Wednesday, 24 February 2010

More About Hymns

I've had some response from my last note about hymns. It's always nice to receive feedback, proof it seems that I have more readers than I thought! Let me just quote from one which came via Facebook.

"while I do think the 19th century Hymns by Faber, Wiseman etc gave us a rich devotional heritage it is far more Liturgical to sing Mass"

My response to this may come as a surprise considering what I wrote previously as I'm not as 'anti-hymn' as I appear to be. Believe it or not, but I actually like hymns too, and generally from the same era as Matt who posted the above comment. A recording I made in the early 1990's with a group of singers called the 'St Anne's Singers of Leeds' of wonderful hymns purloined from the Leeds Catholic Hymnal, the St Andrew Hymnal, [where can I get full music editions of these?], and the Parish Hymn Book is partly responsible for sowing the seeds which later bore fruit in the Rudgate Singers.

I'm going to quote something else now, from the forward to the great Parish Hymn Book which, in my opinion, was the last of the great Catholic hymnals before the publication of the Catholic Hymn Book some 30+ years later.

"We may never again see those crowded congregations at evening service - rosary, sermon and Benediction - but we shall still have crowded churches. There is nevertheless regret among the clergy and all who loved congregational singing that the day of popular devotions seems to be gone...

... Mass has become the popular devotion...

...The new Parish Hymn Book is welcome because it will halt the decline of congregational singing. Soon we shall have vernacular versions of the Mass in new musical settings but we shall not have completely satisfactory words and music for the Mass until after a long period of experiment. Meanwhile the English tradition of hymn-singing will be preserved by singing at Mass and at the new type of Service."

These words were written by Cardinal Heenan back in May 1966. How times have changed! It seems to me though that the use of hymns (good, bad, ancient, modern) has now taken over so much that in most parishes up and down the country, the '4 hymn sandwich' has become the staple musical diet within the Latin Rite Catholic Liturgy. I'll leave you to dwell upon the level of congregational singing & musical settings for the Mass, should you actually have the latter in your Parish! The Eastern Liturgy, for those of you lucky enough to experience it, is a different ball game entirely. By mentioning the classic hymn sandwich, I think I've come more or less back to my original point made in the previous posting. More thoughts would be welcome!

Sunday, 21 February 2010


Those of you who know me are probably aware that I'm not the greatest fan of hymns in the Extraordinary Form Mass, preferring, where possible, that the Mass should be sung, rather than have singing at Mass. I've heard of similar arguments for the same to apply for the OF too, mostly falling on deaf ears locally. How many parishes do you know of that still rely on the '4 hymn sandwich'? Fortunately I'm not regularly called on to provide music for OF liturgies [yet, the last one I did, being Whit Sunday nearly 2 years ago], I'm busy enough as it is, with the EF in the North of England, not just York!

Nevertheless, I can't help noticing that when the York EF Masses have been sung, there has been an increase in attendance. Coincidence? These are of course hymnless, bearing in mind that the Mass is sung - either chant or polyphony and always concluding with the seasonal Marian Antiphon, a habit I first picked up when singing with the Leeds Schola Gregoriana some 20+ years ago. The Low Masses though, have a dreadful attendance record generally, and I can't help but think that there's a musical [or lack of] connection here.

Of course, the Mass being at 6:30pm on a Sunday evening, isn't helpful, because some people don't like coming out on dark evenings. There is also the shameful polemicised prejudice in Greater York [especially amongst some of the clergy] against *anything* connected to the EF or even the official language of the Church! (This despite all the initiatives coming out of Rome under this Pontificate...)

I've also heard arguments for/against music [any kind, not necessarily just hymnody] from those who attend the EF on occasion. It's interesting [to me at least!] to note that those who prefer quiet Low Masses are much older than those, considerably younger than me (!) who would like some music - even suitable hymns during Low Mass, which brings me back on topic!

Since October, when the EF Masses resumed in York, there have only been 2 Sung Masses so far. All the others have been Low Masses without any music except occasionally the appropriate Marian Antiphon sung at the end. Following last weekends highly successful Missa Cantata, which almost doubled the congregation, I've decided to introduce some music for the Low Masses during Lent. Not that controversial [I hope!] at first, as I'm starting with the Lent Prose, which amazingly is in the hymn book the parish uses, a vernacular hymn at Communion, and concluding with the seasonal Marian Antiphon, Ave Regina Caelorum.

I know I'm going to get some criticism from some quarters, because it's impossible to please everybody.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Singers needed.

Can I ask a favour? I know this blog doesn't attract the thousands of visitors that other great bloggers receive [see bloglist on the right!], but it does get a fair few regular visitors, and I'm now going to prevail upon you, or more particularly, your networking skills. :-)

For the second year running, there is to be a clergy training course in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite [Traditional Latin Mass] at Ushaw College, in Durham. This year, it's from 12th-16th April & I've been given the unenviable task of organising the music & getting the singers together - most of which is done.

