Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Collegeville Hymnal Survey

One of the best hymnals out there - in the sense of being typographical competent and reliable in terms of music - is the Collegeville Hymnal. If I were in a regular parish and was absolutely pressed to acquire a hardbound hymnal, it is probably the one I would purchase, simply because of its stability, durability, and reliability. It is far from perfect, and there are many many problems associated with the impression it gives that hymns are organic to the Mass, and I'm unconvinced by many of the ordinary settings in the book. Nonetheless, it is a good effort, and inoffensive to Catholic sensibilities.

Collegeville is looking to revise it and is promoting an online survey of musicians and others. Please fill it out. In many ways, this is a wonderful survey. It asks about the extraordinary form, and gives due place to Gregorian chant. Maybe you think that this is nothing to get excited about, but consider that this same survey ten years ago would not have mentioned chant at all.

I have one big complaint about the survey. Repeated questions ask: "What parts of the Mass does your parish/community sing?" "What antiphons of the Mass does your parish/community sing?" etc. etc. I stumbled on this language many times. The problem is that it seems to assume that the people/community sing everything, as if every Mass is essentially a cantor-led community sing in, with perhaps a choir there for support, singing the melody line. Yes, I know that this is z conventional model - how tragic it all is - but in the most progressive parishes, choirs are now forming - real choirs singing real music. They are singing the propers, many times in Latin. There is a role for the choir. The questions of this survey don't seem to distinguish between what the choir alone sings and what the people are asked to sing.

This is a serious problem with the survey.

There are other odd questions. I was intrigued that it asked whether the parish/community sings the Offertory antiphon of the Sunday Mass. How many people even know that there is such a thing as an Offertory antiphon? Not too many. It can't be found in the Missal. It is only the Graduale Romanum. I mean, I'm impressed that the questions presume a knowledge of the Offertory antiphon. Good. However, the next week asks about Communion and it does not asked about the Communion antiphon of the day, even though this is indeed printed in the Missal.

So I'm left wondering if perhaps this was a mistake. It is rather serious because many parishes are striving to sing the proper of the day for communion. This survey provides no opportunity for these people to say that they are doing this.

Look, I don't want to be too critical. We live in chaotic times as regards music of the Mass. It's like an earthquake came and everyone is still picking up the pieces and figuring out where stuff goes. Not even most Catholic musicians could provide a coherent map of the musical structure of the Roman Rite. So given this situation, this survey is a good attempt. But clearly, the person who designed it just needed a bit more help in working out the details. Still it is worth taking.

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