It’s been a while but we are finally back singing at the 10.30am. We started back last Sunday after more than a well-earned break, infact it was virtually a Gap Year (thanks to my extensive holidaying practices.)
So what’s new? (You may be asking..)
Our numbers have swelled slightly. I am blessed with a new Soprano and a new Tenor, the latter who also conveniently plays the organ; the organ has been tuned; and the dust has been swept away (temporarily) from the organ loft.
I am trying a couple of different things this term/season.
Firstly, in a bid to give the congregation a break from singing too many hymns l have ditched the Communion hymn so we are now down to two hymns, an opening and a recessional. We did away with the ‘Gifts of this and that’ at the Offertory a long time ago and whilst our congregation love singing one of three Communion hymns they know and love (O Bread of Heaven, Sweet Sacrament Divine and Soul of my Saviour) it is quite evident, they would much rather be praying after receiving the Blessed Sacrament than having to root around looking for their tatty old hymn book.
The opening – We sing two or three verses of an appropriate hymn as the celebrant and the servers process to the altar. This week we sang Praise to the holiest. We then sing the Introit either in Latin or English. Today we sang Richard Rice’s Simple Choral Setting in four parts. I know a hymn and an Introit is a compromise and the ideal is the Introit on its own but it does work. Hymn tunes set to the Introit text tend not to work very well in our parish so this is the next best thing – both! In Advent and Lent we do only sing the Introit. In some parishes l know, they sing the Introit before the bell is rung and then a hymn is started as the celebrant processes. Not ideal because then the Introit is not part of the Mass.
We have started singing Kyrie XI along with the Gloria, Sanctus and Agnus Dei from Missa di Angelis. We are not the sort of parish that can switch straight from Mass VIII to XI without some degree of difficulty. If there was no break during the summer there would be long enough to teach the parish Mass XI but with only six weeks or so to Advent it is tricky. Next week we may swop the Agnus Dei to XI. I really don’t have a problem with singing different bits of Plainsong Masses – with the exception of Mass I “Lux et Origo” it is generally considered that the Masses were all composed at different times anyway.
The Gradual we are singing to a psalm tone in English from the Lalamont Propers. This is a brilliant resource from Corpus Christi Watershed which covers every Sunday in the year. The congregation can sing the Antiphon responsorially if they wish.
Our Alleluia is very unimaginative and we are still on the Paschal Alleluia. Just too much to think about changing the Alleluia melody.
The Offertory Antiphon is taken from the Lalamont Propers, again in English. The choir then sing a Motet or a Plainsong hymn which reflects the theme of the Offertory Antiphon; today we sang the divine Jesu Dulcis Memoria allegedly written by Victoria. We don’t always have a good balance of SATB so the music tends to be dictated by who is available from week-to-week. (Last week we sang Grieg’s Ave Maris Stella set for SSA female voices.)
The Sanctus and Agnus Dei were Mass VIII
At Communion we have sung the Communion Chant from the Graduale Romanum alternating with psalm verses for the last two weeks. These chant settings are brilliantly transcribed by Richard Rice and can be found on the Musica Sacra website. These are ideal for Communion because there are so many verses that you can keep singing them as long as required. In the past, l have been guilty of spending the least amount of time on the Communion chant usually because it is the last thing we practice. Now, by only singing one piece of chant per Mass from the Graduale Romanum it gives us more time to concentrate on studying the text and working on the all-important shaping of the music. The Communion propers at the moment run in a sequence from Psalm 118 which of course is the longest psalm in the psalter. They are incredibly meditative ‘meditatio mea est‘, and l think the more they are sung they become more personal and intimate. Last week’s ‘In salutari tuo‘ reiterated the importance of Communion as the sacrament of hope as we sang ‘et in verbum tuum speravi.’ This week’s was more of a plea asking God to remove all scorn and contempt from me for we have ‘nam‘ ‘truely’ kept his commandments. They really are so beautiful – what could be better than to speak to the Lord directly through chant and song after receiving the Lord.
Finally it is a loud Recessional hymn for the end and an organ voluntary.
This amount of music l have described is about our limit. We only have an hour to practice before Mass and realistically we spend most of that time practicing the Introit, the Motet and the Communion Proper. The rest needs to be fairly straightforward and sight-readable, hence the reliance on some Psalm tone Propers. My tip is always it is better to sing one thing well then several things badly.
Finally, if you are interested in joining us then do drop me a comment. I am afraid that you have to be able to read music and sing to a reasonable standard. If you are only interested in singing Gregorian Chant, our next Missa Cantata is for All Saints on 1st November and this will be in the extraordinary form so let me know if you want to come along.