Responsorial Psalm Settings: Composition Needs in the Church?
  • JKWJKW
    Posts: 37
    In your opinion, what are the current compositional needs in the Church for new Responsorial Psalm settings? (Are there currently any needs?) For my fellow composers, what is your inspiration for writing new psalm settings? Practical necessity, aesthetical improvement...etc?
  • This matter has been discussed at considerable length a few weeks ago on another thread. What is needed are settings of the RP which are truly responsorial, that is, settings which contrast the people's responsory with solo verses, each of which has a distinct melody of its own. It is highly to be preferred that we leave the psalm tone versions behind. Psalm tones are not solo chants - they were developed for large groups of monks or people to sing psalmody in unison. They are NOT solo chants. The melodies of the verses may be newly composed chant, or newly composed metrical versions with or without accompaniment. Several on our forum, including myself, have composed RPs following these guidelines. The reception from the people has been uniformly positive.
  • JKW,

    The first thing which is needed (with deference to Jackson) is to be weaned away from the stuff currently in use. As illustrations of what I mean, On Eagle's Wings is a setting of Psalm 90 which is used in place of Proper chants all over the place; Taste and See is used at Holy Communion though there are few places where Jazz and Blues are less appropriate than at Mass; Lord, you have the words of Everlasting Life is used as a psalm...… Each one of these needs to be replaced. Using psalm-tone Responsorial Psalms, while better than some stuff available, isn't a solution for all the reasons Jackson has enumerated here and elsewhere. Too much of our music at Mass is anthropocentric, so the Responsories which Jackson seeks must be not anthropocentric (and this, given our current environment, is a tall order indeed.)

    Music which helps us recapture a sense of reality (and therefore that we are in the presence of I AM WHO AM and are there to worship Him) is in short supply, but it is sorely needed. (There are other things which are in short supply, but which are not sorely needed).
    Thanked by 3JKW a_f_hawkins MarkB
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,510
    My two-pennyworth: we have plenty of books of Responsorial Psalms, what we don't have is Offertories.
    I have a pocket full of 2p pieces.
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,474
    I agree with both Jackson and Mr. Hawkins: The market is flooded with RPs. settings, from the ridiculous to the sublime (with Oost-Zinner, Weber, Bartlett, and Rice falling on the sublime end of the scale). What would be a good step on the way that Jackson proposes, is the adoption of the Processional Psalm-tones of the Mass (i.e. those used at the Introit): While they are not the ideal, they are more soloistic than the office tones (either Gregorian or otherwise) in use today, being intended, at least, for small groups of cantors, rather than an entire monastic choir. The employment of these tones might help get people used to something more substantial.
    Thanked by 3CHGiffen MarkB JKW
  • CatherineS
    Posts: 230
    I'm just fascinated by this - I've been reading thread after thread on the responsorial psalm. I am sometimes asked to sing the psalm in the OF. The first time this happened, I asked the music director to give me the music. She looked at me like I had three heads and said "No, you make it up. Then sing it for me so I can see if it's okay." This was 20 minutes before Mass. I came up with something she liked.

    (I am an Anglo-Germanic northerner living below the equator, so my stress levels are nearly always near the breaking point because of the Random Spontaneity which rules here.)

    But since that first time I've done it monthly, choosing an Office psalm tone for the verses and then inventing something for the response that 'matches' the tone. I try to make the response melody highlight the meaning of the text. It has to be super simple and very easy to sing. No leaps, no strange notes. I have to do another one Tuesday. I'll try to NOT use the Office psalm tones, and I'll write it down and post it for feedback. (This is also the Land Without Sheet Music, so I've taken to 'pointing' text with a pencil to remember melodies, but I know how to write music.)
    Thanked by 3CHGiffen MarkB JKW
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,901
    If you need something on short notice, perhaps these might be useful, if they can be adapted for the psalm texts in your country:
    https://musicasacra.com/additional-publications/pbp/
    Thanked by 1JKW
  • MarkB
    Posts: 263
    When this topic came up on this forum about two months ago I was intrigued. The attached article is one I found that explains things rather well by comparing the OF responsorial psalm with the EF gradual and offers examples of various responsorial psalm settings with critiques, ultimately proposing that more melodically elaborate/melismatic responsorial psalm verse settings should be considered preferable to simple/psalm tone settings, at least if the gradual is taken as the ideal from the Church's liturgical tradition.

