Wednesday, January 06, 2010

WhassaMatta With Church Music?

Jeff Tucker provokes some thought.

If I were to pick one word to describe the present state of music in the Catholic world, I would choose tedium. Nothing new ever happens. The repertoire is mostly from the 1970s, with some 1980s elaborations, but in a style that is dreadfully dated by popular standards. It is particularly pathetic that much of this music depends heavily on the sound and feel of people who want to be inspired by the “groove”—yet the music demonstrates a chilling lack of inspiration. Most of this material does not play itself; it sounds unusually boring in the hands of bored musicians.


Let’s suppose for a moment that being a priest involved nothing more than putting on a collar and reading out loud from a book. Would anyone be seriously interested in taking on this task or committing his life to it? The more a task demands of us, the more we are willing to put into it. If musicians knew what the Catholic liturgy truly demands of singers and organists, they might respond by devoting more time and energy to the task.

Sacred music, then, helps musicians do a better job of what they aspire to do as musicians. What’s especially interesting is the effect of chant on parish culture. Sometimes musicians fear a revolt by the people in the pews, but I’ve found precisely the opposite. Many people long for chant. People who have never known chant at least have a tacit understanding that it belongs as part of Catholic worship.

Case in point: St Anthony's in Milwaukee. The faithful (in-the-pew folks) sing those Chant Ordinaries very well, indeed.

Look at the settings available for singing the ordinary chants of the Mass: the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus/Benedictus, and Agnus Dei. The Church has provided us with eighteen full settings of these chants, plus many additional ones to be used at the discretion of the singer. They are all structured so that the people can sing them. These are not chants for specialists but for everyone

There are Traddies (and I can name names, priests and laity alike, right here in Milwaukee) who think that the people-in-the-pew are there to pay, pray, and obey, and most certainly they should NOT sing Chant Ordinaries. These Traddies deliberately ignore Papal documents which directly contradict their position, of course. Gives them a feeling of power, or something. Secret Society membership has its privileges, I guess.

In Catholic history, there have been whole parishes that knew them all. Reports from the nineteenth century suggest that widespread knowledge persisted from the middle ages into modern times.

J S Bach wrote music which utilized Chant themes, not for intellectual play purposes, but because he knew that his congregation knew the melodies and the associations thereof. Who SAYS that the Faithful don't know stuff? Only the modern ignorants...

...there are five proper chants for each Mass throughout the year: Introit, Gradual, Alleluia, Offertory, and Communio. This is all music that belongs as part of the Mass itself. This is the reference point when the documents of Vatican II speak of chant as having a primary place in the Mass.

I'd wager that there are not 5 parishes in the Archdiocese which know of the Propers, or have heard any of them in the last 20 years. I'd be happy to be proven wrong, but I'll take wagers.

Jeffrey's economics avocation materializes here:

To know this is to give direction and purpose to our efforts, and every bit of work that we do builds on previous efforts and points the direction toward more.

This knowledge and awareness help us economize on our practice time. Why spend hours and hours learning the newest praise chorus, only to have it go out of fashion next year, when we could be spending time on chant, music that we know for certain will be in fashion long after we have left this earth? To expend one’s efforts on sacred music is to engage in investment rather than consumption.

Indeed. But to so many, mis-trained and mis-led by the 'spirit of Vatican II' ignorami, continue to insult their Catholic forebears and deprive their progeny of this treasure.

Tells you something about them, both Traddie and Modernist.

Thanks, Jeff!!


Andrew K said...

I really wish there was authentic outward expressions at St. Stan's... And, singing of the Ordinary.

Dave said...

When I've attended the EF Missa Cantata, I make a point of singing the responses...I've gotten some looks from people, but what the hey...

Anonymous said...

While I appreciate the Extraordinary Form as celebrated at St. Stan's in Milwaukee, I do believe that Extraordinary Form parishes in general have to move more towards having the congregation actually partake in the singing of the Ordinary. That is the duty and right of the congregation as baptized members of the Body of Christ. Active participation by human beings (who have physical bodies) should involve some singing and responding.

Most hardcore "Traditional Catholics" who I know would throw a fit if the congregation were actually encouraged to start singing or even responding to the priest's "Dominus Vobiscums."

Liturgically, the Church is in a tough position right now. The Ordinary Form is inorganic and celebrated poorly in most parishes. The Extraordinary Form doesn't usually incoporate some of the good developments in liturgical thinking like congregational participation, etc.

Oh, well. Guess we'll have to wait till Heaven for the perfect Liturgy.