Showing posts from February, 2022

Hymn of the Week: O Kind Creator (TALLIS' CANON)

 Hymn title: O Kind Creator, Bow Thine Ear Tune name: TALLIS' CANON Meter : LM (88 88)  O Kind Creator is a wonderful Lenten hymn that brings the whole purpose of Lent to the forefront:  "Give us the self-control that springs From discipline of outward things; That, fasting, inward, secretly, The soul may purely dwell with Thee." It is appropriate throughout the entire season, though better for the start where the focus is on us. As a nice bonus, the final verse can be repeated as a canon, with a new voice entering on the fourth beat of each subsequent bar. I made a little "director's cut," with Amens to lengthen the verse so that all voices end together, as a a bonus track of sorts for you - it should be sung a cappella, but that is only a minor challenge, as the tune is very simple. Remember that Lenten hymns don't have to say the words "forty days" to be usable; that Lent need not be mentioned; that the word "ashes" should not be

Graduated Solemnity

 " Graduated Solemnity " is a concept my pastor is very fond of. (I think we might have different ideas of what, exactly, it entails, but we don't disagree - just what it means to a pastor and what it means to a choir director require slightly different responses.) In theory, it means you put a little extra into feasts, and a lot extra into Solemnities, to make them stand out from Ordinary Time. In practice, it means you put a little less  into the umpteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, and even less into the third Sunday of Lent. It doesn't mean that you don't do as good a job as you can do, but it does mean that you hold something back, special for the Big Days. What that looks like in your parish depends on your resources. Of course the basics are all there: your music is always dignified, you always make it your mission to convey The Words, and you bring the highest standards of musicianship you've got to the altar. For the pastor, he might order up incense fo

Quick Hit

 Hey, so, I'm just throwing all the Things I Wish I'd Thought Of Earlier out there, hoping that someone else will find them helpful, but everyone's situations and challenges are unique. If you have questions or issues that you'd like to read something about, comment! Here, another post, anywhere on the blog. I'd be thrilled to do a more directed post than "whatever was on my mind today." Thanks for reading! -Kathleen

Mind Your Liturgical Seasons

It's February, so you're probably thinking about Lent, and you're probably looking through your resources, wondering "Why are most of my options for Lent so bad? " If you're tempted to just sing O Sacred Head Surrounded for six weeks straight, starting with Ash Wednesday, allow me to give you a little pause on that thought. If you've done any thinking at all about the role of music in liturgy, then you know that the Church has a pattern, and she has that pattern for a reason. (If you haven't done any thinking about the role of music in liturgy, it's time to start!) The liturgical cycle begins in the darkest part of the year, with preparation, readings filled with hope for the future but without any denial of the darkness of the current situation. Then, Light - at the turning point, when the balance just begins to turn back towards Day over Night, the Word Becomes Flesh. We make our way through the manifestation of Jesus to the world, the calling of

Hymn of the week: Soul of My Saviour (ANIMA CHRISTI)

 Hymn Title : Soul of My Saviour Tune Name : ANIMA CHRISTI Meter : 10 10 10 10 Every church musician needs a good Eucharistic hymn to keep in their pocket in case of need. This setting of the Anima Christi prayer (attributed to Pope John XXII), translated by the most excellent Edward Caswall , is a perfect option. Easily learned and easily sung, yet not boring or repetitive, its long, elegant lines are each interesting in their own right - as an organist, if I am called upon to play extra verses to fill time, I will often simply drop the melody and solo out the alto line with an oboe setting for a full verse. Singers should try to sing each line in a single, well-supported breath; make sure to accommodate them by keeping the tempo steady, stately but not too slow. Basses will be tempted to blast out their higher notes in the third line (ask me how I know), so stay on them to temper their enthusiasm. As the tenor and bass parts meet up, they will need less volume, so as not to overp

Songs I Never Sing (and Why)

