The Familar Chaos, But Still Taken By Surprise (rant warning)

For some years, our schola at the parish has worked hard to get away from singing hymns in place of propers. This has been a huge relief, and an end to endless headaches over finding the right hymns and additions.

Now that we have Mass propers, we have clean editions, we know what to sing, everyone is on the right page, we are singing the right thing, and there is confidence and clarity all around.

And yet sometimes, we still need to sing hymns, as during recessional. You might think that this would be no big deal. Surely there are hymns in the hymnbook you can sing with a choir. Surely this can’t be too confusing. And truly, most of the time, all is fine.

But then every once in a while — and it happens when you least expect it — there is chaos over editions, pitches, tempo, text, and much more.

For those who use OCP materials, you know about this problem. The various books don’t match each other. The choir arrangements are completely un-singable in places. Even rhythms can be different between the pew books and the choir books.

This morning was one such case. We wanted to sing “Come Holy Ghost” for the recessional. How hard can that be? This is one of the most familiar hymns in Christendom.

Well, as is well known, the pew books don’t have simple SATB parts. In fact, I don’t think any OCP materials have that. I find that annoying but it is a well-known problem. Less well known is that the choir books — if you are lucky enough to find the same hymn in there — doesn’t always have them either — not even for this hymn standard.

The choir book offers fully three versions of “Come Holy Ghost” — but not even one of them has a plain SATB arrangement. The first arrangement has piano, melody, and a soprano descant. The presumption is that surely every choir has one singer who wants to be a big star and sing above everyone else in a thrilling sort of way. Well, ours doesn’t have such a person and it is not what we want to do. We sing without instruments and our main musical purpose with hymns is not the show off some one dazzling singer but to provide a rich environment for the people in the pews to feel confident about singing.

We could use this version and attempt to sing the piano parts but they are not voiced property for singers, and the words end up far from the notes. This is not a workable solution.

The second version is set up like some kind of canon or round or something. It is ridiculously complex and would require substantial rehearsal time and still probably not be a successful. It would completely confuse the congregation — no question. Plus it is barely readable at all. In fact, it is actually preposterous.

So much for inspiring people to sing. 

All this just for one simple hymn! 

The third version is an SAB version of the same, as if this is any value added to an already incoherent and chaotic SATB version that I would guess has only been sing or one twice in human history, if ever. Why not a SAT and a ATB version too? </sarcasm>

Meanwhile, not a single plain-jane SATB hymn arrangement exists in a single OCP book in our parish’s vast collection of OCP materials. To be sure, there is probably one that exists somewhere from this publisher, somewhere among the hundreds and thousands of things they publish.  Someone will probably post in the comments something like “oh sure, it is right there on page 323 of JourneySongs or page 212 of MakingPraise,” etc. We just don’t happen to have it.

So, worried about this problem, I keep looking for something during liturgy, digging through other Catholic materials. I ended up finding three others hymnals, published by three other publishers, with three additional versions. What did I find? Three additional unison versions of this hymn, all with different words.

It is not rocket science to provide a SATB hymn. It is beyond me why Catholic publishers seem to have such a problem with this.

Singing propers is so much easier, so much clearer. I have no desire to put a permanent ban on hymns at Mass but events like today certainly make such a position tempting.

32 Replies to “The Familar Chaos, But Still Taken By Surprise (rant warning)”

  1. How much advance notice for singing a hymn? When I was a choir director, I planned weeks in advance for that kind of stuff. Sure, I was occasionally surprised thanks to a bit of inattention. But a chestnut like &quot;Come Holy Ghost.&quot; well … if that&#039;s going to throw you headlong into 100% propers, have at it.

