Music and the Tablet

Well it does to the people who post here... dispassionate and reasoned debate, with a good deal of humour thrown in for good measure.

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Merseysider
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Music and the Tablet

Post by Merseysider » Sun Aug 29, 2004 12:16 pm

Do see this week's Tablet.

Very informative piece by Jeremy de Satgé about "How to rescue the music of the Mass"

According to Mr Satgé it's dead simple: you "find music that is both appropriate and approachable": ie you start with Gregorian chant because it works "well for both choir and congregational singing". Then you can build up a "varied repertoire" by simply alternating Missa de Angelis with Missa Orbis Factor and then add Missa Cum Jubilo "which is suitable for Solemnities and Feasts if Our Lady".

And, no, he's not stuck in the past – he's right up to the 1930s with Richard Terry's Short Mass in C which is "spiritually ulpifting and appropriate" – after all, "the sung setting of the Mass is most appropriate in Latin".

Try telling that to my lot – two hours ago they raised the roof with Chris Walker's Gloria Festiva and a new Holy of mine which they've only been singing for a couple of weeks.

Mr Satgé sees the only alternative sort of Gloria as a strophic hymn which "does little justice to its immense subtlety". Do we tell him of the huge canon of music he's missing out on or leave him in happy ignorance?

I'm going down the pub.

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SOP
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Post by SOP » Sun Aug 29, 2004 3:16 pm

Would he listen?

excathedra
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SSG response

Post by excathedra » Mon Aug 30, 2004 9:39 pm

Rest assured that the SSG will respond to this article - it's too good an opportunity to miss!

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mcb
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Post by mcb » Tue Aug 31, 2004 9:57 pm

Yes, really disappointing article. Annoying to find the Tablet confining an article on celebrating the sacred mysteries to a section entitled Parish Practice, as if it were on a par with doing the accounts or rewiring the PA system. As for the article itself, it seems to me a really meagre vision to offer just a handful of plainchant Masses as people's music. The author doesn't seem to appreciate the irony of promoting plainchant as a vehicle for popular participation. As far as I'm aware there's no basis in tradition for this before the twentieth century. I suppose it's a venerable idea in SSG circles, mind you!

I wonder what else his choir does apart from the Terry Mass in C? Kitson? Tozer? Once again this is a bleak prospect. I can appreciate the argument for foregoing the participation of the assembly if the artistic grounds are strong enough, even if I wouldn't find it acceptable for major celebrations of the community such as Sundays or feast days. But singing a Terry choral Mass is really just another way of saying that "full, conscious and active participation" is a vacuous slogan whose time has gone. That's how I'd feel if a choir that wasn't up to Palestrina foisted that on me instead.

As for the merits of through-composed versus responsorial or strophic settings of the Gloria, again it seems to me there's an irony here. When in the Church's history has the assembly ever sung the Gloria all the way through? The responsorial Gloria, it seems to me, is no more revolutionary than having people sing it at all, and the responsorial format itself, as a way of singing the Psalms, is older than Christianity.

So sock it to them, Ex.

M.

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Post by Copernicus » Tue Aug 31, 2004 10:14 pm

(Hello, everyone, mind if I join in? I've been lurking, as they say, for a while.) I saw that Tablet article and actually reather liked it. That's mainly becasue in my parish we suffer from a non-stop diet of musical dross - low-grade hymns and songs, all written in the last twenty or thirty years ago, all grimly repetetive and disconnected from scriptures and from what's in the Missal. I'm no musical expert, but it seems to me that having the people sing gregorian chant Mass settings has two significant merits. Firstly it ensures that the people get to sing the right bits, instead of just singing to fill in the awkward gaps (like filling in the time while the celebrant makes his entrance or giving the collection plate time to get all the way round). Secondly it ensures that we keep alive a bit of our heritage that it really would be careless to throw away. How else are we going to give plainchant "pride of place" than by actually singing it?

I live a bit far out from Balham (where Jeremy de Satge plies his musical trade) to get there easily, but I'm tempted to try to get there one Sunday just to see what it's like in practice. Maybe it works! If I get there I'll report back. Does anyone else live a bit nearer?

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Post by excathedra » Tue Aug 31, 2004 10:21 pm

I will indeed "sock it to them", mcb.

If anyone who has read the article feels moved to post their thoughts - pro and/or contra - on here, or to PM me, then please feel free. This will assist me as I put pen to paper over the next few days.

Thanks!

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Post by musicus » Tue Aug 31, 2004 10:25 pm

Copernicus wrote:(Hello, everyone, mind if I join in? I've been lurking, as they say, for a while.)

You're very welcome, Copernicus. Thanks for such an interesting first post.

Musicus

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Post by Merseysider » Tue Aug 31, 2004 10:25 pm

Copernicus wrote:having the people sing gregorian chant Mass settings ...ensures that the people get to sing the right bits


No, it doesn't – it makes it harder for them to join in because 1) it's a language they don't understand (even if they know what it means) and 2) it's a musical language which is not part of our culture, even if it is part of our heritage.

I was brought up singing de Angelis and Cum Jubilo – loved it then and still love it now. But if I were to ask my congregation to sing it, I'd lose them.

Yes, there's stacks of dross from the last 30 years. But I'm sure that everyone on here would agree that it can't be easily ignored because there's so much good stuff around right now.

