Marking Up Hymns

Tuesday, July 18th, 2006

I have been wanting to do a project for a long while that will serve as a open repository for hymn texts and tunes. I finally bit the bullet and registered and have begun design of this repository. I thought, for a while, that I would use a wiki-like product, but that didn’t even come close to having the features I wanted to provide. So I’m doing a custom data-driven website.

The question I would like to ask you all is: I need a markup language for hymn texts. Hymns have particular markup requirements, if the texts are to be usefully matched up with tunes:

  1. The markup needs to break syllables in the correct places to match up with the meter of the hymn. For example, the word “blessed” can be either one or two syllables, depending on the meter of the hymn in which it is used.
  2. The markup needs to indicate line breaks.
  3. Specialized markup is needed to deal with contracted word forms and other peculiarities of setting metrical hymns, e.g.: “the˘op-ressed” needs special typesetting when engraved in music.

I could do this using HTML markup:

<div class="stanza">
  <div class="line">
    <span class="syl">Come</span> <span class="syl">Ho</span><span class="syl">ly</span> <span class="syl">Ghost,</span>

But that is awfully wordy. Does anyone know of existing markup languages that have been designed for my needs or can be coopted? If not, do people have an opinion on defining a dialect of HTML versus inventing a new XML vocabulary?

Moving On

Friday, January 28th, 2005

Dear readers,

As some of you may already know, I am leaving Washington D.C. and my job at St. Patrick’s, effective this Sunday 30-January. I will be joining the expanding biosphere of hackers who are paid to work on the Mozilla products and platform. I will be working full-time for the mozdev group, inc., a consulting company that specializes in software solutions based on mozilla technologies.

I am saddened to be leaving St. Patrick’s; I have made many good friends here, and learned a tremendous amount about music, worship, and life in general. I could not have asked for a better job coming right out of college, or a more beautiful church or organ.

I am excited to be moving on to the new challenges of software development. As most of you are aware, I have been significantly involved with the development of Mozilla Firefox, serving as the volunteer coordinator of localizations for the 1.0 release, and writing a decent amount of the backend code that makes loading extensions possible. My work with mozdev group is full of exciting challenges. And I intend to continue development of the XULrunner, the next-generation runtime for XUL applications, or applications which wish to embed the gecko rendering engine.

Suzanne and I will be moving to Johnstown, PA on 3-Februrary, and so I will probably be out of touch for most of next week. Our new mailing adress will be

221 Hemlock St.
Windber, PA 15963

I also have a new email address, effective immediately: Please update your address book accordingly.

Also, the location of my weblog will be moving soon to I will try to set up a decent number of redirects so that this current location continues to get you somewhere useful. However, old blog post links will not continue to work, because I do not intend to use WordPress for the new blog. Stay tuned for some exciting developments there.

Free Concert Next Thursday: Orchestra and Choir of the Imperial College School of Medicine, London

Friday, June 25th, 2004

Thursday, July 1 at 7pm, St. Patrick’s will host the orchestra and choir of the Imperial College School of Medicine, London. They will perform a free concert at the parish:

  • Beethoven Coriolan Overture
  • H?ndel Dixit Dominus
  • Bach Brandenburg Concerto #2

This should be a a fantastic concert, please consider coming!

Promoting Good Church Music

Friday, June 18th, 2004

I was giving a talk to a class of seminarians a few months ago, and their most-asked question was “what can I do to promote good music at my future parish.” The answer to this question is multi-faceted, no doubt, but I feel that there are three necessary components of a good music program which are frequently overlooked:

  1. Junior choirs and music education: The choir is the foundation of any good music program; the really good singers are the leaven which help the rest of the congregation to active musical participation in the Mass (singing and listening). Good choirs do not just appear from nowhere; it takes careful and sustained music education, from an early age, to have a truly excellent music program. Start with a junior choir, for children in 3-8 grades; continue with a youth choir (if there is enough interest) for high-school youth; finally, graduate singers to the senior choir. For those who are tone-deaf but have good rhythm, there should be a bell choir.
  2. Singing the basic responses of the Mass: it is amazing to me how many parishes sing an opening hymn and have good choirs, but the priest will not sing the basic responses of the Mass (“The Lord be with you”). It is explicitly required that the basic responses of the Mass be sung, if any of the more-complex parts of the Mass are sung.
  3. Consistency is a virtue, variety is not: most parishes sing a different tune for the Memorial Acclamation (“Christ has died, Christ is risen…”) each week. There is no need for this “variety for variety’s sake”. This is one of the most basic responses of the Mass, why not sing the same tune at every Mass? I can guarantee that a good, simple tune for the basic acclamations will not become boring, no matter how many times you sing it.

There are, of course, many additional ways to foster singing in the parish. Hiring a good organist is one of the basic necessities for most parishes. And, at some other time, I will begin posting on my thoughts about the need for a unified repertoire of chant for the entire U.S. (a national hymnal).

Lectionaries, Translations, and Music in the Mass

Friday, May 28th, 2004

Ever since the new (2001) Lectionary for Mass was released, various individuals and groups have pointed a singular anomaly of the current situation: There is not a translation of the Bible which matches the readings in the Lectionary for Mass.

However, I have not seen any mention of a similar situation, which has been present in the English editions of the Roman Rite since they were published: there are many, many texts that appear in the Rites for which no official music is provided.

By their nature, the Rites of the Church are intended to be sung, almost in their entirety. This may seem odd to the modern Massgoer, for whom the sung Mass has all but disappeared. You will find in every diocese some priests who sing the responses of the Mass (“The Lord be with you.”), and many parishes sing the people’s parts such as the “Holy, Holy, Holy” and the “Gloria”. But when was the last time you heard the deacon sing the Gospel; or the cantor sing the General Intercessions? Or the priest sing the Prayer after Communion?

Before the Council, the priest’s Missal and the Graduale Romanum (the book of Gregorian chants for the cantor) contained explicit directions on how the priest, deacon, cantor, and choir were to sing their texts. It contained such details about the three different reciting tones on which to sing the Gospel, and how to “point” the Latin text.

Now, all such musical directives have been removed from the Missal (inexplicably translated as “Sacramentary). So, even as the Second Vatican Council expounded on the wonders of music in the Liturgy, the rug was pulled out from under those who were attempting to sing the Liturgy in all its glory.

As a simplistic example: I was encouraging a transitional deacon in the parish to learn how to sing the Gospels. However, I could not tell him “this is how you should sing it.” Instead, various publishers have developed tones for singing the Gospels, and each deacon/priest is supposed to decide which one to use. This state of anarchy is confusing to most people, inclusing those clergy who really wish to honor the wishes of the Council by singing the Mass in all its splendor.

We need a unified repertoire throughout the US (indeed, the English-speaking world)… but more on that later.