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placeholder Bay Area composer’s works among new Mass settings

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• Sister M. Patrice Bradshaw, SHF
• Sister Mary Grace Feldhaus, PBVM
• Sister Mary Paul Gerard Gustafson, SNJM
• Sister M. Guadalupe Partida, SHF

placeholder October 4, 2010   •   VOL. 48, NO. 17   •   Oakland, CA
Bay Area composer’s works
among new Mass settings

Bob Hurd

A Bay Area composer of sacred music figures prominently in the first volume of revised Mass settings now available from a major Catholic publisher of liturgical resources.

Bob Hurd’s adaptation of his own bilingual “Misa del Pueblo Inmigrante/Mass of the Immigrants” and his revision of his “Mass of Glory” with collaborator Ken Canedo are among the four revised and five new Mass settings published this summer by Oregon Catholic Press (OCP).

The fresh Mass settings are necessitated by the planned revisions of many prayers in the English-language Roman Missal, including the penitential rite, the Gloria, and the Eucharistic prayers. The revised missal, which won Vatican approval earlier this year, will take effect on Nov. 27, 2011, the First Sunday of Advent and the first of the new liturgical year.

Just as new wine requires new wineskins, such revisions call for adaptations in liturgical music. When the words of the Mass change, so do the lyrics of those prayers when they are sung. Often the melody itself must also be edited to accommodate the new texts.

“The real issue is in the details of particular settings — the way the text and melody are wedded to each other,” Hurd told The Catholic Voice.

Hurd: Sacred music
takes many forms

By Gerald Korson
Voice correspondent

What is it that makes sacred music “sacred”? Does it have to be chant? Based on classical motifs? Sung in Latin? Written for organ and choir?

Composers of pastoral music draw on many influences as they create new or revised liturgical hymns — classical, folk, gospel, jazz, blues, styles borrowed from other cultures, contemporary rock — even George Gershwin, whom composer Bob Hurd evokes in his revision of his “Mass of Glory.”

“Music is sacred because it serves the communication of the Paschal Mystery of Christ and the heartfelt response of the assembly to this mystery,” Hurd told The Catholic Voice.

“This applies both to singing the official texts of the liturgy and to composer-created songs, so long as they serve the meaning of the ritual action of the liturgy and the participation of the people.”

Those two requirements — serving the meaning of the ritual action of the liturgy and encouraging what the Second Vatican Council called the “full, conscious, and active participation” of the assembly — set limits on what constitutes sacred music.

Regardless of musical style or genre, he said, if the lyrics of a song are “vaguely religious” but do not relate well to the texts of the liturgy, then that song is not appropriate for use in worship.

Likewise, songs that do not engage and facilitate the participation of the assembly fail to meet the second requirement.

“This does not exclude the use of an exquisite chant or contemporary song at one particular moment in the liturgy,” said Hurd. “But overall, the primary singer of the liturgy should be the assembly, and this places limits on the form of the song.”

Whatever genre is used, it should be aesthetically good within its own category, he said, adding that these three criteria correspond to the liturgical, pastoral and musical judgments called for in “Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship,” the U.S. bishops’ 2007 guidelines for music in worship.

But are certain musical styles such as rock or show tunes inherently too secular and irreverent for liturgical use? Hurd said genre has little to do with it.

While judgments as to the degree of reverence in music are “notoriously subjective,” he suggested how the appropriateness of music could be evaluated.

“If a song is so wedded to another context that when I sing it, I think of this other context instead of the liturgy or the Paschal Mystery, then it is unwise to use it,” he said.

“For example, I might put liturgical or scriptural lyrics to the melody of ‘You take the high road and I’ll take the low road.’ It is in fact a beautiful and powerful melody, but for most people it is too closely associated with its original text and will mostly remind us of this while we are singing the ‘new’ lyrics.”

That should not be construed as a criticism of the folk genre, Hurd stated.

“It is a judgment about a particular song,” Hurd explained. “And I think it is on this level — not on the level of singling out particular forms as sacred and others as profane — that such judgments need to be made.”
Careful adaptation

The “Mass of Glory,” which has been OCP’s most popular English-language Mass setting, was not too difficult to adapt “because of the way it was originally composed,” said Hurd, who taught philosophy and theology for several years at the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley and at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park before making liturgical composition his full-time work in 1995. “Even with the new text, it sounds and feels very natural and familiar.”

Familiarity was one important criterion Hurd and Canedo employed in adapting their music to the new texts. Congregations become so accustomed and attached to particular hymns that they may not easily accept a radical change in how they are sung, he explained.

At the same time, adaptation is more than a matter of inserting the new lyrics into the old melody because the revisions often involve changes in emphasis or a variant number of syllables to a particular line. Such an “old wineskins” approach could be awkward musically as well as confusing for the faithful.

“These [Mass settings] have become real prayers in the hearts and minds of worshipers,” Hurd said. “Since so much is changing, it seems wise to have some continuity with how we have been praying for the past 35 or so years. But music ministers also want fresh new settings, [and] that is why all the major liturgical publishers are supplying both.”

Just how fresh depends in part upon how much a particular text is changed. Some parts of the Mass, such as the “Holy,” has only a slight change in the first line and did not require any adaptation of the melody, he said.

On the other hand, two of the three revised “Mystery of Faith Acclamations” — formerly called the “Memorial Acclamations” — are “completely different” from the present forms.

“For these, we were able to use melodic lines very similar to the current memorial acclamations, but with some variation from the originals,” he said.

Hurd’s “Misa del Pueblo Inmigrante/Mass of the Immigrants” has long been perhaps the best-known and most commonly used Spanish-language setting in the nation. Although the revised missal will not affect the Spanish-language prayers in the liturgy at this time, the English portions of the bilingual Mass setting did have to change.

“When it was published in 1994, [“Misa del Pueblo Inmigrante”] met a need for a truly complete bilingual Mass setting,” Hurd told The Catholic Voice. “In addition to Mass parts, my collaborator, Jaime Cortez, and I also supplied bilingual songs for gathering, preparation, Communion and sending forth. So it gave communities wishing to celebrate bilingually a complete package.”

Bilingual Mass

Adapting the bilingual Mass was less complex because the current Spanish text is very close to the Latin text. “In originally creating melodic lines to accommodate the Spanish, I already had lines that would accommodate the new English translation.”

In composing the “Mass of Glory,” Hurd and Canedo — who first collaborated in the late 1980s as pastoral musicians at St. Leander Parish in San Leandro — were influenced by an eclectic assortment of musical styles, including gospel, jazz, blues, traditional sacred music and even George Gershwin.

Hurd’s and Cortez’s bilingual setting was inspired by the music and dance rhythms Hurd and his wife experienced a number of years ago at a cultural celebration in Oaxaca, Mexico, called “Guelaguetza” (gift-sharing).

As the new adaptations for both Mass settings were developed, Hurd “parish-tested” the compositions and made adjustments based on the feedback received.
Will the transition in parishes to the new liturgical prayers and compositions go smoothly? It’s primarily a matter of sound catechesis, Hurd said, echoing concerns widely discussed in July at the annual convention of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians in Detroit.

“The success of the adapted Mass settings will depend largely on how well the parish music leader prepares and guides the assembly in these adaptations,” he said.

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