No collection of contemporary music represents the immediate postconciliar period in liturgical North America quite as well as the Glory & Praise series. In its successes and failures, fawning fandom and bitter critics, Catholics have a body of work that was as ubiquitous as any other music collection in American and Canadian parishes in the 1980s and into the 1990s. While OCP Publications eventually bought out the series and updated it for later hardcover publication, I’d like to focus on the original red, blue, and yellow Glory & Praise volumes 1, 2, and 3.
Glory & Praise hit print in 1977. It collected mostly Seventies music from the now-defunct North American Liturgy Resources (NALR). What was so good about it? Actually, a lot. Performance notes helped musicians and singers produce the songs well at Mass, and it addressed the need for growth among nonprofessional church musicians. Too few others were attending to the average musical volunteer in the decade following Vatican II.
There are 60 songs in the first section of the book, 39 of which are based in whole or in part on Scripture. That’s one good indicator of where things were heading in Catholic music in the mid-1970s. I consider this biblical sensibility an improvement over the sentimental devotional hymnody being played on many church organs in that day.
In particular, the Saint Louis Jesuits raised the bar a good bit. The structure of their songs aligned less with contemporary pop music and more with traditional Psalm settings. Traditionalist musicians today appeal to the entrance and communion antiphons in the chant repertoire, but the Jesuits nailed the format in the vernacular decades ago. Their lead sheets included chords in inversions, giving players a figured-bass-made-easy approach to music. Advanced musicians took the songs a bit further.
As a college guitarist working with that early red book, I appreciated the performance notes. It was helpful being told how to play, and also why it worked for the song in question. On a song like John Foley’s "Dwelling Place," I liked playing the guitar line to complement the voices and the assigned flute part. Further, I appreciated this musical setting of St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. In my experience, it was a huge advance over the folk group in my home parish and the organ repertoire there.
NALR followed up with the second volume in 1980. In retrospect, I consider it a disappointment compared with its predecessor. Scripture-sourced songs lead by a margin of 44 to 37, a drop of 10 percent. With only three new years to choose from, the editors used some second-line material from the Jesuits. There’s lots of Carey Landry, Ellis & Lynch, Joe Zsigray, and others — earnest stuff, but clearly not up to the standards of the top of Glory & Praise Vol. 1.
The best crafted music in Glory &Praise Vol. 2 is by Michael Joncas, Donald Reagan, and John Foley, which I would expect from musicians who work primarily with the piano. Did you know that Glory & Praise Vol. 2 classics like "One Bread, One Body" and "Come to the Water" were first recorded with choir and organ along with guitar? Not many people do.
The third of the Glory & Praise series was published in 1982. We find a higher ratio of Scripture-based songs, 74 out of 102, than either previous volume, a reversal of the unfortunate trend of Vol. 2. It is likely one of the highest Scripture-based percentages of any Christian hymnal ever printed.
Further on the plus side, Vol. 3 aims high liturgically. It signals the beginning of contemporary liturgical music expanding beyond the four-hymn sandwich, psalms, and Mass parts, and it contains music especially written for sacramental rites such as RCIA. There’s some good growth here, both liturgically and in the craft of many of the songwriters.
Looking back 25 years, what might be the legacy of Glory & Praise? Two-hundred-plus pieces of music replaced virtually every mimeographed folk song sung in the 1960s and 1970s. In part, it happened because the music itself was better.
Anywhere from a handful to perhaps 20 of these songs are in the repertoire of any mainstream Catholic parish today. Why is that? I think the texts of these songs are the key. Glory & Praise composers were attuned to the Scriptures — always a timeless appeal for believers. There may be better expressions of these Bible passages if one searched the classical repertoire — goodness knows I’d prefer to listen to Handel’s "Every Valley" than the Glory & Praise Vol. 2 edition — but these were the songs sung at retreats, at funerals, and on special occasions in Catholic parishes for an entire generation. I wouldn’t discount the familiarity factor: People identified with music sung and played at pivotal moments of joy and sorrow.
I also wouldn’t discount the inevitable sifting of what remains a very fluid musical repertoire for American Catholics. Hardcover hymnals have replaced most paperback collections. Marty Haugen and David Haas attracted their own followers. They in turn have been joined by dozens, if not hundreds of composers who take for granted the piano, the choir, the Scriptures, and the texts of the liturgy.
When I consider Glory & Praise today, most songs wouldn’t pass muster in a modern music ministry. But in their day, they worked. It’s doubtful they replaced the treasures of Western music in many parishes — I’d say it’s far more likely they superceded weak folk music from the 1960s and replaced some Catholic and Protestant hymnody in the 1980s.
Although my musical tastes have evolved, I don’t begrudge the Glory & Praise repertoire its place in our history. Like the chant classics, they evolved in the composers’ own parishes and religious communities. They functioned to assist Catholics giving voice to heartfelt prayer. For that, I say without shame or hesitation, Deo gratias.
Todd Flowerday has served the Catholic Church as an ecclesial lay minister for twenty years. He and his family will be relocating soon to serve at the campus parish for Iowa State University.
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