When I posted my “Call for a Moratorium on the Schubert ‘Ave Maria,'” which I also shared on Facebook, I was relieved to find that I didn’t have to duck flying hymnals from irate singers. In fact, some of the more trained musicians agreed that the “Ave Maria” should be kept for solemn occasions and not sung ad nauseam.
Now here comes the next of my bugbears. The Moore “Taste and See” is an upbeat contemporary hymn that, when sung skillfully, can still sound meditative. This Florida ensemble, complete with alto saxophone and percussion, combines liveliness with reverence:
This morning, as usual when our young organist sits down at the piano, I was treated to a gospel-like feel. We also took it a hair faster, at a walking tempo. Even though I took subtle liberties with some of the rhythms, otherwise known as rubato, I sang the hymn as written. It was in the key of F, a step higher than the version here. Two mishaps can occur in the higher key with mediocre vocalists: screeching akin to nails across a chalkboard, and unwarranted “riffs” and other such “embellishments” that actually mar the hymn.
I made such awful faces on Easter morning of 2012 that it looked as if I had just bitten into the sourest of limes. Try as I might, I could not conceal my distaste at the “vocal calisthenics,” as a musician friend puts it to describe the ways in which our “Star-Spangled Banner” is often butchered beyond recognition. Then at a Mass later that spring, a talented 12-year-old committed the unthinkable as she bellowed, “Taste and see that the Lord is goo-hoo-hood!” If I put that many “h” sounds into a phrase, my vocal coach would have me crucified! As it is, he reprimands me when they creep in unexpectedly during a series of running notes.
Shaking my head amid all the “ooh-ing” and “aah-ing,” in which I stubbornly refused to partake, all I could think was, Why oh why are they teaching that child bad habits?
This hymn also caused a ruckus in 2010 when the cantor insisted on singing it in the key of C and the clarinetist wanted it in F. I know that the clarinet is built in the key of B flat, so the modulation might have created too many accidentals. Still, did the instrumentalist have to storm out? By the time I arrived, all hell had broken loose, over a simple key change.
Fortunately, this morning, for the feast of Saints Anne and Joachim, the mood had already been lightened by the participation of the Italian parishioners in the “Hymn to St. Anne.” So at Communion, everyone joined in the refrain and enjoyed some soulfulness on the verses. Some is the key word. Listen to the soloists on the recording to hear the delicate balance.
Too much of anything is no good! I have enough allies to stand with me if and when the hymnals go flying.