About this blogger:
A theorist, organist, and conductor, Jeff Ostrowski holds his B.M. in Music Theory from the University of Kansas (2004), and did graduate work in Musicology. He serves as choirmaster for the new FSSP parish in Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife and two children.
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"Religious worship supplies all our spiritual need, and suits every mood of mind and variety of circumstance."
— John Henry Cardinal Newman

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Are Hymns Boring?
published 6 April 2014 by Jeff Ostrowski

686 ORGANIST HE MAJORITY of parishes I’ve attended sing hymns like this:

1st Verse:   Congregation, choir, & organ

2nd Verse:   Congregation, choir, & organ

3rd Verse:   Congregation, choir, & organ

4th Verse:   Congregation, choir, & organ

5th Verse:   Congregation, choir, & organ

6th Verse:   Congregation, choir, & organ


By the fourth verse, I’m already asleep … so boring!   Here’s how I like to sing hymns:

1st Verse:   Treble voices only with soft organ registration

2nd Verse:   Entire congregation with louder organ registration

… organ interlude/improvisation

3rd Verse:   Men’s voices only with organ

4th Verse:   Entire congregation with even louder organ registration

… organ interlude/improvisation takes the hymn into a higher key

5th Verse:   Choir singing SATB harmony without organ accompaniment

6th Verse:   Entire congregation sings, men on the melody, women on a descant, while the organist plays a different harmonization with heavy chromaticism

By the way, Our Lady of the Atonement uses something similar, and it’s marvelous.

WHEN I WAS COMMISSIONED to compose accompaniments for strophic Gregorian hymns in the 2012 edition of the St. Michael Hymnal, I insisted on providing different harmonizations for each verse. After all, this has been “standard practice” for almost 100 years (at least when it comes to composers who really know what they’re doing). The editors were not able to include them all (since this would have made the book too large) but I made it part of our official agreement that a link would be included next to each piece, showing where they can download the full accompaniments, and the editors agreed. Here’s that link:

      * *  Organ accompaniments to Gregorian hymns in St. Michael’s Hymnal

Was this a big deal? If you look at the CRUX FIDELIS or the SALVE FESTA DIES, you’ll begin to understand why this task required many hours.

I provide a video demonstration here:

      * *  Video explanation of Gregorian accompaniments

One of the people involved with Watershed at that time asked, “Why are you giving away all your compositional secrets?” The answer is simple: Watershed has always been about doing whatever we can to improve Church music. That is why, for instance, we made all 3,000 pages of the NOH available (here) for free download in 2008.

In the end, “variety” is the name of the game. Here are some articles which explain the importance of variety in Catholic liturgical music:

      * *  The G.I.R.M. Mentions “Hymnus” Only Once

      * *  A Simple Plan To Improve Music At Mass