All things to all people?

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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High Peak
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All things to all people?

Post by High Peak » Sun May 25, 2014 7:21 pm

Last night I was finishing off my preparations for Pentecost and realised that the music that we will be doing spans a long, long stretch of history in one way or another. From 9th Century to 16th Century to early 20th Century, late 20th Century and Mass settings from this year!!!

A broad range of styles and eras indeed.

Has anyone else found themselves in a similar situation? Do you think it's a good idea to mix and match so much or do you think it's a totally bad idea?

My own justification is the diverse range of people that come to the Mass for which I prepare and a wish to help all appreciate that there are treasures old and new.

Southern Comfort
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Re: All things to all people?

Post by Southern Comfort » Sun May 25, 2014 7:59 pm

Sounds good to me!

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musicus
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Re: All things to all people?

Post by musicus » Sun May 25, 2014 8:43 pm

Agreed. The wider and more balanced the range the better!
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Ephrem Feeley
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Re: All things to all people?

Post by Ephrem Feeley » Sun May 25, 2014 9:25 pm

I think that too often church musicians can be locked into style. Choirs that have the luxury of numbers that allow them to sing four or more parts can focus too much on Renaissance choral music and be dismissive of more contemporary, assembly-based liturgical music. Directors who work with young people often have the tendency to gravitate towards folk or contemporary music. High Peak’s philosophy, like the storekeeper in the Gospel who draws out from the store old and new, is to use the best of music from all genres and periods. Yesterday the Schola from the school where I teach provided the music for the parish confirmations: the repertoire ranged from Gregorian chant to John Ireland to Marty Haugen. Nothing seemed out of place.

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Gwyn
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Re: All things to all people?

Post by Gwyn » Sun May 25, 2014 9:46 pm

Sound about right to me H.P.
:D

HallamPhil
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Re: All things to all people?

Post by HallamPhil » Sun May 25, 2014 9:52 pm

I think the mix is to be recommended.

Jesus, who was not a fisherman, told experienced fishermen to toss their nets to the other side of the boat ... and the miracle, apart from the fact that they caught loads of fish, was that they listened to him in the first place!

We musicians, who also have to assist in the responsibility of attracting folk to Christ, have to deploy anything in the library to achieve this (as long as it is still liturgically appropriate).

I can remember hearing quoted someone (Bonhoeffer?) saying that if homilies were only scholarly then they would only attract academics and that if music in church were only by Mozart then we would only attract concert-goers. Neither are bad in themselves but the chance of touching the heart of anyone who pops into church is reduced.

John Bell, in similar vein, said 'God's favourite colour is tartan'!

What is there to pick from if you don't have the mix?

Southern Comfort
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Re: All things to all people?

Post by Southern Comfort » Mon May 26, 2014 10:53 pm

To be serious:

You can't just dump things into a celebration willy-nilly. There has to be a system to it, otherwise it's just a random mess.

Two things that we can do to help the mixed grill process:

(1) Look at the nature of each part of the rite, and try to tune the pieces we want to use into the most appropriate spots.

(2) Divide the rite into its inherent sections. So, one type/style/idiom of music for the introductory rites, another for the Liturgy of the Word, a third for the Liturgy of the Eucharist, another for the Communion Rite, and another for the concluding rites. In other words, doing it systematically.

High Peak
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Re: All things to all people?

Post by High Peak » Wed May 28, 2014 1:00 am

Southern Comfort has latched onto what was the gnawing concern behind my original post; whether an employment of disparate styles risks producing a distracting mess.

Given the range of instruments at my disposal (guitars, flutes, mandolin) there is a sense in which there will be a common thread and colour to the musical performance linking even the 16th Century piece and the 21st Century piece (and no, that does not mean "crash, bang, wollop folk-style!!" :D ) - if I had an organist at my disposal then the risk of a clash of styles would be more apparent and a lot more careful planning along the lines suggested by SC would required.

The group has welcomed the "set list" for Pentecost (I was in a band so can't get away from using such terminology so easily!) as will, I suspect, many in the congregation - though I do know a few who may enjoy listening to the Latin plainchant but will not appreciate it on a personal spiritual level and will not join in. The members of the music group have copies of the plainchant in neumes and links to YouTube to recordings of it and I know that some have already started to practise.

Ephrem Feeley
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Re: All things to all people?

Post by Ephrem Feeley » Wed Jun 11, 2014 11:01 am

Divide the rite into its inherent sections. So, one type/style/idiom of music for the introductory rites, another for the Liturgy of the Word, a third for the Liturgy of the Eucharist, another for the Communion Rite, and another for the concluding rites. In other words, doing it systematically.
Surely this would produce a somewhat disjointed liturgy? Opening Rites in a Gospel style, Liturgy of the Word in a traditional style etc. I wonder would a better practice be to try to integrate the varying styles of the music groups throughout, so that, for example, the Gloria and Eucharistic Acclamations could be more folk style, with a Gregorian Alleluia and Agnus Dei... It's a tough one, but if there is some attempt at unity of performance, while still allowing diversity of style. I'm sure in High Peak's case, the accompanying instruments should be enough to pull the repertoire together.

Southern Comfort
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Re: All things to all people?

Post by Southern Comfort » Wed Jun 11, 2014 6:07 pm

Ephrem, I must respectfully disagree. Scattering idioms around the celebration, ducking out of one style only to return to it again later on and even twice, can be a recipe for the random mess, if it's not done very carefully. Additionally, it's likely to prove more annoying to those with particular antipathies to certain styles.

