Showing posts from March, 2022

Communion for the Musicians

 The tricky question of how to get the musicians to Communion can be answered in almost as many ways as there are parishes. The best arrangement for you and your parish depends on various parish practices surrounding the distribution of Communion, and the number of musicians involved. The main difficulty is finding a way to avoid gaps in music while also making sure everyone gets to receive without drawing too much attention. The Important Thing is that everyone knows what is going to happen ahead of time. Unless you have access to the premium option, Having Communion Brought To You By A Dedicated Minister, your options are limited to Going First, Going Last, and Going Later - i.e. tracking down the priest or a Eucharistic minister after Mass to distribute Communion. Obviously, this last avoids gaps the best, but also is the most effort, and doesn't always work out. I'll just throw out a whole bunch of ways we've made Going First or Going Last work in our parish at differen

Hymn of the Week: Let Thy Blood In Mercy Poured (JESUS, MEINE ZUVERSICHT)

 Hymn Title: Let Thy Blood In Mercy Poured Tune Name: JESUS, MEINE ZUVERSICHT Meter: 78 78 77 All right, Laetare Sunday is behind us, and Passiontide is actually approaching now, so we can start pulling out The Good Stuff. Just in case you actually had more time to cram in more Passiontide music, here is another incredible hymn for Holy Week.  Let Thy Blood has four verses in which the same musical line is sung twice, followed by a simple refrain, so in effect you are only learning two lines of music. The bass goes no lower than G, the melody no higher than D (but the melody does dip to B-flat below middle C so warn your sopranos to limber up their lower range). The final verse can be given a little extra impact by singing it a cappella - the words are more personal. Be sure to have everyone watch for the poetic tie in the third verse "by the pain and death I now (music line break but not poetry line break) claim, O Christ" etc, and moderate their breathing accordingly. Ho

On Working With Priests

(This article is primarily aimed at music directors, but applies at least a little to every parish musician.) Ah yes. If you work for the Catholic Church, you will have to know how to work with priests. This is a special power hierarchy dynamic that you don't get in the workplace in other jobs. It's a little bit like how I imagine working with princes would be - there is more at play than the person himself. Depending on your own position in the parish, you will have to work with Fr Person, Fr Pastor, and Fr Persona Christi. (And sometimes Fr Confessor, so if you grouch or gossip about your pastor, this can get awkward fast. Ask me how I know.) When in a meeting with your pastor, remember your respective positions. By virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, Fr Pastor has grace of state to guide his flock. That doesn't mean he can't be wrong, but it does mean that it is wrong to work against him. (There are always at least fifty times more things going on in your parish

Hymn of the Week: How Firm A Foundation (FOUNDATION)

 Hymn Title: How Firm A Foundation Tune Name: FOUNDATION Meter: 11 11 11 11 Trust in God has been on my mind lately, and when I am struggling, I always turn to this hymn. "Do not let my enemies prevail over me" is a major theme of the Psalms, and though most of us don't often face armed enemies or hostile nations like David, we still face enemies every day. This reassuring hymn taps into the strength of our faith, with a simple, open harmony built upon a truly solid bass line. I could sing it all day, as my babies could tell you. The highest note in this version (set in F-major) is C, perfectly within the capabilities of most normal people. The bass section sits on a low F for a good portion of the time, however - if your basses are more baritone-ish, you can raise the pitch to G, which most soprano sections should have no difficulty singing. In fact, if you ask me in the comments, I'd be happy to provide a transcribed version, in case your organist is no better th

The Words (plus a bonus Hymn!)

 I keep saying, in various posts, that the primary job of the liturgical musician is The Words (yes, even the organist ). What does that mean, and how does it work? My first organ teacher (who was a fabulous teacher) told me that my job as organist in a Catholic parish was to provide "auditory wallpaper" to provide a devout and prayerful ambiance to the liturgy. She was wrong. Such an approach trivializes the liturgy as a mood or feeling to experience. Were this to be true, then the current "anything goes" attitude towards liturgical music would be valid; personal taste and changing moods would force the liturgy to be subject to the whims of the music director, depriving it of its universal character, making it more or less valid according to how much or how little that particular musical style moved each participant. The liturgy would cease to be a Thing That Is Given, and instead would become a Look What I Made, Yay Me. (That's clearly not the way it is, ther

Rehearsal Practices

Here is a non-comprehensive list of practices I have found to make choir rehearsals more effective and efficient. I am not an efficiency expert by any means - the rehearsals at which I preside often side-track, but that's just my personal directing style . However, when the choir needs to buckle down and do some Hard Work, I have some cards up my sleeve. Find the right time of day . Schedules are a choir director's biggest challenge. If you are directing a parish choir of mostly adults or older students, you're almost certainly going to land on a weekday evening. Be sensitive to your singers' mental cutoff point - ours is 8:45. If your choir members stop processing after 9pm, you won't accomplish anything by pushing on to Just One More Time. For those big pre-Major-Feast rehearsals, make it a morning; twice a year I bribe my choir with coffee and donuts and sing for three hours on a Saturday morning, once before Christmas and once before Holy Week. Those are always

Hymn of the Week: The God of Abraham Praise (LEONI)

 Hymn Title: The God of Abraham Praise Tune Name: LEONI Meter: 6 6 8 4 D Another "any season" hymn,  The God of Abraham Praise  is supposedly based on the Jewish hymn "Yigdal Elohim Chai," but has been paraphrased almost out of recognition. The story is that Thomas Olivers attended a service in the London Synagogue in the late 1700's, and was so taken with the hymn listing the 13 truths of Maimonides as sung by the cantor Meyer Lyon, that he carried it home in his heart, paraphrased and Christianized each truth into a verse, and adapted the melody into the tune LEONI, which is still used. Most of the original 13 verses have been dropped, mixed up, re-formulated and re-ordered over time, but the result is still a fine, firm, majestic piece of poetry, paired with bold notes. Whenever we sing it at Mass, I find myself humming it all day. The melody has a funny little skip in the second line where it is not intuitively clear whether one should go up or down, but

The People's Parts

I believe I've lamented before that church musicians are often hired and expected to execute their function properly without qualifications or training, or even guidance. Well, the good news is that there is an actual instruction manual out there: the General Instructions of the Roman Missal ( it's even online for free !) or GIRM. Here is laid out, in very clear terms, whose job is what, the order of the rites, the cues to begin and finish singing, and so much more. If you can afford your own copy of the whole missal, so much the better! Once you find your way around it, it is the single most useful and important book for a cantor or choir director to own. (I bought two copies - one for my use at home planning and practicing, and one to keep in the choir loft, because I am that disorganized and can never remember to tote a copy around with me from place to place.) In the GIRM, there is a lot of language talking about "fostering participation" by the people. It empha