Correctness as a Substitute for Quality
  • I sometimes get the sense that, for certain practitioners of traditional sacred music, "rightness" of selection covers a multitude of sins, including a poor quality execution.

    Do you think this is an accurate assessment? Do you think that this same mindset exists in the opposite camp, that any music, so long as it is not "old," is The Right Thing To Do, and that doing it at all obviates to a certain extent the need to do it well?

    How can we overcome this mindset and hold ourselves accountable to musical quality, which is the primary aspect to which those in the pews who are not embroiled in these debates will respond? Or is this just an issue in my mind-world?
    Thanked by 2BruceL fp
  • Ben YankeBen Yanke
    Posts: 3,114
    I can't say I've seen this attitude "in the wild." Most musicians I know would certainly choose proper sacred music over crap, even if it isn't sung as well. But that would never absolve them from trying to do it as well as possible.
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,757
    I would venture it's very common, but *not* as a conscious principle. One could argue it's *part* of what informs choosing hymns (and certain hymns at that) over more classically normative options that would involve riskier execution.
    Thanked by 1BruceL
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,005

    I sometimes get the sense that, for certain practitioners of traditional sacred music, "rightness" of selection covers a multitude of sins, including a poor quality execution.


    Many of us have volunteer choirs that vary in strength, ability, and attendance at different times during the year. What may be possible to do well at one time, may not turn out so well at another. Those who can hire singers tend to not have such problems. Selections should be "good" but execution can be variable. I am all for "goodness" but Mae West addressed that issue long ago.
    Thanked by 1canadash
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,764
    Sometimes directors choose works rashly.

    I've seen cases in recent months where organist/directors presented to choirs works that they must not have ever played in advance.

    In one case, the director chose a respectable piece that seemed suited to the choir's membership, and rehearsed the first two verses. The next week they moved on to the third verse and found that it required a strong soprano section, which the group didn't have. So they made do with their weak soprano section.

    In another case, a piece in "contemporary" style had syncopations, complex meters, and many changes of meter; the organist didn't play it correctly in rehearsal, and only approximately got it right in the performance.

    Pieces like these can eat up the great majority of rehearsal time; and the director may leave problems uncorrected because the director doesn't want to change plans and shelve the piece, and also the group has to move on and rehearse the next thing.
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,757
    Charles

    Ah, Blessed Mae, epigrammatic patroness of the Index ("I believe in censorship. I made a fortune out of it.").
    Thanked by 2CharlesW CHGiffen
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,005
    Mae was the original Diamond Lil with a stone collection to match. I was referring to her famous line in one of her films when someone said, "goodness, what lovely diamonds." The irrepressible Mae said, "goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie."
    Thanked by 2Liam CHGiffen
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,304
    I think liturgical correctness is "necessary but not sufficient."

    I don't know that I've ever heard someone say, "Well, that was bad, but at least they did the correct piece." (I have heard, and felt, the opposite, though: Well, that was very well done. Too bad it was not at all what should have happened.)

    The closest thing I have ever seen to an attitude that addresses the OPs concern is when musicians in the EF (usually new to the form) spend a lot of time or energy making sure that their less-than-ideal-but-needed-for-sanity decisions (like Psalm-toned propers or accompanied chant or whatever) is legal.

    That is to say: I have seen a lot of people who are willing to make compromises (from some ideal) in order to keep quality at acceptable levels, but also want to make sure that those compromises fall within what is allowed by the Church. This can tend toward an overload of scrupulosity ("Yes, I know everyone did it in 1955, and I've seen five semi-official documents that support it. But, I don't know - I'm not convinced that it was really allowed!"), but I generally think the instinct is correct.
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  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 1,841
    Is "Christians praise the Paschal victim" ever necessary? ;-)
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,764
    Why not? It's the Lectionary text.
    Thanked by 2Spriggo eft94530
  • ...ever...

