Saturday, November 03, 2007

text and composers

A few weeks ago after Mass, a parishioner was talking to me, and he pointed out how happy he was that I wasn't using any more of that "Haugen/Haas stuff." I admitted I had made a definite decision to avoid using certain types of songs, regardless of how much affection and nostalgia people have for them.
But...should I really be determining my song choices based on the composer? (I'm not. As you noticed for my All Saints songs, I DID use "Blest Are They," because it is a completely appropriate Communion Antiphon!)
Shouldn't the text and musical reverence of the song take more precedence over purely the composer?
I mean, "Blest Are They," is actually NOT like any song you would hear on the radio. (Use of popular style songs being the biggest argument against many "contemporary" songs.) And I would differentiate also between Haugen/Haas as being simply "folksy" (but what the heck does that mean? Doesn't that just mean "singable by the average person?") as compared with true "contemporary" songs like "Awesome God," for example, which is undeniably a more radio-popular style. (Not saying ANYTHING about the adequateness of the song by itself.) (Life Teen type songs, for example, [which is a completely different post-perhaps I do believe that Life Teen has its place, but let's save that for another time...] )
Anyhow, I can't remember why I went off on that tangent...
so....some songs are simply...not hymns? and perhaps also have the stigma of being written by one composer or another that we normally like to disdain?
Really, can anyone claim that "Blest are They" is an intrinsically poor song? (I think the melody actually nice. The words completely scriptural. Actually, now that I think of it, it tends to alternate between "Blest are they," and "blest are you..." which is it actually scripturally? Is that then the only complaint leveled against it? and a few verses that vary enough in melodic rhythm, that...yeah...)
ok, now I'm rambling.
To summarize more, I just had my choir sing a piece, based on a wonderful famous prayer, but by a rather similar composer to the one mentioned above...if you didn't know the composer, you would think, "oh, what a lovely, reverent, song!" but if (most of you who read this blog...) knew the composer, you'd think, "yech! him again!"
but is that really fair?


Anonymous said...

I think blind hatred of a composer is irrational and utterly inconsistent with Catholic teaching on music and charity. Joncas wrote an 8-voice motet, after all. I prefer to do my evaluation based on the individual piece (or at least the style) rather than blanket judgments on music I don't know.

And I would argue that "Blest are They" is intrinsically poor as liturgical/devotional music, since the singing is NOTHING like the accompaniment. This makes it difficult to sing, except for people like you and I who grew up always having to sing it. It certainly can't be easily learned. My opinion is that much of what passes for liturgical music today is more appropriate as devotional music for non-liturgical communal prayer. And that's an entirely different set of judgments.

And the deal with "Blest are they/you" is because there's at least 2 different accounts of the Beatitudes in scripture. One says "Blessed are the ___" and the other says "Blessed are you" or something. Interestingly, one of the accounts adds in "but woe to you", which you don't hear in the song :P


Cantor said...

Speaking of the Beatitudes, have you all noticed that the Gospel reading for All Saints leaves out what is probably the biggest “kicker” line to match the reading to the day:

“...for thus did they persecute the prophets who went before you.”

Gavin, I disagree that Blest Are They is difficult to sing - unless we mean that the congregation would be expected to sing the verses. Re the accompaniment, most accompanists are competent to modify an accompanist to double the melody, anyway.

BONIFACE said...


While in general you cannot decide based on who the composer is, I think you can do so when the composers happen to be known dissidents. Part of what you need to take into consideration is what the author means by the words he writes. What does Haugen mean when he speaks of the Bread of Life? Since he is a Lutheran, we know he does not mean what we mean, and therefore I think his songs ought to not be used.