    I think if you read the article you'll get a lot of good direction and advice.

    A related matter: if the Church will eventually adopt a new English Lectionary for Mass, then settings of psalms using the current English Lectionary text will have an expiration date. However, if music directors and cantors compose their own settings based on the neumatic/melismatic ideal proposed in the article, then they can adapt their skills and maybe even their compositions to any eventual new Lectionary text. A plus is that by doing so you break parish reliance on OCP's and GIA's (mediocre) psalm collections.

    As a personal example, I have also attached two settings I recently composed as I have been experimenting at my parish with doing a cappella neumatic chant settings for the responsorial psalm. One uses a Guimont response but has my own melismatic verses to go with it. (My parish uses Guimont mostly, so sometimes I keep his response but write my own verse melodies.) The second setting is a fully original setting. Not saying my compositions are the best thing out there, but they've been well received at my parish, they follow the suggestions of the author of the attached article, and they are more musically interesting than psalm tone settings. They might be useful to you as examples.
  • JKWJKW
    Posts: 37
    I am finding that setting responsorial Psalms is an excellent exercise in "bite-sized" composition, and I am wondering if there is a need for simple, metrical refrains with simple verses. I find that simple (but still beautiful and tasteful) melodies can effectively raise one's mind and heart to the Divine. I struggle a bit with the practicality of complex verses because often times during the execution of them, cantors may unintentionally distract from the beauty of the music with a poor performance stemming from a lack of skill or practice (as discussed in a precious thread). And in situations like this, I think many do not find themselves with hearts and minds raised to the Lord. An off topic note being the need to train cantors!

    Asking from a place of honest reflection...is there any room in the musical tradition of complex solo verses to shift, or rather continue to shift, more towards simple verses? I am not advocating a disregard for the very important and worthy musical tradition of the past. I understand this to be a delicate and controversial situation of course because as musicians it seems we should always be striving towards the heights of beauty (which may often include delightful and rich complexities). However, I find a psalm-tone format for verses to be very reflective and prayerful, and even though it may not be true to the original use/format of the past, the simplicity often turns my heart easily and gently to the Lord. Guimont Tone 34 is a particularly moving example.

    Whether or not we accept it, our modern culture is steeped with an attitude, and even expectation of, "experiencial" devotion - by which I mean that at Mass individuals often seek a personal, emotionally-touching experience of God. This of course only barely scratches the surface of the rich, infinitely deep, nourishing relationship offered us by God during the Liturgy (The source and summit of the Christian Life!) However in an effort to meet people where they are in their spiritual maturity and help them encounter the Lord, even at a beginning level, it seems appropriate, in my opinion, to have simple verses which are easily accessible to both the cantor and to the receptive congregants.

    Thoughts?

    MikeB - I would like to read the article you suggested. I don't see the link?
    Thanked by 1hilluminar
  • ...what we don't have...
    Indeed! We have a plethora of mediocre RPs, the best of which deserves nothing more than 'it's not too bad' for a response. 'It's not bad', or 'it's not too bad' may nearly always be taken to mean 'it's below par and falls far short of our standards, but it will have to do because we have nothing better in its stead'. (And, if we sing it long enough we will become inured to it and forget how bad it really is.) We also have plenty of Introits (based on the missal introits, NOT THE introits). Too, we have more than we need of cute little skip- to-my-loo triple alleluyas and verses. Then, to boot, we have plenty of communion antiphons, again usually the ones from the missal, NOT THE communion antiphons. This is all in a milieu which makes a great hue and cry for restoration of THE propers. We are satisfied with books of missal introits and communions; other books of sorry RPs and Alleluyas. And no books of offertories. No offertories at all. Nihil!

