Too Many Hymns?
  • Carolus16
    Posts: 16
    I don't read America regularly, but I thought this was interesting. I can't help but feel that a more traditionalist understanding of sacred music would help solve the problem the author complains about.
    https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2019/05/08/how-get-more-people-sing-mass-stop-adding-new-hymns?fbclid=IwAR0wqDIYJanPeebn-dCxhTOwKX32nPVqjXSEK_6JmVeoUBd2c4bYWNpqAX0
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,005
    I would agree. My predecessor (prior to 2001) would choose at least one new hymn per week, sometimes more. The congregation never learned them so you could see people closing their hymnals and putting them back in the racks.

    Long story short, I settled on 20 to 25 hymns they knew and didn't do anything new for a year. After that year, I introduced one or two new hymns each year. Now they know them and sing.

    You can't constantly throw new music at the congregation (oops, I said the "C" word instead of assembly) and expect them to learn it.
  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 6,779
    The ordinary, plus a hymn at the procession, a hymn at the offertory (if there is no choir anthem), a hymn at the communion, and a hymn at the dismissal is hardly too much singing. It is normative for an Ordinary Form mass whose music is the ordinary and hymnody (with or without the propers).

    People who would grumble at this regimen have the wrong attitude about singing and music's role at the mass. They should not be pandered to or affirmed in their error. Nor should they be allowed to be spoil sports who would rob others of the joy they have in singing but don't make a lot of noise about their preferences.

    As for new hymnody, that, too, should be expected if the theme of a given hymn fits the day's lectionary. Thoughtful people ought to understand that. A new hymn is not at all difficult when the attitude to learning is positive rather than negative. A new hymn is a joy, and self-centred grumbling grinches should not be allowed to rob others of it.

    This is all a matter of teaching and catechesis on the part of choirmasters and clergy. Bad attitudes are to be taught better, not affirmed and catered to. That there should be literary apologetics (such as those on offer in this thread) in defense such attitudes is beyond belief.
  • StimsonInRehabStimsonInRehab
    Posts: 1,557
    I really like Jeffrey Quick's solution to this: using the same hymn for processional and recessional, just picking up on the latter where you ended verse-wise. Not only do you have a better chance of singing every verse, it means more repetition; hence, easier for congregation to learn in shorter period of time. Also has a sort of unifying feel to the music of the mass (if that makes sense).
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,005
    I prefer to introduce new hymns with stealth. For a period of time, I will have the choir sing it during offertory or communion. During that time, I will play it a few times. Some hymns make good solos so that is an option. By the time the congregation sings the new hymn, it is no longer new. They have heard it before and never realize they have been taught something new. I put the number on the hymn board and they think Oh yeah, that's "Around the Outhouse with Palestrina." I know that!

