In Cohn Mawby's article in The Times on Catholic Church music he speaks of the low morale of choirs and the overemphasis on congregational singing.
I think many choirs have dwindled because they feel their role of singing the Ordinary of the Mass — Kyrie, Gloria, etc — has been taken over by the congregation. The congregation has been encouraged, and rightly so, to sing, whereas the choir has not been encouraged except to lead the congregation and perhaps sing an occasional motet.
It was never intended that the pendulum should swing so far away from the choir. The booklet "Music in the Mass" by the National Commission for Catholic Church Music, which lays down excellent guidelines for music in the new liturgy, states in one place: "A high standard of singing by the choir is therefore of great religious importance"; and in another: "There is no reason why the whole or part of a choral setting of the Ordinary should not be sung on occasion by the
choir .' " I am happy to say that in my
ovi n parish the choir does receive encouragement to do this. But what to sing on such occasions? The new settings of the English Mass are good for congregational singing but not very exciting for a four-part choir.
In any case, there is no point in learning too many of these comparatively simple setttings as it would take years for a congregation to become familiar with more than two or three versions.
I think our biggest loss is that there is a considerable body of good music, which was familiar to many Catholic choirs in "preEnglish" days, which is now heard no more.
I refer to the many reasonably short settings of the mass. Names such as Goller, Hike, Rheinbetger, Refice come to mind —and of course Terry and Turner. Many excellent motets also — Joseph Smith's Ave Maria and Bone Pastor (Eslava?) — are two examples.
Some of Terry's and Turner's Masses can still be bought, hut the rest are completely unobtainable. Chappell's have a shrinking list of Latin motets and I am told they are not reprinting them as they sell out.
This music, though not necessarily great, was tuneful, interesting for the choir to practise and a pleasure for the congregation to listen to.
We need' to keep our choirs going with music of reasonable standard to aim at. We need to interest young people to join our choirs. They will all he interested in singing good music.
Does anyone feel, as I do, that perhaps the way to revive our choirs is to encourage them to sing again some of the "Latin" music that was sung and loved by so many in the immediate "pre-English" period?•
If so, can we somehow advise choirs what there is to choose from in the storehouse of Catholic Church music, help them to decide what would suit them best, and — most important of all — find a way to make copies available?
Brian Grattan 28 Woodruff Avenue, Guildford, Surrey.