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The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist



October 12, 2019

Change of direction

evelyn @ 4:29 pm

Last week this blog passed the ten-year mark. The very first blog post was uploaded on 5 October 2009 and the 350th post went up on 5 October 2019.

This seems to be a good moment for things to take a change of direction. In particular, I’d like to spend some time making the blog more navigable. Also, the website as a whole needs to have its overhaul completed. It has been ‘under construction’ for far too long.

So although I plan to continue making weekly entries of one sort or another, they won’t always be blog posts as such. What they will be is anyone’s guess …

I hope our regular readers will stay with us. I’m rather looking forward to the changes.

October 5, 2019

Gloria on the loose – update

evelyn @ 1:02 pm

 

The release into the wild (i.e. without a cantor) of the Gloria mentioned a few weeks ago was an outstanding success.  I was half-expecting the embarrassment of playing the verses solo, but no, a good chunk of the people (possibly more than half) joined in, to my great delight.

Without any cantor support they sang all the verses.  In fact, a number of people said it was because there was no cantor that they sang.  Obviously, they had learned it just by listening to it.  And it wasn’t a chanted-verse Gloria, either.   No, what they sang last week, quite spontaneously, were three quite distinct melodies for the three verses.  We are now considering letting loose another verse-and-refrain Gloria, bringing our current total of unaided Glorias to three, which we can rotate.  Before this, it was a choice of either roping in a cantor or having the same old thing week after week after week.

The conclusion to be drawn from this has to be that congregations are not as stupid as the makers of the Vatican II liturgy seem to have thought.  People are perfectly capable of memorising quite complicated melodies.  Therefore Mass music doesn’t have to be easy to pick up at the first hearing and utterly boring thereafter.

Thank goodness.

 

September 27, 2019

The ‘Tired List’

evelyn @ 2:16 pm

Our priest sometimes complains that he sees certain hymns turning up too often.   Over the summer, I decided that I would have a look at the ‘too often’ problem, and see if I couldn’t make some use of my choir hymns database by extending it a bit. This would hopefully be of some help to our Hymn-choosing Lady, who does a wonderful job looking at the lectionary and selecting hymns for weeks ahead.  The choir would also benefit, as so often we don’t know what we know!

So first I added the ‘Forbidden List’ to the database.  These are hymns which our priest absolutely hates, and never, ever wants to hear in his church.  Actually, he does hear them sometimes – there has to be a bit of give and take at funerals.

Then I included the ‘Approved List’ – hymns we know Father likes, because he often delves into the hymn book and brings out examples that he thinks we should be considering.  So from now on, any sentence starting ‘Why do we never sing …’  results in an addition to the Approved List.

Then, of course, there are the many hymns that don’t come into either list.  No doubt they will be absorbed one way or the other as time goes on.

But hymns that turn up too often?  Well, they deserve special treatment.  Often their very merit is what has caused them to be overdone, so the last thing we should do is condemn such good hymns to be lost forever on the Forbidden List.  But they do have to be kept out of the way for a bit.  Just for them, therefore, a new category has been invented, the ‘Tired List’.

The Tired List is by its nature dynamic, and will need reviewing on a regular basis to determine whether any of the prisoners can be released from their chains.  The lucky ones will proceed to the Approved List, others might go to their doom on the Forbidden List, while the rest will stay where they are for the present.

A bit like Heaven, Hell and Purgatory, I suppose …

September 20, 2019

Are you a cantrix?

evelyn @ 2:09 pm
  • … At least nine times out of ten, the cantor (more properly cantrix) in a Catholic church is female … I have no personal objection to a modestly dressed cantrix, if that’s the decent voice that’s available, but using men affirms tradition and also works against the notion that religion is “a women’s thing.” If a man hears men singing at Mass, he understands that it’s a man’s job and is more likely to take it on, to the benefit of volunteer choirs who are short of men.
     
    Jeffrey Quick, The Wedding: How to Be a Catholic Music Patron, at Least Once
    (https://onepeterfive.com/wedding-catholic-music-patron/)

If I had been asked ‘what is a cantrix?’ I think I would have expected it to be some sort of insect. But no. A cantrix is a female cantor, according to the American writer Jeffrey Quick. Quick doesn’t seem to like cantrixes (if that is the plural). In fact, he is probably one of those people who think the sanctuary should be barred to women altogether (‘except to clean’, as an old priest friend once said to me with a twinkle).

