THE SIMPLE CHORAL SERVICE:
Music for Morning and Evening Prayer and Holy Communion
Thomas L. Mowbray
“The Simple Choral Service” is a work-in-progress and additions will be made continually as material becomes available. The purpose of this essay and the included musical treatments are to promote and provide examples of simple yet beautiful music for the choral service in order to encourage church musicians to restore the choral service to its rightful place in worship. The musical examples are therefore simple enough for a small congregation to learn and sing with or without a choir, and are easily adaptable to modern versions of the liturgy. Of course, a reverberant space will always make the choral service more appealing.
The Choral Service has nearly disappeared in the USA. Therefore, I am writing this handbook in an attempt to preserve what I learned and loved about the Choral Service as an Organist and Choirmaster in numerous Episcopal and Roman Catholic parishes over the past several decades. I intend also to offer a number of simple tools not found in the Episcopal Hymnal or its supplements, which I hope will contribute to the pursuit of the Choral Service on a larger scale.
First, I would like to thank those who inspired me: Burnet Andrews of Morristown, New Jersey; Alec Wyton, with whom I studied at Westminster Choir College; James Litton and Eric Routley to whom I was an assistant while studying at Princeton Theological Seminary, among others.
It seems to me that nothing short of a Reformation in the Episcopal Church will restore the sorely missed choral traditions of the past, one that will have to reach back beyond even the English Reformation of the 16th century, in order to provide an adequate musical rendering of the Church’s chief services, because most of the medium of prescribed musical formulae have been lost, and the melodies that were once identified with liturgical texts are nowhere to be found.
May my meager contribution help in some small way to preserve the order of Common Prayer through the re-establishment of choral services of Morning Prayer, Evensong, Holy Communion, and the Burial Office.
To begin, I will reconstruct the musical formula of Morning and Evening Prayer, and of Communion.
MORNING AND EVENING PRAYER
Venite and Psalter
Collects and Prayers
THE HOLY COMMUNION
Gloria in excelsis
The Nicene Creed
The Lord’s Prayer
Obviously, a trained choir is needed to render this much music during a worship service, but the beauty of traditional settings, even simple unison settings, is something that should not be reserved only for a festal occasion. It is important to offer worship “in the beauty of holiness” on a regular basis. Especially, in this age of incessant busyness and perpetual movement and violence and noise of every kind, beautiful worship, with its controlled environment of peace and order is sorely needed.
The Choral Service is an essential service for the people of God. The proper use of the pipe organ is also essential, so as to encourage and support participation by the congregation. The proper design of a church pipe organ is another matter. Too many modern pipe organs are incompatible with the music of the Choral Service. Their terrible design and horrible sounds and poor placement discourage and hinder participation of both choir and congregation.
Realizing these truths, perhaps our limitations can still be overcome enough to lift up the hearts of worshipers through the Choral Service.
THE CHORAL SERVICE
Before providing examples of each part of the Choral Service, let us review the various portions of Morning and Evening Prayer and point out the differences between them and the Holy Communion. In the former, Anglican Chant is the preferred form for the Psalms and Canticles. Simplified Anglican Chant is not an adequate substitute. If Double Chants are too challenging, then use Single Chants. If the choir finds it difficult to sing in parts, then sing in unison with the organ providing the harmony.
The Versicles with their Responses, the Creed, and the prayers should be sung in a simple monotone with organ accompaniment. If the Litany is used, stick to the traditional ancient melodic formula, but I suggest the elimination of the Litany.
At Holy Communion, the Epistle and Gospel lessons are seldom sung, but simple chants can easily be used, and should be encouraged. The Creed, Gloria in excelsis, and Lord’s Prayer should be intoned. The unity of the Sursum corda and the Preface are provided by their traditional music. Of course, certain portions are read, which befits their character and their relationship to the rest of the service. Traditionally, the Kyrie eleison, the Creed, Sanctus and Gloria in excelsis had special musical settings. A preferred choice today is the selection of the Kyrie eleison, Sanctus, Gloria in excelsis, and Agnus Dei (if it is used), and simply intoning the Creed. One complete set of pieces is always preferable to pieces from different settings by different composers, so that musical unity can be maintained.
Proper accompaniment by the organ is essential. Usually the priest or worship leader is not accompanied, unless specifically required by the music. Only light 8’ stops should be used on the manuals, and the pedal 16’ stops should be used only when the congregation sings. Organ registrations for Anglican Chant should be selected to reflect the meaning of the words, but caution is always in order to insure that the employment of the organ is for practical rather than artistic reasons. The Choral Service is the musical expression of the prescribed texts.
Anglican Chants, chant melodies, and the hymns chosen for the service should always be introduced by playing through them once before they are sung. Settings of the service should be properly introduced if they do not have written introductions.
The text of a response is always sung at the same pace as the preceding Versicle. If the Versicles are read, then the Response is also read. If the Collects and Prayers are spoken, the Amens are spoken. Responses and Amens are sung only if what precedes them is sung.
In practicing the texts of the Choral Service, care must be taken with accented syllables. Sentences often begin with unaccented syllables, and care needs to be taken to avoid accenting them. If there are two accented syllables in a row, slightly prolong and accent the first, as in natural speech.
MORNING AND EVENING PRAYER
Opening Sentences, Exhortation, Confession. Spoken. If the Lord’s Prayer is included in this portion of the service, it should also be spoken.
The Preces. Use the ancient formulae.
Venite. Sung to Anglican Chant. If the Antiphon is used, sing it to the same chant.
The Creed. Monotoned with organ accompaniment. If the Lord’s Prayer follows the Creed, and is immediately before the Suffrages, it should also be monotoned or sung to a familiar setting in the same key.
The Suffrages. Monotoned.
As an alternative, the Creed, Lord’s Prayer and Suffrages can be monotoned without accompaniment, but that can be boring if there is no reverberation. The ancient inflection may or may not be retained, however, if the inflection is used, it should be only on the Amen or on the last phrase.
The Collects and their Amens should be either monotoned or spoken. The succeeding prayers and the Grace are read.
The Litany. This is usually not used, but if it is included, use the ancient setting.
The music for the Holy Communion is adequately described above. Additionally, Choral Responses for the Decalogue are sung only if the priest sings the Decalogue. When the Decalogue is omitted, the Summary of the Law is read, but if the Summary follows a sung Decalogue, the Summary is also sung.
Traditionally, the endings of the Prayer for the Church and the Prayer of Consecration are often sung, even if the body of the prayers is spoken. This custom permits a sung Amen.
Because of the location of the Lord’s Prayer in the Holy Communion, it is recited, not sung.
The Epistle should be chanted slowly and solemnly in a monotone. Questions are sung with a cadence at the end. If the question is short, it is recited on a note a semitone lower. If it is long, the cadence is used. “Here ends the Epistle” is spoken, not sung.
The Gospel is monotoned with a fall of a minor third on the unaccented syllable before the last metrical foot. If a question is asked, the form is the same as for the Epistle. Ending cadences can be found in the Appendix. Do not sing an unaccented syllable on the lower note. Do not accent a final “ed.” The final cadence is a group of three notes, the first falling a minor third on an unaccented syllable close to the end then going up stepwise to the intoning note and proceeding on that note to the end.
The Creed is best monotoned and accompanied by the organ. Some congregations tend to rush this. Therefore, the choir should rehearse it carefully, with good diction, to control the pace. The ancient intonation is a suitable introduction, but the introduction can also be monotoned.
The Offertory Sentences are spoken.
If the Collect before the Blessing is sung, use the same music as at the Collect for the Day.
The sung Blessing has its own historic inflection, but it and its Amen are usually spoken.