possibly he could chime in here. [I mention him because the Chabanel Psalms are the Lectionary text set to Gregorian Chant melodies with properly modal accompaniment...and optional accompaniments for many of them...not modern music written for the Psalms. Gregorian Chant has been written for centuries and is being written now.]

    People sing together because they listen to each other and will, without interference begin to sing in unison just a metronomes will sync even when started at a variety of times. It's on YouTube so it's got to be true!

    Modern hymns, however, are mostly built on a chordal rhythm and thus may be sung with or without accompaniment by the organ. One step further...contemporary guitar group songs cannot be sung without accompaniment since the rhythm is not in the melody.

    The melodic rhythm of chant is a unique part of chant. The Bach Unaccompanied Cello Suites have had accompaniments written for them...and they have been performed. But they don't make sense. The Unaccompanied Suites are very close to chant in construction, as the melodies are the rhythm is the melody.

    The strong yet sensitive singing of the choir can lead the people into singing chant in a coordinated manner.

    It's the RULES that make all the music sound like it belongs in the era it belongs in.

    noel
  • Jeffrey TuckerJeffrey Tucker
    Posts: 3,624
    Noel, thank you. I had never thought of it that way.
  • G
    Posts: 1,387
    "the 'official' dictum against accompanied Gregorian chant"

    ?
    (and as I've said before, I'm humor-impaired, so if that was a joke or irony, just avert your gaze...)
    And if a congregation has been singing something for a while, and they DO actually sing it, the manner in which they sing it, as to rhythm and tempo, should probably be the default for all the music ministers of that parish, IMO.

    Save the Liturgy, Save the World
  • G
    Posts: 1,387
    By the way, David?
    "Never pet a burning dog" is going to be come my new philosophy.

    (Save the Liturgy, save the World)
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,005
    Authorincantu
    "I knew my sarcasm was going to go unappreciated..."

    Oh, it is appreciated. I was just pointing out that it's likely most Catholic congregations don't think about chant or anyone associated with it. It's not a common heritage anymore for any practical purpose. I am not a singer but an organist who inherited a choir. That always colors my musical opinions, especially on the subject of using the organ. So perhaps you might understand why, on days when the choir is especially annoying, I would like to bring back organ masses and send them all home.
  • Steve CollinsSteve Collins
    Posts: 1,003
    So many points to make here! I'll just be pragmatic. The organ CAN assist both small and large groups in singing chant. No, it does not "lead" by establishing any sort of strong "beat". But it can do more than provide a pitch center and pretty background atmosphere. And it does take a lot of practice in order to accomplish this.

    One thing that it takes is consistency from the organist - the development of a style that does have similarities between hymnody and chant. Catholic congregations are more prepared for chant than you might think. Take hymns that are written in a strict meter, say, 4/4. "Melita" (Eternal Father, Strong to Save) for example. It is almost impossible to sing it through straight. Sure, the organist can play it straight. But just how many people can get through it without pausing for a breath? I can't! At the end of each 88 phrase, add ONE beat ONLY! (Yes, that makes a 5/4 measure insertion!)
    N.B. It will be sung with more gusto.
    N.B.B. Listen to the Midshipmen at Annapolis sing it. This IS the preferred performance practice!
    My point is that Catholics have no problem with mixing duple and triple rhythms. That means they ARE ready for Gregorian chant!

    There ARE ways to accompany Gregorian chant that are both effective AND beautiful.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,005
    Steve Collins quotes

    "The organ CAN assist both small and large groups in singing chant. No, it does not "lead" by establishing any sort of strong "beat". But it can do more than provide a pitch center and pretty background atmosphere. And it does take a lot of practice in order to accomplish this.

    "There ARE ways to accompany Gregorian chant that are both effective AND beautiful."

    Amen to both!

    "At the end of each 88 phrase, add ONE beat ONLY! "

    I have to do that anyway. The pastor takes a breath and everyone follows since no one can out sing him.
  • Steve CollinsSteve Collins
    Posts: 1,003
    But there are so many "musicians" who take the 4/4 time signature as pure Gospel! I use finale for all the music I supply to my congregations - hymns or chant. And I NEVER include a time signature. It's (among other things stated above) a waste of space in my worship aid!
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,005
    My church once had an accomplished organist whose timing was flawless. The congregation, however, often complained that his timing was bad. The problem was and is that congregations often don't sing in correct time. Mine doesn't. They have their speed, and that's that. If I speed up, they stay at the same tempo. I long ago decided that battle wasn't worth fighting.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    It's taking all my willpower not to turn this into an argument over whether or not one should add beats to particular pieces. We don't need a rehash of the NLM combox from when Jeff posted the hymn from the colloquium!

    That said, Charles reminds me of a similar conversation I had on a friend's blog. She asked what to do about congregations that don't sing just right, and someone suggested that she play whatever they sing so as to avoid upsetting people. I, on the other hand, said it's a judgment call to make. The decision is one of good taste. For example, the tendency she was referring to was to hold the last note of phrases in "Now Thank We All Our God" too long, as is common. Now while I don't do this, I don't think it's in bad taste to do so (and certainly within the realm of historical practice), so I think that is something where one can acquiesce to the congregation. At my last parish, "How Great Thou Art" was sung with a dotted rhythm in the refrain. I had never heard this even in the protestant churches I've played in. I found it tasteless and bizarre, so I played it as written. The primary question is whether or not an aberration is tasteful or not. If it is, you may as well let it be.
  • Jeffrey TuckerJeffrey Tucker
    Posts: 3,624
    An aside: My brother and I grew up playing what we called the rhythm game during Church: sing everything strictly as written, no matter what everyone else is doing. I guess that wasn't very community minded.
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    Jeffrey, if it weren't for our parents playing the rhythm game, my brother and I probably wouldn't be here!

    But in all seriousness, I hear what Charles W is saying about the choir. Sometimes I feel like as a music director I'm providing a service for the choir, rather than that the choir is providing a service for the congregation or, really, for God. So then rather than doing the best of what we're capable of (which might include singing a few simple unaccompanied chants very well), I find I have to settle for a lesser result to accomodate the choir (for instance, singing more difficult chants, but having to use accompaniment). However, I must say that when a choir can sing unaccompanied chant well, then an added accompaniment can create a new and different, beautiful chant-based composition. But if the accompaniment is being used as a crutch, the singing probably isn't going to be that great accompanied or not.
  • ".... I must say that when a choir can sing unaccompanied chant well, then an added accompaniment can create a new and different, beautiful chant-based composition. But if the accompaniment is being used as a crutch, the singing probably isn't going to be that great accompanied or not."

    These two sentences should be chiseled over the doors of every choir loft.....thank you for this!