Ruff on congregational song
  • An interesting excerpt from Anthony Ruff’s recent tome on sacred music, p580:
    ... Popular hymnody tends by its nature to be conservative. Particular pieces often remain in use--although with gradual and barely perceptible changes--across generations. In striking contrast, the entire history of Western high art music is marked by esteem for latest compositional practice over against [sic] older practices. The stability and conservatism of popular hymnody has historically enabled popular participation, even among illiterate peoples.

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but compare this to the advertisements for Spirit & Song 2. They nearly all emphasize the newness of the music.

    I am all for new music in the liturgy (as well as for older music). But I am becoming more and more convinced that, for the most part, new music belongs with the music ministers, not with the congregation.
  • Jeffrey TuckerJeffrey Tucker
    Posts: 3,624
    Yes, that's an interesting point. I was looking through the standardized Baptist hymnal recently, the latest one, whatever it is. I was amazed to see that most of the new music of my youth was not in there. It all just vanished without a trace. This was the stuff (junk) we sang every week for years and at every youth thing that ever went on. It's all gone (and good riddance). Meanwhile the old standards were all there, along with some new stuff that will probably suffer the same fate as the old new stuff. It's all very interesting.
  • Keep in mind that "Old Rugged Cross" was once a new song. I guess my point is that there are times when new church music seems to stick. For Protestants, the mid 19th century was a golden age of hymnody. Although it was new music, it seemed to have a lasting quality. We could point to the Beatles as a parallel in popular secular music. There are just times when a critical mass of music blooms and becomes part of the canon. For Catholic music, the late 16th century was one of those times, but also the 7th century seems to have been a time when some great chants were written. We need to be ready to accept worthy music when it arrives, but I'm pretty sure that the repertory of the 70s-90s is not going to be considered a golden age (maybe a dark age).
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    Are you suggesting Old Rugged Cross as particularly good because it has been enduring? The fact that "Be Not Afraid" will probably have a life of 50 years or more does not mean that it is a quality piece of music, any more than the motets of Jean Mouton not enduring in the standard polyphonic repertory suggests that they are unworthy of the liturgy.
  • No, I'd not compare apples to oranges here. ORC is a quintessential Protestant (originally Methodist) hymn of the Ira Sankey mold. It is successful because its text and gospel setting are so at home in the rural church and in those city churches that want to keep the rural connection alive. I do not advocate it for Catholic use although I don't see any overt theological problems with the text -- it is a kind of watery sentimental devotion that is easily replaced by CRUCIFER. IOW if you want to sing this at an ecumenical service, I see no harm, but at Mass, if we MUST sing hymns, there are better choices both musically and theologically. But, for Protestants, it is as traditional as HGWPTN for us.
  • Jeffrey TuckerJeffrey Tucker
    Posts: 3,624
    In many ways, I feel bad for the protestant tradition, esp. the lower brow one. They have an awful choice to make and it has persisted for a very long time. They can choose bad and moldy 19th century stuff (that's traditional) or new and bad pop music (that's contemporary). There doesn't really seem to be a third option. It drives the musicians nuts. Everyone is fighting about all this constantly and yet there doesn't seem to be an out. Unlike Catholics, they have no dignified and enduring tradition of music that is integral to the rite. We are so fortunate as Catholics that these bad choices are not an endless trap for us. We really do have a third and timeless option.
  • Well, the Calvinist traditions (Presbyterians, Church of Christ, etc) do have a choice -- no music at all.
  • rrobbins
    Posts: 14
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  • mjballoumjballou
    Posts: 993
    The latest issue of "The American Organist" has an interesting article by Jane Schatkin Hettrick about the recent LCMS (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod) hymnal/book of worship. My first church job was with a tiny Lutheran church, back in the days of the red book of worship, so I've always kept up on Lutheran liturgical gyrations. The 2006 Lutheran Service Book does not get high marks from the reviewer.

    It's interesting to note the baleful influence that post Vatican II Catholic liturgical changes had on the liturgical Protestants. (Look at Rite II in the revised Book of Common Prayer.) There's also some cold comfort in knowing that all of God's children have problems.

    So dig the magazine out of the stack you threw it into and give this one a read. Haig Mardirosian also has a very good tongue-in-cheek bit called "Ecclesia 3.0." The alleged software will also the user to create "your personal virtual worship [to reflect the ideal vision of church as you and only you define it." "Choir opions includ "Christian Rock," "Gospel Quartet, "Amateur traditional," "paid section leaders," "ultimate four professionals on a part," and "Men and Boys." And you can set vibrato to "assisted living sopranos."
  • G
    Posts: 1,397
    "It's interesting to note the baleful influence that post Vatican II Catholic liturgical changes had on the liturgical Protestants."
    Every single time I have sung a wedding or funeral at a non-Catholic liturgical denom church in the past ten years, the organist/MD has good-naturedly razzed me as being a representative of the Catholic Church, responsible for the bad music with which the Mother Church has infected her little runaways.

