Saturday, 24 May 2008

Thomas Aquinas' Corpus Christi Sequence Lauda Sion

Big dilemma at the moment. I am on music in my local parish tomorrow morning. Its Corpus Christi and the question is: Do I dare to sing the Sequence, Lauda Sion?

Now, Lauda Sion is a very tricky text. There are a few English translations (The one in the missal is dreadful, but this one is better).

The problems are principally the following:

1) it is extremely long (24 verses!)

2) the 8.8.8 metre is unusual, and it goes pear-shaped at verse 19 ( and then again at verses 23 and 24 ( there are no well known tunes to sing it too

3) None of the English translations are modern, and some are really twee (eg. "the very music of the breast") or tortured ("We break the Sacrament; but bold / and firm thy faith shall keep its hold; / Deem not the whole doth more unfold / than in the fractured part resides") or simply grating ("the bread for God's true children meant, that may not unto dogs be given"--I know the biblical allusion, but can one actually sing this?)

4) No Catholic hymnal I possess has any setting of it at all, not even the Adoremus Hymnal (I did find a translation to the original Gregorian tone in the New English Hymnal and a paraphrase by Alexander Ramsay Thompson in the Australain Lutheran Hymnal).

Given all this, it is no wonder that no one knows the damn thing. Yet the Liturgy Office of England and Wales lists it in their draft "Core Music Repertoire" (which is quite a neat document in itself).

Now, here's the rub. Do I dare to sing it tomorrow morning? My parish priest usually likes a bit of music or something solo during the offertory instead of a hymn, so this would be a perfect opportunity to stick it in as a solo piece. In Latin? Or in English?

PS. While doing this blog, I came across this Spanish(?) site that has all the missal texts for the Sundays of this year on it in easy printing PDF form. Check it out!

Thursday, 15 May 2008

"Festival of Joy": A Corpus Christi Hymn to a tune by my daughter

My daughter has written a tune which she wants to play at mass. It is a little repetative, but very simple, despite its rather odd metre: 667.667.77.667.

Festival of Joy
A hymn for Corpus Christi
By David Schütz to a tune by Madeline Schütz-Beaton (667.667.77.667)

1. Come, all those who labour!
Come, all who are weary!
Come, find comfort and relief!
Here God welcomes you and
Here God gives salvation
At the table of the Lord.
Here the weary find their rest.
Here the hungry will be fed.

In this heav'nly banquet,
In this marriage feast, yes,
In this festival of joy.

2. Here the angels gather,
Here the saints of heaven
Join the Church of God on earth.
Here God gives his riches,
Here the Fount of Wisdom
Pours his grace for all the world.
Heav'n and earth are joined as one
In the wedding of God's Son. (Chorus)

3. Come, repentant sinners,
Come, all faithful Christians
Take the body of the Lord.
All who thirst for justice,
All who hope for heaven,
Drink the chalice of his blood.
Come, O Lord, our faith renew.
Come and make us one in you. (Chorus)

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Archbishop Coleridge on Church Music

HT to Peterand to Athanasius for putting me onto this statement by Archbishop Coleridge (late of Melbourne) to his flock in Canberra-Goulburn.

His comments on language are spot on (as one would expect from someone working directly on the new translations for the English missal):
When the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council approved the use of the vernacular languages in the liturgy, they had no idea of what was on the way. They imagined that some parts of the liturgy would move into English (in our case), but that Latin would remain in general the language of worship. ...[I]t seemed that the Church went from Latin to English overnight. Some in the Church have continued to worship in Latin – as is their right – but most are happy to have moved into English. At the same time, it does not have to be a stark choice of one or the other. In the Cathedral [in Canberra] at least...the Kyrie is sung at times in Greek, and the Common of the Mass, the Gloria and the Creed are sung at times in Latin. Similarly some of the great hymns of the Gregorian repertoire – especially the Marian anthems – are sung at times. It would be a pity if such a heritage were wholly lost to us.
To be sure!

His comments on music generally are certainly noteworthy:
Some of the texts used are also decidedly feeble and even at times questionable theologically. [He can say that again!] Historically, the Roman Rite used only the Psalms in the Eucharistic liturgy: hence the Entrance and Communion Antiphons which were sung with the Psalms and accompanied the Entrance and Communion Processions. [And it is a great pity that we do not today have a way of singing these properly.] ...I might add that the Holy See has asked Bishops’ Conferences around the world to draw up a list of music approved for use in worship. This is part of a pruning process of the repertoire that has built up over the last forty years, and it is already taking place in Australia.
Yes, I know that this process is continuing, in fact, I have often dropped in on the meetings of the Australian committee to whom this work has been charged. This little group of three meets here in the same building in which I work, and believe me, they have their work cut out for them. They are attempting to do two tasks: First, to draw up a draft list of song for the Bishops according to the Holy See's request; and Second, to come up with a new hymnody resource for the Australian Churches. One of the members told me especially of the frustration of there being so few really decent hymns and songs for the Entrance and Communion. We will all experience this dearth in the next few weeks at the Feast of Corpus Christi (I am on music for that day in my parish, and believe me the choice is not good...)

