Saturday 12 April 2008

The Parish Book of Chant

Musica sacra (see right for link) have brought out a new book, which seems pretty comprehensive and beautifully and carefully produced. Square notation etc. Might get one. About time it came in handy.

When I started teaching in 1993, I bought Hymns Old and New, thinking that working in a Catholic School I should have the then standard hymn book. It cost £30, I seem to remember and it arrived when I was off work with 'flu. I was quite excited at the time. This was big money for a probationary teacher. Buying music in that 'investing in standard repertoire' kinda way is always very exciting. Like buying the '48' or Mozart Horn Concertos.

The Hymn Book is a bit beaten up now. No particular complaints about the binding. Here I am Lord and Eagle's Wings have page turns in them, so it's not just what you sing and hear that is awkward, folks. The latter has the page turn in because each verse has a slightly different text underlay in addition to requiring the congregation to sing a C# against a G major chord. And you thought the augmented 4th was a no no. Thus you end up with a separate line for every verse printed above the piano (organ?) accompaniment. Sigh. Doubt and ambiguity sown into the very fabric of the music. These folks don't do strophic it seems. Let's play the 'does the next verse have an anacrusis' game. That explains the lack of a metrical index at the back.

Some of the numbers that were presumably written with just guitar chords have quite spectacularly bad keyboard accompaniments. The difference between the organ and piano are ignored and all notions of four part harmony cast off. In fact the harmonic vocab is amazingly restricted. Did modulations get banned, dissonance.....? All a mystery to me. Make me a channel of your peace goes off the bottom of a four octave organ manual. You fail orchestration exams for doing that sort of thing. You fail harmony exams for having forbidden doublings and consecutives. That hymn has ruined that prayer for me and put me off the Franciscans, because I hear it in my head whenever St Francis is mentioned. I wonder how many ugly pieces of music, art, language and architecture have had the same effect on people. Probably lots.

This comes to mind because yesterday I had the great great pleasure of rehearsing a Haydn Violin Concerto with a little Chamber Orch before school. The contrast is so great that I can't really quantify it and the Haydn is technically not that hard to play. The players are between 11 and 14. Getting them to play stylishly and to really listen and understand the importance of their part at any time in the movement will take some work, but I am very much looking forward to the performance. It's just fabulous music and they are a very musical bunch. I am very fortunate, I know.
(Haydn was a Catholic of course and said the Rosary daily apparently.)

As to the stuff at Mass I just shut up and play the stuff when required and change things so that they are a little more correct. Dumpy consecutive 5ths at the bottom of the bass clef are great in the Pink Panther, but odd when you teach Bach Chorales.

I belive that things are on the turn. I'd better stop or this will turn into one of my many unpublished posts on liturgical music. I'm saving you from some serious rants believe me. Just remember to be nice to organists and remember that it's often not their fault that they are playing that hymn you hate. They probably hate it too.

As to Marty H. Why do we play any music written by Protestants in Catholic Churches? Are we saying music doesn't really communicate at a very deep level? Better keep that rant to myself, but you get my drift. If you want a taste of Catholic Italy, listen to Monteverdi and feel the warmth. It's really there.

Anyway this book looks to be a very good thing.


Mulier Fortis said...

Thanks for the hint. I hope you come to play at Blackfen again soon!

leutgeb said...

I'm working on that one.

gemoftheocean said...

:-D Really enjoyable post. Rant on!!!! (I have always particularly despised "Here I am Lord." Sheesh. Were we playing "Hide and Seek" or something.

Of course, when you have particularly insipid music[?!] one creative thing people and kids in particular, is make up alternate lyrics...often not something one would sing in church ... unless in a crowd of other students and you think you can get away singing it enough to make your friends laugh, but not loud enough so that the nun across the way hears and wants to swat you across the head.