N THIS “BLACK FRIDAY”, I AM DELIGHTED to see Russell Weismann’s Advent Communion Antiphons published with GIA Publications, Inc. Simple and accessible, they are expertly composed by the former Associate Director of Music at the Basilica of the National Shrine. Having had opportunity to preview and sing this wonderful collection a year ago, it is encouraging to see one of the “Big Three” put forth such a work. While I remain cautiously optimistic, one must take note of new directions by mainstream publishers as it signals a broader change in the market. (E.g., Chief Publishing Officer for the J.S. Paluch Co., Dr. Jerry Galipeau’s description of the “servant model of composition.”)
As settings of antiphons have been historically ignored by mainstream publishers, there are recent notable exceptions, e.g. Christopher Tietze’s Communion Antiphons for the Easter Season (World Library Publications) and Christopher Walker’s Communion Antiphons for SATB Choir. (Oregon Catholic Press) The current market share may be relatively small, but these publications reflect an emerging awareness of the propers, and hence an emerging market.
N THE SUBJECT OF THE APPROVAL OF TEXTS, the U.S. bishops long ago abdicated their authority. (“The texts of antiphons, psalms, hymns, and songs for the Liturgy must have been approved either by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops or by the local diocesan bishop.”— STTL, no. 110; see GIRM, no. 48) As a result, Roman Catholic music publishing has been left to the free market and in many ways has been no different than the overall music industry. What is published is determined by what is popular and what will sell, i.e., supply and demand. Keep in mind, the “Big Three” (WLP, GIA, and OCP) have had long-term success, which means they have had solid and sustainable business models; they know how to gauge the market very well.
Not surprisingly, Catholic music publishers and composers face the same challenges that have plagued the popular music industry in the last decade. Rory Cooney describes here the detrimental impact iTunes, YouTube, and digital technology have had on profits in the music business—and likewise how difficult it is to make a living as a Roman Catholic songwriter.
BUT HERE IS WHERE IT GETS INTERESTING: Challenges for the music industry from digital technology have in fact propelled the “reform of the reform.” The universal business model has changed—one adopted readily by proponents of the “reform of the reform”: Give away a calculated amount of product for free in order to educate, promote, generate traffic, and therefore, sales.
Added to this are those who desire to catechize and serve the Church, considering sales secondary or even irrelevant. (The USCCB and ICEL’s proliferation of the Roman Missal Chants for FREE is a prime example.) This influences the supply side even further, but subsequently may generate increased demand in the long run. (That remains to be seen.) Many have composed various settings for the propers, available for free online—some that accompany book sales—just to name a few:
• Adam Barlett: Simple English Propers and Lumen Christi Missal
• Jeff Ostrowski: Lalemant Propers
• Richard Rice: Simple Choral Gradual
• Andrew Motyka: Laudate Dominum Communion Antiphons
• My own collection of Advent, Lent, and Easter Communion Propers
PROPOSE A CHALLENGE TO THE “BIG THREE” publishers. The communion antiphons are the easiest gateway to singing the propers. I challenge the “Big Three” to get ahead of the curve now:
• GIA: Commission a larger collection from Russell Weismann and additional composers, including Michael Joncas, who has shown for well over thirty years an affinity for setting the scriptures to music in diverse and evolving styles. (See his Psalm 63 “As the Watchman” and his recent mass setting, Missa ad Gentes)
• WLP: Commission a collection of communion propers from Steven C. Warner, a composer who has shown an ability to communicate universally.
• OCP: Commission a collection of propers from Christopher Willcock, S.J. His unparalleled talent in setting text to music is among the most versatile I’ve seen (and had the privilege to work with at Boston College.)
• To GIA, WLP & OCP: I challenge one of you to promote and distribute the work of Adam Bartlett, clearly the leading figure in the United States and the entire English Speaking world on this subject. The Simple English Propers have already established a market and track record of book sales. His Illuminare Publications is ripe for distribution.
HE AVERAGE PARISHIONER COULND’T CARE LESS about the GIRM, Sacrosanctum Concilium, or any encyclical of Pope Saint Pius X. Therefore, the question should not be framed as “Are we singing the antiphons and psalms, which take precedence over hymns and songs as outlined by the various liturgy documents?” Instead, the question should be, “Are we singing the mass and therefore the scriptures, which enrich our prayerful devotion toward God?” Typical parishioners do respond to singing the scriptures; this is the vital question.
I believe composing for the propers is the frontier of Roman Catholic composition, and therefore publishing. The mustard seed we plant will yield great fruit for the Church and for our prayer.