AM PLEASED TO ALERT YOU to a brilliant new collection by John Ainslie. The official title is ENGLISH PROPER CHANTS, and this collection distinguishes itself in three main ways. First, it was composed by someone who’s pondered Propers in English since the 1960s, thereby avoiding many of the traps fallen into by modern composers with the best of intentions trying to compose vernacular Propers. Second, it is a complete collection, including all the Ordinary Time Sundays and major feasts. Third, every single chant in this book contains a keyboard accompaniment.
Let me say at the outset that every Catholic musician should own this book by John Ainslie.
One quick housekeeping note. In reviews such as this, it’s difficult to avoid getting “in the weeds” regarding translation issues. The texts in Ainslie’s book come from a wide variety of sources, including MR3, the New Revised Standard Bible, and the 1963 Grail Psalter. While it is technically true that our GIRM requires a bishop’s approval for such collections, it is also true that the USCCB overruled this requirement long ago.
There is no official translation of the 1974 Graduale Romanum. Indeed, ever since the 1960s, the Church has—whether for good or ill—allowed multifarious translations at Mass. I used to believe Responsorial Psalm translations by composers like Marty Haugen were in violation of the GIRM, but I was wrong. 1 If you examine the psalm texts printed in certain pew books, e.g. GIA’s Worship IV Hymnal, you’ll notice they don’t match the official version in the Lectionary:
Believe it or not, that translation is administered by GIA, and the USCCB recently announced that this “Revised” Grail Psalter (©2010) will never be used at Mass—but it is allowed. Throughout this review, you’ll notice slight differences in the wording used by Ainslie. Many will yearn for one single “unified” translation, but such a thing will probably never happen. Indeed, in the summer of 2014, the USCCB began creating a new version of the Lectionary!
LET’S GET DOWN to the review of John Ainslie’s book. He only sets the Entrance & Communion antiphons; no Offertories, Graduals, Alleluias, Sequences, or Tracts. Rather than merely describing Ainslie’s settings, I will provide examples. In general, I believe Ainslie’s settings to be some of the best available.
Before listening to the first example, quickly familiarize yourself with the Entrance chant for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Here’s how it appears in the JOGUES MISSAL:
Here is what Ainslie has done with this Entrance chant:
Did you see how he shortened the antiphon and used its second half as the first verse? He does that on occasion; probably to make it easier for the singers.
Now, let’s see what he does with the Communion for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time. First, examine the text as found in the JOGUES MISSAL:
Now, listen to what Ainslie has done with this Communion:
Did you see how he added optional psalm verses? This is fully allowed, and a very good practice.
Now, let’s consider the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. First, look at the Entrance chant as it appears in the JOGUES MISSAL:
Next, listen to the authentic Latin version of the Gaudeamus. (Ignore where it says “All Saints” because that same chant is also used in the 1974 Gradual for the Assumption.) Finally, listen to Ainslie’s version:
Do you see how Ainslie imitates the authentic chant? Speaking of that, Ainslie has set the “Spoken Propers,” which were intended for Masses without music. His choice will not affect any Entrance chants, but does affect some Communion antiphons. When we consider how Ainslie tried to imitate the authentic version (SEE ABOVE) it’s puzzling that he avoided the authentic Communion antiphons. This is especially confusing for parishes which occasionally sing from the 1974 Gradual or Gregorian Missal.
Those desiring only the authentic Communion antiphons can “mix and match” the beautiful settings by Andrew Motyka. These are quite similar to Ainslie’s, except they use the “Revised” Grail for the psalm verses:
There are tons more options, of course, but one exceptional option—which exclusively sets the authentic Communion antiphons—is the 229-page SATB collection by Richard Rice. (Click here and scroll down for a sample.)
I HATE TO SAY ANYTHING NEGATIVE about Ainslie’s organ accompaniments, because they are more inspired than 90% of what is usually given for a chant accompaniment. Moreover, anyone who has studied the Nova Organi Harmonia realizes that surprising freedom is allowed for modal accompaniments (if there be a musical reason). However, Ainslie’s accompaniments are filled with parallel octaves, parallel fifths, dominant sevenths, incorrect doublings, awkward voicing, unprepared dissonances, forbidden 6/4 chords, and sevenths resolving upward. Some of these errors could perhaps be explained away, but I found the parallel octaves—especially when they occur in succession—particularly unfortunate.
Here are some photos of the book:
I would like to end with a 2012 quote by Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth, Executive Director of ICEL:
The singing of the proper texts of the Mass, while intimately linked in our tradition to Gregorian Chant, does not exclude other musical forms. The truth is that these texts are widely ignored and not generally sung in ANY musical form, which would seem to be contrary to the priorities as expressed in the GIRM 41 & 48. Perhaps another way of approaching this discussion would be to ask whether these texts—which are given for each Mass in the Missale/Graduale—should have a wider life and place in our liturgical celebrations?
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 The freedom we have is staggering. For example, many do not realize that any Responsorial Psalm can be replaced at any time for any reason, and the USCCB recently reaffirmed this.
A discussion about this post is underway.