Survey Says

I found the CMAA forum’s questionnaire equal parts amusing and interesting:

Would you regularly like to attend:

1. The TLM (with Gregorian Chant & polyphony, and an occasional hymn)
2. The NO (with Gregorian Chant & polyphony, and an occasional hymn)
3. The NO (Gregorian Chant & hymns)
4. The NO (hymns only)
5. A Contemporary (guitar based group) Feast of Praise & Worship

No devotees for the so-called quiet Mass (of any Ordo), which is a blessing of sorts. Given the snark of choice 5, an equally adequate reflection of the choices might substitute “Roman Rite” for “NO” and “unreformed, possibly schismatic” for “TL.”

All of the choices are pretty dated. It’s been a long time since I was exposed to a music group that was authentically “guitar based.” Nearly everybody is piano based. One parish where I served had a “folk group” accompanied by the organist–all the guitarists had moved away over the previous twenty years.

If I were counting down the choices, I’d offer:

7. Lifeteen/P&W
6. Piano-based fusion
5. Organ-based fusion
4. Organ-based traditional hymnody
3. Plainsong and traditional hymnody
2. Plainsong and a lot of rarified choral music
1. Unreformed rite

And even then, my own preference would be 6 with a dollop of 3. Or in a monastery, 3 with an eclectic blend of 5 or 6, depending on their instrument. When an organization is mostly stuck in 1 and 2, I doubt people are looking to discern the larger distinctions of 5, 6, or 7. From the fringes, everything else is a muddled middle.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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26 Responses to Survey Says

  1. Liam says:

    I confess that, on the next two Sundays when I will not be at my parish of choice in Boston (due to logistical factors) but attending one or another of parishes closer to home, I will be deliberately choosing the first Sunday morning Mass (7AM at one, 7:30AM at the other) that, mercifully, have become free of music that I’d rather not have to offer up as a penance. And I confess that in the context of *never* having been in a community where my own personal liturgical music preferences* are the common praxis (very much including communities where I was in a leadership role re liturgy or music), though one was closer than the others. So I am quite inured to not have a consumer approach to liturgical music; I just no longer feel obliged to endure banality when I have another feasible option.

    * As noted in my response over at the CMAA poll – which I took to be a reference to Sunday/festal Masses with instrumental accompaniment available: what I’d call a variation on 2 – a sung Mass (that is, most of the Ordo being sung – including the “Ordinary” in both the vernacular and non-vernacular – but “orchestral” Mass settings being rare or not used…) with the with hymns as part of the regular mix but not necessarily at every Mass, ditto other forms of using the Gradual chants and the chants based on the Missal antiphons. In other words, where the congregation doesn’t find any of the legitimate options strange or rarefied.

    • Jen says:

      I’m inclined to agree. it all depends on the music. Is it performed well? Honestly, I’d rather go to a Mass without music than have to cope with poorly-performed music or “worship and praise” style music. (Or worse, poorly-performed worship and praise…)

  2. Known as 332 says:

    Just as from your viewpoint at #6, you thought that people at #1 or #2 could not discern the difference between #5-7, I thought it might be useful to provide a little more granularity to the top #’s. (As a side note, I don’t disagree with your expansion of #5 into #5-7.)
    1.0 – TLM (I could make distinction between low and high, but not sure it is meaningful)
    1.5 – NO primarily in Latin.
    2.0 – NO primarily in English (except sung Kyrie, Gloria, et. cetera).
    2.5 – Plainsong and a lot of rarified choral music
    3.0 – resume with your list…
    Also regarding the so-called “quiet Mass”, I’ve also heard it called the “Musicians’ Mass” (especially in parishes featuring a lot of #5-7). Not totally out of irony, but because unfortunately the music at many Masses featuring a lot of #5-7 are not musically competent nor aligned with the Mass. [No, I’m not a fan of #5-7, but on occasion I have heard a few that did support the Mass. However, unfortunately more the exception than the rule]

    • Todd says:

      It’s always interesting to hear other perspectives. I recall a comment about a friend’s “conservative” parish in a nearby city–they used one of the neo-traditional hymnals that has come out recently. My friend would have described her parish as 4 leaning to 3, but her problem was not the “conservative” or “traditional” leaning of liturgy or music, but with how poorly hymns were played. “Dirge” is how she described it.

      The reason I would choose a monastery for my retirement rather than a “3” parish is that plainchant especially is so often done at deathly slow tempos. Even when I’ve listened in on the CMAA podcasts, I would say that *some* of their chant and polyphony is too darned slow, like that somehow adds to the spirituality. Music of any genre needs to be sung with life.

