The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog
The personal views of a Catholic parish organist
November 23, 2015
Another two Sundays have passed since we introduced our new refrain-less Gloria.
Last week, the reaction was still general bemusement from the congregation. Our priest was despondent. ‘Can’t you introduce a refrain somewhere?’ he asked. I had to explain that I would have to consult the composer. Most composers don’t like other people interfering with their music, although with a bit of arm-twisting they might consider changing it themselves. This was my hope, as I was darned if I could see how a refrain could be fitted in.
During the week, however, our priest phoned with another idea. Could one of the choir lead the people from the lectern? Now this had definite possibilities. Though singing with the choir, this person would give the people someone to focus on, and the amplified voice would help at this learning stage.
So on the Feast of Christ the King, our ‘cantor’, supported by the choir, led the Gloria, and there was definitely a response from the people this time. Father was optimistic. ‘I really think it’s working at last’, he said. I had also played it over as a pre-Mass voluntary, and I played them out with it at the end.
Afterwards, one lady said ‘I just can’t get that melody out of my head. It will be going round and round all day’. I almost said, ‘That’s excellent’, then realised she was complaining.
You can’t win.
November 17, 2015
Priest: We don’t sing any Mass parts in this church, so you don’t need to worry about that.
Me: (aghast) Is it a Mass ?
Priest: Oh, yes.
Me: (sighing with relief as the no-Mass-parts realisation sinks in) It just didn’t look like a Mass on the Order of Service.
The priest agreed.
I had arrived at this fairly distant church to play at a wedding, which I had assumed from the information given to be in the short service form – entrance and exit music, two hymns and something for the register. One should never assume anything, of course, and after all these years I should know that.
Me: So what is to happen at the Offertory and Communion? We’ve no more hymns on the Order of Service.
Priest was puzzled about this, too. He decided the second hymn could be stretched to cover the Offertory, but Communion was still a problem.
‘I could always just tootle on the organ’, I offered, and he brightened up considerably.
Meanwhile, an organist friend playing for a wedding on the same day had had exactly the opposite experience. The bride had booked the church choir and had asked for the MacMillan St Anne Sanctus and Agnus Dei, which the choir had dutifully practised. A couple of days before the wedding my friend learned that it was to be the short service – no Sanctus or Agnus required.
In both these cases the bride was not Catholic and had been given the choice of the music, which was no doubt a nice gesture on the part of her Catholic fiancé. However, she had then been left to work out herself how it should all fit in.
Like many organists, I have a music checklist which I email to brides to help them sort out their music, but it doesn’t go into the full detail of Nuptial Mass. Maybe this needs re-thinking.
November 8, 2015
We introduced a new Gloria today. Not a refrain Gloria, but one of the in directum variety, which the people are supposed to sing right through. This is the kind which is favoured in the Vatican documents, although it doesn’t look as if the compilers took much account of the difficulty of getting a parish congregation to learn a piece – any piece – of such length. My only previous experience of this was learning and teaching the Gloria from the 2010 Newman Mass by James MacMillan – still my favourite Mass setting of modern times – and in that case there was the incentive of the impending visit of Pope Benedict.
Still, in my parish we like a challenge. As our priest pointed out, ‘They sing the Missa de Angelis Gloria right through, so why not this?’ Of course, the Missa De Angelis gets a boost from all us pensioners who had it dinned into us in school before Vatican II was thought of. Nevertheless, a long melody is a long melody, whether it be chant or something recently composed, and it isn’t just the pensioners who belt out the Latin. So there is hope, although a completely new long melody will take time and effort. We’ve decided to see if it can be done.
First, we made sure the people had the music of the melody in front of them. Then our choir leader announced the new Gloria, and got the choir to sing it through. Then a chance for the people to try it – a few extra voices were heard (aha! so there are indeed some sight-singers out there! I suspected as much). Our leader made it clear that it wasn’t expected that people would pick it up right away, but she hoped that just following it would give some familiarity.
The verdict was reasonably hopeful. ‘Not-immediate’ was the neutral but not hostile adjective most applied. The choir seem anxious to keep going at it, so we’ll plug it for the next three weeks until the Gloria itself shuts down for Advent.
Behind all this is the idea that there should be a place for music which is not ‘easy’, music with a bit of depth, which can ultimately be very rewarding. If this project doesn’t work, oh well, we tried. If it does, I might even reveal which Gloria it is …
October 26, 2015
And frivolous. Yes, this is how one reader sees the Christmas Carol Mass. Mind you, that wasn’t all he said, but the rest was highly offensive without adding anything to his argument, and certainly not worth repeating or answering.
However, the charges of inappropriateness and frivolity should be considered. Can it really be inappropriate to sing Christmas carol melodies in church at Christmas? Well, yes, if (and it’s a big ‘if’) you consider that well-known traditional melodies celebrating the birth of Christ compromise the dignity of the Mass words which are set to them. I’m guessing that this is the rationale for the criticism, but I may be wrong, of course.
