Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Are you a Composer? Share your work

I have a hunch. I believe that there are countless Catholic musicians across the world who have written liturgical music for their own communities that has never seen the light of day outside the walls of their parish. I bet that there are many people who are like me, who have hundreds of musical scores that they have produced, composed, arranged, that are sitting in filing cabinets and on hard drives.

As Catholic musicians who seek to serve the Church and advance the good of the liturgy with our own creative efforts, who see it as our vocation to add to the Church's treasure stores, why have we not allowed the fruits of our labors to transcend the walls of our parish communities?

I suspect that there are a few answers to this question:

1. We believe that the only way for our work to be shared is if it is "published"–that is, printed on paper and sold–by one of the commercial publishers.

2. We secretly hope that one day we will be discovered by someone who will pay us millions of dollars in contracts and royalties for our musical masterpieces, but until then hoard our work for ourselves.

3. Perhaps we realize that the old publishing model is no longer relevant to the internet age and we realize that we can post our work digitally online for all to share, but we don't know how.

4. Lastly, and most truthfully: Perhaps we are afraid of the copyright police who will haul us off to jail, take our life savings, our homes and all valuable possessions if we breach a copyright restriction, since we don't really understand the complexities of copyright law and would rather be safe than sorry.

Many of us know the blanket policies of the big publishers. In a nutshell, we may set copyrighted texts to music and use them in our own parish communities–no problem. But if, heaven forbid, anyone makes a copy of this work and uses it somewhere else we can expect the full wrath of the legal system to extract licensing fees and, worse yet, sue us for copyright infringement.

This is the sort of fear, I would propose, that has crippled the possibility of a true flowering of creativity in Catholic liturgical music. This fear tactic has been fostered and upheld by commercial publishers in the twilight of the age of the printing press as a way of ensuring the viability of its business model. However, technology has changed, and the buying and selling of paper as a necessary means of distributing musical works has gone the way of the buffalo.

Today anyone who has a laptop, internet access, and free time can use free or commercial musical notation software to produce musical scores, export them to PDF format, and post them online for the world to download and instantly "publish" on their personal or office printers, or, better yet, to save on their own computers or iPads and view and utilize them right from the digital screen.

A wonderful place to share your work is the CMAA web forum. There are currently 1600 registered users, as well as tens of thousands of unregistered users, and the number grows each day. Here you will find daily discussion of all-things-sacred-music by church musicians from all over the English speaking world. You can sign up for an account for free and can post discussion threads where you can upload digital scores for all to see, consider, and use in liturgy. PDF format is the best format for file sharing. Discussion of your work will probably be had, people can ask you questions, make suggestions, requests, even commissions. It's a great way to get some visibility, and believe me when I say people will use it.

Of special interest would be settings of the Responsorial Psalms and Gospel Verses. I suspect that many have set these. Also of interest would be hymn arrangements, especially of traditional hymns that are in the public domain. Of course choral settings of liturgical texts, Latin or English, are very useful to parish choirs. In short, if you saw the need to write or arrange a piece of music for your own parish the chances are that it would be useful to someone else somewhere else also.

The question of copyright is not exempt from this conversation, however this is what you are able to post freely with no consequence:
Use of ICEL Materials on Global Computer Networks

ICEL texts and translations that have been approved by the Conferences of Bishops, have received the recognition of the Holy See, and have subsequently been promulgated for use on the date established by the Conferences of Bishops may be reproduced in a non-commercial site ("Site") on the global computer network commonly known as the Internet without obtaining written or oral permission, subject to the following conditions:

(1) there must be no fee charged to access the Site or any of the ICEL translations, texts, or music, thereon;
(2) The appropriate ICEL copyright acknowledgment must appear on the first and last pages and/or frames within the Site displaying the ICEL translation or text (see and click on "copyright policies");

(3) The ICEL translations and texts must be followed exactly;

(4) These policies do not grant a license to publish texts in any other form or any other right in ICEL's name and marks, and the Site may not display the ICEL translations or texts or otherwise use the ICEL name in any way that implies affiliation with, or sponsorship or endorsement by, ICEL;

(5) ICEL reserves the right to terminate or modify its permission to use its translations and texts;

(6) ICEL reserves the right to take action against any party that fails to conform to these policies, infringes any of its intellectual property rights, or otherwise
violates applicable law.
  • And, of course, if the text is a Latin liturgical text there is no copyright restriction since these are often over 1500 years old and have come down to us over the course of the 2000 year history of the Church.
And if you have any questions as to whether a text that you have set is copyright restricted, there are always hosts of eager and knowledgeable people on the forum who would be most eager to help!