Incoming Links!

I had no idea this has happened, or when it happened, but I was browsing through my Google Analytics this morning and I found out that Six Maddens (a blog about Church Music, not about a half-dozen versions of the worlds most popular football video game) has added me to their blog roll.



Mass Setting Review: Mass of the Sacred Heart, Timothy R. Smith – OCP

Over two months ago I got a nice email from a composer asking me to review a Mass setting he had composed. I told him that I have several “in line” ahead of it, and that I’m very behind (I have not even close to caught up, as you might could tell from the dates on the last few posts here). But, as he sent me recordings (hint, hint for anyone else), I was able to at least listen to them while I did other things. I listened to them right away, just to have them on in the background.

Well, I wrote him back almost immediately and let him know he had just jumped to the head of the review line. Unfortuinately, it has still taken me over two months to sit down and write.

What got my attention almost immediately was the style and the quality.

I grew up on what you’d call “Catholic folk music.” In the 1990s. I loved (almost) every second of it (musically speaking), and even now- as much in love as I have become of other, more “serious” styles- this is the music I come back to again and again in my own devotional life.

Since the first wave of new settings of the new translations started coming out, I started to listening, and writing. And despairing.

The two most inspired settings I have found so far are in styles that remain somewhat foreign to me. Chris Mueller’s amazing choral setting is heavenly, but it isn’t mine. Ed Bolduc’s contemporary “Praise & Worship” setting is also truly awe-inspiring (“GLO-RY!”), but again- as much as I like it, it isn’t really mine.

But there was nothing inspiring about the folk-styled offerings.

I have listened to the new settings from the heroes I grew up wanting to be like: Haas, Haugen, Hurd, Schutte, Walker… I’ve listened to and/or played through almost every single one. I don’t know what’s going on. Perhaps these old singer-songwriters have just run out of musical ideas. Perhaps the (supposed) ideology surrounding the new translation was joy-kill to this company of progressive-minded “pastoral musicians.” Perhaps their market-oriented publishers didn’t give them the time or the freedom to explore new things.

I don’t know.

But what I do know is that every folk-styled setting I have experienced so far has seemed boring, derivative, and devoid of passion. This fact, more than any success on the part of the “Reform of the Reform” crowd was making me hear death knells for the musical style of Catholic childhood.

Ah, but then… Timothy R. Smith writes me an email.

His setting, Mass of the Sacred Heart, is being published (I’m shocked, really) by OCP. My home parish used mostly “Breaking Bread” hymnals growing up, so I got used to having a weird sort-of ambivalence to this publisher: great music guys, now why am I supposed to buy this ugly newsprint thing every year?

So, after a being a little over-the-top in my ranting about their new Mass settings, I’m very pleased (and not as shocked as I made it sound like) that they are publishing this excellent setting. (Side note: I also want to give OCP props for making it so you can purchase and download sheet music on their site. Fantastic!) Now, if only they would promote it a little more or include it in a hymnal.

So, on to the setting.

The style is meditative folk (so to speak, I guess). It is gentle, not boisterous or overhappy. It is accessiblem singable. It is instantly familiar, without feeling old or derivative. I really, really like it.

The play-by-play:

Immediately singable. The unresolved chord at the end is wonderfully evocative. Simple, without being trite. Penitent, without wallowing in guilt.

Refrain-style. This is perhaps a downside- but refrain is excellent. Verses are not out of reach for a congregation, which is my usual big problem with refrain-style Glorias.

The musical stop (da-Da-DA-DA! [break!]) going back into the refrain is just great! But it is different in each verse. The writing works best in vs2. Perhaps using the same writing each time would have made the device more effective.

The accomp motif in the refrain almost as critical as the melody line. It is very nice.

Gospel Acclamations

Musically nice, but a weakness here is that the short “le-lu” of the second alleluia is counter-intuitive, and does not line up with the natural accents of the word. Also, the end of the versicle melody (the quick slured descent on the last syllable) seems a little forced.

