The collection “Ever Ancient, Ever New” contains twelve compositions by Luke Mayernik (including seasonal variants) and two “Thanksgiving Psalms” by Henry Seymour. Oregon Catholic Press publishes this collection in the following formats: 1) CD #30106266 [including a note from and biography of the composer] and 2) octavo packet of choral, keyboard, guitar, and selected instrumental parts as Edition #30106265. Samples of this collection may be found here OR by going to the OCP website, entering “ever ancient ever new” in the search engine, and clicking on the “songs” tab when you reach the “Ever Ancient, Ever New” page.

A Call to Blessing (Advent) / A Call to Blessing (Lent) / A Call to Blessing (Easter) / A Call to Blessing (Ordinary Time)

Although recorded as four musical events, this call-response setting of a paraphrased Daniel 3:57-87 is eminently usable and magnificently adaptable liturgical music. It consists of two unison congregational phrases (a rote repetition of the cantor’s intonation [varying by the season] and an invariant “Sing a hymn to God”) in alternation with the cantor’s proclamation of the canticle text in shifting sequential phrases, all in a constant 6/8 pulse. In the recording the Advent version features a female soloist, organ and strings; the Lent version a male soloist with organ accompaniment; the Easter version a female cantor with piano and flute and horn obligatti; and the Ordinary Time version a male soloist with organ, strings, flute, horn, and percussion. “A Call to Blessing” is a perfect example of what Bernard Huijbers termed “elementary” music in his ground-breaking The Performing Audience, but unlike much of what has been written under that banner, this composition retains aural interest from the chromatic modifications of the mode in the cantor’s part and the adventurous yet supportive harmonizations throughout. In the Roman Rite it could certainly be used whenever the Canticle of Daniel is appointed in the Liturgy of the Hours (Sunday Morning Prayer of Weeks I and III); I could also see it being used whenever a litany of thanksgiving would be appropriate, perhaps after communion at Mass, or after sacramental absolution in a communal celebration of Penance.

Advent Alleluia

This Gospel acclamation is clearly inspired by the sonorities of Eastern Orthodox harmonized chant. Unlike the often vigorous and rhythmically stirring settings of the Alleluia produced in the years after the Second Vatican Council, this setting bespeaks a serene and radiant spirituality. A short organ introduction leads to the Alleluia intonation in unison (six repetitions of Alleluia, with the third and sixth articulating “Al-le-lu-i-a” rather than eliding the last two vowels). The organ is then silent as the six-fold Alleluia is repeated in exquisite yet simple SATB harmonization, the gospel verse is chanted to a simple formula by cantor with the choir vocalizing harmony underneath, and a repetition of the six-fold SATB Alleluia, this time with an achingly beautiful descant sailing above the chant. (The descant may be a challenge to parish choirs as it ascends to high A, and the sonorities involved demand that it be sung with as little vibrato as possible.) Even though the recording provides only one verse, the score sets the proper Gospel verses for all four Sundays of Advent in all three years of the lectionary cycle, as well as the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. I cannot commend this setting enough; it reminds me of the Alleluia in Arvo Pärt’s Berliner Messe, though without the minimalist strictures that Pärt places on his compositions.

Christmas Alleluias

This Gospel acclamation is a match to the Advent Alleluia considered above. Here the choir intones a three-fold Alleluia (the last of which is pronounced “Al-le-lu-i-a” rather than eliding the last two vowels) and repeats this intonation over a sustained vocal drone (like the “ison” of Byzantine chant). The basses then establish a tonic/dominant/tonic octave vocal drone with the altos on the tonic (continuing the “ison”, over which the congregation with the sopranos and tenors repeat the three-fold Alleluia in unison, and then with a harmony following the melody of the three-fold Alleluia a third below and a descant clinging to the dominant above the melody. The gospel verse is sung by a cantor to a simple pattern, with choral vocalizations underneath (the last chord of which – a C major with added ninth – is exquisite). The composition concludes with a repetition of the material from when the basses establish their vocal drone. Again even though the recording provides only one verse, the score provides all of the proper Gospel verses for Christmastide. My only concern about this lovely composition is taking the congregation to high Eb, but since it is well prepared for by stepwise motion and does not last long, I don’t think it would prove a major problem for most congregations.

The Lisbon Carol

A delightful macaronic piece, “The Lisbon Carol” proves quite a contrast to the sonorities heard so far. The composer notes that he desired the composition “retain the sense of a rustic folk song, while flavored rhythmically with early Iberian Renaissance pulses.” Scored for piano, guitar, and tambourine it certainly does so, partially from restricting the vocal harmonization of the melody to tonic and dominant notes, partially from the unexpected accents on the fourth beats (almost like a stamping moment in a dance), and partially from the lovely shift in volume in the echoing “Gaudete!” that opens each refrain. I agree with the composer that “The Lisbon Carol” could be used as a Prelude to the Liturgy, during the Communion procession (with the people singing the Refrain from memory), or as a hymn of Thanksgiving during Christmastide. I do have one slight concern textually. The final stanza reads “All creation and the heavens / praise the Triune Majesty, / Father, Son and Holy Spirit, / wrapped in Divine Infancy.” Since whenever the Triune God acts ad extra God acts as a Triunity, there is a way in which that verse might not be problematic, but traditionally at least “wrapping in Divine Infancy” would be a reference to the mystery of the Incarnation in which one Divine Person, God the Son, assumes human nature.

