Advent 2010 is half-over, which means that Advent 2011 is less than a year away. If you’re a choir director at a Catholic Parish, you probably are trying to figure out what new Mass settings to start using. I highly recommend the ICEL chants to start with.
All the publishers, of course, want you to sing their settings (or at least purchase them), and they are offering previews of their works online. I have listened to almost all of them.
Folks, it ain’t pretty out there.
Let’s set aside arguments about what styles and genres are appropriate for Mass. Those are worthwhile discussions in the abstract, but they obscure any discussion about the inherent merits of any particular composer’s work. I get annoyed when a Reformer of the Reform says, “This would be great in a theatre but not at Mass,” about a piece of music which would be abysmal in a theatre, a church, or anywhere else.
Therefore, I’m reviewing these preview selections on their won merits as much as possible, based on the ethos of the types of parishes that tend to use contemporary (or otherwise non-chant) music in liturgy.
This post will focus on GIA’s new settings. Future posts will deal with new settings from the other publishers, and then perhaps a look at the revised Mass settings.
Previews for GIA’s new Mass Settings can be found here.
Like I said, it isn’t pretty out there.
Mass for a New World – David Haas
The marketing blurb from GIA touts this setting’s “gospel-style” themes, calling them “memorable” and “uplifting.” I might call David’s setting here a lot of things, but “Gospel” is not one of them.
The style is pretty indicative of why I like listening to David Haas CDs in my car and while doing housework- it sounds like a parade at EPCOT Center! I’m being quite sincere here- the music is enjoyable, easy, well-scored, and well-produced. If you’re a fan of Disney musicals, you ought to pick up the CD.
As for liturgical suitability, that’s difficult here. The Alleluia presented is quite nice and could work well in a parish that likes an elaborate “Gospel Procession.” The Gloria, on the other hand, just seems to go on forever. I think I’d get bored if I had to pray the whole thing, instead of just listening to it as background music for my laundry-folding or morning commute.
Storrington Mass – Marty Haugen
The possibly-too-honest copywriters at GIA say that this setting “displays striking contrasts…within its own pages.” Yes, I should say so. Whatever the merit of any two or three-measure section, the combination of festival-style brass with folk guitar and a host of other instruments is a bit overwhelming. It’s a little like walking from one section of Disney World to another several times, each “land” having its own background music. Combined with the incessant repetition of a refrain in the Gloria, I could hardly take it.
The Lamb of God was more interesting, and could have passed as the sentimental ballad that customarily marks the 3/4s point of a romantic musical theatre piece.
The Sound of My People – M. Roger Holland II
This is being billed by GIA as “the premier new setting for African American communities,” because it “utilizes various gospel styles from deep within the African American tradition of Christian worship.” Hard to tell from just a couple tracks, but it seems like a poor shadow of real Gospel music- the kind you hear in a musical about Gospel music intended for a mostly white or suburban-black audience. It lacks the pathos and depth of any Gospel music I’ve ever heard from congregations steeped in the genre, and mostly leaves me bored. Also, the Alleluia is super long.
Unity Mass – Norah Duncan IV
Two of my favorite music-theatre composers are Jason Robert Brown (Last Five Years, Songs for a New World) and Stephen Schwartz (Godspell, Wicked, Children of Eden). The Unity Mass is reminiscent of both composers’ work, but more as a poor-copy than as an inspiration. I honestly wish I could write for piano as well as Norah Duncan IV does in the Gloria, but as long as I’m wishing, I really wish I could write as well as the composers he seems to be trying to emulate.
The marketing blurb speaks about the Mass setting’s diversity of styles (“calypso…early American… gentle lyricism”). That’s hard to gauge with only two tracks of fairly poorly sung and poorly produced recording. I love early American music, so I wish I could have heard the Gospel Acclamation. Overall, though, I’m not sure this setting will, as GIA says, “unite the most diverse assemblies.”
