Music and Liturgy: Letter to the Editor

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Tom_Neal
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Music and Liturgy: Letter to the Editor

Post by Tom_Neal » Wed May 27, 2015 11:00 am

Hi everyone,

A few weeks ago I sent the following email to the editor of the SSG's journal *Music and Liturgy*. But seeing as, to date, I have received no reply, I thought I'd post it here for discussion among SSG members.

Really looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

Best wishes,

Tom Neal
Director of Music and Organist
Shrine Church of St. Augustine of England, Ramsgate, UK


Dear Kevin and all at the SSG,

I hope this message finds you well!

I just wanted to thank you for sending me recently a sample copy of 'Music and Liturgy' (the October 2014 issue). In many ways it is a very impressive publication, and it's heartening to see such dedication to music in the Church. So: congratulations!

I was particularly pleased to see listed on Good Friday ('Preparing the Liturgy,' p.13) a section titled 'For the Choir'. I wonder: would you consider including suggestions for the choir for every Sunday, rather than just the odd occasion? It could be very useful! My only disappointment here was that many of the pieces chosen were, in my opinion, too difficult for the average parish choir. The same could be said of the section 'Choral Music for Lent' (PtL, p.5), which includes a handful of pieces which really are only accessible to professional-standard choirs. I think more effort could be made here.

However, I was very disappointed to see there was no mention made of singing the Proper of the Mass (the Entrance antiphon, for example). This is something which is central to the celebration of Mass––and, also, is very easy to do––and yet, so far as I can see, it's not even hinted at in M&L or PtL.

But more disappointing still was the fact no mention was made of Gregorian chant in either publication. I was really puzzled by this, because the Church has affirmed time and time again that Gregorian chant is the primary type and source of liturgical music, and should be promoted above all other forms of music for the liturgy. On a practical note, it is also much easier and more accessible than many of the hymns and worship songs you promote in PtL. Gregorian chant is also the most popular type of liturgical among young people, so I really think the Society of St. Gregory––which is, after all, named after the 'father' of Gregorian chant!––ought to make a much bigger effort here.

I hope the above comments and criticisms are both fair and constructive. I'd be really delighted to discuss these issues with you, and help in any way I can. In the meantime, I very much look forward to hearing from you.

Kindest regards,
In Christ,

Tom Neal

liturgyprof
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Re: Music and Liturgy: Letter to the Editor

Post by liturgyprof » Wed May 27, 2015 5:17 pm

I'm not sure that the email was sent to the Editors, especially as it was addressed not to them but to the Chairman of the Society.
I was one of the editors 'a few weeks ago' and have just checked my emails and find no record of receiving your email...
However, now presented in a different forum, I'd be surprised if there were not a fairly prompt response to your specific points.

johnquinn39
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Re: Music and Liturgy: Letter to the Editor

Post by johnquinn39 » Thu May 28, 2015 9:52 am

Tom_Neal wrote:Hi everyone,

However, I was very disappointed to see there was no mention made of singing the Proper of the Mass (the Entrance antiphon, for example). This is something which is central to the celebration of Mass––and, also, is very easy to do––and yet, so far as I can see, it's not even hinted at in M&L or PtL.

Tom Neal
[/quote]

Is it true that singing the Poper is cental to the celebration of the Mass -- surely the Alleluia and Sanctus are central.

johnquinn39
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Re: Music and Liturgy: Letter to the Editor

Post by johnquinn39 » Thu May 28, 2015 11:46 am

[quote="Tom_Neal"]
Gregorian chant is also the most popular type of liturgical among young people, ... "

Is this true?

johnquinn39
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Re: Music and Liturgy: Letter to the Editor

Post by johnquinn39 » Thu May 28, 2015 11:53 am

"On a practical note, [Gregorian chant] it is also much easier and more accessible than many of the hymns and worship songs you promote in PtL."

Not true

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VML
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Re: Music and Liturgy: Letter to the Editor

Post by VML » Thu May 28, 2015 12:59 pm

I have a notion, maybe mistaken, that Tom has at least one Bevan in his parish, in which case singing chant will seem simple.