    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)
  • Jeffrey TuckerJeffrey Tucker
    Posts: 3,624
    Yes, there is a prot tradition of music that is fantastic. Sadly, it entirely bypassed all those vast numbers of sects in the U.S. that were more-or-less founded in the 19th century (e.g. Baptist and their zillion offshoots).
  • Steve CollinsSteve Collins
    Posts: 1,021
    Hey All! As Catholic musicians, let's not forget the works of our own composers through ALL of the centuries. Yes, hymnody did wind up taking the place of chant in many areas. But there IS a lot of really good, totally Catholic hymnody out there. The real crying shame is that our purported "Catholic" publishers can't seem to find it, or worse, won't use it! Just Google "Faber" or "Caswall" and find literally hundreds of hymn texts. The tunes they were set to may not have become popular, but then there was probably a tendency NOT to use existing "protestant" tunes. All you need are the fingers on your hand to count up the meters of the texts, and a good hymnal (wide selections of tunes) with a good metrical index, and a computer with Finale or Sibelius!

    Why not give the moaning against hymnody in general a rest, and let's all work to reintroduce valuable CATHOLIC hymnody - in its original English?
  • Steve Collins said:
    "Why not give the moaning against hymnody in general a rest, and let's all work to reintroduce valuable CATHOLIC hymnody - in its original English?"

    In all fairness, I think most of us do prefer good hymnody to the status quo, but many of us also fear that if we fight that battle, then we have expended our energy and focus on the wrong goal. Sure, we can improve what's happening, but the prize is bringing back 1) the Church's liturgy (Propers) and 2) the Church's music (chant). So, it's not the good hymns that moan against, it's the fact that hymns are used in place of what should be.

    BTW thank goodness that when ever the media wants to evoke Catholicism aurally, they use chant. Why can't we?
  • Jan
    Posts: 242
    I have to agree with Michael as (I think) we all do that in so many words '...the Church's liturgy (propers) & ...the
    Church's music (chant)' is where we all want to put our energy & focus. However, if I read Fr. Ruff's book correctly,
    within the Church documents from PPX's TLS on through, the place of 'hymns' where a continued topic of discusson. So
    why limit our scope? I would love to see a really good Catholic venacular hymnal that we can promote as well. (Let alone find a good one I can use in my parish work!!)
  • Jeffrey TuckerJeffrey Tucker
    Posts: 3,624
    One thing about what Fr. Ruff demonstrates: he shows that vernacular hymnody was a conventional practice but he also shows that this was not encouraged by the norms. That is a striking difference.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I recently finished a rather boring and scholastic book on evangelical protestantism. That is, it was boring until the chapter on worship. The author described the development of evangelical/fundamentalist worship about like this: In the early 20th century you had all those Gospel/revival songs that appealed to youngsters. Then you had boogie-ish songs for the '30s youngsters. Then big bands. Then folk guitars, rock guitars, contemporary, and now U2. So none of this is anything new. Or, as the author himself put it: "For starters, what did reliance on music that lasted no more than one generation and that was the favorite of less mature believers say about a religious faith that prided itself (in a good sense) on a message that endured from one generation to another precisely because of its abiding truths? Or what about the perpetual cycle of intergenerational warfare that such practices encouraged; how beneficial could the battle between gospel and rock 'n' roll be for sustaining a sense of participating in "one Lord, one faith, one baptism"? Furthermore, what kind of continuity did born-again Protestantism exhibit if the style or forms were constantly changing?" Protestantism strikes me as a succession of generations trying to anger and exclude the earlier ones. Indeed, why should one even bother with the 19th century 6/8 drivel when that in itself was made to anger psalm singers?

