Finally, the long awaited conclusion to my series of reviews of new settings of the new translations of the Ordinary from the “Big Three” publishers.
Unknowingly, I saved the best for last.
Please note, I have only been looking at new settings, not revised settings. Also, (for the sake of disclosure) please note that WLP was the only major publisher to actually reach out to me and send me scores and so forth. I believe, however, that my more positive view of their offerings was not influenced by them being nice to me.
Links to all of WLP’s New and Revised Mass Settings can be found here.
(There’s something wrong with the styling on that page, and if someone sends me a corrected link, I will update here.)
So here we go…
Mass of Grace – Lisa Stafford
I’ve been looking forward to this setting ever since Jeffrey Tucker mentioned it in our interview. It is chant-inspired (Diet Chant!), which is, right out the gate, a good thing in my view.
The Kyrie is simple and straight-forward, if a little boring. That last point is not really a criticism, since I have yet to hear a Kyrie that was both “exciting” and actually appropriate.
This setting includes a setting of the Asperges Me, which is pretty outstanding in and of itself. It’s not amazing, but it’s nice and it’s easy to sing.
There are two (musically related) settings of the Gloria, one with a refrain and one through composed. This is a fantastic idea. Also, this is the first (yes, the first) refrain-style setting of the new Gloria text I have heard that I actually liked. It’s very nice, and the Psalm-tone-like verses are excellently set down. The through-composed setting I do not care for as much, but it is certainly not bad at all- and the perusal score make an amazig sugestion: try singing it antiphonally. What a wonder.
Since I have received a bit of criticism of my reviewing methodology after the GIA and OCP posts, I have actually taken more time to listen and read-through this score (and the rest of them), so I actually am familiar with every movement of this setting. But I have to say about the same thing for each movement: Nice. Nice. Decent. Not amazing, but nice. The strength of this setting is not that Lisa Stafford is a fantstic composer (she might be, I have no idea). This is not incredible, amazing music. It is good music- strong, sturdy, easy to sing, easy to learn (that is mentioned all over the marketing material), and is intended to adhere closely to the ritual needs of a contemporary, but solemn, vernacular Mass with a congregation that wants to sing. It can done unaccompanied (my preference), or with either an organ or piano- this means it could serve as a common setting at a parish with three or four different “styled” Masses on the Sunday schedule, and even at a daily Mass without an accompanist.
(Side note: Given the simplicity of the accompaniment, I rather think chord symbols would have been easy to add and helpful for some congregations. Also, what I’d really like to hear from this setting would be a choir singing the written accompaniment without instruments (it’s mostly homophonic) which the congregation sings the melody. I think that would be lovely.)
It is solemn without being boring, easy without being trite, chant-like without being foreign. This setting is exactly what many Catholic parishes need right now.
Mass of Awakening – Scott Soper
So- this is really cool… The CD (and website sales page) for this setting includes two recordings of every movement: One labeled “Traditional Style,” the other labeled “Contemporary Style.” Just from a marketing standpoint, this is brilliant. Now, of course- they mean something different by “Traditional Style” than I do. I would mean unaccompanied chant, they mean organ and big choir (and handbells and brass), as opposed to piano/guitar/winds/ensemble (Contemporary Style). Still- this is really great as it shows the different options available, and also shows how a single Mass setting can “unite” a parish with differing musical forces/styles at different parishes. (I have heard that the reason Mass of Creation was so successful is that it was written intentionally to be ensemble-size flexible.)
(Side note to the producer of the “Contemporary Style” tracks: A bit more sustain pedal on the piano would have been more authentic. Also… I don’t think anyone plays guitar like that.)
I like this setting.
The Kyrie is musically intersting, contemporary in style, and appropriate to the liturgical action at this point in the Mass. It is chant-ish in its melodic structure, and very singable.
I really like the Gloria. It is refrain-style (I know, know… that’s a downer for some of you), but the refrain is actually worth singing several times over, and each verse is scored differently in a way that makes musical sense to separate them the way a refrain does (like a classical use of the ritornello. I particularly like the change in modality in verse 2.
The Gospel Acclamation is musically very nice, although I (personally) prefer a bit less to-do for the Gospel Acclamation (I program unaccompanied settings exclusively in my parish work). The Sanctus is also very good. I usually pull away from elaborate (over-scored, overly festive) settings of the Sanctus, because they usually seem foreign to the Eucharistic Prayer. I’m thinking my reaction there may be tied to the length of the piece (syllabic setting and tempo) and also the length of the introduction (how long from “this hymn of praise” to the hymn of praise actually being sung). I say that because I don’t get that discomfort with this setting, even though it is very “done up,” both in its writing and in its scoring/recording. Even with all the exciting goings-on, the singing is straightforward and the piece moves right along. The same thing could be said for the other acclamations and the Amen.
