Thursday, September 17, 2015

Book Review: Bread from Heaven: English Eucharistic Motets

Heath Morber, the Director of Music at St. John's Catholic Chapel in Champaign, Illinois, recently published a most handy book of easy Eucharistic motets in English for 2 and 3 voices: Bread from Heaven. As anyone knows who has tried to run an amateur choir, it can be a great challenge (especially at an early morning Mass) having enough repertoire to do a respectable job with polyphony. Sometimes only the women show up; sometimes you'll have only one tenor or bass. Sometimes you have a men's schola and you'd like to teach them a TB or TBB motet -- but it has to be simple.

Unfortunately, the combination of simplicity and beauty has not been very successfully attained by most modern composers. It seems to have been an everyday gift with the likes of Palestrina, Lassus, and Josquin, who are the masters chosen by Morber. He has taken Latin motets or passages from Masses that were already written for 2 or 3 voices and carefully adapted them for English texts suitable for communion time. In all cases he provides us with multiple settings of each text, for a variety of different forces depending on the piece (e.g., SA, AT, TB, SAT, ATB, SAA, AAT, TBB). The adaptations are beautifully done and sing as well as if they had been originally designed as English mini-motets. Each motet features an English psalm-tone verse so that the motet can be repeated. At the back there is a complete text of Psalm 34(33) pointed in such a way that it will work with the psalm tones used in the motets. The result is a lovely meditation for communion that will cover any length of time.

This is the sort of resource the Ordinary Form needs, and it is a resource that most amateur choirs can readily make use of. Heath Morber has priced it at $10 so that multiple copies are not prohibitively expensive. Check it out here.

Samples: "You Gave Us Bread from Heaven" (SAB):

"Taste and See the Goodness of the Lord" (AT):

Photos from the book:

For more video samples, see here, and here, and here.

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