Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Via The Chant Cafe, we have this news of even more efforts to inculturate the singing of the propers:

An Experiment in Sacred Music Resource Production: Let’s Lay an Egg!

Posted on September 7, 2010 by Adam Bartlett

The following article was first posted at the Chant Cafe blog, and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the journal ‘Sacred Music‘, published by the Church Music Association of America.

If you haven’t yet read Msgr. Andrew Wadsorth’s recent address on sacred music entitled “Towards the Future: Singing the Mass”, you must. The statements made here by the Executive Director of ICEL are full of unrealized potential that could change the world of Catholic liturgical music as we know it.

In this essay I would like to shine a light on some of that potential and to invite you to help make it a reality; perhaps our combined efforts can help change the landscape of Catholic liturgical music publishing as we know it.

Among the items in Wadsworth’s talk was a call to church musicians to sing the liturgical texts that are proper to the Mass, namely the proper processional antiphons which contain a portion of the substantial unity of the Roman Rite, a “textual unity”, as he puts it. In assessing our current state of affairs, where there is virtually no singing of these proper antiphons, he reveals the existence of a very interesting and starkly contrasting state of affairs:

On the one hand, we have the familiar commercial publishers, about whom Wadsworth states that “…musical repertoire has for practical purposes largely been controlled by the publishers of liturgical music… this is unavoidable, for a whole variety of pragmatic reasons…”

He also says that “This is something of a ‘chicken and egg’ situation. Praxis has governed the development of our resources of liturgical music and for the most part, composers and publishers have neglected the provision or adaptation of musical settings of these proper texts.

In sharp contrast, Msgr. Wadsworth notes that “a brief trawl of the internet produces a surprisingly wide variety of styles of settings of the proper texts which range from simple chants that can be sung without accompaniment to choral settings for mixed voices.”

How interesting is this dichotomy? Did you catch it?

On the one hand we have the major commercial liturgical music publishers who have “neglected the provision or adaptation of musical settings of [the] proper texts” because of a “chicken and egg” situation, and who control the music repertoire in Catholic parishes for “unavoidable” and “practical reasons”. In other words, parish musicians sing what the publishers publish, and in turn publishers print and distribute what seems to be wanted in parishes.

And on the other hand we have “a surprisingly wide variety of styles of settings of the proper texts” that are made available by “a brief trawl of the internet”.

To put it more directly: On the one hand we seem to have an “unavoidable” situation where the distribution of liturgical music resources necessarily depends on the vision of large corporations and the whims of the commercial market, regulated by purchase and sale and other external factors, while on the other hand we have a 21st century technology in the internet that has enabled the wide distribution and promotion of old and new musical settings of the propers, and that has completely sidestepped–has not been subject to–these seemingly “unavoidable” forces that shackle the commercial publishing industry.

This dichotomy between two different means of creation and distribution of liturgical music resources represents a paradigm shifting phenomenon that is happening now in the Church and in the world. At one time the distribution of music resources depended solely on the resources of the old information economy: the production and processing of paper, the speed and volume of the printing press, the sale of paper, and the post office. These are all technologies that are generally between 200 and 500 years old.

It is around this model that our systems of copyright, intellectual property, licensing, commercial distribution, etc. evolved. Large quantities of paper and high-volume printing presses are scarce and specialized goods that can be acquired, operated, and maintained only at a considerable cost; the publishers must buy the paper, must hire production staff, they must buy printing presses, paper cutters, pay for shipment costs, pay the electric bills, and on and on. The cost for the production of printed sheet music is quite high. It goes without saying that this paper must be sold to consumers in order for publishers to cover their production costs and in order to build and sustain a successful business. This doesn’t even get into the effort that is required to expand and protect markets; the commercial publisher’s existence depends on this activity.

But we are seeing a new phenomenon today. A single individual who has a laptop can produce musical scores in his spare time using free software, from his sofa in his living room, and post it freely on a website that he accesses or even owns and manages for free. The situation that this person finds himself in allows him to assess the needs of the Church without any influencing factors such as commercial considerations, the whims of the financial market, client base, or anything. This person, in his spare time, as an activity of leisure, can produce musical resources, without the bias of any imposing influence, and instantly “publish” it freely on the internet and make it available and accessible to a virtually global market, all with absolutely no cost or risk whatsoever.

There was perhaps a time where such DIY activity didn’t hold much stock in the “real world” of liturgical music distribution, but, the real world is sitting up and taking notice now. In fact, the Executive Director of ICEL has taken notice and has called prominent public attention to the fact that the best place to find settings of the proper antiphons of the Mass–musical settings of texts that form a part of the substantial unity of the Roman Rite–is the open, free, common-source marketplace of the internet, in the forum of the self-publisher who can produce resources that the Church is asking for without having to play any “chicken and egg” games, or without having to be subject to the demands of the commercial market.

