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The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist

November 10, 2019

Some hymn books

evelyn @ 8:59 pm

In the beginning (well, the beginning of my organist career), there was the St Andrew Hymnal. Published in 1964, it sadly became obsolete more or less immediately, having been overtaken by Vatican II and all the wishy-washy popular hymns that started coming out in untidy little booklets, mainly published by Mayhew.

Over the next few decades, things settled down, hymn books became larger and included hymns both traditional and modern. But re-reading the posts while uploading the ‘Hymns and Hymn Books’ index confirmed my view that no hymn book is perfect. All have some problem or other.

The Mayhew books are the worst, in my opinion. Some of the horrors are summarised in the Redressing the Balance post, but there is no end to them, as posts Two Ways of Going Home, Talk about Tasteless and More on MacMillan show.

Laudate, published by Decani Music, is considerably better. Yet even here there are problems, mainly with editorial ‘updating’ of the words (Lent and Laudate), and the omission of some old favourites such as ‘Bring Flowers of the Rarest’ and ‘Sweet Heart of Jesus’.

Best of the rest? Well, I do like CH4 (the Church of Scotland’s Church Hymnary Fourth Edition). Its accompaniments are generally better than those in the Catholic hymnals, especially Mayhew. The other major C of S hymn book, Mission Praise, has a rather piously modern outlook, which I find a bit irritating (Thoughtfully yours). Both books are well-edited and indexed, and either will stand on its own in a C of S parish.

Oh, and I mustn’t forget our own Forth in Praise 100 Hymns for Organ Beginners, which has been our best seller for some years now. Although its scope is limited and the two-part texture rather bare, it has been a useful stepping-stone for beginners, helping them to gain confidence by offering the simplest of accompaniments, with chords for those who wish to go down that road.

But to return to the St Andrew Hymnal. In the last few years its merits are becoming recognised. Its publication by the Catholic Church in Scotland, rather than by a commercial firm, gives it some authority. The quality of the music arrangements and layout is excellent, and it is well indexed. Although it is out of print now, most organists manage to acquire a copy, usually by exploring the dark recesses of church cupboards that haven’t been opened for years.

In the last few years there has been talk of officially reviving and republishing much of the content fo the St Andrew Hymnal. Let’s hope this comes to something.

November 3, 2019

Most Googled index

evelyn @ 4:10 pm

Although these days you can’t easily tell what keywords people put into a Google search, you can often work it out if you know which page they have landed on. So the new little index on the left is called ‘Most Googled’, although it takes in other search engines as well.

Organist fees, especially funeral fees, have had the most hits, which is perhaps to be expected. My new backrest bench, or rather, chair is the next. A bad back like mine is obviously very common among organists.

A couple of others come up fairly regularly. I can understand ‘American notation’, but I didn’t expect this blog to be a major online source for the seaweed-eating sheep of North Ronaldsay!

Note: this list doesn’t include the most Googled music – that’s another index!

October 27, 2019

Another index uploaded.

evelyn @ 3:43 pm

That’s the Index by Date uploaded. The next lot should be more interesting.

Tedious though the Date index looks, it covers quite a few dramatic moments. The most memorable for me revolved round the visit of Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, and James MacMillan’s Mass of Blessed John Henry Newman (now ‘Saint’, of course). I still think the Newman Mass was an outstanding setting of our very difficult liturgy. It’s such a pity it seems to have disappeared afterwards. As it happens, we’re reviving it in our parish just now, bit by bit.

There was one enormous panic which I well remember. We had amazingly been given permission by the publisher to upload computer-generated audio files of the music of the Newman Mass, so long as there were no words, to help people learn it ahead of the papal visit. It seemed that Forth in Praise was the only source for these melodies, and when America found out, the website nearly went down! Our then webmaster was on holiday and I hadn’t a clue how to remedy things. However, after a frantic phone call or two to the web hosting company, all was well.

The files are still around, and can probably be found using the new Date index – if anyone is interested.

October 20, 2019

Navigating the blog

evelyn @ 1:14 pm

Well, that’s the first index uploaded.  The link is in the left hand column on this page.  It took a lot of effort to get it there, and the result looks pretty tedious – all those boring announcements about events long gone (I’ll have to remove them later).

However, now I’ve done it once it won’t be a lot of trouble to do it again, and hopefully with more interesting topics.  Which reminds me, this is where I should include the link to the bridal stories.  Better do that next.

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

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.


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