In his post at NLM today, Jeffrey Tucker offers an interesting comment with regard to contemporary composers revising popular settings of the Mass for the new Roman Missal:
I know some of these song writers, and I know that they are not entirely pleased by what they are doing here. None of them consider these settings to be their best work.
This is an insight a few church musicians realize. But not many. And publishers seem to be oblivious to the reality that they are probably not putting out the very best music being written. The composers, to a person, probably all know it.
I met Don Reagan at the Rensselaer Program of Church Music and Liturgy in the mid-80’s. He was gracious with his time with many of us young composers there. And while I knew him from his contributions to Glory & Praise volume 2, it was his unpublished stuff that was so interesting. NPM ventured into the publishing sphere with his Mass in a Jazz Style. The weakest pieces in that collection were certainly better than most of the oeuvre in G&P. And a few, including the Lamb of God, were simply sublime. It’s still my favorite setting for the Agnus Dei. Too bad I loaned my book out many years ago and the whole project is now out of print.
Ralph Verdi was another composer with stacks of excellent music on mimeos and copies. His experimental music was quite singable for a congregation, yet totally “unprofitable” according to GIA and other outlets. We shrugged on that one at summer school: it was interesting, solidly liturgical, and superior to most of what we were seeing in Worship and the People’s Mass Book.
Not a surprise to me that composers are of mixed feelings in returning to twenty, thirty-year-old Mass settings. I’d strike out into the new rather than revise. But no doubt, royalties can come in handy when you’re thinking about putting a kid through college. Or paying medical bills.
That composers’ “best foot forward” is not always considered “marketable” would, by itself, be an interesting topic to explore. NLM, were it less of an obtuse and ornery operation, might actually get composers to talk about this phenomenon. I’ve had a peek into the private files of people like Marty Haugen and Bob Hurd. I’ve seen unpublished music from a number of published and unpublished composers. There’s a mountain of good stuff in filing cabinets and on computers that few to none of us are seeing, I assure you.
Unfortunately, my friend had to clutter up his post with a half-dozen or so pet peeves:
Parishes will have to replace the pew books with all new books.
Really? We’re not.
Above all else, there is the core principle, said to be derived from “the documents,” which must never be violated and which must serve as the guiding force: it must inspire vigorous singing among the people.
Really? People will sing or not as their faith inspires. Church musicians we have little control over the final result. We provide singable music. My parishes have always sung. With some vigor when the faith was being expressed. Sometimes with something less. But my sense is that the congregations I see sing with more vigor than will be likely from reverts sending the propers back to the choir loft and serenading the assembly with polyphonic Mass settings.
Getting back to point, what sorts of music have you seen off the main roads of publishers?