Monthly Archives: October 2013

Praise music from the past: Marty Haugen’s “Tales of Wonder”

An occasional feature.

Oh, do I remember this … well, vaguely. But I was in at least two productions of “Tales of Wonder”  growing up (possibly three), because the nun who ran music at the parish I was at growing up liked it and had the choirs (and me, because I was the son of a choir member and available to badly state a couple lines, plus some other kids) perform it. I remember having to blurt out “EVEN ME??????” during an ending dialogue scene, holding up a cardboard sun and moon during a song, and walking in a circle of people holding candles during another song. Ah, the early ’90s. The memories. (Single, solitary tear goes down face.)

I have no idea what the background is for this album.

And so keep all that in mind when I reflect on “Tales of Wonder,” a Biblical musical (supposedly designed for kids) that isn’t designed to be done during Mass but does have pieces that could be used during it. I’ve talked about Marty Haugen on this blog a few times before, especially in a post picking out his good stuff. Two pieces in “Tales of Wonder” are on that list. And even if some of this stuff isn’t the best, it keeps a little place in my heart because of those concerts when I was little. Continue reading

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It’s gauntlet season

The life of a music minister can occasionally get craaaaaaaaaaazy. This week ends up as a case in point. To wit:

Today: Practice at church #1 (for Christmas).

Wednesday: Practice at church #2 (for regular Masses).

Thursday: Practice at church #3 (for regular Masses).

Friday: One All Saints’ Day Mass, plus a rehearsal session with a cantor for a wedding on Saturday.

Saturday: Morning All Souls’ Day Mass, followed by the aforementioned wedding, followed by my regular Saturday English Mass, followed by a concert at another parish at which I’m doing this:

Sunday: Two Masses, then a very long nap. Actually, I have leaves that need raking. And I need to go grocery shopping. And…

This is just like a prep week, though, for busy season. December is always a crazy month. So if I get through this week relatively unscathed, it should set me up relatively well for the Christmas season.

Why it’s important to memorize all your music

It figures that during a Mass in which it’s more than the usual honor to play, I would make a rookie error and have to cover for it. But cover I did.

I had been requested for the funeral of a nice old lady who often sat in the front row at my main parish. She had asked me to play and sing alone, which I was. Things were going smoothly, save a bit of coughing, until Communion, for which the hymn was “I Am the Bread of Life.”

I played the introduction and started in. Was halfway through the first verse when I realized I had the music for the refrain, and half the verse, but, um, not the last half of the verse. Oops. This was my fault, as I had pulled the music from the big three-ring binder and put it into a little three-ring binder.

This is potential, of course, for disaster. But fortunately, “I Am the Bread of Life” has reached standard status at many Catholic churches, so I’ve done it so many times that I had actually memorized the whole thing without fully realizing it. So I was able to keep going until Communion had ended.

So there you have it, kids. It’s important to memorize everything you play. Because you may never know when you have to inadvertently play it from memory, and that way you will be prepared.

It’s important to update your hymn set every so often

Even if you’re a Traditional Latin Mass type, this is true. Some music that once sounded revolutionary now sounds tired. Or it’s been done so many times that people tire of singing of it. Or you’ve hit a nice patch of inertia and want to stick to a smaller song set. Either way, it’s a practical problem that’s easily solved.

I thought about this one day when I finished my Masses and was followed by a “contemporary” group at the last Mass. Their plans included doing “Awesome God” (more thoughts about that here) and, if memory serves, “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever.”

We could debate over whether those pieces should be done at Mass, but my concern is more this: over the last many years, plenty of “contemporary,” orthodox, thematically sensible, thoroughly Catholic music has been churned out, and though plenty of it is rubbish, still other pieces are very strong. They deserve evaluation to see whether they could fit into a church’s plans.

But, like I said, this is true even in TLMs. Language changes, and sometimes those old hymns have language that sounds terrible today. (Example A: from “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” the translation of one line as “Lo, He abhors not the virgin’s womb”). Or they express ideas that have either fallen out of favor or aren’t a good idea to do today. Though the Mass is, of course, timeless, the language isn’t necessarily the same way.

Stop what you’re doing right now and listen to this English choral music

A couple months ago, I filled out a survey for the OCP bilingual hymnal we use at my main parish. As thanks, they sent me a gift certificate (not redeemable online, incredibly; I have to mail a postcard in) for one CD, which presumably will arrive in six to eight weeks.

Andrew Wright

Perhaps many people would buy one of OCP’s contemporary artist CDs. And many of their contemporary artists are not bad. But as I have well-established, contemporary isn’t really my preference.

Which is why I was happy to find OCP promoting this CD of English choral music. Composed by Andrew Wright, this CD has plenty of eminently singable music (fair warning, choir at my main parish). Here’s his Ave Maria setting:

But my favorite is his “Emmanuel.” A lot of good Advent music is just that little bit haunting, and this nails it. This is something a congregation could pick up, too. And the choral parts are doable.

As it turns out, Andrew Wright is very well-regarded in the composer community, and with good reason. Go spend some time listening to the samples from his CD. I promise you won’t regret it.

A cautious word in favor of the new “Spirit and Song”

The new “Spirit and Song” book is out, and it appears to be a significant improvement from the much-maligned (and deservedly so) original, based on the hymn listing (scroll down to the bottom to see it). Protestant standards are basically gone — sayonara, “Thy Word,” “Awesome God,” and “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever.” Favorites by excellent hymn writers such as Trevor Thomson and Sarah Hart are there, and there seem to be more singable hymns in there as opposed to meandering, weirdly syncopated songs. Is there rubbish in the book? Of course — I can’t imagine how the awful “Malo! Malo! Thanks Be to God” is well-liked, and I maintain my vendetta against “Go Make a Difference.” But there’s plenty of good stuff, even a little bit of chant.

So this is a cautious word in favor of the new “Spirit and Song.” It is, thankfully, much more Catholic. But anyone who uses it nonetheless should be willing to use some old-timey hymns that are in the Church’s DNA, as well, including chant (which I first learned to love in high school, which was run by Benedictines). And many of the hymns are better off as choir or solo pieces. If you have a lot of youth in your parish, go ahead and buy it.