Singing the Sunday Mass psalm

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VML
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Singing the Sunday Mass psalm

Post by VML » Wed Jan 18, 2017 11:34 pm

I am in a bit of a quandary. We have sung the psalm for over 20 years, either cantor led or whole choir verses with assembly singing the response. We had a fair rota of cantors, but most have now stopped due to age, illness etc.
For the last 5 years, I have shared leading Mass, doing only alternate weeks. The other music leader is a guitarist with a good voice, and he used to sing the psalm. Now it only gets sung about 4 in ten of 'his' weeks. Choir practice no longer exists, - no-one turned up.
I sing the psalm for 'my' week, but it is beginning to look as if I just like the sound of my own voice, or psalm singing is something I thought up.
Pleas and requests for new voices have not yielded fruit.

I did raise the subject with my colleague last week. He said they do sing it, but then it was spoken on Sunday, as it was on 1st January.

Do I keep on doing it fortnightly myself, drop it completely, or what?

Southern Comfort
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Re: Singing the Sunday Mass psalm

Post by Southern Comfort » Wed Jan 18, 2017 11:47 pm

I don't know how large your community is, but might it be possible for the entire community to sing the psalm?

As mentioned in another thread recently, you could select three of four Bévenot psalm tones of contrasting moods and use those for months at a time, matching the mood of the tone to the mood of the psalm each week. The people will sing, once they are familiar with the tone (and because the tones come round again frequently, that does not take long). A good cantor like yourself can help them immeasurably in the early stages. I know a number of parishes who do this, and have never looked back. Eventually, no psalmist or cantor is needed at all. An accompanist is helpful, but not essential. Just someone to start things off.

If the response is required, chant it to the first and fourth sections of the psalm tone you are using that day.

I know of some parishes who, once they had got the whole community singing under their belt, moved on to dividing the congregation into two, left and right (or whatever), alternating stanzas. It still worked well.

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VML
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Re: Singing the Sunday Mass psalm

Post by VML » Thu Jan 19, 2017 12:25 am

That is a great possibility SC. We used occasionally to run through some sung bits with the assembly before Mass, but that has been abolished by having a short prayer and 5 minutes 'silence' before Mass. Last week in my plea in the news letter I did say new soloists would be able to learn from a recording, and today I was looking at the possibility of using the parish website, which has a currently vacant music resources page. The website has recently been redesigned. We use the McCrimmon book mostly.
Thanks for your advice.

IncenseTom
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Re: Singing the Sunday Mass psalm

Post by IncenseTom » Thu Jan 19, 2017 3:30 pm

Good suggestion. I would add as a 'teaching option', and for the antiphonal effect, that you could alternate between you and the congregation.

I know some parishes where everyone says all of the psalm all the way through with the response only at the beginning and the end.

Perhaps this is an option, in the same way psalms are sung for Evening Prayer?

Cantor Response
All Response
Cantor V1
All V2
Cantor V3
All V4
All response

I think singing the psalm always seems to work so well that it would be a terrible shame if it were to fizzle out.

IncenseTom
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Re: Singing the Sunday Mass psalm

Post by IncenseTom » Thu Jan 19, 2017 3:36 pm

Just on a personal side issue, does anyone happen to have any of the following going spare?

https://www.amazon.co.uk/d/cka/Psalms-S ... 1840031093

We use these in our parish and are a few short for the number in the choir. As you can imagine, we don't fancy paying £289 per copy, but we're happy to pay a more 'normal' price if anyone has a copy they're not using anymore.

High Peak
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Re: Singing the Sunday Mass psalm

Post by High Peak » Thu Jan 19, 2017 5:34 pm

Southern Comfort wrote:As mentioned in another thread recently, you could select three of four Bévenot psalm tones of contrasting moods and use those for months at a time, matching the mood of the tone to the mood of the psalm each week.


Where can one get hold of these Bévenot psalm tones?

dmu3tem
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Re: Singing the Sunday Mass psalm

Post by dmu3tem » Thu Jan 19, 2017 6:08 pm

Yes, I am an enthusiastic supporter of the responsorial psalm. On the other hand I recognise the difficulties you have finding
cantors to sing the solo verses. Essentially the problem - and its solution - is circular: If you do not sing the psalm your
supply of cantors dries up; if you do sing it, in the long run singers come forward - albeit with alarming periods when
no-one seems to be available. The most intractable problem is getting started,

An essential point to get across to would be cantors is the opportunity this gives them to develop their voices and musical
skills - especially those taking singing lessons - not least because it provides performance experience. If you compose - or
arrange your own psalms then you can make such settings as challenging or easy as the situation requires. Try therefore recruiting
from people you know are taking singing lessons (or approach their singing teachers to get them to suggest the idea to some
of their pupils).

Do not forget that a unison choir can often be substituted for solo cantors - especially with settings that are through composed
and do not depend on chanting (although even here, with appropriate notation the exact rhythms can be 'spelt out' for
all concerned, albeit sometimes in a stylised way)

The main points to remember about responsorial psalms - from a musical point of view - are these:

[1] They combine (potentially elaborate and demanding) solo work for solo singers in the verses with simple
unison settings for congregational participation.

