Thanks to the snow storm, I was able to spend a couple of hours at the Cathedral today practicing. After some more technical exercises, I started flipping through the hymnal and improvising on different tunes. Marty Haugen’s ‘Gather Us In’ is an up-tempo tune that is more often associated with piano and guitars than the organ. I decided to slow it down and spice it up a bit for a more relaxing prelude style piece. Enjoy!
During a wedding consultation this week, a bride asked to record her selection for the entrance procession in order to play it for her mother. Rather than have her record just the audio, I quickly set up my mini-tripod and made a video. The aisle at the Cathedral is rather lengthy, so this is a popular choice for weddings here. I could have done more with the registration, and you don’t catch all the differences because I’m recording near the front organ, but I’m happy to share this impromptu performance of a popular work.
As someone who was raised in a Protestant church, one of my first impressions of the Catholic Mass was how much stayed the same every week. There were no printed worship aids at the first Catholic churches I attended, but everyone knew exactly what was next and all the proper responses. I was amazed! At first, this seemed a little rigid and monotonous to me, but as I spent more time worshiping with Catholics and studying Church documents, I came to discover the rich variety that is possible in the celebration of Mass.
The General Instructions of the Roman Missal (GIRM) provide the basic instructions for how we are to celebrate Mass. Like most instruction manuals though, once we’ve found a solution, we tend not to refer to them again. Unless we encounter a problem, we generally stick to what we’ve found and don’t go looking for any other information.
The GIRM gives options for what we should sing at the Entrance, Offertory and Communion. Typically the choices offered are chants from the historical books of chant (the Graduale Romanum or Graduale Simplex), another musical setting of these texts, a different Psalm with antiphon approved by the bishops, or “another liturgical chant that is suited to the sacred action, the day, or time of year, similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop.” (GIRM, #48). This last option is what is most often chosen in the United States, though the choir here regularly sings the chants from the Graduale Romanum for the Entrance and Communion at the 11am Mass.
What most people do not realize is that there is not any requirement or musical options given for a closing hymn at the end of Mass. After the Dismissal, the priest (and deacon) venerate the altar and withdraw. No mention of music or singing at this moment is included in the GIRM. For this reason and as an experiment in progressive solemnity, we will not be singing a closing hymn for a few weeks this summer. In addition to changing the music that we sing for the Eucharistic Acclamations to mark the seasons and relative solemnity of our celebrations, this change in the number of hymns we sing gives more variety to our Liturgy throughout the year and will allow us to focus on quality singing rather than quantity.
Encouraging you to sing,
Bulletin Notes for the Cathedral of Mary, Our Queen, July 19, 2015
A concert of organ music for Lent and Holy Week presented by Wm. Glenn Osborne at the Cathedral of Mary, Our Queen in Baltimore, MD. Music selections listed below or PDF of the program here:
Aus tiefer Not, BWV 686
Johann Sebastian Bach
Herzlich tut mich verlangen
Psalm Prelude, Set 2, no. 1 – De profundis
IV. Longing for Death from Job
Dominica in Palmis
Suite in French Classical Style on ‘Vexilla Regis’
Wm. Glenn Osborne
Da Jesus an dem Creutze stundt
III. Crucifixion from Symphonie-Passion
Wm. Glenn Osborne
As someone who joined the Catholic Church later in life, I had the opportunity to attend mass many times before becoming Catholic. At least among the other music students who took me to mass, my general impression became “A mass is a mass is a mass.” Very little changed from one celebration to the next or from one parish to the next. Prior to the Second Vatican Council, there was a desire for consistency and uniformity in celebration that kept mass the same from place to place. That changed fifty years ago this weekend. On March 7, 1965, Blessed Paul VI celebrated the first mass in Italian in the parish of Ognissanti (All Saints), Rome. It was the first mass in the vernacular celebrated by the pope in modern times.
With the celebration of mass now in the local language, there was a shift from uniformity to unity. I experienced this when I lived in France. The music and language were different, but the mass was still the same. Even though still a Protestant at that point, I felt more at home worshiping with the Catholics because I knew what was going on. I might not understand the language, but I knew the form. (In fact, the mass helped me learn the language!)
Some people look at new music in the church just as I suspect some people viewed the arrival of the vernacular: a corruption from the secular world that should not be admitted to the realm of the sacred. Instead, I choose to believe music is a vehicle that not only brings us closer to God, but God closer to us. Music is a language that needs to be part of our vernacular as well. As I traveled around Europe, worshiping in many different languages, I hope you will be able to worship with the music here at the Cathedral whether it is old and familiar or new and different.