So far, I've planned for 3 Solemn High Masses, 2 other Sung Masses, Lauds [x4], Solemn Vespers once, ordinary sung Vespers twice and other services including Compline. Where I'm asking for a bit of help is regarding the Mass scheduled for 11.00am on the Thursday [15th April]. This will be a Solemn Memorial Requiem with the music planned being Victoria à 6. (The same music Rudgate sang in Scunthorpe in November last year.

We can't afford to hire a choir because the LMS [Conference organisers] have only budgeted for one choir who will be singing for the final High Mass the following day, & I certainly can't afford to hire singers - I drive a 10 year old rusting VW Polo for heaven's sake! [and that only because my even older , limited edition, beloved Skoda Felicia Bohemia was written off in an RTC in Leeds by an uninsured driver, just after I'd sung for the Easter Vigil.] But I digress.

This leaves me running around trying to find people who want to come & sing this wonderful music. What *can* be offered, provided I know in good time is accommodation @ Ushaw [bearing in mind the start time] & all meals. Some Rudgates have already valiantly taken a day off work and are coming to sing. Other singers will already be at Ushaw, as we're part of the Schola in residence. That leaves me looking for at least 3 Sopranos, 1 or 2 Altos and 1 Tenor. We already have 4 basses signed up!

If you know of anyone who might be interested & potentially available, bearing in mind that it's a work day for most people, I'd be delighted to hear from you via the Comments box!

Sunday, 7 February 2010

London Calling.

I used to hate London, but am now beginning to rather like the place - in small doses. For a city which I've usually visited only once in blue moon, to have been there 3 times in the last 7 months to me, speaks for itself.

This time it was for the launch of the Gregorian Chant Network at the end of January. Various accounts have appeared in the blogosphere already, so I won't repeat what's been written there. I will add, that I thought it quite appropriate that other organisations besides the LMS [who hosted the event] were represented, who do not, as a rule, have the same opinion on the EF held by most of us present.

Gregorian Chant is still the official music of the Roman Rite (in BOTH FORMS) and I'm personally quite fed up of people with their heads buried so deep in the sand who think it should be exclusively associated with the EF. (These generally tend to be people who either love or hate the Extraordinary Form with equal fervour!) Despite my preference for the EF, I'm more than happy to get involved with OF liturgies, either directly, as a singer, or indirectly by offering advice or by going to listen and supporting other singers. This applies to other choral music too. How are we going to encourage the use of Gregorian Chant & other good quality sacred music in parishes if we think it's our exclusive preserve?

I was particularly keen to hear that several cathedrals are using the Chant more often, although there is still a distinct bias towards South/Central England. I can only think of Leeds in N/NE England that is taking Chant seriously alongside other good Liturgical music, though I'm quite happy to stand corrected if that's not the case. That said, it's still good to hear, and I'm very much in favour of the proposed idea to have Regional Chant workshops in our cathedrals [led by the Cathedral Directors?] where details of local choirs/scholas such as ourselves can be provided should people who attend wish to take their interest further and start singing on a regular basis.

Putting Gregorian Chant aside, I'm also, as some of you know, very fond of the Eastern Rites. After leaving the Oratory, roydosan, [my host for the weekend] & I went up the road to the Russian Orthodox Cathedral for the Vigil Service of the Sunday of the Prodigal Son - all 2½ hours of it(!) accompanied by some excellent, virtually non-stop singing in both Church Slavonic & English by only a handful of chanters. Much praise is due, & if I knew who was in charge of the music there I'd write to them to let them know!

The Byzantine theme continued on Sunday with a visit to the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral. This was an experience not to be missed. Although there were only 3 chanters, they had only to intone various parts of the Liturgy and we were suddenly engulfed by the sound of the entire congregation joining in - in harmony! Considering there were about 300-400 people present, you can imagine what that must have sounded like... For those of you who want to see/hear genuine participation without it being forced on you in the misguided mindset of 'Community', go along to your nearest Ukrainian Catholic or Orthodox church and prepare to be overwhelmed! The Poles, to be fair, are pretty good too, but the Roman Rite - in either form - doesn't really allow for the same experience because of the way it's structured. Other Byzantine Rites could potentially do the same of course, but in my experience, Greek, Russian & Romanian congregations just remain silent and let the chanters or choir get on with singing the Liturgy along with the clergy.

I would have liked to have stayed longer, but had a train to catch in order to sing Vespers of Septuagesima Sunday back in York, which in the end didn't happen due to the train breaking down - twice! Still, a pretty good weekend, and I'm looking forward to the next one. :-)