Tom_Neal
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Re: Music and Liturgy: Letter to the Editor

Post by Tom_Neal » Sat May 30, 2015 11:43 am

liturgyprof wrote:I'm not sure that the email was sent to the Editors, especially as it was addressed not to them but to the Chairman of the Society.
I was one of the editors 'a few weeks ago' and have just checked my emails and find no record of receiving your email...
However, now presented in a different forum, I'd be surprised if there were not a fairly prompt response to your specific points.


Thanks for your response! I sent the message to a handful of the email addresses –– including the editor's –– as given on the SSG's website. I addressed the letter to the Chairman, but copied-in the editors and a handful of others. Maybe someone could check the email addresses on the website are up-to-date?

Tom_Neal
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Re: Music and Liturgy: Letter to the Editor

Post by Tom_Neal » Sat May 30, 2015 11:45 am

VML wrote:I have a notion, maybe mistaken, that Tom has at least one Bevan in his parish, in which case singing chant will seem simple.


It is true we have *one* Bevan at Ramsgate. But there are another four men who sing in the Schola for the Sunday Mass –– and another thirty-four men and women who sing in the Schola for Vespers! You certainly don't have to be a Bevan to sing chant!

Tom_Neal
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Re: Music and Liturgy: Letter to the Editor

Post by Tom_Neal » Sat May 30, 2015 11:56 am

johnquinn39 wrote:
Tom_Neal wrote:Hi everyone,

However, I was very disappointed to see there was no mention made of singing the Proper of the Mass (the Entrance antiphon, for example). This is something which is central to the celebration of Mass––and, also, is very easy to do––and yet, so far as I can see, it's not even hinted at in M&L or PtL.

Tom Neal


Is it true that singing the Poper is cental to the celebration of the Mass -- surely the Alleluia and Sanctus are central.[/quote]

The Sanctus is part of the Ordinary. The Alleluia is indeed part of the Proper. My concern really is that every sung Mass in the Ordinary Form ought to have the the full Proper sung: Entrance, Psalm (or Gradual), Alleluia, Offertory, and Communion. The texts are given in the Missal, and there are some very, very easy musical settings widely available on the internet, free of charge. (These settings are SO easy, by the way, that I've known people who can't read music learn the entire Proper for a Sunday Mass in 20 minutes.) So why isn't this practised more widely? And why is the SSG not actively promoting it? It's all very well to promote hymn-singing during the Entrance, Offertory, etc. (as the SSG does in M&L and PtL) –– but hymns are not part of the liturgy, they are extra to it. The Proper must always be sung first, because it is central to the liturgy; hymns may also be sung, but they ought never to replace the Proper.

Tom_Neal
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Re: Music and Liturgy: Letter to the Editor

Post by Tom_Neal » Sat May 30, 2015 12:00 pm

johnquinn39 wrote:
Tom_Neal wrote: Gregorian chant is also the most popular type of liturgical music among young people, ... "

Is this true?


Absolutely!

Tom_Neal
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Re: Music and Liturgy: Letter to the Editor

Post by Tom_Neal » Sat May 30, 2015 1:00 pm

johnquinn39 wrote:"On a practical note, [Gregorian chant] it is also much easier and more accessible than many of the hymns and worship songs you promote in PtL."

Not true


I'm afraid it is true, John. My experience as Director of Music in a variety of Catholic environments in the last few years -- a small parish, a large parish, a university chaplaincy, a Shrine, and a school -- has demonstrated time and time again that, with the right person at the helm, Gregorian chant is much, much easier to sing than most contemporary forms of liturgical music. There are no harmonies to learn. There are no complicated rhythms to grasp. The pitch isn't fixed, so you can sing at a pitch which suits everyone in your choir. You don't need an organ or instruments. Some singers don't even need a conductor. You need only basic vocal training. The sheet music resources are freely available on the internet, free from copyright. The *only* challenge is finding someone to direct a group –– but even that is becoming easier and easier.

