Liturgically Inappropriate Music

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nazard
Posts: 539
Joined: Tue Sep 05, 2006 7:08 am
Parish / Diocese: Clifton
Location: Muddiest Somerset

Re: Liturgically Inappropriate Music

Post by nazard » Mon Jan 17, 2011 3:31 pm

Don't knock Westminster Cathedral. Two points in their favour:

(1) I go out of my way to go there whenever I am in the area, which is more than can be said for St Hernia's on the Mount Without. So do a lot of other people.

(2) There are more people there for weekday Vespers than at any other church I know: more than at many monasteries (including the community in the count). Their advertising it as Vespers rather than Evening Prayer may have something to do with it. The two names mean something completely different to the uninitiated.

Any time they want to swap their organ for our elderly parish toaster, I'm all for it.

High Peak
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Parish / Diocese: Diocese of Nottingham
Location: Derbyshire

Re: Liturgically Inappropriate Music

Post by High Peak » Fri Apr 25, 2014 10:57 pm

AntoineDaniel wrote:
I would say that much Taize music is prayerful, dignified and beautiful, therefore to be admitted into the sphere of te sacred, but others here have dismissed it at least one such piece as "Broadway Tune", so precluding its entry.


As a music theorist, I really don't see how any of the Taize music I've heard could be considered "Broadway."

That being said, I could see the case being made that it's kind of a goofy, simplistic parody of Baroque music.

However, some of my own music is far from perfect ... especially my earlier works ... so I need to be very careful here ... (!)


Taizé music, I would argue, was developed for a very specific set of circumstances; large groups of people of different nationalities and mother-tongues coming together to worship. It is fairly simplistic but still rather beautiful and, when I first went in 1984, I was very struck by the power, beauty and prayerfulness of hundreds/thousands of people confidently singing in four-part harmony.

However, I am wary about using Taizé chants in the liturgies that I plan because the Assembly is not sufficiently confident or numerous to "carry it off". The only time I have used one was during a Deanery Confirmation Mass; we had a small singing group that carried the four parts of Veni Sancte Spiritus (the congregation was invited to join in with any part they could pick up) and three soloists shared the verses/antiphons. We kept that going for 15 minutes!!

dmu3tem
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Re: Liturgically Inappropriate Music

Post by dmu3tem » Tue Apr 29, 2014 10:21 am

I note that this thread, mainly seems to be concerned with text, as opposed to actual music. Should it not therefore be placed in the Liturgical section, as opposed to 'sounds off', which is supposed to be about musical composition?

Alternatively, if the thread is kept here, should there not also be some (technical) discussion of musical issues in a given piece? Maybe also some discussion about how a musical setting brings out (or detracts from, or alters the emphasis) of a given text?

Here is a possible genre for discussion:

Responsorial Psalms: I note that the texts are often extreme in their swings from one emotion to another. Yet many musical settings (especially chant settings) produce something that is much more anodyne. This is especially true in a monastic context, where the habit of 'disembodied' 'singing from the throat' and the emphasis on self-abnegation results in a sound that pours oil on the violent emotive language that is often found in psalm texts.

e.g. Examine how composers (and performers) execute a text like: 'Why do the nations rage so furiously together?'

Plainchant - as sung according to the Solesmes tradition - produces similar effects. In particular its performance-compositional emphasis on smoothly flowing (often stepwise) lines discourages singing that is percussive and highly rhythmical.

e.g. Examine treatment of the response text: 'This poor man calls: the Lord hears him!' (itself an example of the change in emotion between the two phrases which a composer might wish to exploit)

There is also scope for discussion here of the merits (and demerits) of the use of modes vs diatonic major-minor systems. The latter, with its sharp swing from major-minor and back again, seems ideal for the rapid switches in mood one sees in psalm texts, especially between verses and a given response. I notice that composers as a general rule still seem reluctant to explore the inherent possibilities in the Responsorial Psalm form for key modulation between verses and responses; or - even more interesting - a pattern of 'progressive tonality' where you might start the response in one key, move to its relative major/minor for the first verse, then shift to the response in a new key and so on! Even without this modulation back and forth between verse and responses enables the composer to make optimum use of the vocal range of the specialist cantor singer (especially if she/he is a proper Soprano or Tenor) as opposed to that of the congregation.

