The Icy Streets of Catholic Commentary

More than one pastor has remarked to me the frustrating phenomenon of conjoined parish meetings. You know what I mean, right? Within the walls of the parish building, people can be very meek with their commentary. And often, those of us on staff who would like a vigorous discussion find ourselves enduring a deadly dull meeting, only to find that in the parking lot afterward, there is no holding back as people chat for long minutes. Why, my pastors have wondered, don’t these people open up on our time so we can get something accomplished?

Catholic blogs as a group fancy themselves a parish of sorts. So it seems that catty behavior is not beneath us. Note this discussion started by David Haas on PrayTell. Note the conjoined discussion at the members-only CMAA forum. I think Adam Wood has the measure of the CMAA in this comment to David:

I hate the idea that a bunch of anti-Haas commenters are carrying on about a text I assume is somewhat dear to you behind your back.

I’m afraid this comes off looking very badly for people who aspire to recharge Catholic sacred music with a higher set of principles.

Maureen has pretensions, and probably the ability, to be an editor, but more reading comprehension and less snark will help. Note her commentary:

I’m not sure if he was joking when he replied to Todd Flowerday’s comments on scansion that he didn’t know how to scan things on computers… though if he’s being honest, it would explain a lot….

I suppose I don’t mind getting pulled into an insult as a bystander so much, but David and I were talking about putting things on the internet in an entirely separate discussion, some of it offline. If Maureen were honest, she’d admit she zeroed in on the text and read little to nothing of the thread and commentary. If you want to be an editor, you have to cultivate relationships. If David wants to take Liam’s suggestion to get an editor, he can do far better than this. Like someone who knows the difference between GIA and OCP.

I appreciate David Haas’ willingness to step out on a limb here. Wayyyyyyyyyyy out. I guess I’m disappointed, but not surprised by the cowardly behavior to take the criticism to a more comfortable forum where musicians can wax apologetically about what David Haas music they dare to admit they like. Please. Spare us.

As for developing an internet climate in which composers and poets could share works in progress for mutual benefit, too bad CMAA has decided to pour water on that frozen street. We already know what they think about music with less than four centuries of pedigree; why would anyone bother to listen to … “I always try to fit as many words in the last line as I possibly can” … “Mary, the first Tabernacle, has now been suddenly demoted to being the first Disciple” … “I think it would be more appropriate to ‘replace’ the the (sic) lack of a Roman Catholic theological underpinning” … “Putting them together in a blender” … “At the risk of having my CMAA membership revoked, I confess …” … Their commentariat fancies itself important:

This forum garnishes more ‘legitimate’ weight in the liturgical music sphere for the Roman Rite, because it’s members seek to know and understand what the Church desires of her liturgy, uphold it and put it forward.

And then there’s the gossip angle. How’s that working for you, CMAA?

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About catholicsensibility

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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50 Responses to The Icy Streets of Catholic Commentary

  1. Liam says:

    I guess I take the side-conversations for granted now. As you say, they are the norm for Catholic parish life; to expect the Internet to be better is a stretch.

    Many of Maureen’s line-by-line comments are ones a decent editor would make. But they would be followed up with a conversation and then some.

    As you know, I am a huge fan of critical editors, and feel that they are sorely missing in professional crafts, and have been for many years. A critical editor forces an author to consider the mismatch between the author’s intentions and the results on the ground. It is a wonderful thing, but it’s often ugly between points.

    David’s text struck me as needing quite a bit of critical editing (just for example, using “peace and justice” in a hymn text would trigger a good editor’s query about the wisdom of using that epithet). That it had already been accepted for publication begs the question of whether it had benefited from the gimlet eye of an editor.

    • Jimmy Mac says:

      Epithet: “name: a defamatory or abusive word or phrase”

      Since when did the term “peace and justice” become a defamatory or abusive word or phrase?

      • Liam says:

        Jimmy

        In rhetoric, epithet has a broader meaning. It refers, among other things, to phrases that have come to replace the things they represent.

        Modern speech, especially in the day of sound bites and PowerPoint, has a strong tendency towards the use of epithets, and it’s a crutch that a good editor can help an author overcome.

  2. Todd says:

    Thanks, Liam.

    CMAA, however, is a professional organization. I know I stepped way over the line when I was younger, and I’ve appreciated you and others calling me back. I’m not the voice CMAA is going to listen to anyway.

    As a writer who has worked with really good editors (Commonweal) and others who give me a pass (my parish bulletin compilers) I much prefer the former … in the long run.

    A GIA editor told me twenty years ago that once I passed the first hurdle, it would be easier to get my subsequent work accepted. Even including songs that didn’t make the cut for the first collection.

    I read enough fiction to see glaring gaffes from “experienced” authors that simply shouldn’t have been allowed to hit print. Agreed that GIA and others do their “artists” no good by allowing such work to go unchallenged.

