Sunday, May 19, 2013

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.

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