In the last week of January, well over 30 English- and Spanish-speaking composers, mostly from North America, gathered for the St Louis Liturgical Composers Forum. These annual get-togethers, founded by Jesuit composer John Foley in 1998 and supported by the St Louis Centre for Liturgy, usually represent a broad cross-section of backgrounds and compositional styles, and this one was no exception. The purpose of the meeting is to take time out from parish and other commitments, to pray, to be nourished by substantial input and discussion, to relax and to network. The group has grown closer over the years, as composers have got to know each other better. They gather at the Mercy Center in St Louis on Monday afternoon, and leave after lunch on the Thursday.
This year’s input was excellently facilitated by Fr Paul Turner of Kansas City, Missouri, well known for his writings and lectures. The composers were able to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the upcoming new Order of Mass texts, and to look at areas for future creativity with regard to the new Missal generally. It is quite clear that some of the infelicities and problems with these texts could have been avoided if liturgist-composers had been more closely involved in the refining process.
To give just one example:
Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to people of good will.
The two long accents “earth peace” following one another are awkward to deal with rhythmically. It would have been perfectly possible for this to be rendered as “and peace on earth to people of good will”, since the translators have felt free to deviate from the Latin word-order elsewhere (e.g. the second line of the Sanctus, where following the Latin would have given “Full are the heavens and earth of your glory”, rather than the actual “Heaven and earth are full of your glory”).
A panel discussion with representatives of the “Big Three” publishers ─ OCP, GIA and WLP ─ proved interesting in the ongoing task of trying to discern where liturgical music publishing and recording is going in the near future, particularly in the light of terrifyingly rapid developments in cyberworld and the media.
An update was also given on progress with a significant new book on liturgy and music containing some thirty chapters being written by members of the Forum. It is hoped that this will see the light of day from Liturgical Press in the next 12 months or so.
One popular feature of the meeting is a “blind tasting” of music submitted by composers. The pieces are sung through and critiqued (charitably!) in plenary session, and it is noticeable how the standard of submissions has improved over the years. Fresh ideas and new approaches benefit everyone present.
The Forum members have a generally very positive attitude to their craft, and the annual gathering is not only an important calendar event but a wellspring for refreshment and a stimulus to work during the following year. Conferences are not cheap these days, but many of the composers pay their own way in order to attend, which says a lot about how valuable they consider this annual experience to be.