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The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist

February 13, 2011

Gregorian without the melismas

evelyn @ 3:40 pm

I can see this business of the new Mass translation is going to become as overwhelming as last year’s papal visit, but I do think I should say a word about it. Purely a personal view, of course, which may turn out to be completely wrong when we get the detailed guidance.

This Sunday the Scottish bishops have announced that the new Ordinary of the Mass will be introduced in September, as is also happening in England. However, plans in detail are still to come. Although there is much about spiritual renewal, what concerns me personally as an organist is the practical side of liturgical music-making. New melodies will have to be taught to the whole congregation. Organists, whether they like it or not, will be in the forefront.

Or will they? Flora’s recent comment about the official chant has got me thinking. Chant is usually designed for unaccompanied singing, and purists can get quite exercised about this, so will organ accompaniments be limited to hymns in the new liturgy?

I’ve had a look at the chant, which, although in English, is basically Gregorian-style without the fancy melismatic bits, and really rather nice. The Sanctus and Agnus are based on the old Requiem Mass, and bring to mind the wonderful settings of these chants in the Duruflé Requiem. Is this a real link at last with past glories? Maybe.

Although unaccompanied singing may have been the general idea, in practice congregations are unlikely to be happy without some backing, at least during the learning phase. So organists will have to learn it first, if only to teach it. What we don’t know yet is whether the chant is supposed to be the norm, with ‘composed’ settings used less often than now. That would certainly resolve my own pet hate, the perpetual rotation ad nauseam of the same two or three Mass parts Sunday by Sunday. It would also mean that we don’t have to go in for the ‘accessible’ stuff that is easy to learn but palls so very soon. It is a known fact that good easy music is the most difficult kind to write.

Anyway, I would suggest to Flora that she might want to study the official chant (links to it, including audio Youtube files, are on the Music for the New Mass page of this website), and work out how best to teach it to her congregation. Certainly, that’s what I’m going to do.


  1. Will do. Thanks for advice.

    Comment by Flora B — February 14, 2011 @ 2:56 pm

  2. I think I’ll have a look at that, too; I’m always interested in seeing how English chants get around the problems of word stress in melodies written (developed? Evolved?) for Latin, and I still haven’t found anything I’m entirely happy with!

    (Not that I can currently convince the congregation to chant anything at all where I am, but on the other hand I have considerable liturgical freedom regarding what I do with the choir, as long as it isn’t too difficult.)

    Comment by Kathryn — March 6, 2011 @ 8:11 pm

  3. Agree English just doesn’t go with chanting like Latin does, but they seem to have made a good stab at it this time. I’ve found some more chant versions of the new translation and have put the links of the Music for the Mass page.

    Comment by evelyn — March 7, 2011 @ 12:42 pm

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