"Go Ask Your Father" question at lunch about church music.
  • Hi,

    I had to post this. When I was driving around at lunch today. I heard this conversation. Part of me doesn't want to speak ill of a priest, and part of me is looking for clarity. So, I'll ask carefully.

    The question begins about 45:10 and goes to about 48:10.
    Here's the link to the conversation ...
    and the raw URL: http://relevantradio.streamguys.us/Asx Files/GAF_Archive/GAF20100928.asx

    I think the document he's referring to is Musicam Sacram.

    What impression did you get from the priest's answer? To me, it seemed like in practice, anything goes, as long as it "assists" the liturgy, and it's not off-key. I also got the impression that accompanying Gregorian Chant is a no-no, but the accordion is fine. Am I the only one who came away with this impression? If it's just me, then I can just blow it off. Otherwise, I'd like to know what follow-up questions y'all would have asked if there were time?

    A priest answering this question on a radio broadcast speaks to a lot of people, and the fact that it's a priest with a JCD means his answer has a lot of clout. Do you think he accurately portrayed Musicam Sacram (if that is what he's referring to)?

    Thank you,

    -Mark
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,412
    It sounds like he's just doing his best to be Pastoral to a lay volunteer with no leadership capacity: "God loves you. Don't worry too much. Thank you for your faith and your service. Here's some random things I sort of know."
    A bit irresponsible (as is any "Dear Abbey" style personality-driven advice media, where the central figure is supposed to have expertise in any area that might come up), but fairly harmless I think.
  • Mark, can you post the URL, my link didn't work?
  • Charles, I added it to my original post. :)
  • I thought it was totally sound advice, and accurate regarding the pride of place the pipe organ enjoys, but not at the total suppression of "alias instrumentus aptus." ;=) I don't think padre was portraying an "anything goes" ethos when defending authentic inculturation in practice globally.
    I've heard way too many polemicists weigh in on unaccompanied chant being a rubrical imperative to comment upon the good father's admonition to sing it a capella 24/7.
  • Thanks Folks,

    As a follow up do you think the priest portrayed this part of Musicam Sacram in the context of Latin-rite Catholic liturgy in the US?


    63. In permitting and using musical instruments, the culture and traditions of individual peoples must be taken into account. However, those instruments which are, by common opinion and use, suitable for secular music only, are to be altogether prohibited from every liturgical celebration and from popular devotions.

    Any musical instrument permitted in divine worship should be used in such a way that it meets the needs of the liturgical celebration, and is in the interests both of the beauty of worship and the edification of the faithful.


    This is probably the part I was irked by. Art #63 lays out the conditions to determine what instruments would be prohibited in a particular culture. The impression I was left with was that there are no instruments in our culture that would be by common opinion and use, suitable for secular music only

    This may simply be an oversensitivity on my part. I guess I have a hard time believing that of all the instruments that are played in the USA, there is not a one that falls into the category of by common opinion and use, suitable for secular music only.

    Thanks for indulging my "irkedness".

    -Mark
  • Mark, it's okay to be irked. We live in an era where there is an infinite "world of possibilities."
    When I first listened to the radio exchange, the dad briefly mentioned "polka Masses," and, of course, the good padre did not consign the accordian to the liturgical dunghill, which elicited a chuckle. But if one thinks it through the prism of "possibilities" is not the instrument itself, but the musical styles with which it is commonly associated, namely polka or mariachi/conjunto. The instrument is physically not unlike a pipe organ, and does, in fact, comport with the human voice quite well as a true reed instrument. But, it's easy to get passed "guilt by association" and not so easy to find a player with the skill set and chutzpah to employ an accordian at a normative OF service.
    So let's move to another instrument, whose very origins lie in the muddiest and bawdiest environs imaginable: the banjo. And for argument's sake, let's say that we've all evolved way past "hootenanny music" and "Blest Be the Lord" or the Bluegrass Missa (there is one, it's, uh, ..... there....) we all agree that the banjo, de facto, cannot possibly be disassociated from its very physical nature and its vaudeville/blues/bordello/ragtime jazz roots. But some wiseacre out there says, "Have you ever heard Bela Fleck play the Art of the Fugue on his banjo?"
    With the sole exception of the kazoo and vuvuzuela, I think we'll always find the exception to the rule if we argue the instrument instead of the art form, though I've grudgingly come to accept the clarinet and saxophone simply because I've had "genius" level players in my ensembles over the years. (I mean: think of Jan Garbarek and the Sixteen collaborations: who knew?)
    But, now that we're clearly re-constituting our founding principles and practices, our task as Directors is too adhere to the ideal and advance that in real time, in real worship at every opportunity. That doesn't mean we turn away the mandolin player who, out of nowhere, volunteers. We just figure out how to employ those skills at non-liturgical events such as devotions or concerts.
    The acid test for all instruments, as the good father said on the radio, does the use of the instrument complement or impede the beautifully sung texts of the priest, choir and congregation?
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,412
    What's funny to me about the instrument issue is this:
    The one "secular" instrument that seems most able to make the jump from the concert hall to the Temple is the piano.
    (Commence arguing, but I think you know why that would make sense).
    It's also the default instrument in the vast majority of parishes.

