Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sneak Peak: Fourth Edition of GIA's Worship

I give you the table of contents for Worship IV - the premier offering from the famed Catholic music publisher GIA. I'm trying hard not to criticize as much as point to a brighter future, but, even so, this table of contents deserves commentary.

I'll limit myself to four points.

By way of review, consider first that Catholic music for Mass consists in the following: ordinary chants, proper chants, and dialogues, along with some seasonal sequences and procession chants. All Catholic music essential for Mass should fall into one of these categories. Everything else is either a) a substitute, or b) a supplement. With that in mind, let's have a look.

First, look at the table of contents. The first thing is the best thing: the chants from the Roman Missal. Why are they called "ICEL chants" here? Why are they not called the "Missal chants." Perhaps the publisher does not want to somehow privilege them by implying that they carry a more normative status than the alternatives to which GIA hold copyright? Noting them as ICEL chants strikes me as oddly off-putting, since not one in one thousand Catholics has any idea what ICEL is. This really must be changed, and it seems obvious to me that the USCCB or ICEL or someone should insist on it.

Second, there is not a single Mass proper in this book. That is a striking fact. The propers of the Mass are the very thing that links the development of Catholic music from the origin of the Missal itself all the way up to the present day. No matter what period of history you are looking at, you find sung propers. And yet they are missing completely, so far as I can tell.

Third, notice that the dialogues with the priest seem to be conflated with the ordinary chants, so that we are back to this habit over 40 years of singing little tuneful 7-second songs with Father, songs that are based on a theme established by the Gloria. It ends up as broadway-style banter between the celebrant and the cantor. It has never worked. This practice ought to be completely abandoned.

Fourth, note that the overwhelming bulk of this book consists of hymns. Hymns, hymns, hymns, hundreds of hymns bursting forth on page after page after page. Know this much about hymns: when you are singing hymns, you are not singing the Mass. You are singing someone else's poetry to someone else's tune. And yet it is perfectly obvious that GIA's conception of music at Mass consists in hymns, hymns, hymns.

I'm going to stop there.