EAD COMPOSERS: I speak to them frequently. In previous articles I have explained what I mean by “talking to dead composers.” I won’t repeat everything I wrote, but basically it means that if one spends decades analyzing hymn harmonizations, one begins to see the particular ways that various musicians solved the “problems” each melody presents. Dom Gregory Murray (d. 1992) had a particular approach. So did Edward C. Currie (d. 1963). So did Theodore Marier (d. 2001). These harmonic conundrums have been around at least since the time of J.S. Bach, and there is no correct “solution” … but it’s fun to communicate with these (dead) musicians and see them striving mightily for the best solution.
Another Way To Talk: Another way we can “speak” to dead composers is by carefully taking note of the tunes favored by the really smart musicians. An example would be RUSTINGTON, which was favored by musicians like Dr. Marier. When a hymnal editor eliminates certain bad tunes and favors certain good tunes only to discover this was done by (dead) editors in the past, it really feels like talking to them. One feels exuberant! One feels as if these (dead) musicians “validate” or “confirm” or “ratify” one’s choices, and it’s exciting. In addition to the more common tune for Alleluia Sing To Jesus (viz. HYFRYDOL), the Brébeuf hymnal also uses RUSTINGTON as a shared melody. Here’s a live recording last Sunday by a volunteer choir:
The Situation Has Changed: Something unsettling happened when The Saint John Brébeuf Hymnal was first released to the public. 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. The Brébeuf hymnal had chosen an exceptionally bold approach to these “common melodies,” making it possible to spoon-feed one’s congregation sublime tunes without frustrating them. But 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 become such a success that it’s being stolen by the big publishing companies!