Searching for Consistency

An interesting discussion on PrayTell avoiding some, but not all of the usual bile. Most interesting was Kathy Pluth’s comment about a judicious use of certain hymnody:

I would consider separating the spirituals from the 4-square hymns, mainly to separate the American idiom from the German/British idiom.

These tunes would combine nicely in a Mass with spirituals: Resignation, Land of Rest, New Britain, Faith (Moyer)

These might not: Eisenach, Winchester New, Salzburg

The American tunes are like mellow running rivers, without severe modulations.

I might quibble that most hymn tunes lack modulations–maybe an occasional raised 4th for a secondary dominant. It’s the arrangement that defines a music as have severe or moderate or no modulation. Good musicians using excellent tunes and texts might do well to consider investing time in original arrangements that favor a certain consistency, a harmony if you will, with the other musical items at a liturgy. But I’m on board with Kathy’s advocacy for American tunes. I find they also work well with plainsong, sharing that diatonic grounding.

My comment about Collegeville music is that their hymn resources (Hymnal 1982 and their own collection of music) are overbalanced with central European hymnody. There’s some British stuff, but not nearly enough American music for my taste.

I’ve felt that I’ve had a decent grasp of the Holy Thursday liturgy for many years now. My sense of a “mixed media” approach there would be to use “Lift High the Cross” with a straight-forward Glory to God for the introductory rites. A Eucharistic Prayer setting should be cohesive–my main problem with doing a Latin Sanctus and maybe the Agnus Dei, is that the texts for the Mysterium Fidei are not nearly as well know in Latin. All or nothing would be my style, and almost always in the same setting.

As for other music, knowing that Pange Lingua is a given–either in Latin or the vernacular or perhaps both. I’d say that the tune Wondrous Love (with Marty Haugen’s Triduum Hymn text) and the Taize Ubi Caritas both fit well. They’re not the same style, but they suggest a certain consistency.

I suspect that amateur (or lazy) liturgy planners look to the texts of the Mass, and patch in the best songs they know suggestive of the day. For Holy Thursday, it might be songs about the Mandatum (and there are so many). We have enough good contemporary vernacular songs these days that I would fault a liturgist or music planning group for slotting the “best John 14” and the “best Psalm 116” and so on, without regard for an overall harmony of the different styles.

And this completely sidesteps the issue of instrumentation and arrangement of liturgical music. Maybe the Holy Thursday Gloria has the brass and choral parts and all. And maybe the musicians and singers are all rehearsed for Easter anyway. But the art of liturgy would suggest stepping back and creating a more cohesive composition with the pieces and tools at one’s availability. In this instance, I’d wonder why Holy Thursday is being used as a “dress rehearsal” for Easter Vigil or Morning.

I would also suggest that the mix-and-match approach itself should be utilized with some prudence. Easter Vigil strikes me as such a rich liturgy that music from various genres and presentation styles are appropriate. The Easter Vigil in most places has enough gravitas to bear a good bit. But plopping an eclectic menu on a random Sunday, especially when it wouldn’t be the style of the community? I have a hard time justifying that. It strikes me as silly as the fourth Sunday TLM, or the every-other weekend folk group. The liturgy dictates what we do. Or it should.

Other thoughts?


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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One Response to Searching for Consistency

  1. Adam Wood says:

    I’m very pro- mix and match, but this must be done carefully…
    If you’re interested in my (completely biased and personal) thoughts regarding music programming, I happen to have just written about it:

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