NE OF THE CRUELEST things you can do to anyone is … ignore them. Obviously, I’m not talking about every situation. For example, I’m currently having issues with my email service. As a result, I’m unable to respond to certain people who sent me messages. That’s not “ignoring”—because there’s nothing I can do about it. [A friend of mine who’s brilliant at technology is on the case, so everything should be fixed soon.] What I’m talking about is when a homeless person needs assistance but everyone walking by pretends not to notice. I will continue this discussion below.
A Film About Hymn Verses! • I don’t work for SOPHIA INSTITUTE PRESS, but my friends do. Moreover—along with several authors who contribute to this blog—my musical compositions were chosen to be included in the Brébeuf Hymnal. I have been assisting SOPHIA with production of several explanatory videos. Here’s an example:
Heart of the Matter • I like that video, because it gets to the heart of the matter. When I was first hired as a church musician, I remember how the parish used books from one of the “big publishers.” These books used the standard method of notating each hymn. Usually, they would only notate the first two or three verses—the rest being printed at the bottom of the page, without any musical notes above them. Since I was responsible for five (5) Masses each Sunday, sometimes I had to serve as organist and cantor simultaneously. I didn’t want to sing only the first two verses, so I spent hours writing out the additional verses using SIBELIUS. This was also necessary if the choir wanted to break into SATB on the final verse.
Lazy Typesetting • I can understand why publishers “stack” verses. It saves them tons of work! But if the music is difficult or unfamiliar, it doesn’t work in real life for volunteer singers. Moreover, it doesn’t work when the organist also serves as cantor. The only way to “solve” this problem is by singing the same hymns over and over again—month after month, year after year—so the organist can memorize the harmonization (and some of the lyrics). If somebody has sung a hymn since childhood, they probably have the lyrics memorized. Believe it or not, I’ve encountered many musicians (!) who feel that if they have lyrics memorized, that means everybody in the congregation also has those same lyrics memorized. (I am not kidding!)
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:
Seeking Answers! • The Brébeuf Hymnal solves the problem by notating each verse, the same way the ANTIPHONALE ROMANUM (1949) notated each verse. For years, I have tried to figure out how other musicians get around these issues. So far, I’ve been unable to get any answers. When I probe, I’m often ignored. I suspect this is the reason why so few Catholic Churches have volunteer choirs capable of singing SATB well. Choirmasters in such a situation should immediately obtain the Brébeuf Hymnal. We have used it at my parish for five years, and what a difference it has made!
“Ignoring” (1 of 3) • Suppose a child in elementary school challenged Albert Einstein (d. 1955) to debate him vis-à-vis quantum mechanics. If the child receives no response, that doesn’t mean Einstein is too cowardly to debate. In reality, it would be absurd for Einstein to debate physics with a child in elementary school. Sometimes “ignoring” is fully appropriate.
“Ignoring” (2 of 3) • Let’s take another case. A few years ago, a colleague (who considers himself a great church musician) sent me an email. In one of my articles, I’d mentioned that I can’t stand hearing wrong notes. Therefore, when I began my career it was necessary for me to write out—using SIBELIUS—each verse of a hymn if I were simultaneously serving as cantor & organist. My correspondent told me: “Jeff, you’re clearly a deficient musician. We are trained to play and sing stacked verses without any problems whatsoever. I can do it in my sleep.” My suspicion was this particular musician sang the same hymns over and over again, meaning he’d basically memorized each verse. Therefore, I responded to him: “Would you’d be willing to give me a demonstration? Let’s open a zoom session, and I’ll send you a piece with stacked verses. For somebody like you, this will be a piece of cake, right?” I never heard from him again.
“Ignoring” (3 of 3) • A few years back, I received an unsolicited email accusing me of certain things. For example, I was informed that a statement I’d made during one of my talks was “duplicitous.” I took the time to respond with five (5) specific points, asking this person to explain—in light of those five points—why he thinks I was duplicitous. His answer (which I still have) was: “I no longer wish to discuss this matter.” Do you see why I find the ignoring technique frustrating?
When it comes to the subject of ignoring, we saw this (sadly) with the promulgation of TRADITIONIS CUSTODES. After its release, some bishops chose to persecute certain Catholics under the pretense of “being faithful to liturgical norms.” They seemed to contradict Canon Law, which says the salvation of the souls is the highest law. Allowing school concerts (for example) in the parish church while forbidding the Sacrifice of the Mass causes tremendous scandal to the faithful. Moreover, these are the same bishops who simply ignore serious liturgical questions when it suits them. For instance, when those same bishops are asked by priests why they don’t follow certain liturgical norms—yet follow TRADITIONIS CUSTODES rigidly—they have no answer … so they ignore the inquiry. If those bishops wanted to be faithful to liturgical norms, they would obey the mandates of Vatican II. But they often don’t, and give no explanation. For example, the Second Vatican Council solemnly declared: “the Latin language is to be retained by clerics in the divine office” (except for individual cases). I could enumerate many other liturgical norms which bishops disobey. If you write them letters asking why, don’t be surprised when you get ignored.