  3. Liam says:

    They ain’t gonna listen much to me, either. That’s been made abundantly clear by a few of them over there. Not that I care. I chime in when I feel like.

  4. Not having either the time or inclination to participate in either of the blog threads, Todd, I’ve seen this as a fairly significant improvement in the detente between “the polarized factions.” That they would open for public consumption, and therefore scrutiny, David’s (and Mike Joncas’) recent postings of texts is very commendable. And that has provided, in some cases for the better, others the worse, bridge-builders such as Adam Wood, Liam and others to try to focus upon the merits and demerits of the prose and import of the work itself, not the author’s integrity, intent or repute. (Some folks on either side of the aisle cannot and will not resist either potshots or broadsides, and that remains discouraging.)
    But getting beyond the implied snark of “sir” and such, can’t Maureen’s deconstruction be critically valuable to David’s enterprise, even though a “relationship” hasn’t been established?
    I’ve been stung by “my own” plenty of times, but I make a distinction between the principles of CMAA and the individual voices who huddle under its banner.
    You say,”‘At the risk of having my CMAA membership revoked, I confess …’ … Their commentariat fancies itself important:..”
    Are you implying that at Club Pray Tell there aren’t correspondent pundits? Rhetorical question, I really don’t need an answer to that. I would gleefully roll down Charles St. in NOLA if the pettiness from both quarters would just cease and desist, and talk “turkeys or eagles” for a change, rather than clamor on about who is the rightful keeper of the faithful flame.
    I’m probably spitting into the wind, eh?

  5. Adam Wood says:

    Apparently I’m going to have to wander the internet looking for places to explain my “behind the back” comment. I did not mean to suggest that Kathy or the CMAA was gossiping about DH or PT. What I “hated” was not the conversation that was happening, but Mr. Haas’s absence from (or ignorance of) it.

    I’m a little peeved that my comment is being gleefully repeated in order to accuse my friends of pettiness.

    I don’t really see how a conversation about a new hymn text should be off-limits for CMAA. As to the general nature of the comments, that’s what happens when people of strong opinions talk amongst their friends about subjects that interest them. I don’t see how anything that was said over there (or the other over there, or over here) would constitute cowardice. Or gossip, for that matter.

    I find it particularly interesting that no one, DH or his fans, have actually responded to the criticism of the text itself. I’ve posted a handful of hymn-texts at CMAA and have always responded to both the positive and the negative feedback. In some cases, it has improved my work. In others, I just had to finally say, “well, I disagree with you, and it’s my text, so there!”

  6. Todd says:

    Adam, I appreciate your comments here. I believe I responded to some of what you said at PrayTell on that site.

    I took your initial post with the CMAA link to be as it was worded. If the intent there was to work with David and improve the text, then why not communicate that with him at the start? When you and Kathy submitted texts there, did you do it yourselves, or did someone else inform you a day or so later they were doing it?

    The internet is enough of a free forum to allow us to wrap the mantle of openness around ourselves. It’s also easy enough to shoot someone an e-mail or send a link in the original discussion, “Hey, we’re talking about some of your stuff. Want to join in?”

    For her part, Kathy did suggest to stick to the technical criticism of the piece, only later to get sucked into the ideology.

    “I find it particularly interesting that no one, DH or his fans, have actually responded to the criticism of the text itself.”

    Well, I think I did, suggesting that attention to spelling and a minimization of insults would be in order. I also recall on the CMAA thread Noel spent a few posts linking my criticism of the tenor there, but he didn’t address my criticism of the text either. So what gives with that?

    Lastly, I would be cautious about assuming fandom on the part of those who don’t toe the CMAA party line. This isn’t some twisted friend-of-my-enemy alignment. This is just me calling out bad behavior. You and anyone else are free to say, “Well, I disagree with you, and it’s my criticism, so there!”

  7. Adam Wood says:

    Well- I did actually go to the original post and link back to the CMAA conversation. No, I didn’t do so soon enough. My first response to the thread at the forum was to simply share my thoughts as they happened- it’s a pretty informal group over there. It occurred to me later that it was unfair to David to speak about his work without him knowing about the conversation. Not cowardly or gossipy or anything- just not the best thing.

    I wasn’t assuming fandom on anyone’s part. Even if I was, that shouldn’t be considered insulting (or whatever) as I’m an acknowledges fan of DH myself. (He really should thank me for that bag of groceries :) ). Besides- it’s still true that no one has responded to criticism itself. One person said that it should have been less harsh, and you said it was too insulting. David, thankfully, did pipe up and say he wasn’t bothered by it, but he only responded vaguely to any of it. That’s fine- he is under no obligation to do so. What bothers me is that the response to problems being voiced about the text was redirection and defensiveness. Yes, perhaps this whole conversation(s) could have been handled differently by Kathy and the posters at CMAA, but does anyone have anything to say about the actual issues raised by Maureen and myself? If not, that’s okay. But going on the counter-attack, I think, is not.

