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Luke Mayernik

  • Responsorial Psalm Singing with the Five Graces Psalter, Part 2

    The Five Graces Psalter by Luke Mayernick The Five Graces Psalter

    Guest post by Kelly Dobbs-Mickus

    The new volume of Responsorial Psalms for the 3-year Lectionary by Luke Mayernik is receiving rave reviews from customers as an excellent resource for psalmody. This second post continues to explore the practice of responsorial psalm singing in the context of Roman Catholic liturgy using The Five Graces Psalter for reference. We hope that these reflections will be helpful to cantors and accompanists, no matter where they are on their liturgical music journeys.

    The first part of this post considered the liturgical role of the cantor as psalmist and then moved to the art of singing and accompanying psalm refrains. This second part will focus on the verses and psalm tones. Our context is a “regular” parish setting, but we acknowledge that all worship situations are not identical.

    As we discussed in part one, the psalmist’s role for the refrain is primarily about communicating the words and modeling how the assembly will sing the response. The verses are a much more complicated topic, and this post can really only scratch the surface. Because of that, we will concentrate on the most important points for psalmists and sprinkle in some information for accompanists along the way.

    The psalmist sets the emotional tone of the psalm, and should possess an understanding of this particular part of the story of salvation and how it relates to the other Scripture readings. An excellent resource for psalm spirituality is Sr. Kathleen Harmon’s book Becoming the Psalms: A Spirituality of Singing and Praying the Psalms. Preparation of the psalm must not be solely an exterior one; it is the psalmist’s privilege and responsibility to pray the psalms.

    Because psalm tones are unmetered, they allow for much freedom of expression. The psalm tones in The Five Graces Psalter are particularly expressive—they are melodic and harmonically fresh. (Listen to some samples here.) The downside of unmetered music is that it can be more difficult to interpret, due in part to how it looks on the page. How do we get past the notation to create musical prayer?

    The best place to start is with the words of the psalm verses. Read them aloud and study them apart from the music. Memorize them if you can. Here is part of the psalm for Immaculate Conception, Psalm 98:1–3ab:

    O sing a new song to the LORD,
    for he has worked wonders.
    His right hand and his holy arm
    have brought salvation.

    The LORD has made known his salvation,
    has shown his deliverance to the nations.
    He has remembered his merciful love
    and his truth for the house of Israel.

    Notice the natural stresses of the words, the punctuation, and the sequence of ideas. Make note of the emotional tone and strive to reflect it in your singing. Internalizing the psalm in this way is crucial for being able to proclaim it, and the bonus is that it will make the work of interpreting the psalm in song easier.

    The next step is to put the words together with the music. First, let’s define two helpful terms:

    1. Reciting notes are notes that have multiple syllables under them. It is important to sing the words/syllables under reciting notes with their proper stresses, and not plow through them in a robotic or quick fashion simply because the pitch doesn’t change.
    2. Cadential notes lead into the cadence of each phrase. It is important to observe proper stresses for these notes as well, keeping in mind that, although the note is changing, the syllable may be an unstressed one. (The two sets of brackets under the second cadential note indicate that psalmists and accompanists skip those notes/chords.)
    All examples: Verses from The Revised Grail Psalms, Copyright © 2010, Conception Abbey/The Grail, admin. by GIA Publications, Inc. Setting Copyright © 2017 Birnamwood Publications (ASCAP), A division of MorningStar Music Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted for educational use only.

    Here is the first line of Verse 1, notated first showing a poor interpretation, and second showing a good interpretation.

    These two brief examples lend insight into the many variables that exist when interpreting each phrase of a psalm, and how much preparation on the part of the psalmist is needed to communicate the psalm well to the assembly. Go back to the first example and try singing Verses 2 and 3, making sure not to emphasize unaccented syllables, speed through syllables under reciting notes, or unduly lengthen cadential notes.

    There are different types of tones within Mayenik’s Five Graces Psalter. Each phrase of the tone just discussed has a reciting tone and then a cadence with multiple chords. In that kind of tone, it is easy to mis-accent the cadential notes because, after singing several syllables on one pitch, it is natural to emphasize the changing pitch.

    Here is an example of a different kind of tone, from the First Sunday of Advent C.

