CHURCH MUSIC The Position Reviewed
Sia,—"Organist (Channel Islands)" advocates, as so many others have done, " steering the middle course" in the matter of Church music. I confess myself more than a little impatient of this point of view. It seems to me that while so many are busying themselves with this delectable " middle course," we are getting very little " forrader." I am reminded of the phrase from the Apocalypse: " I would thou wert cold or hot . . ."
Let us admit the true cause of this Church music difficulty, as does " Catholic Musician " in your issue of February 17, that so many of those who train choirs and so many who sing in them have neither knowledge of, nor taste for, the Liturgy. In writing this, one is not casting stones. The obvious cause can in part be traced hack to the Reformation. How was it possible for Catholics who had to assist at an occasional Low Mass behind locked doors, with a hiding hole in the rear, to preserve their liturgical sense? Even as recently as 1798 the life of a priest was still fraught with danger.
The second reason is a musical one. Dom Gregory Suliol, O.S.B., in his text book of Gregorian Chant, writes of four periods in the history of the Chant, the first being that of formation from A.D. 312 to the Pontificate of St. Gregory (590-604); the second period, that of perfection, lasting from the time of St. Gregory to the thirteenth century; the third period, that of decline, lasting from the end of the thirteenth century to the middle of the nineteenth. (This was the period when polyphony arose arid took the field, declined, and was followed by harmonised or figured music).
Dorn Gregory says that the growth of the new style of music " dealt a fatal blow at the true plain song tradition."
He writes of the " bad taste in the rendering of the Chant and, what was even more serious, the mutilation of the melodies themselves." The fourth period, that of restoration, " began about the middle of the nineteenth century and is still going on." Unfortunately, by the time that Catholic Emancipation was an accomplished fact, even polyphony had declined and harmony was engrossing men's minds. The opera and oratorio had developed, the orchestra was becoming richer and fuller. Much that was fine in secular music and in sacred music for concert performance was being poured out.
How regrettable that musicians and others did not at once grasp the unsuitability of the new style for the Liturgy! Tradition dies hard! " Middle course" people would have us still waste much time in learning "simply harmonised Masses " interspersed with plain song ones—the latter to be used during Lent or on some unimportant feast! They complain that they cannot otherwise hold their choirs together. May I suggest that a monthly concert by the choir, for the parish funds, would give the choristers all the variety they need!
By all means, let us have a trained choir in each parish—the flnest trained choir of men and boys that it is possible to produce. They are needed, in particular, for the singing of the Proper of the Mass, for the Antiphonal Ordinary and in Many other ways. Also, if the congregation never hear the Chant correctly and beautifully rendered, how will they ever be able to sing it even passably wen?
At risk of repeating what has already been said, I make the following suggestions: (a) a secondary choir of girls— as many as we can muter, for the weeknight Benedictions and to form a strong body of singers in the congregation at the High Mass; (b) a ten-minute congregational practice after the High Mass each Sunday; (c) a few singers drawn from the trained choir, for the nave of the church, whose object would be to lead the congregation in the singing of the Ordinary. Surely this is better than spending hours trying to make a few singers learn a Mass from which the congregation is eternally excluded.
Above all, the choirmaster should have a full knowledge of his work; liturgically, vocally, of Plain Song and of Latin. With societies like that of St. Gregory and its Summer Schools, and enthusiasts like Er. Bernard McElligott and many others, in addition to numerous good teachers of singing, there is surely no dearth now of opportunity for 'retraction. Let the choirmaster, then, instruct his choir in these four branches and he will find no boredom at his practices.
This, however. implies enormous enthusiasm, and the sacrifice of both time and money—and the average Catholic priest can afford to pay little in the way of fees. Is it that there are too many Catholic musicians—professional or amateur—who are either unable or unwilling to make such sacrifices, or are there too few parish priests sufficiently keen liturgically and musically to demand the best?
HELENA M. WAKERLET,
L.R.A.M., A.R.C.M., Directress of Choir, The Church of the Sacred Heart, Leicester.