  8. Adam Wood says:

    AND ANOTHER THING!

    Your use of the phrase “members-only CMAA forum” suggests that the boards over at musicasacra are a closed-door discussion. They are not. All are welcome (even a Haas-loving, feminist heretic like myself). There is no editorial policy, no posts are censored or time-delayed, and there is absolutely no attempt by the CMAA to limit or direct the content or the tone of the discussions or the types of people who post. In fact, my very first post at the forum was a link to a feminist hymn text I wrote. You can imagine the response was not positive. But no one minded that I had shared it. And even though the vast majority of the posters at CMAA disagree with me on some pretty fundamental issues, they have also been intensely welcoming, fun to talk to, and extremely helpful (one regular arranged a piece of music for me because I couldn’t find an arrangement that fit my needs, another poster composed a tune to one of my texts, other posters have helped me find arrangements and pieces to suit my needs, others have educated me on the ins and outs of Anglican/Episcopal liturgy). This is a good group of people. Not perfect. But they are doing a world of good for liturgy and music, as well as all-around friendship.

  9. Todd says:

    Hey Adam, fair enough. I didn’t intend to damage your vibe at CMAA. I’ve known other people there to be occasionally critical of the commentariat. I figured you were on that point this time, that’s all.

    I don’t know how useful it is to redact the whole conversation. Personally, I thought the whole point was reviewing the text, not what others said about it. I can think of better things to write about than what other people are writing about. Except, maybe, when it veers into abject unfairness.

    Maybe if I were sharing editorial board duties with Maureen at GIA, I’d probably choose to chime in and build on her points or disagree.

    But c’mon, my friend. If David’s text is open for comment, then certainly the worst of the CMAA barbs are due their own critique. Or don’t you think there should be a congruence of fairness about all this?

  10. Kathy says:

    Todd,

    Haas asked for critique. He said, “I offer it for your comment and reflection.” He didn’t say, just keep it technical (I did). In fact a lot of the positive comments on Pray Tell did have to do with ideology.

    I honestly don’t know how you can take vicarious offense on Haas’ behalf, for invited criticism. He posted his work on the internet, and asked for comments.

    But in any case, doesn’t the more important question have to do with the insider vs. outsider vibe at the publisher? What they said to you is a very big problem: once you’ve published one thing, it will be a lot easier to publish the next.

    I’ve never heard such a blatant admission of a clique culture–and this is a business whose products affect souls.

    • David Haas says:

      I have to step in here in regard to the assumption that once someone is published by a publisher, than there is never again a rejection, or editing that goes on.

      Totally false. Does a published composer have perhaps, an entree’ so to speak that others do not, when submitting a new piece of music? Probably so.

      But I would strongly suggest unless you know what you are talking about in this regard, do not presume. There are many instances when pieces of music have been rejected, edited, and re-worked because of the publishers intervention, with many so called “established composers.”

      I have had experience with all three of the major publishers (GIA, OCP, WLP). Publishers and editors have their biases, just like you and I do… and they have said NO many times to many of us…

      If you do not like what they publish, that is fine. But do not speak of things of which you have no first hand information.

      As I said at PrayTell, I have no problem whatsoever if you or anyone else does not like a piece of music that I or someone else has composed. But can we stop the hard edged rhetoric regarding publishers, their agendas, and their subservice motives to harm Holy Mother Church? Give me a break.

      I do not belong to the CMMA group, so I cannot send a post there, and there is part of me that is even nervous about sending this post right now. I guess I just wish, that folks who do not like a particular genre of music, could just simply say: “I don’t like this kind of music,” and leave it at that.

      There are types and styles of music that I particularly do not like, or perhaps would never choose to use myself in the liturgy (not many mind you, as I am classically trained, and in all of the parishes where I have worked, I use traditional hymnody, chant, choral music as well as the wretched “contemporary music” that I write), but I have never demonized or made it out to be evil, as so many seem to want to do, on both sides of the musical style wars.

      Sorry to be ranting myself here… I just simply put a hymn text out there to be reacted to – I welcomed the positive and negative comments, I expected it, I actually wanted to learn from it, and for the most part, I have. Again, I am fine if people do not like it, or hate it. But can we stop accusing folks, that when we do not like something they have created, to have to view the creators with contempt?

      I am not saying that you have done so, not at all. But boy, there is sure a lot of steam out there, that just seems to sad.

      O well…

      • Kathy says:

        David,

        You don’t have to be a member of the CMAA to post anything. There’s a (small) sign up form to make comments, that’s all.

