Friday, June 15, 2007

Popular Music and the Liturgy, c. 1000 AD-Date

Chironimo offers a short essay on the 'pops plague' in sacred music, which seems to reappear on a regular basis.

"A good question to ask of all music heard at liturgy is this: does it work toward the sacramental end of liturgy to reach outside the bounds of time and strive to enter into eternity?

...The very sacrifice of Christ on the cross is renewed and made present by virtue of words spoken by the celebrant in liturgy. To accomplish such an act in time requires that the bounds of time and space are transcended, a claim that is itself singularly radical in an age of rampant skepticism.

Considering this, it is not much to ask that music at liturgy not overtly draw from external forms that have nothing whatever to do with such transcendent concerns. The chant and the sacred-music tradition, in contrast, grew up around a profoundly secure faith, a faith that in our age is believed to be impossible. To employ this music at Mass, then, expresses a confidence in these timeless claims, and illustrates them in ways that work through the senses to provide evidence of things unseen. There is something inexpressibly calming about the sole employment of the human voice, the absence of meter and sharp edges, that comes with the use of chant; it causes time and space to recede and contemplation of transcendence to displace earthly concerns.

(Quoting an Zinner/Tucker essay from Sacred Music, Fall 2006)

That's the foundation-point of his essay. He then writes:

The fact is that most of what passes as liturgical music today simply doesn’t work as liturgical music, and reform will eventually have to happen

...adherents of Contemporary Liturgical Music (or CCM or Folk-Pop or Life-Teen …) are often blissfully unaware of the numerous attempts throughout history to bring the “music of the people” into the Church.

Chironimo goes on to list the Middle Ages' insertion of texts into the melismas of the Kyrie (memorialized by the 'names' given to the Ordinaries, i.e., De Angelis for Mass VIII), followed by the proliferation of Sequences (begun by Nokter and proliferating like dandelions,) "parody Masses" of the XVIc., and the "opera Masses" of the Classical period (e.g., Mozart's "Coronation" Mass.)

Chironimo also provides for us the various Papal documents which seek to put these deviations to rest.

I am certain that Chironomo's prescription will be controversial--it seems to boil down to "Chant." There are other reputable and knowledgeable students of liturgical music who will defend Mozart Masses (at least the shorter ones), and the Ordinaries of Vittoria and Hassler (I have already begun that on his blog.)

But it is worthwhile to learn the history.

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