Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Critical Review of the

This review was composed in 1998 and I post it here in response to a thread over at MSF regarding usage permission to reprint by FNJ. I reprint it in full, though I know that I cannot avow total agreement for my remarks now, in light of the eleven year passage of time and my own continued understanding of the various aspects discussed.

There has been much discussion in various news groups of late regarding aspects of the publication and efficacy of the Adoremus Hymnal (Ignatius Press, S.F.,CA.) After doing a very brief comparison of titles cited in its advertisement to those of industry giants Oregon Catholic Press and Gregorian Institute of America, I posted some reservations concerning the ratio of content to value. In that much of the English-language hymnody of Adoremus was already found in existing volumes by OCP, GIA and presumably many other significant hymnal publishers, would its differences (increased Latin-language content, masses and other service music, absence of certain other genres) in editorial offerings warrant serious consideration of the Adoremus product?
I obtained copies of the Choir and Accompaniment editions recently and spent a few moments perusing the Choir Edition only. I decided to keep informal notes (using Ben Franklin's old model of Pluses/Minuses) as I went through the book.
First of all, I have no personal interest vested in this or any other hymnal. I would approach critical analysis of any catholic hymnal from its practicality, its artistic and textual merit, its preparation and attention to detail and, of course, the famed "3 factors" of appropriate worthiness outlined in the documents. I decided specifically not to consider the political or philosophical ramifications of this particular hymnal so warmly considered in recent news group threads.

On the plus side:
+A. The Order of Mass (pp.12-93) is given a thorough and dignified presentation with Latin/English facing pages. I particularly appreciate the detail given to ritual actions. This inclusion puts into the hands of all the faithful clear descriptions and instructions regarding all aspects of the rites. Such "up-front" liturgical catecheses is woefully missed in most other products, hardbound or subscription-based. I also appreciate the direct correlation of Latin to English that can only benefit my personal understanding of our ritual language heritage.
+B. The overall engraving of the hymnal is satisfactory. A great effort to make text and music font size uniform for the most part is successful.
+C. The musical authorship of a setting of the Vidi aquam as attributed anonymously to "a Cistercian monk" imparted to me a sense of humility.
+D. The Psalm-Tone Mass of K.Poterack provides a welcomed option for smaller congregations without great choral or accompanimental resources. Its motifs are reminiscent of the recent mass booklet settings by A. Gouzes (GIA.)
+E. Portions of C. Shenk's setting, Mass of St. Theresa, demonstrate a careful balance of melodic motives to textual intent without venturing into "word painting" or some such other techniques.(However, note some other observations in the "minus" section to follow about these same motifs.)
+F. Welcomed "re-inclusions" include: Austria, St. Patrick's Breastplate, National hymn,
+G. The volume of Latin chants, hymns, service music