Ephrem Feeley
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Re: Music and Liturgy: Letter to the Editor

Post by Ephrem Feeley » Sat May 30, 2015 2:04 pm

Rather than getting embroiled in the true/not true discussion on whether Gregorian Chant is easier than contemporary forms of church music, we really have to be looking at pieces on a case-by-case basis, along with their suitability to today's liturgy. A quick flick through (and sing through) the Liber Usualis will reveal that much chant is florid, melismatic and extremely complex - clearly written to be sung by a specialised group of singers. Much chant is also quite simple - the Missa de Angelis, the Ubi Caritas chant, and many hymns - which would be well within the capabilities of smaller choirs and willing congregations. This is the goal of the documents where Gregorian chant holds prime of place, all other things being equal - where choirs and communities would have a body of chant in their repertoire, along with a body of traditional and modern hymnody. I don't really buy the argument that hymns have no place in Catholic liturgy - an antiphon with psalm verses is very similar in form to a modern day hymn with refrain and verses.

Tom_Neal
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Re: Music and Liturgy: Letter to the Editor

Post by Tom_Neal » Sat May 30, 2015 3:13 pm

Ephrem Feeley wrote:Rather than getting embroiled in the true/not true discussion on whether Gregorian Chant is easier than contemporary forms of church music, we really have to be looking at pieces on a case-by-case basis, along with their suitability to today's liturgy. A quick flick through (and sing through) the Liber Usualis will reveal that much chant is florid, melismatic and extremely complex - clearly written to be sung by a specialised group of singers. Much chant is also quite simple - the Missa de Angelis, the Ubi Caritas chant, and many hymns - which would be well within the capabilities of smaller choirs and willing congregations. This is the goal of the documents where Gregorian chant holds prime of place, all other things being equal - where choirs and communities would have a body of chant in their repertoire, along with a body of traditional and modern hymnody. I don't really buy the argument that hymns have no place in Catholic liturgy - an antiphon with psalm verses is very similar in form to a modern day hymn with refrain and verses.


Thanks for your response, Ephrem! It's certainly true that some chant is more difficult than others; in the same way, some choir pieces are more difficult than others. It is also true that some chants are more suited to congregational singing than others. My concern, though, is that Gregorian chant appears to have been utterly obliterated from the SSG's work, and certainly from its publications. My point is that any parish with a choir capable of singing through some contemporary church music (even congregational music) is more than capable of leading the congregation in Gregorian chant, yet this is not always the case. There simply aren't any excuses, and it is tragic that Gregorian melodies which were known and sung by the faithful for centuries, have in some parishes been abandoned. Praise God we are finally seeing a return of this music into ordinary parishes; but there appears to be no effort from the SSG, which I find both surprising and rather worrying.

I think you misunderstood my comment on hymn-singing. Of course hymns can be sung during the liturgy (this is also the case with Low Masses in the Extraordinary Form, in fact), but they are not a part of the liturgy; they are additional items, like organ voluntaries. Hymns ought never to replace a part of the liturgy. For example: it is perfectly permissible to have an Entrance Hymn, but only if the Entrance Proper is also said or sung; an Entrance hymn cannot replace the Entrance Proper. The same applies at the Offertory and Communion. The one possible exception is the Psalm during Mass, which can be replaced by a hymn, but only if that hymn is a paraphrase of the psalm (e.g. the famous hymn 'The Lord's my shepherd' could replace Psalm 23). If another hymn is chosen, however, the psalm must be said or sung in full. This is not ideal, but it can certainly be tolerated for Funeral Masses in the Ordinary Form, for example.

These are very clear and basic rules, which have been around since the New Mass was first promulgated in 1969. We all know that many liturgical abuses have been commonplace in the last forty years or so; but the tide has been turning for some time now, and I was disappointed to find the SSG apparently doing nothing to help improve the situation. It would be tragic if the SSG were left behind in the 1970s, while the rest of the Church moves on.

Seeing as you brought up the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (1963), let's just remind ourselves exactly what it said:

"116. The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services. 117. But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations, so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action, as laid down in Art."

Southern Comfort
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Re: Music and Liturgy: Letter to the Editor

Post by Southern Comfort » Sat May 30, 2015 9:48 pm

Tom_Neal wrote:The Proper must always be sung first, because it is central to the liturgy


I am sorry, but both these statements are simply untrue. Read the documents. The Gregorian Proper is one among several options. It is no more central to the liturgy than the Latin language, which no longer is.

Tom_Neal wrote:There are no complicated rhythms to grasp.


The reason why this music is so difficult for congregations is that in fact there are no rhythms to grasp. Rhythmic fluidity is one of the principal characteristics of the chant. Ephrem is quite right about the amount of elaborate chant that is simply beyond the people. Even some of the simpler chants are not that simple for non-musicians.

