Okay, now we’re talking. Dear John,….

A few days ago I wrote about how we ought to give the big publishers some straightforward advice about the songs that aren’t worth reprinting for next year, and also about the songs and composers that deserve to be heard more.


Well, here’s what I would and will send to the editor at OCP. Feel free to use this as a template or reconfigure yours in any manner you like.

Dear Mr. Limb,

I have been a music director in three parishes and a cathedral since 1977 that have, without exception, utilized OCP resources exclusively as worship aides. Much thanks is due to the founders of the Oregon Truth and Tract Society that eventually evolved into Oregon Catholic Press, and was transformed through the efforts of fine folk like Owen Alstott into the pre-eminent supplier of musical and liturgical worship aides not only for the USA, but in many other English conferences.
As you likely aware from the adjustments OCP has made in its flagship products (Music Issue/Breaking Bread/Flor y Canto) over the decades such as the licensing and then ultimate acquisition of the former NALR catalogue, the agreements with other major RCC and other publishers for reprint permission for emergent repertoires of significant value to congregations, change as well as innovation is not to be unexpected in liturgical matters.

One of the most noticeable changes promulgated both independently and in concert with the infusion of the third edition of the Roman Missal and the earlier advisory document SING TO THE LORD from the USCCB has been a resurgence of interest in following through with the full spectrum of objectives and legislation clearly articulated in the conciliar documents, namely the CSL, MS and GIRM. These documents themselves owe a large measure of allegiance to the goals of the century old papal motu proprio, Tra le sollecitudini of St. Pope Pius X.

As a Director of Music that has relied upon OCP for over thrity five years, what has become clear is that though the interest of an emerging and younger demographic that, as Catholic seekers, are very aware of the great heritage, unique and profound effect of what is generally called “Gregorian Chant” (for our purposes I’ll refer simply to “chant”) upon their worship experience as Roman Rite Catholics. OCP has not been remiss in accomodation of that demographic with specific publications, but as of yet has not evinced its commitment to inclusivity of that demographic in its flagship pew publications.

I would ask you to consider consulting with your editorial board and ask them, regardless of the standard methodologies of the annual survey and their editorial guidance, have they given a thorough and critical analysis of the content of the BB/MI/Heritage line of products as regards “chant?”

I would suggest that a significant portion of the subscription volumes have not only stagnant and unused repertoire that escapes attention year to year, but also some material whose textual content is clearly at odds with the needs of authentic worship with the rites. There are likely a substantial number of songs, hymns and ordinaries whose musical content has seen its sunset realistically and take up valuable page space that other much more vital and necessary content could resuscitate OCP’s waning perception as a viable, all inclusive and orthodox service provider.

The following examples of what I would consider as “defunct” pieces would likely not be missed by significant numbers of parishes:

WAITING IN SILENCE/Landry-both lyric and musical content is very pedestrian. The scriptural allusions are better set elsewhere in other songs.
ASHES/Conry- poor theology throughout the entire lyric that reflects a more anthrocentric impetus and modus operandi than a penitential expression.
ROLL AWAY THE STONE/Conry-inarticulate allegorical verses, overtly dramatic and combative by comparison to the psalms they paraphrase, and an oblique and obscure message in the imperative refrain text.
BREAD, BLESSED AND BROKEN/Lynch- even if for children, the lyric is so puerile that dilutes the Eucharistic theology to young minds. The single most damaging element is the naming of the Eucharistic host as a “symbol” of God’s love. That must be remedied by elimination, not alteration.
LOOK BEYOND/Ducote- incomprehensible verses in that there is no coherency between 1 to 2/3, 4 to 5. A stale mess of snapshot references.
BREAD OF LIFE/Cooney- again, massive anthrocentrism failing to expiate properly a solid Eucharistic theology. “I, myself, am the bread of life” is an augmentation of John 6 that is condescending to the Faithful, too confusing and self-referential to “us” as Eucharist.
SING A NEW CHURCH/Dufner- a well-intentioned but extremely flawed abstraction of ecclesiology.
GATHER AND REMEMBER/Alstott-another well-intentioned but inappropriate and didactic homage and paean to an ecumenical council, and some very incendiary assessments of church history and traditions. The Vox Dei component is poorly employed as well.
HERE I AM/Booth- another Vox Dei that has some indiscriminate notions, or inarticulate at best, added to the typical syncopation that dissuade participation rather than invites it.
HOLY SPIRIT/Misetich, SNJM- tired, dated, banal text and melody
THE SPIRIT IS A-MOVIN’/Landry- see immediate song above.
ALL I ASK OF YOU/Norbert/Weston- incredibly saccharine content in lyrics.
ANTHEM/Conry- of all the Conry pieces dropped (I will lift up my eyes…I will not die…”) in the past, the fact that this jarring, confrontive theology remains is a huge mystery. We are….not amused.
I WILL CHOOSE CHRIST/Booth-besides having some motivic elements that are too close to popular hits of the secular past, it can’t be really defended as viable to all cross sections of worshipping communities.
‘TIS A GIFT TO BE SIMPLE/Shaker trad.- a novelty that has no value in a Roman Rite context.
LET THERE BE PEACE ON EARTH/Miller&Jackson- tired, dated, a courteous nod and association with “God” that is minimalist. A commercial.
PEACE IS FLOWING LIKE A RIVER/Landry- have we checked the pulse of the world lately?

