Jerry Galipeau Responds & a Servant Model of Composition

After posting my reviews of WLP’s new Mass Settings, I sent Jerry Galipeau (Associate Publisher at WLP, and blogger) a link to the article. His response was, of course, very kind. I’m posting a portion of it below, because I thought his backstory about the WLP approach was worth noting.

Thanks very much for your commentary. Please know how much I appreciate the time you took to review our settings.

I have been so proud of our composers and employees all the way through this process. I think what sets us apart, perhaps, is that we began the entire process four years ago with the following approach. We decided not to say to our composers, “OK, folks, here’s your chance to compose that Mass setting you’ve always wanted to write.” Instead, we said, “What does music in Catholic parishes really look like?” When we thought about some of the rural communities, places where we know that there is an organist with a microphone in a tiny choir loft (and that’s the extent of the parish’s music ministry), we knew that we needed simpler settings, like the chant-like settings. I was in Alabama a few months ago giving presentations to catechists there about the new translation. A woman came up to me and told me that their pianist had just moved to Florida and that their thirteen-family parish had no other musicians. These are real parishes with real Catholics who want to sing.

His point about the 13-family parish is an important one. The Contemporary music “establishment” is producing music far beyond the reach of these places, and traditional sacred music (Gregorian Chant) is probably seen as simply too hard. The general effect of this (as I’ve seen it) is poorly played 1970s folky Catholic stuff, with a few protestant hymns played slowly on a bad organ. Mass settings tend to be along the lines of Heritage Mass or Mass of Remembrance (as in, “Remember the Mass of Creation? Yeah, here’s another one.”), also usually played slowly and poorly on a bad organ.

WLP is responding to that clear pastoral need with care and love: a number of these settings are simple and could be sung easily unaccompanied or with the simplest of keyboard or guitar accompaniment. While I love the Mass of St. Ann and the Mass of Awakening, it’s these simple settings: Simplex (Proulx, O’Connor), Grace (Stafford), and Charity & Love (Warner), along with settings like the Psallite and the ICEL Sacramentary Chants (and a few I’m writing!) that I think the Church really needs right now. It’s not quite as exciting for a publisher or composer to do this kind of work, and WLP’s commitment to it speaks volumes about their company.

Another project that represents this servant model of sacred music is the Simple English Propers. Despite Jeffrey Tucker’s unbridled enthusiasm (if you think his blog posts are ecstatic, you should see his personal emails and IMs), at heart this project isn’t really EXCITING. It’s not Rockstar music, in either the Contemporary (Matt Maher) or the Traditionalist (Palestrina) sense. It’s not music that draws attention to itself for it’s beauty or creativity (even though it is beautiful and creative), and (as I understand the behind-the-scenes process) the actual writing of it was a bit grueling. And yet… it might be the most important contribution to English Speaking Catholic music in a generation. Adam Bartlett is a true servant.

My wife attended the Episcopal Youth Event last week (as a chaperon), at which there was a Presbyterian speaker who, quoting someone else, said:

The Church of Jesus Christ is not short on people seeking after power.
The Church of Jesus Christ is short on servants.

We live in a time when people- lay and ordained, traditionalist and progressive- are seeking power over the liturgy. (It has always been so, I imagine). There are petitions against the new translation, attacks on traditional styles of music, attacks on contemporary styles of music, rhetoric against the Tridentine Rite, rhetoric against the Novus Ordo, elitism, exclusionism, nasty blog comments and all manner of rudeness- all these people imposing their limited vision on the Church of Jesus Christ.

Among all of that, and while we will always be “short,” it is heartening to see so many servants: the composers and staff at WLP; the composers, teachers, and volunteers at CMAA; the people at CC Watershed who make digital scans of rare manuscripts (along with countless other projects; Paul Ford and the Collegeville Composers; those who have been writing accompaniments to the ICEL chants; Andrew Hinkley and his 259 pages of square-note transcription

We live in exciting times. God bless you all!

4 thoughts on “Jerry Galipeau Responds & a Servant Model of Composition

  1. Adam;

    I agree with your assesment of WLP and their rise to the top in this effort. Of the three big publishers, they have best created a model for both innovation and adaptation (using technoilogy in particular) going forward. Having followed Jerry’s blog for the past two years, and having spoken with him many times during that period, it is interesting to go back and find that point where there was a definite change in direction… where they seem to have seen the writing on the wall regarding the direction of liturgical music going forward to the new translation and acted accordingly. Since that time, the effort at WLP has been to train and educate in preparation rather than find ways to “get around” the issue of the new translation.

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  3. I completely agree with the point about the 13-family parish. I just got back from my yearly visit to the Catskills, where my parents live for part of the year. The parishes are bigger than 13 families, but still very small and none with the resources to hire full-time musicians. Some can’t afford to pay musicians at all, or (like the priests) a part-time keyboard player covers Masses at three parishes.

    Music for these places, where there is no substitute if the one semi-professional musician is sick, is hard to find.

    Also, where is the music written for choirs consisting of ten senior citizens and one twelve-year-old, none of whom really read music, accompanied by an organ with only three working stops? It might not be exciting to write music for an ensemble like that, but there are MANY places where that is the musical situation.

    After two weeks braving the local Roman parishes and trying not to grimace at the cantor accompanying herself (she’d have done better to just since a cappella), we went to the Ukrainian Catholic parish the third week. The parish is tiny–the building won’t hold more than 100 people (including choir loft). The choir had one really good singer and a bunch of not-so-good ones. But the music was uplifting and glorious! Their chants are simple, the melodies and harmonies don’t differ too much from week to week, and of course it’s all meant to be unaccompanied. Our tiny Roman Catholic parishes could be like that too, if people with compositional talent (which I lack) and publishers care to cater to them.

    I’m glad WLP is giving it a shot.

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