Thursday, February 28, 2008

How to confuse Google

This post inaugurates a new, hopefully recurring feature in this blog: Little-Known Liturgical Gebrauchmusik! In it, we hope to feature examples of choral music which serve a useful, unassuming purpose in Christian liturgy. These are not Great Works of Art - you won't see them on recital programmes, or on recordings - but they are nevertheless written with skill and craft. They meet my unscientific standards for quality in choral music: does the voice leading suggest that the author passed university harmony? Does the text setting suggest that the author understands the rhythm of the language? Is there gratuitous bassploitation? The works featured here are generally quite practical for parish choir performance, sometimes for unison voices alone, but for one reason or another don't seem to be widely known to choir directors. So I'm posting them on this blog, where important world leaders will read about them and pass appropriate legislation.

The feature is also a thinly disguised polemic against the choral-industrial complex. Every choir director receives leaflets in the mail from sacred music publishers with samples of new choral music. Much of this literature is simply garbage, but because it's so practically scored and easily available it becomes the main diet of many congregations throughout North America. My position on the matter is that there is simply no excuse for bad choral music. There is no ensemble with a wider-ranging repertoire than the mixed choir - to perform music which falls below a certain minimum standard of craftsmanship is a failure of imagination on the part of the director. And so I hope to demonstrate that it is possible to reconcile the need for quality with the practical needs of parish church performance.

Little-Known Liturgical Gebrauchmusik #1 is Bairstow' Service in E-flat. A complete setting of the Morning, Evening and Communion services for unison voices, this is extraordinarily well-designed. Built on a few motives which are repeated, combined and extended throughout the course of the service, this is easily teachable to a less experienced choir. We're going to be switching to this setting of the Communion Service after Lent is over; the choir enjoys it very much, especially the Agnus Dei. If the congregation picks it up readily, we'll put it into our regular rotation of mass settings. And I'll have the Morning Service in the organ bench in case we need to do a choral matins in a hurry sometime - it'd be much more impressive-sounding, and easier to teach, than the dull canticle chants in the Canadian Psalter.

All still in print from OUP, except for the Morning Service, which is available in a reprint edition.

And on an slightly different note, let's all give a warm welcome to the person from Poland who found this blog while searching for "Middle English Vocabulary". I'm not sure if discussions of liturgical music and the works of Brian Ferneyhough were what you were expecting, but maybe those were the search terms you were going to try next.

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