Reform in One Generation
Sna—Maybe W. H. P. Boyd writes on Church music with his tongue in his cheek. He infers that the Motu Proprlo concerns Rome alone. He ignores the directions of Pope Benedict XV and Pope Pius XI. Past correspondence will give him an inkling of the truth.
No doubt, if Pope Pius X had spent as long in Rome as W. H. P. Boyd, he would not have said, " These qualities (i.e., holiness and true art) are to be found in the highest degree in Gregorian chant . .. the more it (i.e., Church Music) is out of harmony with that supreme model, the less worthy it is of the Church."
No doubt, W. H. P. Boyd believes that Pope Pius XI did not quite mean what he said in declaring, "let them (i.e., the faithful) be taught to sing their parts in the Gregorian chant."
No doubt, W. H. P. Boyd is unaware that the Hierarchy of this country support the ever-growing movement to carry out in this country the wishes of the Popes as regards Church Music; c.f., instructions to choirs issued in the Archdiocese of Liverpool, Diocese of Lancaster, etc., and the continuous approval shown, for example, by the Archbishop of Birmingham, of the efforts of those "who are trying to carry out the wishes of the Holy Father so often and so strongly expressed."
No doubt, since 45 notes to one syllable in Plainsong is so wearisome to W. H. P. Boyd, he must loathe " The Messiah," where in the first air he will find, to one syllable, 19 notes, 21 inntes,
37 lades and n2 notes; later on he will Collie across 57 and 60! A true musician would, however, hesitate to condemn it on that score. The enthusiastic testimony to Plainsong as music comes with greater force from Mozart, or Constant Lambert, than from such a critic.
The core of the question, missed by W. H. P. Boyd and other ill-equipped critics, is that in order to get the faithful to join more closely in the Sacrifice, the Popes and Bishops are so urgent that they should join in the singing of the Mass.
Speaking from 15 years' experience in teaching Plainsong—in Plainsong notation—to children from seven years old and to adults up to 70, I feel sure that this could be done in one generation if (1) we had sufficient teachers with knowledge and goodwill, and (2) if the children (and others) were allowed to sing regularly in church the Messes they have learnt in school.
St. Walburge's, Preston.
snz,---It. Is pleasing to read Mr Boyd's letter on Church Music in your issue of Friday last. He endorses what I said last year, when I wrote to you, in respect of the music in Rome, and at St. Peter's in particular.
I have just returned from my customary winter visit to Engelberg. The Gregorian and Oratorio Mass music at the Abbey church was, as usual, rendered to perfection. No Westminster " crooning," or, as I heard it described, "wailing" was in vogue there! Nor did they inflict upon their great congregations unaccompanied moaning madrigal motets so often sung at some of our London churches.
The Gregorian singing was full, rich, round and sonorous, accompanied on week-days by a choir organ, and on Sundays and feasts by the great organ in the gallery—one of the largest and finest in Etirope.
True, the use of orchestral instruments at High Mass has, for the time being, been suspended, but not abandoned. When necessary, at Oratorio Mass music, with a large choir of monks and boys, the orchestral stops of this great organ are brought into use.
It was a great relief and treat to get away from the perpetual polyphonic, unaccompanied music crooned out in this country to scanty congregations.
Mr Boyd is quite right, fewer people attend High Mass now in London, where Palestrina, Byrd and Co. are rendered ad nauseant in our churches throughout the year!
On the Continent they are wiser, and the note of praise is prominent in their High Mass music. They fill their churches. We do not. We keep them away, or encourage them to come to a 12 o'clock Low Mass where there is no music at all. They may pray, but they do not engage in, nor hear, any Eucharistic praise.
C. S. Saar-Hsu. 50, Warwick Gardens, W.
It was with some surprise that one heard the Apostolic Delegate to this country welcomed at the threshold of Westminster Cathedral with " oo-ee " in boyish voices: it was not until the entry of the men's voices that one realised that the customary ecce, vicereine magous was intended.