    As Mr Hawkins says, we need real offertories to fill that particular void. What is most needed is one book with a three-year repertory of Introits, RPs, Alleluyas, Offertories, and Communions, whose texts (with the RP as an option) are English versions of those found in GR. One book with all this in it - a true English Graduale. Those who clamor for The Propers but use missal substitutes, who clamor for The Propers but don't think in terms of a complete Graduale, one book with ALL the propers in it, are difficult to take seriously or to believe.
    Thanked by 3MarkB CHGiffen JKW
  • MarkB
    Posts: 263
    I attached the article instead of linking to it, but if the attachment isn't viewable for some readers, here's a link to the issue that has the article:
    https://media.musicasacra.com/publications/sacredmusic/pdf/sm137-2.pdf

    The article is "The Gradual and the Responsorial Psalm" by William Mahrt on p. 20.

  • Whether or not we accept it, our modern culture is steeped with an attitude, and even expectation of, "experiencial" devotion - by which I mean that at Mass individuals often seek a personal, emotionally-touching experience of God. This of course only barely scratches the surface of the rich, infinitely deep, nourishing relationship offered us by God during the Liturgy (The source and summit of the Christian Life!) However in an effort to meet people where they are in their spiritual maturity and help them encounter the Lord, even at a beginning level, it seems appropriate, in my opinion, to have simple verses which are easily accessible to both the cantor and to the receptive congregants.


    Let's take this apart.

    "
    Whether or not we accept it
    "....

    We are called to teach the truth, not whatever is comfortable to the society in which we find ourselves. The very notion of doing what the society finds comfortable leads to the balkanization (and thus the de-Catholicization) of the Church.

    "Our modern culture is steeped with an attitude and even expectation of 'experiencial [sicdevotion'
    "....

    Undoubtedly true, at least when we speak of modernity in the Western world.


    "This of course only barely scratches the surface of the rich, infinitely deep, nourishing relationship offered us by God during the Liturgy


    The surface can be misleading. I make a Christmas cake with royal icing, but the cake itself is not represented sufficiently by the icing alone. The surface of a crab or a lobster looks uninviting, but the meat is delicious.

    in an effort to meet people where they are in their spiritual maturity


    This may very well be what the Ordo Missae of Paul VI aims to do, but the approach of the Ordo of John XXIII is to say, in effect, "So it is". and allows the individual the chance to respond (or fail to respond) to the action of grace. Accordingly, the gestures of the priest are tightly regulated, but those of the laity are not regulated by law. By analogy, a teacher gives a young student smaller, bite-sized pieces of the truths of mathematics, rather than trying to make 2+2 = whatever the student wants it to be. (There are multiple ways of 'meeting'.)


    to have simple verses


    by this, I take it, you mean simple melodies, not business memo English or bowdlerized theology.

    which are easily accessible to both the cantor and to the receptive congregants.


    Around here, I tease Jackson Osborn about how the rest of the English-speaking Catholic world doesn't exchange a morning greeting in 4-part harmony. I raise this point because "easily accessible" is a matter of disagreement. If you have a homogenous group, such things are more easily identified, but this leads me back to the question of balkanization. Some parishes have "Youth" Masses (mostly attended by grey-heads) and "family" Masses (where the music is usually infantile, and the preaching has little or nothing to do with raising a family), and "traditional" Masses, where chant is prohibited and Latin is allowed only in penitential seasons, and... lastly... Masses for each language group represented. Instead of unifying the parish in the worship of God, meeting the people where they are frequently means dividing the Church and making the Church say what that congregation wishes to hear. Does it, of necessity, mean this? No, but it frequently does mean that in practice.
    Thanked by 1JKW
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,510
    "Simple verses" that is simple melodies (e.g. psalm tones) for the verses.