Lenten Gospel Acclamation
This is constructed better than the Alleluia, but I find it difficult to want to hear this during Lent.

This is the weakest point in the setting.

Holy Holy
Simple, singable, attractive. Also, blessedly short.

There’s a certain amount of nostalgia and longing that I experience listening to this. I don’t know if it is by design- I can imagine that it is. It may simply be me re-experiencing what it was like to be learning and singing the Mass as a 90’s era Catholic youth. But I do think, at some level, Timothy Smith is trying to help us enter into the mystery of the Eucharist through a certain longing- the longing to return to the heart of God. While there is a danger here of veering too far into the sentimental, for someone of my background (and there are a lot of us, I think) it is very effective.

Memorial Acclamations
Of the three, “Save Us Savior of the World” is my personal favorite, but all three are nice. Again- the sense of nostalgia is very present. They are extremely easy to sing, and a very well suited to their place in the Liturgy.

Straightforward, easy to sing, perfectly suited to the music that preceeded it.

Lamb of God
I’ve always felt that while the “Amen” closes the Eucharistic prayer, the Agnus Dei re-opens the Eucharistic mystery for we who are about to recieve the Body and Blodd (so to speak… really it is nothing like that simple). This setting, particularly the writing in the accompaniment, does an excellent job of propelling the listeners/singers into a meditation on Who has come into their presence.

Final Thoughts
This setting is really lovely. It is certainly not as showy and flashy as (for example) the Mass of St. Anne nor (obviously) is it traditional, except for those who consider the folk-style a “traditional” Catholic musical heritage (hmmm…).

Of the settings I have had the opportunity to review (which is a lot), it is the best “inheritor” of the golden-age of Catholic Folk writing- better, by far, even than the new settings by the composers who set that standard back in the 70s, 80s, and 90s.

While I am an active supporter of the traditional music movement, I have said over and over that what I hope will happen is that the ancient music (chant and polyphony) will become normative again in a way that does not completely displace the music (both individual works and the style generally) that so many of us have come to love and cherish. The problem with the post-concilliar Liturgical reform was not the addition of new things, but the loss of so many old ones. I fear that the dual trends of Praise and Worship music on the one hand and Traditional Sacred Music on the other are increasingly displacing not just music (which comes and goes) but the people who sing and worship with it.

So, as we look forward, and especially as we find ways to “deal with” the New Translation, I’m heartened that there are still some composers who remember the Church that I grew up in.

Ubi Caritas et Amor

For the choral Offertory at my parish this week we’re chanting Ubi Caritas (out of the Parish Book of Chant, BTW). While I love the PBC, I find the translations to be sometimes a bit more distant and decorous than I understand the Latin text to be. As I was trying to explain some of the immediacy and beauty of the original text, one of my choir members suggested that I prepare my own translation for the printed program. I did so, and then I also wrote some “program notes” about the Antiphon. I thought perhaps others outside my own parish may be interested in what I wrote.

The caveat here is that I am by no means a Latin scholar or a degreed theologian. My translation, and the thoughts about the text that follow, were informed by a lot of research and reading (ok… Latin dictionaries and Wikipedia), but are nevertheless the work of an enthusiastic amateur. If you find anything here objectionable or downright wrong, please be quick to correct, but slow to criticize. (Tell me I’m wrong, but don’t tell me I’m stupid.) Comments always welcome.

Here is the original text in Latin:

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.

Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.
Exultemus, et in ipso iucundemur.
Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.

Simul ergo cum in unum congregamur:
Ne nos mente dividamur, caveamus.
Cessent iurgia maligna, cessent lites.
Et in medio nostri sit Christus Deus.

Simul quoque cum beatis videamus,
Glorianter vultum tuum, Christe Deus:
Gaudium quod est immensum, atque probum,
Saecula per infinita saeculorum.

And my translation for the printed program…

Where there is charity and love, there is God.

