Before a funeral this past spring, a sister choir member looked at my music and said, “Oh, you’re doing the honker.” I looked at her quizzically, tilting my head to the side like a confused beagle puppy. “The what? Is that your nickname for it?”
Schubert himself nicknamed some of his own music, such as the popular Piano Quintet in A Major known as “The Trout.” And I have a sneaky suspicion that even he would agree that the “Ave Maria,” when sung less than skillfully, could sound like geese honking. It has also been brayed by well-intentioned young men whose voices had as much subtle resonance as a Mack truck. A very attractive bridesmaid of about twenty, if she was even that old, offered it as a Communion meditation. I had sung the “Ave Maria” so many times that I had grown bored with it, so I was happy to sit this one out. I kept a polite smile on my face as I listened to a Taylor Swift sound-alike butcher the Latin prayer with pop-song phrasing and atrocious diction.
On the other extreme of the spectrum are the divas who think they are singing to a packed house at the Metropolitan Opera. The stereotype of the Wagnerian soprano with the horned helmet comes to mind, except that this is a soft prayer to Mary, not Brunnhilde’s immolation aria. One such diva, despoiled of her costumes and makeup, was so nervous that she pulled out her iPhone to google the Latin text!
I do agree that the Bach-Gounod “Ave Maria” is not sung nearly as much as it should be. My sister choir member, who is well into her 70s, is relieved that she does not have to perform the Schubert version anymore. She would like to sing the Bach-Gounod, but she admits that she is a “tired soprano” and is content to be part of the choir. At the last funeral I was asked to cantor, the family expressly requested “no ‘Ave Maria'” so we substituted a song of comfort, “You are Mine.”
Listen to the contemporary hymn by David Haas here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sgm9lkTNQmc
I sang it in the key of B flat but would be willing to offer it up in the lower key.