Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Same Thing Happens Every Week

Members of the congregation that comprises my church gig, if they’ve been in Sunday worship lately, may have noticed a pattern to what our choir has been singing lately. If so, they’re not imagining things.

We’re presenting a “Lent-ful” of musical settings of the Lord’s Prayer. This came as part of a plan that our pastors have set in place for the season of Lent. Several other elements of our weekly worship services have been focused on all or portions of the Lord’s Prayer, as well.

For the choir’s part, we have been singing a bit more often in Latin than in English. The titles of quite a few of our “to be done” anthems have been “Pater Noster”. That translates from the Latin as “Father of us all”. During rehearsals, I will admit, it’s been a bit confusing: “let’s look at the Pater Noster.” “–Which One?!?!”

(We even found a setting of the Lord’s Prayer that was in Russian; but I think I can only go to the Russian-language well so often!)

So far, we’ve offered “Our Father” settings by a number of composers, hopefully different enough that the difference makes an impression on people. One was by early-twentieth-century composer Albert Hay Malotte (the one which might easily be the most famous – and schmaltzy! – of them all). Curiously, Malotte also wrote numerous uncredited film scores for the Disney cartoon studios. One setting was by a composer named Robert Stone, who lived to age 97 – in the 1500s (when life expectancies were closer to 35 years)! Our most recent “Pater Noster” anthem was by Igor Stravinsky, and although it wasn’t exactly as riot-inducing as his “Rite of Spring”, it was still challenging to the ear. This upcoming week’s version is by Franz Lizst, and I promise you, it’s significantly different from any of the previous ones.

In American pop music, I can’t think of too many texts – sets of lyrics – that have been set to completely different melodies. When a band “covers” another band’s song, that doesn’t count. Different style, same melody? Not a different setting.

In the Baroque and Classic eras (1600-1825ish), though, texts were constantly set and re-set and re-set. Many of them were church texts – there are many hundreds of works called “Mass (in Whatever Key)”, by many dozens of famous composers, using the exact same familiar lyrics. Our choir has done these before, in various forms:

Kyrie eleison; Christe eleison…”

Gloria in excelsis Deo et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis…”

Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipotentem…”

Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth…”

Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini…”

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi…”

Sometimes, performing different kinds of music that have the same texts, like the one our choir is engaged in now, can threaten to get monotonous. Yes, yes … “Our Father, who art in heaven” … “Pater noster, qui es in caelis” … we get it. We say it every week. Or, it can become an exercise in “let’s see how many different ways a text can be set”. Can we do chant, jazz, Handel and 12-tone versions in the space of a month? Regardless of whether it means anything to the congregation getting hit with it.

Part of the usefulness of such an exercise, though, can be the setting of a text in an unexpected musical wayAs always, we hope that our choral contributions might hit a member of the congregation in such a way that perhaps they might hear the text anew. How many prayers do we say practically by rote that could be refreshed by hearing them in a new context, musical or otherwise?

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March 11, 2013 - Posted by | choir, language, music, religion, SUMC | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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