Last night, my parish music and liturgy director and I attended a session put on by GIA Music on their new Mass settings. What I experienced made me think differently about what this transition to the new translation might be like for the people in the pews when we begin to implement the changes.
First, we sang through settings newly composed especially for the new translations. There were some decent possibilities, and a few "absolutely nots" among these, which was to be expected. In the case of our particular music ministry needs in a bilingual community, there seemed to be not enough bilingual possibilties combining the new English translation with the existing Spanish texts. Some settings seemed remarkably similar to one another; most were in triple meter and at least a few repeated the word "people" in order to balance out the musical line. Other settings had a moreunique character.
It was, however, when we turned to the re-worked existing Mass settings that things got strange. Some parts of these seemed a bit awkward, but at least one moment was totally disorienting and disconcerting... and it came at the point when I least expected it: during the newly re-worked Gloria in the Mass of Creation.
Now, in my original parish, we learned MOC around 1990 - and for the better part of the next 9 years I was in the parish, it was almost the only Mass setting we ever used. It was used in diocesan celebrations consistently, and when I moved on to the next parish, it was used often, though not exclusively. I may say I know the melody, soprano and alto parts to all the sections by heart, as well as the guitar chords. Pretty much you'd say it is "in my bones," I know it so very well. So, last night, I thought as we turned to the page with the sturdy old warhorse setting. "OK, this one will be a piece of cake." Not!
During the earlier readings of the new or unfamiliar Mass settings, I, being a pretty fair sight-reader, had been holding my own... and frankly, the new, unfamiliar text was not particularly troublesome. When I reached verse 1 of the Haugen Gloria, however, the difference was painful. For a split-second, my reaction to the new text was intensely negative. From the sound of what happened around the room, when pretty much every other musician seemed a bit flummoxed by the change, it was nearly universal.
So, when this gets to be "for real" and we have to change our Mass settings, I am wondering if at least at first, parishes ought to learn new Mass settings instead of trying to begin with the old ones in revised format. Maybe that would go easier with the people. If a whole roomful of trained musicians stumbled, how can we not expect non-musicians, the ordinary people in the pews, to do even worse? As a cantor, I know what happens when the people seem to feel a song is beyond them. They shut up and stop singing. Probably one of the worst things we can do in the early days of implementation of the new translation, is to create a moment of instant, perceivable negativity. If this happens, we will never get a second chance to make a good first impression!