Page 7, 15th August 1986

15th August 1986
Page 7
Page 7, 15th August 1986 — Church notes, from cymbal to trumpet

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Locations: Jerusalem


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Church notes, from cymbal to trumpet

Cantor traces liturgical history in his second occasional column on matters musical

IT'S useful w look back occasionally at the history of music in liturgy. In Fact our musical heritage dates back far earlier than Christian times. The worship chronicled by the Old Testament is full of references to music.

The religious ceremonies of the Temple contained a constant offering of praise within which singing and the sounds of various musical instruments played an important part. When the Ark was settled in Jerusalem, we know from Chronicles that many musicians were involved: "Asaph was to sound the cymbal, and Benaiah and Jahaziel the priests were to blow trumpets continually, before the Ark of the Covenant of God." (1Chr 1 6,6).

We know that on such occasions hymns of praise were sung, such as the following: "For He is good, for His steadfast love endures for ever".

The early Christians knew how to use music to praise in a spontaneous way. We are told by St John Chrysostom that "men and women . . . are influenced by the Holy Spirit in such a way that the melody sounds as if sung by one voice".

We also know of the ancient practise of "jubilation" which consisted of spontaneous prolongation of the final syllable of the "Alleluia". This could go on for many minutes and this practice was carried outside the place of worship to homes and places of work.

Pope Gregory said: "Let angels therefore praise, because they know such brightness, but let men, who are limited by speech, jubilate."

This spirit of improvisation was much less welcome in the further development of music in worship. In the sixth century it was felt right to put an end to the more noisy musical instruments in church.

There were moves away from the participation of the people and from the 15th century music became the province of composers who wrote the type of music that required relatively skilled choirs rather than the congregation. By the 19th century there was a tendency to see the grave and solemn character of Church music as important qualities.

I sometimes wonder how much we manage to capture some of that vitality and the Easter joy that the early Christians must have felt. The "Alleluia" and Acclamation offer us a chance to express some of that joy and to express ourselves as a community.

While 1 am not suggesting that we "jubilate" in the manner described by Pope Gregory, I believe that we ought to treat the "Alleluia", together with the Acclamation with joy but also with the solemnity which is required before the proclamation of the Word.

A sing-along of summer psalms

There are many inspiring settings of the "Alleluia". The settings by Jacques Berthier are simple but effective and contain optional harmonies for the more able choir. The Responsorial Psalm Book for Sundays and Feastdays and also Psalms for Sundays contain useful settings of the "Alleluia" to suit choirs of all abilities.

It is useful to be able to sing both the "Alleluia" and the Acclamation but if this is not possible, the "Alleluia" should be sung by the cantor and then repeated by the choir and congregation. The leader should then read the Acclamation and all should repeat the "Alleluia".

I mentioned above the way in which the Old Testament described the enthusiasm with which music was used in the ceremonies of the Temple. The psalms were a vital component of this worship.

We know that for the early Christians the psalms played an important part — indeed psalms 148 to 150 formed an essential part of their worship. As far as the way they were sung is concerned, we have evidence that they were sung in a responsorial way by the end of the fourth century.

The summer is a good time to take another look at the way the Responsorial Psalm is sung in our parish. The major feasts of Easter and Pentecost are some way behind and the practices for Christmas are (hopefully) still some way off.

In singing the psalm we need to remember that the psalms are Hebrew poems. Although written as the call of an individual, they express the voice of the people of God in all the emotions which are part of the modern experience — hope, joy and love, but anger and frustration in no small measure. We need to reflect these emotions in the Response and in the psalm itself.

Variations on the choral responses

We are fortunate in having access to many settings of the psalms. Some of the best known are the settings by Joseph Gelineau. My favourite is the setting of the Magnificctt; the music so clearly portrays the power of the words "My soul has done marvels for me, holy is his name". But these settings should not be undertaken lightly; they require a great deal of rehearsal for a choir to ensure that the music flows and expression is given to the words of the psalm.

There are several collections of psalms avaiahle for choirs of all abilities. If practice time is at a premium, then Psalms for Sundays offer a collection of responses for each Sunday, many written by Dom Gregory Murray and easy for congregations to pick up. This collection offers a number of standard psalm tones to accompany each response and it is available in three volumes for each year of the liturgical cycle.

For those who prefer variation both in the response and in the psalm tone, the Responsorial Psalm Book for Sundays and Feastdays is a versatile selection offering a choice of response according to the ability of the choir as well as individual psalm tone to accompany each response.

Whichever collection is chosen, it is important to rehearse the response with the congregation if possible before the start of the Mass so that a feeling of involvement is brought about. The verses can be sung by the cantor or the choir.

So much for the Alleluia and the Responsorial Psalm. Please write to share your experiences of settings you have found useful and other ways you have enhanced these parts of the liturgy. As musicians we have much to learn from each other.

Psalms for Sundays is published in three volumes by Kevin Mayhew Ltd. The Responsorial Psalm Book For Sundays and Feastdays is published by Collins. This latter selection also contains a good selection of the Gelineau psalms. The Berthier psalms referred to above are to be found in Music from Taize also published by Collins.

Choir masters and organists are invited to send their views about bringing music into their churches to Cantor, c/o Catholic Herald, Herald House, Lamb's Passage, Bunhill Row, London ECI Y 87Q.

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