11/16/2011 11:50:00 AM Composing new songs a challenge
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Choir members at St. Mary Church, Rochester, NY.
In anticipation of the changes in the English translation of the Ordo Missae, composers have been working with the proposed texts for several years. Text fluidity was a challenge. After composing music for a new text, we would sometimes receive word of yet another revision that required us to start over. This happened several times and we learned to be patient.
Composers were mainly involved with setting the assembly’s acclamations to music: the Glory to God, the Holy, the Mystery of Faith (formerly known as the Memorial Acclamation), the Lamb of God, etc. Most of the changes involved a single phrase and were easy to adapt. The Holy is a good example: from “God of power and might” to “God of hosts.”
However, the Glory to God was problematic. As an example, the first part of the prayer was inverted.
Current text: Lord God, heavenly King, almighty God and Father, we worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory.
Revised text: We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory, Lord God, heavenly King, O God, almighty Father.
Melodically, it is much easier to set the current text to music because a composer can begin with a theme for God the Father and unfold it within the acclamations of praise. In the revised text, the acclamations of praise precede the identification of who is being praised (God the Father). That changes the melodic nuance somewhat.
Bob Hurd and I went right to work on Mass of Glory. Most of our revision was seamless but we spent a lot of time on the Glory to God. The new Mystery of Faith Acclamations 1 and 3 utilize the word “resurrection,” a difficult word to set to music. There were many challenges but our underlying composing principle was to respect the official texts. We hope that Mass of Glory’s familiar themes will help ease choirs and assemblies into praying the new Ordo Missae.
But familiarity might also be a stumbling block. Try singing the “Happy Birthday” melody with new words: “The happiest of birthdays to you, our esteemed friend....” It might be easier for people to sing an entirely new melody with the revised texts. For this reason, I submitted a new setting that utilizes a hybrid traditional/contemporary style.
Ironically, the revision seems to be a restoration of the 1964 transitional English texts that were closer to the Latin. This only begs the question of why we went to the 1970 texts in the first place? Having said that, I welcome the new texts and have enjoyed working with them.
The transition to the new Ordo Missae will be challenging and, perhaps, an inconvenience for some.
On the plus side, this is a marvelous opportunity for catechesis. The Mass is once again at the forefront of Catholic discussion in the media and in the parishes on a scale not seen since the days of the Second Vatican Council. That is certainly a good thing. The writer is a liturgical composer who has been involved as a pastoral musician and youth minister for more than 30 years. He is co-director of the youth choir at Holy Trinity Church in Beaverton and also serves as managing editor of spiritandsong.com.