Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A Critique of Catholic Pops Music

The Jester found this in a book. It's dead-on.

"Here I am, Lord." This hymn depicts a human soul responding to the call of Christ--but the music is whiny and grim, evoking in most people's minds a can of rancid potted meat, being slowly spread by windshield wipers across a plate of dirty auto glass.

You hear Christ calling all right--but you feel like He's some hobo who's tapping at your window at 4 a.m. to wake you from a sound sleep so He can ask you directions to Dunkin' Donuts. You don't so much want to answer Him as clock him with a slipper.

Sung in a sleepwalking, zombie rhythm, its use at Communion time produces a strikingly cinematic effect, which film critics have dubbed "The Church of the Living Dead." Here again, we have a chance to bring good out of evil: In preliminary tests, use of this song by military interrogators has proved successful, slightly more humane replacement for water-boarding.

More on the book (which is about the fine Catholic tradtions of brewing, vintning, and drinking the results,) here.


Karen Marie said...

Well, it _is_ obvious that the writer of this passaage has never heard the hymn, or at least has never heard it sung competently. The tune is quite sprightly, and almost too happy-clappy for such a contemplative set of lyrics. "Whiny" and "grim" are two things it definitely is not.

Dad29 said...

Sorry, Karen, but your take is wrong.

There is only one tempo at which one can walk (or shuffle, accurately) to that tune.

But you are correct in this way: it IS a "hymn," not a piece of liturgical music.

So it should be sung at non-Mass times.

Midnight would be fine.

Scelata said...

Thanks, that gave me a much needed laugh (and maybe my computer screen NEEDED to be washed with diet coke...)
Is it really even a "hymn" much less liturgical music?
The sad thing is, it is, it seems, popular in the British Isles as well (it won some polls there in recent years.)
It is the "Antibiotic-resistant Strain of TB" of church music, and seems to have been spread by irresponsible international travelers.

(Save the Liturgy, Save the World)

Dad29 said...

Actually, it's more a nursery rhyme than anything, but here it's used as a hymn.

Of course, it's a non-masculine (see "effete") work...

Karen Marie said...

Actually, I haven't heard or sang it very often at Mass; it's been more usual at Profession of Vows, Presentation of Mission Cross, the occasional ordination, and on vocation retreats, with its pretty direct references to the calls of the prophets and the pleas of God as written in the psalms.

Crocodile Cage said...

I have to differ with you on this, Dad. I kind of like that song when it is done well. And it can be done well.

This post seems to be a continuation of your post "A Slightly Radical Suggestion for Music at Mass, and A 'Think' Graf." I like traditional music. However, I believe that the meaning of the music is far more important than the tastes (or lack thereof) of the listeners.

I think you are falling into the "trap" Fr. Reesman described in your April 13 post. The Church should not choose music because it pleases the ear of some listeners or does not please the ear of others. That is the emotional response Fr. Reesman describes.

Your love of Gregorian Chant is just as emotional as my daughters' love of "Turn! Turn! Turn!" at Mass. You are reacting to your particular emotive response to the sound.

Instead, the primary concern of the Church should be the meaning and message of the music. Gaudeamus omnes is no more or less liturgically correct than "Here I am, Lord" or "Turn! Turn! Turn!"

Being RC, strictly speaking, is not about the sound of liturgy, it is about the meaning of that liturgy, and the adherence to that meaning.

Dad29 said...

Uh, Croc, it should be fairly clear that my remarks are not based on some emotional committment, but on the precise language of Pope St. Pius X (and Pius XII, and on B-16.)

The first thing to understand is that hymns are NOT "liturgical music." Properly, LM consists of the Ordinary of the Mass plus the Propers of the Mass, plus certain motets based on texts from the OT or NT or texts of the Mass itself.

But your analogy: that "being RC is not about the sound..." is deficient.

In fact, the Constitution on the Lit. of V.II specifically stated that "music is an INTEGRAL PART of the liturgy." Thus, sound is, indeed, a critical component; and that sound must, in the words of Pius X, "glorify God and raise the minds and hearts of the Faithful to God."

Other writings on Music for Liturgy are quite specific regarding its form, and perhaps more important, that it be modeled on Chant.

But to abstract from this--it is important to understand that the Mass is "of a piece." One cannot, under ordinary circumstances, insert inappropriate language, music, or gestures and claim fidelity to the mandates of the Church.

No more than one can remove the woodwinds from a symphonic score, or sing the text of "Maria" to the tune of "Oklahoma."

It don't work.

Dad29 said...

One other thing, Croc.

On this post,

see the comment from "Tadhg Seamus."

Tadhg and I were schooled (he FAR more extensively than I) in musica sacra. Revealing his credentials would not be kosher, but they are extremely impressive.

It ain't co-incidence that we think alike.

Crocodile Cage said...

Dad, I wasn't suggesting that it is not important. I was suggesting that one can "glorify God and raise the minds and hearts of the Faithful to God" without, for example, monophony.

Motets arose somewhere around the 13th Century. Most of the standards were established in the 15th Century.

I do not question the authority of the Church to set standards. I do not question the Magisterium.

I do question the musical standards, however. Some of those standards were established based on the tastes and inspiration of people long dead. What might have "raised the hearts and minds of the Faithful" 600 years ago might not be the same today (just as music used by the Church in the first several hundred years differed from music used in the Church in the 1500s).

The Church is indefectible. Truth remains truth. But time changes all sorts of things other than truth. The Tridentine Mass is no longer obligatory. Likewise, I respectfully suggest that the Church should embrace a variety of adornments so long, as Pope John XXIII stated in described Vatican II, as they "transmit doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion."

