Some thoughts on the piano (take them or leave them)
  • noel jones, aagonoel jones, aago
    Posts: 6,566
    Choirs today complain about "having" to sing unaccompanied.

    Singing with the organ and piano both work against the ability of the choir to sing in tune. Tempered tuning in modern forms spreads out out-of-tuneness evenly through the piano. Barbershop singers rarely, if ever (?), sing with accompaniment. Listening to the purity of their chords is cool. I always welcome barbershop singers to choir for this reason.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,933
    I think when we get to heaven, unaccompanied polyphony will play a huge role in the music program.
  • Ben YankeBen Yanke
    Posts: 3,114
    @ Francis

    And don't forget about chant!
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,933
    benyanke... see my poem somewhere on this forum about the chant in heaven...

    found it...
  • I recently entered into a discussion about the employment of piano at Mass. Although not as coherent, my arguments against its use have been:

    1) Authority: Musicam Sacram, Musicae Sacrae, and other documents say that instruments associated only with the secular are to be altogether prohibited. If the piano is not one of these instruments, what is? I can’t imagine that these documents were referring only to xylophones.

    2) Consistency: I would like to ask anyone who supports piano in Mass if they would also support guitar at Mass? One should at least be consistent. The guitar is much less obstructive as the clamorous piano is, plus, it has more of a tradition in the Church because of its use in Latin America to accompany sacred polyphony. The principles in Tra Le Sollectitudini may not be binding, but the principle remains: piano is a clamorous instrument, and that’s why Pius grouped it with the drums. So if we're going to allow piano, allow guitar and drums too, please.

    3) Style: Obviously, there is a certain variety of music that is appropriate in the liturgy. Secular, show tune-type melodies are not included in this repertoire. The problem with the piano is not that it’s emotive, but that it can’t provoke the emotions that the liturgy calls for, whereas the organ can. To bring it home: a couple weeks ago my pastor asked me to improvise on the piano during confirmations (our organ had just broken). I started off trying to improvise on “veni, sancte spiritus.” It was a complete failure. I suppose I could try to employ some impressionist modes or something similar, but it's an uphill battle because the piano is so strongly associated with the secular.

    4) Ability: Instead of bashing the piano, let’s just look at reasons why you should choose the organ over the piano every time. As some have already mentioned, the organ, even an electrical one, mimics the human voice, whereas the piano cannot. The organ has a way of connecting the different sung parts of the Mass suing voices similar to that of a human, whereas the piano, like drums and a much lesser extent the guitar, has a way of distracting. The fluid organ has a way of filling a room in a non-intrusive way, whereas the sharp sound of the piano shouts “look at me!” The piano is great for choir rehearsals, homes, and entertainment uses, but to extend the organ outside of this is simply out of its pay grade. Might as well use a guitar and harmonica, I say!

    The main idea here isn’t to bash the piano, but to bash the sound that the piano inherently produces. Just as I believe that drums and strumming guitars are not fit for Mass, I believe piano is also not.
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 1,643
    There are a few piano works which are unquestionably suitable for liturgy. John Cage's most famous work, for example, makes a wonderful Communion voluntary, and in a very Zen way is also appropriate to be played anytime during Lent.
    The matter of piano in liturgy reminds me of early music performance practice. There are practices which were usual and customary, others which could have happened occasionally but weren't best practice, and things that are just wrong. Piano, to me, in in Group 2. It can "be made suitable", but usually isn't. Worse, it is a symbiote of a certain style of music, and its presence in church is a result of that style. Start doing traditional church music, and there is no rationale for the piano.
  • Was harpsichord even used for liturgical purposes? Whenever I hear a piano at Mass in a cathedral, it's so percussive with so much echo. Perhaps harpsichord wasn't typically used for this very reason.
  • noel jones, aagonoel jones, aago
    Posts: 6,566
    But Jeffrey Q, you missed the obvious reason to do Cage's work! No piano tuning charge for the program.

    I have inadvertently played it, in shortened forms, when the liturgy fails to progress as expected and I end up sitting there, unsure what to play, so it becomes the perfect piece. And, though I was at the organ at the time, it is one of those rare pieces that does not suffer when played on an instrument other than that for which is it written. Purists will disagree since it is in the anticipation of the sound of the piano which makes the piece for them.

