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Familiarity Breeds Contempt

The repetition of a hymn tune more than three or four times in a year, repeating that practice year after year, is akin to injecting morphine into the brains of parishioners. Even Here I Am Lord would go the way of the garbage pile if sung too many times. We love our favorites, but we must also sing new songs to the Lord!


The St. Joseph parish is familiar with approximately 150 tunes representing 260 hymn titles. These statistics are based on a study of hymn tunes and titles taken from printed ordos over a period of three years. Our hymn tune repertoire is better than most Catholic parishes thanks to past St. Joseph musicians and past and current pastors. Still, we are a bit short on the number of familiar tunes we need to know. We need to be closer to 175 familiar tunes in order to avoid too much repetition of hymn tunes.


In a 2016 survey of 11 churches (four Protestant, eight Catholic) known to have strong sacred music practices (survey results on file), four churches repeat hymn tunes 2-3 times per year, four repeat tunes 3-4 times, one church only once a year, one church 1-2 times, another church had “no idea.”


Will we discontinue singing our favorites? Absolutely not! And they will be repeated! However, expect the introduction of new tunes and the strengthening of others. The plan is to introduce 28 new tunes into our mainstream repertoire over the next seven years, four per year. The process for learning these new tunes: organist features tune as prelude music one or two weeks in advance of singing the tune, next we sing it in Mass at least two weekends back-to-back, and then two more times within two-three months of its introduction until it sticks!


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