Wednesday, January 29, 2014

More Choral Propers from Frank La Rocca

Composer Frank La Rocca is continuing his magnificent project in English Choral Propers with three new pieces for Lent, Holy Week, and Easter - all of which are available for free download for a limited time from Illuminare Publications.

You can preview, listen to, and download them here:

Gradual "Suscepimus Deus", in Notre Dame Organum Duplum (between 1245-1255 AD)

The choral and polyphonic proper tradition dates back well into the Middle Ages, and has long standing in the history of the liturgy. It is less common to hear many of these masterpieces sung today, it seems, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the mere idea of preparing a substantial piece of choral music and only having the opportunity to sing it once a year is certainly intimidating to music directors and singers alike.

Secondly, choral music in the Ordinary Form of the Mass often gets relegated to a Post-Communion motet, or perhaps an Offertory motet, as congregational music is sung virtually everywhere else.

Both of these challenges are easily overcome, however.

In response to the first problem, we can remember that the rubrics of the Graduale Romanum allow for a single proper antiphon to be sung seasonally, anywhere within that season, if pastoral needs might require it. Now, many of us know very well that a permission based on "pastoral needs" often opens a door for wild abuse, and for the selection of music to be based upon personal preference, rather than upon a genuine pastoral need. Not having enough time to properly prepare a new setting of the weekly propers with your choir, on the other hand, is a genuine pastoral issue. In this case, nothing would prohibit a choir from singing La Rocca's choral propers many times within a season, especially if they are replacing other more ambiguous music. They also very easily could be sung as motets in the customary way.

In response to the second problem, we should keep in mind that the singing of choral music that does not set the text of the liturgy itself really is not singing the Mass, but singing at Mass. If we truly intend to restore the regular singing of the texts of the liturgy itself, as they are found in the liturgical books, then we should not continue to perpetuate the problem of singing texts that are essentially alien to the liturgy under normal circumstances. Don't let me be misunderstood: The current, established practice of singing motets is legitimate, and allows for the broad use of many of the treasures of the sacred music tradition. However, how much better would it be if we made a fundamental shift in our approach to choral music and spent time learning choral settings of parts of the Proper of the Mass? In this way we can help further the development of sung liturgy and weaken our dependence upon inserting texts into the Mass that, all things being equal, do not belong there.

In this respect, Frank La Rocca is giving the English-speaking Church an inestimable gift. Please feel free to make use of these new offerings, and share your feedback. The texts of the Proper of the Mass are the future of liturgical music. When we look around today we see signs of this everywhere. Let's thank Frank for his wonderful contribution to sacred music, and urge him on to continue setting the texts of the Proper of the Mass!

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