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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Flor by another name...

One of the first writing tasks that I had in Longhorn land (also known as the beloved 40 acres, the venerable University of Texas at Austin) for the Daily Texan  was to review music albums.  It was not a task that I enjoyed and it lasted, mercifully, one semester. 

Now, some 25 years removed from my first forray into college newspaper writing, I return to the keyboards to review music, only this time, instead of REM, it's now OCP.  I received a sample copy of the latest incarnation of the OCP song book Flor y Canto.  The promotional material included a sampler booklet with 24 new songs along with a CD that contains each of the songs in their entirety.  What caught my eye was this curious little paragraph:

 "Worship with confidence knowing all music was guided by Church documents and selections have been expanded to include more songs in Latin, including the Chant Mass!"
Regular readers of this blog are perhaps familiar with my periodic rants about both OCP and GIA and their particular musical offerings. Thus, I greeted this particular sentence with guarded optimism.

Yesterday, I decided to pop the CD into my Jeep's audio system to check out the material. I have gone through half of the music, really trying to find some good among the selections. However, as I listened to the various songs, I wondered which "church" and which "documents" OCP was referencing.

Allow me, then, to use these documents as the guiding principle for my review.  First, here is Sacramentum Caritatis No. 42:
Liturgical song
42. In the ars celebrandi, liturgical song has a pre-eminent place. (126) Saint Augustine rightly says in a famous sermon that "the new man sings a new song. Singing is an expression of joy and, if we consider the matter, an expression of love" (127). The People of God assembled for the liturgy sings the praises of God. In the course of her two-thousand-year history, the Church has created, and still creates, music and songs which represent a rich patrimony of faith and love. This heritage must not be lost. Certainly as far as the liturgy is concerned, we cannot say that one song is as good as another. Generic improvisation or the introduction of musical genres which fail to respect the meaning of the liturgy should be avoided. As an element of the liturgy, song should be well integrated into the overall celebration (128). Consequently everything -- texts, music, execution -- ought to correspond to the meaning of the mystery being celebrated, the structure of the rite and the liturgical seasons (129). Finally, while respecting various styles and different and highly praiseworthy traditions, I desire, in accordance with the request advanced by the Synod Fathers, that Gregorian chant be suitably esteemed and employed (130) as the chant proper to the Roman liturgy (131).

Here is Musicam Sacram:
45. For the Liturgy of the Sacraments and Sacramentals, and for other special celebrations of the liturgical year, suitable melodies should be provided, which can encourage a celebration in a more solemn form, even in the vernacular, depending on the capabilities of individual congregations and in accordance with the norms of the competent authority.

62. Musical instruments can be very useful in sacred celebrations, whether they accompany the singing or whether they are played as solo instruments.

"The pipe organ is to be held in high esteem in the Latin Church, since it is its traditional instrument, the sound of which can add a wonderful splendor to the Church's ceremonies and powerfully lift up men's minds to God and higher things.

"The use of other instruments may also be admitted in divine worship, given the decision and consent of the competent territorial authority, provided that the instruments are suitable for sacred use, or can be adapted to it, that they are in keeping with the dignity of the temple, and truly contribute to the edification of the faithful."43

63. In permitting and using musical instruments, the culture and traditions of individual peoples must be taken into account. However, those instruments which are, by common opinion and use, suitable for secular music only, are to be altogether prohibited from every liturgical celebration and from popular devotions.44 Any musical instrument permitted in divine worship should be used in such a way that it meets the needs of the liturgical celebration, and is in the interests both of the beauty of worship and the edification of the faithful.  
66. The playing of these same instruments as solos is not permitted in Advent, Lent, during the Sacred Triduum and in the Offices and Masses of the Dead.

From the Chirograph on Sacred Music by Blessed John Paul II:
3. On various occasions I too have recalled the precious role and great importance of music and song for a more active and intense participation in liturgical celebrations[9]. I have also stressed the need to "purify worship from ugliness of style, from distasteful forms of expression, from uninspired musical texts which are not worthy of the great act that is being celebrated"[10], to guarantee dignity and excellence to liturgical compositions.

In this perspective, in the light of the Magisterium of St Pius X and my other Predecessors and taking into account in particular the pronouncements of the Second Vatican Council, I would like to re-propose several fundamental principles for this important sector of the life of the Church, with the intention of ensuring that liturgical music corresponds ever more closely to its specific function.

4. In continuity with the teachings of St Pius X and the Second Vatican Council, it is necessary first of all to emphasize that music destined for sacred rites must have holiness as its reference point:  indeed, "sacred music increases in holiness to the degree that it is intimately linked with liturgical action"[11]. For this very reason, "not all without distinction that is outside the temple (profanum) is fit to cross its threshold", my venerable Predecessor Paul VI wisely said, commenting on a Decree of the Council of Trent[12]. And he explained that "if music - instrumental and vocal - does not possess at the same time the sense of prayer, dignity and beauty, it precludes the entry into the sphere of the sacred and the religious"[13]. Today, moreover, the meaning of the category "sacred music" has been broadened to include repertoires that cannot be part of the celebration without violating the spirit and norms of the Liturgy itself.

St Pius X's reform aimed specifically at purifying Church music from the contamination of profane theatrical music that in many countries had polluted the repertoire and musical praxis of the Liturgy. In our day too, careful thought, as I emphasized in the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, should be given to the fact that not all the expressions of figurative art or of music are able "to express adequately the mystery grasped in the fullness of the Church's faith"[14]. Consequently, not all forms of music can be considered suitable for liturgical celebrations.