    This tone is less complicated, because each phrase has a second reciting note rather than multiple cadential notes. This means fewer opportunities for mis-accenting syllables. However, it is still important to find the word accents within the reciting notes, and the fact that there are two reciting notes means that there are fewer syllables under each, which has its own issues. For example, how do you treat a single syllable under a reciting tone, such as “Teach” in the second phrase of Verse 1? My vote would be to lengthen that note a bit, but you and your accompanist might agree on a different approach.

    Two other features of this tone are 1) a repeated phrase at the end of the first verse, indicated by brackets, and 2) an optional cue note on the penultimate chord of each verse. (Cue notes are also included in the first example.) Cues indicate optional notes that a cantor or choir might use for variation on one or more verses. The introduction to the psalter has more information on cue notes, especially for use with choirs.

    There is a third kind of tone that is a combination of the two already discussed. Look at the third and fourth phrases of Psalm 51 for Ash Wednesday and you will find both a second reciting tone and cadential notes. Try singing through those phrases for an idea of the interpretation issues involved.

    Now that we have talked about reciting and cadential notes and natural word accents, let’s move to breathing. There is no single correct method for when to breathe. The easiest way to talk about breathing is to link it to punctuation. There is little argument for breathing at periods, colons, or semi-colons. Keep in mind that taking a breath usually implies a lengthening of the syllable that precedes the breath.

    It is often appropriate to breathe at a comma, but not always. I recently heard this good tip: When there are two commas close to each other, breathe/break at one, not both. In the first phrase of Verse 1 above, breathing both before and after “O God” feels choppy. However, there is also a way to use a break in the sound, not an actual breath, for a smaller separation. Another option is to lengthen the syllable that precedes the comma, even if you don’t breathe or break at the comma.

    The Ash Wednesday example has unusually long phrases in the first two lines which require attention. Breathing after “God” in the first line and after “compassion” in the second line will be a necessity for many psalmists. But even if a singer didn’t need to breathe there, doing so will improve the assembly’s understanding of the text. To underscore the breaths, the accompanist might repeat the chord, or perhaps tie the melody note and repeat the other notes.

    A less obvious practice in singing psalm verses concerns connecting phrases by avoiding breaths between them. It can be appropriate to do this when the two phrases of text have no separating punctuation or when a connection of the meaning is otherwise implied. In the Psalm 51 example, look at phrases 3 and 4 of Verse 4. The psalmist could breathe after “Lord,” and then connect “lips” with “and,” and the accompanist could underscore this by connecting the chords.

    It should be obvious that if the accompanist and psalmist do not rehearse and agree on the details of breathing, the interpretation will suffer. When these points regarding breathing are understood by the accompanist, s/he will be free to underscore the interpretation in other ways: the volume/voicing of the accompaniment, the registration/octave of the accompaniment, articulation, alternate harmonizations, etc. In addition to those factors, the accompanist and psalmist should decide how to begin the phrases of each verse—there is some freedom here. For example, the accompanist could play the first chord of each verse before the psalmist enters, but could begin the following phrases with the psalmist. The accompanist’s role during the verses is to creatively support the psalmist without calling attention to the accompaniment. When the refrain comes around, the accompanist becomes the leader again.

    These are but a few of the many nuances involved in singing psalm tones. The previous emphasis placed on internalizing the text cannot be overstated; without this personal connection to the psalm itself, the details that should enable its prayerful expression will instead get in the way. Even experienced psalmists should continually ask themselves how well they are interpreting, communicating, and praying the psalm—how well they are fulfilling their ministry.

    Visit our website for more information on The Five Graces Psalter, especially the options for both print and downloadable versions, and the sample recordings.
  • Getting Ready for NPM

    NPM 2018 Logo NPM 2018
    We're looking forward to seeing old friends and meeting new ones at the upcoming National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM) conference in Baltimore in just a few short weeks! From July 9-13, MorningStar & E. C. Schirmer will have a booth at the event, and partner with NPM to present several sessions that are great opportunities for Catholic musicians to come together and learn from one another.

    We are especially excited to sponsor local clinicians Dr. Eileen Guenther to share her knowledge and passion regarding Spirituals and their roots in slave narratives, and Dr. Stephen Caracciolo to share his expert techniques for successful choral conducting.