However, his remark that if all else fails, a ‘modestly-dressed cantrix’ would be acceptable rather took my breath away. Surely everyone at Mass, male or female, in the sanctuary or not, should be modestly dressed. I’ve never seen an immodestly-dressed cantor of either sex, although the occasional gent wearing shorts in hot weather can sometimes look a little too informal. And I’m sure things aren’t any different in America.

Another reason Quick gives for preferring male to female cantors is that being a cantor will encourage a man to join the church choir. From my many years of personal experience, I know that this is completely wrong. It is of course the other way round.

Singing alone at the lectern is daunting, much more so than reading, and appeals for new cantors tend not to produce much in the way of results. However, people who already sing in church are far more likely to be persuaded, especially when supported by their friends in the choir, who lead the response. All our male cantors, and most of our lady cantors (no, I just can’t be doing with this ‘cantrix’ thing), started off as choir members.

So the best way of keeping cantor numbers up, male and female, is first to ensure that the choir flourishes. In my own parish, we have found that interesting music, good-humoured practice sessions and a few pizza evenings have produced a cheerful crowd of singers, and ultimately eight or nine cantors.

All modestly dressed.

 

September 13, 2019

The Sound of Silence

evelyn @ 3:07 pm

A friend of mine was asked to deputise for a special occasion in a church where many years ago he had been the organist.  When he got there, he recognised the ‘organ’ as the same aged electronic piano he had played all those years ago – they had never replaced it. Possibly they hadn’t had an organist since then.   ‘Possibly’ became ‘probably’ when the thing kept cutting out and suddenly delivering silence. The rousing final hymn became – well, nothing. Obviously, this was an instrument which should have gone to the tip long ago.

I suppose this is a chicken-and-egg situation.  Why should a church spend money on a new instrument when they have no organist?  Yet they will never get an organist until they replace the instrument.

(Psst!  Tell them it could be dangerous.  If it hasn’t been maintained for years, it probably is.  That should get them moving.)

 

September 6, 2019

A Gloria on the loose?

evelyn @ 4:37 pm

 

Me: You’ll intone the Gloria, won’t you?

Priest: Which one is it?

Me: The usual one you intone (I sing the notes). I’ll play the phrase first.

Priest: But there’s hardly anyone here. They won’t sing it.

Me: It’ll be all right. The cantor is there to sing the verses.

Priest (grudgingly): All right, then.

In the afternoon, however, he sent me a nice email saying I had proved right about the Gloria. And sure enough, I too had noticed that even with the numbers down the people had sung not only the refrain but good chunks of the verses as well. It may well be that it is time to let this Gloria loose, that is, try it with only the organ for support. Always a daunting prospect for the organist. Will they sing?

Congregations are so unpredictable when it comes to Mass parts. They have (a) things they know well and will always sing (but are often sick of), (b) new things which they have inexplicably embraced and learned with no bother and (c) new things which they show no signs of wanting to pick up, no matter how often the choir puts them forward. The psychology of (b) and (c) might be worth studying by composers. What makes a setting welcome to a congregation?

In this case, however, it’s just possible that category (a) comes into play. We have only one other Gloria which the people can sing right through without a cantor. Although our priest likes it, there is a lot of muttering among the people that they are totally fed up with it. So maybe this is why they are making the effort to learn this new one.

We shall see.

 

August 30, 2019

Farewell to Calamus

evelyn @ 3:51 pm

Copyright, as all musicians know, is a minefield, and for many years now Calamus, an offshoot of Decani Music, has guided our steps through it, with understanding and incredible flexibility.

Copyright needs can vary and Calamus was able to adapt its system and offer a price that exactly fitted any particular need. In my case, mainly with diocesan work, it was a question of choral parts to hymns, which could be gathered from a number of different hymn books, with an even greater number of copyright holders. If these were on the Calamus list, Calamus would give us a price and process the entire transaction. They even helped out when we didn’t know how many copies we would need for a particular event – many people would turn up without booking in spite of all our pleas. In these cases, they allowed us to tell them after the event how many copies we had given out, and, unlike some publishers, trusted us to destroy any left over copies. A personal, kindly service.

And now they have gone – taken over by an American company, One License. The first thing I did was contact One License to find out about choral copies, only to be told they didn’t deal in choral music, only in congregational melody line and words. So that was that.

Now my colleagues and I have to do some serious thinking. There is definitely a back-to-square-one feeling about the copyright problem.

Anyway, grateful thanks to Calamus for three decades of smoothing the copyright path. We’ll miss you.

 

 

 

August 23, 2019

Music event – East of Scotland

evelyn @ 5:05 pm

On Saturday 14 September, the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh will be holding a liturgical music event called ‘Living Church Music’, in Gillis Centre, Edinburgh.

