Sunday, April 3, 2011

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
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