But I do wonder about this comment from the good bishop:
It is worth recalling too that singing or music should not be prolonged unnecessarily. In the Roman Rite, singing or music tends to accompany action rather than stand in its own right. Therefore, the music or singing should stop once the action is complete.
Well, maybe. Depends on the hymn. Some hymns don't make sense if you stop it after verse two, when all verses are integral to the sense of the whole. On the other hand, I did have this experience at mass yesterday when we were singing Farrell's "Praise to you, O Christ our Saviour" for the Entrance--it did go on too long and could have been cut down.

I might pick up a couple of Archbishop Mark's other points later in the day, but for the moment, here is a question Athanasius suggested I pose for you all. If you were making a list of hymns to be sent to the Holy See, which would you insist were put in and which would you insist were left off (ie. FORBIDDEN!). That's a big question, so limit yourselves a bit, eh?

Monday, 5 May 2008

Too much new music for World Youth Day?

I am slowly catching up with the news about various musical bits and pieces that are being prepared for World Youth Day. You have read my opinion of the World Youth Day theme song. I had a little foretaste of the feast divine in this regard at the handover ceremony for the Cross and Icon in St Patrick's Cathedral here in Melbourne, when Guy Sebastian himself sang it. I think the "Alleluia" bit will go down real well, but the rest of it? I am still doubtful...

I am a little more enthusiastic however over the Mass setting Missa Benedictus Qui Venit (a clever title!). It uses the new English translations of the liturgy intersperced with Latin. It's quite singable and musically pleasing. My only real beef is that no-one seems to be using it around the traps beforehand (not even for official pre-WYD events) so that when we all turn up on the day we can all join in rather than just listen to the choir sing it.

But today I really must say that I groaned when confronted with the song which will be used for the Entrance Procession at the WYD Papal mass. Composed by Chris Willcock SJ for a text by Andrew Hamilton SJ (both local Melbournians), it is a bit sad.

Now Chris is an excellent musician, and a great composer. I use a lot of his music myself, and know that it is used extensively in many non-Catholic churches too. The music for this piece is, well, let's just say "so-so", but the real worry are the words, which I will get to in a moment.

First, I have just mentioned the problem of unfamiliarity with the Mass Setting. AND TAKE NOTE: the Mass setting is provided FREE for download from the WYD website (see link above). BUT the Willcock/Hamilton song can only be obtained from OCP (Willcock's publisher) AND YOU HAVE TO PAY FOR IT! Now, I know workers are worth their pay, but really, couldn't the WYD office have made some sort of arrangment here?

So, to the words. I haven't bothered to buy a copy of the music (I am a skin-flint) but here is a transcript of the snippet that was on the Religion Report on 2nd April 2008 (Podcast no longer available). chorus is simply one fairly meaningless phrase repeated over and over again:
Spirit whisper, Spirit shout!
Spirit whisper, Spirit shout!
Spirit whisper, Spirit shout!
Whatever else might be said about this chorus, it is poetically and imaginatively lazy. "Spirit whisper, Spirit shout" is a catchy phrase, but fairly devoid of content. It wants more said. Whisper/Shout what? Whisper/Shout to whom? After singing it three times, and then as a chorus over and over again, it just becomes boring. There is nothing here for the mind, and thus the heart, to latch on to.

The Chorus is followed by a fairly unimaginative text based on John 14:
Christ our Way, Christ our Truth, Christ our Life.
Come in power to guide our way.
Come in power to teach the truth.
Come in power to shape our lives.
It's not that there's anything wrong with this doctrinally, of course, as it is simply regurgitation of a scripture passage that has been "lightly chewed". But once again, not even at the level of a Year 9 secondary school student's poetry. Surely a Jesuit is capable of a little more "imaginative meditation" than this?

I think we need to ask ourselves what has happened in the church when the level of hymn writing has sunk so low. I have my own theory on this. As I have suggested above, I believe that we have such poor content in our hymns because we have such poor reflection upon the content of our faith. Scripture is used ad nauseum in our modern hymns--but rarely is there any sign that the hymnist has reflected deeply upon that scripture--"chewed the cud" so to speak--before handing it back to us in the form of a song.

Hymnody should be more than throwing notes at passages ripped (plagiarised?) from Scripture.

Well, I reckon, anyway.