    The pastor is good about not leaving until the last verse of recessional hymns. If it is more than 4 or 5 verses, he will cut out a bit sooner and that's fine with me.
  • cesarfranck
    Posts: 93
    I introduce new hymns by using them as anthems or choral preludes. If the new hymn is a request from priest and likely will not be sung much in future, I simply play it during prelude so that melody is not totally alien. People normally forgive, tolerate, or even enjoy a new hymn if it is balanced with familiar hymns at the same liturgy.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,383
    Today we sang Sing, all creation to the Rouen Church Melody. As far as I could see, I was the only PIP who kept the hymn book open beyond the middle of the first verse, and I could neither remember the tune accurately nor clearly pick it out from the organ. Neither of the cantors knew it, evidently, though one tried hard through two verses (we have no choir). I do know it works well with a congregation which knows and enjoys it, and recall singing it with gusto.
    Thanked by 1cesarfranck
  • TCJ
    Posts: 632
    We generally don't sing a hymn at the Offertory, and I consider the Communion hymn[s] to be the choir's job. That leaves the entrance and the recessional which are generally familiar hymns. If they are new, I repeat them frequently, but not necessarily every week.
    Thanked by 1Stella611
  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 6,779
    Today we sang Sing,...
    Ah, Rouen!, found at no. 228b in the 1940. What a marvelous tune, glorious to sing. How could any curmudgeon slam his or her book shut before 'the middle of the first verse'? This majestic tune is not at all difficult, and glorifies any text sung to it. In the 1940 that text happens to be 'Only Begotten, Word of God Eternal'. No tune could better fit such words.
    ...recall singing it with gusto.
    Bravo for you, Mr Hawkins!
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen cesarfranck
  • Stella611
    Posts: 108
    I agree with TCJ. I really think asking the congregation to sing the ordinary, and opening/closing hymns is plenty for them to sing, and having choral pieces at offertory/communion for God's glory that adds elevated beauty, which helps the congregation to pray, is a good balance. Maybe a last piece at communion focused on the Eucharist that they can sing. Generally, I think there can be an over-obsession on matching hymns to the readings. that is why the chants of the actual mass are supposed to be primary, along with chanted ordinaries. But I know that is not reality almost everywhere. But does that mean we should try to make all the hymns FIT the readings? I would think it's just as appropriate to have Eucharistic themed hymns at communion, and Marian or eucharistic hymns at offertory. Either ones in English, or good standard chant hymns that can be repeated to familiarize the congregation with some of them (this being a good option of there's no choir). A choir allows for more variety by singing anthems/motets. We established a singing congregation here, by the priest's insistence, by using the same chant mass setting for 3 years straight, and only about 20-25 hymns for processional/recessional hymns. It made such a big difference. We now rotate between Chant masses VIII (festive seasons), XI (summer/fall), XVII (advent/lent) and sometimes Mass IX (Marian feasts), and Credos I, III and IV. We also introduced about 1 new hymn per quarter, and try to sing it for at least 3 weeks in a row. Then the following year the congregation is singing it well! It makes a big impact on newcomers to the parish, in making the high mass (TLM) feel more comfortable/welcoming, when they are used to music/singing at the NO. Our parish has grown exponentially, and I know the music (both those parts elevated by the choir, balanced with leaving room for congregation participation) along with a number of other factors, are the main catalysts for that growth.
  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 6,779
    Ahh, yes, court composer, what would you say it was?
    Um, too many notes hymns, sire..........
    Thanked by 1Carol
  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 6,779
    I do respect the sentiments and practices of some of those above. However, it is really strange to me that learning a new hymn should be such an earthshattering endeavour. Repeat it for three weeks or a month? Play it to death on the organ for weeks in advance? Etc., etc. I shant say what I think of this liturgically, musically, and aesthetically. In my current church and any I have served in the approximate 50 years I have been an organist and choirmaster, no such coddling was necessary. One simply put the hymn in the service folder, the peole turned to it and sang it. If they didn't get it the first time they kept trying and got in on the second or third stanza. It certainly was not made into a weeks-long exercise.

    The presumed purpose of learning a new hymn lies precisely in that no other hymn in the repertory fits so well as it on a given day's lectionary. (The other side of that coin is that there is no reason to learn a new hymn just for the sake of learning a new hymn - one sings what is appropriate on a given day on that day.) For my voluntaries (preludes) I have always improvised on the processional hymn and have had a few congregations who would begin singing immediately following the improvised praeludium. If it was within the liturgy I simply introduced it as I would any other hymn (but with the melody on a prominent stop) and the people sang it. The hymn was not repeated for weeks on end because it may not have had anything at all to do with the lectionary except the day it was introduced.

    The primary concern here is the integrity of the particular liturgy and what does or does not have anything to do with the propers or the lectionary of that given liturgy. Above all, no liturgy should have any part of it repeated week after week as a classroom exercise, a catechetical effort. Liturgy, the mass, is not catechesis, and to make it an avenue for catechetis of any sort is something near to blasphemy. Catechesis of any kind belongs in a separate environment.

    At my present church, we sing whatever hymn is listed in the service folder. Sometimes it is a hymn that is sung only once, twice, or thrice a year. Sometimes it will only be sung at that particular celebration and who knows when it will be sung again. It is good that people should be brought to understand what hymnody is for as a complement to propers and lectionary. Our complaints are very rare and eccentric. Singing a new hymn should not be the earth shattering and toilsome, worrisome and fearful, delicately approached thing that it seems to be with some of our honourable colleagues. A new hymn is a joyful gift and should be nothing to fret about.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,005
    I think there are some extremes surfacing here. I wouldn't want to introduce a new hymn by playing it every week. A couple of times a month would do. What I do oppose is throwing new material at the congregation and expecting them to sing it at sight. Most can't do that. There is a reasonable middle between the extremes.
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,756
    "some extremes". Really? I am shocked.
  • StimsonInRehabStimsonInRehab
    Posts: 1,557
    Moderation in everything, Liam. Even in moderation itself.
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 1,498
    I've never really given any thought to teaching hymns. We only do one, and they're generally traditional tunes. People pick them up, or not. I could make the argument that, in our specific situation, we needn't do hymns at all. But I'm a cradle Lutheran, and given a volunteer Schola. I think it's important to keep the people singing. The last new congregational thing we introduced was Credo IV. We did it 6 weeks running in the summer, then put it into rotation. Now 2-3 years later, people are finally sounding comfortable with it.
    Thanked by 1Matilda
  • cesarfranck
    Posts: 93
    I did not read these options for new hymns in above comments. My primary organ teacher shared them years ago. 1. Play melody alone as introduction, perhaps adding harmonization for last few measures. 2. First verse, solo melody on Reed or principal chorus and tenor and alto on softer stops with bass in pedals. 3. Play first verse with melody only in octaves (not my favorite, but it is effective). Proceed to standard harmonization after first verse. Never use a free harmonization on a new hymn!
    Thanked by 3a_f_hawkins bdh MarkS
  • May I pose this question from a different perspective?