    We do in GS and many settings of the RP have precisely this. JKW presents an argument for this based on the attitude of modern congregations. I have previously argued that we should therefor get the congregation to sing the verses, and leave the more complex Response to the cantor. Having looked at Dr Mahrt's analysis of RP versus GR, I think there is an argument leading to the same conclusion based on the form of the RP, but I need time to ponder and construct the argument.
    Thanked by 1JKW
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,510
    The Options
    There are six possibilities in the OF for the psalm after the first reading. Three are fully delineated by Holy Mother Church: the Graduale Romanum sung in Latin, the Graduale Simplex sung in Latin, the Responsorial Psalm in the Lectionary spoken in English. Then there are either of the Graduals in an English translation with a musical setting, or the Responsorial Psalm sung. There have been semi-official and somewhat approved translations, varying in different countries and at different times. And a degree of episcopal approval for some musical settings, but the situation has not, yet, stabilised.
    Structure of the Responsorial Psalm
    Superficially the RP has the same structure as the Introit, Offertory, and Communion chants: verses of a psalm taken from scripture alternated with a text composed by the church. (This structure has been somewhat obscured through the years in GR.) However we see from GS (and the Missal) that there are key differences – 1) the church’s text is called an Antiphon at Introit, Offertory and Communion, but a Response in the RP, and 2) the RP psalm verses are required whereas the antiphons can stand alone.
    GR is matched to the EF in which it evolved – two scripture readings with the Gradual as a meditative reflection on the first. GS and RP are developed in the context of the call at SC#51 for the presentation of more scripture to congregations, and the continuing call for actuosa participatio. This led to three readings on greater celebrations, and as a required passage of scripture, it can be argued the psalm has also been given the status of a reading, to be heard in its own right/rite.
    Musical form of the Responsorial Psalm.
    Dr Mahrt has provided a clear analysis of the meditative musical form of the traditional Gradual*, and a stout defence of its continuing use, but it requires skilled singers, beyond the availability in many parishes. As he points out, the short respond form adopted by GS and RP does not match the psalm tone structure or purpose, when sung as suggested with cantor on the psalm and congregation making the respond.
    My suggestion
    We note that the psalm tone is suited to communal use, and have the congregation sing the psalm. The response should be set to a more elaborate melody for the cantor/psalmist, reflecting meditatively on the text of the psalm and contextualising it (more or less elaborate depending on the ability of the cantor). I accept that this does not accord with GIRM#61, but that is only descriptive not prescriptive.

    *https://media.musicasacra.com/publications/sacredmusic/pdf/sm137-2.pdf
    Thanked by 2JKW CHGiffen
  • JKWJKW
    Posts: 37
    Some excellent points made.

    In terms of teaching truth, I agree whole-heartedly that the Church make no compromise. However, when discussing musical style, which changes and develops over time and across broad cultures, I find it harder to concretely define one musical style as "true" while others are considered not. (Keeping in mind the context of responsorial psalm format). When considering the hierarchical organization of the theoretical elements and the construction of the music - objective musical theory elements - I can see finding more objective beauty in some forms than others. If objective beauty in music is what one considers a "truth" (Thomas Aquinas and the transcendentals) then I can better understand the importance of preserving this beauty....indeed it is crucial. One may disagree however with what those objective standards may be....which then of course introduces the problematic issue of subjective beauty. It reminds me of the ageless question within the Church about allowing "sacred" vs "secular" musical styles within the Liturgy. What was once considered "secular" and unfit for Liturgy (even 500 years ago) is now vastly common and acceptable in Liturgy today, and even now considered "sacred." My point being that the definition of acceptable sacred musical style develops over time.

    It doesn't seem to me to be compromising to "communicate" truth through music with more simplified melodies, as long as they are still in good taste (which even this is hard to define objectively sometimes). The ongoing question is how to reach souls - or rather present an opportunity to respond to God's grace through the medium of a musical moment - while not compromising or downgrading the quality of our liturgical music. I'm often perplexed by how to reconcile this challenge.

    A good point made about "easily accessible" in reference to the spiritual development of individuals. I was thinking mostly of a majority of Catholics in America (not including in this discussion the rich culture of the Latino Americans). The parameters for what is needed to make music "easily accessible" would naturally be organic given any particular group of individuals being considered.