Mandatum Novum

Subtitled “A Troparion for Great and Holy Thursday,” this magnificent composition evokes the rich sonorities of Duruflé’s setting of the “Ubi Caritas” but from a distinctly Orthodox chant perspective. Perfectly suited for use during the Washing of the Feet on the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper, I assume the composition is intended to be sung without congregational participation. The structure of the piece is quite clear: the choir alternates two settings of John 13:34 sung in Latin, the first graced by a chant-like melody eventually sung by sopranos with basses harmonizing predominantly the equivalent of a sixth below the melody which tenors and altos sustaining tonic/dominant/tonic octave on A between the melody and its harmony; and the second setting, moving from a tonal center in F# minor back to A through a wonderful center section marked by sopranos harmonizing the melody at the second and tenors sustaining a drone of A and B while the other voices fill in rather angular harmonies until all resolves in tonic/dominant/tonic octave A; verses freely chanted in English by a soloist or section to a simply pattern gravitating to A between these choral sections; and a Coda with a rich reharmonization of the original material leading to some lovely cluster chords before the piece resolves in A major. I think any community’s celebration of the Triduum would be enriched by this lovely and thoughtful meditation on the “new commandment” Jesus gives his disciples at the Last Supper.

Beloved

Scored for soprano and tenor solos (assembly singing ad libitum on the Refrain) and piano accompaniment, with optional flute, violin and cello, this is an extremely romantic setting of selected verses from the Song of Songs yoked with the following Refrain: “In the with love of Christ is our refuge, / in the love of Christ is our hope. / In the love of Christ is our joy complete, / in the love of Christ is our life.” Steven Sondheim would be proud to create such memorable melodic lines with fresh harmonizations. “Beloved” makes a fine contribution to our repertoire for the Rite of Marriage, although one might debate where it would best be placed within the ritual. It would not serve well as an entrance or exit processional nor during the Liturgy of the Word; it could possibly serve as meditative song after the preaching but before the actual Rite of Marriage, during the Preparation of the Offerings, or during the Communion processional. The composer’s choice to set the Bride’s, Bridegroom’s, and Bride’s Companions texts from the Song of Songs for soprano and tenor soloist invites the congregation to perceive these singers as singing on behalf of the couple being married, sharing their covenant commitment with each other and with the Church; it then makes perfect sense for them to join in the Refrain. It is more difficult to perceive the singers impersonating God (the Father) in dialogue with Israel, Christ in dialogue with the Church, or the Holy Spirit in dialogue with the soul (which have all been proposed as referents for the Bridegroom and Bride) since the Refrain clearly speaks of the couple joining “in the love of Christ.” For that reason I think that if the piece is used from the Preparation of the Offerings or at Communion at Sunday Mass (as is suggested by the composer) the Refrain always be sung by the assembly, making a clear distinction between the soloists’ scriptural material and the congregation’s appropriation of that material.

Saints of God

A gentle setting of the “Song of Farewell” appearing as part of the Final Commendation in the Roman Rite reformed Order of Funerals, “Saints of God” invites the congregation to repeat “Receive his/her/their soul(s) and present him/her/them to God the Most High” after the cantor’s intonation and each verse; this melody, only a minor sixth in range, is perfectly suited to congregational singing and could easily be picked up by rote. Although it is possible to sing the piece without choral harmony on the Refrain, the a capella SATB harmonization of the final appearance of the Refrain is especially beautiful and the two bar Coda exquisitely connects to the next prayer in the ritual. While the fundamental supporting instruments could be either piano or guitar, I would opt for the former to emphasize the richness of the harmonies; if guitar is used, it would be best to create a classical styled accompaniment, or use two guitars, one playing the open chords as written and the other capoed to provide a richer sound. Flute, violin, and cello parts are also available.

Thanksgiving Psalms: Psalm 113 (“Blessed Be the Name of the Lord”) / Psalm 138 (“Lord, I Thank You”) / Psalm 145: (“I Will Praise Your Name for Ever”) / 1 Chronicles 29: (“We Praise Your Glorious Name”)

I will treat these four compositions, two by Luke Mayernik and two by Henry Seymour, together because they exhibit the same compositional and performance techniques. For each psalm or canticle, the composer provides an SATB response (with the congregational melody in the soprano line), a descant for the response, and a four- or three-member SATB recitation tone for the psalm/canticle verses (with the recitation melody in the soprano line). The verses may be sung by cantor with organ accompaniment or with choral vocalization in addition to being rendered in choral chanting. (I feel a special kinship with these settings, for I have tried writing in exactly this pattern in the psalms and canticle setting I created for the “St. Francis Evening Prayer” as part of the As the Deer collection [GIA CD 421].) This basic blueprint is perfectly rendered Gebrauchmusik as both the recording and a note in the score attests: “An optional cello and flute or oboe may be utilized in any psalm in this collection. An instrument may play the melody of the response, either accompanied or unaccompanied, as an introduction (in which case the organist may omit the melody line). A cello may play the bass, tenor or descant of the responses, while a flute or oboe plays the melody, alto or descant. In the verses, the cello similarly may play the bass line for support. Doubling between voices and instruments is fine.” I rejoice in these beautifully rendered Responsorial Psalms and strongly encourage Mr. Mayernik and Mr. Seymour to consider taking on the vast project of writing their own Lectionary Psalter to this pattern. The Church would be blessed to have such a resource for every Sunday and Solemnity in the three-year reformed Roman Rite lectionary cycle.