    If hymns are at any level replacements for the Proper chants which, formerly, or historically, used to be sung at these places, then shouldn't they follow the pattern of changing for each liturgical celebration, having Commons when a common would apply?

    Seen in this light, the important role of the choir (to pick up an idea from a different thread) comes into sharper focus.
  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 6,779
    Pelucid, Chris!
    This has been my contention for ages.
    Why so many people just don't get it is a mystery.
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,417
    Ahh, yes, court composer, what would you say it was?
    Um, too many notes hymns, sire..........

    Careful, MJO!!!
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,383
    replacements for the Proper chants
    and thus subject to the same scrutiny, and official schedules? I recall, though whether correctly I know not, that CDWDS has required episcopal conferences to produce official lists of approved hymns, with I think a deadline of 5 years from nn, but that they have mostly been ignored and there is no sanction. On the other hand where official Catholic books have been produced they have not been, shall we say, received with universal rejoicing. Denominations which take hymns seriously do often have an official hymnbook.
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,756
    that was Liturgiam Authenticam, and that requirement was a dead letter when it was issued, hardly the first time that's happened in legislation on sacred music.
  • Marc Cerisier
    Posts: 423
    MJO wrote:
    I do respect the sentiments and practices of some of those above. However, it is really strange to me that learning a new hymn should be such an earthshattering endeavour. Repeat it for three weeks or a month? Play it to death on the organ for weeks in advance? Etc., etc. I shant say what I think of this liturgically, musically, and aesthetically. In my current church and any I have served in the approximate 50 years I have been an organist and choirmaster, no such coddling was necessary. One simply put the hymn in the service folder, the peole turned to it and sang it. If they didn't get it the first time they kept trying and got in on the second or third stanza. It certainly was not made into a weeks-long exercise.


    I've worked in parishes of both varieties—12 years in a parish that was accustomed to learning 3-4 new pieces per year, with weeks of introduction, rehearsal, and much gnashing of teeth hoping that the parishioners wouldn't be upset at the addition. They had a stable repertoire built up in this method over very many years, so at least there was appropriate music available for every weekend. It was still limiting, though. The parishioners had a rather unhealthy sense of entitlement.

    Where I am now, there are 3 hymns during OT (entrance, offertory, after communion—while he's doing the dishes), and just 2 during all the other seasons (offertory, after communion). There's a communion antiphon year round, and entrance antiphon in all seasons excepting OT. The hymn sung after the communion antiphon will directly relate to the gospel wherever possible, and the offertory hymn generally reflects the first two readings. One-off hymns are no problem, and most sing even if it's unfamiliar. The parish has a culture of participation in music that was fostered over many years just as the prior parish had a culture of distrust and entitlement that was fostered over many years.

    After doing this for so many years, I'm quite convinced that a parish can be trained to do whatever you want, it just needs to be done very slowly, and very carefully.

    Marc
  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 6,779
    It occurs to me that, in those situations in which much ado is made over new hymns or too many hymns, there should be no hymns at all. Let the choir-cantor-schola sing the propers and anthems, and let the people sing the ordinary, etc. That, after all, would be just what is right and pure for the Roman rite, OF or EF. This way no one would have anything to complain about - certainly not 'too many hymns' or 'too much singing'.

    A hymn after or during communions, though, would be very nice and would echo the fact that 'and after they had supped they sang a hymn'. (The 'hymn' that they sang was in all likelihood a psalm, probably one of the hillel psalms associated with the Passover. Not only was the psalter the 'hymnbook' of the Jews, but 'hymn' and 'psalm' are pretty much equivalent in our New Testament translations.)
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,383
    Yes, as Marc says it is mostly a matter of local culture. If you join a congregation as a PIP, you generally fall in with the behaviour of the congregation. Not just standing and sitting and kneeling, but picking up a hymnbook or not as others do. Whether you just mouth the words or join in lustily depends, one hopes, on your singing abilities.
  • rich_enough
    Posts: 752
    I happen to be at a parish without a tradition of singing good hymns, so MJO's point above about having no hymns is well taken. But I think there's more to it. It's not so much a matter of "too much singing" as a loss of focus.