(interlude: You might notice I’ve avoided any of the major bogeyman titles that are commonly flogged horses here and elsewhere, OEW, MoC, GUI, IATBOL, etc., precisely because the psychological pushback would likely kick in immediately. Those are the golden eggs of the golden geese. One has to think strategically, tactfully and tactically.)

Mr. Limb, there are, as you likely know, many more titles that others have taken up as a cause celebre for post-conciliar examples of musical anathema. The “de gustibus” factor will always be in play in such critical discourse, deconstruction and deliberation. But I hope to move you to more attentively call your editors’ discretion towards the best and beautiful, not the easiest or most popular.
Please relieve this glut of ineffective and insufficient pieces from further occupancy in publications that are supposed to be responsive and responsible. You have given credence to the chants found in Columba Kelly’s collection and other chant books in your own catalogue. You have composers such as Barbara Bridge and others who’ve had chant-emulative pieces extracted from the hymnals. This is contradictory, in fact, to conciliar philosophy that encourages new compositions to flourish within our own traditions.

Thank you for your kind attention,
Charles Culbreth, Director of Music and Worship
The Catholic Church of Visalia (California)

Does this give you any ideas about your own advice for
OCP/GIA/WLP/TLP/ILP, etc.? What are you telling them to keep or toss?”

22 Replies to “Okay, now we’re talking. Dear John,….”

  1. Very well-intentioned effort, Charles. However, you have a penchant for overlong, almost (Henry) Jamesian sentences that are nearly impossible to decipher at times. Perhaps you could help me parse:

    "As a Director of Music that has relied upon OCP for over thrity five years, what has become clear is that though the interest of an emerging and younger demographic that, as Catholic seekers, are very aware of the great heritage, unique and profound effect of what is generally called "Gregorian Chant" (for our purposes I'll refer simply to "chant") upon their worship experience as Roman Rite Catholics."

    For the life of me, I cannot find the verb in what should be the principal clause. If you are to make a plain and cogent case for your cause, you may wish to write shorter sentences that don't obfuscate the message you are trying to convey.

    Your list of songs to eliminate from OCP publications does indeed seem to be very good, however. And, except for your particular way of expressing yourself, this is indeed a good model for others to emulate.

    Many thanks, dear friend.

  2. Thanks, Chuck, I also got the message at the Forum.
    For the record, I think the locus of that mess is "what has become clear is that….." How ironic, huh?
    The other irony is that I sent the article to RC for his review, and his response was favorable and supportive, and RC pays a lot of attention to my syntax and applies his sin tax to my excesses! 😉

  3. I don't see why not, Henry. As stated in the earlier post, there are scads of stakeholders beyond the folks in his See.
    What is worrisome is the "The eyes of all WAIT upon thee…" reality. So many of us default to resignation, or "Let the other guy deal with this, my plate is full." That leads to the Pogo maxim-"I have met the enemy and he is US."

  4. I'd be happy if the lyrics in CP2 matched BB on every song – for cryin out loud amazing grace doesn't even match

  5. Charles is an individual writer whose use of English is idiosyncratic and on occasions orotund and opaque. Thank God for creativity. I have never had a problem in deciphering him, and he is nearly always right.

  6. Dear Mr. C,

    You have written a most explanatory and informative letter, particularly concerning the cogent issues that face many Catholic music directors, wading through the morass of the myriad struggles, debates and plain old griping that confronts the average parish musician on any given Sunday. This seems to be a sad state of affairs, when we consider that the Roman Rite is such a priceless heritage and treasury of timeless prayer and music (or should I say, that the music at Mass IS prayer, as we have been so aptly taught by the liturgical documents of the Magisterium, so useful for our salutory edification of these often obscure and obtuse debates, when particularly these things ought to be made clear?) and that we ought to be seriously considering the new chant movement that has taken place, particularly in the younger generation, over the past few decades, particularly with the promulgation of the Apostolic Letter "Summorum Pontificum" of Pope Benedict XVI in 2007.

    So what you have expressed (so well, I might add) here is that often drowning feeling that the aficionado of Gregorian Chant has, when simply attempting, at the request of many younger folk (especially those who have been to a CMAA Colloquium) that the Parish Mass might at least sing a real Gregorian Introit, Offertory, or Communion (certainly not all three at once in the same Mass, but one at a time in any given Mass, to make the introduction to chant a little more palatable for those who insist on a straight folk-song diet as a staple of all Masses everywhere), and (God forbid!) even sing that (gingerly introduced) Gregorian Chant in Latin?

