VEN IN TODAY’S AMERICA, when immorality is celebrated and perversity is increasingly promoted, there are still things we can all agree on. For example, no sane person would claim the iPhone was invented in 1776AD. When it comes to music, absolutes do exist. For instance, only a lunatic would claim that Frédéric Chopin’s Fantaisie-Impromptu (op. 66) matches the style of François Couperin—and this is not a “matter of opinion.” It would be equally absurd to label Josef Haydn’s “Surprise” Symphony as Gregorian Chant.
Matching Catholic Hymns: Those who edit hymnals must possess a sensitivity for musical styles and be able to grasp the character and “register” (i.e. formality) of hymn texts. One company that has become notorious in this arena—and not in a good way!—is G.I.A. Publications, which for decades has shamelessly paired “woke” texts with hymn melodies from the Common Practice Era. The results of such pairings are, not surprisingly, nauseating.
A Eucharistic Text: In the Brébeuf hymnal, #63 is an English translation by Archbishop Bagshawe for “Adóro Te Devóte” (attributed to Saint Thomas Aquinas) boldly paired with a melody by Henry Lawes called FARLEY CASTLE. In my opinion, this pairing works well: both text and tune have a certain “archaic” quality to them. In particular, the “gathering-notes” in the melody help clarify the text. I asked the choir to sing softly on the final verse, and I’m curious to hear whether you think that comes across as contrived. Here’s a live recording from last Sunday (4 July 2021):
An Accurate Translation: Archbishop Edward Gilpin Bagshawe was quite literal in his English translation! You can see this by examining the first verse:
Archbishop Bagshawe Version :
I worship Thee devoutly, who dost hide
Within these figures, Hidden Deity,
And utterly subject my heart to Thee,
To comprehend Thee, failing utterly.
Literal Translation from Latin :
I adore You devoutly, Godhead unseen,
Who truly lies hidden under these sacramental forms.
My soul surrenders itself to You without reserve,
for in contemplating You it is completely overwhelmed.
The Brébeuf hymnal provides a literal translation as well as poetic translations; so pick up a copy and see what a wonderful job Archbishop Bagshawe did with the rest of his verses!
A Vexing Question
It’s impossible for me to understand how any Catholic choirmaster could choose a hymnal from one of the “big publishers.” Consider the following lines in a hymnal by the Collegeville press:
“And as we float along through outer space,
Past galaxies aglow in dark’s embrace,
Toward other worlds where brothers may await,
Do care for us now in our weightless state.”
Or consider these lyrics contained in hymnals by G.I.A. Publications:
“Not in the dark of buildings confining,
Not in some heaven, light-years away,
But here in this place, the new light is shining,
Now is the Kingdom, now is the day.”
A Better Option Is Available: Why expose your congregation to goofy and heretical texts, when you could be using something which is theologically solid? Below is another recording from last Sunday—4 July 2021—with #751 from the Brébeuf hymnal (“Summi Parentis Filio” translated by Father Edward Caswall). Our singers picked this up quickly, and it will get better and better the more they sing it:
Hymns Will Never Be The Same: The Brébeuf hymnal uses a spectacular new approach to SATB singing—and things will never be the same! In the Choral Supplement, every verse is written out. Believe it or not, this has never been done before. The Brébeuf collection is the first to take this essential step:
We Must Break The Cycle: Doesn’t anyone care about singing in parts? The “status quo” method will guarantee horrible part singing—and it may partially account for the deplorable state of music in so many of our Catholic churches. My volunteer choirs could never sing off typesetting done according to the “status quo” method:
No More Excuses: If a young boy is constantly tardy to class, the boy’s father might ask why he can’t get out of bed earlier. The boy might reply: “Because I don’t want to wake up earlier; I like sleeping late.” But that is hardly an acceptable reason! Likewise, if Catholic hymnal editors are asked why they don’t write out each verse for the singer, they would probably respond: “Because that’s too much work.” But how can this be an acceptable answer?
Musical Diversity • Seven Examples
Of course, we don’t just sing hymns. Are you curious to hear what else we sang last Sunday?
(2) Renaissance Polyphony • Last Sunday, we made our first attempt the Guerrero Canonic Credo Extension. You can hear an excerpt, but please remember we had a grand total of 10 minutes rehearsal time to put it together. It will get better the more we sing it. You can download the PDF score here.
(3) Modern Polyphony • The ladies sang a “Tantum Ergo” by Kevin Allen last Sunday, and you can hear an excerpt. There is so much more I want to do with that piece—to give it more “finesse” and “shape.” But the reality is, we’ve only had a few rehearsals due to Covid-19. My main goal was to get them singing. As time goes by, there will be room for working on giving it the finesse that piece demands. [That’s one of the pieces from Motecta.]
(4) Plainsong with Drone • We have a bass singer who loves to sing really low, and I allow him to add an “ison” to Gloria IX. You can hear an excerpt.
(5) Canons • An excellent way to get singers “accustomed” to singing in parts is canons and rounds. Last Sunday, we sang Nanino’s brilliant AGNUS DEI, which is a perfect canon. Here’s an excerpt. You can download the score here.
(6) Plainsong Accompanied • Rembrandt doesn’t “diminish” Raphael. Nor does the genius of Botticelli “diminish” Michelangelo. Plainsong can be sung a cappella, but it’s also gorgeous with organ accompaniment. We do both. Accompanied plainsong doesn’t “diminish” plainsong sung without accompaniment. Here’s an excerpt from last Sunday showing how plainsong sounds accompanied by the organ.
(7) Polyphony by Father Guerrero • My mission in life is to let non-professional musicians experience the joy of singing. Here is an excerpt of the KYRIE we are learning by Father Guerrero. I am so proud of my volunteer singers!