    PS: The story that it was originally titled "Spem in Alium Minus XL" turns out to be false.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,933
    Cage was the Rage when I was in the Conservatory, and one the primary reasons I left the Conservatory.
  • noel jones, aagonoel jones, aago
    Posts: 6,566
    All those unplayable notes got to you, eh? So many notes unplayed, so little time...
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,933
    No, it was the 'composer' who stood six feet from the grand piano and tossed ping pong balls into the strings. The music that he 'composed' was the sound that randomly appeared as they bounced around inside the instrument.

    The only words that came into my head was Don McCleans lyric--

    "And in the streets the children screamed
    The lovers cried and the poets dreamed
    But not a word was spoken
    The church bells all were broken

    And the three men I admire most
    The Father, Son and the Holy Ghost
    They caught the last train for the coast
    The day the music died"
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,219
    Just to throw a ping pong ball into the discussion: Am I correct in thinking that the music of Arvo Part is in some sense "pianistic"? If so, is it reverent? If so, why isn't it liturgical?

    I'm not arguing that it IS liturgical--just wanting to dig a little deeper into the reasons for the preference for the organ. I agree with this preference and want to understand it better.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,933

    (throwing ping pong ball)

    ... twang!







    I think Part rocks (even in his minimilistic way). He has a lot of organ based liturgical music, not just piano. Love his Beatitudes, Litany and Trisagion, Magnificat and more!
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,219
    Cute, Francis.

    But it's a serious question.
  • Charles in CenCA
    Posts: 2,416
    Arvo Part's sacred catalogue being licit for liturgical usage in this era is tantamount to Brian Eno's "Music for Airports" being recognized by the FAA as valid and licit muzack for all international terminals. Oh, the irony, the irony!
    Out of curiosity, for all those who champion Part/Tavener as crossover Kings into the Roman Rite, would you also endorse the curiosities of Hillier/HIlliard Consort chant collaborations with saxophone genius Jan Garbarek?
    Geez, things get messy when legitimate envelopes get pushed, do they not?
  • noel jones, aagonoel jones, aago
    Posts: 6,566
    My dream, quelched, was the Arvo Part Berliner Messe sung at an OF Mass, English to the Creed, facing the altar, Latin for the rest, and only clergy and singers reason to scare the locals.
  • noel jones, aagonoel jones, aago
    Posts: 6,566
    PART Berliner Messe
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,933
    and Kathy, that last Part (pun intended) was a serious answer!
  • Charles in CenCA
    Posts: 2,416 reason to scare the locals.
    B-b-but FNJ, I thought that was precisely our job, our raisin duhtruh fer cryin' out loud, at Colloquium.
  • noel jones, aagonoel jones, aago
    Posts: 6,566
    In the celestial realm of things that are esoteric but yet serve many practical, and tangible requirements, the....
  • Speaking of John Cage, this, probably, is the very best piano piece for the liturgy:

    Noel, the Berliner Mass is simply and utterly sublime, and if I could wave a magic wand and hear anything performed live, it would probably be this, or the Te Deum. I mean, how many modern scores carry a line called "ison"?
    Thanked by 1Chris Allen
  • Ben YankeBen Yanke
    Posts: 3,114

    Hahaha! That is completely the best liturgical piano piece I've ever heard.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,933
    Wait! I composed a whole series of these just this morning... and they are all different lengths depending on the time needed for the moment! The Collection is titled:

    Pieces for Sacred Silence in the Liturgy for Piano

    1. 30 seconds
    2. 60 seconds
    3. 90 seconds
    4. 120 seconds
    5. 150 seconds
    6. 180 seconds
    7. 210 seconds
    8. 240 seconds
    9. 270 seconds
    10. 300 seconds

    The beauty of this collection is that they are all composed in the same key, therefore you can play from one into the next seamlessly! I will make this collection available on LuLu for those who want to purchase it. A beginner can easily perform these without any effort!
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,219
    What I hadn't realized before is that it's not only sitting at the piano, but also fidgeting. Genius!
  • Charles in CenCA
    Posts: 2,416
    Kathy, I hope you don't mind, but I went on Amazon and ordered us both a copy of "Phillip Glass: The Carey Landry Collection on a Boesendorfer."
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,219
    Sweet! Straight off my wish list (not)

    Speaking of Glass, my Arvo Part Pandora station keeps playing the soundtrack of The Hours. Help!!
  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,229
    I'll take a fine steinway over a digital organ anyday in church. At least it's a genuine sound.
  • dad29
    Posts: 1,912
    Kathy gets it.

