Friday, June 29, 2007

On "Power Ballads" in Liturgy

The Paragraph Farmer has a grip on the history of the genre, and an understanding of its limits. And he has a good sense of humor, much eliminated by my editing. See the link for some good laughs.

If you were raised on radio and are of a certain age, then you probably remember the "power ballad." Much as I like the Beatles' "Hey Jude" and Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road," those songs are simply rock anthems that build to a crescendo. In my world, the power ballad was pioneered by Boston's "More Than a Feeling" in 1976 and the virtuoso-piano-overtaken-by-everything-else that Styx wove into "Come Sail Away" a year later. From those near-symphonic beginnings (for which we can thank Tom Scholz and Dennis DeYoung, respectively), the power ballad elbowed its way to prominence in the early Eighties.

...The problem with Christian Rock is it can now be found not just on the radio, but also in the "worship space."

...Catholic parishes were mercifully late to this development by comparison with Reform-minded Christian denominations. Some Protestants first embraced what my kids call "Jesus music" as an outreach tool untainted by the vaguely papist deference to hierarchy implied by the lyrics to such classic hymns as "Holy God We Praise Thy Name." Music directors who'd grown up listening to the Manhattan Transfer ask a telephone operator to "Get Me Jesus on the Line" may not have even been conscious of their own theological assumptions. They simply wanted to "reach people where they're at," and figured that grand old hymns had to go, if for no other reason than that they harkened back to the days of what singer/songwriter John Prine called "stained glass in every window, and hearing aids in every pew." Unfortunately, many Catholic parishes that were late to embrace the praise band phenomenon have been making up for lost time in this area.

(We should add here that the "four-hymn sandwich", a mainstay of Catholic worship since the 1970's, even in the relatively 'conservative-mode' churches, is inadequate response to the demands of VatII's document on the liturgy. But that's another story.)

...When arena rock arrived to push folk musicians back to Berkeley and Greenwich Village or coffee houses dialed into those mother ships, the praise band subculture saw an opening and sprinted for it with instruments in tow. Musicians who had previously played sweltering summer gigs under revival tents near Igloo-brand coolers filled with sweet tea decided that enclosed sanctuary space was a better place to gig, not least because it had air conditioning.

...In Catholic circles, praise band relocation off the grass and onto the carpet was aided and abetted by liturgists hell-bent on democratizing and de-clericalizing everything about the Mass "in the spirit of Vatican II," and never mind what the actual architects of Vatican II (such as a Polish prelate named Karol Wojtyla who later became Pope John Paul II) had to say. Some of those liturgists worked hand-in-glove with politically correct composers --sons of Salieri, every one of them -- like the irksome Marty Haugen.

[Here he introduces the critic, Esolen]

In brief, Esolen says that sentimentality, although valuable in its place, is neverthless destructive of genuine feeling. And there you have the problem put in yet another way: when power ballads intrude on the liturgy of heaven (which is what the Mass is), then what Esolen calls "the necessary hypocrisy of small talk" is wrongly raised to the status of a liturgical act.

We've seen this sort of stuff at a suburban Parish. It's not pretty.

HT: Fr. Z


Anonymous said...

It should be pointed out in fairness that the "four hymn sandwich" is a holdover from pre-vatican II times from the all-too-common Low Mass. I've often argued that the crap going on today is just the continuation of the old Low Mass.


Dad29 said...

Well, yes and no. I recall hundreds of 'low Masses' pre-VatII during which ZERO music was used.

There are geographical differences; some Dioceses used them, others did not.

However, the drivel--such as "Mother Dear, O Pray for Me," etc., is exactly the same, as you say.

Then it was Tin Pan Alley. Now it's Broadway. Same difference.

xxxxxx said...

I'd rather have *no* music than the music in 99% of the archdiocese parishes.