      Most large parishes today are in 5-6, depending on their best instrument(s), leaning to 4 and 7 on occasion. Good tempo is a common stumbling block for many ministries.

      • Known as 332 says:

        Agree with your comments on tempo. St. John Cantius (SJC) in Chicago (which you recommended to me 10 years ago having moved from KC, many thanks again!) does keep a pulse in its chant…and its occasional hymn. (We typically attend an NO/English described as my 2.0 above…only hymn is recessional…rest is chant in Latin with most participating in singing Gloria, Kyrie, etc.)

        A Southern California parish where my brother lives, has music between a 6 and a 7. Money is no object, and the production values are very commercial and live up to being in the entertainment capital of the world. But it always feels more slick and worldly rather than holy. The music even delivers (to me, at least) a sense of emotional manipulation. So it’s not just a question of quality.

        And although I favor the traditional, I also remember a small parish with a battered but in-tune piano where the 6-ish music (but music I never had heard elsewhere before or since) was both subservient to and helped elevate the Mass in a beautiful way.

        As an ex-trumpet player, I used different mouthpieces for a “classical” or a “jazz” sound. I also had a “commercial” mouthpiece to get a “high-energy sizzle”. And setting quality aside for a moment, if the risk associated with 1-4 done badly is dirge tempos, perhaps the risk associated with 5-7 done badly is getting a slick, commercial, and worldly sound. And the best of both types…music played with humility for our Lord rather than “performed for the audience”.

  3. charlesincenca says:

    Todd, we need to be clear this was an ersatz survey initiated by francis, not CMAA/MSF. What I was amused about was that after my response, it seemed that commentary was indicating individuals’ assessments of how they characterize the Masses they serve musically, instead of what would be their ideal form. And that the majority responses indicated a strong preference for the various OF’s mentioned, that was also a surprise, given the CMAA/Mahrt paradigm that inevitably leads to the EF, and then within the Solemn High, Missa Cantata and Requiem rites. As you know, many CMAA-er’s have cross fertilized that paradigm into the OF with widely varying degrees of success to failure (and dismissal, pardon pun.) I still strap on the Godin LGX-SA and could credibly play lead for Maher, but I’m getting fatigued by all sorts of incoherence besides “dial a music style” Mass schedules. Something is starting to feel very NOT RIGHT.

    • Todd says:

      “Something is starting to feel very NOT RIGHT”

      I would tend to agree, but perhaps looking at the CMAA styles. It’s why I’ve found a higher degree of satisfaction for fusion. Including plainsong, when it can be done well. People will largely accept good music performed well. I’d rather have Matt Maher done well than plainchant done poorly. And Mr Maher’s settings of psalms and Scripture are still superior in my view than preconciliar devotional hymns. By a long shot.

      • Liam says:

        Fusion can also be LCD (lowest common denominator), too. Especially if chant is treated as a relatively rarified thing.

        In terms of liturgical music repertoire, the bigger issue is not what gets sung at the Four (or Three) Slots (entrance/offertory/communion/closing-maybe). It’s the psalms and Ordo and Ordinary – are they treated as wallpaper, rather than the core? I can deal with banality in one of the Slots (if it’s the closing hymn – as some of my least favorite ones tend to be (I am looking at you, Let There Be Pizza On Earth) – I can leave quietly). But to be subjected to 13 weeks of the same banal [Gloria or other Ordinary part] – I will do whatever I can to avoid that.

      • Liam says:

        PS: Let it be noted for the record that LTBPOE was penned in…1955. I was first subjected to it in first or second grade…in *public* school (I never went to parochial school):

  4. FrMichael says:

    I know nothing of the CMAA survey other than your reference to it. It is to this comment,

    It’s been a long time since I was exposed to a music group that was authentically “guitar based.”

    After a summer of roaming around my diocese and one other helping out with Sunday Masses while guys are on vacation, I’d say about 1/3 of the Masses have guitar-based music, with a piano either secondary to the guitars or (more often) absent altogether.

    Maybe that’s just NorCal.

    • Todd says:

      Interesting. It might be that older, more traditional Catholics areas (and churches) have never installed good pianos (a more economical alternative to pipe organs for suburban school+parish complexes) and so guitars are “permitted” as they were in the 60’s, but never grew up, so to speak.

      The HHJ consortium is often pilloried at CMAA and the Café, but the truth is that they, like few modern composers, including most P&W people, are writing and performing on keyboards. Yet the guitar myth persists.