    Yes, 'necessary', as Richard observes;
    but not as seemly as Neale's
    'Christians, to the paschal victim offer your thankful praises'.
    As poetry goes, this is a far more graceful rendering of
    Victimae paschali laudes immolent Christiani.
    So the Latin doesn't have 'thankful'. But it does have 'offer'.

    What is it about those who prepare Catholic ritual books that they can't get English and grace beautifully wed? (And would never ask those certain others how they did.)
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen DougS
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,764
    Come to think of it, the Lectionary has Neale's version too, so I agree with Richard Mix. If one is singing the sequence, the prose version is never necessary.
  • Um, since 'correctness' and 'quality' are synonyms and there can't be one without the other, is it possible for one to substitute for the other, since if one is absent so is the other, or, if one is present both must be?
    Thanked by 1NihilNominis
  • MJO,

    Most specifically, "singing the right thing," as opposed to, "singing the right thing, and well..."
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • Of course I knew what you meant and was just going in another direction.
    It is my opinion that (and others here may or may not agree) one starts with what is worthy to be done and does it as well as one can. This is preferable to doing something unworthy. Or, put differently, if you can sing, say, 'If ye love me' or even an SATB hymn reasonably well, this is preferable to doing some piece of sacro-pop more than 'reasonably well'. Or, put yet differently, one starts the process with consideration of what is 'correct', namely, worthy music and text, and then finds an example of that (and this is never impossible) which one can do convincingly (well). Your 'corectness' (worthiness) and 'doing wellness' are never opposites. One never does what is not correct, meaning unworthy.
  • Jani
    Posts: 386
    English and grace beautifully wed


    Just want to say that I think this is the prettiest turn of phrase I've ever read.
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 1,498
    There's a kind of privileging of unaccompanied polyphony that happens sometimes, as part of the Caecilian cultural baggage. So people whose groups have no business doing that do it because, well, if we aren't doing chant, we're supposed to do polyphony, right? Which in practice means doing things in 4 parts (or more) instead of 2 or 3 parts with organ, or instead of chant. That's great if you have people who can do it.

    I used to laugh at Fr. Rossini's dictum that you had to have an average minimum of 5 voices per part, because it didn't square with any liturgical reality i'd ever been part of. But the longer I work with amateurs, the saner it sounds.
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,757
    "But the longer I work with amateurs, the saner it sounds."

    There's a lot of *practical* art in the classic admonitions.
    Thanked by 1StimsonInRehab
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 1,841
    I think I must have greater positivist sympathies than MJO. The tendency to let the correct be the enemy of the beautiful must exist, or we wouldn't have Rossini propers. To get back to NoName, it exists across the aisle too to some extent, as when a Rabbi orders piano substituted for organ without thought to whether it actually makes the repertoire more 'relevant'. I had conversations five years ago with one of our parishioners concerned about the congregation understanding the words of the ordinary when they sang, and reassured him that we remained committed to bilingualism, new ICEL settings were still being evaluated and that it would be worth waiting for good ones to emerge. Last week though he expressed mild disappointment that the monthly De angelis was preempted by the Eastertide Deutsche Messe.
    Thanked by 1NihilNominis
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,597
    I would take Rossini sung well over butchered Gregorian Propers every day of every week.
  • There's a kind of privileging of unaccompanied polyphony that happens sometimes, as part of the Caecilian cultural baggage. So people whose groups have no business doing that do it because, well, if we aren't doing chant, we're supposed to do polyphony, right? Which in practice means doing things in 4 parts (or more) instead of 2 or 3 parts with organ, or instead of chant. That's great if you have people who can do it.


    This is nearly exactly what I was talking about.