We are gathered into one, in the love of Christ.
Rejoice, and be exceedingly happy in this!
We fear, and love, the living God,
and from our hearts, we sincerely delight [in each other].

In the same way, therefore, within the congregation:
Do not be of a divided mind. Beware!
Stop your evil arguing. Stop fighting.
And into the midst of us, let Christ-God be.

Then, in the same way as the Blessed Ones (the faithful dead),
and together with them [at the same time],
we shall see your Glorious face, O Christ-God.
Joy! Joy that is exceedingly great and pure, and is for infinite ages upon ages.

And some thoughts about the words, “Caritas et Amor.”

Ubi Caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.

Those of us who know this line are so used to translating it “where there is charity and love, there is God,” that it’s hard to realize that “caritas” doesn’t really mean “charity,” at least not as we usually mean it today. “Charity” was the word used in the King James Bible (and other translations) for the Latin “caritas,” which is the Greek “Agape.” Another common Anglican translation for the idea is “loving-kindness.” It is a deep, sincere, and intimate love that has God alone as its source. The early Christians refered to the Eucharistic celebration as the “Agape meal,” and when Paul says that “Love is patient, love is kind,” he is using that same word. Indeed, the most famous verse of Scripture, “For God so loved the world, that He gave is only begotten Son…” (Jn 3:16) uses the word “Agape.”

So what about “amor,” then? Also, “love.” But our conventional sensibilties usually stop us from discussing the fact that “amor” is the Latin translation of the Greek, “Eros,” the root of our modern word “erotic.” This is love, “in the flesh,” just as surely as Jesus is God “in the flesh.” Amor, or Eros, is passionate, fiery, and bold. The ancient Greeks thought of it as “madness from the gods.” Plato, though, gave us the conception that formed the medieval poet who wrote this text: Eros (Amor) is the all-engulfing realization that the pains of desire are a longing for wholeness and oneness. In our broken
world, the desire of Eros is often poisoned with a desire to possess the object of Love. But in the classical and Christian understanding, Eros is the need, felt body and soul, to unite intimately with God, to “reach Wisdom without possessing Her.”

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.

Language is a reflection of the culture and society that is its source. It is not surprising, then, that there is no good way to translate this short truth into modern American English. Perhaps we might say:

Where there is love heaped upon love, where love is deep and sincere and all-encompassing, where love is passionate and bold, where love is true, where love is good and pure, where love is self-sacrificing and intimate and wholly unselfish, where love is unconquerable, where love is infinite and grand and humble, where love is glorious and overwhelming, where love makes us complete, where love calls us to service and justice, where love is the source of all we say and do, where love can not fail, where love is the greatest of all things, where love is stronger than death- where you find this love, there you have found God.

The problem with the problem with “And with your spirit.”

The new English translation of the Roman Missal is not without problems. There is much to recommend about it, and much to be concerned over. While I have chosen, after some early hesitation, to be a supporter (in my limited way), I have no doubt that most of those who feel called to publicly speak about their concerns are doing so sincerely.

However, I find some of their tactics (if you can call them that) and specific issues of concern to be seriously unhelpful generally, and (in some cases) particularly harmful to the cause of progressivism and liberality (a cause generally supported by critics of the new translation).

The type of frequently-raised issue that concerns me the most is the raising of conern over “too literal” Latin translations of specific phrases. I’m not talking about the stilted rhythm of translated Latin grammar, sometimes found in the Collects, Prefaces, and other longer prayers.

I’m talking about the phrase which has almost come to define the translation saga:

And with your spirit.

The problem raised is never bad translation or stilted poetry, but rather theology, ecclesiology, and (something like) pastoral sensitivity. “We don’t really think of (whatever) that way, so we shouldn’t translate it that way.”

This came up (yet again) in a recent Table Article:

But it [Eucharistic catechesis] does not supply a convincing reason why, for instance, “and with your spirit” is a better reply to “the Lord be with you” than the present form, “and also with you”. In the absence of any explanation for that and similar linguistic infelicities, people will feel bemused and no doubt somewhat irritated.