    By the way, you could have rung me up. I arranged it about 20 years ago madrigal-style for SATB plus instruments for a chamber music feel. Father Z would probably think I did it too fast, though …


  2. You are so right that I should have planned — but I might have thought this would have been taken care of by the resources we had. But true, in the end, it is my responsibility

    On Fr. Z, I actually spoke to him about this issue. Honestly, I agree that most all chant is too slow but this case sounds utterly bizarre. I actually heard a sample it was crazy stuff, not &quot;semiological&quot; but more like &quot;let&#039;s get this over with as soon as possible.&quot;

  3. As the one of our little philosophical three men in a tub that has concentrated the most on choral arrangements over my 40+ year tenure, I must say, JT, that your lack of familiarity with OCP&#039;s Traditional Praise forced you to take a the skewed perspective, which is oriented towards unity and accessibility through commonality. OCP&#039;s TP (bad acronym) should be viewed positively as a sourcebook that tries to enable a sort of progresssive skills approach without compromising the basic harmonic scheme in the organ score. I know the book intimately (not biblically!) and appreciate that it offers a unison choir the option of at least one decent soprano descant (sometimes two) as well as a C instrument obligato. Then it progresses to the SAB version you mention. And finally to the SATB. This has been their sequential ordering for each hymn since its unveiling. That you were caught unawares isn&#039;t really OCP&#039;s fault as the book has been in existence for 25 years, now is it?
    This is one instance where you should thank OCP for their thoroughness and comprehensiveness. YMMV

  4. I would suggest that anyone who thinks this book is great should show it to any musician from a mainstream protestant denomination (hymn specialists) to ask for an opinion. Catholics have incredibly low standards for what constitutes good material. I&#039;ve been forced to use this book for some ten years or more. It is the worst hymn resource I&#039;ve ever seen. If somethign worse exists, I don&#039;t even want to know about it. Absolutely pathetic.

  5. By the way, I&#039;ve only scratched the surface of what&#039;s wrong with this book. It contains material not in the pew books. It has different texts. Different verses. Different keys. Garbage arrangements. Whole hymns like this have three versions and not only normal hymn arrangement. It&#039;s a complete mess and proof that OCP has no clue about church music in the real world. I could round up a dozen employees there who would agree with me too!

  6. I&#039;ve long had various issues with the main Catholic publishers over the years. Charles and I have had this conversation in real time often enough. OCP aims low and tries to build, but sometimes things slip through their sieve, like imaginative arrangements. GIA (too often) couldn&#039;t give a rat&#039;s tail base for anything other than a &quot;hymn specialist&quot; or a piano bar arrangement.

    The advantage of doing one&#039;s own arrangement is that one&#039;s singers, who presumably like the arranger, will sing it out of affection even if it&#039;s barely above tragic.

    On the plus side, the pastor mentioned Pope Francis&#039; homily about the Holy Spirit being annoying, and suggested a change in the hymn text, &quot;O annoyer, to thee we sigh.&quot; I almost didn&#039;t program the hymn, but I&#039;m glad I did. Even though I botched playing my own arrangement of it.


  7. ha ha!

    But here&#039;s the thing I don&#039;t get about hymn arrangements. I can go to the Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, or Methodist hymnal and find great stuff. No problem. One page. Perfectly clear, intuitive, stable, encourages singing. No complaints. It just works. Then you dig through the Catholic stuff and it is shockingly bad. We have protestants in our choir and they are invariably mortified at our resources. &quot;Huh&quot; what&#039;s this?&quot; We often have to plan a week ahead and have someone transcribe the SATB out of their protestant hymnals just to have something normal to sing. I find this just mystifying. And embarrassing.

  8. I don&#039;t think its paramount that there has to always be an SATB arrangement of the recessional hymn. The recessional hymn is meant for the congregation, not for the choir to show off its skills after Mass. As for harmonies, that&#039;s why we have organs in our churches – they provide a complete framework to assist people in the congregation to join in. I can see the value of an SATB arrangement if there is no supporting organ, otherwise it seems superfluous.

    Remember, the recessional hymn is (by far) the least important part of music at Mass and there are always other options which are in fact more traditional e.g. an organ postlude.

  9. This post made me curious… Just opened the first hymnal that I could grab on my desk here at the church – GIA&#039;s Gather Comprehensive II (why this was the closest to me, I have no idea).