    An interesting world away from the 19th-Century Archbishop of Boston quoted by Fr. Finn in his autobiography that, "The organist's fingers should not leave the keyboard except during the Consecration."
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 1,841
    There are lots of things I would take over "butchered Gregorian Propers": a ricercare by Frescobaldi, anything of Messiaen or Bach, indeed a solo elevation by G. Rossini or Monteverdi. Singing antiphons to psalmtones at Mass, well or otherwise, can all too often becomes a steppingstone to what, unless one likes that sort of thing, is a dead end.
  • Why do we keep having comments like 'I'd rather hear_______than butchered Gregorian propers'? Or, 'I'd rather have_______than a bad organ'. Who wants anything that is bad! What does bad chant or bad organs have to do with this? Nothing at all! We are talking about what is good. Goodly done propers, or good organs. Whence the proffered and irrelevant bad stuff? If one can't do Gregorian chant well then one should find some worthy music that one can do well, and... keep working on the Gregorian until it can be done well. If one is blessed with a bad organ (which usually is objectively synonymous with 'I don't like what my predecessor "foisted off" on us'), then one works to get a better organ.

    There is easy SATB, SSA, TTB, SAT, etc., even unison, music of quality that can fulfill anyone's needs and talent. There is no necessary, no real, choice between doing what is 'correct' (meaning 'worthy' or of appropriate quality) and doing something that isn't.

    Correctness as a substitute for quality is a premise?, a question?, a concern?, that really proposes a dichotomy that doesn't exist. Even a unison anthem by a reputable composer (and there are many) can be offered to God if that is representative of a given choir's best efforts. There are canons and rounds, and no end to very easy music of quality (correctness) that would be preferable to anything that fails to be worthy the glory of God and satisfying to human emotion AND intellect - that is, the whole human person. That lets out most anything that sounds like a sacro- version of music from the popular culture or from the street. I assert again that 'correctness' and 'quality' are not opposite, but equivalent categories.

    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,597
    Why do we keep having comments like 'I'd rather hear_______than butchered Gregorian propers'?


    Because I keep hearing butchered Gregorian propers.

    I was out of town last weekend and heard through the Facebook-grapevine there was a parish that was doing a great deal of Gregorian chant and had an enthusiastic pastor. I can't even describe in words what I heard - the English language does not have the proper words to describe it. Maybe Klingon. Afterward I met the director and inquired a bit about what they were doing. The pastor had insisted on the Gregorian Introit, Offertory, and Communion each Sunday but had no budget for trained singers so he relied on what was already in place and also did not spend any money on the education of the singers he had. The pastor had insisted on correctness without much care for quality.... or he likes the 6-part free-styled improvised polyphonic chant that I experienced that morning.

    If a pastor wants to do something that is correct - like singing the propers - he should either be prepared for a transitional period with psalm-tones or something Rossini-ish - or be prepared to put some money into trained singers, or training singers, or both.
  • I think, Matthew, that we may be on 'the same page', after all. Maybe? The cacaphonic propers that you heard very obviously were neither 'correct' nor 'quality'. I've never heard these oft touted Rossini propers, but have a fair inkling of what they are like. They may be acceptable in circumstances such as you stumbled upon. Too, there are various psalm-tone versions of the propers (such as the AUG) which would be both 'correct' and 'quality' in such situations. Butchering something that would otherwise be 'correct' is neither 'correct' nor apparently 'quality'. The two are inseparable sides of the same coin.

    (In parting, though, I'm wondering if there aren't some things I'd rather hear cacophonic propers than???)
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,304
    The cacaphonic propers


    CMAA's next big publishing effort.
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,757
    Caco (Carlos - Portuguese) Fanny is the brother of Eppie (Epiphania) Fanny and Theo (Theodore) Fanny. He's the hellion.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 1,498
    The Omni Tono Propers (TM) Jeffrey Quick 2016.
    Arranged from the works of old masters like Penderecki and Ligeti.
    Meloche, it's a good thing you have a good choir. I'd hate to have to come after you for copyright infringement.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Missa La Cage aus Faux-

    0.00......................................................4'33"

    Missio(n) accomplished.
    Thanked by 2DougS Ben Yanke
  • BruceL
    Posts: 1,002
    As @matthewj says, this whole situation of pastor-x-demanding-x-that-the-choir-can't-really-execute is going to be a huge problem in the next 20-30 years for everyone trying to do their best with this stuff. The past 30 years have been pastor-x-wants-terrible-music-that-we-all-hate. Now the pendulum has shifted to the former situation.