Forth in Praise has posted here what details we have, and will add to these if and when we hear anything further. I haven’t been able to find any mention of the day on the Archdiocesan website, but I may have been looking in the wrong place, or maybe they haven’t posted it yet.

The Facebook page of the Archdiocese has a short video about the event, and this may be the best place to look for information updates.

August 16, 2019

Those wicked men again!

evelyn @ 2:45 pm

I’ve blogged before about the demise of the wicked men, and yesterday I mourned them yet again as I played ‘I’ll sing a hymn to Mary’ on the Feast of the Assumption. For sadly, this traditional old hymn, much-loved by my generation and earlier ones (it was my father’s favourite hymn) has been wrecked by the compilers of the Laudate hymnal.

The last two lines of each verse have been changed from:

When wicked men blaspheme thee,
I’ll love and bless thy name.

to the bland and uninspiring:

O may I imitate thee
and magnify God’s name.

The change may have been made in line with some form of political correctness – is ‘blasphemy’ a proscribed word these days? – even though insults to the Blessed Virgin and the Church in general don’t seem to have ceased. Mayhew had altered the phrase to ‘wicked ones’ (yet more political correctness!) but had kept the blaspheming, which wasn’t too major a change, I suppose. But if you take ‘man’ as meaning ‘Mankind’, then the wicked men should really be allowed to stand.

The organ likes the wicked men because it can do a ‘snap’ on ‘wicked’, which makes it sound quite angry. I decided to be a bit wicked myself yesterday and did the snap anyway, even though the words were ‘may I’ and were set to two straight crotchets.

(with snap)

(as in hymn book)

And in verse 1, just at this point, I was sure I heard the word ‘blaspheme’ coming from down below. I listened carefully and at verse 2 there it was again. Yes, a goodly number were singing the old words, bless them. But why?

I worked it out afterwards. First, a weekday Holy Day hasn’t the same formality as a Sunday. There is no newsletter to pick up, and so people often forget to pick up a hymn book. Therefore they sing from memory where they can, and, again because it is a weekday, there are a lot of retired people whose memories are of the wicked men. Added to that, the hymn was sung at Communion. People don’t take their hymn books when they go up to receive Communion, so that makes more people singing from memory.

And the memories could well have been triggered by my organ snap!

Must try it again sometime.

 

 

 

August 9, 2019

Dancing at Mass

evelyn @ 2:03 pm

Recently our Parish Hymn-chooser included a new one on her list, Laudate 889, ‘Jesus Christ is waiting’, tune Noel Nouvelet, words by John Bell. She liked the melody, as did I, but I warned her it wouldn’t be approved once our priest reached verse 3: ‘Jesus Christ is dancing, dancing in the street’. Sure enough, it was rejected and sent to join ‘Lord of the dance’ on the Forbidden Hymns list. It will never be heard in our church unless we are assigned a dancing priest like the one in the Father Ted series.

If singing about dancing is awkward, I find the idea of actually witnessing dancing at Mass positively cringe-making. It isn’t like dancing in the church hall which, whether it be a children’s competition or a general knees-up, is quite a different matter.  But in church … and at Mass … oh no.

Yet it happens. For example, the famous Buenos Aires tango:

And only other day I saw the following online video of a dance performance during the Agnus Dei at what looked to be quite an important Mass in Germany.

Oddly enough, I rather liked the music. But having a dancer prance and pirouette in front of the altar was positively embarrassing (I did think some of the celebrants were trying to keep a straight face).  No matter how talented the dancer was, it was the wrong place and the wrong time. Dancing for an audience is a ‘look-at-me’ thing, quite inappropriate at Mass where attention should surely be focused elsewhere. After the dancer had finally floated to a conclusion, the gear-change crunch as the main celebrant reverted to the normal course of the liturgy was almost audible, and a most welcome relief.

 

The only way dancing at Mass works is when everyone does it – not looking for admiration, but as an unselfconscious part of the proceedings in a particular culture where dancing is the norm. This of course happens in Africa. My friend Frances, who visits friends in Tanzania, says dancing at Mass there automatically replaces walking – for everyone. They all dance up and back to give their offerings or receive Communion, Frances among them (‘You just can’t help joining in’, she says). She loves it, and I can see why, from this link which she has sent me of Mass in a village she knows:

 

But please, please, don’t let’s have ballet dancers performing to an audience in middle of Mass. It’s creepy, and makes me want to reach for the sick bag.

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