On the minus side:
-A. Gregorian neumes used for the responses in the Ordo should prove manageable for many congregants. However, requiring our choristers/cantors to navigate the rules of interpretation is a daunting enterprise, not to mention the herculean implications of teaching the workings of the porrectus, quilisma and markings such as episemas to our diverse congregants. Yet, this is the only notational option provided for the interpretation of the Latin Ordinaries.
The great care taken to outline the rubrics of the rites in the Order of Mass is not mirrored anywhere in the pages of the choir edition. It would seem that the citation of the booklet "Jubilate Deo" and the preface remarks regarding giving Gregorian chant "pride of place in liturgical services" is then abrogated by the omission of any user-friendly instructions. I haven't consulted the accompaniment edition as of yet, but is it presumed by the editorial and executive committee members that all directors and choristers are proteges of Drs. Tortolano, Wm. Belan, and the good monks of Solemses already, LU's in hand? Would it have posed too much of an endeavor to bridge the experience gap of most post conciliar musicians by providing a similar
facing page model of Gregorian to conventional notation as was given in the Order? And yes, I'm aware that modern notation cannot completely accommodate the nuances of chant interpretation. But do the editors want us to take a first step in recovery or not? This complaint reverberated within me when I turned the page and encountered the "relief" of the modern notation of T. Marier's "English Chant Mass." This factor, more than Rory's (Cooney) wry observation of the irony involved in simply naming the hymnal Adoremus as regards "full, active and conscious participation," damages the admirable and presumably honest intent of the editors. Does providing such a musical "translation" de-construct the purity of the performance? Having been to a few workshops in my time, including those of our venerable colleague J. Michael Thompson, I think not. Help us get our feet wet, and the likelihood we will bring our assemblies with us increases as well.
-B. Nearly fifty pages of the Order of Mass is given to the Eucharistic Prayers of the Roman Canon. This factor combined with that of the next item
(-C) seems unwieldy and perhaps at the editorial expense of additional hymn or service music repertoire.
-C. The redundant duplication of common settings for various Latin/English or
English/English texts: much wasted page space. In many instances, additional texts could have their corresponding translations printed on the opposite or following pages.
-D. Useless inclusion of accompaniments for many chants and strophic hymns. Unless there is some compelling legal reason to include accompaniments that are useless in choral applications in the Choir Edition, this decision again takes significant page space at what expense? There are at least 38 examples of such titles. Some, such as #307 and #577 use five or six full pages needlessly.
-E. There is no statement concerning the key signatures chosen for hymnody. Again, without consulting the accompaniment I am unaware if recommendations are given to relieve tessitura constraints in certain hymns such as "Wachet auf" that could have simply been made prior to publication.
-F. Apparently the "Sing-Song Syndrome" as described by J. Swain in the Feb. 1998 issue of “Pastoral Musician” is clearly not confined to post- concilar hymns/service music, as evidenced by certain melodic constructs within the aforementioned "Mass of St. Theresa" and pedestrian tunes such as "Sleep Holy Babe (337)."
-G. Curious editorial choices such as the use of quarter notes instead of eighth notes as the principle rhythmic value for "O filii et filiae(412) and halves instead of quarters in "Victory” (413). Such choices don't advance an understanding of phrase and rhythmic movement as noted.
-H. Though the specific festive texts for hymns such as "Salve Feste Dies" can be given their specific prominence under certain titles, is it absolutely necessary to repeat their complete settings in three distinct locations in order to accommodate their seasonal assignments? In this particular case it seems to have escaped the editors that the arrangement provided is unsuitable for choral performance (another accompaniment) and thus should have been reduced to a melody only version in the subsequent repetitions, or text only?
-I Related to -H: Why weren't perfectly good choral (SATB) arrangements printed instead of the accompanimental versions for hymns such as "Crucifer (606)?" Also, was no consideration given to the inclusion of descant arrangements, in that a great preponderance of the English hymnody is of Anglican origin? This would have been stylistically authentic and artistically desirable.
-J. The signatories of the editorial and executive committees directly state in the preface (p.8) that the English-language hymns "come from a variety of traditional sources." They include "translated German hymns," "beloved English Catholic Hymns" (O God Our Help in Ages Past? hmmm..), and "...Catholic hymns little known in America." I would be interested in hearing from them how this self description constitutes a "variety." In fact, outside of the obvious Roman sources, the English and German sources and a smattering of about four or five French tunes and a non-Roman, yet Italian tune (Moscow), evidently nothing from the rest of European Catholic hymn traditions (Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Polish, Baltic, Balkan, Scandinavian, Flemish (you name it) was included. Neither is there to be found source material from non-European sources, even from the vast body of Spanish conquisition-era repertoire of native and imported composers in Mexico and other Iberian-American geographies. Does this honestly satisfy the stated goal to contribute to "authentic implementation of the liturgical reforms" and "contribute to this effort by providing an essential treasury of liturgical texts, chant and hymns drawn from the historic patrimony of the Church for ordinary parish celebrations of the Mass (?)" (A personal note: a recent posting seemed to compare this narrow cultural milieu of Adoremus to targeting a market audience such as was
presumably done with GIA's Lead Me, Guide Me. Obviously the author of that post failed to mention that Lead Me, Guide Me is an exemplary effort that demonstrates the historical diversity that African-American Catholics have embraced within their "targeted" constituencies. I have often stated personally that, up until recently, it was the most culturally comprehensive of all major hymnals. This is no secret among liturgical professionals.)
In conclusion, I reluctantly conclude that The Adoremus Hymnal is yet an unfinished work in progress, and if editorially improved so as to expand either its "treasury" within its chosen domains or more historically accurate and inclusive, it will still be best realized as a companion volume next to more catholic compendiums. My hope is that our major publishers will take into account the intent of Adoremus and the CMAA when they, hopefully with a cross section of our religious leadership, Snowbird and Milwaukee signatories, known and respected practitioners such as P.Salamunovich, JMT and others, consider the compilation of the next major hymnal.

March 22, 1998

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