  5. charlesincenca says:

    Well, I don’t do moratoriums. I am most selective of Haugen, having sequestered 90% on grounds sufficient for me. Hass, 75%. Joncas gets a pass because I’m me. With my “fusion” repertoire, I end up most choosing women, Ridge, Whitaker-Sullivan, Berberick, even Farrell. Hart, no so much. To be honest, if you look at Janet’s, M.D.’s, Gail’s and Bernadette’s stuff, it’s got a lot more ganas than the often effeminate crap the new “males” are cranking out.
    And by the way, based upon the latest survey I took of MR3 fusion Masses, the male composers have by far the most namby pamby 6/8 wimpyburger settings out there. Pathetic, really and absolutely. Bought Tim Smith’s “Mass of the Sacred Heart” and Trevor Thompson’s “Mass for the Healing of the World.” We don’t try stuff out, it sounds bad, but I know good writing when I sing it off the page, first thing sung: The Glory.

    • Todd says:

      It might be said that if you can’t play a 6/8 as a 2/4 with drive, the wimpyburger is the player, not the composer.

      • charlesincenca says:

        It might be said for any number of >players. However, if you take the time to thoroughly plough through the Big Three offerings, and what you’ll find are a sad majority of puerile melodies (which beget puerile accompaniment/harmonic structures) and OTOH pretentious faux Kings College with BRASS/organ with forgettable melodies that are draped in purple nylon and fools’ gold. I don’t care if it’s Faure or Joncas, it has to stand on its own merit off the page. “Drive” is a innocuous criteria. Take Hurd’s old “Roll down the ages” Holy. If an ensemble (particularly the pianist) tries to employ “drive” as in forward momentum, s/he’s totally missed the ethos of the whole setting. It’d be better to sing it unaccompanied. So, when these editorial boards give a green light to new Mass settings, they ought to be confident that said Mass is going to be optimally rendered, rather than merely acceptable to the six-chord wonder who has to listen to the recording a thousand times before s/he “gets it.” Heck, that dynamic has been the same since the old SLJ Mass; either there’s a there there, or there ain’t.

      • Todd says:

        I detect a bit of bait and switch, my friend. Perhaps me too–pulse may be a better term than “drive,” though in the context of leading congregational singing, I don’t think we’re talking drive in terms of metal.

        In my brief comment, I was thinking of the quantity of music written in three that gets played too slowly–chant isn’t the only genre that suffers from poor pacing. Perhaps the dynamic behind it all is a lack of confidence in the music.

        I pretty much reject any overall assessment of modern melodies as puerile. The best of modern compositions stand equal with the best of plainsong and hymn tunes–and that’s in the a cappella format, which I’ve heard quite a bit at daily Masses for the past 27 years.

        Otherwise, I’m in agreement on Mass settings. If it doesn’t fly with all of the possible parish groups, plus unaccompanied, it’s subpar in my view. My last parish, for example, has a fine time with Mass of St Ann a cappella at daily Mass. They just can’t let go of it.

        As for the publishing sieve, my sense is that close to 75% of the CMAA output can be dismissed outright, including your hymnographers and translators. The music may not be puerile, but maybe only a few tunes and texts rise above the rest as truly having legs. People like Mike Joncas or Genevieve Glen are just superior composers and writers at this stage.

  6. Melody says:

    It doesn’t have to be “either or”. Our 10:30 Mass group is partially guitar based with an organist (me) to play the more traditional hymns. We get a lot of positive comments, including from our pastor. Don’t know why guitars would suddenly be declasse if they are well played.

    • Liam says:

      Some of it has to do with whether guitars are amplified (I am not talking electric guitars, which I would hope never to encounter in church), how they are played and how well matched they are to the natural acoustic and accompanying congregational singing. The same concerns apply, of course, to all instrumental accompaniment, but while organist training usually takes such considerations into account (which doesn’t necessarily mean organists invariably employ good judgment on these matters…), that is less the case for guitarists unless they’ve had specific training in that regard.

      I don’t encounter guitars much these days because in my neck of the woods, they are invariably relegated to LifeTeen-type worship that I flee like the plague. In my day, I’ve certainly encountered fine contemporary ensembles (the best by far being at a church in Johnson City, NY), but they are thinner on the ground now than 25-30 years ago.

      I also wonder if changing personalities of generations of pastors – and, importantly, demographic rollover of generations – made the ensemble model durable for a while but brittle. I’ve seen what happens when a long-standing ensemble is shaken by (i) having several members have to change jobs and therefore schedules or even homes because of recession, (ii) change in pastoral leadership, and (iii) aging out. Ensembles don’t naturally self-generate succession. It’s easier for pastors to have an organist-cum-music director than it is to cultivate succession for ensembles. I personally am more used to ensembles in terms of years of my experience in active music ministry, but then again I also watch them blow up in succession due to factors like these…. (I’ve also seen blow-ups with changes in music director/organists, but they have the fallback of going solo with cantors…) Et cet.

  7. charlesincenca says:

    To amplify my remarks above about Mass settings. My last occasion of being in Portland/Hassalo was as the arranger of a certain cleric’s most recent album. I arranged virtually everything from his “melodies” only, and adorned them with some pretty compelling harmonic vocabularies. However, I didn’t touch his Mass setting, didn’t come within 10 ft. of it. Wimpyburger exponential. Everyone has taste, it’s in their tongue. Discernment? Mind, heart, spirit and technical proficiency conditioned by inspiration and imagination.

  8. charlesincenca says:

    “As for the publishing sieve, my sense is that close to 75% of the CMAA output can be dismissed outright, including your hymnographers and translators.” To your corner, Todd, that last one was a below the belt punch. “I” don’t have hymnographers and translators, please let’s . continue to make the distinction. I’m a “free-range Charlie” down here. Next, the topic was about genre and style in general. I simply contended that the biggies’ post MR3 pickin’s were slim, IMHO. And then I provided you with two examples that pass fusion muster and your criteria above in the last comment. I’m not here to sell CMAA anything. My current trad Mass is Paul Jernberg’s St Philip Neri, self-published and reviewed by me over at Cafe. Did you catch the review? That’s okay, I don’t think CMAA’ers did either. My last one, Ascensionis by Chuck Giffen, is CPDL, my next one will be Rice’s SATB de Angelus, and then Richard Clark’s “Angels” which is also self-published. I have to wonder if your reoccurring animus towards CMAA is truly informed by having bought any single copies, playing or reading them through, as I do with the “fusion” Masses, or are you operating on a presumptive platform?

    • Todd says:

      Below the belt? It’s just a mirror to your comments (including we-know-who), and I’m not the only one who finds it accurate. The self-congratulatory clique behind the Watershed and other groupings appears no different from HHJ fandom in the sense of what I heard in the 80’s. At some point one has to move beyond the affection and get into real discernment. It’s no shame to have 5-20% of an output considered above the rest.

      No, I did not catch your review. I don’t read the Café these days. Liam sent me “Angels” and I would rate it near or at the top of the self-published heap.

      Around the time of MR3, a music director friend and I looked at a number of self-published settings, admittedly he more than I. (Neither of us were thrilled with the archdiocesan recommendations and we were casting our net particularly wide in 2010-11.) My organist friend thought a lot of the output was pedestrian: some well-crafted (but some not) and nearly all not particularly memorable. And some could benefit from better editing. It’s the challenge of self-publishing in any sphere (and I read a lot of fiction). Nothing substitutes for an editor, or better, a consortium of composers who challenge others to higher levels.

      Unlike the Beatles in hotel rooms 1963-66, church music composers mostly find themselves on their own. And sure, all alone some greats can produce genius. For the rest of us, it’s more likely a sliver of what comes to our inspiration. Maybe our best friends think the slice is wider, more generous. I suppose if I were in Richard Rice’s or Richard Clark’s choir, I’d think more highly of a wider slice of repertoire.

      • Liam says:

        Richard Clark has an approach to debuting new settings of the ordinary that I respect – it’s what I would recommend. His settings are (i) written so that they don’t *require* accompaniment (so that a congregation could sing them on its own once it “owned” it, and (ii) designed for gradual roll-out, and come with optional training wheels (for example, a refrain for the Gloria that is eventually sung-through without refrain, but sometimes brought back for, say, Christmas or Easter Sunday where there are more visitors or lightly-churched folk, as it were; also unison singing at first, then adding a descant, then SATB choral with congregation on melody, et cet.). It’s borne of years of experience.

        (Note: I’ve been a congregant in Richard Clark’s parish for the past three years since I left a previous parish with a very heavy heart.)

      • Liam says:

        Charles: If you’re not aware of it, also look at Clark’s Mass in Honor of Pope St John Paul II – which he debuted for Eastertide in 2014 in connection with the canonization.

        For an anthem, I will put a plug in for an anthem Richard Clark composed on commission in winter 2014 from a choral group I am on the board of:

      • Liam says:

        Sorry, I don’t know how that CNN link got in there….must have been some weird video succession…

  9. charlesincenca says:

    Said the black-clad knight guarding the bridge over the stream, “All right, let’s call it a draw!”

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