    I am intrigued by the idea of having the congregation sing the verses. Of course this would assume the congregation is singing - a systematic problem in many congregations. However, I think it would be an interesting opportunity to re-engage the congregation with a larger portion of the text being sung in the psalms. It can be easy to "tune-out" while listening...a bit harder when one is responsible for singing the words.
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,474
    The "problem", if you will, with the modren Responsorial Psalm, is that it is a work of pure mid-20th century liturgico-musical artifice, with no concrete evidence for anything in history actually resembling what we today call the Responsorial Psalm. It bears no resemblance to any responsory in the authentic repertory, either of the brevis or prolix variety; and neither does it bear any resemblance to authentic antiphonal psalmody, though it is closer in structure to that than the thing whose name it bears. What form you think the Responsorial Psalm should take, it seems to me, largely depends on whether you view the "Liturgy of the Word" as primarily a contemplative moment of encounter with the Word, or as primarily a didactic moment of education about the Word/words.
  • JKWJKW
    Posts: 37
    What form you think the Responsorial Psalm should take, it seems to me, largely depends on whether you view the "Liturgy of the Word" as primarily a contemplative moment of encounter with the Word, or as primarily a didactic moment of education about the Word/words.

    Well explained Salieri.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,510
    30 So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?"
    31 And he said, "How can I, unless some one guides me?" And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
    (Acts 8:30-31 RSV)
    I would think "both/and" rather than "either/or". It also depends on the individual, his/her knowledge and spiritual maturity.
    Thanked by 1JKW
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,510
    Salieri - you may well be right about the RP, I have little access to sources unless online (and locateable). For the present purpose, I am just looking to use the materials the church has provided. GS offers a Psalmus responsorius much like the Lectionary RP.
    GS Intro #1 quotes SC#117 asking for 'simpler melodies for use in small churches'
    #7 Consequently authentic melodies, answering the intended purpose, have been carefully selected from the deposit of Gregorian chants both in the extant editiones typicae and in manuscript sources ...
    GS of course predates the revised Mass, and is largely the work of Solesmes.
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,474
    It is both/and, which is why I said "primarily". BUT, the Sacred Liturgy, either the Eucharist or Office, is not fundamentally a didactic exercise, it is Adoration of The Almighty. The idea of turning a liturgical act into instruction is not Catholic: look at the Classical Rites of the East and West: there certainly is "teaching", but mystical teaching, not pedagogy.

    Catechesis is important, but the Liturgy is not for Catechesis. The Mass is not a Bible Study.

    This is a bit of an aside:

    I firmly believe that EVERY PARISH, whether using the Ordinary Form or Extraordinary Form should include the following on their Sunday Schedule:

    Low Mass.
    Terce followed by High Mass
    Solemn Vespers & Benediction

    And, in addition to regular CCD classes, once a week, there should be some form of a public Catechism Service, for everyone in the parish, from children through the 'ancient of days', modelled on the service given in Dr. Dearmer's "Parson's Handbook", itself modelled on Catholic Catechism Services in France (St. John Vianney was very fond of these services), concluding with Benediction.
  • JKWJKW
    Posts: 37
    a_f_hawkins,

    For clarity, would you mind decoding GS and SC? I've deciphered the rest. Newer member here.
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,474
    .
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,510
    Salieri - some of us are in small parishes. The hundred or so who gather here in a Sunday are not in a position to tackle High Mass musically, or indeed in other resources. And our pastor also said Mass at his other church, an hours drive away, and at the prison where he is chaplain.
    JKW - of course - Graduale Simplex (which if you don't know is it downloadable from the CMAA website), and Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Vatican II document on the liturgy. NB there is a handy table of abbreviations in use round here. On the main discussions page in the right hand column.
    Thanked by 1Elmar
  • JKW,


    The nearest thing to the modern Responsorial psalm that I can think of is the Invitatory Psalm at Matins in the Divine Office. An "antiphon" is sung, verses of the psalm are sung, and then (alternately) the whole of the "antiphon" or the second part of it is sung.
    At the end of the psalm (which is the Gloria Patri) the second half of the "antiphon" is sung, followed by the entirety of the "antiphon"


    I'll let Jackson set me straight on whether that's actually an antiphon or not.



  • And remember that what is good for the Responsorial Psalm is good as well for the Alleluya and its Verse, for it is a responsorial chant, alleluya being the responsory - and the verse wants a genuine melody, not a psalm tone.
    Thanked by 2a_f_hawkins MarkB