    Mark Lawson will present three showcases of choral music, with assistance by Kelly Dobbs-Mickus and Dr. John Romeri. (Please note that none of our showcases repeat this year.)

    1. Accessible Choral Music from MorningStar Music, Monday 7/9, 10-11 am
    2. ECS Publishing Group Presents New Music for Advanced Choirs, Monday 7/9, 4:30-5:30
    3. MorningStar Music presents New Choral Music for the Church Year, Thursday 7/12, 10:30-11:30

    Breakout Sessions

    Pressed into Service: Transitioning from Piano to Organ, Kelly Dobbs-Mickus
    An hour-long session for pianists who have been called to play the organ, including an exploration of easy repertoire for both hymn playing and solo playing.
    Tuesday 7/10, 10:30-11:30

    Choral Conducting: Best Practices and Problem Solving, Dr. Stephen Caracciolo      
    This session will focus on problem solving in the choral rehearsal and establishing a plan to address these common issues. Noted composer and conductor Stephen Caracciolo is known for having worked with professional, collegiate and amateur choirs. A packet of choral selections will be provided.
    Thursday 7/12, 3-4pm                                        

    Industry Lab Sessions

    Exploring Spirituals in worship with In Their Own Words, Dr. Eileen Guenther     
    This session will examine the origin and use of African-American Spirituals. Topics include: highlighting true meaning of spirituals through slave narratives, using spirituals appropriately in the liturgy, creative program ideas, and a guide to effective performance practice. A packet of choral selections will be provided.
    Thursday 7/12, 11:45-12:30

    The Five Graces Psalter: A window into MorningStar’s liturgical music and online tools, Kelly Dobbs-Mickus, Mark Lawson
    We will explore the next generation of Lectionary Psalms by Luke Mayernik, including new settings for weddings and funerals. From that jumping point we will survey online tools and how they can aid you in your ministry.
    Thursday 7-12, 12:45-1:30

    Exhibit Hours

    Last but not least! Don’t miss visiting the MorningStar/ECS booth, where you will find excellent music for choir, congregation, organ, piano, instrumental ensembles, and more! We'll be open during the hours below, and when they're not busy leading sessions, Mark Lawson and Kelly Dobbs-Mickus will be there to catch up. As always, we'd love to know how your conference is going, get your reactions to our publications, and hear your ideas for ways we can help.

    Monday, July 9: 9:30pm-11:30pm
    Tuesday, July 10: 10:00am-6:00pm
    Wednesday, July 11: 11:45am-6:00pm
    Thursday, July 12: 10:00am-4:30pm
    Friday, July 13: 9:00am-11:15am (new this year, an extra day of shopping!)

  • Responsorial Psalm Singing with the Five Graces Psalter

    Guest post by Kelly Dobbs-Mickus

    MorningStar has recently published a new volume of Responsorial Psalms for the 3-year Lectionary cycle by Luke Mayernik. In this series, we will explore the practice of responsorial psalm singing using the Five Graces Psalter for reference, in the context of Roman Catholic liturgy, while acknowledging that other traditions also use responsorial forms. Whether singing/playing responsorial psalms is new for you, or whether you are experienced, we believe these reflections will contribute to this aspect of your ministry.

    This first part of the post considers the responsorial psalm in its liturgical context and then moves to the art of singing and accompanying psalm refrains. It assumes a “regular” parish setting while acknowledging that all worship situations are not identical.

    The responsorial psalm is one of the Scripture readings in the Liturgy of the Word and therefore has an elevated place in the liturgy. The cantor or soloist (called psalmist from here) is the proclaimer, and therefore the communication of the text is his/her most important task. As musicians, we tend to be more concerned with the music than making sure the text is understood, but this clear communication of Scripture is a skill that must be practiced and continually developed by psalmists.

    The psalmist sets the emotional tone of the psalm, and should possess an understanding of this particular part of the story of salvation and how it relates to the other Scripture readings. An excellent resource for psalm spirituality is Sr. Kathleen Harmon’s book Becoming the Psalms: A Spirituality of Singing and Praying the Psalms, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 2015. Preparation of the psalm must not be solely an exterior one; it is the psalmist’s privilege and responsibility to pray the psalms.