(BTW: “infelicity” is an odd word choice to describe literally faithful translation).

The writer here, and many other similar critics, act as if there needs to be a better reason than “that’s what the Latin says” in order to translate this very simple phrase. And others have argues that the new translation doesn’t really match present thinking in the Church about something.

But there’s a real problem with that: How exactly can you (sanely) argue that “the Church” doesn’t really think or beleive something that is said over and over in its ritual prayers for two millenia?

They argue that way because in the back of their minds (or the front, sometimes) they know or suspect that “And with your spirit” is related to a certain brand of clericalism which they decry, and which they think the Church has or should have moved away from.

But this is a serious tactical error on the part of progressivism.

By claiming that fidelity to the official Latin text is not a good enough reason to translate something, by demanding a well-thought-out theological rationale for this phrase, the critics are forcing the conservative defenders to spell out exactly what the liberals feared: an ultra-orthodox, cleric-centered justification for “And with your spirit.”

The progressives have then ceded control of the conversation, letting the traditionalists and reformers of the reform set the agenda for interpreting what the Mass is and what it is about.

Imagine you are asking a wise old Buddhist to explain some point of his doctrine, which you know little about. The old man speaks only Chinese, and you do not- so you brought along two interpreters who know Chinese very well and also practice Buddhism.

The old man says that the wisdom is just like a… a something. The two translators each say a different thing. One translates the word as “flower.” Wisdom is like a flower. The other says that the old man said wisdom is like a weed. You ask the old man to explain the saying, but he just smiles and shrugs.

You ask the first translator to explain. “Wisdom,” he says, “is like a flower because it is beautiful. It is good for looking at, but it dies very quickly.”

You ask the second translator to explain. “Wisdom is like a weed,” he says, “because it is everywhere. Always right where you don’t want it. And it is impossible to kill.”

While you’re pondering which of these ideas is true, the old Chinese master leans forward and says in English, “the word I said was flower. Weed is a very bad translation.”

Now, he could have meant that Wisdom is like a flower because they come in lots of different colors. He could have meant that they keep blooming no matter how many times you prune them back. Or that flowers and Wisdom are both useless. Or hard to cultivate. Or any number of things which could have mirrored or diverged from the philosophy of either translator.

But who’s interpretation are you now going to think is “right?”

And what if the seond interpreter tried to justify himself by saying, “Yes, well. Buddhists used to teach that Wisdom died quickly because the Buddha didn’t want us to attend to temporal things. But now, after the cultural shifts of the last 50 years, in response to changing attitudes towards Buddhism among the young, in English we translate the word to ‘weed’ because it better expresses are modern tend away from elitism and alienation.”

The old master repeats himself, “The word is flower. In India, flower. In Japan, flower. Vietnam, Korea, flower. And English-speaking Buddhists who split off 400 years ago- they also say flower.”

The old man still hasn’t interpreted the proverb for you – two lesser minds have offered their understanding. They could both be wrong. They could both be right. But, what would you think was the truest interpretation of the proverb’s meaning?

What about if you got an encyclopedic dictionary of Chinese linguistic history, and found out that the word the old man used definitely means “flower,” and has never, in history, been used to mean “weed.” And then, just for good measure, did a little more research and found out that the original proverb in Sanskrit also used the word, “flower.” And then you found out that translating the word into “weed” was started by a committee in the 1960s, many members of whom weren’t even Buddhists. What would your opinion be about the second translator, and his statement on what Buddhists beleive about Wisdom.

If progressives want their theological ideas to survive and influence the thinking of future generations of Catholics- whether about the nature of God, the Church, the priesthood, or anything else- they cannot yoke those ideas to a translation which was clearly incorrect in reference to the original.

And clearly, the incorrect ICEL version is not required in order to have a progressive understanding of the Mass or Liturgy. Every philosophical and theological position possible, from extreme orthodox to damn heretic, exists among every liturgical-language groups, including those who only ever experienced Mass in Latin. Progressivism is not unique to English-speaking Novus Ordo folks.

