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The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist

March 1, 2019

The verses, the little verses

evelyn @ 6:06 pm

No, not the Song of Solomon, but the song of the average parish cantor, and those little gospel verses that can spoil things if you aren’t careful.

The run-through of the Gospel acclamation, be it Alleluia or one of the Lenten ones, tends to be thrown in at the end of psalm practice with the cantor. And perhaps the least attention is given to the short verse sung by the cantor between the two congregational acclamations. In our church, and no doubt in many others, this is usually sung to a simple chant with chordal accompaniment, which is probably why it gets such short shrift in cantor practices. But there are pitfalls.

The most common chant is:

and our cantors all got used to that pretty quickly. However our present priest uses another common one:

and our newest cantors have picked that one up. Not that this matters, except that the organist has to remember who sings what.

One of our memorisers can sing both chants and has even been known to change horses in midstream. When this person is singing I always hold back the chord following this point:

until it is clear which way the cat is going to jump (metaphors getting mixed here).

Then you get the long sentences where you must try to vary the accompaniment while staying on the same chord. Or the acclamations that land you in a key for the verse which you don’t want – D Major, for instance – which can take the cantor down to A. Not all cantors like being down there. The trick here is to rush in with the first chord for the verse in a more suitable but not too distant key, having warned the cantor beforehand to wait for this. Trouble is, when you go back for the repeat of the acclamation you can’t expect the congregation to wait, so split-second timing and plenty of diapasons are critical.

Then there are the special verses for Palm Sunday/Good Friday and the Easter Vigil when more than a simple chant is required. The former is long, complicated and difficult to set musically; I’ve yet to find a really convincing setting. The Vigil verse, on the other hand, is itself a psalm – Psalm 117 – and there are several settings to choose from. One by Martin Morran beautifully joins up the psalm with the plainchant Alleluia.

Lastly, it’s useful to have verses up your sleeve to suggest for weddings, funerals and weekday visits by the Archbishop. It’s always a help to a busy priest if you can come up with something suitable.

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