5. Another principle, affirmed by St Pius X in the Motu Proprio Tra le Sollecitudini and which is closely connected with the previous one, is that of sound form. There can be no music composed for the celebration of sacred rites which is not first of all "true art" or which does not have that efficacy "which the Church aims at obtaining in admitting into her Liturgy the art of musical sounds"[15].
Finally, here is a reference from the General Instruction of the Roman Missal:
In Lent the playing of the organ and musical instruments is allowed only to support the singing. Exceptions are Laetare Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Lent), Solemnities, and Feasts.

Bear in mind that these are the authoritative documents from both the Holy See and both Pope Benedict XVI and his predecessor, Blessed John Paul II (who also includes references to Pope Paul VI in his own writings).   Now that the guiding principles have been set forth, here are the reviews of the first half of OCP's new offerings.

One of the better songs in the first dozen that I listened to is "Un Nino Ha Nacido."  Composed by the late Alberto Taule (who takes his text from Isaiah, St. John's Gospel and Psalm 109), this song would make a good entrance processional for Christmas Midnight Mass.  While the musical introduction is a bit lengthy, the setting is about as close to the Church's ideal of Gregorian Chant that OCP gets.   My only caveat is that OCP could have recorded this particular hymn using an organ, as this piece is quite suited for such an instrument.

Another reasonable song is "Gloria Trinitario", written by Mario Aravena.  If we were to strip away the "beat" from this hymn, it could very well be suitable as the entrance processional for Trinity Sunday.  Again, rather than pair this rather decent hymn with keyboards, a "beat" and a guitar, it would have been better to also have used the organ.

The next suitable song is "Reciban Su Alma" by Mary Frances Reza.  The text is loosely based on the Rite of Christian burial.  The melody does have some degree of solemnity, but, the choice of musical instruments somehow detracts from the soberness of the text.  Somehow, adding a drumbeat to the song just does not seem compatible with this particular portion of the funeral rite. 

At first, I thought that "Alegrate, Maria", composed by Juan A. Espinosa, was loosely based on the Regina Caeli, but, it is not.  Other than the refrain, there is no real Marian connection.  It could have referred to St. Mary Magdalene or Mary, the wife of Cleopas.  The melody does have the potential of being something beautiful; however, it suffers from being clouded by excessive musical instruments and a setting that needs to be toned down.
"Cantico de Simeon", by the song book's editor, Pedro Rubalcava, is another reasonable piece; however, there is still a very lengthy musical introduction.  It seems to me that the composer seems to put more stress on the music, itself, leaving the text as an after-thought.  It would have been better to have used the organ for this particular canticle.
Unfortunately, the sampler CD takes a serious turn for the worse with the rest of the lineup.  Perhaps the worst of the worst is a piece called "Hoy Es Dia de Fiesta".  It's as though the composers translated "Gather Us In" into Spanish and somehow made a bad idea even worse.  The song is sung by children.  The beat sounds more like something you would hear at a salsa dance club, but, it's the lyrics that are rather disturbing.  According to the composers, the most interesting thing about the Mass (and they don't even refer to it as such, calling it a "fiesta") is that there is room for everybody.  The catechesis on the Holy Sacrifice, on reliving the sacred Paschal Mystery, is completely lost.  The composers spends so much time emphasizing the "equality" of everyone at this "fiesta' that they forget that something mystical is happening. 
The next worst song is called "Tu Me Conoces" by Efrain Arellano and Nelson F. Murcia.  Readers who are familiar with the Mexican pop group, Mana, might find similarities between this song and the band's work.  It begins with a pop rhythm and the vocalist singing "Ah, ah, ah".  If this piece was meant for RCIA, it might work well for a rally, but, certainly not for any of the scrutinies, let alone the Rite of Election.  The lyrics are not the problem; the form is just not suitable for any liturgical rite.
 The next song that I found rather questionable was "No Hay Amor Mas Grande/No Greater Love", by Bob Hurd, which is suggested for use on Good Friday.   As in "Tu Me Conoces", the lyrics for this song are scripturally based, taken from Jesus' last discourse; however, the musical setting is just too much, with heavy doses of musical instruments.  Recall that the rubrics, especially for Good Friday, require that musical instruments be used only to sustain the singing.  They are not supposed to overtake the singing.  There is also a very long musical introduction.  The setting, itself, is not really compatible with the degree of sobriety, solemnity and dignity that the Good Friday liturgy demands.  Rather than write a new song, why couldn't OCP simply set the Reproaches to music?
Another of the songs that somehow misses the mark on liturgical suitability, in my opinion, is "Porque Me Ha Ungido" by Jaime Cortez.  Again, the text is based on Sacred Scripture, but, the setting is just too secular.   Now, Cortez did take a stab at the Te Deum with "A Ti Dios".  This would have been a good song, but, it suffers from a bad setting.  If one can dance to a piece of music, chances are it's not suitable, much less fitting, for use for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  It suffers from the same fate as "Porque Me Ha Ungido" in that there is excessive music. 
One song that, sadly, does suffer from textual issues and a bad setting is "Presentacion de los Dones."  The setting sounds more like a "cha cha cha" piece.  The lyrics heavily emphasize the meal aspect and what "we" are doing and what these "gifts" mean to "us".  It's a short song, but, brevity alone does not suffice.
The next part of this review will appear in tomorrow's post.

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