Those who have a problem with the way conservatives and neo-trads are doing liturgical theology these days need to come to terms with the new translation, especially with those sections where it is the most faithful to the Latin, and they need to find a way to ground their theology ever more firmly in the original and authentic prayer texts of the Church.

Curating Sacred Music

One of the wonderful things about the digital revolution is the almost obscene abundance of content.

One of the most frustrating things about the digital revolution is the almost obscene abundance of content.

How many recipes does a person need for Chocolate Chip Cookies? I’m pretty sure the answer is somewhat less than two and a half million.

Similarly, how many individual pieces of church music does a music director need? Whatever that number is (a few hundred, maybe?) it is a tiny drop in the ocean of what is available. Even if you were to limit your choices to a particular style, like traditional sacred polyphony or Anglican choral music or early American Protestant hymnody or punk-rock praise band devotionals… using nothing but free scores off the internet you could probably go a year or two without repeating a piece.

So where does one even start?

We need some help here. We need someone to help us through this glut of abundance. The secular world’s digital philosophers have been talking about this problem for a while, and have coalesced on a job description (or at least a title) for the required role: Curator.

We need curators.

A curator helps set standards for what is good and useful. They are the sherpas up the mountain of content. Some accuse curators with censorship (they didn’t include X, they must be Y!), but I rather think they serve the opposite of censorship- they give freedom to information by providing it enough room to have it’s voice heard. They do not supress anything, but only highlight some things; anything else you might want is still available, and probably more accessible by virtue of the network of connections from the surfaced items to the deep storehouse down below.

The major publishing companies purport to be curators, through their hymnal editorship and their general publishing ethos. In some cases, they do an excellent job (see WLP’s approach to new Mass settings), and sometimes they do a not-so-good job (see your least favorite mainline hymnal). But regardless, even with the best intentions, the major publishers have a bit of a conflict of interest, because they are not just curators but also creators. You might also have issues with their liturgical agenda or their approach to Church music generally, but it’s that central conflict of interest that makes them bad curators, not their various philosophies and approaches.

In fact, good curators need to have an approach, a philosophy. It doesn’t need to be MY approach or YOUR philosophy. They just need to have one which is consistent and clear. If you’re looking for the best music from the Early American tradition, it’s not going to do you much good to consult the help of a curator who believes that the only two styles of music appropriate to liturgy are Gregorian Chant and Polyphony. On the other hand, if you agree with that stance, or (regardless of your opinion) find yourself having to plan music for an Extraordinary Form Solemn High Pontifical Mass, that’s probably exactly the person you want to be talking to.

I’m sad to report that I have not yet found a good curator for either contemporary (pop/rock/folk) liturgical music (maybe that’ll be me eventually?) or for traditional Protestant hymnody (Oremus is trying, but it’s disorganized and somewhat arbitrary). If either of those genres is going to survive a widespread Reform of the Reform (which may or may not happen anyway), we need curators to help bring the cream to the top.

I’m happy to say, though, that in the realm of traditional Catholic sacred music, there are a handful of quite stellar efforts either completed or in the works which will seriously advance the cause of high quality music for every parish.

First, let’s not ignore what might be the greatest work of music curatorship ever undertaken: the Graduale Romanum (current and predecessors). Hundreds of chants spanning centuries of practice, organized and arranged by days, seasons, and liturgical function. Eat your heart out, OCP planning guide!

Moving to more contemporary efforts, the Parish Book of Chant has been an overwhelming success. It brings together orders for sung Mass (in both forms) and an amazingly rich corpus of (congregational participation friendly) Gregorian chant hymns. I will never again have to search through five books and a dozen websites trying to find an easy to read edition of Pange Lingua. I will never have to wonder, “What other old chant hymns should I look at?”

