Two of the curious comments I read on the CMAA thread discussing my review of Worship 3 were these:
One way in which I might want to qualify (Todd’s) claim about depth would be to note a lack of breadth in G&P’s Scriptural engagement: there seems to be a strong preference for Deutero-Isaiah and a neglect of many other parts of Scripture.
I heartily agree! Thank you for saying this so clearly.
Deutero-Isaiah involves what we read today as chapters 40 through 55 of that book, a rather lyrical section attributed not to the original Isaiah, but to a post-Exile prophet/poet associated with the earlier figure. The basic message is one of mercy and comfort (Cf. Isaiah 40:1): God has rescued and saved his people and now desires their healing, restoration, and salvation.
These sixteen chapters of Isaiah are remarkable in many ways. They include four “songs” that depict a Suffering Servant that looks very much like Jesus Christ. Other lyrical passages are employed in the Liturgy of the Hours as morning canticles. Two Easter Vigil readings are taken from this section of Isaiah.
Did this “second” Isaiah just make it all up, slapping a happy face on what was, at times, a grim message from his predecessor? I don’t think so. The call of Isaiah (chapter 6), the virgin conceiving (7), the people that walked in darkness (9), the stump of Jesse (11), the Messianic banquet (25), the desert in bloom (35), and a few canticles of praise (12 and 26) have inspired not only contemporary songwriters, but also figures like George Frideric Handel.
Are nineteen Deutero-Isaiah songs (and thirty from Isaiah total) out of 243* too much? It’s more than 17 attributed to Matthew’s Gospel. Not as many as 25 from John.
In defense of the St Louis Jesuits, Carey Landry, and Gregory Norbet: many other parts of Scripture aren’t the easiest to set to music, especially law and history. And it is true that significant contemporary songs like “Hosea” and “One Bread, One Body” and “I Have Loved You” and “Jesus The Lord” look to the New Testament and to other prophets.
No doubt these Deutero-Isaiah songs are solidly in the US post-conciliar repertoire:
- Be Not Afraid
- Come To The Water
- Turn To Me
- Though The Mountains May Fall
And possibly “Seek the Lord”, “Like A Shepherd”, and Dan Schutte’s two valley songs.
Has it changed in thirty years? When I checked OCP’s 2016, Master Scriptural Index, Deutero-Isaiah was on a par with Romans, 1 Corinthians, Revelation, and Mark. The other three gospels just about lapped it. The Psalms trumped everything.
So what does it all mean? My sense is that by post-conciliar engagement with the Bible, composers were more alert to the Psalms and lyrical sections like Isaiah 40-55, the Beatitudes, the Magnificat, the Philippians canticle and the like. Somehow, we are a product of our culture, and what drew people to “Comfort ye my people” and “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” spraked something when they composed and heard “You shall cross the barren desert” and “O let all who thirst.”
I guess you could wish that 70’s composers were better. Or that chant hymnals would out-sell piano-based volumes. You can also say that G&P is a bygone fad, but two things: detractors can’t seem to stop talking about it and the songs that have resonated the deepest from those collections are very much with us still.
* The total number of songs, hymns, and psalm settings in G&P 1 through 3