Furthermore the same sort of exploration can be carried out by using different instrumental (as well as vocal) textures for verses and responses. Many settings still seem to be content to offset a four-part harmony setting of the response against a chant chord sequence in the verses. Should we, as composers and arrangers, not be more ambitious?
T.E.Muir

alan29
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Re: Liturgically Inappropriate Music

Post by alan29 » Tue Apr 29, 2014 6:43 pm

The subject of Psalms is interesting. As far as I am aware the normal way of chanting them in all traditions, including in synagogues, is to use an unchanging chant - though I do know that Anglicans sometimes use more than one for some psalms. The point is that the words don't actually need obvious musical signposting, they speak clearly for themselves. Of course it is always open to cantors and accompanists to vary the delivery of certain verses.
The fact that some composers have found them irresistible for concert-style settings is a different issue. The texts are so vivid as to be irresistible to those of a composerly mind.

Ephrem Feeley
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Re: Liturgically Inappropriate Music

Post by Ephrem Feeley » Wed Apr 30, 2014 10:59 pm

The subject of Psalms is interesting. As far as I am aware the normal way of chanting them in all traditions, including in synagogues, is to use an unchanging chant - though I do know that Anglicans sometimes use more than one for some psalms. The point is that the words don't actually need obvious musical signposting, they speak clearly for themselves.


I'm not sure if the normal way of chanting psalms and canticles - using a tone in many cases - is necessarily the correct way. The psalms are rich in their historical origins - many sprang from individual situations (eg: Psalm 50, Psalm 63); others were written during the exile (Psalm 137); the Canticle of Moses sung at the Easter Vigil, which probably post-dates the Exodus event by several centuries, nonetheless captures the radiant joy of the Israelites (at the expense of several Egyptian horses and riders). The fact is that all we are left with is the text, along with the occasional musical indication, such as "with stringed instruments", "to the choirmaster", or the wonderfully obscure "selah". Individual psalms may well have been sung in a quasi-improvisatory way, as some folk songs were, or in our Irish tradition over here, similar to sean nós singing.It is unlikely that the psalms in their original context used an unchanging chant; it is more likely that there was a huge diversity in performance, similar to that which we experience today.

This leads to the question of how modern composers approach psalms and canticles today - the use of an unchanging chant is probably more for pastoral reasons (easier to learn / teach) than for any real liturgical reason. Why not word paint, use exciting accompaniments, move into other keys, if the text suggests it?

IncenseTom
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Re: Liturgically Inappropriate Music

Post by IncenseTom » Thu May 01, 2014 11:14 am

Ephrem Feeley wrote: Why not word paint, use exciting accompaniments, move into other keys, if the text suggests it?


I quite like to alter the chords or registration of the verses to reflect the words if I can manage it. I would hope that it underlines the meaning of the text for folk a bit more rather than the congregation just thinking that I'm doing it for the sake of it.

I certainly think there is scope for psalm compositions which are slightly more varied in order to present the text more effectively as much of what is found in psalm book collections is very much of a muchness, in style and format.

alan29
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Re: Liturgically Inappropriate Music

Post by alan29 » Thu May 01, 2014 2:20 pm

Having advocated chants, I have to confess that I write through-composed settings for high days and holy days to differentiate them from normal Sundays. But then I am very lucky to have a couple of trained singers among our psalmists who can cope. Needless to say they also make a much better fist of the chant settings too, and make a point of vocally colouring words and phrases that demand it.
And I enjoy applying "special effects" in my accompaniments too. :oops:

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