Monthly Archives: October 2012

Handy organist tip #2: How to play “Amazing Grace”

How sweet the sound.

When you’re playing “Amazing Grace,” regardless of where it is in Mass* or how much time you actually have, you will play all five (or however many you have) verses. Because there are very few hymns that everyone knows, and this is one of them. Although when I did this recently as a recessional hymn, I made sure the cantor announced we were doing all five, to ensure the priest saying the Mass didn’t take off. And oh, did everyone sing all five verses, loudly and majestically. Now, as a reward for reading that, here’s Elvis Presley singing “Amazing Grace” with the verses in a different order than I’m used to.

I don’t subscribe to the idea that “Amazing Grace” isn’t suitable for Mass, thank you.


Praise music from the past: “Awesome God”

Latest in a series of praise songs from the past; some usable at Mass, others, not so much.

Here’s why this song isn’t usable at Mass: the first line, which is too colloquial:

When He rolls up His sleeves He ain’t just putting on the ritz

Oddly enough, the refrain is fine:

Our God is an awesome God
He reigns from Heaven above
With wisdom, power, and love
Our God is an awesome God

But the verses aren’t (“And the Lord wasn’t joking when He kicked ’em out of Eden/It wasn’t for no reason that He shed His blood…”)

This song had appeal to me when I was in my teens, but then I got a little older and realized that it’s still a decent CCM song, but not a song appropriate for Mass. But it’s cool to use with your youth group, and they might respond well to it.

Rich Mullins. (Photo credit: Promotional photo, available on Wikipedia.)

Rich Mullins, the writer and performer, met a sad end in 1997 in a car crash in which he was not wearing a seat belt. There are claims that he was on his way into the Church. If he had lived longer and been able to enter the Church, imagine him having a chance to write some stuff that would have been usable at Mass. We could have had some great hymns crafted. Instead, however, we’re left to wonder what might have been.

Change comes to an old spiritual home

In my youth, I attended my family’s parish, where the sainted Fr. G, a gregarious old Irish priest, ran things. Mom and dad married there. I was baptized, received First Communion, and was confirmed there. I played my first Mass there, in 1998, when I was a lad of 13.

And I have not played there since high school and barely been back. The sainted Fr. G retired, replaced by a bookish priest who was a bad fit for the parish and was replaced himself by a younger priest. There wasn’t a spot for me when I would return from college. Except for weddings and other events, I rarely dropped in.

But a chain of events sent me over to my first parish to fill in, and it was, indeed, a sort of homecoming. The old sights. The old sounds. The old stained glass windows.

True, only two people who were in the choir while I was there are still there. But on a dreary, pouring-rain Wednesday evening at the practice, I borrowed the music director’s keys and scampered up to the loft (though the organ wouldn’t be used) to revisit an old friend.

Hello, old friend.

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Praise music from the past: “Thy Word”

Latest in an occasional series of praise songs from not now, some with Mass intents, some for the concerts only.

Oh, “Thy Word.” I have a love-hate relationship with this song.

The original version above, by Amy Grant (though Michael W. Smith wrote it) is awful. Go ahead, listen to it. The production is cheap sounding (argh, electric keyboards). it’s too fast, and it’s weirdly timed. But there’s a nugget of a decent song there. Recognizing that helps you understand how the song has lasted this long.

Amy Grant. (Photo from her website.)

The lyrics, which are taken from Psalms, are good, for once, and that doesn’t happen enough in CCM. The melody, when done slowly and reverently, is great. It’s relatively easy to sing, and the refrain is such that a congregation could be gently guided into singing along, even without being given the words.

I think this is best done as a meditation, and shouldn’t be used as one of the normal hymns in Mass (it’s in the Spirit and Song book and widely available). I first knew of this song in 6th or 7th grade, when we did it that way. The accompaniment I have access to for it, in Spirit and Song, still takes it way too fast — there are 32nd notes! — so I largely ignore it and take a minimalist approach.

Praise music from the past: “The Lord’s Prayer”

First in an occasional series of songs from the past, some used for Catholic Mass, some not so much.

