The Sequence (with music!)

There are a few major feasts in the church year that are distinguished by the addition of a Sequence to the liturgy: Easter, Pentecost, Corpus Christi, and Our Lady of Sorrows . What is a Sequence, and what is it for? It's a piece of theological poetry, based in scripture but not directly taken from it, which forms one of the lessons for the day. I like to think of it as a kind of homiletic fail-safe - no matter how good or bad a preacher your pastor is, you will get this one elegant lesson that encapsulates all you have to know about the feast. In the Ordinary Form, it is sung between the second reading and the Gospel Acclamation.  While two of the Sequences are optional, the ones for Easter and Pentecost must be at least recited - but they are so much better when sung. Since the Sequence is a lesson, similar to the readings, I think it is best to sing it in the vernacular - at the very least, the congregation should have the translation in their hands. If it is not printed in t

Hymn of the Week: Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain

 After a restful Easter Octave and replete with feasting (and now improved by the addition of five solid pounds of Easter Joy to my frame), I am back with more Hymns of the Week to broaden your repertoire! Hymn Title: Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain Tune Name: GAUDEAMUS PARITER Meter: 76 76 D (D for "double," so 7.6. 7.6. 7.6. 7.6.) A bright, dance-like Easter hymn, Come Ye Faithful plays a few rhythm tricks to liven up its simple tune and harmonies. Although there is no time signature written, it alternates between 2/2 and 3/2 - it's not too hard to figure out which part is which. Definitely  remember to keep it in 2, though, or it will be way too slow. (The original manuscript has each phrase ending with two half notes with a fermata, but I translated that into a 3/2 bar with a half note and a whole note for clarity.) The lyrics draw a strong parallel between the events of Exodus and the Paschal mystery, making this hymn a solid choice for days when the antiphons

How to Pick Music

 I've gone over some general guidelines for choosing music before, but after having talked to a few people since then, it seems like it would be helpful to have more detailed instructions. I don't have the same resources as you, so I'll keep it broad, but hopefully this will still help. Step One: Organize. Use a spreadsheet program or a word processing program to set up a monthly music planner. Include columns for the date, the Entrance, Offertory, Communion, and Recessional (also a Meditation slot, if you want - I just put mine in the Communion cell). Put the month and year at the top, and include the year of the liturgical cycle you are on, if you are feeling fancy. I saved a blank one as a template, so that every time I want to make one, I can click "create new" and choose the template from the list and away we go. (I'd share my template with you except that I use a mac for my planning computer and a chromebook for my blogging and typesetting, so who am I

What Does It Take?

Obviously, when someone is chosen to direct or perform music for the liturgy, the first consideration is musical ability. (OK, maybe sometimes availability is a prior concern, but let's hope that musical ability is important to your superior too.) But that's not the only thing that determines whether or not you do the job well.  There's another quality, beyond musical ability, that is crucial to your future as an excellent liturgical musician - I call it Game . Whether you're the organist, the choir director, the cantor, or a single soprano in a vast sea of sopranos, to some degree you have taken a step to put yourself out there.  Congratulations! It's a leap of faith, and it can be hard to make! The further out front you are, the more obvious it is when you make mistakes, as everyone inevitably will. You can insulate yourself from fear a little by being prepared, but you have to acknowledge at the outset that You Will Make Mistakes And People Will Notice .  The onl

Things Go Wrong

(Posted with my choir members' permission.) Since I'm trying to help you figure out what to do, and why it's important, I tend to focus a lot on The Ideal. Just in case you think that The Ideal is somehow attainable, and therefore you are failing desperately since you can't seem to reach it, I'm going to tell you what it's really like. Good liturgy, just like good theater, involves staying in character. Mistakes get made, but you can't say "Oh whoops, I mean this instead" or it distracts from the liturgy. This is especially true when you're working with others.* On Holy Thursday , I completely forgot to put numbers up on the board for the congregation, and when I began to announce the opening hymn, I had to stop mid-sentence and flip through the book to find the number. Then at the end, I announced that we were going to sing Pange Lingua in English, then in Latin, even though I don't like our translation. We didn't have time for any Lat

Hymn of the Week: The Strife is O'er (VICTORY)

(I buried this hymn in the Holy Week Music post, but it deserves to be in the spotlight.)   Hymn Title: The Strife is O'er Tune Name: VICTORY Meter: 888 with Alleluias Stately, triumphant, joyful, sounds great with the organ turned All The Way Up - what more could you ask for in an Easter hymn? We round out our Triduum with this piece, because it requires very little focus, and if the choir members are tired (which they are), they can let the organ support them as much as they need. Still, the rising Alleluias in the refrain always seem to reach down deep inside them and find as yet untapped stores of energy for bursting forth in song, somehow. We sing all five verses, and the congregation always stays to sing, many of them even staying for the organ postlude, despite the late hour. This arrangement pretty much speaks for itself, except that I seem to need to remind my choir from time to time to be careful not to "yip" the ends of their Alleluias. There is plenty of ti

Lighten Up!

Christ is Risen! Alleluia! Because I kind of overloaded on music postings last week, I'm just going to share a piece of choir humour today. How many sopranos does it take to change a light bulb? - Just one: she holds the light bulb and the world revolves around her. How many altos does it take to change a light bulb? - Two: one to climb up and change the bulb, and one to ask "isn't that a bit high for you, dear?" How many tenors does it take to change a light bulb? - Ten: one to change the bulb, and nine to say "Oh, I could have done that." How many basses does it take to change a light bulb? - Basses don't change light bulbs, they prefer to stumble about in the dark, bonking their shins on things. How many choir directors does it take to change a light bulb? - No one knows, because no one ever watches the choir director. How many organists does it take to change the bulbs in a chandelier? - Just one: he changes two with each hand and one with his feet.