Tom_Neal wrote:it is tragic that Gregorian melodies which were known and sung by the faithful for centuries, have in some parishes been abandoned.


The faithful did not know them and did not sing them. A smattering of historical knowledge demonstrates that in fact Gregorian melodies were not sung by the faithful for centuries in the vast majority of parishes. Other music was used to fulfil the requirement to sing the Latin text.

Tom_Neal wrote:it is perfectly permissible to have an Entrance Hymn, but only if the Entrance Proper is also said or sung


Another statement that is simply untrue. Keep reading the documents, please.

Tom_Neal wrote:therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.


This well-known quote from SC 116 has been debated endlessly. The salient phrase is "other things being equal" which, these days, they seldom are. That's what makes the difference. Even Musicam Sacram (50) says that the stipulation about Gregorian Chant only applies to liturgies celebrated in Latin.

John Ainslie
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Re: Music and Liturgy: Letter to the Editor

Post by John Ainslie » Sun May 31, 2015 10:27 am

Firstly, the SSG has recently experienced problems with its email system. Apologies to all emailers whose messages disappeared into cyberspace. Hopefully full communications will be restored shortly.

Secondly, I agree with Ephrem Feeley that the choice of music must depend on local circumstances - which should include both the musical resources of the choir and leading musicians and (always!) the ability of the congregation to make the music, both heard and sung, their instrument of worship and participation in the liturgy. The Society of Saint Gregory has always maintained a 'broad church' policy with regard to the choice of music. Its most recent formal statement of mission can be found in Music and Liturgy, vol 34 no 4, Winter 2008, which records that the trustees defined the purpose of the Society thus:

"The Society of Saint Gregory promotes, enhances and deepens the understanding and practice of the Church's worship."

This is entirely consonant with the history of the Society, which was always primarily to foster participation in the liturgy, not to promote Gregorian chant just for its own sake. The write-up of the trustees' statement (by myself when I was chairman of the Society) goes on to remark:

"The mission statement does not mention music specifically... The 'understanding and practice of the Church's worship' will include due education in the role and fitting expression that music and artefacts can give it."


Thirdly, the matter of language is important. I have over 30 years of experience as a parish music director - now retired. Though I know Latin well myself, my repeated efforts, at the behest of successive parish priests, to get the people of my parish to sing the 'Gloria' from the Missa de Angelis from the hymnbook (Laudate 498) met with repeated failure. Why? Because the congregation knew the English words by heart and, despite on-the-spot requests, were not interested in picking up the hymnbook to sing in a language they didn't know or understand. Yes, the people of my parish do (or did) know and sing the Kyrie from the Missa de Angelis, and a smallish number sing the Salve Regina and Regina caeli at the end of our sung Evening Prayer on Sundays. But overall, the introduction of the vernacular into the celebration of the liturgy was intended to make it easier for people to make the liturgy their own worship. In my long experience, it has been tremendously beneficial.

Fourthly, the matter of musical style is important, especially for congregational participation. I am aware of the attraction of chant and of its long history of supporting the Church's liturgy. This is why I published my English Proper Chants. The one criticism of their potential congregational use cited in the generous review of the book by Dom Philip Gaisford (see Music and Liturgy, vol 40 no 3, February 2015) was this:

"The one element which is necessarily absent (because this is a plainsong setting) is a strong metrical rhythm. A strong rhythmical patterm can be a great help in providing a memorable phrase. Here we have only word rhythm and this may present a problem for people unused to plainsong."

I entirely accept this point, though he does go on to say:

"On the other hand, it presents a reflective and prayerful ambience which will be new to many and hopefully also attractive to them."


Finally, I concur with Southern Comfort's corrections of fact regarding the 'hierarchy' of choice of music for the Mass (Acclamations and Commons first, then the Psalm, then the Proper). There are several options for rendering the processional chants, the choice of which should be governed by the purpose of each piece, as laid down in the General Instruction (nos 47, 74, 86). They are accompaniments to the processions, thus secondary to them, unlike texts that are constitutive of the liturgy like the prayers and readings. That is why there are options offered in the General Instruction for the texts of the processional chants, but not for prayers and readings.

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