How extraordinary is this? The CMAA should be proud and people like Jeffrey Tucker, and many others who have contributed to this work should be thanked profusely for their tireless efforts in making musical settings of the texts of the Roman Rite freely available to the world.[HEAR! HEAR!]  Who knows–if these resources had not been developed and had not been made available online in the past few years would we be eternally resigned to the cycle of destruction that is found in the world of Catholic music publishing? Would we be suppressed by the “unavoidable” and “practical reasons” that have kept Catholics from having available to them a variety of musical settings of the texts of the Mass? Would there be no hope that things could improve and that we could some day finally arrive at Vatican II’s vision of a sung liturgy?

The good news is that the pioneers have charted a new and exciting path in these past few years and because of this the world of Catholic liturgical music will never be the same.

I think that it is time to raise the stakes. I would like to invite you, any and all of you, to participate in an experiment in the production of Catholic liturgical music resources.

As Catholics we have long understood the axiom “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. We hear this in the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians: “Now the body is not a single part, but many. If a foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,’ it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. Or if an ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body,’ it does not for this reason belong any less to the body.” (1Cor 12: 14-16) What good is a foot alone? Or a hand? Or an ear? Alone these parts of the body can do very little, but when acting as a part of the whole body, the potential is infinite.

Many of us musicians have made small contributions to the world of online liturgical music resources, while for many of us our efforts have remained locked within the walls of our isolated community, or left sitting on our hard drives. Largely the online publishing effort has been the enterprise of a handful of driven individuals who have assembled very nice projects according to their individual gifts of time and talent. Many of these projects have been limited, though, in scope perhaps because of needed skills, knowledge, and of course time. Many of these projects have still found great success, but they would be more successful if more skills or manpower were available. I believe that if the many gifts that are found in the sacred music community were shared, though, working together as one body, the result would be as good, if not better than that which the commercial publishers offer.

I would like to invite you, even if you don’t feel that you have much to give, even if your contribution is small, to participate in this experiment. This will be an organized effort, the author of this essay is the acting organizer, and the source for community collaboration is the worldwide web. (For more information, or to join in the effort please contact us).

The project is being called “Toward the Singing of Propers” and an immediate result might end up in a book of simple English antiphons and psalms for use in average parish settings by average parish musicians. Another result will be an open database of liturgical texts and source material for the development of future and various projects that deal with the propers. The fruits of everyone’s labor will remain in the Creative Commons and in the open forum so that others can benefit from your work as they take on similar projects of their own.

What help do we need? Well, the first task is to organize a database of all of the liturgical texts. This involves the data input of a complete set of antiphon translations, and also of the Latin antiphons for proper and simple textual comparison. All of the metadata for these texts needs to be entered and organized: biblical text source, incipit name, mode, psalm verse designations. Psalm verses for the antiphons have to be assembled and notated in the database. The psalm verses themselves need to be extracted and arranged in the database. Various editions of the psalms need to be compiled and prepared for liturgical singing. We need people to help typeset musical antiphons. We need proof readers, both textual and musical. There are many things to be done and surely many further needs that will arise as the project progresses and develops.

The great thing about “open source” projects is that anyone can contribute to them with whatever time they have to give. I find it absolutely amazing that a computer operating system like Linux (a community developed and completely open source software) can rival the best commercial operating systems that money can buy. I have no doubt that an organized effort around sacred music resources can produce the same result.

I believe that in Msgr. Wadsworth’s address we have been commissioned to return the antiphonal propers back to their rightful place in Catholic liturgy and to work outside the conventional confines in order to do so.

We are able to give freely of ourselves, of our gifts, of our time, to the Church because Christ first gave of himself to us, and He continues to pour out the gift of himself freely to us in every single Eucharistic liturgy. Everything that happens in the liturgy is a response to Christ’s sacrifice of himself to the Father in the Holy Spirit. Our only able response as Catholics after receiving this gift is to make a gift of ourselves back to God in our worship and in the making of our own lives a sacrifice.

It is because of this eternal gift that we receive in the liturgy that we “live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17: 28) It is in response to this gift that we are able to give freely of our time and our gifts for the glory of God, the sanctification of the faithful, and for the good of the Church.

I hope that you will participate in this experiment in liturgical music resource production. Your contribution may seem small, but when united with others working toward a common goal your impact will be great. Future generations of Catholics may thank you.

Adam Bartlett holds a BA Music, Arizona State University, MA Liturgy (in progress) Liturgical Institute of St. Mary of the Lake University, Mundelein, IL, is Director of Music and Liturgy, St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in Phoenix, AZ, is the founder of ‘’, and a blogger at ‘’

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