Tuesday, January 8, 2013

New Translation Tuesday: Many Musical Settings

"New Translation Tuesday" greetings to one and all. A few days ago, the following comment was submitted to Gotta Sing Gotta Pray:

Maybe it's been discussed in one of your posts previously, but what are your thoughts regarding the number of options now available for Mass Settings? I especially became aware of this as I was living at my parents house in the NW suburbs and not attending my own church. Decided to take the opportunity to visit other churches. What are the chances of you visiting a church where you know the mass setting? The one church I visited was using the Gloria from St. Ann, and Dan Schutte's Alleluia, Holy, Holy etc. Another church I attended for Christmas used the revised setting of the Mass of Light. Then I return to my church for the feast of the Holy Family to hear the Mass of Joy and Peace. I'm a musician, I have been involved in the liturgy. If I am feeling this way, what do visitors feel like? What about participation? I believe it's more of a challenge now with so many settings to choose from.

I think this musician poses some good questions. When I saw the sheer number of new and revised Mass settings that had been published (and continue to be published) with the new translation, I had some of the same sentiments. There are those who would say that the answer is simple: simply sing the chants from the Mass as found in the Missal. I think this is a fine idea, but most parishes, even maybe having learned the Mass chants, choose other settings for fesitive occasions like Christmas. And that has inevitably meant that there are many, many settings being sung at parishes around the country. Musicians need to exercise common sense when it comes to choosing settings for high feasts of the Church, paying close attention to the fact that there are visitors galore in our pews. Settings that rely on common melodic material throughout the Eucharistic Prayer, for example, can help the occasional Catholic feel somewhat at home within the prayer. It is important that we provide something that lets visitors know where they can find the acclamations: announcements before Mass about where they are located in a particular hymnal, missalette, or worship aid. Or perhaps we continue to provide Mass cards with the musical setting. I don't think it is a bad idea to make a little announcement toward the end of the preparation of the gifts, alerting people to the location of the music for the acclamations during the Eucharistic Prayer. Even if people have not sung the setting before, they will feel that the parish cares about their own participation.

Admittedly, we need much more time for things to settle. As a publisher, I have already seen some Masses soar in popularity and others not soar as high. Time will tell. Feel free to add your own comments.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Christian Cosas said...

I think it'll be years before we reach some kind of equilibrium with Mass settings. Of revised settings, Mass of Creation is still king (but also still slightly confusing); Schutte's Mass of Christ the Savior and the Gokelman/Kauffman Mass of Renewal appear to have gained the most ground of the new settings.

I use the ICEL Missal chants for Lent, and I'm fairly certain that if I tried to use them longer than that, a majority of the people in my pews would revolt.

I don't mean to sound too cynical about this, but it seems like the popularity of these settings is tied more to marketing than it is to musical merit. This is not to say they're bad settings—I think every composer who's tried to tackle these rhythmically challenging, verbose texts should be commended for giving it the old college try. I do think that the publishers are caught in a quandary of trying to put the best settings out there for the Church while also pushing their own house composers.

For example: The only (ONLY!) Mass setting published across all three major Catholic music publishers' hymnals is Mass of Creation. This was obviously true even before the change, because of the ubiquity of MoC. But Steve Janco's excellent Mass of Wisdom (a WLP product) will probably never make an appearance in an OCP or GIA hymnal. I'd love to see the Liturgical Press Psallité Mass appear in something besides their own hymnals, but I doubt it.

Many music ministries are bound to a single publishing house because of small music budgets. I think that's tragic, considering the wealth of material across the board. I gleefully consider myself "publisher-agnostic" when I select music for the Masses at my church; we use an OCP hymnal, but I supplement tons of material from other publishers in a weekly disposable worship aid. Reprint licensing makes this expensive, but I think it's worth it. Not everybody has the freedom or the budget to do this, and that severely limits their repertoire—and their pool of Mass settings.

Sorry for the length!

Scott Pluff said...

A significant portion of our parishioners float among 3 or 4 parishes. Some based on Mass times depending on their schedule that day, others based on location (go see grandma across town this week, out at the lake next week). With 7 or 8 Catholic churches within a 15-minute drive, this is part of our local culture.

This makes me wish our diocese had required every parish to learn certain settings in common. What you lose in individual flavor of particular parishes you would gain tenfold in fostering participation. I don't usually advocate for top-down mandates, but this would have been effective.

Instead, there are multiple settings being used within our city. Some parishes even use one setting for school Masses, another for Sundays, another for the youth Mass, etc. with nothing in common. It's like the Tower of Babel all over again--a lost opportunity.

PatGLex said...

Our parish learned Mass of St. Ann as our first "revised" setting, and took to it like a duck to water. The congregation was dismayed when they found out they would have to learn another new setting (Mass of Renewal); but we rotate between Mass settings for "regular time" and one for "special occasions." AND we'll be learning yet another setting this spring that cuts across the diocese, to be used for diocesan events (like our upcoming 25th anniversary -- we're a young diocese) so that we will have a Mass setting in common with the other churches in our area.

But our parish prints the current Mass settings in our bulletin, which we give out before Mass, so technically a newcomer should be able to look in it and find the words and music.

As a musician myself, I do get frustrated at other churches when I can't sing along with everyone, but I'm all in favor of a card or sheet that has the setting printed. (When I visit my family several states away, the Mass settings they use are very different from what I know -- and they're not in any hymnal in the pews, because I've looked frantically for a music line that matched what I was hearing, unsuccessfully. And that was before the revisions!)

Mary said...

I think it's going to take a few years for things to settle down and for congregations to settle on the arrangements that actually help them to pray: right now we're running on music director or co-ordinator's "best guesses" or preferences.

We project lyrics rather than use hymnals/leaflets, and at Christmas we went back to showing the whole melody line to help visitors, and it worked reasonably well. (But I must confess, we didn't actually use an officially approved Gloria, 'cos it's just to hard to teach in a parish with limited resources.)

Canuck said...

I agree with many of the points stated above and I must admit that I find it worrisome. If every parish learned the ICEL, it would create unity. I am not against learning other settings but there are just too many... We should remember that the Mass is about God, not about us!

Jeffrey Herbert said...

Hello Jerry;

It's been a while but I saw the topic here and couldn't resist. You have to admit...there was definitely a push by publishers to get as many settings out there as possible in the brief window when the new translation was promulgated. Publishers are businesses, and they realized full well that the market for new settings would shrink back to normal levels in a very short time, and so it was to their advantage to put as much out there as possible to "see what would stick" as they say. I agree with you on one point...things will settle down soon enough and a great many of these settings will be relegated to the same pages of history as other other non-memorable settings of the past.

I do have a complaint about the so-called "revised" settings. The revised Mass of Light Gloria (Haas) is a disaster. The original (old) version was one of my regularly used settings. The revised version is near impossible to sing, more so if you knew the old version well. It's one thing to change the lyrics to a song or hymn....it's another thing entirely to modify the melody, phrase lengths, meter and cadence. While attending Mass the other night at a parish (not where I work!) they used this setting. By the second verse I just gave up AND NEARLY STARTED LAUGHING TO MYSELF. I looked around and noticed other people had already put their books down, several whispering to each other and laughing. This parish had used the MOL for many years. I know this because we often go there in the evening so I can attend church with my family. It struck me that a revised setting may not be a good idea if the assembly already had the non-revised version memorized.