Friday 5 June 2009

Colloquium II

Tomorrow alias the day after....
Another mish mash of stuff, mostly me not the great Prof. One paragraph doesn't follow on to the next? No, probably not. This isn't an exam after all.

Prof Dobszay, then as a musical scholar with great knowledge of Gregorian Chant, the Western Canon and Hungarian Folk Music has taken the view that as anything may be substituted for the Propers it is legitimate to look into these repositories of music and come up with a suitable body of music that does the job of sacred music and additionally, that allows participation by the congregation, which provides continuity with the traditions of the Faith and of the music used to express it.

This rang some alarm bells along the lines of 'isn't this how we ended up with all 'that' music?' Experimentation? Yikes. Where's my 1962 Missal? He played copious examples to show the reverent quality of the music being used. He said that if other people were allowed to draw on Asian and African cultures in their Liturgy why should a country with a thousand years of Christian culture not draw on it? I suppose the only problem is if you end up looking at music that has been rejected in the past by the Church. Otherwise, you are looking into a treasure trove. He showed a facsimile of a vernacular Te Deum c1500. Would that have been allowed then? If, no, and the person who wrote it was disobeying the authority of the time, does that make it a good setting to use now that we are allowed to use the vernacular? Dunno. People's motivations when they compose are very important.

On the subject of the musical participation of the congregation, the way Prof Dobszay spoke suggested that the Hungarians were very much into it. My experience is, well, is it the repertoire that puts people off (banal?) or is it that there is a folk memory of going to Low Masses and that people were silent in Church? Leaving aside a mere 12 years teaching in Catholic Secondary Education, I think that there are lots and lots of people who really don't want to sing. It doesn't matter how much other people think they should, they just don't want to. (NB Anyone quoting St Augustine, ' He who sings, prays twice,' etc in the combox will be cast out into bara brith's outer darkness, candles not included.) Personally, I think that lots of silence is infinitely preferable to any music at Mass. Music has the capacity to really annoy people so, why not let them have some quiet. As to then bossing them around, I say leave the poor laity alone. There is often a real feeling that it's less of a Mass if there isn't some awful music going on all the time. It's as if you have to keep plugging the silences with stuff. Maybe there's more praying going on when it's quiet. Hard to measure that one, though.

Certainly when I have been to Mass in Ireland or Poland (only once mind in the Franciscan Church in Krakow,) there was not great singing from the congregation, but at the Mass in Krakow (great organist and soprano in the organ loft), you could have reached out and touched the devotion it was so tangible. (PS I'm not suggesting that these nations don't have great musical cultures or that people can't sing. It's just a time and a place thing.) I chose those countries because they have a far more Catholic culture than England and are more culturally homogeneous.

The style Prof Dobszay was down on (very pleasantly,) was yer Western pop, the electronic folk music of our era, crossing national boundaries.... Admittedly, sacred music has borrowed from the secular in the past. Think Parody Masses etc. The trouble is, music switches you in somewhere the instant the first note is sounded and if that place is secular then it's not doing its job. So we need a distinct music for the liturgy because what we are doing is different from our lives in the world. Fr Z would presumably put this under rediscovering our Catholic identity.

Fr Aidan Nichols OP paints the picture of recusant Catholics, plus Anglican converts, plus waves of Irish immigrants (my Grandparents) plus waves of every other nationality of immigrants that make up the Catholic population of England. (Ie English Catholicism? We do cultural and ethnic diversity big time. We just share all the most important things.) As far as I am concerned the only repertoire that takes in the Church Universal and the Church Local must be Chant. Anything else also has the handicap of being obviously written by someone whose name and personality are stamped onto it and a whole pile of other associations. That's fine per se. We all read books written by named people about the Faith, it's just that we don't have their particular take rammed into us at Mass. (hopefully)

Fr Z has had some comments on his blog recently about orchestral Masses. I'm not really sure what I think about them from the perspective of the congregation or the musician. I have no problem listening to others singing. Infact I prefer it. Playing an instrument , mm. I find when playing the organ in Church or singing all I am really doing is that thing as well as I can, given everything that has to be factored in. (Non-musicians beware, you really have no idea, so just don't go there. No believe me, you really don't, just practise for a couple of decades and then come back to us.) That's my experience of conducting really. Total concentration on the orchestra, on what's happening now, what's coming up next, all measured against my idea of how I want it sound. I find I hear much more acutely when charged up on adrenalin. Other people's reactions afterward? Haven't got a clue, I'm onto collecting the music and packing up the music stands. So provided you get to go to Mass again later, to actually go to Mass, bring on the Beethoven Missa Solemnis, especially the Benedictus. Some people seemed to think they should be rejected on the grounds that they were too luxurious aurally. Not sure that's very persuasive. So long as the richness of the sound isn't the end in itself, surely the best possible quality music should be used? Maybe for big Feasts, so that they stand out in the Liturgical Year, but as the greatest Western composers wrote Masses, why not use them?

My final disconnected thought? Dynamics. It seems that there is a modern idea that very important things are said loudly. Thus we should all prove our fervour by singing forte, con brio or con belto as my music teacher would have termed it and we will all feel so much better. (But will we pray so much better?) I have heard this several times in Churchy contexts. That would explain the 'et incarnatus est,' in the Creed being set pianissimo, unaccompanied etc by many composers, whilst everyone genuflects. The opposite is really true. The Poles proved it to me by not singing at all. All this wordiness in Sacred Music. All this racket. Protestantism by the back door, methinks. A great lack of sensitivity and gentleness. Do mothers shout at their babies? Quite.

