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on April 9, 2012
William Peter Mahrt, through the CMAA, has published a new book, The Musical Shape of the Liturgy. It is available through Amazon. I have to say that it is a magnificent work of scholarship, but is a minor disappointment. Why do I say that?

First, and foremost, it is an almost entirely unredacted reprint of articles the professor has published before, mostly in the journal Sacred Music. That means that there are little irritations like references to "this journal" and to other articles published in the same issue of SM. But, more to the point, it means that there is no overarching plan to the book.

That is reflected in the Table of Contents. the book is organized into "The Paradigm," "Chants," "Polyphony" and "Commentary." Some of the articles are pretty esoteric. If a parish music director with no degree in liturgical music (which describes most Catholic parishes) picked it up, he/she would probably not be able to understand most of the early articles. Some of the work dates back to the 1970's, and has not been brought up to date. The Commentary section is the most readable, and is also--on average--the most recently written. I believe that the book is worth purchasing even if one only skips to the Commentary.

One last little gripe. The book is about the "musical shapes of the Mass," since only one chapter is devoted to the Antiphonale and its possible impact on the celebration of the Divine Office.

Professor Mahrt, whom I greatly respect and admire for his scholarship and his conducting of a traditional choir through the past two generations in my old parish, St. Ann's, Palo Alto, has written a very good book. But it is not the book that will bring most parishes into the "renewal of the renewal." That book has yet to be written.
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on February 19, 2012
I was very excited to read this book, and while I'm only about 1/3rd of the way through I can say that the material in this book is first rate.

I think the only disappointment about this book (and the reason why I only gave it 4 stars) is because the entire book is nothing more than a series of articles reprinted from the CMAA's journal 'Sacred Music'. That's not to say that the articles aren't excellent, though at times a bit esoteric. The breadth and depth of the material is extraordinary, and anyone wishing to delve deeply into the heart and mind of Gregorian Chant will be richly rewarded.

This is a moderately scholarly work, and while anyone who loves and sings chant will glean much useful information from this book, I wouldn't necessarily recommend this book to the casual person. For those looking to expand their understanding of chant and the nature of sacred music in general this book is a definite recommend.
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on April 18, 2012
Dr. Mahrt has raised the bar for music in Catholic worship. Effectively, he is challenging music directors in Catholic churches to take a step back and rethink some of what they have been doing and why since the 1960's. He makes a compelling case for restoring Gregorian chant at Mass in parishes or places where it has fallen into disuse since Vatican II. He spells out in detail why this should be done, and does so, for the most part, with well-reasoned and convincing arguments.

His knowledge of chant, its history, different styles, e.g., syllabic versus melismatic, and why each of these styles fits particular liturgical acts of the Mass is truly formidable. In addition to being a music and liturgy director and organist, he is also president of the Church Music Association of America (CMAA), and a professor at Stanford.

Some interesting points he makes are:

1. There are two forms of the Mass - ordinary and extraordinary. The ordinary form is celebrated in English with music in the vernacular and/or Latin. The extraordinary form (the Tridentine Mass) is celebrated in Latin with the dialogues, ordinary, propers, readings, and preface all sung in Gregorian - except at low Masses, which are simply recited. There is a place for both, although the ordinary form is far and away the more commonplace.

2. The ideal Mass, rarely and not easily achieved in its ordinary form, is one in which the parts that are said aloud are all sung, with priest, deacon, congregation, choir (or schola) all having specific roles to play. Singing the Mass means something entirely different and a lot more than just singing at Mass.

3. Once the ideal is recognized, it is a goal we can begin working towards. A first step for most of us might be to re-incorporate one or two of the propers (Introit, Gradual, Alleluia, Offertory, and Communion), which, since Vatican II, have generally been replaced by hymns. Propers are particularly important liturgically because their texts tie directly to the Mass of the day, something hymns can do only partially and sometimes not at all.

4. Ideally, propers should be sung by the choir or schola in Gregorian in Latin, and the Ordinary by the congregation, either in the vernacular or in Latin, or some combination of the two.

5. The Introit should replace the opening hymn and accompany the entrance processional that begins the Mass. The congregation should not sing the Introit. The role of the congregation here is to witness and be moved by the beauty of the procession to the altar and to the music sung by the choir or schola.

6. More -- or less -- elaborate Gregorian versions of the ordinary can and should be used depending on the relative importance of the feast day or season, viz., Advent and Lent. Both Latin and English should be promoted for the ordinaries, and both languages used in actual liturgies.

7. Gregorian is not necessarily the only form of sacred music to be sung at the ideal Mass. Regardless of which form is being celebrated, polyphony may be used for the ordinary and propers, especially on major feast days. Motets and organ music may also be used. Hymns may be sung, for example, at the Offertory and communion time - but only after the propers have been sung and should time permit.

Two questions....

1. Apart from monasteries and solemn high Tridentine Masses - the beauty and solemnity of which is indisputable, is it realistic to ever expect an entirely sung Mass in most parishes across the country, one that would include singing the readings, the responsorial, the gospel, the preface, and all the dialogues?

Isn't the "middle Mass" - partly recited and partly sung, partly new music and partly old music -- the de facto "normal" Mass today, just as the low Mass was prior to Vatican II? The musical mix can and should be shifted more towards Gregorian, but to what extent?

2. Is the growing repertoire of chant settings in the vernacular viewed simply as a stepping stone leading back to 100% chant in Latin, or is it a nascent form of Gregorian in it own right, which, over time, might very well co-exist side-by-side with traditional Latin chant?

Whatever the answers, pastors and music directors looking for practical, step-by-step ways to gradually restore propers or other chant to their music programs will find Mahrt's book invaluable.
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on November 27, 2015
This book deserves to be much better known than it is. A collection of Dr. Mahrt’s wise articles from years and years of the journal Sacred Music, it represents the pinnacle of aesthetic, musicological, and theological thinking about the organic interconnection of church music (especially Gregorian chant) and the sacred rites. For serious students of liturgy and the fine arts.

It's true, as some reviewers point out, that it's a collection, with the pluses and minuses of a collection. However, that makes it especially handy as a guidebook if you want to read up on something more general or something more particular. There are some dozens of pages in here that are so exceptionally good that they are worth the price of the whole, even if the rest turned out to be too esoteric for some readers.
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on October 14, 2013
For those who love chant, and want to see it preserved and if possible restored, this is a mine of information. The material has all been published previously as journal articles, but now has been gathered together in one volume.
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on March 5, 2012
If you are struggling with an issue in Catholic music, the answer is in here. Every priest you know needs a copy. Every musician too. It is the work that begins the long process of intellectual discovery that is the precondition to a robust recovery of Catholic music. Whatever your tastes, abilities, preferences, you owe it to yourself to learn about the musical structure that is inherent to the rite. This is what this book by William Mahrt achieves. Multitudes will be amazed.
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on March 23, 2012
Immersed in the tradition and standing in critical dialogue with the liturgical, musical and pastoral realities facing the Church at the beginning of the twenty-first century, William Marht's The Musical Shape of the Liturgy is replete with practical and academic wisdom distilled from the liturgical turmoil of recent decades that no liturgist or liturgical musician can afford to ignore. In the quest for music that is truly liturgical, truly sacred, Marht's contribution is prophetic and seminal.
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