    And yet- to my knowledge, the piano is the only instrument specifically banned by any church documents.
    (Unless I missed the "Contra Vuvuzuela" encyclical).

    Discuss.
  • dad29
    Posts: 2,100
    The piano is a percussion instrument. As such, it inherently accentuates rhythms, unlike the organ, strings, reeds, and brass. OK for some limited purposes, but certainly NOT OK as the only, or even predominant, mode of accompaniment.

    Have you considered (by the way) the nature of a pipe organ--requiring 'wind' (or breath) to make it work? LIke the pneumos of Pentecost? Or like the pneumos without which humans can live?
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    Well, the good Father doesn't have all of his facts straight (getting the date right, but not seeming to remember the title Musicam Sacram), but I think he gave a pretty reasonable answer on the spot given that he is a priest and not an expert on sacred music. The organ is not given "pride of place" (a phrase he must have encountered when reading about Gregorian chant), but it is an instrument that is held in "high esteem" as the traditional instrument of the Latin Church. He is correct that the accordion itself is not specifically prohibited, although he does not mention what would be necessary for the instrument to be made suitable for use in worship.

    One wonders if he is not aware of the reason he so often hears what he refers to as the "Requiem" chants sung at English Masses. The "minimum repertoire of Gregorian chant" contained in the Jubilate Deo booklet does contain the Sanctus and Agnus from the Mass for the Dead, chant which have also been specified for use on weekdays in Advent and Lent in the Graduale Romanum. They are not limited to use at funerals, and in fact the new English Sacramentary chants are based on these same melodies. The Kyrie that one hears most often, i.e. the one from Jubilate Deo, is not the traditional Requiem Kyrie, but is taken from Mass XVI (for weekdays).
  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,336
    At the risk of raising ire, I sometimes don't understand this opposition to the piano in the liturgy. Seems to me that Schubet, Mozart, Beethoven and a whole host of fine choral composers considered it suitable for accompanying voices. If a parish can't afford a good organ, isn't a good piano better than the alternative(s)?
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,730
    dad29 cited a reason above: the piano is a percussion instrument that isn't analogous to the human voice.

    Classical-era piano literature is generally secular music with the piano as a domestic instrument, while the use of piano in church seems to be (historically) a low-church Protestant phenomenon. On the other hand, much organ literature can be performed on even an electronic organ, with a more appropriate sound than that of a real piano.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,412
    I was first introduced to the regular use of chant at a retreat center run by Franciscans. Their (beautiful) chapel had a very nice baby grand as the only instrument. It's use was always subdued, meditative, and in keeping with the spirit of the Chant and Hymns it was accompanying. I think, like guitar and other instruments, style of music and playing is a much bigger issue than name/classification of instrument.

    Yeah, it's percussion- but it's not a bongo drum.
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    If you can't sing well without a piano, you probably can't sing well with one either.

    Also, introducing music that requires piano or guitar accompaniment (the use of organ to accompany chant does not fall in this category) does much to harm the congregation's musical skill as well as to keep them from developing a common repertoire. Don't believe me? Try singing "Here I Am Lord" as written without accompaniment. Compare the result to, say, Adoro te devote.

    At the caller's parish, they would probably do well to make sure at least some of the choir and congregation's music is done without a piano, either chant or composed music in parts. This would do a lot to help them sing "on key" as the reverend father put it.
  • The piano possesses a tone which is always in a state of decrescendo and for that reason fails as an accompanist to the voice which is, like the organ, an instrument which emits a continual tone.