So, Leutgeb's manifesto of Church Music.
Consonant with the tradition of the Church.
Setting the texts of the Ordinary and Propers of the Mass to be offered.
Opportunities for the congregation to sing if the wish the Ordinaries perhaps, but not in anyway coerced. (Not always necessary, the opportunity, not the coercion, that is, but some people want to sing without actually being in the Choir. Maybe they don't have time.)
Distinct from secular music.
Tonal or Modal.
Unaccompanied or accompanied by organ.
Not attention seeking. (Bring back Choir lofts, then the music floats down from above and behind. Build churches from acoustically reflective materials and get rid of distorting microphones. )
Often absent to allow people some peace and quiet.
In a homogeneous style, so that there is unity in the music.
Fixed, because we are the ones who are supposed to change not the music. (Duffy says one of the big gripes against the Protestants was the way they kept changing things....)

So, it's looking like in goes Chant,
out goes the medley of Protestant, SATB, (though almost always sung in unison,) syllabic, metrical, English hymns. We won't mention the ones that aren't strophic. Hey, count the syllables when you write the words.

Machaut, Dufay, Josquin, Palestrina, Byrd....Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Dvorak, Bruckner... they weren't writing hymns. They wrote Masses. Then they set the odd proper text as a motet. All Catholic composers. Dvorak a daily Mass goer. Bruckner the organist at the Alte Kirche in Linz.

Who wrote hymns (chorales)? JS Bach and much as I love his music, he was a Lutheran.
Hark the herald? Mendelssohn, Jewish convert to Lutheranism.
We don't use the Book of Common Prayer here and there because we think the English is pretty, so why treat music as if it has no content and expresses nothing?

Now go and have a cup of tea and a slice of bara brith. You deserve it.


Mulier Fortis said...

Wow... some deep stuff here.

Me, I have come to love chant, the more I hear, the more I want to hear... I just wish I had the time to learn it. At the moment, the Rossini propers are as much as I can manage.

Give me a few more years...

Patricius said...

"so why treat music as if it has no content and expresses nothing?"-my own thoughts exactly! An interesting idea I came across in Dom Daniel Saulnier's Introduction to Gregorian Chant (I think) was of the chant owing its origin to the "latent music" of the texts.

leutgeb said...

I'm sure that the music must be latent in the texts, though Prof Dobszay showed examples of the same music being used to set radically different texts. Chant can be broken down into small units of melody, which due to its restrictive nature (and that is not a bad thing) are going to get repeated. The music is not expressive in the way later tonal music with obvious word painting is, but seems to focus in on the text rather than distracr from it.

Clare said...

Excellent article. Send it to the Tablet and see if you can get it published.

Along with the Propers we should be rediscovering all the wonderful Vespers hymns and teaching them to our congregations (if they want to join in.)

For example, at St Mary Magdalen's we sang the glorious Vexilla Regis from Passion Sunday. The Salutis Humanae on Ascension Day, the Veni Creator Spiritus last week etc etc.

Sadly very few of them exist in congregational books so unless we print off 100s of sheets the congregation never get access to these and have to listen to the choir singing them.

Another thing, it's just as good to sing the Rossini Propers as the real thing. It's the text that matters. The professsor did say the other day that originally the gradual and the tracts were probably only ever sung by one cantor because of their difficulty.For Corpus Christi, we will be singing the Introit and Communion to the correct tones and the rest will be sung to Psalm tones.

The reality is when you try and do it properly, it's not just propers you have to learn. There's the Ordinary, extra hymns etc etc. It's exhausting. And for most choirs they only have a week to learn all the music.

Sorry l'm rambling now.


leutgeb said...

Ramble on. It all needs to be said.

I never even touched on the question of the quantity of music that needs to be sung and the restrictions of time that exist in a Parish. Couple that with the fact that many enthusiastic singers do not read music and the burden falls very heavily indeed on people who can.

Producing music in a Mass is much more texing than a secular context because of where you are and what you are doing.

People do not hesitate to tell you if they don't like it for any reason. No-one ever comes up to me after a secular concert to tell me how much they disliked something. Out in the world, as a bolshy horn player, I'd suggest that maybe they'd like to take my place next time and as the horn has the reputation for being v hard (and who am I to dispel that one mmm really hard,) people back off. Somehow the same response doesn't trip off the tongue at Church (and good thing too.)

As I said above. Non-musicians, you have no idea what people are up against.

All hail St Mary Mags, trail blazers. When the history of the renaissance in Scared Music in the UK is written, you'll be there.

The Tablet. Have to check with my agent and only under a nom de plume. ;-)

A thought. Does that Parish Chant Book have what you want?

There are lots of people trying to do the same thing so someone's got to publish THE BOOK soon if it hasn't already been done.

berenike said...

I was left to run a two-man schola for an EF Triduum about five or six years ago. The chaps weren't that great, there is a lot of music for the triduum, and I am not a hot singer either. I made us sing half of the stuff to psalm-tones - the traddy Mass (and it is very traddy, alas) in Edinburgh do that sometimes when the schola is off. People catch it quite well - in my current parish, we sing Matins and Lauds (new breviary, vernacular) in Advent and Lent, mostly to Gregorian tones with a lovely ripply guitar in the background to keep the pitch. Polish fits the "real" tones much better than English, of course, but people do very well even with some of the twiddlier endings.

IanW said...

As I recall, Professor Dobszay distinguished between material that subsistutes for official elements of the rite (e.g. hymns instead of Propers), and material that is used in addition to it (e.g. a gathering hymn before a chanted introit). I think his practice is more the latter than the former.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and send all your friends to Evangelium - Intro to the music of the liturgy workshop option :-)