Doing the thing on a more systematic sectional basis means that you know that if you don't like a particular idiom, once that "section" is done you won't have to put up with that idiom again in that celebration.

Now, of course systematic doesn't necessarily mean "by section" — I simply used that as an illustration. Another way, which is closer to what you're thinking, I suspect, is what I meant when I wrote about being in tune with the nature / characteristics / function of each part of the rite. So, you could have one idiom for all the acclamations, another for the litanies, another for the hymns, and so on. But some might find even that to be over-restrictive or artificial.

My primary concern, one that I have already expressed at least once in this forum, is to enable everyone to be able to identify with at least something that goes on in a celebration. Otherwise you have a situation where perhaps only one week in four is there anything that speaks to you at Mass. For me, this means using more than one idiom. To use the colour analogy, think of one style as red, another as blue, a third as yellow, a fourth green, and so on. To say to a congregation, in effect "This week it's the Red Mass, and tough luck on those of you who only like purple: you'll have to wait another three weeks for that one. Ha ha ha!" is something that we'd never do. Instead, we put on a rainbow-coloured Mass each week, so that all can find something for them in it.

That also means that everyone has to make some sacrifice for the good of the community; and the appreciation of that gesture is what helps communities to grow, in my opinion. I contrast this with some of our parish and cathedral music directors who are definitely monochrome or black-and-white in their approach. No sacrifices for them!

Ephrem Feeley
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Re: All things to all people?

Post by Ephrem Feeley » Wed Jun 11, 2014 8:00 pm

While you may disagree, I think we're actually on similar wavelengths. Music, whatever the style, must fit the ritual, and there is room for a diversity of styles in the same liturgy. The rainbow analogy is a good one. The key to incorporating diversity is sensitivity - sensing which pieces of different styles go well together, even if they follow on within each section of the liturgy. There still could be a "random mess" if the music were all of similar style, if the assembly are excluded or alienated because of that style.

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Nick Baty
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Re: All things to all people?

Post by Nick Baty » Thu Jun 12, 2014 10:03 pm

I believe that if one selects items which truly reflect the rite (gathering, Gospel procession, communion procession etc) then the style/era becomes almost irrelevant. I stress, Almost.

quaeritor
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Re: All things to all people?

Post by quaeritor » Mon Jun 16, 2014 7:22 pm

Sounds like I'm in a minority of one, but I guess I take what you will probably think the pessimistic view - if you mix up the styles you ensure that everyone present will have something to dislike! We've adopted the alternate weeks strategy - choir and organ one week and the band on the other (months with a fifth Sunday "enjoy" a nostalgic Plainsong Mass (usually De Angelis - still surprisingly well known). This also has the practical advantage that you don't have to have the whole cohort committed every Sunday.

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Peter
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Re: All things to all people?

Post by Peter » Mon Jun 16, 2014 7:58 pm

quaeritor wrote:... the alternate weeks strategy - choir and organ one week and the band on the other ... also has the practical advantage that you don't have to have the whole cohort committed every Sunday.

On the other hand, still taking the pessimistic view, it has the disadvantage that some people may be away for other reasons on the days "their" group is on duty, thereby weakening the group's effectiveness. Using the "mix-and-match" approach enables you to choose music on the basis of who will be there to play it as well as on suitability for the readings of the day and part of the Mass.

On the whole, I think HP is on the right lines and agree that allowing a mix of styles gives a wider choice of suitable music. It can work if it's sensitively done and I don't think anyone conributing to this topic so far has been advocating such a drastic mix of styles that they clash violently. And as EF points out, using the musicians avaiable as one of your criteria does in itself contribute to the unity of the celebration even if there is diversity in the musical style.

Mancunian
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Re: All things to all people?

Post by Mancunian » Tue Jun 17, 2014 1:12 pm

Quaeritor is not alone - the musical pattern for our parish's Sunday Mass sounds very similar. Largely for historical reasons (we used to have two Sunday Masses, one covered by a choir and organist and the other by a music group, and switched to one Mass after our then parish priest was also made responsible for another parish) we have a music group for the first and third Sunday and traditional choir for the second and fourth Sunday of each month. Our current parish priest requested Missa de Angelis on the last Sunday of each month, which the choir sings unaccompanied (with the congregation joining in as well as they do with the vernacular Mass settings used on the other Sundays) on the fourth or fifth Sunday.
The relationship between the two groups is good, and there is some overlap between the two groups. However, some would not be comfortable playing or singing the other's repertoire. Any attempt to merge the two groups and have a mixed repertoire each Sunday with all musicians taking part would be likely to result in losing the services of a number of the present musicians. If some musicians sit out for part of the music this hardly fosters unity, (for instance instrumentalists who prefer not to sing, or not to sing in parts, would not wish to sit through an a capella piece). Rehearsals for a merged group would also be difficult, with instrumentalists sitting through choral items
I suspect that the end result of a merger would be a small group of musicians comfortable in several genres, but no longer able to do all of what one group or the other can currently do on its own.
We do occasionally switch the groups if one seems more appropriate than the other for a particular liturgy, and have used both together for the odd special occasion.
There are a few in the congregation who sufficiently dislike the musical style of one group or the other to attend the Saturday evening Mass, joining those regulars who prefer to avoid any music :D . A previous parish priest who tried to introduce singing on a Saturday evening was firmly rebuffed.
It's not ideal. In particular, it makes it difficult to set a musical theme for the different liturgical seasons, and it can be difficult on occasions when the whole parish comes together. But given the back history and the musicians that we actually have, it probably works better for us than would a mixed genre approach.

Mancunian

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