Dad, I must admit, your knowledge of Cannon Law (and sacred music) far surpasses my own. I am a secular lawyer, not a connonical lawyer (giving me a little better understanding of the meaning of the 14th Amendment, but we can discuss that elsewhere). I think the Church has, at times, gotten so laden with law that it has obscured the beauty of Christ's message and the Church's doctrine.

I am an RC traditionalist in most respects, but I also believe substance is more important than form (nevertheless, I agree that there is too much Kumbaya in the Church today).

I better stop. The Crocodile Cage is a fiscally coserative, government-related blog, and I do not want to color people's views of my opinions there based on other views I might have.

Crocodile Cage said...

err...conservative was the word I intended

Dad29 said...


I realize that my civil law training is equal to my training in astrophysics, although I think that my ability to read English is pretty decent. (I've been instructed on the 14th's interpretation by a FreePer/attorney for whom I have great respect and with whom I maintain a fine friendship. On the other hand, my father, an attorney, expressed substantial reservations about various members of SCOTUS on occasion...)

Your point, that monophony is not to be exclusive, or that 16thC polyphony is, perhaps, dated, is absolutely correct. Thus, church musicians worth the name utilize a wide variety of styles, including music written right through the present day, to glorify God AND raise the minds and hearts of the (etc.)

But, just as you have a duty-in-friendship to educate me in the civil law (although that may be frustrating,) I have a duty in friendship to work with you in making clear what actually raises the minds and hearts (etc.)

That's why I included the quote from Aristotle (which was an expansion of another quote from Plato) on the topic of music in this post: The point is that there are standards of Beauty; and that 'glorifying God' conforms to standards.

We know that Beauty, like Truth, cannot change--Aristotle, with Aquinas confirming, established that they are one and the same (with Goodness.) If the perception of Pope St Gregory and his predecessors, and his successors through B-16 is that Chant is a model, we can accept on that authority that it IS a model.

But before 'homophonic' emerges, listen to the Durufle re-write of Mass IX, or Requiem--or Resphigi's (non-liturgical) Church Windows, based partially on Gloria VIII.

Or any of the Masses of Flor Peeters (died 1980's ?) which utilize Chant-like motifs for 4-part choir and organ. The Church does not legislate that "Chant must be used." Rather, she legislates (canonically, all regulation of the Liturgy is reserved to the Pope and/or Congregation for Divine Worship) that 'the more [the] music is like Chant, the better it is for worship.'

That's not really a burden, legislatively. And it does NOT exclude 'other styles' which are judged sufficient for "praising God and God."

Now as to 'transmitting doctrine...without attenuation,' we can propose a syllogism: doctrine is Truth; Truth is Beauty. Thus, what is not Beautiful cannot 'transmit..without attenuation,' thus is unworthy of use as music for Mass.

Granted, perfection in Beauty will not happen here. But just as you tell your children to 'be perfect,' (strive for the good) echoing Christ's mandate, the same applies to music offerings for worship of God.

And, yes, just as REAL lawyers have to, ah, "assist" bloglodytes in interpreting the 14th correctly, musicians have that dratted obligation to know.

It was Hindemith (20th C. guy) who stated that 'Chant is the foundation of all Western music.'

It's that for a reason--Beauty.

Dad29 said...

And another thing (to quote a lawyer's blog title...)

I think that separating 'form and substance' is a false dichotomy, at least in any genuinely artistic endeavor. (Just as with the Mass. Form and substance are either united, or not.)

Thus, a piece of music must be judged as a whole (precisely what Aristotle referred to;) and part of that judgment are its effects on the mind and body.

The church musician, thus, must walk a very fine line. Bear in mind Pius X's formulation "mind AND heart." That which appeals to either one too much (either 'emotional' or 'intellectual') is not sufficient--it is defective.

Thus, using analogy, the late works of Schoenberg were intellectually rigorous, but totally lacking in any emotional appeal. Conversely, Elvis' "Love Me Tender" is an example of emotion-weighted music without much intellectual force.

ALL music which appeals to the, ah, lower regions of the body (most rock, whether 'soft' or 'hard,' is strictly emotional,) although some has more intellectual appeal.

And ALL music which calls to mind that which is not Holy is simply not fit for worship.

On those principles I think we can agree without any question.

Brian Michael Page said...

Ah yes, "Here Me Is, Lard!" The song that a loved one asks for as an entrance hymn while their beloved deceased rolls down the aisle, or someone presenting him-/herself at the altar for the reception of Holy Communion. I'm sorry, but the refrain is very "me-centered", and the verses have the people saying "we are Christ" in the first person. Not to mention I highly agree with Thomas Day's assertion that the refrain is a ripoff of the Brady Bunch.

Six out of five stars for the post, Dad.


Chironomo said...

I guess my post got lost or there was an intenet breakdown... this is a lot of intellectual energy to spend on a "song" that, while popular, represents everything that is wrong with Contemporary Liturgical Music. Putting aside the trite music which is, as noted above, a rip-off of the Brady Bunch Theme (try it!)the text is a a paraphrase, supposedly, of Isaiah 6, although the meaning, in the context of this song, is probably closer to the use of "Here I Am, Lord", in the Book of Samuel. The change from first to third person point of view between the verses and refrain seem to either.. a) Make God claim to be "here" for us, whom he calls Lord or ...b) make us claim to be God, here for ourselves. The "song" text is also sprinkled liberally with enough naturalist symbolism (sea, sky, stars of night, snow rain, stone,wind, flame...)to give it an awkward feel that is, at best, liturgically suspect, and at worst suggests an almost "animist" spirituality (God of Trees, God of Mountains, God of the Lake) This is probably way too much energy spent on MY part now... I think there are better coices, at funerals, communion, whatever...