 I'm going to get a little nitty and gritty now. There is a whole lot of "classic" "contemporary" "Catholic" music that I ignore whenever possible, and I get asked about them frequently.* I have some very practiced answers that you might find useful if you agree with me. Top offenders: Be Not Afraid, You Are Mine, Here I Am Lord, On Eagle's Wings, Gather Us In, One Bread One Body... you get the idea. What are those scare quotes - classic, contemporary, Catholic - up there all about? Well, all three of those descriptors are false. These songs have not earned the label of classic because they are too young - the tradition of the Church is way too big for songs written in living memory to be considered "classics" yet, not alongside thousand-year-old poetic masterpieces. They've outgrown the label of contemporary by being too dated. And many of them don't get the label "Catholic" because they are theologically suspect at bes

So You Want To Be An Organist

 Maybe you've been conscripted into playing the organ at your parish because word got out that you play piano (same thing, right?) and there's a hole to fill. Maybe your parish currently uses a piano and there's an organ just  sitting there  and you have a vague sense that it would be more fitting. Maybe, just  maybe,  you're actually a classically trained organist and for once, someone is offering you money to play. Any way you look at it, playing the organ for your parish is a bit of a different animal from whatever you've been doing before. So first, some words on why the organ is So Great, so much better than any other instrument (including the omnipresent piano) and why you should use it in the liturgy. Three things set the organ apart. Firstly, it breathes like a singer, and sustains notes the way a singer does - its ability to hold prolonged phrases without sound decay or having to resort to "filler" notes maintains the sense of the musical line wit

Hymn of the Week: What Wondrous Love Is This (WONDROUS LOVE)

Hymn Title:   What Wondrous Love Is This Tune Name: WONDROUS LOVE Meter:   12 9 12 12 9 Now this here is what Sacrosanctum Concilium  is talking about when it states in Article 37: "Anything in these peoples' way of life which is not indissolubly bound up with superstition and error she studies with sympathy and, if possible, preserves intact. Sometimes in fact she admits such things into the liturgy itself, so long as they harmonize with its true and authentic spirit." That is to say, that when Vatican II said we could bring in the authentic sacred music tradition of American Culture, this did not mean we could have rock bands in church, it meant we could import those actual sacred music traditions which harmonize with the true and authentic spirit of the liturgy. Old Southern shape note hymns are just that. The music system was simplified to aid completely untutored, illiterate country people in learning and singing together. They would meet in a hall with the chairs ar

Hey You! Join the Choir!

 I'm pretty sure there's a large swath of people (mostly men) who suddenly remember that it's time to be somewhere else when they see me get that certain look, especially in January and August - prime Choir Recruitment Time. They know they're on my radar, either because I can hear them from upstairs when they sing below, or they used to be in a choir but left, or I know family members of theirs with fine voices, or any number of other reasons. Choir directors learn to live with this fact - that most people will laugh and simper, and say "oh, you don't want me in the choir," (which is sometimes true), but that doesn't mean they don't want to be asked, or even pressed. Still, most of the time, the final answer is no. But this post isn't for the choir directors, since I don't have any good tips for recruiting - in fact, I'm always scrambling for more members. (Especially basses - I think I must have offended a bass somewhere down the line,

What Do We Sing?

 So much for the why.  (I mean, I have not by any means dealt exhaustively with it, but so many more qualified people have said it already.) Your job is to decide the What. Good news! There is an official, prescribed "What" to sing for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass! It's been very clearly and consistently laid down throughout Church history, and though the wording of council documents is often vague,  Vatican II didn't change that.  Once more for the people in the back: Vatican II did not substantially change the  church's directives  for sacred music in the liturgy. (except to allow the use of the vernacular language with the local bishop's permission) The implications of this are huge. There seems to be a general understanding that what the Vatican II documents said  is far less important than what a handful of people want the documents to mean , and that's why the state of Liturgy In The Church Today is kind of a mess. I have sat through liturgies c

Hymn of the Week: Be Thou My Vision (SLANE)

 ( No promises yet that this will be an actual weekly feature, but I have enough to last a couple of years at this rate.) Hymn Title: Be Thou My Vision Tune Name: SLANE Meter: 10 10 10 10 The short stretch of Ordinary Time that separates Christmas from Lent is filled with directives on how to live the New Covenant. Depending on how far you get through the numbered Sundays, and which liturgical year you are on, you will find the Beatitudes, Jesus' discourse on one's interior thought being of more import than one's outer actions ("the law says... but I say..."), various parables, and many accounts of healing. What it all comes down to is the need to align oneself interiorly  with grace, which will show forth in action. The text of Be Thou My Vision is a perfect meditation on these directives - a plea to God to make His will our will, to be our interior light and guide in all things. This theme comes up more often than any other in the Offertory Antiphons througho

