Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Music "of the people"

National Catholic Register had an article in their most recent issue about liturgical music and Vatican II.

The first couple lines caught my attention

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.

This is an aspect of Vatican II that lovers of fine music hope will not always be understood as it has been by many parishes — for several reasons.

and I thought that this was going to be someone defending electric guitar and tambourine as valid liturgical instruments. But, rather than lay out why these reasons people don't like liturgical kumbuya just to debunk them, he lays out why they are well founded.
For one, it could not be foreseen at the time of the council how “music of the people” outside the church would evolve — that is, American pop music was just then beginning a conquest of the entire world. By the 1980s, it would inundate it, in all forms of media.
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.

From a technical-musical point of view, most pop music is unaccomplished as music. However, there can be no question that this is now “the music of the people.”

"Jesus, Jesus. Jesus in the morning, Jesus in the noontime. Jesus, Jesus. Jesus when the sun goes down." Not to mention the myriad of other musics that occur at Church. The homily at one of the Churches I attended on Sunday was about music and music styles. He reminded us that it is not just the lyrics we have to watch out for, but that even the most wholesome lyrics could be wrapped in insidious melodies which could lead us down the wrong path. The ancients knew that certain melodies raised our minds to heaven.

He goes on to discuss how we got to the state we are in.

One fact of my own experience serves as a telling sign of the weakness of the volunteer system in church music. As a published composer of symphonies, ballets and operas (and I am a pianist, violinist, and guitarist) — I have never once been spontaneously asked for advice by anyone — priests and lay musicians alike — in the whole of my life as a Catholic in America. I am invariably asked, quite casually, to sing in choirs and play at Mass — and to work under a volunteer little qualified for his or her position.

It is remarkable that no one has ever asked me to do something — not even in a single question — worthy of my expertise in music. I do not raise this point because of sour grapes — I am content in my work as a classical composer; I raise it as a first-hand example of the lack of interest in musical improvement in the volunteer system.

It is probably an example of what I call the "vocal minority syndrome" in which a few persons with their own ideas get into power, or at least complain a lot; they volunteer for roles and drive decision making. This happens and the average man in the pew isn't really considered. The average John or Mary in the Church isn't likely to be the one who likes to speak up about things, and also they are unlikely to enjoy too many liturgical innovations. And since the people in the pew don't complain, the people in power just keep doing the same. Squeaky wheel gets the grease.


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