Friday, June 18, 2010

Do You Want a Moonroof and Satellite FM with That Hymnal?

More pragmatist than philosopher, I let an itinerant thought take root in m’ noodle and according to one’s POV, this thought is ovulating or metastasizing.

It’s likely that a vast majority of parishes either make the one time investment in a hardbound hymnal, or they subscribe to seasonal and yearly newsprint hymnal/missal products. The vast minority of parishes choose to self-publish weekly orders of music or “permanent parish hymnals” culled from various copyright-governed, common license or public domain sources. Some others make use of the “overhead projection” of power-pointed lyrics, licensed or, uh, otherwise.

So, let’s backtrack to the vast majority and focus upon the subscription-based parishes, such as mine. Here’s the germ idea: We are fortunate to live in a world where if you leave your 50 page, three color, glossy pictured proposal in the cab, you can use your smart phone and have one waiting for you by the time you arrive at the corporate reception desk, at least according to the advert I saw on the TV.

Okay, stay with me. For a modest surcharge, couldn’t the major RC American corporate publishers offer their core market parishes/dioceses a premium offer that allows the crafting of, essentially, boutique hymnals whose content is drawn from the publisher’s existing repertoire holdings, public domain sources and the creative commons sources that are sprouting like dandelions?

Still with me? Okay, let use our parish as a model and I’m the local editor. I’ll try to cut to the chase. First, I lose items in the ordinaries, psalter section (not from the missal section) and the hymnal that, after “pastoral consultation” among my peers and clergy, we concede to be dead-weight. We communicate those itemized decisions to the publisher’s agent and agree upon how many pages of content are now made vacant with a certain percentage of margin for error. Let’s say that I know that I want to include a number of additional chants from the publisher’s stand-alone product that contains such, ie. OCP’s “Laus et Tibi.” Let’s say that over the years the parish has purchased and maintained octavo versions of choral hymn concertatos, liturgical songs and ordinaries that once were included in former yearly editions of their missals, all of which have congregational version plates archived. Couldn’t they be accessed easily and added to the vacant pages?

Let’s say that we still have a surplus of pages and we desire to include hymns, psalms, propers or whatever from either public domain sources such as the ICEL resource hymnbook, or the hymns found in the commons listed on the Musica Sacra website, or other sites similar to the Choral Public Domain Library (a wiki source) of works we find worthy of inclusion that the composers or license holders put “out there” gratis. Once content and layout are finalized, the publisher adds their surcharge to the amended yearly product, and the parish signs on the dotted line, and the publisher sends the master to their printer, and the custom hymnal shows up, bill gets paid, everybody happy!

I realize that all of this could simply be mounted at the parish level. But, I’ve been there. Once. One time. Back in the Seventies. I don’t care how accessible license permission can be obtained now, self-publishing is not in my future. But the Biggies have their protocols and printing companies already tooled-up. If I can order my Chevy Malibu with a heavenly host of options on Monday and it’s ready for delivery the next Monday, can’t the publishing market consider re-tooling for a still lucrative boutique hymnal market. I don’t see a downside for the publishing houses. Now, if I opt not to include Sebastian Temple’s “Take My Hands” in our boutique parish hymnal, maybe there will be a miniscule loss of royalty revenue to his heirs. If I take out all of one composers’ songs, such as that goofball Charles’s tunes, would the revenues lost by our parish subscription amount really affect Charles’ yearly income drastically. Doesn’t Charles have to churn out new product to keep building the profit pyramid? And if that’s good product, won’t my parish want that included in next year’s boutique hymnal?

I’ve been made aware by a publisher’s representative there are many complexities that seriously would apply specific problems to this proposed idea. The pioneer publisher Friends of the English Liturgy (FEL) once had a program wherein parishes could purchase loose-leaf versions of select songs culled from their library in large amounts that would constitute a “parish hymnal.” Also in the early 70’s. Can you say “Edsel?”

But if we cannot ever reach consensus that either a national hymnal (with its own set of issues) will supplant the free market publishers, or that the Graduale Romanum or Gregorian Missal will be mandated by the USCCB/FDLC/BCL – PTB’s, then cannot there be a reasonable, affordable and profitable (in many ways) alternative to the narrow monopoly of options with which we currently contend?
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