Selecting Music for the Church - Joseph Clokey
  • Selecting music for the Church
    Joseph Clokey, Doctor of Musical Literature (Oxford)


      1. Discard all pieces that do not conform to the rules or theology of the Church
      2. Discard anything that is unsuitable, unliterary, or unnecessarily repetitious
      3. Discard if it is too difficult; don’t waste time hoping to be able to play it someday, unless you intend to practice to that skill level.
      4. Discard anything that is trite, uninspired or commonplace.

    This should leave you with a very small pile of music.


    1.      Consider the text:

    A   Is it suited to the stated purpose?  Watch out for maudlin and gloomy.

    B.     Is the text unnecessarily repetitive?

    C.     Is the text of literary quality?

    D.    Is it singable?  (Text only)

    2.   Consider the Music:

    A.    Is it singable?   (as opposed to text being singable)

    B.     Can the rhythm be followed?

    C.     Is it extremely contrapuntal?

    D.    Are there tricky harmonic effects?

    3,   Consider the mood:

    A.    Is it free from secular associations?  If the melody is obvious, sweet, and chromatic, it is probably secular!

    B.     Does is employ syncopation, rapid dotted notes, rollicking triplets?  If it does, it is probably a dance tune!

    C.     Does it have chromatic harmonies and bromidic chord progressions?  If so, it is probably show music.

    D.    Does it create a mood of worship?

    E.     Does the tune accent right the words?

    F.      Do the tune and words act consistently to set a mood, for example a Hymn of Praise in a minor key is as disturbing, as a quiet worship tune set to trumpets.

    And at that point there's nothing left but The Sound of Silence.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,899
    Interesting. I hadn't heard that before, but it pretty much covers everything. However, every now and then something restores my hope and faith in church music. This morning, the pastor called me aside and said to discontinue the "Lamb of God" from the Mass of Creation because the text is wrong. I am too old to do cartwheels, but the thought crossed my mind.
  • Liturgical reform is spreading like wildfire in East Tennessee!
  • priorstf
    Posts: 460
    I like the ideas put forward, but does this mean we continue the "ban" on composers such as Mozart and Schubert because of their repetitiveness?
  • Mark M.Mark M.
    Posts: 632
    Wonderful stuff. I'd add that these "rules" can pretty easily be intuited (especially the rules for discarding), especially as one gets a sense of a more sacred ideal.

    I also find it interesting that among his guidelines for choosing music, he does not suggest trying to pick something that corresponds to the day's readings.

    I'm at a parish that uses OCP materials and subscribes to their "Today's Liturgy" quarterly. I refer to their music selection suggestions simply as a means of expediting my selection process for the "four-hymn sandwich," and to help me not be repetitive in my selections. I should hasten to add that I am quick to say "no" to suggestions I find unacceptable… and that's a pretty easy task, just by looking at the melody line:

    Syncopations? No.
    Key changes? No.
    Meter changes? No.
    Quarter-note triplets? No.
    Note values smaller than an eighth note? Probably not.
    Refrains and repeat signs? Probably not.
    3/4 time? Not unless it's a stately hymn. 6/8 time? No.
    Text with Vox Dei "I" statements? Probably not.

    Even the presence of accidentals is a "red flag" to me, suggesting the possibility of Broadway-like modulations. I'll take a look at the accompaniment (or guitar chords… aack) and check for suitability.

    As a volunteer musician, I'll admit that I don't spend the time I probably should in carefully choosing music for Mass. But I also realize that with the Graduale Romanum as the ideal I'm working toward, "selection" becomes less of an issue.
  • Beth
    Posts: 53
    thanks for the summary I really appreciate it! It's helpful for those who need reminders and clarity =)
  • This is a nice list. I like the idea of ruling out hymns with quarter-note triplets. That's very insightful actually!
  • Kallen
    Posts: 9
    The list sounds a little Cecilian...not in a good way.