    Accompanists also have a responsibility to prepare each psalm setting prayerfully. Decide which keyboard instrument fits the particular refrain, assuming there are equally viable options. The refrain accompaniments found in The Five Graces Psalter are quite flexible; even those that appear to be pianistic can be quite successful on the organ (the example included here is such a refrain), and vice versa. Pianists should consider options for volume and articulation, and organists should decide what stops will be most appropriate, etc. Guitar chord symbols are provided; adding guitar to refrains and/or verses adds richness to the texture. Guitar would be a sufficient accompaniment for verses in some situations.

    The refrain melody is usually introduced by a keyboardist, with or without a solo instrumentalist. Playing the refrain accompaniment as written is a possibility, but other options are more helpful for the assembly. The keyboardist might play the melody only, perhaps in octaves. Another option is to “solo out” the melody, perhaps in a higher octave for piano, or on a solo stop for organ. This important skill for organists is most commonly done this way: Play the melody in the right hand, pair the alto and tenor voice in the left hand, and assign the bass line to the pedals. Here is the refrain for Palm Sunday, shown first as it appears in the Five Graces Psalter and then as a solo melody version.

    A pianist has the ability to play the melody more loudly so that it is heard above the texture of the other voices. Having a solo instrument play the melody is very effective, with or without accompaniment. All of these options can be tailored to fit the tone of the psalm and/or the liturgical season or feast; in general, it makes sense to use simpler approaches for seasons such as Advent and Lent and more elaborate ones for seasons such as Christmas and Easter.

    Establish a steady tempo in the introduction, and maintain it for the psalmist’s intonation and assembly response, being careful to rehearse the transitions among those repetitions, as well as the transitions between verses and refrains. There are several ways to handle these transitions—not necessarily one “right” way—but consistency and rehearsal are necessary for confident assembly participation.

    When the psalmist sings the first refrain, there are several things to remember. Here’s a good way to think about what is happening in this liturgical moment: As part of prayerfully proclaiming this Scripture, the psalmist is modeling the best way for the assembly—a group of untrained singers—to sing this particular refrain, thereby enabling their prayerful participation.

    • The notes should be clear and in tune, and the tempo should be steady.
    • Breathe when you believe they will need to breathe.
    • Be musical, because a musical “performance” will engage the assembly. Follow the contour and expression of the musical line, emphasize/de-emphasize certain notes, etc. In other words, allow the music to be an effective vehicle for the particular text.
    • Avoid affectations in your tone (e.g., too much vibrato) and pronunciation (e.g., rolled Rs, or a “British” style) so that the assembly will feel comfortable imitating you.
    • Enunciate each syllable. Imagine that the assembly does not have visual access to the words.
    • Microphones are not a substitute for a supported vocal production; if you have a big voice, move back a bit. Rehearse with the microphone, and record your rehearsal for an objective perspective.

    The accompanist plays two different roles in the responsorial psalm: accompanying the cantor and leading the assembly. S/he needs to support but not overpower the psalmist, taking a back seat especially during the verses to allow the words of the psalm to be primary. S/he needs to lead the assembly in singing each refrain with correct notes, steady tempo, clear breaths, and appropriate volume. It can be helpful for accompanists to give more prominence to the refrain melody—as described above—until the assembly becomes confident.

    The psalmist should allow the keyboardist to be the leader for the assembly refrains. It may be necessary for him/her to help the assembly on the first repetition or two, but it is ideal for him/her to not sing with the assembly unless they are in need of his/her vocal support. When the assembly is singing confidently, an amplified voice singing over them is not only redundant—it sends the wrong message.

    The liturgical primacy of the responsorial psalm demands careful preparation. The next part in this series will explore psalm-tone verses, including the choral options possible for The Five Graces Psalter.

    Visit our website for more information on The Five Graces Psalter, especially the options for both print and downloadable versions.

