Friday, March 13, 2009

Sing Like a Catholic

While Jeffrey and I differ on some details, his essay has all the main stuff right.

The season of Lent is upon us, sending one of the few signals Catholic musicians hear outside Christmas and Easter. The message: The music should be sort of slow and penitential, unless we're talking about one of those cheesy modern upbeat songs about our "Lenten journey" to work for social justice.

Is it any wonder that people suppose that Catholics can't sing? Where are the ideals? Where is the direction? If there is such a thing as authentic Catholic music, where do we find it?

Consider the first Sunday of Lent. The Gregorian music -- from the music books that are intrinsically connected to the Mass -- for the entrance is from Psalm 90: "When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will rescue him and honor him; with long life will I satisfy him." The melody is sunny and uplifting, much to the shock of many who think that Lent is all about being gloomy. According to the actual musical tradition of the Church, we are looking forward to the joys of salvation.

Thus does the true music of our Faith impart information we would otherwise miss....

For several generations, what was originally permission to sing "other suitable songs" apart from the ritual itself has mutated into a kind of musical nihilism that denies that anything should be called universally appropriate or inappropriate. It is widely believed that, so long as people more or less like it, it can and should be sung or played.

What this has led to is not universal satisfaction with music at Mass, but rather the opposite. One never knows for sure what one will get on Sunday. Catholics are good sports, so they do their best to make a game of it. Will it be the aging hippy Mass, the breathy teen-pop Mass, the pseudo-Broadway Mass, the lone-cantor-plus-guitar Mass, the ethnic parade? The instability of it all becomes a kind of bonding point between us
. [The bonding of suffering...]

...I'm looking now at the latest issues of the most widely circulated music publications designed for Catholic parishes, and there are essentially no answers to be found there. If you followed the advice therein, you would be establishing drum corps, unleashing electric guitars, investing in overhead projectors, spending many thousands on the latest goop from the mainline publishers, and flitting around from thing to thing until the end of time.

Speaking bluntly, this is the blind leading the blind . . . though there does seem to be a consistent theme to all this floundering around: Those who are giving the advice are also selling music, and they are strongly recommending their music...

It is not a co-incidence that having and enforcing high standards usually produces the best results. You could ask Vince Lombardi.

There's more to the essay, which you can find at the link above.

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