I understand the PBC has sold over 12,000 copies. Just astonishing. You can buy your copy here, or download it for free.

A less well known, but almost as important, curatorship effort is underway in the form of Noel Jones’s Catholic Choir Book series.

Have you ever tried searching for new (to you) Anthems and Motets? CPDL is great if you know what you’re looking for, but otherwise its a shot in the dark. Catalogs tell you nothing. A music store (assuming you can find one with a good sacred choral section) is usually a headache-inducing exercise in trying to judge a book by its cover. Those nice choral subscription packets from the major publishers are about as informative as a politician’s press release. So what do you do? Most people end up doing stuff they already know, and (by complete chance) they run across a new worthwhile piece at a conference or convention (inevitably too hard for your home choir), or while visiting another parish.

But the Catholic Choir Book has made that whole process a breeze. Noel, who seems to know every piece of church music ever written, has chosen some of the best choral pieces from the Roman and Anglican traditions and made them available in a superbly edited series of collections (plus an anthology). The music has been vetted for use in NORMAL parish choirs. It is musically solid and theologically sound. There are a handful of feast-day-specific pieces, but the majority of the music is general purpose texts of Praise, Eucharistic Adoration, or Marian devotional. This makes the collection an excellent resource when you just need something appropriate and easy to learn. Some pieces are a bit of a challenge, but not outside the realm of possibility for a hard-working director and a team of committed amateurs. There are a variety of scorings, from solo to double-mixed, with a healthy dose of standard SATB and SSA. (Public note to Noel: more SAB would be very useful. I’m sure I’m not the only choir director short on men.)

You can buy your copy, or download it for free, here.

I expect to see more and more of this kind of sacred music curatorship happening in the near future. If the secular world is any indication, we’ll eventually need curators for the curators. CC Watershed, for example, will be releasing a new hymnal vey shortly. And the Musica Sacra forums act as a sort of curatorship-on-the-run clearinghouse as musicians from across the English (and sometimes Spanish) speaking world share literature, reasearch, and new material.

I remember thinking when I was a teenager that movies today should be the best in all time, because movie-makers are able to do all the things they did in the past (when the best movies were made) plus all sorts of new things, either because of new technology or because of a relaxation of censorship. Alas, there will never be a movie as perfect as Casablanca. Just because something should be the case, doesn’t mean it is.

We have a similar situation in church music. We have access to EVERYTHING, from the riches of the Renaissance to the gems of contemproary writing. For the first time in the history of Western Sacred music, anything is truly possible.

With the help of curators, our music programming can be a small taste of the Kingdom of God, as we bring out of our storehouse treasures both old and new.

Shaker Mass Update

I’m almost finished with my new Mass setting inspired by Shaker chants and spirituals.
Few noteworthy things:

Open Letter to GIA

Dear GIA:

Despite our best efforts, some of us music directors do not plan our repertoire far enough in advance to wait for shipping. I’m sure I’m not the only one who would gladly pay 2 or 3 times the price of a printed copy in order to get a PDF download. Since that would not require printing or shipping, the margin on that purchase would be remarkably higher.

Music is information. Music is not paper. Information moves at the speed of light.

Adam Wood

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!

Reviews of Mass Settings with New Translations – WLP’s New Settings

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.

(GIA settings here, and OCP settings here).

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.”

Sacred Music Pricing

I recently reviewed a wonderful new Mass setting by Chris Mueller, which he is self-publishing and selling on his own website for $75.

This sounds really high, right?

Well- except that you’re getting digital content which you are free to print and copy at your leisure. A score for a Mass setting from a mainstream publisher would cost significantly less, but (to stay legal) you’d need to buy multiple copies: one for every choir member (which is probably a lot if you have the kind of choir that would be doing Chris’s mass setting) plus your conductor score and (probably) and organist copy.

This brings up an important issue in Sacred Music publishing today… how do price/sell/distribute your work today?

Let’s look at the facts.

