This is a syndicated post from The Chant Café. [Read the original article...]
Many of you will remember when Jeffrey Tucker was posting videos with recordings of Simple English Propers here on a weekly basis a few years ago. Much has happened since then, and I have been asked by many to tell the story of how SEP came into being, and to describe how it led me to further develop the Lumen Christi Series, from Illuminare Publications.
As the composer and editor of Simple English Propers, I would like to share a bit of what surrounded the creation of what appears now to have been something of a seminal project, and, also, how it led me to develop its immediate successor—my most recent effort—the Lumen Christi Simple Gradual, which is now shipping (you can order it here).
Simple English Propers grew out of a project that developed at Chant Cafe. The Cafe began in the summer of 2010, amidst the excitement that surrounded the new translation of the Roman Missal. Jeffrey and I began to put our heads together a few months after the blog began, when he made the startling realization that no single book existed that simply contained the processional proper antiphons of the Mass, in English, that was readily accessible and available to parishes today. He was determined to fix this problem right away.
He decided that a book needed to be produced—a single, inexpensive volume—that contained nothing more than a collection of simple chant settings of the Entrance, Offertory and Communion antiphons from the Graduale Romanum for Sundays and Feasts, in English, with Psalm verses, that could be sung in any parish by cantors and choirs without much chant training.
And secondly, it was important for the entire book to be released under the Creative Commons so that it could be posted online for free download and be used by anyone according to their wishes, in addition to being sold in print editions. At the time, the copyright on the Missal texts appeared to restrict this.
And so it was decided that unofficial translations would be used for the antiphons, and the project moved on.
Once this was settled, Jeffrey asked Richard Rice to propose a solution for the needed simple chant settings, having worked with him before on the Parish Book of Chant and other publications. Richard proposed a draft of the propers for one Sunday, with the English antiphon texts set to music using the Gregorian Psalm tones. Jeffrey and I and a few others considered this model briefly, but almost immediately ruled it out as a viable option, primarily because of the conflict between the Latinate melodic structure of the Gregorian tones and the characteristic accent patterns of the English language. We decided that a better and more satisfying solution was needed.
After some more discussion, I presented an alternative approach to Jeffrey, which we both soon began to realize might be the most viable solution to the problem at hand.
I had recently read the proceedings of the 11th International Colloquium of CIEL (edited by Uwe Michael Lang and published by Hillenbrand Books in 2010) and began considering and experimenting with one of the proposals made there by Laszlo Dobszay (requiescat in pace). His proposal was that a small set of simple melodic formulas be used to set vernacular translations of the Proper of the Mass. In principle, this would allow for the many different texts of the Mass Proper to be sung to a handful of easily learned “tunes”, and make the sung proper accessible to parishes that have never sung it before.
I was very eager to study his settings, and saw the potential benefit of his approach. At the same time, many of my previous fears were confirmed. While most of his formulaic settings of Latin texts appeared to be done in a very beautiful and congruent way, a great deal of the settings of English texts were laden with incongruencies between the text and its melodic setting to such a degree that I began to wonder if the proposal could even yield reasonably satisfactory results.
I shared the settings with Dom Kelly, and he further articulated the concerns that I raised, repeating his long-held conviction that the melody of a chant must always be in service of the text, and, in some way, naturally grow out of it. He stressed that the melodic formulas of the Gregorian tradition were developed with the characteristics of the Latin language in mind, and he asserted firmly that if there is to be a satisfactory use of them with English texts, the melodic formulas themselves would have to be substantially adjusted, or even re-written.
SEP is Born
As I began to apply the melodic formulas to the English antiphon texts, I also began sharing them with Jeffrey and others in the CMAA, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Those who remember Jeffrey’s contagious enthusiasm and optimism, especially surrounding this project, realize that this is more than just a bit understated!
Effectively, all who were involved in this project almost immediately saw that the model that I had proposed was the right one, and so I proceeded to draft settings of the entire body of antiphons, Sunday by Sunday, with the weekly results being posted on Chant Cafe for review, feedback, and trial use.
