I 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 I also have six thick binders of pre-published and unpublished music of friends and colleagues–some real gems in there–but that’s fodder for another post.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
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.