Yesterday the First Things blog released their list of the 10 worst Catholic hymns, complete with links to reasonably competent performances. All the usual suspects were there, with a double dose of Haugen Hell and a triple of Dan Schutte. The “of all time” claim wasn’t quite accurate, as they were all modern; surely “Bring flow’rs of the rarest” has the same singability and taste issues, though at least it doesn’t self-congratulate the congregation for having the good taste to honor the Blessed Virgin. But in comparison to the worst of now, it wears pretty well, in the same way that RoSewig and other composers targeted by Tra le Sollecitudini now seem far more in compliance than what’s being used these days.
This would have led to great wailing and gnashing of teeth, had I not first encountered Kevin Allen’s Motecta Trium Vocum. This may be the first practical Catholic liturgical music that I’ve really gotten excited about. They are settings of Latin texts which can be used year-round, by men, women, or mixed voices, in a neo-Renaissance style with freer dissonance treatment. I had described it as “Caecilian” in a previous web comment, before I’d immersed myself fully in it, but it’s no more that than Rheinberger is; indeed, one reason for my excitement is that there are definite similarities to my own sacred style. The pieces are simple but not mindless. In the videos, they are beautifully multi-tracked by one good voice (Matthew J. Curtis), and single-part videos are available for rote learning (which I spit on as a generally-acceptable procedure, but if it’s what it takes to get this sung in the parishes, I’m all for it). Go listen. Then, if you’re involved in church music, spend the $22 for the score (or buy a dozen copies for performance) and do them.