    I was asked to give a talk on "sacred music in the parish" at an archdiocesan seminary in the Midwest before I moved to Birmingham. I started by asking each seminarian what their vision was for the liturgical music program in their theoretical parish, and what they would do with the incumbent if they resisted.

    I was shocked at how many said, "oh, I'll just fire him", to which I offered the typical scenario of the next hire being a technically deficient Catholic musician vs. a musically rich, but perhaps lacking in virtue, non-Catholic. I was again shocked that many would go with option #1, even when theoretical option #2 was declared to be a person "who would listen to reason".

    I told them (in the nicest way possible!) that if they held these views, they were crazy! Good men, I have no doubt, but there are some things that are difficult to teach!

    I've been very fortunate the past few years to be relatively left alone to work hard, and so have had some success, but then we have people that are disposed to (for example) learn the chant and whom are relatively good singers! That is not the case most places, especially starting from the ground up.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • There are also plenty of situations where nothing will sound well-executed. The simple reality is that a choir of vibrato-sopranos and vibrato-basses (often beautiful people who simply can't help this because of age or ingrained bad technique) will not be able to make anything sound unified or in tune. If you can't make a good, blended unison then even the simplest chants won't be great. And if your section can't sing in at least a reasonable amount of unity, then no polyphony will really execute well.

    I'm just saying - this may not be so much a dichotomy ('quality' vs. 'correctness') as a grim reality ij many places ('quality is unattainable, but at least we are singing correct texts'). And I'm not really sure what the solution is, when the talent is not there and there are no resources to find more talent. I do think directors could do better in many places at aiming for better quality - partly through pedagogy, and partly through stepping up and taking necessary measures to remove problem singers. Sometimes, a person or persons MUST leave the choir, or nothing will ever sound good. It's hard, but it needs to be done.

    Bruce - your anecdote makes me wonder what we can do to not only educate the pastors in being pastoral (dealing with their congregants and music directors humanely), but in developing a basic sense and understanding of musical quality.

    Oh - I just remembered what the solution is to the quality problem. The only solution in many places: REAL children's choral pedagogy. And lots of time.
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,757
    I recall a former pastor of mine, not much missed, who wanted Parry's "I Was Glad" at his installation.... It was grand(iose).


    Thanked by 1BruceL
  • David AndrewDavid Andrew
    Posts: 1,191
    In other news, on or about April 8 of this year, "The Good" died of mortal wounds delivered by "The Perfect."

    The Augustine Police have not yet made an arrest, but investigations are ongoing. Representatives of "The Good" said that "Common Sense", a close personal friend of the family was at "The Good's" side at the time of death.

    "The Perfect" was not available for comment.
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 1,062
    @BruceL --

    Could you provide more information about exactly what a "technically deficient Catholic musician" looks/sounds like?

    Would any or all of the following qualify? Let's assume all are interested in implementing the pastor's vision for authentic sacred music for Holy Mass.

    Musician A:
    Practicing, orthodox Catholic
    No music degree
    Liturgical music experience consists of 5-10 years of singing in the church choir
    No conducting experience, but willing to take a college course and/or lessons
    Has limited piano proficiency; none on the organ -- would require multiple years of lessons to gain proficiency. In the meantime, a separate accompanist would need to be employed.

    Musician B:
    Practicing, orthodox Catholic
    Has a BA in general music
    Sings in tune, but not exceptionally beautifully
    Took 1 undergraduate conducting class and remembers the basics
    Can play piano competently, and is willing to learn organ

    Musician C:
    Practicing, orthodox Catholic
    Has a BA in general music and some post-graduation music studies (either privately or in some sort of an MM program)
    Sings very well
    Took 1 undergraduate conducting class and remembers the basics
    Plays organ at a modest level, including pedaling the bass line of hymns accurately
    Limited grasp of actual organ repertoire, often playing manuals only or pedalpoint pre-, inter-, and postludes

    ---------

    These are just examples. I want to make sure I understand your point.
    Thanked by 1Elmar
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,005
    I was shocked at how many said, "oh, I'll just fire him", to which I offered the typical scenario of the next hire being a technically deficient Catholic musician vs. a musically rich, but perhaps lacking in virtue, non-Catholic. I was again shocked that many would go with option #1, even when theoretical option #2 was declared to be a person "who would listen to reason".