After Vatican II, as songwriters scrambled to fill the churches with new styles of music, you had some hits, some OK stuff and a lot of misfires. But if you wanted to pick something that’s so ’70s, I’d go with Sister Janet Mead‘s “The Lord’s Prayer,” a rockified version of the Our Father that turns the first few lines into a refrain and kind of garbles the rest.

Sister Janet Mead

Some folks, undoubtedly, used it at Mass. (As the norms stand now, I believe it would not be allowed.) But it found a home in the hearts of many outside of Mass, scoring high on the Billboard charts and selling more than 1 million copies in the U.S. alone. But Mead was unaccustomed to stardom, and preferred to continue making music in the hopes of reaching young people.

An example of a rock Mass Sister Janet created.

Thankfully, rock Masses such as the ones Mead created have fallen out of favor. But you’ll note that, as far as the information I found says, she has stayed devoted to the Church all these years (unlike, say, the Singing Nun) and always striven to bring others to Christ. For that, she deserves our gratitude.

(More information here, where I gleaned a large chunk of this info.)

Joe Biden and the incoherence of “personally pro-life”

When it came to the abortion question at the vice presidential debate, Paul Ryan    gave a pretty good answer on how his Catholic faith informed his position on the issue. Not perfect, of course, but pretty good. And Joe Biden gave the classic “personally pro-life” answer:

My religion defines who I am, and I’ve been a practicing Catholic my whole life, and it has particularly informed my social doctrine. Catholic social doctrine talks about taking care of those who can’t take care of themselves. People who need help.

With regard to abortion, I accept my Church’s position on abortion as a de fide doctrine. Life begins at conception. I accept that position in my personal life. But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians, and Muslims and and Jews…I just refuse to do that, unlike my friend here, the Congressman. I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people, women that they cannot control their body. It’s a decision between them and their doctor in my view, and the Supreme Court. And I’m not going to interfere with that.

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Your organisting is sick

I currently have a cold. Not a terribly nasty one — it’s more of the annoying type. I stayed in this weekend and took it easy. But being sick is really, really annoying when you’re an organist, because it does affect the way you play. Here’s how:

1. You can’t hear the same. My ears are plugged up, even with all this cold

This is the keyboard I play at the church that doesn’t yet have its building open. They worship in the multipurpose room at an elementary school, so posters about sharing and beverage machines all need to be hidden before Mass starts.

medicine. So I cannot legitimately judge how loudly I’m playing. In my last Mass this weekend at my other parish, whose church building will not be opening until next month, I kept fiddling with the volume controls on the electric keyboard because I couldn’t hear myself. Afterwards, the cantor told me, “No, it was fine. Sounded just right.” But that sound system gives me trouble anyway, and I could barely hear what I was playing. The same thing had happened on Saturday, when I couldn’t figure out whether the organ was sounding right, because the sound was distorted somewhere in my ears.

2. It’s tough to sing. I got through half of my first Mass, then had to stop, then I didn’t sing at all in my other two. I just couldn’t. The singing started to irritate my throat, and then I couldn’t push enough volume through to make enough noise.

3. Everyone wants to shake your hand, but… Aside from the sign of peace and, at some parishes, greeting each other before Mass, there are always people who want to say hi to the musicians after Mass. But I wasn’t shaking anyone’s hand this weekend.

4. You lose focus. When you’re not feeling 100% and need more sleep than you’ve gotten, it’s incredibly easy to miss a cue. I had to really force myself to pay attention to the priest and to my music. Of course, I should be anyway, but we’re human. It’s much harder than advertised.

5. The after-cold cough. When I had a cold over the holidays last year, it was really annoying. I came down with it during Christmas Eve and Christmas, and though it was basically gone by New Year’s, an annoying cough remained. But I had a solo for New Year’s (a Marian chant) that I needed to gut through. I sang it quietly, with my mouth practically eating the microphone, sang the rest of the prelude music, then didn’t sing at all the rest of the Mass because I was coughing too much. This happens often when I get a cold, so I won’t be surprised if it happens again next weekend.

But there are a few good things about having a cold: I’m on a strict diet of chicken soup and spicy tacos, both of which help unstuff a stuffy nose. I get more time to read and sleep and relax, because I can’t work out or do extra practicing or other things I’d normally do when well.

And, of course, it’s just a cold. It will be gone soon enough.