        Actually I know quite a bit about how business is done (or not done) at GIA, and especially how difficult it is to get that magical entree. It’s ridiculous that politically correct pieces that need a lot of work are accepted when excellent, polished works of an actual religious nature are rejected wholesale.

  11. Todd says:

    Kathy, thank you for coming here to comment.

    I just bristled at my perception of the unfairness of it. That’s all I care to comment on this topic any more.

    As for my GIA experience, that soured me on the publication track for my music. Not to mention my reading of rock biographies where music companies took advantage of young musicians.

    I find that my parishes are a substantial-enough outlet for my liturgical compositions. And recently, I’ve discerned some new directions that will take me even farther away from liturgical publishing. That’s more than satisfactory for me.

    And that’s my last comment on this for awhile. Aside from repeating what I wrote on PrayTell:

    I apologize to you for making assumptions about your motives for posting the PrayTell link at CMAA.

  12. Adam Wood says:

    If David’s text is open for comment, then certainly the worst of the CMAA barbs are due their own critique. Or don’t you think there should be a congruence of fairness about all this?

    Everything is open for comment- that’s the miracle of the blagosphere.

    Thanks for your personal note on this, BTW.

  13. Liam says:

    Btw, the PT discussion has been deleted.

    • Todd says:

      Mixed feelings on that point. The discussion has morphed into a hum of outrage at certain favorite whipping boys. It’s possible to close a thread but leave the contents open for perusal. The SMSMIDL (Society for a Moratorium on Sacred Music I Don’t Like) is still available on the internet wayback machine.

      The discussion that deserves deletion is the one still alive at CMAA. Those people sink threads, or at least they used to.

      While I don’t share Kathy’s opinion on either CMAA or GIA, I will say there are more options these days to satisfy creative inclinations, polished or not.

  14. David Haas says:

    Kathy, and everyone else who may read this, in terms of how difficult it may be to find an “entree” to GIA.. that is the same with OCP, WLP and non-music publishers (like Paulist Press, Orbis, etc). “Getting published” especially for first timers, is hard.. always has been. This is nothing unique to GIA… it is the nature of the animal. And every publishers has its editorial biases… I have never said it was easy … but if you check GIA, OCP, WLP and other publishers, there are ALWAYS new compositions being published by new names.. check out the Choral Subscription services that they all publish and send out samples for.. there are always new faces, new pieces, in addition to pieces by already established composers. I cannot speak about specific pieces being rejected and for what reasons…. but to expect that a publisher publish everything they get, well, it is not possible. And again – they have said no to me around pieces and projects.. so again, enough of the “well, David can get anything published he wants” strand of thought. It just is not true.

    In terms of GIA (or any other publisher) publishing only “politically” correct music (whatever that means)… if you were to do an honest inventory of their catalog – you will see a tremendous diversity of styles, genres, and approaches to writing text. They publish not only the wretched music that I compose, and of other evil beings; they also publish Richard Proulx, Gregorian Chant, the Ars Antiqua Series, the African-American Series, Bilingual music for Latino Communities, collections of hymnody of every stripe, John Bell and the Iona Community, the music of Taize’, the Royal School of Church Music Series from England, the Gelineau Psalms, and on and on and on. They publish Latin masses. So, what is “politically” correct mean in such a pool of diverse genres and styles?

    Publishers make decisions as to what to publish based on many different things and points of view. I certainly do not always agree for example, with every piece that GIA may choose to publish, and sometimes I wish they would publish something else….

    If you have composed something and it has been rejected, I am sorry, and whether you believe it or not, I know that is painful.

    But the rhetoric and the demonizing of these companies (GIA, OCP, WLP), that while yes, they are a buisness, are also (and I can say this from first hand experience which is not perfect, but true) are good people who care about the liturgy and its sung prayer. One might not agree with that their vision is the right one, but to suggest that they have motives other than the best, well… one could say the same thing (wrongly) about other groups, and even blogs.

    • Kathy says:

      David,

      My concern is not with the small niche aspects (RSM) of music publishing but with hymnals. In most parishes, most music will be sung straight out of the hymnal in the pew. Some folks on both left and right, including many of my colleagues at CMAA, would far prefer that congregations would ordinarily use propers instead. However, right now, hymnals set the tone.

      In other words, hymnals are de facto a major part of our liturgical prayer. How are they formed? Who puts them together? Is there any transparency in that process?

      I couldn’t care less how Random House works. Hymnals are part of our shared prayer and we all have a stake in them.

  15. Adam Wood says:

    This conversation has just been fascinating to me, I have to say. It’s a weird triangulation for me, as I genuinely like and respect all the players involved. I suspect that, despite the differences and arguments and so forth, a dinner party including Kathy, Maureen, Fr. Ruff, Todd, David, and myself (with Charles, Liam, and Jeffrey to referee) would be great fun.

