Were it April 1, 2012, this last Resurrection Sunday, and I were to say these two words, “Christmas and Easter,” what word association would you most likely first make? Most likely something like “Twice a year Catholics” or “Chreasters” or some such reaction about the high holy day obligations.
Well, that’s not where I’m-a goin’ with this here post.
On Easter Monday I went to our office and found three cases of the CATHOLIC CHOIRBOOK ANTHOLOGY by Noel and Ellen Jones eagerly awaiting my attention. And using the nearest key on my holder I vorasciously sliced into the tape of the top case like it was a Caspian Sea sturgeon hiding twenty pounds of Beluga caviar! And yay, verily, it was literally CHRISTMAS MORNING at EASTER. This first volume of motets, ordinaries, hymns and chants is unlike any other compendium for choirs and scholae that I’ve ever come across from a Catholic publisher.
I, of course, skimmed through the extremely well-organized instructions and introduction by William Mahrt and got to the first motet, and started turning pages with a joy and velocity that is apparently reserved mostly for Harry Potter novel afficianados. Sure, I knew that the revolution of Creative Commons 3.0 and the digital industry of musical software accessibility could allow for such endeavors, but even though one would never expect a “pastiche” job from the Frogman(!) and his wonderful bride, I could not have expected the breadth and beautiful organization of this first volume, as well as having my hopes for a volume of something, anything….that would make my job as choirmaster just a skosh less demanding in terms of organization of literature.
And the sheer breadth and variety that is in this first volume alone took my breath away. Sure, every setting of Ave verum corpus (except mine! But’s that’s my bad…) and Tantum ergo (except Kevin Allen’s now universal setting) is there! O wait, Kevin’s IS in there, too! But who would have expected Henry Ley’s PRAYER OF KING HENRY VI? Who would have expected to find the Byrd Mass for Three Voices set for mixed choir? Who could have thought to include John Goss’s “See amid the winter’s snow” carol that among many others, have never crossed the pond into “popular” Catholic hymnals dating prior to the Sts. Gregory, Basil and Pius X editions?
We will be facing some serious decisions in the next two generations of rebound from the Liturgical Industrial Complex monopolies’ stranglehold on congregational worship books. Discussions comparing and contrasting the merits of the emerging new hymnals from their publishing fortresses such as Worship IV versus Adoramus II, St. Michael and the Vatican II Hymnal are already ongoing. Music directors and pastors will have to face some serious, far-sighted and enlightened decisions about where to expend budgets with so much product line, whether in Latin or vernaculars such as the Parish Book of Chant editions, the Simple English Propers, Lumen Christi Missal or other specific volumes such as Richard Rice’s Communio or Arlene Oost-Zinner’s upcoming Psalter. And, of course, one cannot put to rest the hope that the use of the sanctioned volumes, the Gregorian Missal, the Graduale Romanum or Kyriales might find their way into the galleries and pews of mainstream Catholic parishes and cathedrals. But in future scenario it remains no small comfort that, finally, seriously compiled and edited collections of noble music for all will steadily encroach from the niche market into the mainstream of parish use. But for resuscitating the library with veritable oxygen of proven choral music from the chronology of master Catholic composers in one fell swoop, Noel and Ellen Jones have crafted a mother lode and miracle for any and all RCC choirs, novice to professional.