Post-Conciliar Psalmody, A Gelineau Interlude


Liam was right to point out my omission of the Gelineau Gradual in post-conciliar psalmody. The shift from performance music to dialogue in the revised Roman Missal was tough on some folks, like this one.

Wouldn’t you think there would be yet another Jesuit behind conservative embitterment about a church council and its liturgical reform? Joseph Gelineau was another multi-tasker in the Society of Jesus: musician and Bible scholar, a dangerous combination in the eyes of some.

My first exposure to Gelineau psalms was as a traveling musician for diocesan events and the occasional appearance in an organist-friends’ parish. I’d look at the score–so easily adaptable for guitar, and in a variety of stylings. Most organists I knew played them pretty straight. That suggested to me the psalm at Mass was never really a high priority for the conservatory musician crowd. Some psalmists could really embrace the flexibility for vocal interpretation–that was the potential I saw.

The Grail psalms are at the core of the Gelineau “style.” The eye to syllable-emphasis per line is key to their adaptability for singing in this method. The 2010 Revised Grail has a few more hiccups on this front, mostly due to the slavish devotion to “accuracy” above adaptability.

The challenge to get the psalms into folk Mass was mighty. GIA didn’t market to non-organ/choir until the turn into the 80s. There were few to no workshop experiences in the decade and a half after Vatican II, as there continued to be choral singing sessions. How did non-organists get introduced to new liturgical music? The same way pop music got into the hands of noodling guitarists: vinyl albums. 1970s recordings of Psalms were non-existent. No market, no priority, and for many people it was a perfunctory effort for an essential part of the liturgical tradition.

Without albums and guitar chords, these psalms were always going to have a limited reach.

After decades of metered psalm settings and the ever-present Alstott psalmody, I’ve found many psalmists mystified by them. I felt that a fully fit singer who aspires to lead the psalm really needs to master a variety of styles. In my last three to four parishes, I’ve been surprised at the resistance and struggle. Perhaps I’m overestimating the simplicity and ease of this style of singing the psalms. I’ve experienced congregations singing the verses of these on a few occasions.

A better effort by publishers with the Grail Psalms and the Gelineau “style” would be to assemble a consortium of composers and assign the three-year Sunday cycle to about a dozen musicians, and see what comes up in a few years. Then sift through the results to get the best of the best. I’m a big doubter when I see a single name behind a three-year cycle of music. It will be interesting to see how this “genre” plays out over the course of this century.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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4 Responses to Post-Conciliar Psalmody, A Gelineau Interlude

  1. Liam says:

    The practical obstacles to adoption of congregational psalmody in the USA were also physical, logistical and temporal. The 1970s, a time of deep recessions, stagflation and declining demographics in the wake of Humane Vitae, was not a time when many established Catholic parishes were flush in funds for new congregational materials other than the minimum necessary to implement the basic conciliar reforms. Add to that the substantial lag time to publish and distribute anything other than missalette-type materials. And, atop that, perhaps, a growing fatigue from years of change. There were visionaries. But the chance of their visions being widely adopted was low given the aforementioned practical obstacles.

    And then came a change in pontificates and emphases.

    • That all makes sense. The real movers in contemporary music in parishes were not staff members, but committed volunteers and musicians who brought their musical abilities from places not-conservatories as well as people like me who learned to be musicians from being members in ensembles.

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