Parish Music in an age of dwindling resources

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alan29
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Parish Music in an age of dwindling resources

Post by alan29 » Wed Jul 27, 2016 9:35 am

Somewhere in the UK. Multi-centre parish served by a non-resident African priest. This centre had a congregation of about 50.
Random thoughts, really.
First, how difficult the present translation is for non-native speaking priests. Much of the meaning was lost in the long, complex sentences.
Secondly, what is to be done with declining and ageing parishes where one elderly parishioner seems to run everything from greeting to announcements, via reading and terrible cantoring. I am sure this situation is not untypical.
Thirdly the problem of singing the mass when musical resources are worse than meagre.
Time for missionary revival? Or just manage the decline?

oopsorganist
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Parish Music in an age of dwindling resources

Post by oopsorganist » Wed Jul 27, 2016 12:26 pm

Musical resources in general are not meagre. As in Resources. Like hymnals, websites, CDs, model parishes, Society of Saint Gregory, people who compose great music - and so on and on.
But you mean musical resources in a parish. Not Resources. Musical intentions.
Ah sigh.
Reasonably acceptable unaccompanied singing of basic hymns or praise or gathering and the parts of the Mass that benefit from being sung should be so much easier to deliver today. In these times we are so rich in technology and bits of paper too.
So the question might be, What is it that prevents a small parish being able to do some basic OK music for the Mass. What are the blocks? I guess this could be a new thread Modbods.
Sometimes is is that one matriarch who is doing just everything and who blocks involvement and responsibility from others. I have met some and they were truly difficult people and I hope I have ducked out before becoming such a personage. It has always been thus it seems and of course, they kill off whole parishes. Where the parish priest takes more care over music and the musicians it is less likely to happen. They often avoid the musicians and what is happening as this is an area of parish life where there can be conflict. And the community might not even be bothered as long as the matriarch or indeed the patriarch gets on with it and/ or they are grateful for the music and will accept any old thing.
Sometimes it is Subsidiarity. A desire for each unit to express itself uniquely. So a lack of guidance and input from more central organisation can impact on the music in a parish.
And only fools take on a parish music where things have become impoverished. It is a huge responsibility.
And a belief that there has to be an organ or organist can prevent parishes from making any effort as a community.

But I have always thought that there is a need for a basic straightforward practical CD of a model Mass which could be shared and agreed by a community.
uh oh!

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VML
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Parish Music in an age of dwindling resources

Post by VML » Wed Jul 27, 2016 2:58 pm

Much food for thought, oops.

alan29
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Parish Music in an age of dwindling resources

Post by alan29 » Sat Jul 30, 2016 12:40 pm

Been busy on Grandparenting duty .......
Musical resources .... I include people under that heading. If there isn't the talent, would it be better to have a said Mass rather than one with dreadful singing/playing? Worth discussing? For my money, I would go for the said Mass every time. but then I have exquisitely fine-tuned musical sensibilities. :mrgreen:
Oops is correct in guessing that it was a case of an old person clinging on grimly to her multiple duties in Church. Goodness knows how a parish deals with that when there is no resident priest. Wait for Anno Domini to intervene?
I really don't like using pre-recorded backing tracks at Mass. Maybe its because of the associations with Karaoke. And the simplest of settings require a minimal musical ability that isn't always present.
This particular Mass was dispiriting, despite the efforts of the charming African priest to bring life. A small, ageing congregation in a Welsh diocese that is in the process of some pretty hefty rationalisation of parishes. It felt like the ending of a story.
Glad to be home.

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Parish Music in an age of dwindling resources

Post by High Peak » Sat Jul 30, 2016 2:54 pm

alan29 wrote:If there isn't the talent, would it be better to have a said Mass rather than one with dreadful singing/playing? Worth discussing? For my money, I would go for the said Mass every time.......
.....I really don't like using pre-recorded backing tracks at Mass. Maybe its because of the associations with Karaoke. And the simplest of settings require a minimal musical ability that isn't always present.


