Sunday, July 05, 2009

Music by Richard Rice: An Outpouring

Richard Rice is a serious composer by any traditional standard but his work has a special interest for Catholics because he has devoted a vast amount of his productivity to composing and typesetting music for liturgical praxis. And though his concert music is very difficult, he understands the needs of regular parishes and their limited resources and he devotes his talents to serving those parishes.

I would say that he stands out in this respect, carrying forward a tradition of composition that was very nearly broken entirely following the liturgical upheaval of the 1960s. Rice forged ahead, writing new music for the vernacular that far exceeds the quality of most anything you can buy from mainstream composers. He has also seen in the Gregorian chant what most people in the Catholic music world chose to ignore, namely that the music of the Mass provides a continuity between the old and new forms of the Mass.

His book Communio deserves a high place in the modern history of the new liturgical movement for providing an entryway for new scholas to sing the propers of the Mass, along with the Psalm verses that were extremely hard to find until his book. This book is in use worldwide. He has also produced a version with English Psalm verses for the choir to sing, which is especially suitable for dicey liturgical environments in which singing 100% in Latin can push some people over the edge.

Most people know Richard for his work on the Parish Book of Chant, which is in the pews of parishes, seminaries, and college chapels around the country -- a book that gives Catholic people back their true voice.

There is far more where that comes from. In addition to writing hundreds of Psalm settings in English, he alone has produced a book of Graduals and Alleuias with simplified Psalms, making it possible for most any parish to sing authentic music for Mass without stumbling on passages designed for more accomplished singers. He has further done for Offertories what he did for Communions: published the verses to permit the antiphons to be repeated.

I almost forgot what I think his great innovation for the ordinary form: a full Gradual in English that offers simple choral arrangements for all the propers of the Mass for the entire liturgical year. It is an amazing accomplishment.

Most all of the above are available for free download.

I've often thought about what makes Richard's work different. It has something to do with his capacity for employing genius in a way that is accessible to any singer in most any parish. Also, his work is heavily informed by his vast knowledge of Gregorian chant. More than anything else, the key to Richard's work is that it is not all about himself and displaying his own creativity. There is a notable humility that comes through in his music, along with a burning desire to bring beauty to Catholic liturgy, especially in these troubled times. So we should also add another virtue to his projects: the embody a kind of hope that has been an inspiration to many thousands of Catholic musicians.

He has taken a big step and opened up his own site for distributing hard copies of his work. I note that there are some new additions, including complete Latin introits for treble trio. This are presented according to the extraordinary form calendar but they are also useful in the ordinary form. I've seen a copy of these and they are fantastic!

As another addition, he has a book of Marian motets for SSA trio -- works that should be useful and beautiful in any parish.

I'm very excited about all of these new offerings. He is certainly making his mark on our times. You will note from his descriptions that he is not keen on bragging about his work, so the "sales copy" is ridiculously understated given the quality of his work.

Finally, let me say a word about the publishing approach here. Note that he doing it himself - which technology permits these days. Thank goodness. This gives the composer full control over his work, and permits him to financially support himself while also given away for free the vast part of his output. This project is worthy of support by all musicians providing music for the Mass.