Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Great Catholic Choir Struggle: Figuring Out What to Sing

Every week, Catholic choirs and cantors face that great struggle of figuring out what to sing. The usual way is to dig through the hymnbook, pick a few out, and run with it. Maybe the readings are consulted, maybe not. Depends on the time available for preparation. The results are almost always unsatisfying and even a bit boring.

Is this all there is to singing for the Roman Rite? Is this what 2000 years of tradition have come down to?

Well, a bit of study reveals something profoundly important. The Mass already has music that is intrinsic to it, picked out, printed, and ready to sing. It's called Gregorian chant, but there ought to be another phrase because that one implies that it is all more-or-less the same. In fact, Gregorian chant is hugely varied in its style, mood, text, purpose (depends on the liturgical action in question).

But perhaps this music seems a bit remote and you don't know how to read it or your pastor and/or parishioners are afraid of Latin.

The Simple English Propers
, now in print, provides the first real answer to the problem. This book provides music for the full liturgical year, but not just any music with not just any words. The words are the words of the liturgy itself, the words appointed to be sung at entrance, offertory, and communion. The music is based on the Gregorian melodies but simplified for those starting out. And there are Psalms enough to sing to take up the entire liturgical action. One book and you can sing all the parts of the Mass for the full liturgical year.

Yes, this should have come out forty years ago, but, regardless, it is out now. Here it what this book offers for the 15th Sunday. Again, the Psalms are not printed here but there are enough for the full action. Again, the book is The Simple English Propers - a book that has been called the most important book of Catholic music since the Graduale Romanum of 1908.

Here are some practice vids.