I'm totally with you on both counts.
A few years back I was at a junior school music concert where ALL the little darlings seemed to be doing a turn. :? Someone sitting next to me leaned over very concerned; apparently I had a look on my face that suggested that I was in serious physical pain. :lol: Everyone else in the audience managed polite smiles and nods of the head - I looked like I had a severe case of indigestion!!
Similarly, when music at the Mass is done poorly it only detracts and distracts......and causes me pain!! :wink:

oopsorganist
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Parish Music in an age of dwindling resources

Post by oopsorganist » Sat Jul 30, 2016 5:48 pm

Oh yes. Kinder taking over. Let's not go there...
When I chunter on about about CDs it is not for backing or that kind of thing, that is horrible. But for learning, teaching - teaching the congregation and the music leaders. Good material. Sound liturgical support. There is otherwise too much to choose from.

And the other thing that we lack is a hymnal or a simplified music resource which has notation. Congregations will comprise of people who can handle this. It's not rocket science. We expect too little and that is what we get.
uh oh!

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Parish Music in an age of dwindling resources

Post by High Peak » Sat Jul 30, 2016 6:13 pm

Addendum.......
Having said all that..........Several years back I went on a private retreat to a Monastery of contemplative nuns. I was warned by friend not to expect too much in terms of singing the Office as the rather small community was rather elderly and their voices were frail. However, I found it quite beautiful! True, they were never going to record any CDs, but the prayerful and sincere way in which they chanted the Office was most uplifting.

alan29
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Parish Music in an age of dwindling resources

Post by alan29 » Sun Jul 31, 2016 8:32 am

Hymn books with the dots is such a good idea.

oopsorganist
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Parish Music in an age of dwindling resources

Post by oopsorganist » Sun Jul 31, 2016 11:29 am

Yes
And some years back with Frances Novello, Summer School looked at that building of core repertoire - which is really all that is needed....

Core Repertoire. Not what the old 'uns or the young un's or Father or Mrs. Music or any other bod likes and prefers. Parish Core Repertoire.

So there is an opportunity for the production of another basic hymnal containing sound Acclamations and with notation. In factly, Oops junior has been telling me about The Scared Harp notation and traditions which are about basic choral singing. So applicable to a parish and could be done if we stopped leaning on the pipe organ. But at least a publication which could be used in small parishes and larger. Because most of the printed matter in hymnals is never used. 900 hymns of which most parishes sing All That I Am and Amazing Grace. Imagine if you could lay your hands easily on a book which not only had the dots printed but also had harmony pages for basic hymns and Psalms and Acclamations. What fun.

Today I suffered through four hymns - Be Thou My Vision, Blessed are You Lord God of all Creation, Be still for the presence of the Lord and and... Faith of our Fathers plus plainsong Alleluia and a sudden and congregation led Great Amen. A good organist and a singing congregation but at no place and time were they together.
It is quite painful. Ouch ouch ouch. And I commented to the PP. Further ouch.

A further thread now - create a title for the new hymnbook/resource. Something like "No Music, no Problem" but that is already taken by a CD set. How about "This parish can make music together". Or "If the Methodists can do it, so can we"
uh oh!

oopsorganist
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Parish Music in an age of dwindling resources

Post by oopsorganist » Sun Jul 31, 2016 11:41 am

In fact, scrap that.
The reason why the unaccompanied office singing enjoyed above was well, enjoyable and meaningful is because it was internalised and over familiar and intrinsic to prayer. I have heard similar once when a parish with few resources just quietly sang Lord For Tomorrow and It's Needs quietly and prayerfully together. We do need to sing quietly together.

While hymns can often be intrusive especially when introduced as novelties and without being part of repertoire. There simply is no need for that. Only to stop the organist dying of boredom.

So my dream book is a book of simple four part music of very basic material. That way All that I Am need not leave the organist or other leaders without the will to live.
uh oh!

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Re: Parish Music in an age of dwindling resources

Post by oopsorganist » Tue Aug 02, 2016 10:14 am

Talking to myself in cyber space - there was a lot of effort put into a Core Repertoire in America a little while back. Ended in tears. Is core repertoire hymns and mass parts (I think so) or chants from the Missal. Or Latin. This is why it ends in tears.

