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The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist

July 24, 2011

Confronting the Blobs

evelyn @ 9:49 am

I’ll never understand why those responsible for the music in the new Roman Missal have gone in for these tail-less tadpoles in preference to normal staff notation, which is as universal as the Church itself. And now, in the face of demands that we learn the new ICEL chant by this autumn, panicky queries from inexperienced organists are coming in thick and fast. The two questions are:

• How on earth do we deal rhythmically with these blobs?
• How do we accompany them?

Well, it’s no good listening to those who advocate the smooth purity and evenness of monastic chant, unaccompanied and sweetly winding itself around the rafters. Congregations don’t work like that. In the old pre-Vatican II days, when congregational chant was heard quite often, there was a pleasing robustness about the way everyone belted out the Salve Regina or the Missa de Angelis Gloria. There was also rhythmic accuracy, because people were reading from – yes! – staff notation. Remember those cards we used? And most importantly, the organist was also reading from staff notation as he/she guided the people along. Sure, once they knew it, they could sing it on their own, but even then they generally preferred the underpinning of the organ.

It is therefore inevitable that in this new chant situation, parish organists are going to find themselves in the front line. Possibly this will only be in a teaching capacity with unaccompanied singing as the ultimate aim. But it is more likely – much more likely! – that they will be requested to accompany the Sunday congregation on a regular basis. No wonder panic is setting in among the less confident. So Forth in Praise will have a go at helping, and we’d appreciate your telling us how we get on.

There are already a lot of chant accompaniments on the web. Some are mentioned on our Mass page and others can be found by using search engines. However, many of these can be quite complicated. Our settings are deliberately aimed at the known needs of our own beginners. Of course, if they help others, we’ll be delighted.

You’ll see on the Playing the Organ page that we’ve made a start with the Lamb of God/Agnus Dei. As I’ve said, feedback would be very helpful. Please feel free to comment below.

9 Comments »

  1. I like “God” in “Lamb of God” better with the underlying harmony changing at the beginning of the word — on the G, rather than the A, in notation.

    Is there an introduction of any sort to give a reference pitch for singers? (Or a “cue” of some sort if the bit before will also be sung?)

    Comment by Kathryn — July 27, 2011 @ 5:33 pm

  2. But then, I don’t really mind the blobs, either, though if going stemless I prefer a four-line chant staff with squares etc for some reason. (I’m a horn player, though, so I probably just use the “transpose this” bit of my brain for such things.)

    Also, chant brain back on, if the bit up to the asterisk is cantored then reference pitches for everyone else don’t make so much sense and any elaborate introduction would just get in the way. Presumably that is made clear elsewhere!

    Comment by Kathryn — July 27, 2011 @ 5:38 pm

  3. Kathryn, thanks for your comments. I agree with you about the harmony at the beginning. In fact, I prefer A minor with G on the bottom for that whole phrase – a minor seventh chord. Introductions, intoning, whether accompanied or not – we still don’t know how it’s going to pan out. All this is completely new to many people, and yet all congregations are (we think) going to be expected to learn and sing it. Those of us who remember the four lines and square notes of pre-Vatican II days are very few indeed. Even then,they weren’t generally used, but the idea now is that the blobs will be, which is probably why they’ve been given five lines. It’s going to be a very interesting autumn …

    Comment by evelyn — August 2, 2011 @ 7:31 pm

  4. I like it that the chant melody is solo-ed in the right hand in every version of the organ accompaniment. People need to hear the melody clearly in order to learn it.

    Comment by Alastair — August 2, 2011 @ 7:40 pm

  5. Thanks, Alastair. That indeed was the idea. Maybe when people know the melody well we can make the accompaniment more interesting.

    Comment by evelyn — August 4, 2011 @ 12:31 pm

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