web analytics

Forth in Praise

and Downloads




The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist

March 20, 2011

Why the blobs?

evelyn @ 10:56 pm

I’ve had a phone call from a reader, asking if I’m OK, as there hasn’t been anything new on the blog for a bit.  That was a kind thought, Elvira, and the answer is yes and noYes, I’m still bashing on, trying to do my bit for church music.  And no, I’m not succeeding very well, and am finding it difficult to write cheery blog posts when everything is going pear-shaped, or should I say, blob-shaped.

The problem is, of course, the new translation and what it means for the organist.  And if you have several trainee organists, what it means for them.  First, I took my own advice from a few posts ago and started pushing the ICEL chant.  There was some interest shown, and our PP asked us to do the Agnus Dei at all Masses today.  I emailed the squad, sending them the official PDF with its stem-less notes, trying to explain that this is chant, a sort of flexible speech rhythm.  Late last night, I had a phone call from Trainee no. 1, due to play at 9.00 am Mass. What did I mean, ‘flexible speech rhythm’?  How was he to play it?

Well, actually I wasn’t sure what I did mean – I was just trying to provide a reason for the darned thing not being in normal staff notation.  I started seriously wondering just WHY it was in this form, which was neither modern notation nor the old Gregorian type with square notes and all the doodats.  As it happened, the 11.30 organist had been smart and done some looking up, and had found a staff notation version in the Laudate hymnbook (no. 509, if you’re interested), so I suggested Trainee 1 should go for that.

When I came to play it myself at 4.30 Mass, I took a good look at no. 509, which was a tone lower than the blob version.  Yes, it was much easier to read in staff notation, but although the keynote was F, it had a two-flats key-signature.  This could cause problems for someone unused to modality, and the average organist, especially one coming from the piano, generally thinks in major/minor tonality.  But a simple remedy would be to present modal melodies in modern notation without key-signature, any accidentals being placed in the music itself.  Additionally, the occasional bracketed natural could be helpful for ‘unexpected‘ notes, such as the F third from the right in the first line of the ICEL version.  Done that way, modern notation would certainly work for the accompanist.

I suppose the blobs are intended to be more comfortable for singers, especially those who don’t read music. And maybe the idea is that all this should be unaccompanied and sung at any pitch. Well, there’s a blobby singing practice coming up on Thursday, so we’ll find out then just what they can do.


  1. Thanks to the person who did the research and found 509 in Laudate. Since we use Laudate this is very helpful. I look forward to hearing how you get with the ‘blobby’ practice.

    Comment by Marian — March 23, 2011 @ 5:08 pm

  2. Personally, I find reading square chant notation much easier than reading standard notation when dealing with chant. But I’m a very strong sight-singer, fairly comfortable with modality, and as a French horn player quite comfortable with transposition. It’s these pedals I have no end of trouble with!

    The blobs are a nice halfway point for people who find chant notation daunting (it can take time to get used to reading a complicated jubilus); I think the point of using them is that they don’t, like modern notation, have timing implications. I hope that the singing practice was helpful and things are settling a bit now.

    Comment by Kathryn — April 6, 2011 @ 9:08 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.