Monthly Archives: August 2015

Another Job For Your Children

Some things never change—the vicissitudes of toiling in the field of sacred music being no exception. I recently re-read Sir Richard Terry’s Catholic Church Music, first published in 1907, as a way to re-energize myself for the new choral year.  Toward the end, I hit a passage about congregational singing that I don’t remember reading before, but which is, nevertheless, apropos to our current situation.

One great difficulty in the way of making our hymn singing as popular as it is with Anglicans, and impressive as it is with German Catholics, is the tenacity with which the older members of our congregations cling to some half-dozen tunes of such a fatuous type as ” Daily, Daily,” ” O Mother, I,” and the rest of the terrible contents of “The Crown of Jesus music.” It is not difficult to understand how even the most fatuous tunes can be beloved if they are in any way connected with hallowed associations of a pious life, and who is he who would ruthlessly deprive these good souls of things which they hold dear ? But the difficulty is not insuperable ; the writer knows of one church where all these bad tunes were eliminated in the course of a single generation by a very simple process. At the public services for adults, no change was made in the old tunes, but the children in the schools were never allowed to sing them, and at the children’s Mass and on other occasions, good tunes were substituted for the popular ones sung by their elders. By the time the children had grown to youth, they had become as familiar with, and as fond of, the good tunes as their elders were of the bad ones, and so the new tradition was established. If our Hymnology is to be improved it must be by educating the taste of the younger generation, and not by doing violence to the prejudices of the elder, however mistaken we may think them to be.

All one need do is substitute almost anything from the Gather Hymnal or from the St. Louis Jesuits for Daily, Daily or O Mother, I and this passage could have been written last week. More importantly, look at the answer to the problem—I guarantee you it works. I have proposed this before to friends and the retort is always “but that’s too long.” Excuse me, but we have been in this desert for almost 50 years. Any parish could have been through this process three times. Simply dive in and do it. Remember how quickly your children grew up and left home? That is all the longer it takes.

On August 2, Andrew Leung posted an article about Colin Mawby, the former Master of Music at Westminster Cathedral, London, and suggested I might be able to add to the discussion. Unfortunately, I have never actually been to Westminster Cathedral (God willing, that mistake will be corrected before I die), but I have had a couple of email conversations with Mr. Mawby about his time at Westminster and I would like to share part of one with you here. I am doing this for two reasons. The first is to highlight the fortitude of an incredible church musician and the second is to encourage that same virtue of fortitude in myself and all other musicians toiling in the field of sacred music. It is easy to become discouraged at the infinite challenges confronting us, but take heart, even the best of us has “been there and done that.”

“When I became Master of Music in 1961, Westminster Cathedral sang or recited the complete daily Roman Ofiice and had a daily Capitular High Mass. The choir also sang daily Vespers. There were many low Masses and when the changes of Vatican 2 were introduced the former went into English and the High Mass remained in Latin. The Archbishop, Cardinal Heenan, said to me that it would be unthinkable for the Cathedral not to have a daily Latin High Mass. This was highly controversial and many clergy opposed his view and wanted the Cathedral to be at the forefront of liturgical experimentation: “giving a lead” to the rest of the country. There was also divided opinion on “participation”. Some people were happy with external participation while others looked for internal participation I continually stressed that one could participate and worship the Creator through listening to great music.

“When the changes were introduced, many choirs, including Cathedral Choirs, were disbanded and many fine musicians were sacked and in many cases totally disillusioned. In the light of this I decided that the Cathedral should best give a lead by preserving the great heritage of Catholic music as demanded by the Council’s Liturgical Constitution. This attitude was roundly condemned by the reformers who did everything that they could to make the Cathedral liturgy a beacon of the new.

“There were many attempts made to disband the Cathedral Choir and there was one very serious threat to the continuation of the Choir School. The chorister’s parents were informed that it was to be disbanded. It was saved by the vision of Cardinal Heenan’s successor, Cardinal Hume. The professional men were even given three months notice on one occasion on financial grounds – the Cathedral couldn’t afford a professional choir. However, I was able to find sufficient money to keep it going and eventually Cardinal Hume ensured that the money was available to keep the professional men in place.

“It was Cardinal Heenan’s unswerving support that enabled me to preserve the music and the Cathedral traditions through 11 years of extreme difficulty- I never knew from one day to the next if the choir would still exist in 6 months time!

“Cardinal Hume, a Benedictine, understood the spiritual value of the Cathedral’s music and established it on a firm foundation.

“About ten years after I left, Bishop Victor Guazelli, an auxiliary in Westminster, said to me at the large reception after George Malcolm’s Memorial Requiem: “Colin, you were completely right, we were completely wrong. We owe you a great debt of gratitude for what you did”. This honest, magnanimous and public statement made my struggle totally worthwhile.

(From an email to the author on June 11, 2013.)

A Must Have for the Choir Director’s Shelf

Nearly a year and a half ago, I came across a must have book for every choir director’s shelf, Choral Repertoire by Dennis Shrock. Mr. Shrock presents the major repertoire spanning the history of Western choral music, from Medieval to Modern, with notes on more than 5,000 works, arranged in such a way to make research easy. Since a vast portion of that music is sacred in character (and much of that specifically written for use in the Catholic Church), the book is invaluable for the church musician. I find the section on Modern Music helpful in finding new works for use in the liturgy, from settings of the Mass to motets. You can buy it here on Amazon.