Catholic composers are writing new music in the old style.
Due to health and safety precautions implemented to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, Catholic parishes have been forced to restrict their use of music at Mass. Music ministries have been instructed to move away from well known hymns in order to discourage parishioners from singing, which experts warn can spray saliva particles much farther than talking.
In response to these guidelines, Detroit Catholic reports, many parishes are returning to the ancient Catholic tradition of antiphony. Dating back to the 5th century, antiphons are short chants with texts drawn from the psalms that were used in Masses for over 1,000 years. There is no shortage of beautiful antiphons in the Catholic catalog, many of them written by the most famous historical composers, but in order to ease the faithful into this change, some music directors are writing new antiphons with elements similar to modern hymns.
In Detroit, Kier Ward, organist at Sacred Heart Parish, is shaping new antiphons in the Gospel style, creating beautiful melismatic melodies that would be difficult for the untrained to sing, but are thrilling to listen to. The work utilizes expansive, jazzy chords to produce a Catholic hymn with a cool R&B tone.
While this new style is intriguing, the sudden change in Church music has introduced its own challenges. Sarah Dudek, music minister at St. John Vianney Parish, told Daniel Meloy of Detroit Catholic:
“The challenge to the average parish music director is we’ve been hymn-dependent for several decades,” Dudek said. “We haven’t used antiphons at Mass as much because we wanted the congregation to sing. Now, the focus is not so much to discourage singing, but to encourage listening.”
To learn more of the efforts of the Archdiocese of Detroit’s Academy of Sacred Music, visit Detroit Catholic.