    I find GIA to be the most useful of the big three publishers. David is right to point out their huge list of offerings. I know the idea of musical eclecticism is a problem for the generic CMAA ethos, but you can’t accuse of GIA of attempting to suppress chant, polyphony, high-church choral music, or anything else. From the CMAA viewpoint, their catalog is perhaps too open, not too closed. For example, I think about half the contents of Gather Comp could be tossed. (But I have yet to find a hymnal where that wasn’t the case).

    I do want to point out that there are, though, a number of publishers who will take all submissions and treat them with equal respect and opportunity:
    -CreateSpace
    -Lulu
    -WordPress
    -WikiMedia
    -The copy machine in your parish office

    I believe VERY strongly that self-publishing, and performing new works in your own community, is both a viable alternative to mainstream publishing, and the best way to get the attention of the mainstream publishers (if that’s what you’re after). In this regard, I believe that the folks at CMAA, along with their friends at Corpus Christi Watershed, are pioneering a new age in sacred music publishing.

  16. Todd says:

    Kathy, I detect a slight switching of topic here. You protested above that “polished works of an actual religious nature are rejected wholesale.”

    Congregational singing is a slightly different animal than choral-only works.

    The hymnals I use or those sitting on my bookshelf from the Big 3 have a mixture of plainsong, shape note tunes, ethnic music of Spanish or Black origin, hymn tunes from most of Europe of the last five centuries. And every hymnal with contemporary music from GIA is advertised with 50 or 70% content. There’s no secret to what we’re getting.

    David also has a valid point: new composers do get published. And GIA does indeed have a very wide breadth of music for performance and congregational singing.

    You and I and any other music director are always free to compile our own hymnals if we don’t like the ratios of published books. I’ve done that, too, and have always found the terms fair and the publishers easy to work with.

    • Kathy says:

      I don’t think the time for the self-publishing revolution has come. The pastors make the call, and they will almost certainly choose a hymnal.

      What will be interesting to see is the sales numbers of Worship IV vs. St. Michael.

  17. Kathy says:

    Adam and Todd,

    What was the last excellent traditionally spiritual metrical hymn you saw published by the Big 3. Something that didn’t push the envelope into new theological realms, but told the same old story in a fresh new way?

    “Silence, Frenzied, Unclean Spirit” doesn’t count, obviously.

    I hate to keep harping on this, but this freshness, sameness, goodness–that’s how I see Adam’s Advent text. And almost all of mine, frankly.

  18. Adam Wood says:

    Thanks Kathy! I’m glad you like it.
    (For purely self-promotional purposes: Here is the text K is referring to, a new hymn based on the readings for the Second Sunday of Advent.

    I cannot say when the last time I saw a good new hymn text out of a big 3 publisher. The truth of the matter is, I simply don’t keep up with they’re new offerings. There have been a few hymn texts over the last decade or two (the stuff that has become common enough that I’ve heard it) that I really like. I doubt all (or maybe most) of them would pass Kathy’s judgement, but here’s a few off the top of my head:
    -Oh God, You Search me And you know me
    -The Christus Paradox
    -Lead Me to Your Home
    -God is Alive
    -Christ is Risen, Shout Hosanna!
    -The Magnificat paraphrase set to “Wild Mountain Thyme” (I don’t know if that counts as a hymn, since it has a refrain)

    I also kind of assume that 99% of new music (from the Big 3, from my own pencil, from anywhere) simply will not pass the “so what? test.” I figure that GIA et al are better off erring on the side of publishing too much rather than too little- it serves their business goals, and makes it more likely that a few gems will slip through. I do wish that all of the big three would stop publishing music I find outright silly (OCP is the worst offender on this point, in my opinion), but now that I’m in charge of a music program at a parish, I’m less bothered by it, as I don’t have any amateur MusDirs inflicting it on me week after week.

  19. Todd says:

    Kathy, off the top of my head, OCP publishes the hymn texts of Genevieve Glen, and I don’t think anyone in Christendom is doing work substantively better than she is. A number of her texts are in her publisher’s annual resources.

    GIA has texts from Herman Stuempfle, Ruth Duck, Delores Dufner, Carl Schalk, and others. The last serious hymnal revision at GIA was in 1994–I don’t count Gather Comp 2, which was a disappointment on many levels.

    I think it’s fine to admit, Adam, that you don’t follow the Big 3 closely. It’s understandable why you haven’t found any good new hymn text, eh? To be honest, I don’t follow new releases as often as I once did, either.

    I suspect what’s operating here is that many of us are pressed for time, and our own blinders may help reinforce old suppositions. I have my own beefs with the Big 3, and with some aspects of the business they do. But I think some aspects of your protests here, Adam and Kathy, simply do not hold water.