Bulletin Notes for the Cathedral of Mary, Our Queen, March 8, 2015
While a certain level of skill and practice is required to be a music director, I find the most difficult part of my job to be choosing the music we sing each week. Once I’ve decided what the music will be, practicing it becomes the easy part.
Before Vatican II, most of the music was dictated by the church (at least the lyrics). With the celebration of Mass now in the vernacular, the music choices multiplied and continue to become more numerous as composers continue to create new works. Choice can be overwhelming and stressful. Just imagine going to the store to buy some jelly. If there are only two or three choices, it’s easy to make a decision, but if you have to pick between forty or fifty varieties, you might just take a little more time. If you think of every song in the two hymnals that we have in the Cathedral as a flavor of jelly, you begin to get an idea of how many choices I have to make every week!
Because “the role of music is to serve the needs of the Liturgy” (Sing to the Lord, #125), I can’t simply choose my favorite songs for us to sing every week. That would only serve my needs. Likewise, while I am happy to hear requests for specific songs, I have to find a place and time during the year when a requested song will fulfill the needs of the liturgy. At the same time however, Sing to the Lord urges a pastoral evaluation of the music:
“Does a musical composition promote the sanctification of the members of the liturgical assembly by drawing them closer to the holy mysteries being celebrated? Does it strengthen their formation in faith by opening their hearts to the mystery being celebrated on this occasion or in this season? Is it capable of expressing the faith that God has planted in their hearts and summoned them to celebrate?” (#130)
So in the end, the music must serve both the people and the liturgy. I know the music and the liturgy, but I am still getting acquainted with everyone here. So that I can make better choices and do the best job possible, help me get to know you better by saying hello and sharing any thoughts you might have about the music here. Stop me after Mass, email or call if you have any feedback to share.
Written for the Music Notes column for the parish bulletin of the Cathedral of Mary, Our Queen in Baltimore, MD.
This is my first video recorded at the Cathedral of Mary, Our Queen in Baltimore. There are two identical consoles for the organ at the cathedral and pipes at each end of the building. This excerpt from my Suite in French Classical Style on Vexilla Regis was recorded from the console in the sanctuary using only pipes from the gallery. Watch carefully to notice the delay between my fingers and the audio!
One of the items I’ve started doing for the Cathedral is including information about music in the bulletin every week. As these notes also reflect my thoughts and vision of church music, I thought I’d start posting them on my website for a larger audience than those that show up in the pews here in Baltimore. These are the notes for the bulletin for the first Sunday of Lent when we will begin using the Mass of Charity and Love by Steve Warner.
Music should be considered a normal and ordinary part of the Church’s liturgical life. However, the use of music in the Liturgy is always governed by the principle of progressive solemnity.
Progressive solemnity includes not only the nature and style of the music, but how many and which parts of the rite are to be sung. … Musical selections and the use of additional instruments reflect the season of the liturgical year or feast that is being celebrated. (Sing to the Lord, #110 & 112)
It has been my experience that in many parishes, music for Mass looks the same week after week. Sure, the hymns may change every week, but in most places, you would have to listen to the prayers of Mass rather than the music to know what time of the church year is being celebrated. I’ve lost track of how many celebrations I’ve attended where the music just seemed to be a selection of the organist or choir director’s favorite hymns with the same Eucharistic acclamations that have been used for years.
In celebrating the liturgy singing is not to be regarded as an embellishment superimposed on prayer; rather, it wells up from the depths of a soul intent on prayer and the praise of God and reveals in a full and complete way the community nature of Christian worship. (General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, #270)
Music is a means of prayer that should help us celebrate the liturgy and mark the season. Everyone clearly recognizes that singing Christmas carols is best done at the Christmastime. Likewise, there are hymns that are most appropriate in Lent or Easter. As we begin this season of Lent, we will also change the music for the Eucharistic Acclamations. The new setting I have chosen is a simpler setting, based upon a familiar tune, but chant like and requiring only simple accompaniment (if any). This will enable the music we sing to take on a more humble penitential spirit that reflects the nature of the Lenten season. We will change again at Easter to mark the joy of the resurrection. In this way, our music is integrated into the celebration and the season.
Wishing you a happy Lent,