About this blogger:
Veronica Brandt holds a Bachelor Degree in Electrical Engineering. As editor, she has produced fine publications (as well as valuable reprints) dealing with Gregorian chant, hymnody, Latin, and other subjects. These publications are distinguished on account of their tastefulness. She lives in the Blue Mountains near Sydney, Australia, with her husband Peter and six children.
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“Gerard Manley Hopkins once argued that most people drank more liquids than they really needed and bet that he could go without drinking for a week. He persisted until his tongue was black and he collapsed at drill.”
— A biography of Fr. Gerard M. Hopkins (d. 1889)

How many tunes should we use?
published 19 September 2015 by Veronica Brandt

o saslutaris 15 SK SOMEONE THEIR FAVORITE Latin hymn, they’re likely to say Ave Maria, Ave verum or Panis Angelicus. Ask them which one and you may be met with a blank stare. Maybe they know of a few versions of the Ave Maria – the Schubert and the Bach-Gounod, for instance, but you can bet the Ave Verum is going to be by Mozart and Panis by Cesar Franck.

One thing about delving into hymnbooks is finding how many different ways there are to do things. It seems particularly strong with Latin hymns. Vernacular verses are forever mutating and multiplying, but Latin texts are fairly static. If you can’t modify the words, then that creative energy can flow into new musical arrangements.

Noel Jones, in his Catholic Choirbook Series makes good use of this feature by giving a variety of settings for each text. The choir may start with Adoramus Te Christe in unison accompanied by the organ and then move on to a polyphonic setting more easily once the words are known.

Many old (and not-so-old) Catholic hymnbooks have a surprising number of tunes for the standard hymns at Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Growing up I was lucky enough to be aware of two tunes for Tantum Ergo or Down in Adoration Falling. Now I see that possibilities are much more rich and varied.

HymnbookSettings of
O salutaris
Settings of
Tantum ergo
Liber Usualis24
St Gregory Hymnal710
St Basil 191867
Arundel Hymns1514
Eucharistic Hymns, Benediction, Hymns to Mary98
A Treasury of Catholic Song88
Cantuale Romano-Seraphicum516

The Westminster Hymnal gives no tunes at all for Benediction, with the footnote:

To provide music for Benediction throughout the year is outside the scope of a hymnal. A selection of tunes for “O Salutaris” can be made from those headed “Long Meter” in the metrical index. “Tantum ergo” can be sung to any tune headed 878787 in the metrical index.

Using different settings helps broaden a choir’s repertoire. The congregation can at least be familiar with the words while becoming accustomed to new music. Different music may suit different seasons and circumstances.

So, maybe next time someone seems bored with the traditional hymns, maybe try a new tune before throwing out the old words.