I also found some cyber hymnals. Including hymnals from the nineteenth century. There's another thousand hymns we don't need.

So.

About singing. I also found a quote along the lines of - It is expected that Catholics don't read music and those that do, are just ignored. Something like that Another quote I enjoyed about Catholicism generally - Come inside - it's awful in here.......

But people can sing. If there is not a booming organ playing at a strange tempo or some dominant bod who rules the parish or a range of music that never settles - people can sing. They can. I was reading about the late Gill Ness and her guiding work. Which brought back a Mass in a barn in some place in Surrey and all that singing that went on ... people can sing.

If we went right back, right back to basic things like rounds. Like learning two part songs even call and response. No organist just music leaders.
There are some things that would be good for singing. Like in Hymns Old and New - By Your Steadfast Love I Will Enter Your House. South African Alleluia, Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God, Father in my Life I See and one from summer school - Now go in peace. Just those. Every week. Deeply internalized and over learnt. And then build some of the rounds and two part opportunities they present. Just singing.
I am sure that there is lots of other material in the same vein but I just could think of those. A very different experience of music in the Mass.
Keeping it simple but not dull.
uh oh!

alan29
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Re: Parish Music in an age of dwindling resources

Post by alan29 » Tue Aug 02, 2016 11:21 am

Some key elements in random order
Firstly find stuff that is actually worth singing - strong melody, strong rhythm, catchy. Easier said than done given that the words we start with are so verbose and awkward to set.
Secondly find someone who is prepared to grab the bull by the horns and organise, research and cajole others.
Thirdly find a priest who is sufficiently convinced to put some weight and money behind having a singing congregation.
Oops - aren't we meant to start with singing the Mass bits and then add in other stuff.
Just sayin.

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Re: Parish Music in an age of dwindling resources

Post by dmu3tem » Tue Aug 02, 2016 11:38 am

Just some random observations:

If you think Catholic resources (human, financial, others) are dwindling, wait till you see the Anglican church, especially in rural areas like mine (average congregation on a sunday morning where I work is about 20!).

Possible solutions/blockages:

[1] Belatedly the Anglicans have realised that a bit of evangelisation is needed. Immediately this exposes several issues:

: They tend to speak (in clerical/biblical language) to the converted rather than reach out to everyone else. In particular they do not realise the hidden damage that a constant diatribe against consumerism must have (especially at Christmas). They do not grasp that the vast majority of people in this country are affluent, well educated members of the suburban middle class. These are the people who have to be reached. Trouble is: 'it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God')

: 'Evangelisation' itself is an example of inappropriate language. The modern term to use is 'marketing'. Many christians (including Anglicans) are alarmed by its connotations; but this is what has to be done.

: Connected with this is a very general social ignorance/ reluctance to take an interest in business, finance and general organisational practice. This shows itself as soon as you try setting up concerts and other events in a church (as I have done). For a start people just don't grasp how much advertising has to be done. Also people have the idea that business matters are rather specialised things best left to (rather untrustworthy) 'experts'; whereas in reality most business practice is practical common sense. Again Anglicans are particularly prone to inefficient organisational procedures that make Catholic parishes look like models of business efficiency. A central point concerns Parish Church Council meetings. Many people do not seem to grasp that the function of such a 'business' meeting is to arrive at decisions; instead far too much time is spent in general chit-chat or people 'sounding off' about their favorite topic.

[2] Turning to music:

[a] As someone remarked earlier, you often have a situation where there is an entrenched musician who is in charge who actually prevents new talent being recruited. I have seen situations where really high calibre musicians (superior to those already there) have been in effect turned away because of this. A way round this problem is to have a rota: where each week one person (with particular skills) runs/organises the music: and that person must be given a fairly free hand without a lot of liturgical 'double-speak' getting in the way (often this is used as a substitute for tackling technical musical problems).

