Colin Mawby’s Warning about Command-and-Control Music

Distinguished composer and organist Colin Mawby has been sending around the following message, which contains an analysis of the potential mess being created by the growing centralization of control of Catholic music.

Vivace! 089 April 2011


I am deeply concerned about the system that has been put in place by the English Hierarchy’s “Department for Christian Life and Worship” for the vetting of new church music. It now has to be approved by an anonymous panel, presumably of musicians, which is organised by the Episcopal Department for Christian Life and Worship. New music has to be submitted by the publishers and not the composers.

The Department has made an agreement with ICEL, the translating body, that it will only give permission for the publication of its copyright material on foot of a certificate signed by Bishop Alan Hopes, the Chair of this anonymous panel, that the music has been approved. Bishop Hopes appointed the panel without any public consultation and apparently on advice from within the Department. There is a right of appeal but appeals have to be submitted to Bishop Hopes – he who appointed the panel! This is reminiscent of the long discredited and now abandoned English procedure where complaints against the police were investigated by the police.

The anonymity of this panel totally destroys any credibility it may have had. It wishes to be seen as a “critical friend”: mind-boggling episcopal spin! The only place for anonymous criticism is the waste paper basket.

No consideration has been given to the effect of this on publishers. Every adverse panel decision is an attack upon their musical judgement. I know personally of one revered Anglican publisher whose confidence in Catholic music has been destroyed by this procedure.

The Department has produced a system that is totally dysfunctional. What’s going to happen to photocopied music which doesn’t use ICEL copyright texts? What’s going to happen to a publisher who refuses to accept this procedure? Are we really going to see ICEL suing for breach of copyright and dragging these sacred texts through the courts? What sanction does this panel have if non-ICEL texts are used? So many composers write their own words. What’s going to happen to new music on CDs?

I raised with the Department the question of conflict of interest – where a member of the panel submits a work of his or her own for approval. I was assured that “the chair will be informed and take appropriate action”. No indication of who who will give the information and what the “appropriate action” will be. (A censorship panel was originally set up in the 1960s and collapsed partly because of this problem.)

It is also not generally realised that ICEL charges publishers for the reproduction of copyright texts, and that its work is financed by the money it earns. This raises the thorny question of whether the reproduction of sacred texts should be subject to copyright fees. (ICEL even charge interest if a publisher is late in payment!) This is similar to the 16th-century practice of the sale of indulgences to finance the building of St Peter’s Basilica – a procedure roundly and rightly condemned by Martin Luther.

I urge all publishers and composers to follow the courageous example of Kevin Mayhew Publishers and refuse to have anything to do with this iniquitous system. Censorship is never a long-term solution to any problem. It is also totally wrong.

Colin Mawby KSG

16 Replies to “Colin Mawby’s Warning about Command-and-Control Music”

  1. It is time for the Church to regain control over the music, but doing it by means of a secret group whose appeal process is resubmission to the person who runs it…is a sign that someone was not thinking.

    I hope.

  2. I think that consultation is the only way to come to a consensus so we don't spend the next twenty years fighting about it. In case no one has noticed, the Church is in some very hot water and the top down approach is what caused all of this.

  3. This is so like secular politics. A President of a particular party expands his power, and his party is cool with it. The other party gets elected, uses the precedents set by the first party, and suddenly it's awful. It is not and never will be "time for the Church to gain control over the music." It's time for individual music directors to read what the Church has said, think with the mind of the Church, and to produce the music the Church expects, without any heavy handed eternal compulsion, because they are eager to be obedient to the Church's teachings.

  4. A solution to this problem is to use beautiful texts instead of the texts ICEL puts out.

    The only problem is when certain texts are required by the Bishops . . .

  5. End the top down approach to controlling music output in English and any other language. While we're at it,end also the CDW,ICEL, Vox Clara and return the formation and implementation of all western liturgical rites, missals, sacramentaries,etc. to the local bishop and the national conferences of bishops.

    Rome can always be consulted to mediate differences and establish that the texts are "orthodox". The Vatican is demonstrating day after day that it operates not unlike the Wizard in charge of the land of Oz. With an old Bavarian bureaucrat hiding behind the curtain,with lights and bells, pulling levers, making noises, and giving off holy smoke. The world is now in the process of pulling back that curtain just as the munchkins in purple and scarlet want to go down the yellow brick road toward some 16th century version of the Emerald City.

  6. It's high time we had censorship, i.e., the elimination of banal music selected by the pseudo-magisterium of for-profit music publishers who have dominated the Church for far too long. One would have to be terribly ignorant to have missed the mainstreaming, i.e., secularization, of music which has been allowed to happen. Today at Mass, in fact, sitting through yet another batch of neutered hymns, a near total absence of propers (save the verse for the Alleluia) and frothy devotional songs, I was reminded just how wrong things are: hymns that promote heterodox theology; changing the very text of the Liturgy to suit the political agenda of the politically correct crowd; constant interruption of the Liturgy with invitations to participate (Why? The music is not worth singing.), reducing the Mass to a protestant worship service compiled at the whim of the pushy laywoman playing piano and whose syrupy voice alone demands censorship.

    Responsible liturgical practice, call it censorship if one must, is merited. Bishop's conferences, I'll say it again, having said it here and elsewhere, must exercise pastoral oversight by directing the production of worthy hymnals. Let the bishops employ bona fide experts, faithful sons and daughters of the Church, who can guide the music selection process according to authentic artistic and pastoral principles to which the Church has long held.

