Saturday, 21 July 2007

Singing in the Cathedral

Well, we had another sing-song at Mass today at 1pm in St Patrick's Cathedral. I used a setting for Psalm 116 that had been written by my good friend David Goedecke for my daughter's baptism many moons ago. Here it is (click on the image for larger picture):

I think it went down okay--but I do finally seem to have attracted the attention of the Cathedral Capellmeister. Rather than call for an end to this impromptu singing, he suggested (very politely) that since he is in charge of the music in the Cathedral he should determine what psalm settings are used. His suggestion? His own Gregorian settings. That way, he said, there will be some uniformity as to the settings used for the psalms in the Cathedral.

I am more than happy to comply, for two reasons: First, as he says, he is in charge of Cathedral music, and second, his settings are very good. There is a third reason: it will save me time searching for a setting to use each Friday morning. And a fourth reason ("no-one expects the Spanish Inquisition") is that I am glad he didn't just say "quit it".

However, his settings use the NRSV rather than the Grail. I agree with him that the Grail is horribly inaccurate (it amuses me that the Holy See disapproves of the NRSV for inaccuracies when the Grail is more of a paraphrase than a translation). He calls the Grail a "Humpty dumpty sat on a wall" translation--refering to the "dumpty dumpity dumpty dump" rhythm.

And some of the settings of the responses--though beautiful--are a little tricky to learn and repeat after only one hearing, especially if you don't have the music in front of you.

Nevertheless, I take his intervention as an endorsement for continuing the tradition of 1pm lunchtime sung masses on Fridays in Melbourne at St Patrick's Cathedral. Come and have a sing-a-long with us!

World Youth Day Song: "Receive the Power"

Sorry that it has been so long since I posted on this blog. I guess no-one reads it anyway, so you probably didn't miss me.

Anyway, while I was on holiday, the text of the World Youth Day song "Receive the Power" was finally revealed, and your correspondent was, well, frankly, under-whelmed.

You can see a video-clip and hear the song on the World Youth Day page and download the text and the music from here. Here's the text:

1. Every nation, every tribe,
come together to worship You.
In Your presence we delight,
we will follow to the ends of the earth.

Alleluia! Alleluia!
Receive the Power, from the Holy Spirit!
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Receive the Power to be a light unto the world!

2. As Your Spirit calls to rise
we will answer and do Your Will.
We’ll forever testify
of Your mercy and unfailing love.


Lamb of God, we worship You,
Holy One, we worship You,
Bread of Life, we worship You,
Emmanuel, we worship You.
Lamb of God, we worship You,
Holy One, we worship You,
Bread of Life, we worship You,
Emmanuel, we will sing forever.


Now before I go any further, I should point out that I don't particularly want to cross swords with my one time catechist and cherished friend, Bishop Anthony Fisher, who has written a masterful "theological reflection" on the song. But I will say that I wish that the song he describes in this reflection had been written rather than the one with which we are actually faced. I will get to Bishop Anthony's reflection in a minute. Let's look at the text.

Those of you who have visited this blog before have seen my "criteria" for assessing the value of a Catholic liturgical song or hymn (if not, click here and read them). Let's run the WYD song through some of these criteria:

1) Is it focused on God?Is it a song about or addressed to God rather than a song about or addressed to ourselves?

Yes, there is a strong focus on God. The song borrows heavily from the style common in evangelical/pentecostal circles, and hence is strong on "adoration" (which is worship addressed in the second person to God, as opposed to "praise" which is when we address others about the great things God has done, speaking about God in the third person). There is some lack of clarity ast to which person of the Holy Trinity we are addressing--something which only becomes clear in the "bridge" (we are addressing the Son, Jesus Christ), but at least it is a song about God addressed to God rather than about ourselves.

At least, this is the case in the VERSES. Catholic readers of this blog will be very familiar with that schizophrenic scourge of Catholic liturgical song: the song in which we pretend to be God singing to us (for an example, see the text of "Come as you are"). A slight variation is the song in which the verses are God singing to us and the chorus is us singing to God (eg. "Here I am, Lord"). "Receive the Power" falls into the latter trap. The verses are addressed to Christ, but the chorus is Christ addressing us. Bishop Anthony seems to think this is a good thing: He says:

In the chorus the Risen Christ addresses the young people of the world ...In the verses the young people respond

Only the Risen Christ isn't singing the chorus to us--we are singing it to ourselves. The old schizophrenia enters by the back doors...

2) Is it true? Does it express the Catholic faith? Is what it says about God true? Is what it says about us (and others) true? Does it name God truthfully? Does what it says agree with the Catholic faith?

Well, it's true enough. There are nice phrases in the bridge, reminiscent of the Gloria in Excelsis. But there isn't much here tht you could really build a theology on, is there? There's a lot of hints, but rather than explicitly conveying a particular theology, you really have to have your theology well formed beforehand (as Bishop Anthony certainly does) to be able to read into it all the "depths of meaning" to which it may hint (as Bishop Anthony certainly does in his reflection).

3) Is it singable?Can it be sung without accompaniment? Does it avoid difficult timing? (eg. strange or inconsistent rhythms, notes tied over bars etc.) Does it have a memorable melody?

Um. No. My guess: everyone will have completely forgotten this song by the time the next WYD comes around. Moreover, I predict that it will never, ever, ever be included in any Catholic hymnal or collection of liturgical songs. Ever. It is too slow, too "quiet", nowhere near rousing enough for a "anthem". No strong beat or rhythm. Lots of "oohs" and "oh yeahs" that have no place at all. It's a soloist's song--which is, I guess, why they have Guy Sebastian singing it. It isn't a congregation song. God knows how a crowd of 500,000 or so are going to sing it. What they will get is 500,000 people watching Guy Sebastian sing it and cheering and clapping--but as if for a performance rather than joining in. And can you really imagine Papa Benny joining in singing this one??????????

4) If the text is not a scriptural or liturgical text, does it have dignity as poetry apart from the music?
Does is avoid trite or clichéd language, bad English, inverted word order? If the text is liturgical or scriptural, does it accurately represent the original text?

Well, Bishop Anthony thinks one of its strong points is that it is "scriptural". But there is a lot more to a song being truly "scriptural" than simply cutting and pasting phrases from scripture and setting them to music. Christian Hymnody in the past--Catholic and Protestant and Orthodox--has always been "scriptural", but has been the result of meditation upon scripture, of the author of the song internalising scripture and then returning it God as adoration or praise.

5) Does the song have lasting merit? Does it show every indication that it will continue to be used? Will teaching the song be a lasting investment? ie. will it be of use for their future spiritual/communal worship lives? Indicator: is the song often included in independently edited hymnbooks and collections of songs?

I have already indicated that I think the answer to all these questions is a resounding "NO".

As I said above, I wish the song that was written was the song that Bishop Anthony describes in his "theological reflection". I think he is being incredibly charitable to this piece of music. It isn't awful. It's passable. But that's just the point. It's here today, but tomorrow it will have passed. Surely Australia could have come up with something better?