‘Mass of Plenty’ shows composer’s love for American spirituals

| Father Jan Michael Joncas | February 1, 2012 | 0 Comments

“Mass of Plenty” by Rob Glover, GIA Publications, Inc.


Rob Glover is the long-time director of music ministries at St. Therese in Deephaven, and a well-known composer of liturgical music. In 2003, with the assistance of members of that parish, Rob recorded a collection of his liturgical music entitled “Music in the Air,” featuring his “Mass of Plenty” (CD-537 available from GIA Publications, Inc., at http://www.giamusic.com.)

In the light of the new translation of the Order of Mass found in the Roman Missal 2011, Rob has reworked his “Mass of Plenty,” (G-7859CD, also available from GIA Publications, Inc.) which is the focus of this review.

Some of the challenges facing liturgical music composers after the Second Vatican Council were to craft settings for the Order of Mass that were faithful to the liturgical texts and meanings, that fit the ritual action, that expressed and deepened the spirituality of the community employing the settings, and that could be sung and played by the members of the community.

Rob Glover’s “Mass of Plenty” is a fine example of such liturgical music inculturation. The composer clearly loves American spirituals and uses themes and characteristic rhythmic patterns from them to craft this setting of the Order of Mass. In so doing, the “Mass of Plenty” stands alongside the works of Clarence Joseph Rivers and Grayson Warren Brown.  There is an infectious joy that marks the “Mass of Plenty” that would make it especially appropriate for Ordinary Time.

Building the spirit

Demonstrating the composer’s long years as a parish music director, both the “Penitential Act” and the “Kyrie eleison” share the same melody for the congregation, sung note-for-note as a rote response to the cantor’s intonation.  Interestingly, the cantor similarly intones the “Amen” for the congregation in response to the priest’s quasi-absolution prayer.

The “Glory to God” begins and ends with a wonderful choral flourish of stacked voices on the word “Gloria.” The rest of the text of the “Glory to God” then unfolds in English in a very singable and attractive way, with no refrain inserted.  It is clear that the composer intends the congregation to sing the entire piece (except for the opening and closing flourishes), although it could be performed just by the choir.

The refrain of both the Gospel Acclamation during the year and the Lenten Gospel Acclamation quote the spiritual “Plenty Good Room.” Syncopated staccato “Alleluias” sung by the choir underneath the cantor who sings the Gospel Verse are especially inventive and keep building the spirit of attentiveness to the Word of God.  I do wonder, however, if the use of the same melody for “Glory to you, Word of God, Lord Jesus Christ” in the Lenten Gospel Acclamation respects the penitential and conversionary character of the season.

The refrain of the General Intercession “O Lord, hear our prayer” is also taken from “Plenty Good Room,” while the cantor’s intercessions are chanted over a wordless harmonized drone by the choir.

The Eucharistic Prayer is adorned by a musical setting of the Preface Dialogue, the Holy, Holy, Holy (strongest piece in the entire collection, also based on “Plenty Good Room” with absolutely triumphant Hosannas repeated many times at the conclusion), the three Memorial Acclamations (“When We Eat This Bread” seeming the best crafted of the three), and a Doxology/Amen (a somewhat challenging chant for the priest followed by the triumphantly repeated “Amens” based on the melody of the Hosannas in the Holy, Holy, Holy).

The concluding composition mixes Latin and English with the cantor intoning “Agnus Dei” and the congregation responding with the “Lamb of God” text and “Miserere nobis” or “Dona nobis pacem.” The music for this litany departs from the styles heard earlier in the “Mass of Plenty” but still makes an effective ritual accompaniment to the Fraction Rite.

I’d like to salute Rob Glover, not only for his years of dedicated work at St. Therese and his skills as a church composer, but for his dedication to handing on the heritage to later generations. In addition to handbell and brass players from the parish, elementary and high school students from St. Therese are featured in both recordings.  Rob’s own children serve as cantors on the later recording.

Father Jan Michael Joncas is a well-known liturgical composer and a professor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.

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Category: Arts and Culture