The Grail For $ale thread on PrayTell has hit upon a sub-theme in the publishing industry: the annoying typos and occasional misguided policies of sacred music editors. My post there, expanded a bit from a comment on significant errors in the GIA Gather series:
Other religious publishers are not immune from “goof” and “slipshod.” And as for theological fuzziness, how many publishers have a theologian on the editorial staff? I used to attend reading sessions where music of many Christian publishers was presented. The strong bias I recall was in favor of sentimentality in both texts and music. Very occasionally, I would find a gem, like a delightful Ave Verum Corpus by Saint-Saëns. But usually, even the “fun” pieces would be spoiled by 3rd grade lyrics or predictable music.
As a user of GIA products for over 20 years, I will credit them with avoiding much of the sentimentality I see in non-Catholic publishers. And they do offer a s0lid dose of serious music from centuries past. However, I’ve been greatly disappointed with their approach to contemporary music. It seems to be their big moneymaker, but you wouldn’t know it for the quantity of annoying errors, especially in their hymnals. There’s almost an attitude that the average parish guitarist can’t play this anyway, and if they can, he or she should be good enough to fix the mistakes before Mass. I can and I do, but maybe I should bill the company for the job their editors didn’t do. If I’m paying ICEL, Conception Abbey, and the composers for music, the least they could do is recognize my ability to save their butts when I have to alter parts for my musicians.
Another approach that suggests amateurism is the “guitar chords do not match the keyboard accompaniment” like this is some kind of excuse for both parishes and their editorial staffs. There might be a reason why Mass of Creation sold so well from the start. I’m thinking that parish musicians appreciated a careful approach to merging organ and contemporary instruments. One would think a similar approach would work for other repertoire.
I know publishers fiddle with arrangements of hymn tunes, especially the ones in the public domain. It would be good to take that another step: find arrangers to redo public domain music and render it harmonized like MoC. A few examples:
- The tune SLANE (“Lord of All Hopefulness” and “Be Thou My Vision”) is ridiculous in the key of E-flat. It’s almost as if publishers were trying to hide that it’s a great folk tune. A key of D arrangement for small ensemble and a nice recording with guitar, bass, dulcimer, and violin or flute accompanying a small four-part schola.
- NETTLETON (“Come Thou Font,” but more recently “Sing A New Church.”) has a spectacularly dull guitar harmonization in most published versions.
- The Basque carol used for the text, “The Angel Gabriel From Heaven Came” cries out for a nice ensemble arrangement suited to the Iberian origins of the music.
In these and many other cases, modern music software could easily assist an editor in reducing the small band arrangement for keyboard, and voila: a perfectly harmonized set of accompaniments that, with care, could work in concert, so to speak.
I would have to be convinced a publisher was committed to a superior editing process before I would seriously consider acquiring a new hymnal today. For one, I would bring my list of Gather typos if I were considering getting the MR3-friendly Gather Comp. And while I can’t guarantee my own editing gaffes wouldn’t be absent, I have an easy means of correcting them. All I have to do is collect defective copies and run the corrections through my computer.
While I know it would be significant work, maybe more than my parish or I would be willing to expend, I know I could produce a parish hymnal well suited to our needs and able to be updated regularly, while being able to correct the human mistakes that happen with a big endeavor like this. Or maybe I just want to resign myself to correcting publishers’ errors and not getting paid for it.