  • A vast amount of traditional sacred music is available for free from sites like the Choral Public Domain Library and the Jean LaLande Rare Books Library
  • A new generation of passionate revolutionaries (which is likely to grow) is writing new sacred music in a variety of styles and giving it away for free, for a host of reasons (which are unlikely to go away) and distributing that music using a host of technologies (which are becoming cheaper and easier to use every day)
  • Consumers of sacred music are increasingly reliant on these free resources and expectant that everything should or could be free
  • Consumers of sacred music have less money than they’ve had for a long time:
    • We’re still in a down economy, and giving is down
    • The New Translation of the Roman Missal is causing many Catholic parishes to spend their already limited music budgets on new mass settings, new hymnals, and other new ritual books.
  • Mainstream publishers seem unwilling to adapt to either the changing ethos of music distribution or to the new wave of liturgical and musical traditionalism

Some Options

Traditional Publishing. If you can manage to get noticed and welcomed into the fold at a mainstream publisher, you have the advantage of a larger distribution network (probably), and you don’t have to spend (as much of) your own time promoting and marketing your own work. You also don’t have to figure out things like e-commerce websites or cross-state sales tax.

The problem I see with this approach is that you effectively cede control of your work to a commercial organization which may choose to promote your work, or not. They might change your text or arrangements (without your permission) to fit either their commerical agenda (guitar music sells better) or their corporate theology (apparently “Master” is too conservative a descriptor for God). And they might simply stop printing your music altogether.

On the other hand, the advantages of the support system offered by a mainstream publisher are undeniable: more people singing your music, less work on your part. Additionally, it’s a little disingenuous of the Traditional Sacred Music folks to bemoan the lack of high quality literature among the “Big Three” publishers while at the same time declaring that they would never choose to work with them.

Ultimately, though, this is hardly an important issue, as most of us won’t ever have the opportunity to publish with GIA, OCP, WLP, or even a smaller publisher like LitPress, even if we wanted to. I suspect most “I don’t believe in Mainstream Publishing” ideologues would sign a contract if it was offered, especially if it was clearly going to expand the composer’s reach and/or wallet. I’m pretty sure I would.

Self-Publish and Sell. This is the option taken by my new friend Chris Mueller. All of his choral scores are available on his own website. This gives him a great deal of control over his music, but it also limits his distribution in at least two ways:

  1. Not being in a quarterly catalog or in the “You Might Also Like” sidebar (advantages of mainstream publishing) means that potential buyers are only going to find his music based on his direct or indirect efforts. That’s great if you can catch the attention of a famous reviewer of new Mass settings, but what if your stuff just doesn’t quite fit the tastes of the handful of well-read liturgical blogs?
  2. Having your music available on your own website puts it (psychologically, for the buyer) into the same category as other micro-publishing intiatives, many of which give music away for free. If you look like a duck, quack like a duck, but cost a lot more than a duck- who’s buying you? This can be overcome if your music is so ridiculously good that it’s obviously worth it (Chris Mueller falls into that category, as does Kevin Allen), but
    1. Most of us don’t write music THAT good.
    2. I suspect it still is a hindrance to sales.

Most Sacred Musicians are not particularly business savvy, so things like marketing and sales (not to mention the complexities of setting a website and handling e-commerce) may be daunting. But for excellent composers with a bit of moxie, this can turn out to be a lucrative (relatively speaking) way to go.

Just Give it Away. This is my preferred method, primarily because I’d prefer to have a few people actually singing my music, rather than a smaller few paying for it. My assumption is that I will never make enough money as a composer for it to matter that I made any money as a composer. I don’t know if that’s downplaying my own abilities, or just being realistic about the fact that between my day job, my church job, and my regular life, I’m lucky if I write six new short pieces in a year (including arrangements and hymn-texts).