The Lamb of God is nice, and I particularly like the choral writing in the response, but I wish it was scored that way the first and last time as well. This setting (like many others) includes an option of using many Christological invocations in place of “Lamb of God,” a practice which is specifically disallowed. Interestingly, though (and unintentionally, I imagine) this setting provides a way to follow the rule (only say “Lamb of God”) while dealing with the reality of needing to make the Agnus Dei last for a longer period of time: the 2nd and following invocations have a slightly different melody than the first and last. This provides a musical clue that we have, indeed, arrived at the last repetition.
Overall, I really like this setting. It is absolutely contemporary in style (Folk-born Contemporary Catholic… not Contemporary like P&W), so my traditionalist readers will just want to skip on by this one. Also (and I think this is true of a lot of “big” settings) this setting is very “festival,” if that makes sense to you, and I think it’s energy might be a bit much for Sunday-after-Sunday use throughout a long season. I might only program it (for example) during for the Christmas season, the Easter Season, or perhaps the Ordinary Time between Christmas and Easter.
But this is one of the best (maybe the best) contemporary-styled settings I have heard. So those of you (like me) who love Catholic Contemporary music, but are increasingly frustrated by the trite, the banal, the childish, and are looking for a shining example of excellent music in this genre- this is the Mass setting for you.
Thank you Scott Soper!
Missa Simplex – Michael O’Connor, O.P. (inspired by Gloria Simplex by Richard Proulx)
Yet another excellent setting from WLP.
It’s hard to really talk too specifically about the individual movements of this setting, as they all sound very similar- they are each based on the same single piece of music, and so the same melodies, the same harmonies, the same phrasings get used over and over. The upshot of that is sort of the opposite of my GIA favorites: a setting that works very well in an actual liturgy but makes a horrible car-ride CD. (BTW: That’s how it is supposed to be.)
This is a wonderful setting that is also chant-inspired and yet contemporary. It is through-composed, rather than Psalm-tone-like (although there is a fair amount of what I would call recitative. The melodic material is not chant, though- it is folk. I think this is a very good thing: it brings the practical aspect of chant (good for public prayer, good for prose texts), without the alienating foreignness of the modes and typical Gregorian melodies. (I know that’s a big down-side for my chant-loving friends). The text setting is excellent, which should be more normal (don’t most of these composers speak English?) but sadly is somewhat rare.
This is a really wonderful setting, and I think would serve well in most parishes. I particularly think that a Music Director who is trying to move a typical parish toward more solemn Mass music, but does not (or can not) plan to go all-Gregorian, would find this an excellent step in the right direction, or even a decent place to stay for a while. Also, I think this setting is durable enough to last for a long season (OT from after Ascension to Advent) without wearing out its welcome.
We were all saddened by Richard Proulx’s death last year. This setting is a wonderful tribute to his legacy.
Mass of Wisdom – Steven Janco
The recordings of this setting also offer both a contemporary and a traditional orchestration. So apparently this is part of a wider-campaign on WLP’s part to be awesome and useful. (In contrast to some other publishers, which are frequently neither.)
The Kyrie has two options: one with invocations and one without. Most settings do one or the other, but not both- so that’s a plus right there. Also (like most of WLP’s settings) both English and Greek are provided in the score. The Kyrie sounds oddly familiar (in a good way), and is both contemporary and simple. I can’t imagine using the provided scoring for woodwinds in a Mass (I just feel like maybe the Kyrie should be a bit more subdued), but the writing there is really nice and would sound wonderful if you chose to use it.
The Sprinkling Rite music (The Waters of the River) is excellent. It’s fun, it’s full, and I think would be easy to learn and perform. I think it would be well-liked. It’s choral, American-sounding (contemporary white Gospel) with a soloist singing verses over a SATB refrain (which the congregation is supposed to sing along with, although I’m not sure about that). I don’t think, though, that it makes a lot of sense to use it for its intended purpose. Unlike most of the other parts of the (OF) Ordinary, the liturgical action at this point is not “singing or speaking the given text,” but rather the sprinkling itself- the singing being an accompaniment/enhancement to that action. For this reason, I’m not sure a piece of music which draws as much attention to itself as this one does would be appropriate here. However, I could see using this piece as a choral anthem or as a general song of praise.
“In response to more than a few requests, and drawing upon my own experience as a parish music director, I’ve written a through-composed Gloria.”
I love that his reason is not “That’s what you’re supposed to do” (which is basically true), but rather “because it’s demonstrably better, and also people like it,” which is just awesome. The setting itself is really neat. It’s also very large. Even if you were to strip away all the scoring (which you’d almost certainly do in a normal parish on a normal Sunday), it has a big, concert-feeling just to the melody alone. When you add in everything else that you could, it’s one of the best big-contemporary-festival-Cathedral-concert settings (for lack of a better word) I’ve seen, and it reminds me of Rutter’s more exberant pieces. This is the sort of setting I really want to hear on Christmas or Easter morning. I’m unsure about how I would feel about even a stripped-down version on a week-after-week basis. I think it would depend a lot on the musical-culture of the parish generally (I’m sure any parish that had Steven Janco as its music director would be into it).