    It has an SATB version of Come Holy Ghost.

  10. Apologies if that was a poor choice of words. In my experience, SATB singing (a capella) in a recessional has the effect of shutting out congregations (who instinctively feel they must listen to the choir as one would do at a concert). I have never seen that happen with an organ accompaniment of a recessional hymn – the organ maximises the opportunity for people to join in the singing.

  11. &quot;If [sung texts and liturgical hymns] are used widely by the faithful, they should remain relatively fixed so that confusion among the people may be avoided&quot; (Liturgiam Autenticam #108). I just read this for the first time, only now to come across your post. Seems apt.

    Also, stickler question: under what auspices are the translations in Bartlett&#039;s &quot;Simple English Propers&quot; approved for liturgical use? Serious question, as I attempt to make as bullet-proof a case as I can for using them to my choir. To my knowledge, there&#039;s no official english translation of the Graduale Romanum, and the Monks of Solesmes english translations of the propers in their Gregorian Hymnal are &quot;in no way intended for use in the liturgy.&quot; I may probably reading option (1) of #48 of the GIRM too narrowly, but I&#039;d still appreciate any direction on this.

    Great blog!


  12. OCP&#039;s Choral Praise Comprehensive (which we use pretty much exclusively for hymns) has a simple SATB arrangement of Come Holy Ghost.

  13. Some years ago, I also searched for an acceptable SATB arrangement of &quot;Come Holy Ghost.&quot; I eventually found one, though I&#039;m not sure where. I think it was in some WLP materials I happened to have had. Our congregation sang this hymn at six out of the seven masses this weekend. (The seventh mass was entirely chanted, as it always is.)

    It&#039;s good for everyone and everything (the choir, the congregation, the music, the liturgy) for the choir to sing SATB on one or more of the middle verses of a hymn. The hymn can have meaningful and artful variety from one verse to the next. With hymns that have multiple verses, alternating men and women, or even alternating choir with congregation, can positively affect the pacing and overall experience of the hymn.

    Some members of the congregation will sing parts if they have access to an SATB hymnal. Sadly, this is really never an option for Catholics. The opposite is true for most Protestant traditions. Frankly, any hymnal that has no SATB settings may be characterized as dumbed-down.

    I agree with JT that the materials put out by the big three publishers could be much better. I understand that they are trying to satisfy the interests of many diverse constituencies. However, it has been painful for me to have OCP retire from the hymnal (Breaking Bread) such great hymns as &quot;Love Unknown,&quot; &quot;The Call,&quot; and many others, while so many silly hymns (too many to list) remain.

  14. Look, JT, you chose to rant over what I now consider a manufactored complaint about an OCP choir product, versus a common hymnal available in Prot. demoninations, which Traditional Choir Praise never was meant to function as such, confined the locus around one of the most known Catholic hymns, and then proceeded to excoriate, even after being called on the shotgun critique, about OCP&#039;s well-intentioned effort of 25 years, and then complained that it didn&#039;t magically support changed texts over that quarter century. And then you demonstrate a hissy over it claiming it&#039;s garbage because it doesn&#039;t meet the spec&#039;s of minimalism of the normal Prot hymnal. (cont)

  15. Yet, did you mention that OCP has, in fact, provided SATB Choirs with another product, Choral Praise, in which they have tried, altogether not totally successfully because of their own penchant for an ever changing repertoire in their congregational books, that does have exactly what you&#039;re complaining about.
    I&#039;m hardly a defender of OCP product, but if you want to sensationalize every darn thing that earns your respect or disdain, do your damn homework. It seems to me that this sort of thing, and what went down at forum this weekend is designed to make us all look like snobby jerks. Now I&#039;ll buzz off.

  16. Wow, wow, wow. &quot;OCP has no clue about church music in the real world.&quot; I have total disdain and disregard of their editorial board personally. And I HAVE been to Portland in the belly of the beast before those very personages. Have you? I&#039;d venture to say that their market share proves they have a clue about church music in their real world, tho&#039; it fails miserably in yours and mine. And I challenge you to name the names of your dozen. And if they happen to be composers who&#039;ve been published but now disavow that association, that hardly abets your contention.

