Friday, August 17, 2007

NCR's Webster Young Is Mostly Right

The National Catholic Register puts forth an essay by a credentialed composer of music, a fellow named Webster Young.

He makes a number of solid observations, e.g.:

Today in America, up to 90 million people have muzak forced upon them daily — and it ranges from trivial pop music to the most debased forms of rap music. Musical ignorance is on the rise among the populace, and musical taste is in decline.

...Popular music is debased from a musical point of view. It is weak and unaccomplished when compared to finer music. Moreover, there are many forms of folk music in the world that are superior musically to pop and rock music.

In spite of this fact, every country in the world today has come under the dominance of rock and pop music and is arranging its ancestral folk music to the rock beat.

Today it is possible to hear a mild rock beat (such as might have been found in the Everly Brothers, for example) in almost every kind of music in the world — even in new church songs. Folk guitar players, too often, don’t know what to do but strum their guitars in mild rock rhythm.

Many new songs have the typical three- and four-chord harmonies of pop songs and melodies that do not reach the level of the mediocre when compared to disciplined music, the great hymns, Gregorian chant or classical melody.

In the following graf, Mr. Young says something which we will remark on shortly:

I am not an authority on Vatican II, but I do know — with the professional musician’s authority — that today music in the Church is mostly disordered. As a student in music school and conservatory, I found that the music of the current Catholic Church was considered laughable by my professors and fellow music students. And still today, most serious musicians consider it so.

Young's comments are unexceptionable; the "amateur hour" noises made during Masses these days are not only technically awful (the 'musicians' can't really play or sing very well)--but in addition, the music is generally dreck.

However, Young leads off his essay with a non-fact:

In the documents of the Second Vatican Council is a mandate for an encouragement of the popular in music — the “music of the people” at Mass.

Sorry, Mr. Webster, but that is simply untrue.

Read SC's "Music" section. (Paras. 112-121 of SC) Nowhere is "popular" music mentioned. And, in fact, when you read SC, note the following:

...Therefore sacred music is to be considered the more holy in proportion as it is more closely connected with the liturgical action, whether it adds delight to prayer, fosters unity of minds, or confers greater solemnity upon the sacred rites. But the Church approves of all forms of true art having the needed qualities, and admits them into Divine Worship.

Accordingly, the Sacred Council, keeping to the norms and precepts of ecclesiastical tradition and discipline, and having regard to the purpose of sacred music, which is the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful, ...

It's possible that Mr. Young saw this and mis-under-interpreted it:

In certain parts of the world, especially mission lands, there are peoples who have their own musical traditions, and these play a great part in their religious and social life. For this reason due importance is to be attached to their music, and a suitable place is to be given to it, not only in forming their attitude toward religion, but also in adapting worship to their native genius, as indicated in Art. 39 and 40

Arts. 39 & 40 are excruciatingly clear about "mission land exceptions." While we suspect that NaPaLM and the Liturgeist Direktorat of USCC think that the USA is a "mission land," they should know better.

Even then, "fundamental norms" are referenced. And the term "adaptation" is not the same as "wholesale replacement." But never mind...

The point is this: SC did not change, NOT ONE BIT, the letter nor the intent of Pius X's Motu Proprio on Sacred Music. SC did not specifically mention Pius' writings on Form but it DID use the classical formulations in its language such as 'glorification of God and sanctification of the people.' What's missing is the term "edification" [of the people] which reinforces the art/form requirement.

But I don't see "popular music" in the document.

Right conclusions, shaky premise, Mr. Young. But thanks for an otherwise incisive and useful essay!

HT: City of Steeples

No comments: