Down The Rabbit Hole With Accompaniment

I found an interesting discussion thread at CMAA’s forum here. It brings to mind the cartoon Liam has surfaced here.

I’ll confess upfront I’ve accompanied or overseen the accompaniment of the Exsultet a number of times. I have no hesitation doing it. Last year, two singers shared it, accompanied slightly. It was better that way, given the resources and abilities I had at hand.

I’ve also had fine singers who can carry the piece unaccompanied. Usually, such a singer is experienced with plainsong, and is aware that such a performance is demanding on a musician. If priests or deacons who are otherwise not regular singers wish to attempt it, my hat is off to them.

It is better to do it well than to do it poorly, and if organ or even piano or guitar help, there is nothing substantive in the Roman Missal that forbids it. The huffing and puffing is decidedly unhelpful, because the point of the piece is to communicate the text as an act of worship.

Experienced music directors know that when they wander off the book, so to speak, they will likely be thrust on their own resources. The original poster would have done better to go to NPM rather than CMAA.

More entertaining than the idea of putting chords or notes under a singer is the predictable reaction of folks on the thread. And the reaction of the original poster, Charles W:

Now back to the normal forum tongue-clucking and finger wagging about 19th-century Russia. No wonder newbies who ask questions here never come back.

And one sympathetic and helpful ear:

If anyone doesn’t like the idea that this is happening, perhaps Charles can furnish them with a rectory address to which they can mail their arguments. Otherwise they would be better off not visiting the thread, to avoid getting their knickers in a twist. Personally I don’t intend to return to it, to avoid getting drawn into a neverending argument with others equally as stubborn as I am.

I shared with my wife a few days ago that I’m winding down my efforts on blogging. She seemed surprised. And surprisingly, sad on my behalf.

Last night she probed a bit on the point before we went to sleep. She asked why I began blogging–was it to follow the crowd in what was then a “popular” endeavor? I think my delay was in thinking two things: one, that it had already jumped the shark in 2003 and two, I was already way late to the game.

I was also thinking about that cartoon, linked above. On the other hand, the internet provides a communications medium for many people who otherwise would find themselves adrift professionally or socially. Twenty years ago, somebody wrestling with the idea of accompanying the Exsultet would pick up the phone and call a mentor or nearby veteran music director. The meme “that shouldn’t be done” would likely be minimized or avoided because of courtesy or a knowing nod about the priest’s abilities as a singer.

That this kind of thing happens less often online is another example of something being “wrong” on the internet. Persistence isn’t likely to help. But shining a bright light on it might mean the next smackdown will be slightly more gentle.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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5 Responses to Down The Rabbit Hole With Accompaniment

  1. Liam says:

    I gather I am more used to the express “shouldn’t be done” idea as a steady presence over the decades than you are – the change is not so much in that response but the valid or not so valid reasons/rationalizations/cherry-picking given for it. (It may be a Northeast vs Midwest thing.) Gosh, the list of overt and covert We Don’t Do This Here items in some of the music and liturgical ministries I inhabited back in the day were numbing at times; it could be fun to sit back with popcorn to watch celebrants knock it out with the lay ministers over conflicting proscriptions in preparation for, say, the Triduum.

    In any event, in the context of the particular question raised, the specific context will help explain why the desired resource would not be thick on the ground, as it were.

    Tangential but related to the same topic of the Exsultet: have you ever had *two* singers alternating the text? It was done one year (a mezzo and a baritone; both lay musicians) in a former community of mine because it gave the long text more texture, and the singers a chance to avoid sagging pitch – it was done a capella. It’s not what’s rubrically envisioned (because it’s an anaphora, what’s envisioned is a lone presidential leader of the prayer with a discreet dialogic element). Over the years, I’ve grown to appreciate the structure of the Exsultet and the fact that it’s the only moment in the liturgical year where a deacon or laic gets to lead an anaphora. That may seem like waaaaaaaaaay inside baseball to most, but when we overlook opportunities to see in old ways but with fresh eyes, I think it’s a loss – especially because it can habituate us to looking very linearly and functionally at things.

  2. charlesincenca says:

    All this…..
    Hence my latest and hopefully last disenchantment with the struggle at MSF between genuine souls trying to offer sound, practical and philosophical guidance, and those who would lord over their rings to be kissed.
    Besides my endorsement of performance practice as a major determinant of “success, ” (as if), I can sum up a disconnect with the absolute prejudice and oft-dispensed ignorance bandied so loosely by the cognoscenti at MSF, in two notes. I miss finding Bob Hurd’s “Arise, O Jerusalem” available in BB/MI. OCP can be very stupid, but not for reasons cited at MSF.

  3. Todd says:

    Two alternating singers, yes–this is how my last parish did it the last two years. Accompaniment was certainly for the singers only. It occurs to me that the hard-core response with the most pastoral sense is to accompany “for rehearsal only,” then see how the singer does with it. But, alas, no.

    As for the genre of anaphora, that gets broken up every time there’s a concelebration. So maybe I don’t get so bothered about more than one voice–clergy always do it when present in numbers.

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