An Obscure Good Resource: A Benedictine Book of Song

benbook1I collect little-known liturgical music resources–things off the catalogue lists of the major publishers and usually not appearing in hymnals. I look for obscure books and collections, mainly. I also have six thick binders of pre-published and unpublished music of friends and colleagues–some real gems in there–but that’s fodder for another post.

This morning, while searching through the basement music (still not totally unpacked) I found A Benedictine Book of Song, a resource that I picked up on a tip from Michael Joncas. At a workshop in ’82, he presented Dominic Braud’s “Nature’s Praise,” a piece I liked very much. Just two verses, and conceived for unison assembly, organ and/or guitar, it seems perfect for Morning Prayer or Sunday Eucharist. I applaud the eclectic approach of blending instrumentation, or at least making the broad application of both organ and contemporary instruments possible. I couldn’t foresee installing a piece in a parish’s musical repertoire that couldn’t work with assemblies large and small, with a variety of instruments, and likely, a cappella, too. There’s enough good music out there to winnow out the organ-only or guitar-only or praise band-only material.

The text of “Nature’s Praise?” It has an environmental sensibility, as one might surmise from the title, but not at all in a dated way. The second verse begins:

Praise the Lord,

falcon and swallow,

circle and follow

  heaven’s design.

 

Praise the Lord,

whitetail by leaping,

lizard by creeping

  fall into line.

The descriptions of weather, plants, animals, and people has an appeal to children. And it’s just a tuneful, fun hymn.

What else did I find in the collection? Thirty-five pieces of ritual music, much of it adapted from plainsong sources, including an Ambrosian chant Gloria. Two or three Mass settings, including an arrangement of Mass X, plus some sprinkled independent pieces, mostly designed for organ accompaniment. There are twenty hymns/songs, many of which are psalm paraphrases and five chant settings. In the rear of the book are eight pieces designated as “psalms and canticle,” but the difference from “hymns” is a headscratcher. Some are paraphrases, like the pieces found in the “hymn” section. I noticed Abbot Gregory Polan’s setting “You Are A Garden Fountain,” with text from Song of Songs. Nice music for a wedding.

Even the metered pieces in aBBS have a strong affinity with chant. It’s still a mystery to me why traditionalist musicians whine about 1963-2006 being lost years as far as the Catholic musical heritage is concerned. There was a lot of good material being composed, adapted, and arranged for congregational singing. What, did parish musicians think the good stuff was just going to fly in the window?

Musicians from fifteen Benedictine communities contributed to this effort. There are some “names” in this collection: the composers from St Meinrad’s, somewhat popular in the 80′s and still with a few pieces circulating in the American Catholic sub-repertoire. Henry Brian Hays has a number of nice settings, presented with his often successful attempt to channel white spirituals but with just a touch of modernity there. His pieces “The Olive Tree” and “Out of the Depths” are favorites of mine.

I know Liturgical Press has a sequel to this effort in print. I haven’t browsed it. Anybody else seen it? Or has anyone any positive experiences with the first book or any of the material in it?

The drawback to these resources is great if your parish is locked into either a hymnal or annual music booklet. I have printed “seasonal” resources, but asking folks in the pews to juggle two or more books can be awkward. If I were to print a parish hymnal, I would certainly comb through resources like this to get some nice material. Otherwise, I’m afraid the songs coming out of these “little” publishers will get buried.

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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3 Responses to An Obscure Good Resource: A Benedictine Book of Song

  1. Liam says:

    I have the sequel, in both accompaniment and congregational form. Let me know if you’d like me to lend it to you (I’ve not had reason to use it in over a dozen years).

    I’ve always felt the Collegeville was the best of the national American Catholic publishing houses. Not least because they cared about layout and avoiding funny line scanning that would confuse congregations. (That’s actually a pretty *big* sin of contemporary liturgical music publishing.)

    Meanwhile, as I always bleat, work reportedly continues on the revision of the monument of the Liturgical Movement in the USA that is my own parish’s hymnal, Hymns Psalms and Spiritual Canticles.

  2. Randolph Nichols says:

    Don’t forget to mention Delores Dufner’s text “I Call You to My Father’s House” paired with a tune by Jay Hunstiger (#103). I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of it for funerals.

  3. Liam says:

    One pick from the sequel I remember using back in the day was metrical paraphrase of the Gloria: Glory Be To God on High, in three verses by Francis Muench, set to REGENT SQUARE 87 87 87. This was before Liturgiam Authenticam and all that, of course (paraphrasing have been contemplated for certain Mass texts but never in fact gone through the processes spelled out somewhat late in the game et cet.), and in a very different community. We were trying to recover the Gloria for sung prayer in that context.

    Glory be to God on high and peace to all who dwell on earth
    King of Heaven, Mighty Father, God and Lord, we worship you
    You we praise, we give you thank for your great glory, Lord of all!

    Only Son of God, Lord Jesus, Lamb of God, Anointed One
    Lord, true God, have mercy on us, you who take our sins away.
    Seated now with God the Father, Saving Lord, receive our prayer.

    Jesus Christ, alone Most Holy, One Most High, alone the Lord
    Joined in union with the Spirit, with the Father, be adored.
    Praise and worship, Glory be, both now and through eternity.

    (c) 1985 St Mary’s Abbey, Morristown NJ

    What this stab showed was the Benedictine interest in working with (1) texts that showed a serious attempt to capture substantive meaning without being distorted by lesser linguistic agendas, and (2) the marriage of such texts to tunes that had either stood the test of time (and, in this case, resonant with the theme of the text) or capable of becoming so. This is not to say the American Benedictine oeuvre is flawless – far from it – but the Benedictines were ahead of their competitors in thinking through more important issues, both principled and practical.

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