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Post by Dot » Tue Aug 31, 2004 10:28 pm

John Paul II’s Chirograph for the centenary of “Tra le Sollecitudini” on sacred music says:
The more closely a composition for church approaches in its movement, inspiration and savour the Gregorian melodic form, the more sacred and liturgical it becomes; and the more out of harmony it is with that supreme model, the less worthy it is of the temple"[33]. It is not, of course, a question of imitating Gregorian chant but rather of ensuring that new compositions are imbued with the same spirit that inspired and little by little came to shape it.

Perhaps our friend Jeremy de Satgé is being guided by such statements when he pontificates.

Dot

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Post by Copernicus » Tue Aug 31, 2004 10:38 pm

Merseysider wrote:it's a musical language which is not part of our culture, even if it is part of our heritage.

I was brought up singing de Angelis and Cum Jubilo – loved it then and still love it now. But if I were to ask my congregation to sing it, I'd lose them.


So why are they different from you? (Sorry, that sounds hectoring. I'm saying it gently! :) )

And I'm not sure I know what you mean by the difference between our culture and our heritage, unless you mean different things by the first "our" (British, Irish, post-modern consumer society..?) and the second (Catholics).

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Post by Merseysider » Tue Aug 31, 2004 10:45 pm

No, because he's not talking about approaching the "inspiration" of "the Gregorian melodic form". He's talking about using the real McCoy to encourage congregations to sing.

Oh I'm not getting into this debate – gets me too hot under the collar.

Doing some chant with my lads because they love "that Latin stuff". But there also singing some Walker, Farrell, Inwood, Haugen – and bits of my which are syrupy they couldn't be further removed from Mr Satgé's model.

If I followed Mr Satgé's advice, I'd silence the assembly in one – in fact I'd probably empty the pews. Gregorian chant is wonderful, gorgeous, beautiful. But Mr S's advice that it is the best way forward seems a tad unlikely.

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Post by Merseysider » Tue Aug 31, 2004 10:55 pm

Copernicus wrote:So why are they different from you?


They're not. The time is different. We had no choice: it was chant, choral works or 60's and 70s dross. We now have so much choice (including chant).

Not arguing with Mr Satgé love of chant – I share that – I'm arguing against his thesis that this is the way to encourage congregations to sing. It's been proved not to be that successful. And can you explain what makes Missa Cum Jubilo suitable for Feasts of the BVM apart from the fact that it is so prescribed in Plainsong for schools? There is no Mass setting (Latin or English) which is more or less suitable for such an occasion.

Am now working in my seventh parish – admittedly not as much experience as some – and nowhere have I found chant as a way of encouraging people to sing. Some parishes have sung it better than others, some have like it more than others but nowhere could I have used it as a primary vehicle.

As I said in previous response to Dot, I find this debate facile. Will continued to use chant when and where appropriate but, from personal experience, find Mr Satgé's theory a tad flawed.

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The Plain chant 'voice'

Post by sidvicius » Wed Sep 01, 2004 10:57 am

Haven't read the art. yet, but as this is mutating into a plain chant thread...one time we were practising a piece of this - I forget which, and what the occasion was, and our priest tried (quite rightly) to advise us on how it should be sung, demonstrating a gradual increase in volume of each line, and a rapid decrease in volume at the very end of each line. It did sound 'right', but, as such, I got the impression that a modern day congregation would sing it 'wrong' - that the flowing, 'in-out' nature of the sound would be lost.

This sounds trite I guess, but I've always heard plain chant as sort of 'monastic breathing' - if a monastery could be described as a 'living thing', that would be how it sounded inside. It can be very prayerful (or at least meditative for those who don't know Latin), but shouldn't we leave this sort of voice to the experts, who know when, and how, to use it properly?

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Post by SOP » Wed Sep 01, 2004 12:26 pm

I also grew up with plainchant and one thing I remember from those days was older members of the choir saying that as soon as a choirmaster started to 'beat' plainchant they lost respect for that person.

Plainchant flows, it speeds up, it slows down. To have anyone put exact timings on part of it is ridiculous.

For that reason, I would say plainchant would be the wrong thing for a congregation. The Missa de Angelis Gloria can drive me potty when the whole thing is sung by everybody - aaaaaarrrrrgggghhhh! I flit between annoyance and boredom.

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Tsume Tsuyu
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Post by Tsume Tsuyu » Wed Sep 01, 2004 12:49 pm

Sidvicius wrote:....I've always heard plain chant as sort of 'monastic breathing' - if a monastery could be described as a 'living thing', that would be how it sounded inside.

What a truly beautiful way to describe it, Sid. I would agree wholeheartedly! I think I mentioned on another thread that, when I did the chant workshop with Fr. Dunstan at summer school last year, he said one ought to sing chant as if joining in with something that has always been going on. He also said one should feel ones way through it, imagining some notes just a smidge longer or shorter than others, rather than counting. It's made me sing it quite differently and appreciate it a good deal more but I agree with the school of thought here which says that it's not the vehicle to encourage congregations to sing (certainly not the younger members ), and that something beautiful could be spoilt.

I do, however, very much like the idea of "....ensuring that new compositions are imbued with the same spirit that inspired and little by little came to shape it." and this gives us reason to drop the dross, doesn't it?

TT

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