Moreover, there’s a lot of people (I like to think I’m one of them) who simply feel that the Church needs good new music, and they want to provide it as a service free of charge. I have to admit, when I finish a piece which I feel is worthy of being used in liturgy in a way that would give glory to God and comfort to God’s people, I have a hard time following up that feeling with, “And nobody should be allowed to use or photocopy this work without paying me.” I get all the justice issues and fair wage issues, but I think that only applies when using other people’s work, not when figuring out what to do with your own. That is- you should respect the intellectual property rights of others, but you shouldn’t seek to restrict your own.

The problem with giving music away is: How do you sustain/support a life dedicated to the creation of new music? It’s all well and good for me to declare that I don’t care if I ever make money on my composition- I have a day job, and composition is not high on my “employable skills” list. I wasn’t “born to write,” so I don’t think of composition in terms of supporting myself, my wife, and our future (God willing) children. Clearly, though, there are others (I mentioned both Kevin Allen and Chris Mueller) who are obviously called to be composers of Sacred Music. These people need to find a way to make sure that they can sustain their lives while devoting their time to the creation of music (they both seem to be doing well with that, by the way). Those in that situation are less likely able to give their music away, and if they were to do so, would need to find either patronage or related-work.

Freemium, or The Mixed Model Of course, you don’t have to be all in one way or another. I think, for micro-publishers the Mixed Model is probably the most sensible from a business standpoint.

The “Freemium” model is where some things (of usable value) are given away, while other things (of higher value) are reserved for paying customers. This is different than the “Free Sample” model of advertising, where unusable or barely usable things are given away in order to draw attention. Freemium gives away enough that many users are able to realize significant value without paying. This is good for PR, it’s good for Karma (or whatever), and it’s a way to be ideologically in the “give it all away for free” camp while reaping the benefits of actually selling things. In fact, I dare say that in most instances, you are likely to make more money in a Freemium model than in one where everything costs money.

The Freemium model is all over the place in modern business, because the cost of technology and content delivery is so low. (If you have a Pandora, Skype, or GMail account, you’ve experienced Freemium). A few examples in the Sacred Music world:

  • Noel Jones uses the Freemium model for his Catholic Choir Book series. All the material in the book is available for free, but you can also purchase “real” copies. Clearly, some see a value in that. Others (me!) can’t afford the hard copies and get a lot of use out of the free PDF version.
  • CCWatershed publishes a ridiculously large (and ever expanding) treasure trove of free music: Psalm Responses, Gregorian Propers, Gospel Acclamations, Rare Manuscripts, Latin Ordinaries. But they also offer materials for purchase, like this fabulous polyphonic Kyrie. They have built a fan base which has seen the high quality of their free output, and are able to leverage that goodwill into sales of premium content. (It also helps that everyone knows that the proceeds from sales get put back into the orgainization so that CCW can provide even more free resources int he future.)

What to do?

There are a lot of real strong opinions all over the Internet (shocking!) about what other people should do with their work, their money, their time. I think making declarations about what is the good or right way to do these things is arrogant at best. I can offer only some suggestions, gleened from my observations in the Sacred Music world and my experience in the Secular world of internet business and marketing.

I think it’s vitally important that composers realize what their options are, and think through the consequences of their decisions, particularly decisions that can’t be taken back (like putting a work into the public domain or signing away rights to a publishing company).

Beyond that, I think composers need to do the thing that will allow the most people to hear/sing the most amount of their music. For me, giving it away for free is the best way to get more people to use it. For others, charging some amount would allow them the financial resources to write more music, increasing the relative impact of their gifts on the world. The balance of free vs. not free, and the distribution/marketing/sales channels are going to be different for each, but that is the best judgement criteria I can come up with: what makes the most music.

I’m sure a more thoughtful reader will come up with a better philosophy here.

Learn More

The secular world has been dealing with these issues in a much more robust way than the Sacred Music world has. While not all lessons are transferable, I highly recommend learning from what they have been talking about. Two excellent places to start:


What do you think is the best way forward for pricing and distribution of Sacred Music? Do you think mainstream publishing is on it’s way out? Is the “Give it away Free” model killing composers?