Saturday, February 02, 2013

OCP, the Not So Hidden Hand behind AmChurch Music

The “reform the reform” is not utterly foreign to OCP.
Thus alloweth Jeffrey Tucker in his erstwhile revisionist apologetic towards his own primal murmurs about the appointment of Bishop Sample to Portland and the "mark this day" ecstatics that resulted. Then the switchboards pulled a nutty (as I've been want to do over time), causing my friend Todd Flowerday all sorts of consternation that just isn't worth it. To quote my fellow native born Visalian, Doobie Brother founder Tom Johnston, all that matters is "Jesus is just alright with me."

I’d be much more comfortable and relaxed about conversing of these matters if everyone participating would drop the pretense of possessing “absolute knowledge” of what constitutes, motivates and defines as the mission and enterprise of OCP and the other usual suspects of the Liturgical Industrial Complex. I’ll buy a fruit pie for anyone who could utterly, in 25 words or less, provide a cogent meaning for the term “reform of the reform” apropos to Catholic liturgy. And, insult upon that injury, I suspect one could extract from such sure declarations characterizing this publisher the moniker “OCP” and insert “RCC” and the statement’s proximity to truth would roughly remain in tact. As in all industry, can we agree that despite the variety of personal concerns of the aggregate humans who staff any organization, the organization’s mission and purpose is simple self-perpetuation.


Allow a moment to sigh, and re-focus…

For all of those who yet harbor prejudices and misgivings about OCP in particular, I would ask: “Have you personally visited the complex and offices, the staffers and execs at OCP in Portland? Have you spoken with any OCP associate beyond a customer service representative?... more than once? Speaking of customer service encounters, has anyone with whom you’ve spoken (in any medium) ever personally represented OCP in a manner inconsistent with either Christian values or common courtesy? Whatever the answer to any of these pre-emptive questions, the point remains that it serves no noble purpose to malign or justify the existence of an organized entity based upon one’s own tunnel-vision experiences, or from imaginary or perceived notions of the personal inclinations and experiences of who and what OCP “is.”

I have yet to read Ken Canedo’s memoir KEEP THE FIRE BURNING (of which I recall Jeffrey Tucker’s review was quite positive,) but I can’t imagine that Ken would have not mentioned a major shift in the chronology of OCP, namely the period prior to the collapse of the self-standing North American Liturgy Resources (under Ray Bruno) from which OCP had an agreement with NALR allowing them to publish their pulp missal and hymnal products as melody/text WITH chord assignments. This was nothing new in the emerging “pop” catholic hymnal culture. In fact it was the standard modem of FEL, early WLP/Paluch and eventually GIA new product unveilings, as well as lesser houses such as Franciscan Publishing and the folks who put out the charismatic songbook series. Though it was de rigueur for serious folkies to purchase the whole collections of say, the SLJesuits, Dameans and later people like Bob Hurd and Marty Haugen, the mere convenience of a wonderful smorgasbord of new “literature” that was instantaneously digestible by all levels of guitarists, keyboardists who were empowered and hardly ever discouraged from plying their inventive and improvisational skills to these little templates was, in my opinion, the major toehold by which OCP captured the “new music” market. And then, as NALR expanded beyond their means, IP issues arose between their stable of artists and the NALR management which led to short off-shoots such as Pastoral Arts Associates and the like, NALR recognized their licensing agreement with OCP was actually working against their own interests in growth and market share. They withdrew, and I don’t remember but I think GIA did as well, their reprint permissions for at least one year’s Music Issue. OCP might have appeared to scramble to adjust, but in that Owen Alstott had at least three nom de plumes which were employed to present “new talent” and that songs by “Jim Farrell” such as “Sing a new song” were meant to emulate the now missing Glory and Praise classics from the OCP Music Issue had to have been prepared for in advance, and then added to the otherwise paltry offerings of OCP artists of the time like Sr. Misetich. There were reverberations from this publishing temblor that were exciting and continued. Artists like Ken Medema, Tobias Colgan and others filled the GP slots and gained favor and popularity eventually. The “Anderson (Alstott) “Gloria ‘clap-clap’” became a misappropriated staple of the Opening Rites out of this episode.