    An expert pianist can cover up this by artful playing but when supporting a singer it is painfully obvious that it is setting tempos every time a note is play.

    The harpsichord, like the harp, is a better accompaniment to the voice than the piano because they have a transparent tone.

    The continual tone of the organ and singers are well matched. Which is why you almost never ever find a Mass composed for choir and piano.
  • Also, introducing music that requires piano or guitar accompaniment (the use of organ to accompany chant does not fall in this category) does much to harm the congregation's musical skill as well as to keep them from developing a common repertoire. Don't believe me? Try singing "Here I Am Lord" as written without accompaniment. Compare the result to, say, Adoro te devote.

    My dear incantu, I don't usually want to tangle with you, but "Don't believe me?" with your examples are a false positive proof. I could do both of those with ease. Trust me. With a full congregation, not just me or my posse. Ask around if you want.
    I would be interested in a scientific, empirical proof to your contention of "does much harm." Seems enthusiastic, but hardly convincing given the realities of plucked string instruments and vocal music from Davidic times to the present. I mean, there's a tad of hyperbole in your contention, oui?
  • Having begun my career as a concert pianist, I feel compelled to jump into this discussion. Only after realizing I was never going to be able to support a growing family did I branch out into church music. (The most I ever made from a piano solo or chamber concert by the way was $500, quite a bit less than Horowitz's going rate of $65,000.)

    Whether the piano can be appropriate for Mass depends a lot on the acoustical space. Once the hammer strikes the string the sound immediately begins to fade. Because of that, accompanying congregational singing in a large church rarely works. There is no sustained sound to support a full congregation. It does explain, however, why a couple of well known liturgical composers belong to the bludgeoning school of piano playing.

    The organ of course doesn't have this problem. Organ sound retains a consistent volume as long as the key is deppressed. Being also able to sound simultaneously several octaves the organ provides greater definition from bass line to upper melody. If the instrument is poor, or if the organist isn't up to snuff, well those advantages can easily go by the wayside.

    I've never been able to succinctly explain why I find the piano so diasagreeable in a liturgical setting. Is it that I find the intense personal nature of piano masterworks at odds with liturgical ideals? Or is that so much of contemporary liturgical music just isn't written that well for keyboard? Whatever is going on in my mind, I refuse to play the piano at Mass.
  • Developing a common repertoire, incantu? And here I always thought we're both trying to work away from Here I am Lord/ Mass of Creation... ;-) I'll take a real piano over the Hamonds I've subbed on anytime.
  • Hammonds? Now there's an instrument which calls up a very specific (and non-Catholic) style of church music!
  • I'm sorry. I built tracker pipe organs for almost 30 year, and playing in Catholic churches all that time. I definitely WILL take a Hammond over a piano, any day. I will NOT, EVER, play on a piano in a church.

    I showed up at one church in the Houston metro area once at the end of a Spanish Mass, with their musician pounding away on the grand piano in front. He did not know where the key to the balcony was for the next Mass (the one I was to play for). He said I might just have to use the piano. I told him they could have a said Mass, or sing by themselves, or whatever, but I would not be there. Some one DID find the key to the balcony.
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    Well I'd be interested to know how one can sustain a large congregation through five beats of rest without accompaniment. And at the very least you're much less likely to hear a congregation sing Mass of Creation at, say. a daily Mass without a music director. That is not to say that it cannot be done (just like you could sing just the melody and alto part to a hymn -- but why would you). In either case, even if the singing itself is successful, the music will have lost a good deal of whatever artistic merit it had in the first place. However, a chant Mass can be done with or without a cantor, with or without an organist (or other accompaniment) and can be embellished with polyphony. That encourages a common repertoire in ways that the other two examples really cannot.
  • I'm with Steve...accepting a piano over a hammond is wrong.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,412
    The piano possesses a tone which is always in a state of decrescendo and for that reason fails as an accompanist to the voice

    So, the only suitable instruments are aerophones, bowed strings, and synthesizers?
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,730
    Well, I am working on my NPM certificate in liturgical autoharp.
  • Autoharps don't sustain. What you need is a liturgical Omnichord.
  • In response to Ghmus7's observation,
    Art song was originally in the category of parlor/chamber music. Some great stuff, esp the Scubert rep, but not a style that jives with sacred music 95% of the time.
    I chime in as a singer who has a ton of art song recordings, appreciates the recital format, and respects (and sings) the genre as
    a whole. Its good stuff, simply distinct from liturgical music. Also consider that the vast majority of this rep is for a soloist, not your average cantor, and certainly not a choir.
    To recap-
    M, B, and S wrote choral music with orchestral and organ accomp. Piano was associated with chamber or parlor music.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,610
    O wow Jeffrey. I just heard one of those for the first time!

