Saturday, July 2, 2011

Sacred Music Resources

Here is a brief round up of the sacred music texts I use, two of which were just released this past week and which have already and thoroughly impressed me. This is obviously not a comprehensive list but simply one of what I use and like. Two are wonderful introductions, one a good for transition away from certain tendencies and practices, two are good companions, and the last is a timeless treasure. Of course feel free to add your own thoughts and recommendations!

I. Psallite Sapienter

This slender paperback is an excellent introduction to the Tridentine Mass. It consists of 189 points ranging from one sentence to one paragraph per point. The points are grouped into a few categories: 1) Basics, 2) The Music of the Missa Solemnis and Missa Cantata, 3) Special Days and Seasons, and 4) Occasions and Miscellany. This volume could not be clearer, often simply saying, "Do this and not this." Indexed and with a short bibliography pointing the reader toward more explanatory sources.

II. The Parish Book of Chant

Of the six books we are discussing here, this is probably my favorite, due in no small part to its elegance. Though it is only about 200 pages, the volume is hard cover and because of this combination of slender size and hard cover it feels particularly sturdy. It's not something your sweaty palms are going to wear away down after a few months of singing. Too the pages are bright white and the layout of the whole volume is pleasing and easy on the eyes. At about 6in wide by 9in high, it is just the right size for singing from, stacking, and carrying around.

This volume includes select: chants for the ordinary of the mass, general hymns and chants, and seasonal chants. The ten page guide to reading and singing chant and the two-page guide to liturgical Latin pronunciation are among the most lucid you'll find. English translations are provided throughout.Worth buying even if you have the last item on this list.

III. Simple Choral Graduale

Of the six volumes here Richard Rice's Simple Choral Graduale is the most approachable. Without any Latin and with modern music notation, someone who has grown up singing the Responsorial Psalms in English can sing this music. Too the page layout is similar to the usual Responsorial settings. Also, from the foreword, "the melodies are written in step-wise motion, seldom exceeding a range of a fight or rising higher than middle-c. The melodies generally employ one or two repeated phrases (three for the longest texts.) Harmonies are simple and rarely chromatic, enabling choirs of modest forces to master the choral texture with minimal effort. This volume is a wonderful book to start with to bring these entrance, offertory, and communion antiphons into Mass alongside the accompanying psalm verses. It's also a subtle wedge, I mean opportunity, for breaking out of the four-hymn syndrome.

IV. The Catholic Choirbook

This is a thoughtfully edited compilation of some of the best Catholic music, all appropriate in both text and style. From Fogliano and Byrd to Stainer and Elgar this is not simply a collection for medieval music aficionados but of the most beautiful and appropriate music for the Catholic Mass. Included are famous settings by Byrd, Palestrina, and Mozart but also wondrous pieces by lesser-known composers like Remondi and Lotti. The volume contains indices by composer, piece, and part (SATB, SSA, et cetera.) English translations of all texts precede the piece. The spine and layout allow for the easy making of copies, which is handy because copying and sharing of the music is permitted under Creative Commons license 3.0.

V. Simple English Propers

Another beautiful hardcover from the CMAA, about the same dimensions as the Parish Book of Chant but longer. This volume is a great gift to the Catholic community and an opportunity to return the mass propers to their place at mass. To quote the 1969 Vatican Consilium, "What must be sung is the Mass, its Ordinary and Proper, not 'something,' no matter how consistent, that is imposed on the mass."

The settings employ not just the chant modes (instead of modern scales) but preserve the mode in which the Latin chants in the Graduale Romanum were composed. The whole volume is in English, with translations from the Gregorian Missal (as published by Solesmes) and Revised Grail Psalter. In addition to the English and introduction to chant, throughout the book words/syllables on the termination are italicized and words/syllables on the final note are boldfaced.

VI. Graduale Romanum/Graduale Triplex

There is only Latin in this book! That includes the introduction, indices, and all titles. (Alright, the two page foreword discussing the manuscripts is in English, French, and German.) Still, without a knowledge of Latin, the ecclesiastical vocabulary for the liturgical year, and an understanding of the liturgical year, you might be hard pressed to get the most from this volume. It includes no helpful guides like the above volumes, but you get with one beautiful volume (semi-hard cover with place ribbon) the book of the Roman Rite. The antiphons for the propers and the settings for the ordinary, they're all here. Everything on this list is essential reading. This collection is priceless.

Read Jeffrey Tucker on The Real Catholic Songbook.

N.B. While we have discussed only paper books, it would be foolish to look over the wonderful resources at, where you can also find free, legal, editions of much of the above. Lastly, check out and of course ChantCafé.

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