  17. Yes, but why are you singing it to &quot;Lambillotte&quot; in the first place? Ted Marier&#039;s &quot;Mount Auburn&quot; is a much better tune for that text.

  18. well, I&#039;m just reporting. As I predicted, I&#039;m sure there is an OCP product that would meet my needs. There&#039;s always an OCP product that would meet my needs. Always another product. Always something else to buy. Always another profit opportunity. Always another way to extract money from Catholics in the pews. It&#039;s always the solution: give OCP more money. More more more. Eventually the liturgy will sound right. Just not yet: give them more money and we will see. OCP has the answer. Somewhere it in its catalog.

  19. &quot; well, I&#039;m just reporting.&quot;
    That&#039;s it: one of us is officially not on the planet. You had a tickle, and inkling, to muckrake a fairly huge article that included a &quot;rant warning&quot; and you, like Punxtanhaney Phil the Groundhog, choose to go back into your hole declaiming &quot;I&#039;m just reporting.&quot;
    This was a debacle, conjured in your mindseye, and you&#039;re offended someone calls you on it.
    I&#039;ll tell you the what for- W and I discussed this over dinner, and if you want to win friends and influence people, you&#039;d better get your focus on. This whole &quot;Stop the Presses! Jeffrey&#039;s got Something to Say&quot; stuff is wearing thin. Sell what you own. Stop demonizing your presumed opposition.

  20. Thanks for bringing up the point re: creative hymn-singing strategies. The King&#039;s College Choir, in my opinion, are masters of the art of hymn singing. They often make a point of doing something different for every verse of a hymn: Unison, SATB, men, boys, descant, double descant with fanfare, etc.

    I love looking through the Oxford University Press Carols for Choirs to see all the variations they come up.

  21. We are a choir of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham (UK) and at our mass yesterday we sang &#039;Come Holy Ghost&#039; from the English Hymnal, which as ex Anglicans we use all the time. The version we sang was the tune Veni Creator – which is a unison chant! The congregation sang it with gusto. Come to Gainford to St Osmund&#039;s church. (Near Darlington) we sing some some chant and a lot of polyphony.

  22. It might seem straight forward to you, Charles, to pick what you need from the vast corpus, but that&#039;s on the basis of an arcane knowledge built up over forty years of professional acquaintance. Maybe Jeff&#039;s suggesting there are better starting places for a journey to Dublin.

  23. Listen, I hate to send this thread in a completely different direction, but … Yesterday [Sunday], our parish — a medium sized but very prosperous parish in New Jersey — announced that they had selected GIA&#039;s &quot;Worship 4&quot; as our new pew hymnbook, replacing &quot;Breaking Bread,&quot; which had been used since the new translation came out.

    I had hoped to pitch Jeff Ostrowski&#039;s &quot;Vatican II Hymnal&quot; to them, but … it didn&#039;t happen.

    I throw this question out to everybody: How good/bad/indifferent is &quot;Worship 4&quot;? I am very fearful since this is a product of the Liturgical/Heretical Complex, but … what&#039;s the score with this, anyway? Probably isn&#039;t an SATB score, at any rate.

  24. You see, this is my issue with the St. Edward Campion hymnal, in that the four-part hymn arrangements are not printed in the pew book, but have to be purchased separately. That seems pointless to me, and makes the Hymnal less valuable to congregations dedicated to the Extraordinary Form. A group of traditionalists worth their salt will almost always have enough singers to give a hymn in four-part harmony, but they may or may not have the organization to have multiple books on hand!

  25. I used this the other week and it was lovely. The Adoremus Hymnal always comes through for me.

  26. As an Anglo-Catholic (all right, Episcopal) working in a Catholic parish for the past two years, I often scratch my head at this exact conundrum. Recently I had an idea of using the Vatican II SATB book in the pews, in addition to something like the Lumen Christi missal, which I adore. Thoughts?

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