However, this critic’s implication is that genuine Christmas carols are trivial, and should be classed with the various secular Christmas songs that have been turning up every year, from Bing Crosby onwards. This is not only unfair, but in a way belittles Christianity itself, which surely has had enough belittling, one way and another, in recent times.
So I’m rather pleased that this point has come up. It has made me more aware that our heritage of Christmas carols has a value as sacred music, as well as being fun to sing.
And there have been nice things said about the Christmas Carol Mass, too. Lots of them.
October 8, 2015
Further to last week’s post, there have been enquiries about an email PDF version of the Carol Mass. This would mean you would have to assemble and somehow bind the dozen or so pages yourself – not too big a task, I would think. And it would certainly be quicker than the postal version, and a lot cheaper, although a currency conversion charge would still apply for overseas purchasers.
See publications page for details. I’m currently creating the PDF file now …
October 1, 2015
The problem with singing the Mass at Christmas is that it is usually the same old Mass setting that we’ve been singing all the year round. Somehow it seems a bit of an anti-climax amid all the joyous seasonal carols. But how on earth can you get the people to learn a whole new festive Mass setting, especially in the busy run-up to Christmas?
The answer is: you don’t. Instead you ask them to sing Christmas carol tunes which they already know very well, set to the words of the Mass. And you make sure everyone has a sheet in their hand which shows exactly how the words fit the well-known tunes.
So Forth in Praise is proud to present its first published Mass setting – a Christmas Carol Mass. It’s an instant Christmas Mass! No practice needed! Even the Gloria can be sung right through by the people.
This Mass was in fact dreamed up some time ago. The carol melodies are in the public domain, and all that was now needed was to make the words fit, arrange the accompaniment, and attend to some additions requested by the Scottish Bishops’ publication approval committee, which then passed it. There was still the hurdle of ICEL royalties, which I had previously been wary of as possibly a bit daunting and bureaucratic. I was wrong. ICEL in Washington read and approved the Mass quickly, and came back with a very reasonable royalty arrangement.
So there it is: a Mass published by Forth in Praise with all the church approvals in place. The two-stave organ accompaniment is easy, although you can bring in the pedals if you want, and dress it up in other ways. Chord symbols are included for those who prefer them. The single pew sheet which comes with the book can be legally copied for an entire congregation. The tunes are Ding dong merrily on high, While shepherds watched, Joy to the world and The first Nowell. More details and samples are on our publications page.
The price, including UK postage, is £7.00. You can pay by cheque (UK only) or by credit card through PayPal. Postage will of course be higher on overseas orders.
Order and payment details are all on the order section of the publications page, including a note about our special deal for Australia.
It makes for a bit of Christmas jollity, without too much effort.
PS If you are interested, and live overseas, then I would suggest ordering quite soon.
September 20, 2015
Am busy phoning round last week’s volunteers. One or two have had second thoughts, which is to be expected, but others are happy to come along to a first training session early in October, to learn how the organ works and take away some easy material to practise.
Our parish priest, Father Paul Kelly, has offered to make these Linlithgow organ sessions open to organ beginners in other parishes, if they would like to come. So if you are interested in playing the organ in your church, and live in the area, keep an eye on this Forth in Praise website. I’ll upload the dates when I’ve finished phoning round, and will get the parish website to include the information as well.
Meantime, if you’re interested, here’s the leaflet we handed out last week.
September 16, 2015
You look around at them all. Someone out there, probably more than one, must know enough to play the organ. The question is how to winkle them out.
The answer may lie in working out why these lights are under bushels in the first place. Some possible reasons (with possible remedies in italics):
- Shy of coming forward, because not sure of reception.
Announce a welcome.
- Unsure whether they have skills enough.
It’s possible to start at any point. Admittedly, more work required for beginners, but there are short cuts.
- Nerves. Fear of messing it up publicly.
Make help and support available, and give them a gentle start, say, one Communion hymn.
- Unwilling to commit themselves.
Even a minimal commitment is welcome, so long as it is reliable. And of course, the more recruits, the less the commitment.
- Thinking we don’t need anyone else.
Tell them we DO!
- Pianist not the same as organist.
Most organists were pianists to start with. It isn’t hard to learn the organ touch, although maybe concert pianists should think twice …
- They don’t realise the sheer joy of playing the organ at Mass.
Well, last Sunday a short announcement along these lines at all Masses yielded ELEVEN possibles! We’ll see what happens. Watch this space …
September 5, 2015
Monsignor Michael Regan’s funeral will take place on Monday 7 September in Edinburgh. Full details will be found on the Archdiocesan website or the Archdiocesan Facebook page (scroll down).
Our own Forth in Praise tribute to our excellent Director of Liturgy is here.
May he rest in peace.
September 2, 2015
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Eyes a lot better. Maybe now I will actually see the priests who are conducting the weddings I play at! Two more weddings coming up soon.
In the meantime, here’s something I picked up on Fr Z’s blog.