  • Interview with Luke Mayernik: The Five Graces Psalter

    Luke Mayernik

    Luke Mayernik's Five Graces Psalter is a collection of Responsorial Psalms for the entire three-year Lectionary cycle, and a welcome and worthy addition to the repertoire of Lectionary Psalms. The award-winning composer and organist has crafted memorable settings infused with harmonic freshness and melodic appeal—settings that bear the weight of the emotion and liturgical importance of the psalms.

    When did you start composing?

    Luke and Kassidy Mayernik

    As a child, I started taking piano lessons around the age of 8.  In just a few short years, I was already re-arranging and discovering chord substitutions for all of the piano music Beryl Flemming (my piano teacher) would assign to me.  Every Wednesday evening I would to her house for my weekly lesson, excited to share my "improvements" of classical/contemporary staples - oh, she was quite furious and flustered by my musical changes, but I was never discouraged by her anger.  Beryl lived to be 105 years old, teaching many people over 80+ years to play the piano.  I will always be thankful for her guidance, support, and her patience (which was tested every week by yours truly!).

    What do you know about composing now that you wish you had known earlier?

    To be completely honest, what has been instilled in me during graduate school is the power of the rest and rhythmic gesture.  Before coming to, and ultimately graduating from, The San Francisco Conservatory of Music, much of my musical elements within any given composition began right on the downbeat, and often remained that way throughout!  A rest at the beginning of a phrase can provide so much movement, beauty, and clarity to phrases.  Like a great orator, a pause or breath in the right place can strengthen the composer's rhetoric and support the overall musical narrative. When in doubt, put in a rest!

    What first made you interested in setting the entire lectionary psalm cycle?

    Two words:  Michel Guimont.  Michel's sincere musical language profoundly impacted me as a young liturgical composer and musician; his gift of melody, harmony, and clarity truly shaped my own musical voice over the years. Published by GIA, Michel's Lectionary Psalms is a significant and highly celebrated resource that I continually use as a guidepost, teacher, and spring of musical inspiration to this day.  At an early age, I knew that a comprehensive lectionary psalter was the one (and main) contribution I wanted to make as a liturgical composer.  Back in 2007, I started to pen the first few psalm settings at the age of 26. Michel came to West Virginia in 2009 to lead a workshop regarding the psalms, where I was in my second year of serving as Cathedral Organist at St. Joseph's in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.   Reviewing the few settings I had already completed (and are now included in the publication of The Five Graces Psalter), Michel genuinely encouraged my compositional efforts to continue; ten years later (and after many revisions and rewrites), The Five Graces Psalter was finished.

    What is your method for writing a refrain melody?

    It is extremely important to me to first understand what type of psalm it is (A Royal psalm, a lament, Song of Ascent, etc.) before I begin to musically set the text. Secondly, I speak the text aloud, memorizing the text in its entirety.  This method illumines the natural prosody of the psalm.  Then comes the actual musical crafting, which usually begins with improvised singing first.  The harmony is worked out at the piano in the final stages of musical crafting.

    How do you know when something is "finished"?

    Funny you should ask that!  There are actually two psalm refrain settings within The Five Graces Psalter that could have been set slightly differently, in my opinion.  The other day my wife and I sang these respective psalms as they are presented in The Five Graces Psalter, and with the changes.  When we voted, the results proffered an even tie!  Finished?  How I wrestle with these thoughts, even to this day.

    Five Graces Psalter

    What are the three most important things you want liturgical musicians to know about this volume of psalms?

    1) The Five Graces Psalter has been specifically crafted to suit traditional and contemporary parish music programs, equally.
    2) These settings can be used during the Liturgy of the Word, at the Communion Procession, and many of them include the Alleluia refrain option, which could make a nice Gospel Acclamation!
    3) With accompaniments tailored for organ, piano, guitar, and instrumentalists, the memorable refrains and melodic psalm tones are designed to inspire and encourage a singing assembly!

    What would you say to liturgical musicians who have never tried having a choir sing verses of a responsorial psalm?

    First, have your choir speak each respective phrase of a verse, underlining the emphasized words of each phrase with a pencil. Then, have your choral ensemble chant that verse together in unison with a natural speech pattern; you may even want to do this by part or section as well, either in unison or in parts.  Pretty soon, your choir will be excited to sing the harmonies of these psalm tones week after week!

    Click here to learn more about The Five Graces Psalter.

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