    However, the entire question would be irrelevant were it not for the predominance of the "four-hymn-sandwich" today. Hymnody, as opposed to Chant, is more forgiving of a percussive (piano) accompaniment than is Chant.

    Chant performance--whether vernacular or not--is driven by the text, not by meter.
  • I can say this here, but nowhere else do people understand when I say it - "contemporary" music is written for piano. I.E., Haugen, Haas, etc. It's just not designed for organ. (currently practicing "Gift of Finest Wheat" 3X as much as the rest of the weekend's music..."Gift" is this weekend's offering to those who still protest "all this new stuff" by which they mean Tantum Ergo, etc!!)
  • YellowRose,

    Though I've never heard it sung - ever - at St. Paul's in Cambridge, Ted Marier did include his accompaniment of "Gift of Finest Wheat" in Hymns, Psalms, and Spiritual Canticles. In the key of D, his setting is actually quite nice on the organ. The title in HPSC, by the way, is "You Satisfy the Hungry Heart" (#360).

    If you have no access to the hymnal, I can send you the accompaniment.
  • @Jeffrey Coggins

    Was harpsichord even used for liturgical purposes? Whenever I hear a piano at Mass in a cathedral, it's so percussive with so much echo. Perhaps harpsichord wasn't typically used for this very reason.

    The harpsichord's sound would not have carried in a cathedral sans amplification. If it was used (i.e., in orchestral Masses) it was not used alone.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,414
    The harpsichord sound, when accompanying, is generally not meant to "carry" - it is more felt than heard - the rapid decay of the sound enhances the sustained sound of voices and other instruments by not getting in their way. In concert pieces, when the harpsichord is more integral to the texture, the nature of playing - even when from a figured bass - is generally more florid and ornate.

    The principle of appropriate balance between the keyboard instrument and voices is too often overlooked - even when the keyboard instrument is the organ - which, when the keyboard instrument is played with too much volume and intensity, causes significant deterioration of the choral sound. For piano especially but also for harpsichord this is generally too much attack, which blots out initial consonants - and for organ, it is generally too heavy registration that overpowers and washes out the sound of the vowels.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,102

    Ted probably included it because I believe, as it was the official hymn of the International Eucharistic Congress held in Philadelphia in 1976, it was directed that it be included in Catholic hymnals used in the US, and HP&SC was between first and second editions at that point.
  • Pianos are marvelous! They are truly wonderful instruments. I own two of them and love to play them.
    One cannot but agree that they have their place.....................
    on stage, playing Beethoven, Brahms or Mozart.

    Come to think of it: has anyone else noticed that the only time a piano sounds annoyingly percussive and silly is when it is being played in a church?
  • No, it often sounds like that when being practiced upon by a ten-year-old boy.
  • I just came across this article and thought it was excellent:
  • mahrt
    Posts: 512
    There is a difference between accompaniment and solo playing; for hymns, organ accompaniment seems more appropriate. For chant, no accompaniment is my preference, but if it is to be accompanied, surely the organ is more appropriate.

    As for solo playing, the repertoire of organ music is quite suitable for liturgical use (prelude, postlude, interlude at offertory and communion when needed), especially fugues and chorale preludes. What distinguished piano repertory is suitable for such use? Not a Chopin nocturn, not a Brahms intermezzo; a Beethoven Sonata? Years ago, I would have said, maybe the Beethoven Sonata is neutral: it could be used. Then one day, I hears an excellent pianist at a beautiful Steinway grand play the slow movement from Beethoven's "Pathetique" Sonata, and the question instantly occurred to me, what is this parlor music doing in church? It was immediately obvious what the intended context of the music was, and it was not at Mass.

    The piano in the classic era was mainly an instrument for the home; the sonatas of Mozart, for example, contain brief epitomes of music from the wider musical world, concerto, opera, even church, for a moment, for the sake of evoking them in the context of the home. With Beethoven, there is a transition to a concert instrument, first in the concerto, but then in all of the solo repertory. These contexts are immediately evoked by the very sound of the piano. Later uses were not as elegant—e.g., daytime TV music.

    The sound of the organ is the sound of sacred music, since the instrument is usually in a church. The difference between a church organ and a theater organ is o evident that there is no confusion between them.
    Thanked by 1Jeffrey Coggins
  • Especially when one has "stops" for waltz, tango, broadway, samba, mambo, etc. ("rhythm styles").