    I found the demo on Youtube...

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XYIUwlMVS8E

    I think this would be great for Shubert's Ave Maria, or the William Tell Overture. Maybe Widors 5th even!

    Ingenious!
  • "how one can sustain a large congregation through five beats of rest without accompaniment."

    Exactly, since the melodies are not written with harmonic rhythm in them and rely totally upon accompanying chord rhythms.
  • Well I'd be interested to know how one can sustain a large congregation through five beats of rest without accompaniment.

    incantu/FNJ- Who said anything about sustaining five equal beats of rests or held notes, for that matter? Who said anything about proffering "artistic merit?" ;-) The contention was over whether such metrically bound pieces could be successfully led without instrumental accompaniment. Take the piano/guitar out of the equation, but leave a competent song leader at the helm (PA or not) and the note/rest values simply become a matter of interpretation (disappeared even!) Just like chant! I think, in the case of HIA,L, Ol' Danny Boy would get a kick out of an a capella rendering. I doubt he'd sue.
    That is not to say that it cannot be done (just like you could sing just the melody and alto part to a hymn -- but why would you).

    Because sometimes providence just doesn't provide us a pipe organ or the Tallis Scholars, or even Eddy Foy and his banjo when we are called to sing "Happy Birthday." We just do the best we can with what we have. And if I'm present for singing "Happy Birthday" I'm going to try to enable my cohorts to sing up to their best abilities.
    ...In either case, even if the singing itself is successful, the music will have lost a good deal of whatever artistic merit it had in the first place.

    Did you really think that through? We are talking about singing at worship, right? If the a capella singing of a "Peace is flowing like a river" or "Abba Father" is, de facto, sucessful, the objective purpose was fulfilled. The smart musician would then inculcate and lead that same congregation to "Adoro te." We don't sing for the art's sake.
    Exactly, since the melodies are not (sic) written with harmonic rhythm in them and rely totally upon accompanying chord rhythms.

    FNJ, take a gander at Alstott's setting of the responsorial for 27OrdC, "If today you hear...." - then, quarter after quarter.... Now, take the accompaniment out of the picture, and chant his melody in sprechstimme timing. It actually improves the setting.
    Too much thinking "inside the box" I fear. We're supposed to do that, and the opposite of that, at once.
    Like Yoda, thinking this way of, wish I speak could.
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    Because sometimes providence just doesn't provide us a pipe organ or the Tallis Scholars

    Exactly. This is why I advocate a foundational repertoire that doesn't require those things.

    My dear incantu, I don't usually want to tangle with you, but "Don't believe me?" with your examples are a false positive proof. I could do both of those with ease. Trust me. With a full congregation, not just me or my posse. Ask around if you want.

    In my original statement which you challenged, I clearly wrote "as written." Now you suggest that that the rhythms might just "disappear." That is not singing as written. I've played for a number of congregations who have obviously done just what you suggest, and then when accompaniment is available (or a choral to sing a choral arrangement), the thing falls apart because people haven't learned it correctly. This is not what I would call "singing well." As far as just doing the best you can with what's available, I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. We might not sing for the sake of art, but we sing art for our sake, and for the sake of the liturgy. If it's not art, it's not worth singing (or worthy of the temple) -- especially when, by making better choices, art would be perfectly possible to create.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,412
    incantu:
    I hesitate to speak for him, but I believe Charles was expressing his antagonism towards elitism, not towards art.
  • I stand corrected; I often skim pass such "qualifiers" that you did state, incantu. Apologies. I'm still not sure that in real practice of learning and rendering tunes "correctly" things are as cut and dried as you suggest. I tend to think that a congregation, when led by a truly competent organist, choir or song leader (a "song whisperer?") can still manage to sing anything successfully. I'm really not antagonistic toward your positions all. I am never comfortable with the "notion" that global, one size fits all solutions or one magic bullet solves divergent problems in our domains.