    Having the proper sung and then singing a hymn at offertory means that the people, after (hopefully) praying along with the proper chant, have to switch gears, pick up a hymnal, and sing a non-liturgical text which may or may not have a connection with the readings (are people supposed to try and figure out what this connection is?) The proper is more or less forgotten as they move on to the next thing on the program.

    There's a reason why hymns work in a non-Catholic service - the people stand and the hymn is the liturgy at that moment. Or a Catholic service of lessons and carols I went to last Advent: the hymns were really part of the service - not a way to fill the time - so people really sang! It's wasn't covering an action, which can make it awkward when the action stops.

    I see it as a case of less is more. Give people one thing and let it sink in without feeling the need to keep them busy.
  • Jackson,

    Since they sang a psalm, on what grounds (asked seriously, but not cluelessly) do we exclude Shepherd me, O God, The Cry of the Poor. On Eagle's Wings or James (what's his name)'s Jazz version of Taste and See?
    Thanked by 1PaxMelodious
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,383
    Seder ( סֵדֶר ) as currently practiced often concludes with a song One little goat, the text of which can be found on the last page here. Just sayin'
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 6,779
    Chris -

    Methinks that you are competent to discern the answer to your (not clueless) question.
  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 85
    I came to a new church in August and this parish had a healthy diet of the things that I tend to avoid (there was good stuff too, but plenty of things I’d tear from the hymnals in a New York minute). I started scheduling lots of traditional hymns. At first I had raised eyebrows and a few comments of too much too soon. I’ve even printed hymns in worship aids totally unknown to the parish multiple times. Suffice it to say, very few comments are made to me now, and those that are are from the bread and butter of the parish who are grateful for the change. Perhaps people have come to expect it now. Regardless, I schedule good stuff as regularly as I please (assuming it’s liturgically appropriate) and expect that overall participation will increase with each repetition. I don’t fret about it. (I also put the occasional column in the bulletin discussing beauty / aesthetics and what church documents actually call for.)

    People don’t sing the first time. So what? Perhaps that sounds callous, but in all seriousness: what’s wrong with someone just reading the (carefully chosen) text or simply listening? The answer is unequivocally: nothing. This whole V2 idea of everyone has to be dizzyingly busy the whole time is just nonsense. They will never learn or adapt if they aren’t given the opportunity.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,005
    After I took my job in 2001, another musician remarked that the hymns had become much more traditional since I arrived. He was correct.
  • Don9of11Don9of11
    Posts: 206
    I can attest that every week we have a new hymn. One reason for this it seems is that the DM is searching for hymns that match the readings or psalm for that weekend. Since the readings change everyweek so does the hymnody. Even if the hymn is sung more than once during the month in an attempt for the congregation can learn it, or even if it is sung before mass begins for the same reason, to help the congregation learn it, we may not hear it again until the readings cycle around again. It seems to be vicious cycle. To add to this new hymns are being published all the time. I'm not saying this is wrong but the results are that hardly anyone in the congregation sings anymore.

    For example, this weekend for Benediction, after the choir sings "O Salutaris", the choir is singing "Peace is flowing like a river", Gather #819. (Yuck!) Pardon my expression but heres another reason why the congregation doesn't sing. Of all the good Catholic hymns we could sing as a reflection, we sing this song I never heard of.




    Thanked by 1Carol
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,763
    Oh, "Peace is flowing..." was very common in certain sectors in the '80s.
    Thanked by 2CharlesW Don9of11
  • Don9of11Don9of11
    Posts: 206
    chonak, That's why I don't know it. We didn't sing stuff like that at St. Mary's in the 80's.
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,597
    I think most places do sing too many hymns within the Mass. Depending on which Mass you're attending, we do the following:

    Saturday night - 2 to 3 hymns if there is an organist, no hymns and only chant if there is no organist. When there's an organist there's a hymn at the Entrance, Offertory, and Recessional.

    Sunday early morning - no hymns, organ music only.

    Sunday mid-morning - 2 hymns, one before the Introit and one at the Recessional.

    Sunday morning Solemn - 1 hymn at the Recessional.

    Sunday afternoon Spanish - 3 hymns.

