Thursday, January 04, 2018

Once Again With Feeling: TEXT MATTERS!!

When one is closely involved in church music--as we have been for decades--the priority of the TEXT is unquestionable.  Then-Cardinal Ratzinger made the point eloquently and forcefully in his 1988 lecture in Vienna, likening the music to the 'enfleshment' of the text-bones.  Most telling is his deliberate play on "Word"/'word'.  Think about that.

Another way to understand it is this:  the music (merely) illuminates the text.

This is what sets Chant and much of polyphony apart from hymns.  Hymns have great melody, and for the first verse, the melody often "illuminates" the text.  But in the second, third, fourth verses?  Not so much.

Anyhow, back in the early 1900's another guy--an Anglican--said the same thing.  This should not come as a surprise, unless you don't understand church music at all.

...12. DON’T be satisfied with merely a correct rendering of the pointed psalter, but aim at an intelligent rendering of the psalms…put the words first, and let the chant—whether plainsong or anglican—be your humble and obedient servant, not your master…

13. DON’T be too fond of the double chant; singles are usually preferable. What more destroys the rhythm of a psalm or canticle than the repetition of the second part?...we must bear in mind that in all church music WORDS matter most. The Church does not exist for choirs, but choirs for the church…

52. DON’T forget that rhythm is the soul of music...The three fundamental principles of rhythm are: (1) Accent, (2) Time, (3) Grouping. And now to acquire rhythmical singing—first of all sing less music that has been built in brick-wall fashion, and sing more “free” music of the Palestrina school, sing also Missa de Angelis and Merbecke, above all sing Plainsong.

And to sing modern music rhythmically—(1) think less of strong, weak, medium, weak, in quadruple time, and let the words bear their right accent: (2) try not to see the bar-lines, forget their existence as much as possible: (3) observe and mark the balance of the sentences, catch the antiphonal spirit
But I can show-and-tell at least two area parishes whose music programs are run by multi-degreed people that have never learned this.  Or at least, they don't act like it. 

Sad, ain'a??

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