When the book was finally published, it was sold at cost, as the CMAA had promised it would be during the fund-raising effort. In other words, the CMAA intentionally chose not to profit from sales of the book—and still hasn’t to this day—and the digital files were posted on the CMAA website for free download. This certainly was a sign of the sacrifice and goodwill of all who were involved in the project from the outset.
Shortly after this, Jeffrey Ostrowski of Corpus Christi Watershed began making recordings and YouTube videos of the antiphons of SEP on his own, at the request of Jeffrey Tucker. These videos were posted weekly at Chant Cafe, and, eventually, at the New Liturgical Movement. I am very grateful for this act of generosity on the part of Jeff Ostrowski, as I know that these videos were the gateway and introduction to the propers for many.
The Lumen Christi Hymnal is due out in the Fall of 2014, in addition to accompaniment editions for the Lumen Christi Simple Gradual, and for Responsorial Psalms and Alleluias for Sundays and Feasts. The Lumen Christi Gradual also continues to develop, and draft scores can already be downloaded weekly at the Illuminare Score Library.
Before concluding, I would like to share some of the ways that the Lumen Christi Simple Gradual builds upon the experience gained from SEP, and how it opens up new possibilities for sung liturgy in ordinary parish life:
As I have noted before, SEP created great confusion for the faithful by choosing not to use the English translations of the antiphons as they are found in the Roman Missal, Third Edition, wherever this was possible. In order to lay the groundwork for the Lumen Christi Series, Illuminare Publications undertook an extensive project to translate the antiphons of the Graduale Romanum (e.g. the Offertory Antiphons), with professional translators, according to the principles and methods that were used to translate the antiphons of the Roman Missal itself. We worked in close consultation with those who actually made the translations in the Roman Missal, and took great pains to assure that the requirements of Liturgiam Authenticam were heeded. What resulted was a seamless translation between the new edition of the Roman Missal, and the Graduale Romanum, which is the Church’s primary source or the sung liturgy. These translations bear the episcopal imprimatur of Bp. Thomas J. Olmsted, and form the basis of the antiphon settings found in the Lumen Christi Simple Gradual, Lumen Christi Missal, and forthcoming Lumen Christi Gradual.
Lasting Musical Settings
At the outset of this essay, I described the process of experimentation that was undertaken with the musical settings found in Simple English Propers. The chant settings that resulted from this effort varied in quality. After living with these settings for a few years now, I feel that about a third of the antiphons have a high musical integrity, a third are satisfactory but less than inspiring, and another third clearly sound as though a square peg was being forced into a round hole. While these musical settings have certainly helped parishes sing the proper texts, week after week, it is becoming clear that the chant settings are not wearing well over time. In order to remedy this, the antiphon settings in the Lumen Christi Simple Gradual (and full Gradual) are composed with a musical quality that fully respects the integrity and character of the text, all while remaining just as accessible, if not more so, than SEP.
Simple English Propers was intentionally designed as a resource for parish choirs and cantors to sing the proper antiphons week after week. In a sense, a parish has to fully jump into the ocean of the propers and must either swim or sink. Some have been able to swim, while others have gone through the discouragement of being unable to sustain this weekly demand. The Lumen Christi Simple Gradual, on the other hand, is laid out with this reality in mind. It makes use of the permissions and guidelines in the GIRM, Musicam Sacram, and in the Introduction of the Graduale Romanum (Ordo Cantus Missae) for parishes to begin introducing new musical settings seasonally, if needed, so that they can slowly being developing a repertoire of sung antiphons that can be repeated enough to be properly learned. The antiphon settings in the Simple Gradual are indeed simple, but they are through-composed, not formulaic, so that each setting is uniquely beautiful and will continue to inspire the faithful for years, even for decades and generations.
I remain grateful for the Simple English Propers project, and am extremely honored to have been able to play a part of this movement in the life of the Church. I am happy that the modest work is able to be shared freely and used by anyone, even if it has created confusion. I am even more excited about what lies ahead, though, and there is much more that could be mentioned here, but that I will be announced soon.
As it happens in life, so to it does in the Church: A tree must grow from a planted seed, and it will grow steadily and naturally, with the help of proper cultivation and care, even pruning when necessarily. Also, the tree can only be judged by its fruit, and its yield is unknown until a certain point of maturity.
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