Mass of Joy and Peace – Tony Alonso
This setting “weaves together gentle melodic motifs and jubilant, lilting rhythmic patterns eliciting a sense of quiet joy and blissful peace.” Well, sort of. The Gloria is pretty enough, but lacking meat. Also, I’m starting to get a bit tired of refrain-style Glorias. They can work, but that better be one darn-good refrain if you’re going to make me sing it four times for no intrinsic liturgical purpose.
I’m afraid about two things concerning thins setting. First of all, I’m pretty sure that it wouldn’t sound particularly good without all the wonderful instrumentation present on the recording, which is unlikely to happen in a normal parish. Moreover, even if you did it very well, it seems to give the impression that Mass is supposed to be… relaxing.
Mass for a Servant Church – Michel Guimont
I love the opening brass fanfare of the Gloria, but I wonder about how many parishes can muster these forces regularly. My sense is that this piece would be quite boring without the full orchestration. But the Gloria is a great piece of writing otherwise and would work well in a concert or at a festival mass. I quite think Anglicans would like it, also.
The Lamb of God just hit me as a bit dull and flat, unworthy music for such an exalted moment in the Mass. This makes me wonder about the rest of the setting.
Mass of Plenty – Rob Glover
The new-age drum-beat-wind-chime-piano-chord that begins the Agnus Dei made me happy. The flute part did not fail to deliver on the pseudo-tribal musical promise. The overly-scored choral part did not jibe well, though. It whisked me away from well-produced-suburban-exotica and straight into schmaltzy vacation-bible-school sing-along. Not good.
The Holy Holy was similarly disappointing, feeling for all the world like the grand finale of a very important musical about diversity and doing your best and making friends and other messages children should hear.
Mass from Age to Age – Chris de Silva
I can say little good about this setting. The writing is flat and uninspired. The Gloria sounds like perhaps it was one of the rejected options for the Gummi Bears theme song. The first few piano chords of the Lamb of God gave me some hope, but the rest of the setting just went nowhere. The clever use of Latin in the back-up vocals might have been a good idea, but the result is cluttered and hard to listen to.
Black Mountain Liturgy – Sally Ann Morris
Before listening to this setting, I was really excited about it. I love American roots music, and I think it has a solid place in American Christian liturgical worship. Sadly, from the two tracks presented on the preview page, I’m not sure if Sally Ann Morris and I are even thinking of a remotely similar musical culture.
The Gloria sounds like a bit like a bad Renaissance dance, except more forceful. And the Lamb of God opens with the (literal) theme from “Somewhere Out There” (that’s a song sung by a cartoon mouse in a 1980s children’s movie).
On the other hand, I’ve never been to North Carolina, so maybe there’s something I don’t know…
The Glendalough Mass – Liam Lawton, arr. Paul A. Tate
The Holy Holy is nice, if a bit long. It has some gorgeous moments in it that remind me of Enya. I’d like it better if it was produced by Enya’s people. Lawton and Tate’s work here is nice, but not exciting or breath-taking the way the commercial stuff is.
The Kyrie is less nice than the Holy Holy. A bit of pretty blandness.
Missa Ad Gentes: Maryknoll Centennial Mass – Michael Joncas
Musically, the light piano percussiveness of the Alleluia is quite nice. It draws the listener in right from the beginning of the track. I have a hard time, though, imagining this being used in any Roman Rite parish with even a semblance of solemnity. Beyond that, after the initial good musical idea, the piece meanders through a handful of languages and arrangement textures, becoming quite a clutter of musical noise.
The Sanctus, mostly in Latin in a sort-of High-Church choral-concert setting is quite nice, but really long. As with many of the more serious settings from the major publishers, I wonder about how commercially practical this is: the type of parish that would “go for” this long, quite glorious Sanctus )and have the ability to pull it off well) doesn’t seem likely to do this setting in its entirety and, in fact, seems likely to want to do a different, even more glorious and High Church, setting of the Sanctus.
Misa Una Santa Fe / One Holy Faith Mass – Ronald F. Krisman
I’m not sure, but I think if I were Hispanic, I might find this setting mildly insulting. It seems to be a parody of Mariachi music, dressed up in the guise of Anglican choral music, complete with a horn section that does double duty as a festival brass quartet and a Mexican party band. Maybe I’m reading too much into this.