OMETHING PRETTY PERVERSE happened when The Saint John Brébeuf Hymnal was released to the public a few years ago. Certain voices on the internet—who claimed to be “experts” in the field of sacred music—ferociously attacked this book because of its approach to common melodies. Readers probably remember how the Brébeuf hymnal took an exceptionally bold approach to these “common melodies,” making it possible to spoon-feed your congregation powerful tunes without frustrating them. Because of the viciousness of the attacks, I was asked by the publisher to “publicly and meticulously refute” these mendacious statements—but I eventually convinced them that doing so would only elevate criticisms by musicians not qualified to critique this hymnal. (Many of these internet critics have never worked in a Catholic Church.)
It Finally Happened: The situation has changed. Major publishing houses, following in the footsteps of the Brébeuf hymnal, are now touting the advantage of “texts which can be used with multiple tunes.” In other words, the Brébeuf approach—initially mocked and derided—has now become such a success that it’s being stolen by the big publishing companies!
Deep Down: Needless to say, the Brébeuf hymnal was not the first book to utilize “common tunes.” Dr. Theodore Marier’s hymnal—which you can read about here—also subtly used several. However, the extent to which they were used in the Brébeuf hymnal was truly groundbreaking. Deep down, I wish some of these companies would give credit to SOPHIA INSTITUTE PRESS, even if it’s just in a tiny footnote. But I suppose it’s better for us to learn to say: Ad Majórem Dei Glóriam.
Live Recording: Number 817 from the Brébeuf hymnal is an example of a “common tune.” The text was written by a Roman Catholic Martyr named Saint Philip Howard, while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London:
Another Groundbreaking Technique: The volunteer choir in that video was able to sing all the verses perfectly because the Brébeuf hymnal does something which—as far as I know—is unique. You see, every single verse is notated SATB in the Brébeuf choral supplement. But when singing unison hymns, the choir members should use the Pew Edition, because it contains a whole bunch of awesome stuff that could not be included in the choral supplement (which is 1,192 pages) such as: theological footnotes; color plates demonstrating the history of Roman Catholic hymnody; text-only hymns which can be sung with multiple tunes; and so forth. For instance, look at the fascinating details the Pew Edition included about Saint Philip Howard!
Final Thought: Father Valentine often quoted Father Alan Heet, OFM, who used to say: “The cemeteries are full of people who thought they were indispensable.” I suppose all of us need to guard against believing that we are “indispensable” to our church communities. Instead, we should praise God for the opportunity to glorify Him.