  7. If music has a teaching function in the Church–and I think it has–then bishops have the office to oversee music.

  8. The procedural problems described by Colin are compounded by a lack of clarity in the nearest thing the Panel has to publicly available terms of reference: the Appendices to the English & Welsh Bishops’ Composers’ Guide. Appendix 1 begins with a concise, unambiguous and narrow definition of the Panel's remit: "To review musical settings for conformity to the published liturgical text" [2]. This is in line with the American Bishops’ equivalent, but it is followed by a statement that opens the door to other considerations: "Guidance for both composers and the panel can be found in Roman Missal: a Composer’s Guide" [7]. To be fair, section 5 of the Guide provides some useful information on the hierarchy of liturgical texts and its bearing on textual felicity. However, it also includes other material (much of it open to interpretation) that isn't pertinent to the Panel's stated purpose, so it would have been better to indicate that the Guide is to be referred to in so far as it bears on the Panel's stated purpose. Without this, Panel members with strong views outside that purpose might, with the best of intentions, venture on judgements beyond their capacity. Anecdotal evidence indicates this has already begun: it is reported that “a composer has been asked to insert guitar chords in a setting which clearly has not been designed with guitars in mind, and to modify a melodic phrase”.

    There is also confusion about the scope of the process. According to Appendix 2 it covers texts – such as the Kyrie and the Lord's Prayer – that are in the public domain (this is later recognised in Appendix 3). It is reasonable to expect the Bishops' Conference to take an interest in publication of settings of such texts, but the extent to which they may control it is moot.

    It would be possible, even at this late stage, for the terms of reference and/or process to be adjusted to resolve this problem. Ideally, paragraph [7] would be modified to clarify its context within the stated purpose of the process. That begs the question, though, of the need for a panel of composers to fulfil such a narrow remit.

  9. It would be useful to know who the members of the Panel are. Perhaps, in the interests of transparency, our good friend Anonymous might consider posting the names.

  10. This is a tough call… the right thing to do, but the wrong way to do it. Actually, it's a bit difficult to tell if what they are proposing is even the "right thing to do". If the point is to hold the music being published to the actual standards that are already in place, then it could be a good thing. But the way it looks, the review panel would seem to have a lot of latitude to decide what is going to be admitted and what isn't…and there is no accountability because of the anonymity.

  11. While ICEL's statutes make a standard provision for the recovery of lost revenues through the charging of interest on copyright dues that are grossly overdue, to my knowledge, this possibility has never been invoked.

    Those who refuse to pay copyright dues, transgress in two important and distinct ways: they fail to honour their own undertaking to pay such fees when they request a copyright license and they defraud the legal owners of the copyright (11 Bishops' Conferences)of the only means they have of recouping the cost of producing these texts.

    One alarming consequence of this is that the necessary subsidy of the production of ritual books in poorer parts of the world is made more difficult.

  12. This latter point is a good one ("the production of ritual books in poorer parts of the world") and the problem is beautifully addressed by technological advance. With the globalization of digital media, poor countries are in a position to access the resources they need at no charge – and it is very much to ICEL's credit that it is liberal in its permissions for digital distribution. Indeed, ICEL has been on the forefront in open access to, for example, the new music in the English Missal.

    However, we are entering into a world in which the once-strict distinction between digital and physical is being blurred, and that certainly calls for a further liberalizing step.

  13. Does no-one else think it would be agood thing for there to be more censorship of what Kevin Mayhew put into churches?!

    Yours suspiciously,

  14. "Those who refuse to pay copyright dues, transgress in two important and distinct ways: they fail to honour their own undertaking to pay such fees when they request a copyright license and they defraud the legal owners of the copyright (11 Bishops' Conferences)of the only means they have of recouping the cost of producing these texts.

    "One alarming consequence of this is that the necessary subsidy of the production of ritual books in poorer parts of the world is made more difficult."


    Thank you for your thoughts.

    However, I feel that many share my opinion that the Catholic Church is a very rich church, dependent upon the giving of the rich and the poor for its existence.

    The Church has made the decision to abandon the tradition of a universal language. Why, then, should the very people who have made it possible for the Church to exist all these centuries be expected to pay for the translations the Church has foisted upon us?

    The cost of creating these is minimal. The words of the Mass need protection from those would would modify them and distort them, as many priests do daily through their ignorance or lack of respect for the Church. Fine them, not us.

    Benedict, we appeal to you to reform this, remove all fees for the use of the texts and stop these few people trying to make money from the people who are the Church.

    If the Church needs the translations, then the Church should pay for them.

    If the translators need to make a living, let them go out into the marketplace and find jobs like the rest of us.

  15. Sorry, but:

    "Those who refuse to pay copyright dues, transgress in two important and distinct ways: they fail to honour their own undertaking to pay such fees when they request a copyright license and they defraud the legal owners of the copyright (11 Bishops' Conferences)of the only means they have of recouping the cost of producing these texts.

    "One alarming consequence of this is that the necessary subsidy of the production of ritual books in poorer parts of the world is made more difficult."

    So the royalties being paid to the translators are taking ritual books out of the hands of people in poorer parts of the world?

    Monsignor, my grandmother pulled the Maryknoll magazine with pictures of the starving children in India guilt trip on me when I would not finish my meals. Blaming those who do not want to pay the translator's fees to the local bishops, who I doubt have anything to do with making sure that this money goes to pay for ritual books for the poor in foreign countries, is a silly argument….since the money you tell us goes to pay for the translations.

    Translations that we are FORCED TO USE….it is embarrassing to type this. Yes, we can sing at Mass, but….we have to pay for the right to sing the WORDS OF THE MASS!

    This is yet another sign of the tremendous mess that the church has put itself in under current leadership.

    Here's the solution: Give the texts away and let people who find them useful donate to show their acceptance and appreciation of them. Afraid no one will contribute? Well, I guess that's why we are forced to pay for them…otherwise countless poor priests will not have ritual books in the third world.

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