[2] It follows then that you are often working with the contrast between verses and responses

[3] Following on from that much remains to be done developing the musical form by such devices as:
(a) Modulating from key to key between verses and responses. (also do not forget similar shifts between major and minor
modes (and other modes too, of course)
(b) Mixing and combining solo singer(s), choirs, congregations, keyboards and other instruments taking advantage of the
word painting opportunities so often offered by the psalm text.
(c) Appropriate usage of instrumental introductory, concluding and bridging passages (between each verse and response).
At the very least these supply the tonality, starting notes and remind soloists and congregations of melodic phrases; but
anyone with any trace of creative originality can go a lot further than this.
T.E.Muir

alan29
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Re: Singing the Sunday Mass psalm

Post by alan29 » Thu Jan 19, 2017 8:05 pm

A halfway house often seen in France is to have only the response sung, the reader reading the verses to a gentle and simple accompaniment that cunningly leads back to the response. It can be work well once everyone is used to it.
I have the opposite problem. Cantors who need a gentle invitation to retire.

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VML
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Re: Singing the Sunday Mass psalm

Post by VML » Fri Jan 20, 2017 12:39 am

Thank you all four for your helpful replies.
SC, our congregation is about 190- 210. They are very good at singing the response, and I have often pointed out that the small choir we have is there to support the assembly in their singing. In reality, they are a not very musically ambitious small group of good singers, but of whom the younger members have never been willing to come and practise.
Targeting singers who are having singing lessons: Great. We had a superb young singer, who was training at the local Anglican Cathedral, then went off to take up her Oxford choral scholarship. Good while it lasted.
I have targeted a very good voice I heard behind me a few weeks ago, but she has ten children, and is a bit busy.
TEM, I would love to vary keys, modes and things, and even get a few people to sing the occasional harmony.
I hope I will know when it is time to stop being a cantor. I also direct a voice led local community choir, and they are far more open to part singing, but then they are there to enjoy singing, rather than serve the liturgy.
We have followed the advice I read somewhere from Dom Gregory Murray: The cantor's voice should be monastic rather than operatic. Neither a triller nor a shrieker be!
We will keep on singing the psalm, all together for the time being.

Southern Comfort
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Re: Singing the Sunday Mass psalm

Post by Southern Comfort » Fri Jan 20, 2017 10:25 am

VML wrote: We have followed the advice I read somewhere from Dom Gregory Murray: The cantor's voice should be monastic rather than operatic. Neither a triller nor a shrieker be!


Wonderful!

PhloridaPhil
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Re: Singing the Sunday Mass psalm

Post by PhloridaPhil » Fri Jan 20, 2017 1:25 pm

In USA there are plenty of folk with the musical skills and confidence. What they seem to lack is an awareness that it is the word of God. Priests rarely give it this significance by preaching on the psalm and few cantors recognise that the text could be their own prayer arising from a lived experience.

I agree with SC that use of psalm tones with the congregation singing the text of the psalm can be transformative

dmu3tem
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Re: Singing the Sunday Mass psalm

Post by dmu3tem » Tue Jan 24, 2017 11:27 am

Following on from the latest remarks:

Yes, I certainly would endorse the advice to avoid an Operatic style with a heavy vibrato. On the other hand a 'monastic' style as practiced in Benedictine Houses (including Downside, where Murray was based) is often far too recessive for the sometimes violently emotive language and sentiments one finds in psalm texts. These - surely - are an invitation for composers, arrangers and performers to 'word paint'. So one should certainly respond to the text; but this injunction should not necessarily be interpreted to mean something that vitiates committed realisation of its meaning, as monastic type performances that I have heard so often do. Equally, of course, one should resort to calmer less declamatory approaches where the text demands it.

Consider one's approaches to the following texts:

'The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want' = a basically calm approach with a volume not exceeding mf

'Go out to the whole world, proclaim the good news' = a decisive, almost percussive approach sung forte!

Above all, Ithink the text should be clearly heard - so there should be no vibrato or swooping onto or away from the notes. This, you will note, restricts the pitch range a singer can use, given that operatic style singers use vibrato to extend the vocal range upward and downward. If vibrato is cut out this option is removed; so in practice you really are restricted to church choir ranges for each particular voice. In any case the availabilty of microphones removes any necessity for using vibrato as a means of increasing dynamics. Note though that microphones must be adjusted carefully to avoid such things as a 'mushing' of the sound and articulation of syllables when turned up too loud, or upsetting the dynamic balance between the cantor(s), congregation and instruments.

For similar reasons long melismas should (in general) be avoided in arranging and composing, as they can obscure the text; although they can on occasion be highly effective for 'word painting' (e.g. on the first syllable of the word 'terror' - where even a 'wicked' Handel-style trill might be appropriate). Likewise the basic rule - sing low to deliver lots of syllables, sing soaringly high for only a few syllables - is worth bearing in mind.

Finally, note that music can be used quite deliberately to subvert the meaning of the text; or emphasise one possible meaning at the expense of others. For example:

'Let us see, O Lord, your mercy; and give us your saving help' can - especially in times of disaster and grief - be set to give a cynical meaning; implying that God has not - apparently - shown his mercy to us, nor has he appeared to give any saving help! Yes, there really are times when such an approach would suit a given occasion or mood! Note, though, that this technique should be used with great care, discrimination, and clear-headed understanding of people who are present, as its effects can be very volatile and upsetting!
T.E.Muir

Southern Comfort
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Re: Singing the Sunday Mass psalm

Post by Southern Comfort » Thu Feb 09, 2017 12:20 pm

High Peak wrote:
Southern Comfort wrote:As mentioned in another thread recently, you could select three of four Bévenot psalm tones of contrasting moods and use those for months at a time, matching the mood of the tone to the mood of the psalm each week.


Where can one get hold of these Bévenot psalm tones?


Here's a link: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/m70l6qrlj793jt8/AAC5QM0v6Id6IJ5gYFUUqExFa?dl=0

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