IVEN BELOW are Church Music Regulations from the Diocese of Pittsburgh (1931) and the Archdiocese of Chicago (1955). The documents are extremely interesting, and you will want to read both of them in their entirety.
I have a feeling many people would consider these pronouncements too restrictive, and to a certain extent, I agree with that assessment. For example, it is jarring to hear Fr. Rossini (author of the Pittsburgh regulations) declare the organ accompaniments by Ludwig Bonvin, Nicola Montani, both Singenbergers, and others to be “forbidden,” since many of the condemned were so intimately associated with Caecilia Magazine. Furthermore, point-blank condemnations like the following seem shocking, even when we consider that they were written in the days of the famous “White List” for Church music:
The following English-Latin Hymnals and Collections are forbidden for church and school use; St. Basil’s Hymnal; The Gloria Hymnal; Catholic Youth’s Hymnal (Christian Brothers); Catholic Choir Manual (Wynne); Crown Hymnal; May Chimes; Hellebusch’s Hymnal; Psallite Hymnal; American Catholic Hymnal (Marist Brothers) ; Wreath of Mary; New Catholic Hymn Book; all of Berge’s, Giorza’s, Gaines’, Marzo’s, Peter’s Rosewig’s and Werner’s Collections.
On the other hand, these documents contain some really good recommendations, for example:
Church Choirs of fewer than Ten, Fifteen and Twenty volunteer members are forbidden to sing music for Two, Three and Four Voices respectively. [original emphasis]
Wow … if only we’d adhere to such a rule today! One of the common pitfalls of choirs is to sing polyphony with too few singers. Remember, the minimum required before you have a “choir” is three (3) singers on each part. Perhaps I should say that again: unless you have at least three (3) singers on a part, you don’t have a choir, according to choral experts. * Here’s another really good statement:
It is not the large number of singers nor the rendition of elaborate music that makes a “good choir”, but rather the good judgment of the organist in choosing music within the powers and ability of the choir, and the proper rendition of the same.
Again, how true … even today! Pope Pius XII would later echo this sentiment in 1958 (§60a):
“In general, it is better to do something well, however modest, than to attempt something on a grander scale if proper means are lacking.” [source]
One of the most horrifying admissions I ever read was printed in a book on 16th-century counterpoint. The author proudly exclaimed that he had “without exception” sung Victoria’s O Magnum Mysterium every Christmas for thirty years. How ghastly! Obviously, it’s a wonderful piece … but every year? I’ve always believed one should constantly learn new repertoire. It turns out they knew this back in 1931:
You cannot expect volunteer choir members to be interested in their work with books falling apart or not sufficient in number. Nor can you expect volunteer singers to attend rehearsals if the same Mass and the same Hymns are to be sung all the year round.
BOTH DOCUMENTS (1931 and 1955) agree that Schubert’s Ave Maria and a song called “I love you truly” are forbidden for use at Church. I don’t know who wrote “I love you truly” — Google probably does — but it appears to have been quite popular in its day. I know it was performed in the 1946 Christmas film It’s a Wonderful Life:
Speaking of Jimmy Stewart, it turns out he actually served in the Armed Forces (in real life) and fought in World War II. My grandfather, who likewise flew bombing runs against the Nazis, met Stewart at this time. Even though I never met my grandfather (he died before I was born), I’ve been told that Stewart was “a really nice guy,” and the time during which my grandfather knew him was “prior to Stewart becoming super famous.” From what I can tell, Stewart continued to serve in the United States Air Force even after World War II had ended.
* Sadly, this pitfall is sometimes encouraged by certain “early music” groups who claim using one singer per part is de facto more “authentic.” However, the choice often has nothing to do with “authenticity” (which these days is referred to as being “historically informed”). Rather, the choice is dictated by the fact that paying a large professional choir costs more than paying a small choir. While I certainly understand making the best possible effort with one’s funding, such performances can do Renaissance music a great disservice. Instead of a true choir sound, we hear … a group of soloists. The best conductors will only allow a “soloist group” sound at certain moments: for instance, at the “Benedictus” section during the Sanctus (when the number of voices is reduced).