Monday, October 10, 2011

'Tis the gift to have simple mass settings...

Autumn greetings, everyone!

One of our blog readers commented a couple of days ago, asking if there was a simple mass setting that was designed for a "very small church with few resources."

This very issue has been on my mind for quite a few years, and about eighteen months ago, I had an experience at Corby Hall on campus that really shaped my composition (and the work load for the next six months!)

You see, I've always been attracted to simple chant settings.  Not the elaborate, highly ornamented and melismatic lines – rather, the ones that average congregations can hang on to and sing back with great gusto.  My ultimate "parochial best chant" is, of course, Veni, Veni Emmanuel.  But surely there must be another, accessible tune that might fit this criteria?

But along with simplicity of tune, I would want the setting to work well both with organ and guitar, and to have the straightforward integrity to work either unadorned or with a little bit of instrumental help, if available.

So.... back to Corby Hall, during the Second Week of Lent, 2010.  You see, for the past 15+ years, I've been providing music every Wednesday night for the men of the Holy Cross community, and this Wednesday night was no different than any other.  I chose an Opening Hymn which I've always enjoyed hearing the Corby community sing so well: "Where Charity and Love Prevail," which was originally arranged by Dom Paul Benoit.

Well, we hadn't gotten through verse 1 before I started hearing other texts aligning in my ear – the "Holy, Holy, Holy" and the "Kyrie" and the "Lamb of God."   And by the end of the week, I had presented the idea to my editors at World Library Publications.  The result is below:

This setting, which incorporates the revised texts of the Mass, is a very simple musical accompaniment for the liturgy.  It can be done on guitar, or on organ, or on both.  It can be done unadorned, with no instrumentation whatsoever.  But it can also be done with a complimentary C instrument (we recorded it with my daughter Jessica playing the oboe, which was beautiful).  And for dressing up at times, there are descants at appropriate places.

Most important, though, is the notion of simplicity and integrity.  Some parishes just don't have the resources, nor is it a true reflection of their community, to do a mass setting that "pulls out all the stops."  And in that instance, this is a musical treatment of the texts that just might find a home in smaller parishes, at military bases, or – who knew – in some of the residence halls at the University of Notre Dame!

As I've said, we spent the last three years preparing for these days ahead.  And much of that, for my colleague Karen Kirner and myself, has been devoted to looking at the new mass settings, and finding something that would fit our needs, something sacred, but also some new wineskins into which we could pour the new wine of these words.

So, at the risk of trumpeting the news – here is a new mass setting!  And it is doable, even for parishes with the simplest of resources.  It was borne out of an a cappella experience and the singing of a hymn that has been a mainstay of parochial life for two generations.

May we keep singing that hymn!  And fear not the First Sunday of Advent!

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