    As for your own texts, I haven’t followed the CMAA forum very carefully in some time. It could be that you need to cast your own nets wider than the propers-only crowd and expand the group with whom you collaborate.

    • Kathy says:

      Not sure what you mean by casting my nets wider. My translations were featured in a UK Catholic magazine,
      I’ve collaborated with composers in Rome, Melbourne, and Philadelphia, and have been solicted by many more, a collection of my text was published in 2005, I’ve had dozens of requests for re-printing including diocesan in-service days for priests, parish centenaries and a beatification, my texts have appeared in Adoremus and Magnificat, and I’ve been quoted as a hymn writer in USA Today and the Washington Post.

      My writing is different from Glen’s. Hers is softer and quieter, and mine is more precise. It’s almost a monastic vs. scholastic difference. Yes, her work is very respectable. I don’t know enough about the others, except Stuempfle, whose body of work seems unlikely to have a lasting following.

      • Todd says:

        Okay, so have we conceded that you can find good new texts in the Big 3?

        I think it’s one thing to say “everything” coming from the Big 3 is trash. That seems to be the easy way out for many CMAA folks.

        I didn’t have to look very deeply in the GIA catalogue or the OCP Music Issue to find material from hymnwriters that, if you posted without attribution on CMAA, most people there would nod in approval.

        As for the point of how mew music and texts actually get used in parishes, well, then I’d say you’ve come to the real crux of the problem.

        In defense of seemingly stodgy parish musicians, I will note there has been a steady improvement in published contemporary music used since the catechetical songs of the mid-60′s.

        We might actually agree that progress is too slow, but if a real dialogue is to continue, we must strive for utmost honesty.

      • Kathy says:

        Todd, if we’re going to be honest, you’re going to have to tell me why you think I said everything coming from the Big 3 is trash.

        What I said was “What was the last excellent traditionally spiritual metrical hymn you saw published by the Big 3. Something that didn’t push the envelope into new theological realms, but told the same old story in a fresh new way?”

        There’s a parish market for good new hymn texts. Even more so, now that the Anglican Use is about to take off in a big way. But not so much a publishing market. Why the disconnect?

      • Todd says:

        Kathy,

        I know you didn’t say “everything.” Rabbinical exaggeration directed to CMAA. I withdraw the association from you.

        Most every G. Glen text I’ve seen counts, and she’s your editor, I believe, at Magnificat.

        The truth is that publishers do have good new hymn texts. You and Adam conceded you don’t look very carefully for them. I’m willing to grant that you both disagree with proportions of the ideal music the publishers do promote.

        Your turn to concede the point: GIA and OCP have good hymn texts. I can browse my PMB and a 4-year-old We Celebrate if you really want me to check WLP. If I can apologize publicly, you can acknowledge I’m right on this point.

      • Kathy says:

        Todd,

        I didn’t just not say “everything.” I also didn’t say “trash.” Perhaps you think that I am making the kind of point that CMAA peopla are always thought to make. I’m not.

        Here is my point: I have looked, hard, for a text writer who is doing the same thing I am, only better. Christopher Idle. Rae Whitney, occasionally. That’s it. Adam is also very very good. I am relieved to find his work. It makes me feel as though I can focus on translations, if he does the future heavy lifting on original texts.

        Do you see what I am saying? There is an ecclesial need, expressed by Fr. Joncas and others, for excellent hymn writing. There are excellent hymn writers. There are excellent hymns written.

        And they are not in hymnals, because…?

        There are only two questions left. 1) whether my assessment of my texts is correct, and 2) whether there is an unmet market for such texts and translations. If the answer to both of these questions is “yes,” there is something wrong with the system.

      • Todd says:

        Kathy, thanks for continuing the discussion.

        I will note you have shifted here somewhat. You first asked for “excellent traditionally spiritual metrical hymn(s)” from the Big 3. I responded in the affirmative. Now you are asking for “a text writer who is doing the same thing I am, only better.”

        Please stick to your original point, or don’t expect me on December 23rd to go back to my hymnal shelf and find something good to suit your style. The GC texts of nos. 754, 767, 776, 781 are all of very high quality and 798 and 815 aren’t far behind. And that’s only a sliver of one hymnal.

        My sense is that Genevieve Glen, Christopher Idle, and a full handful of others have a stronger body of work than the four or five things I’ve seen of yours and Adam’s. I’ll also say that I think both of you are clearly better than most all mainstream contemporary composers who try their hand at hymn texts. You and Adam work at it like hymnwriters. Others work at it like songwriters. Comparing text to text to text, the quality is pretty clear in my mind. But let’s also concede that most contemporary musicians are composing in the refrain+verse format inspired by the propers.

        G. Glen’s texts are in OCP music issue. Gather Comp has a scattering of good hymn texts. Again, you’ve switched focus here. You asked about publishers in general; now you’re complaining about hymnals. I don’t disagree with either you or Fr Joncas that we need more/better hymns. Where we disagree is a matter of perspective and emphasis of comtemporary composers.

