Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sacred Music is the Easier Path

Fr. John Hollowell of the diocese of Indianapolis, Indiana, posts an interesting reflection on his experience with music, and draws attention to the reality that teaching chant and using a cappella singing in plainchant is a much simpler path than more conventional routes.

When I celebrate Mass at Holy Rosary, almost all of the music is without any instrumentation or the organ, and it is the most beautiful stuff I've ever heard. Sometimes the organ is used to intone a piece, but then goes silent, such as the Gloria. The Kyrie, the Creed, the Alleluia, the Sanctus (holy holy holy) etc. are all done there a capella some of the time, and it isn't hard because at least half the choir there is little kids – chant can be taught easily. I taught the kids at Ritter a Latin Sanctus, and a) they love singing it, and b) picked it up after hearing it three times. The Sanctus needs no instruments, and parents visiting at one of our Masses, when they hear our kids chant it, usually cry. We’re going to be implementing the “Christ has died” in Latin next – brick by brick!

Contrary to the common opinion here, to put a Mass together with guitars, pianos, and the music that typically goes along with all of that in the typical parish today is actually a TON MORE work. People hear Gregorian Chant and think, “Oh wow, that is surely not possible in most parishes.” In actuality, a parish that does what the 2nd Vatican Council asks only has a couple of pieces to prepare for – a) MAYBE an opening song (although the documents also allow that to be done solely on the organ) and b) MAYBE a song to sing while the people come forward for Communion and c) MAYBE a closing song, although again that can be just organ.

If a parish is deciding to take the tambourine and guitar approach to music then they have the following “set list”
Opening song
Gloria
Psalm response
Alleluia
Preparation of the gifts
Holy, Holy, Holy
Christ Has Died…
Great Amen
Lamb of God
Communion song (or two)
Closing Song

Trust me, I’ve seen it from both perspectives, and doing music as the Church asks is a LOT easier and more beautiful.

The other myth here is that “Peter Paul and Mary-ish” Church songs are easier to learn, and will get the people to sing more. However, the success of such changes is non-existent in the lived experience of the Church. Most of the pieces performed by parish “bands” are MORE difficult to sing and seem to turn people off more than the simple yet more prayerful chant.

His entire post is very wise, and reflects real-world experience.