    On the other hand, the Catholic tradition is no different. I'll take "The Old Rugged Cross" over ANY vernacular Marian hymn (except hail holy queen) ANY DAY. And let's face it, before Vatican 2 there WASN'T anything besides semi-heterodox vernacular Marian music, at least not in America. Steve Collins says to take back the English Catholic hymn tradition. I ask, what tradition is that? The German Catholics have an amazing tradition. Aside from that, there's not much in any language besides Latin worth singing, except by the protestants. Which isn't a bad thing, they kept the Catholic faith and practice to some degree and so largely wound up with a hymn and liturgy tradition largely compatible with the Catholic ones.
  • Jan
    Posts: 242
    Thanks for the clarification Jeffrey. I'm still reading Fr. Ruff's book. (About half way through with many dog-eared pages!). I really don't have the complete picture obviously by my 'mis-read' above. It's a terrific book. Lots to take in!
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    Michael, I once thought if I did really good hymns (and reduced the number of sacro-pop songs) then I had a good music program. Then I thought, no we should be doing great polyphony, and so a season or two of "Ave verum" and "Tantum ergo." Then I realized, no we should really be singing the propers, and introduced motets by Lassus and Isaac. Finally I accepted that the reason we weren't doing chant is that no one, myself included, really knew how to do it. Luckily CMAA was here to help me find the resources I needed to learn to sing and direct the chants.

    When I plan my choral offertories and communions for the year I put an asterisk next to the title if it's the proper of the day (or two if it's a proper borrowed from the introit or gradual), so I'll know those are pieces I can't later move around if I need to make adjustments. I'm happy to say that for the coming year there is a star next to every communion, and only five offertories without one (including that pesky Christ the King -- any suggestions? -- and a carol on Christmas). I don't think that would have been possible a few years ago, when I was spending all my time setting new hymn texts to common hymn tunes (which anyway only led to questions like "how many verses are we singing?" and "why are we singing 'O God Our Help In Ages Past' with different words?")
  • Jeffrey TuckerJeffrey Tucker
    Posts: 3,624
    incantu, I could tell a similar story. Moved from mod hymns to trad hymns to polyphony and back to trad hymns etc while longing for polyphony ordinaries. One day I realized that I knew not how to make sense of chant. Turkington came to my rescue.
  • mjballoumjballou
    Posts: 993
    I'm inclined to agree with Michael - and I'm a true lover of hymns, ranging from the "Old Rugged Cross," which I remember my Baptist-raised father playing on the guitar through to the best of John Bell. It is "the fact that hymns are used in place of what should be "

    I love the fictional Catholic Church, dark, mysterious, full of chant and ritual. Pity we shut them all down.
  • It might be nice (and perhaps useful) to start a thread called "Wish List" where folks could post the polyphonic or more modern settings that they wish they could do on a given Sunday. We could all learn about some new pieces that way.
  • tdunbar
    Posts: 120
    Jeffrey wrote: "Unlike Catholics, they have no dignified and enduring tradition of music that is integral to the rite."

    While to a large extent ignored in the USA nowadays, the 1780 "Collection of Hymns for the People Called Methodists" consisting mostly of Charles Wesley hymns, edited by John Wesley, was pretty much the Methodist standard until the 1900s. In my personal opinion, it is more dignified and enduring and also more theologically coherent than ANY other hymn tradition and, in fact, went a long way towards DEFINING Christian musical tradition other than the Mass.

    If one wants to compare contemporary hymnals, I think mention should also be made of the British "Praise! Psalms, Hymns and Songs for Christian Worship" (http://www.praise.org.uk/)
  • tdunbar
    Posts: 120
    One might object, regarding my post, "but you're just talking about lyrics, not music" .. well, perhaps so. The lyrics ARE the music, to a large extent, from my perspective.
  • OlbashOlbash
    Posts: 312
    I'm amused by Mary Jane and Michael's comments about how the media always seems to employ chant and polyphony -- and incense, and exquisite furnishings, etc. -- to evoke the Catholic church in movies and TV dramas. When I rehearse this music with my Protestant choir, someone occasionally pipes up, "Why are we singing all this Catholic music?" to which I always reply, "Oh, this isn't *Catholic* music. Have you ever been to a Catholic church that's actually *doing* this music?"

    What *is* disturbing is that whenever there is a Catholic funeral covered by the local media -- a politician, a firefighter, a policeman -- you invariably hear "On Eagle's Wings" being sung -- badly -- by some lounge singer with a microphone next to her tonsils.

    I wonder when Hollywood will start using St. Louis Jesuits tunes, cinder-block churches, and denim vestments with adorable little pocket patches to evoke the Catholic Church of our time?
  • There was one moment in the film Dogma in which George Carlin played an all-too-familiar bishop. I tried not to get pleasure when the angels of the film took care of him.

    In the meantime, let's thank the media for keeping the faith. Maybe someday reality will catch up with fantasy.
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    I saw Lucille Ball in "The Fuller Brush Girl" this week, and there's a scene where she and her co-star end up being covered in soot. Suddenly the music in the background breaks into -- you guessed it --"Swanee." I just about lost it! You could never get away with that now. I guess my point is Hollywood does change, but it takes a long time. Let's hope by the time they get caught up with the Catholic Church's music, that it will actually be chant again.