        I don’t set hymns often. I prefer to work with the structure of proper psalmody, for either the psalms or other Scripture texts. The Roman Rite, as CMAA folks often remind us, isn’t all about hymns. Therefore, they’re not emphasized.

        That said, are you prepared to concede that the Big 3 publish good hymns, though not yours, specifically?

      • Kathy says:

        No, Todd, I’m not shifting. I say “excellent,” you say “good.” I say “traditionally spiritual metrical hymns”–which means “the same thing I am.”

        What is GC?

  20. Kathy says:

    Just one more note about publishing. It would be naive to think that every publisher of every kind of media were primarily interested in publishing “the best” of a kind. But for liturgical music, it seems to me that this simply must be the standard. The stakes are not only high, they are eternal.

    Fr. Joncas once noted that the U.S. has not produced a truly excellent hymn writer. My question is, are the publishers looking?

  21. Todd says:

    I would have to disagree with Michael Joncas on that one.

    The publishers are looking for the music+text combination.

    But let’s get real: not even the institutional Church is looking for good people.

  22. Dear Friend Todd,
    1.” Rabbinical exaggeration directed to CMAA.”

    Why do you seem to have such a jones impulse about singing that one note song?

    2.”But let’s get real: not even the institutional Church is looking for good people.”

    Huh?

    Merry Christmas, BTW.

  23. Todd says:

    Charles,

    1. Look: CMAA has a rep. I read through that “Politically Correct Salve” thread. When you get banned from that forum for protesting some of the gunk that hit print–stuff you and I both know was unfair and innacurate, then you can start needling me about a casual comment that most of your confreres would agree with. I pulled Kathy out of the generalization, and you don’t really belong there either. When you start sitting on Noel and Ian and the rest, let me know.

    2. Roman Missal 3. Alan Griffiths. ICEL. Nothing further need be said.

    Happy Christmas and blessings to you and Wendy. All the best.

  24. Adam Wood says:

    This is getting silly.

    I’m more than complimented that I keep being held up by Kathy as an example of great hymntext writing. But the reason I have not been “picked up” by any major publishers is that I have made almost no effort toward that, as it is not a goal of mine. I would more than welcome the opportunity if they showed up at my door with a check, but I’ve got better things to do than try to get publishers to notice me. Also my body of work is pretty small (I’m young yet… I think).

  25. Todd says:

    “This is getting silly.”

    Agreed.

    Kathy, let me put it plainly: Genevieve Glen is a better hymnwriter than you are. And not because she’s mainstream-published and you aren’t. A good handful of other people have excellent texts–at least a few–that surpass what I’ve seen of yours.

    Sorry, my friend, but you are shifting. Genevieve Glen and the others I mentioned all produce top-shelf work that surpasses what you and Adam are doing. It’s the difference between A and B-plus. Both get you on the honor roll, but maybe only one gets you to Julliard.

    Please concede that the Big 3 indeed publish hymn texts that are excellent. Of course, they also publish material that could use substantial improvement; but that point isn’t in debate here.

  26. Kathy says:

    Ah, Adam, so young, so wise…

    I’m not exactly old. But with the liturgical text change on the horizon, I made the strongest bid I could at two of the big three.

    And yet here I am, with about 60-70 texts about this strong.

    He who walked upon the water now is seated on the skies,
    and he shares with us his glory that we may with him arise.
    He who prayed with tears and groanings intercedes forevermore,
    and his hands, with might for healing, knock on every human door.

    He will come again in glory, on the final judgment day.
    At the final trumpet’s sounding heaven and earth will flee away.
    Let him enter! Let him enter! Spirit and the Bride say, “Come!”
    Yes, amen, come soon, Lord Jesus. Come to bring your people home.

    I welcome any comments, on any blog or whatever.

    • Todd says:

      It’s a solid B-plus.

      I like the reference to the prayer of Jesus. I like the knocking of the healing hands. I like the quotes from Revelation–it makes for a great late Easter text.

      Looking at the words, I tried singing it to about 4 or 5 tunes, and it scans well. On verse 2, lines 2 and 3 I needed to pay attention, but that wasn’t a big problem.

      I liked the allusion to one shape note hymn spread out through the piece, “Come away to the skies.” I think “heaven and earth shall flee away” is way too close to the Christina Rosetti text. A fairly short reference, but it pretty much makes the whole line.

      Why the third-person reference in seven lines, and suddenly the shift to second person in the very last one? I do see what you’re trying to accomplish here. And I’m not totally against third person references to God, but I think they’re over-used in traditional hymnody. We need more texts that direct the faithful’s voice directly to God. Not hymnwriters telling stories so much.