Placeholder: What I Intend By It

  While my blog is still a bit of an empty wasteland, I want to tell you what I intend to offer as regular features: Hymn-of-the-as-yet-unspecified-time-unit (week/month) - printable sheet music with some reflections on the hymn Resource reviews - hymnals, missals, websites, and other tools Essential Repertoire - for unison singing, for 4-part choirs, easy polyphony, treble-voiced music Five Tips - lists of practical advice for every category of liturgical musician: choristers, directors, cantors, organists, planners, parishioners And, of course, my invaluable rambling thoughts!

Why Do We Sing?

  Have you ever tried  to convey to someone the sense of an incredibly moving song, but you couldn't quite remember the tune, so you just recited the lyrics? Did it sound like you were saying: Kerplonk kerplonk, kerplonk kerplonk kerplonk; Plonk kerplonk kerplonk, kerplonk kerplonk. and then you had to make apologies for how rhymey-wimey it sounded, and it was much better when you heard it? Yeah, that's why we sing. Song adds an entirely new dimension to the sense of what we are saying. If text is a line, and a spoken phrase is a picture, music turns it to a sculpture. Properly matched to its subject, it deepens our understanding of what is being said far beyond the mere words. When we get to dealing with the Divine, though - well, nothing I can say on the subject hasn't been said better by someone else first. Here is Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, from his marvellous book,  The Spirit of the Liturgy  (which you should own, no matter who you are): " When man comes into co

So, what's this all about, then?

  Me, personally My name is Kathleen, and I’m the music director at a Catholic parish in a small college town in Southern California. During my 20+ years at this parish and throughout my whole lifetime of liturgical music, I’ve worn many different hats - organist, choir member, cantor, choir director, person who chooses the music, person who manages the music staff - so I can speak from many different perspectives. My experience is my main qualification - I am the owner of zero pieces of paper validation except for a certificate of completion of the kind of Child Safety Training I’m sure most of my target readership is painfully familiar with. But I’ve studied a lot, thought a lot, had a lot of discussions with a lot of thoughtful people, and tried a lot of different things, so I do hope that my experience and perspective will be helpful. I do have one publication to my name: a  hymnal for Catholic schools  that I helped edit for the  Institute for Catholic Liberal Education.  This pro

Resource Review: the Choral Public Domain Library

 The first resource that changed my life as a choir director was the Choral Public Domain Library , a huge crowd-sourced repository of public domain choral works. As of this writing, they host scores for over 40,000 works by more than 4000 composers, all free for downloading. Nothing on the website costs money, and you do not need to sign up to acquire anything. With the multi-category search tool , you can filter your search results by language, voicing, musical era, genre, accompaniment, and more. Most composers have biographies and historical context pages, and translations are available for most common texts. After using the site for a while, you'll start to find editors that you trust - since anyone can upload their scores, you're bound to find errors in your music sometimes. Some editors clearly have priorities other than ease of reading the score, so check multiple editions for staff spacing, readable fonts, and so on. My favourites are David Fraser, Brian Marble, Rafael

Prayers for Rehearsal

I had these prayers printed on the back of some St. Hildegard of Bingen holy cards from The Printery House (a Benedictine monastery in Missouri), and hand them out to my choir members. After the opening prayer I include a short litany: Our Lady, Queen of the Angels; St. Cecilia; St Sebastian (our parish patron); and St. Hildegard. Prayer before rehearsal V. O sing praises, sing praises to our God. R. Sing praises, sing praises to our King. Let us pray: O Lord God Almighty, whose glory the cherubim and seraphim and all the hosts of heaven with ceaseless voice proclaim, hear and accept, we humbly beseech Thee, the praises of Thy church below; and pour down upon those who serve Thee in choir such a spirit of faith, reverence, and joy as will lift both our hymns and our lives unto Thee; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. Prayer after rehearsal V. Blessed are they who dwell in Thy house; R. They will be always praising Thee. Let us pray: O God, whom all the joyful companies of heaven la