But that year of living dangerously paid off handsomely when OCP absorbed the defunct NALR, their catalogue and whole product line, existing contracts with the “talent” and the status of being now a part of the commissioning, editorial and publishing processes along with re-establishing themselves as the sole publisher of new material that also had an annual vehicle by which “cutting edge” new composers could lodge their works into the wide open liturgical music market demand. WLP tried, under the titular reputation of Rev. Jim Marchianda and a small stable of name composers to present an alternative to the Heritage Missal/Music Issue/Breaking Bread subscription model, but its artistic octane level was clearly second tier. And GIA put their marbles in the hard copy hymnal market, each having as minimal and overlap of styles that pastors and musicians who desired stability actually risked much credibility in that stoic approach. Pew pockets in many parishes could be found having not only Worship II and Gather, but also Glory and Praise (under OCP) in heaps, creating a musical Babel from Mass to weekend Mass. Another aspect of OCP’s model of versatility and reactive flexibility that contributed to consumer complacency and convenience was its ability to partner the hymnal to a missals that adjusted to revised scripture, psalter and celebrant texts. Anyone who has sat through three or more decades of Passion readings via OCP missal texts could attest to that reality. So add one more “c” word to the predominance of the OCP model: comprehensive, as in “when you buy this, you get all this too!” And, in fact, that led to the issue of local parishes needing to supplement the accompaniment resources for instruments and choirs et al for the paradigm shift towards new music replacing old.

Here’s the real deal in a nutshell. This acquisition of clout has had mixed results. But how is that different than other corporate experiences in the auto industry, computer and IT technology engineering and manufacturing, and infrastructure empires such as the steel, mining and travel industries? Dodge blew it on the K-Car, and hit it out of the park on the Caravan, go figure.

The dubbing and drubbing of the OCP rank and file catalogue in the hymnals as “pop music” or “inferior” by Jeffrey is lamentable on a number of counts: 1. Jeffrey’s tenure as both a Catholic musician and choir director is brief by comparison and influenced by his upbringing and eventual revulsion towards P/W that monopolized a reasonably august heritage; 2. Catholic post-conciliar music that most decry is not, a holistic entity such as the P/W music (think “Shine, Jesus, Shine”) that also sprang from a diverse heritage (compare Phil Keaggy to Keith Green) and eventually consolidated into M.W. Smith, Amy Grant and now Chris Tomlin. They, too, had precursors like we did Repp and Wise, such as Sandi Patti, Kurt Kaiser and the Gaither clan; 3. Catholic contemporary music was and is not easily classified by genre associations to popular music, For every critique that could, eg., relegate early Joncas pieces to the Broadway influences ranging from Sondheim, Schwartz and Lloyd-Webber, any decent music analyst could counter with arguments convincing a jury that the earliest to latest compositions have great resonance with chant modality, temperate polyphony (early homophony and tonality) of Palestrina, Victoria and even Monteverdi. It’s a hapless, hopeless enterprise to argue the genres, much less the main point of such an argument.

And, I wonder, what would Jeffrey Tucker make of Bach or Byrd’s efforts self insure their own artistic legacies and income streams were they provided the technology and legalities of IP law and rights that we now enjoy and curse. But does anyone doubt that if CPDL or even a Bensonarium/St. James/CanticaNova option were available to Renaissance, Baroque and inheritor composers that they would eschew the opportunity not only to share the posterity of their compositions but also reap the economic benefit of their popularity?

Jeffrey’s specific criticisms of OCP are subjectively on and off in his latest CafĂ© post. The variances he mentions between editions of choral volumes, accompaniments to hymnals, and loose octavos are common throughout the whole choral industry. GIA masques over their disparities according to their latest shill catalog by calling such resources “Legacy Editions.” So, why is OCP singled out for massive derision yet and still. Because it has both succeeded and failed at diverse enterprises quite magnificently, and dominated. Hence the enormity of the criticism from this latest article to JT’s famous “Hidden Hand” article. Singling out (erroneously) that “Sleepers Awake” is absent is an incredible mistake on his part. It has always been available in various missal and hymnal editions for decades to OCP’s credit, in that it, like today’s “In His Temple now behold Him” is in both missal and hymnal when either hymn is really relegated to one time only usage per year. Jeffrey deals macro. I deal in micro. And I know OCP content better than the marks on my hand, particular as old age marks increase on said hands.

OCP will not undergo a detailed scrutiny for content by (Abp.) Sample, near as I can foretell. He will hopefully set a tone among the community of musicians that Jeffrey described that will compel OCP to risk as they’ve done in the past. However, this time around OCP won’t pay the lip service by acquiring Trinitas, or upgrading the Choral Praise Edition. It will likely pay close heed to what Ostrowski, Bartlett and Oost Zinner et al have accomplished and re-orient their editorial ethos towards equanimity that respects an ethos of both artistic excellence and heritage (as called for) while maintaining a mission to empower and lead congregations to greater active participation.

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