    Can the rhythm be followed? Who follows it? This must rule out William Byrd, among many other great composers.
    What can exteamely contrapuntal mean? To my ear, that sounds like someone who knows his craft.

    Tricky harmonic effects? The words tricky and effects are problematic in themselves. Would modal counterpoint be included, or heaven forbid...polymodality.

    Chromatic harmonies are the spice of heaven. Just ask Lassus, Clemmens non Papa, the Gabrieli boys, Schutz (sigh), Gesualdo, Victoria, Monteverdi,Bach and (drum roll) Bruckner!!!!

    If we leave these able men out...we are lost.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,899
    I make an exception on the triplets once per year. That's when we pull out "Hail Thee, Festival Day" by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Oh sure, I know it's in a dated style, but singing it once a year seems OK.
  • Well, good points above, and I just took it for granted that the list of tips (not rules!) applies to hymns only, not polyphony or other choral work - though the Hail Thee point is a good one.
  • mjballoumjballou
    Posts: 992
    Kallen - I believe these criteria are for music designed to be sung by the congregation and less-skilled choirs.
  • AOZ
    Posts: 369
    Can't the list be seen as a lark? That's how I read it, anyway. The comment at the end of the list makes clear that imposing this list of criteria on all possible forms of music for Mass leaves the music director with no choices, and the listener (or participant=congregation) with nothing to sing at all. Down with censorship. Up with the ideal. What falls in between should be left to the expertise of a well-formed music director.
  • Kallen
    Posts: 9
    Down with censorship. Up with the ideal. What falls in between should be left to the expertise of a well-formed music director.

    Well said!!
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    The ideas that a hymn of praise should not be in a minor key or that mixed meters should not be used originate outside the world of the ideal, sacred chant. For the first point, consider "Gloria, laus" in mode I; for the second, the entire corpus of Gregorian chant.
  • A lark? Hardly. He was VERY serious....which may have been why his adopted son created Gumby....

    Mixed meters....Chorus in 3/4, verse in 4/4....
  • francis
    Posts: 10,517
    I second Kallen. Chromatic harmonies come from God and we simply return them back to him.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I find this list of little value, unless it is specific what purpose the music being evaluated is to be used for. Mary Jane suggests it is for congregational music, but that is not clearly spelled out. I should hope we all employ a different criteria for selecting choral music than from evaluating hymnody or ordinary settings - even a good hymn may not make a good setting of the ordinary! I also despise absolutes - complex meters or chromaticism may be unsuited for congregational use, but they can be well employed by a choir!
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    The sound of a cow producing methane also comes from God, but that doesn't mean it needs to be included in our public worship. Have you all seen the Medieval depictions of St. Gregory dictating the chant to a scribe, with the Holy Spirit sitting on his shoulder singing in his ear? Now, one can question the historical accuracy of such an event, but it does reflect our theology of the earthly liturgy.
  • Mark M.Mark M.
    Posts: 632
    I feel I should qualify my seeming enthusiasm (above) for the list by clarifying the fact that most of the musical options suggested to me by "Today's Liturgy" are quite mundane. I simply take a quick look at the melodies and text and tell myself, 'no, that is not appropriate for music at Mass,' and then proceed to the best acceptable choice. Of course, there are some exceptions to my "rules" as I stated, and some weeks I'm more stringent than I am other weeks. I hope that the sum of my choices reflects the "well-formed music director" of whom Arlene speaks.
  • I used to use TL when choosing music for the Offertory and Communion -- I had a formula of traditional hymns for entrance and recessional and OCP stuff (within reason) for the middle part of the sandwich. I found, however, that I could throw a dart at a list and get about as good results for any given Sunday.
  • Maybe we need to take certain works and evaluate them?

    ON EAGLES quickly do these criteria eliminate it?

    LAMB OF GOD, Twyla P's version.....

    The value of a list of criteria is being able to rationally explain how these criteria apply....
  • Leland
    Posts: 32
    I'm eagerly waiting to see what responses (and evaluations) frogman noel's suggestion will call forth.