    So, Mr. C, you are a true light for the consideration of new possibilities in Liturgy (oddly enough, that these "new possibilities" are, in fact, the venerable and ancient liturgy of the Church) and opening up a real dialogue, valiantly breaking through the mire and muck, and much that has hampered so much of our genuine conversation, while striving to break through the some old tired and outworn molds that hamper us, on to the sunlight of spirit, that is, the genuine Holy Spirit who has always guided the faithful, in the timeless and honorable Holy Liturgy of the Catholic Church.

    Thank you Mr. C. God Bless.

  7. Just for the record:

    I am out of the office until Monday, August 25, and will have limited access to email until my return. If this is urgent, please contact my assistant Carol Stahl at carols@ocp.org or 503-281-1191. Thank you! –John Limb

    I also cc'd Bari and Dr. Rendler-McQueeny.
    Balls in y'all's court now.

  8. I think the anti-voice-of-God meme has played itself out by now, surely. Willing to tackle the propers and Gospel Acclamation verses yet, and suggest selective expungement there? Need an address for Antonio Cañizares Llovera?

  9. Todd, you have finally displayed your rhetorical achilles' heel, which is remarkably like mine. You didn't read what I actually said, not a whit of which was critical of the Vox Dei device. In no way did I address the issue of appropriating the Vox Dei as errant. I did criticize poor allusions and awkward settings of some songs that employ the Vox Dei.
    Don't lump me into your caricatures of other folks' fixations.
    I have no idea what you're saying in your second sentence.

  10. I could be wrong, but I think Todd is saying that there are propers which he wouldn't have chosen, and he'd like you to suggest to TPTB that some of them be expunged, as well — apparently, (no, my name is not Noah,) exercising your option to use random examples of the Fearsome Forth (option,) is no more problematic to him than exercising the first option.

    Or maybe not.

    (Save the Liturgy, save the World)

  11. In any case, Ger, Todd and his legions have totally skirted around the issue and crux of the article(s.)
    It's nice to know that the loyal opposition are chiming in and that we both flew directly over their ack-ack guns. Must mean we've touched a nerve.

  12. Most of this list is well-considered. Hardcovers do say "Peace is Flowing…" is "based on Ps. 107"… Surely the tribbles used it as an antiphon with tone 1 verses as they overwhelmed the Klingons.

  13. Thank you, Mr. Behr. Even though I did send this particular list to OCP, it was designed more as a template for others to consider pondering their own list and letter. Thus far, it seems to have resulted in another tilt of the lance at the windmill.
    I'm coming to the conclusion, finallly and regretably, that lit forums and their habitues are much more interested in expelling C02 than action. Hopefully they save the rest for chanting….

  14. If you don't like OCP products don't buy them..problem solved,

    Astroturffing them will just turn them off and is generally viewed as shady; snide emails to Mr. Limb like this will be reported to your ISP and your account will likely be banned; more than one snail mail of this sort will be returned to sender; in today's litigious climatethe above behaviors could be construed as harrassment.

  15. Sorry about typos. (Keyboard sticking).

    Above should read "problem solved.", "Astroturfing" and "litigious climate, the behaviors suggested".


  16. Thank you for your advice, counselor.

    What a ridiculous comment.

    Charles is calling for authentic feedback to the publishers. He's not hiring and paying people to generate a fake grassroots ("astroturf") campaign.

    While there's no promise that any publisher will pay attention, he's perfectly entitled to express his critique of the product. He's a *customer*.

    Oh, by the way, I believe that the name and e-mail address given with your comments are fake. What are you hiding?

  17. Oxford Dictionary Defintion) . astroturfing: The deceptive practice of presenting an orchestrated marketing or public relations campaign in the guise of unsolicited comments from members of the public.

    (Dictionary doesn't mention "hiring and paying people")

    Smart consumerism indicates one waste money on unacceptable products. One doesn't HAVE to be a customer of OCP when Corpus Christi Watershed, Frog Music Press and Illuminare Publications offer far superior alternatives.

  18. Ms. Madrigal,
    I assure you of the truth of Richard's defense.
    Were the choice solely mine, I would have changed the pew resources out here in CA 35 years ago. But I live in the real world.
    For the record, I anticipate that our four parishes will, in fact, begin using Illuminare Missal(s) next Advent. For the record, since MR3 came online, I've been employing CCW materials, CMAA, Frog Music etc. EVERY week. I purchased, not my parish, I (out of household income) purchased full choir sets of the SEP, Noel's Choral Anthology I (two sets actually) and Richard Rice's great Choral Communio. I have also purchased from my pocket surplus Colloquium books from CMAA.
    Does that sound to you like a disingenuous charlatan?
    It is our responsibility to recognize the terrain of the future, and advise those who will inherit the resources that will be extant then of the best courses they could take to improve our worship culture.
    I challenge you to decloak and lay your cards on the table. Mine stand pat, thank you.

  19. I don't mean to inconvenience anyone, but I have a particular reason for not wanting anonymous comments here. So if you want to comment any more, use a real name and e-mail address, and drop the proxies.

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