    Sunday afternoon English - 3 hymns.

    Sunday night Spanish - 3 hymns.

    I know of churches though that sing 5-6 hymns (though many of them are actually songs) and that don't do any proper chants. This is a case of wayyyy too many hymns.
    Thanked by 1rich_enough
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,005
    We always have an entrance and recessional hymn. I post the number for a communion hymn which the choir sings at the choir mass. If a cantor at other masses who once attended St. Sycophant by the Drain has been ruined by that experience and doesn't know a particular communion hymn, I will play something instead. I am flexible on those communion hymns because the people don't sing them, nor do they want to. I dropped the offertory hymn a long time ago because I thought 4 hymns were too many.
  • davido
    Posts: 172
    We do a solid 4, a tradition I inherited. The congregation sings lustily, and most of them will have their books open to the next hymn well before the hymn begins.

    It’s a small church and has had 2 VERY long tenured pastors, both of whom insisted fronm the pulpit on congregational singing. I am told that if the singing didn’t please the last pastor, he would make them sing the hymn over again.
  • rich_enough
    Posts: 752
    Too bad so much effort was put into people singing music that's not even part of the mass.
    Thanked by 2a_f_hawkins eft94530
  • ViolaViola
    Posts: 313
    I inherited 5; we now do 3.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,016
    As someone who regularly attends matthewj's Sunday morning Masses, I sometimes feel like one less chant and one more hymn would be the perfect balance for me personally. It is a feast of chant, including the presidential prayers, and just slightly less than a feast of hymnody, imho. I would prefer all the things.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,016
    Otoh the number of hymns is not the only measure of how much hymnody is sung, but also whether the full number of verses is respected, as they are at matthewj's cathedral. As a text writer this is significant to me because hymn texts often have a trajectory, leading, like a Psalm, to a doxological verse. Cutting off the hymn loses something.

    An extreme example of when truncating a hymn would be a problem would be a Trinitarian hymn losing verse 3.
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,417
    Kathy, just to play devil's advocate: Would the loss of a chant and the addition of a hymn result in the loss of one of the Propers and its replacement by (what might or might not properly be termed, based on translations) an alius cantus aptus?
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,597
    You’re in luck, Kathy. During the Summer the Mass you attend gets an extra hymn!
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 1,839
    Only now will I allow myself a grin at the twin expressions of consternation on the faces of last week's visiting missionaries as verse 2 of the entrance was begun. By the 11:00 Mass they were scurrying up the steps to retrieve the pulpit hymnals and singing along.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,016
    Thanks Matthew!!

    Salieri, not exactly. The propers are all there, and often stacked, with the GR antiphon, the same antiphon Englished for congregational singing, and then often (always?) a motet at both Offertory as nod Communion.

    The ceremonial is formal and takes time. The whole effect is quite lovely and contrmplative.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen rich_enough
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,016
    Start at the 42 minute mark for yesterday's offertory. https://youtu.be/-H0rCtW-gME
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Chris_McAvoyChris_McAvoy
    Posts: 354
    Amonast the great blessings I have had, has been to have regulary attended chapels where there was either ONE single "para-liturgical" hymn used or no hymns at all, with all other propers/ordinary being set by the missal and graduale books. Now I don't suppose attending the St Thomas Aquinas Seminary or a Canons regular priory are local options for many people, but they are profoundly helpful in developing a better trust of Our Lord Jesus Christ and authentic understanding of His Holy Church.

    I would suggest simply stopping with non-propers hymns altogether. Do not feed the monster.
    Thanked by 1rich_enough
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,005
    I think good hymns are fine things to have and our Anglican friends have done them excellently for some centuries now. It's a bit of a false comparison to decree hymns or propers. It is possible to have both and do both well.
  • Charles,

    I must clarify. To the extent hymns attempt to replace Propers (chants) they are squatters, interlopers and drifters. On the other hand, there is some really beautiful hymnody out there, and I have asked previously what place some of them might find in the Venerable Liturgy of the Roman Rite.

  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,383
    In the 1950's we had plenty of opportunity to sing hymns at Benediction, Holy Hour etc., possibly at Vespers though I cannot recall the precise structure.
    our Anglican friends have done them excellently for some centuries now
    It is interesting to note that the Book of Common Prayer does not have a role for hymns, there is an optional Anthem at Morning and Evening Prayer. The development has been outside the rubrics, one advantage of not being strictly policed by centralised authority. However German catholics seem to have been able to move the same way in adding hymns to the TLM for many years.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,005
    I think there are too many sermons. That's where the real problem lies.