[b] The recent shift in church music towards choirs and organs discourages the recruitment of other types of musician - notably instrumentalists. Note that this does not necessarily mean 'folk' music. There is still very little understanding about how 'melodic' instruments (e.g. Clarinets) can be combined with Organs for example. Nor is there much appreciation of the very different skills required when arranging for different sorts of keyboard.

[c] The music currently used now is pretty well unchanged in its fundamentals from that used in the late 1980s. The SSG could (and should) be looking at new musical formats (and vocal/instrumental) combinations to replace the Taize/St Thomas More styles used since that time. Note that in the 1960s/1970s the explosion of new music (especially hymns) was linked with the emergence of new publishing companies. In other words a new wave of entrepreneurial publishers is needed. The key issue here is not so much the writing of new music; it is distribution and marketing (as noted above in another context).

[d] At parish level money - and for that matter musical equipment - is not really the vital issue. Money can be raised if it is needed for new musical enterprises and the will is there. Human resources are the most fundamental requirement. Hence the need to maximise the human potential that is there. Nonetheless every parish should make available to music organisers (especially those who can compose or arrange music) the necessary facilities (e.g. a large photocopier) to produce music.

[e] A key point is the value of appealing to local pride. This means a willingness to compose and use new music locally on a regular and changing basis. Linked to this is the educative value of music for children and teenagers performing in church: it is a very good way of acquiring 'chamber music' and sight reading experience for instrumentalists in particular.
T.E.Muir

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VML
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Re: Parish Music in an age of dwindling resources

Post by VML » Tue Aug 02, 2016 2:17 pm

Oops this is fascinating.
I frequently, (at least once a year when I am trying to revive some kind of practice), quote, 'If you can speak, you can sing!'
And it's true.
And there is a very necessary quality in organists: sympathetic accompaniment. For at least one verse in every hymn I tone it right down for the assembly to hear themselves better.
I am trying not to be the old lady who tries to do it all, but I did play organ and guitar, and cantored the psalm and gospel acc verse this week.
I do, however, only play alternate weeks, with a younger guitarist leader the other weeks, with keyboard too.
I have not managed to persuade anyone that we could do with some practice if we are to learn anything new or indeed develop harmonies and get the best out of music we know.
But our congregation does sing.

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Re: Parish Music in an age of dwindling resources

Post by contrabordun » Fri Aug 05, 2016 2:47 pm

I suppose it's my own fault for reading it, but I'm getting a bit irritated by oops's relentless swipes at organists. I look after the Sunday music in a small to medium sized parish (1 Saturday evening and 1 Sunday morning Mass). The weekly fare is
- Congregational Mass Setting, (4 settings in repertoire, introducing #5), all in English, all new since 2010, all with through-sung Glorias.
- Sung Psalm
- Sung Gospel Acclamation (half a dozen settings)
- Sung Communion Antiphon (done to an Anglican chant)
- Communion Motet, from a repertoire of about 60, mostly 4-part, mix of acc and unacc.
- 4 hymns

Choir strength is 20 on paper, with typically 13-15 present. Music is provided at a very respectable level of competence and is sometimes really quite good, due to hard work every Thursday night.

There's nothing particularly special about the parish in a musical sense. I consider myself to be no more than a reasonable parish organist (Grade 8 a while ago) and am academically without even O Level music. The key - undoubtedly - is that the PP values his music, sings all his dialogues (and occasionally the entire Gospel) and has over the years prioritised having a choir and having somebody to lead it.

Organs are, and have been for several hundred years, highly flexible and convenient tools to lead groups of singers of all sizes, to set an appropriate mood and tempo for each item, enabling confident and united singing and providing that enables new material to be introduced. And all with a single player. I'm not by any means a laced-up traddie showering scathing references to happy-clappydom around - I respect and would support anybody placing musical skill at the service of the Church, but the fact remains that to do all that with a music group massively increases the amount of arrangement, rehearsal, communication and coordination required, to say nothing of the fact that whereas pretty much any child or adult can join a choir and contribute from day 1, instrumental groups require multiple skilled players.
Paul Hodgetts

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