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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 resides with his wife and children.
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“Those who teach Latin must know how to speak to the hearts of the young, know how to treasure the very rich heritage of the Latin tradition to educate them in the path of life, and accompany them along paths rich in hope and confidence.”
— Pope Francis (7 December 2017)

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Learn To Sing SATB • “A New Approach!”
published 30 May 2019 by Jeff Ostrowski

HERE IS A NEW Catholic hymnal with a fresh approach to helping choirs sing in SATB harmony. The hymns found in the Brébeuf Hymnal are being recorded in a special way, allowing choir members to hear individual lines louder than the other voices. There’s one for Soprano, one for Alto, one for Tenor, one for Bass, and one for Equal Voices. Twelve (12) hymns are available already, with tons more on the way!

A new rehearsal video was just added—Mundus effúsis redémptus translated 1 into English:


To understand the new approach, visit the Brébeuf website and scroll to #282. Choir members can now practice their individual lines!   How cool is that?

Normally, a parish choir will sing “German style”—that is, unison with organ. This allows the congregation to join the singing; even when verses alternate between female and male voices. But parishes which purchase the Brébeuf Hymnal are immediately provided with a DVD containing all the SATB versions. 2 In my opinion, choirs singing in SATB harmony add great solemnity to the Mass; especially during Holy Communion.

(To get a feel for the harmonies, obtain a copy of the Brébeuf organ accompaniment.)

HE MELODY in that video is a beautiful tune called ALL SAINTS. The Brébeuf Hymnal uses that same tune for five (5) different texts; so once the choir learns the SATB version, they are “good to go.” This technique is called shared melodies, and is amazing for helping congregations learn a tune. The text is also quite remarkable:

84413 Mundus Effusis Redemptus • the Saint Jean de Brébeuf Hymnal


Something nobody is talking about—and which needs to be spoken of—is how the Brébeuf Hymnal has rescued an insane amount of ancient Latin hymns which contain marvelous theological truths. Consider the beginning of verse 2 (“Desinat legis sacerdos”):

Priest beneath the Law, and guilty,
for the guilty cease to plead!

That is to say: The priest of the old Law is guilty, like those for whom he prays; he “is bound to offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people” (Heb 5.3); whereas Christ, our High Priest, “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning” (Heb 4.15). Again: “God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us” (Rom 8.3-4): The old Law required holiness and justice, but could not overcome vice and sin, unlike our Lord.

A little later, we have an intriguing line:

Those who thee in fury torment
yield thee service unawares;
as thy blood they shed, it cleanses
all the world, its crime repairs.

In other words, the frenzied torture inflicted on Christ assists him in redeeming us, because the suffering and bloodshed it causes is also the cause of the world’s salvation.

OME CATHOLIC HYMNALS seemingly lack a firm grasp of musical principles. Accepted conventions (“rules”) certainly do exist when it comes to SATB hymns. Generally speaking, the conventions—doublings, voice-leading, melodic leaps, and so on—should be followed, because they help create wonderful music. They exist for a sonic purpose. (Adhering to common practice also makes life easier for the singer.) When somebody “breaks a rule,” it should be done in order to achieve a musical goal; it should not be done out of ignorance.

Flipping through the pages of certain Catholic hymnals, I’m often puzzled when contrapuntal and harmonic rules are routinely disregarded. The SSPX hymnal (“The Traditional Roman Hymnal”) is notorious for baffling harmonizations such as this:

84412 Traditional Roman Hymnal Printed by SSPX


But the SSPX hymnal is hardly alone! Consider this example from the popular Saint Michael Hymnal, which contains double parallel octaves and double hidden fifths:

84411 Saint Michael Hymnal double parallel octaves


The New Saint Basil hymnal (1958) altered most of the standard harmonies. Often, they do so in a thoughtful way, to help avoid excessively low bass notes or to add color. Other times, however, they make puzzling choices, such as failing to resolve sevenths downward:

84410 New Saint Basil Hymnal seventh resolution wrong


The Pope Saint Pius X hymnal (1953) allows parallel octaves and fifths in a way that—to my ear—is inelegant and unjustified:

84408 Pius X Hymnal part writing


When it comes to Saint Mark’s Hymnal For Catholics In The United States (1910), there are so many bizarre voice-leading choices I hardly know where to begin:

84406 St Mark Hymnal errors


Those who look closely at the Brébeuf harmonies will undoubtedly find “rules” occasionally disregarded. But whenever this was done, it was done for a musical purpose, after much consideration.



NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:

1   By Fr. Dominic Popplewell, based on a work by Fr. Caswall.

2   A choral edition is also being produced, but many choirmasters prefer the DVD method—where they place into The Black Folder only those pieces which will be sung SATB.