03 December 2006

Too Much Organ

When I began singing with the Gregorian Schola at Gonzaga, I realized that my life in sacred music was changed forever--I could never go back.

Well, in some ways I have gone back--my mind and heart may be chanting, but my voice is once again singing "Mass of Creation." I put up with the schlock because the choir sings lovely things too--pieces of genuinely good choral literature appear at the offertory and communion--but today I felt that the "lovely music" was extraordinarily out of place. Often we sing Renaissance motets that are unaccompanied, which would have been perfect. But today we sang J.S. Bach's Wachet Auf (in English translation) and H. H. Parry's I Was Glad, both of which involve long organ interludes. The organ part in the Parry (well, the whole piece, really) is positively bombastic. It would have been great last week, for Christ the King, but was totally inappropriate for what should have been the quiet solemnity of the First Sunday of Advent.

I know that in places with professional organists, the budget committees would balk at paying them full rates for not working during Advent and Lent, and it wouldn't exactly be fair to the organists to tell them to buzz off for a month without pay. Also, many choirs and cantors are not as well-trained as we could wish and not capable of singing well without accompaniment (which, to be fair, is difficult even for well-trained singers). Still, if we must have organ music during Lent, it should be in the background, quietly supporting the singing, and not showing off and nearly blasting us out of our seats (save that for Easter, maybe?).

I'm more than usually disappointed in my choir director's choice of music today. But at least there is a politic route open to me to prevent this happening in future: the choir director has asked me to bring any music from my past repertoire that I really liked to him, and that he would consider it for the choir. I've already started planning for Lent--I'm going to mention the Anerio Christus factus est, Distler's From Depths of Woe, and at least one of the Palestrina offertories. Yes, I know the text of From Depths of Woe is proper to a Sunday late in Ordinary time and not to Lent, but the sentiment seems appropriate and since he doesn't care one iota about proper texts, we can at least get the most apt alius cantus aptus that we can.

Further suggestions of good a cappella Lenten repertoire would be welcome.

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