    While it is possible to be musically rich and virtuous, dealing with the choir at times causes me to be lacking in virtue. Too bad we can't fire some of the priests. They often have significant "lacks," too.
  • dad29
    Posts: 1,712
    @irishtenor: which of the three is the least expensive option?
    Thanked by 1Elmar
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 1,062
    @dad29 -- if only that weren't so often the primary consideration!
    Thanked by 1Elmar
  • BruceL
    Posts: 1,002
    Could you provide more information about exactly what a "technically deficient Catholic musician" looks/sounds like?

    Would any or all of the following qualify? Let's assume all are interested in implementing the pastor's vision for authentic sacred music for Holy Mass.


    I'll attempt. I've met a lot of Catholic musicians who (pax) feel that their professional development (including lessons on their major instrument, etc.) is not that important, or that an ongoing "I'm going to push myself" attitude is not key. I think this reveals the very low standard of music in Catholic parishes, and of course I don't want to be complicit in that (nor do I want to add to their time in Purgatory with such a mediocre attitude!) My experience is that they are often overly opinionated about the pastor's vision vis-a-vis their own skills in their area. This is not a good combination! Plus, even assuming docility to the Holy Spirit AND the pastor's vision, they may simply not have the vision or skills necessary to make an honest assessment of the congregation's/choir's/cantor's ability to carry out said vision. I wish this were not the case: I did not grow up Catholic and have (fortunately) had an extremely wide experience of different liturgical styles, etc., and so I feel like I can speak to this objectively.

    First, I don't care about a degree...ultimately. The applicant SHOULD, because ultimately, that is how you peg a salary, for better or worse, excepting outstanding actual ability (of which I do not envision in your A/B/C scenarios). The degree can be great, or they could have squandered that time. Keyboard skills are important. Will to learn is crucial (the organ is NOT that similar to the piano in how it's musically conceived). Vocal comfort/modeling or ability to convey concepts is crucial; this extends to organ-playing—how do they conceive the organ? Hopefully like a singer.

    My point is that A/B/C are all very imperfect solutions. When presented with an outstanding non-Catholic who is at least amenable toward the teachings of the Church (and not living a publicly sinful life) and willing to implement the pastor's vision, that should be considered seriously.

    It is easier for the Holy Spirit to convert a heart than for another frail, flawed human like myself to try to instill innate musicality. If this is a choral singer I'm trying to "convert", that's another story, but a leader...different calculus.

  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 1,224
    I agree with Bruce. I also would agree in that while sometimes we overestimate (particularly someone such as myself, who loves sacred music but is in no way capable of being the DM) the abilities of the congregation and the choir, we also underestimate what they like beyond what they are used to singing and hearing and what they can/will sing and listen to.

    My home parish sings propers and chant or polyphonic ordinaries at two Masses and an English congregational setting with one or two propers at the third Sunday Mass. But we pay a DM very well and we have paid singers. My school parish has good singers, but the choices are more modest due to funds, time, and ability. It is, however, sung well.
    Thanked by 1Elmar
  • dad29
    Posts: 1,712
    a leader


    Thanks for bringing up that quality. One could argue that--for better or worse--that is the most important one.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,113
    Every time BruceL opines, my opinion of and respect for his wisdom reaches a new height.
  • BruceL
    Posts: 1,002
    Thanks, Chuck. I'm no genius. If I was, I'd invent some crazy repository of choral music that the whole world could access for free. That's crazy...and great! ;)