The Gospel Acclamation is excellent as music, but it’s more like music for a Gospel Parade than for a Gospel Procession. (I mentioned earlier my preferences on that.)
The Holy Holy, while very exciting to listen to (and probably a lot of fun to sing), is just way too much- too long, too complicated- for its liturgical function. My impression here is that the Eucharistic Prayer (perhaps the most important series of words ever spoken) is being interrupted by a concert piece. The other acclamations are disturbing in a similar way, and the Amen is almost frightening. The Lamb of God is not as bad, but it’s getting there.
Musically, I like this setting, but I have strong reservations about it’s use in normal parish life. Unfornately, I don’t think anyone out there is doing Contemporary-styled Concert Masses, as I think that would be the best venue for this work. But if you really like it, my advice: use the Kyrie and do something else for the rest of the Ordinary. Save the Gloria for Christmas morning (and hire an orchestra).
Mass of Charity and Love – Steven C. Warner
This setting is based on the hymn-tune CHRISTIAN LOVE by Paul Benoit. I wish that hymn has been included with the Mass in the recordings and score. (Oh well).
The Kyrie is simple, stright-forward, and a little boring. But it’s also solemn and easy to sing, so no complaints there. It is given without any invocations (my preference, BTW).
The Gloria is alright but not great, and the text setting is a bit weird in a few places. I think the melodic material is perhaps not that well suited to the structure of the prayer.
There is no Gospel Acclamation included- which is really more “right,” as the Gospel Alleluia (or Tract in Lent) is actually part of the Proper, not the Ordinary, of the Mass. (I don’t think most Catholic musicians know that, which is pretty sad.)
The Sanctus is similarly uninspired, and again the text setting is tough (“Blessed” as a single-syllable… no). The rest of the acclamations and the Agnus Dei have the same problem. I think perhaps I just don’t like the original hymn-tune.
(Update: That’s actually not the case. Apparently, the tune is based on the Gregorian hymn Veni Redemptor Gentium, which is really nice.)
Overall- this Mass just sort of bores me.
Mass of St. Ann – Ed Bolduc
While there are a number of “Contemporary” settings available, most of them are folk-based-Catholic (which isn’t exactly contemporary). This is the first I’ve seen (are there others?) which is specfically in the Praise & Worship style (which is actually Contemporary). I think if word of this setting gets out, it will become very popular.
The Kyrie (free of invocations) is very nice. The composer has found a way to be meditative within the pop style and the result is very prayerful.
Once again, the Gloria is given in a refrain-style setting and a through-composed setting. The writing here is just very exciting (I think the P&W crowd uses the word “uplifting”). Given the specific needs/habits of the P&W crowd, I imagine the refrain-setting would be more useful. Thankfully, the refrain here is actually worth singing four times. Also, I have to comment on the text setting: I was not at all sure that this new translation would fit contemporary styled-music very well. Mr. Bolduc does an excellent job with this, it sounds completely natural and idiomatic to the genre.
The Gospel Acclamation is (as with most of these) a bit much for its liturgical use. I think it would be more than excellent, though, repurposed as a general song of praise. (And introduce a Gregorian Alleluia into your LifeTeen Mass… they’ll love it… trust me.)
The Sanctus is weird to me. I could get over my usual thing about over-done Sanctuses (Sancti?), but this is one is just… I don’t know… odd. Perhaps, it’s actually a bit too short for its style (P&W music usually goes on and on with a lot of repeats). Perhaps it’s the out-of-character 16th-note pickups to “Hosanna.” I think the ending is also very abrupt. Whatever it is, it’s just not quite working for me.
On the other hand, the other acclamations are musically very nice, and (in the context of the style) work very well. I particularly like the melody and I find it to be very singable. However, the Amen is just too much. Way too much.
The Lamb of God is nice, but a bit generic-sounding as compared to the first two movements and the Mystery of Faith acclamations.
If you’re not into the style, or think it’s not appropriate for Mass, this review hardly matters to you. For the rest of you: this setting is very promising. I think the Kyrie and the Gloria are excellent, and if I was running doing music for a P&W-styled Mass, I would definitely use them. I’d hate to lose the Mystery of Faith acclamations, but I think I would look for a different setting of the Eucharistic Prayer sections (or write something myself designed to fit, so I could use the part I like here). I could take or leave the Agnus Dei, depending on if something better was available.
Several people mentioned that WLP’s settings were the best of the Big Three. That certainly turned out to be true.
WLP embraces a diversity of styles within Catholic liturgical music. GIA and OCP do also, but the new Mass-setting offerings (and the hymnal output) from OCP and GIA has made me quite worried about even the idea of contemporary liturgical music. WLP has restored my belief in the possibility and power of diversity within the unity of the Roman Rite.
I know nothing at all about the goings-on or the motivations behind the decision making at any of these publishers, but I get a sense from their output that OCP and GIA are committed to “diversity” and contemporary music styles because of their perception of market demand, while WLP is committed to diversity (no scare-quotes) and contemporary styles because of an actual belief in catholicity. I think they really “mean it.”