Hypermetric scruples

Occasionally in classic Latin hymns we find texts that don’t fit the poetic meter perfectly but have an extra syllable, and these are often notated so as to draw attention to the discrepancy, as here (“digitus”) in the Veni Creator Spiritus:

Some choir directors adjust these “hypermetric syllables” to fit the meter: that is, they may “elide” syllables by omitting the vowel of one syllable and combining the rest of that syllable with the next (or the previous one!). For example, in the doxology at the end of a long-meter hymn, the phrase “cum Patre et almo Spiritu” can be sung in eight syllables as “cum Patr-et almo Spiritu”. On the other hand, some choir directors sing these lines exactly as notated, out of a sense of duty to sing the hymn as directed in the church-approved book.

Today I stumbled on this document in the old (1949/1960) Antiphonale Romanum (page 64*), which addresses the concern about what is permitted.

The question addressed to the Congregation of Rites (back in 1915) was whether these lines should be pronounced distinctly and the added notes sung rigorously as indicated in the Antiphonale, or whether it was permitted to elide those syllables; and the answer from the Congregation came back, “Negative to the first part; affirmative to the second”; that is: it is not required to interpret those lines rigorously, and it is permitted to elide the affected syllables.

So when a text occasionally doesn’t conform to the meter of its tune, it’s fine to make it fit: I hope this helps ease any scruples of worried singers.


“Which Hymn Is Your Heart Singing?”

I was amused at the conceit, and so intended to post a link to a quiz at EpicPew with that title when I saw it.

However, upon completion of the quiz, the song, (not a hymn,) that it assigned me was so dreadful, and every single possible alternative offered so shudder-inducing, that I will not, (but it will be easy enough to google if it interests you.)

When I’ve recovered I may go back and take it again, and see if it’s my own fault, if the suggestions for some better person might be finer hymns.

But the question intrigues me.
Weekday Mass of late has featured both the spoken propers and a hymn or two, (and then, mirabile dictu, the Marian antiphon to close!)
Anyway, I’m feeling warm fuzzies regarding hymn singing and I’m curious – what hymn is your heart singing?

Not “do you like,” not which tune sets your soul dancing, but which text best expresses the feels you’re feeling – and is it always the same one?

Mine is My Song is Love Unknown, but only the first 2 verses most of the time, and to some joyous, mystical tune that I can’t actually hear – somehow it is ebullient, lit by fireworks rather than candles. (Very unsuitable, I know. It just makes me so danged happy.)

So what’s yours?

What you sing in the dark….

I’m sure most dioceses celebrate the jubilee years of ordained and consecrated priests, sisters and brothers with a designated liturgy. Our diocese held such an observance (Vespers) this week, held at our mother parish. Our Office of Worship thankfully asks for simple ministry, aka “moi,” to lead the congregational singing. And a unique congregation it is, every year. I was likely the sole member of the laity present among 150 congregants.

I’ll recap what was prayed in song in this piece and offer some interesting (to me) reflections. This year I did not choose any of the repertoire.

After the invocation, the hymn of the evening was “For the fruits of this creation” (Ar hyd y nos.) The gathered priests, deacons, sisters and brothers took up the singing with full throat and full measure. It is always so edifying every time religious take up the role of the “assembled” so heartily.

The first two psalms were canted using Meinrad tones. This was my first encounter with these pervasively known settings. These were sung well, but as could be expected, psalm tone settings of any stripe aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, so as we sang in alternatim, the volume of singing was halved by comparison to the hymn. As a composer/arranger, my initial assessment of the two Meinrad tones that were sung was sort of “ho-hum.” I wouldn’t say via such limited exposure that they seem hackneyed, but like so much of what is employed in the last century, they don’t ascend much higher than the meanest of utilitarian purpose. For one thing, the settings I led were hopelessly diatonic, and didn’t seem to exhibit a schematic coherence evident in diatonic constructs as simple as “Heart and Soul.” I wouldn’t blanch calling them pastiche. That said, the pastor who did choose the settings mentioned that Meinrad tones were by far the most commonly employed in seminary formation over the last three decades. To me, there was a paucity of intuitive logic to these two tones by comparison to “Gregorian” tones that I’m more comfortable using. Perhaps that is because those tones are modal, and modes are, if nothing else, bound to tetrachord sensibilities. So, to sum up this aspect, it seems that the use of tones, whether Meinrad, Gelineau or Rossini’s et al, becomes an effort of selective and synthetic cultivation,  not necessarily tied to predecessor forms. To illustrate what I mean by that, if the only music one hears in a long-lived, developmental period of time is muzak as found in elevators, stores, waiting rooms and supermarkets, that person will have no other foundation to appreciate any other more worthy and significant types of music. (Suffice it to say, we owe a debt to folks like Adam Bartlett, Paul Ford and many other noted seminary professors who’ve taught the basics of “Gregoriana” to their charges.)

After the responsory my duties were over. After “Deo gratias” I more or less hi-jacked the dismissal by intoning the simple “Salve Regina.” Once again, the gathered took the roof of our large church off with their purposeful chanting.

I’ve thought of this paradox before, but it was never so apparent to me as this vespers: why is it that clergy and religious have the chutzpah to chant psalmody (even via less worthy means), hymnody and plainsong when they’re sequestered together, and then basically eschew those forms when they return to their parishes as pastors and vicars? We all know that strong leadership, whether amateur or professional, generally ensures solid performance practice among choirs/ensembles/scholas that “lead” and aid congregational singing in regular worship. But there seems an inordinate interest on the part of many pastors to mistake the accessibility of the modern song forms as being tantamount with their concept of full, active, conscious participation. Whether one has participated in a CMAA colloquium or intensive seminar or not, most folks know that the “actuosa” concept of FCAP is just as accessible to everyone through hymns, chants and psalmody as are sacropop and contemporary praise and worship styles, and likely more affective to the soul. So, again, why do I sense there’s sort of double-standard at play when clergy worships together with our native forms, but then these great forms are left orphaned when they return to their home parishes?