      I prefer the richer texts of Genevieve Glen, plus most of her writings as I recall, do address God in the second person.

      • Kathy says:

        “It’s a solid B-plus.”

        Imagine my surprise that you agree with you, lol.

        Actually I don’t know the text “Come away to the skies.” And I’m glad you caught the Rosetti reference, which I did not have in mind, but which is an important cultural marker I should be aware of. Thanks.

        This text is really just about Christ’s present (verse 1) activities and His future (verse 2) activities. So verse 2 is all about the Book of Revelations, and that particular expression refers directly to Rev. 21:1. I feel that there isn’t enough attention paid to Christ’s present and future. Yves Congar, for example, said that he had overbalanced his treatment of the two divine missions, giving too little thought to the current activity of the Risen Christ in the Church.

        Anyways, it’s good to note the cultural referrent. That exact expression, by the way, also occurs in one of the rarely-sung verses of Lo, He Comes.

        I’d be interested to know what you mean by “the richer texts of Genevieve Glen.” Rich, yes. Richer? Please explain.

  27. Kathy says:

    Here’s another. Critiques welcome:

    Who is rising in the east
    like the light of many suns?
    Bridegroom coming to the feast:
    eagerly his race he runs.
    Splendor of the rising day,
    reaching out from end to end,
    all creation in his sway—
    and he calls the sinner “friend.”

    Camel through the needle’s eye,
    for our sake becoming poor,
    so the Lord of earth and sky
    enters through a humble door:
    enters through a Virgin womb,
    rises from a borrowed grave.
    So he wills to gently come.
    Powerfully he comes to save.

    He comes forth to be our food
    reigning from the Father’s hand.
    Eat and live: be filled with good.
    Drink, and you will understand.
    Every morning mercies new
    on the altar, grace for grace,
    fall like never-failing dew
    till we see him face to face.

  28. Kathy says:

    Here’s another. And there are dozens more. And then there are the 27 in my collection, one for each major season and each major feast that can replace a Sunday. And somewhere around 10 translations from the Latin, in up to date language, including Adoro Te Devote and the sequence Stabat Mater, maintaining the original rhyme scheme.

    O taste, and you will see
    the goodness of the Lord:
    humanity, divinity,
    the Body and the Blood.

    God fed his wand’ring fold
    with manna from the sky.
    Much better This than bread of old:
    we eat and never die.

    Elijah once was fed
    when he could walk no more.
    An angel brought to him that bread;
    the angels This adore.

    To those who would be filled,
    this food is life indeed.
    To give it, Life Himself was killed,
    and we from death are freed.

    O worthy is the Lamb,
    our slain and risen Lord,
    the Son of Mary, God and man,
    our Eucharist adored.

  29. Adam Wood says:

    I don’t feel like the comment boxes here are the best place for hymn-dissecting party. But I’ll go ahead and voice a brief sample of opinion here.

    I really like both of these texts as they are. Technically, very good, and full of solid, scripturally-based imagery.
    What troubles me about both of them is my general problem with, for example, the Episcopal Hymnal. Full of fascinating texts with great theology and poetic writing, but when am I supposed to use them? At my ECUSA parish, it takes me FOREVER to scrounge up four measly hymns every week that have something to do with the lectionary readings. This isn’t a problem in a Roman Rite church that does Propers, nor is it a problem in a typical “Gather Comprehensive” parish.
    I think the strongest needs for new metrical hymn texts are (in order):
    1. lectionary-inspired hymns, particularly with a recessional (sending-forth into the world to preach the Gospel and live Christian lives) character; both for the Catholic and the Protestant (Revised Common) lectionary.
    2. Processional hymns based on the texts of the Proper Introits.
    3. Hymns of Eucharistic adoration that can be used for communion, so that we don’t have to sing 1970s folk songs with specious theology if we want a good “Bread and Wine” text.
    4. Metrical setting of Biblical canticles, particularly if they can be infused/strengthened with a fresh understanding of their theological implications
    5. Metrical settings of Psalms, devoid of the above mentioned infusions.

    I don’t feel as if those two texts you presented fill a current need in the repertoire. That being said, I feel the same way about the vast majority of new music I encounter.

  30. Todd says:

    I don’t mind this site being used to analyze hymns.

    I might prefer to take the hymns to be analyzed and place them on separate threads. There has to be a better day than December 23rd. Only don’t say the 24th.

    Kathy, thank you for posting your work here. I do appreciate it.

    • Kathy says:

      Okay, we can desist for now.

      Adam, I’m going to send you some stuff, and Todd, I’ll send it to you after Christmas. I understand about the 23rd. For some reason I was able to get way ahead of the game, and have literally nothing to do before the first Mass (of a seven-Mass marathon) except tune my guitar and unlock the rehearsal room. So I can chill for a bit. Merry Christmas to all.

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