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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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"Never before have men had so many time-saving devices. Yet, never before have they had so little free time. When the world unnecessarily accelerates, the Church must slow down."
— Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

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Dick Morris & Gregorian Accompaniment
published 19 January 2015 by Jeff Ostrowski

443 Dick Morris Clinton Ear ACK IN 2009, one of the drafters of Sing to the Lord became famous—and not in a good way—for referring to Gregorian chant as a “weapon” several times. I’ve already pointed out some of the basic mistakes he made in his article, which basically served as an opportunity for him to “get back” at folks who criticized SttL. (Insiders claim that he and a CUA professor were the two primary authors of SttL.)

This drafter spends a lot of time hurling words like “misguided” and “misinformed” at folks who have a different opinion. 1 He also says:

…to be honest, most of the U.S. Catholic Church does not sing much Latin chant. […] Some—or, perhaps, many—Catholics do not like Gregorian chant much. They find it to be in the wrong language, or too difficult, or irrelevant, or just plain boring.

A rather interesting statement … made in the context of an article supposedly discussing liturgical law. A theory exists regarding Church music legislation that I call “The Dick Morris Approach.” According to this theory, legislation should basically reflect whatever people are currently doing. However, thoughtful people have pointed out that creating legislation would be an exercise in futility under such a system, since the Church could simply hire a pollster like Dick Morris to discover “what the parishes are doing.”

[For those unaware, the presidency of Bill Clinton started off in trouble because so many of his ideological aides lacked any Washington experience. Clinton then secretly hired a pollster—Dick Morris—and referred to him as “Charlie” to mask his identity. Clinton made each decision according to the result polls by Morris.]

I HAVE NEVER SUBSCRIBED to the notion that “this is the way it is; therefore it will always be like this.” Some people accept a job as choir director and say, “I have five singers who don’t read music, so I guess that’s how it will always be.” I believe that things can change and progress can be made. Moreover, the purpose of legislation was never considered to be a “snapshot” of what parishes are doing; it was supposed to lead folks to a higher good.

I do have a question, however.

Since 2007, people all over the world have sent me recordings of parishes singing the Chabanel psalms. Believe it or not, the Chabanel psalms have been sung in St. Peter’s Basilica. I have a recording of this, and it’s charming to hear the Italians belt out the refrain—boy, do those Italians love to sing! The problem is, the refrains are invariably sung too slowly. To combat this, we provided video recordings demonstrating the correct tempo … but our efforts seem to have been in vain.

In the nineteenth century, chant accompaniments by Jacques Lemmens—which placed one chord for each note—were widely imitated. Today, we usually mock such accompaniments as being “slow and plodding.” The post-Lemmens belief, which I’ve agreed with for decades, is that having two or three notes per chord will help keep things moving. Consider a “plodding” excerpt from Lemmen’s Lauda Sion :

444 Lemmens


Is it possible Lemmens was onto something? After all, in spite of all the videos we’ve produced, it seems many still sing the refrains too slowly. Could it be that note-by-note is the only way to properly accompany congregational chant? Did Lemmens realize that people are going to do what they’re going to do?



NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:

1   Naturally, he cannot resist bringing up his hobbyhorse: the history of vernacular hymnody at Mass. As usual, he misrepresents the indults granted to some countries. Indeed, he seems to misunderstand the very meaning of the word “indult.”