Over the last few years, I’ve come to be very impressed with Adam Wood, proprietor of MusicForSunday, as a writer, thinker, and musician. His musical intuition is outstanding, and his love of chant is growing. However, his way of thinking on issues broader than music has always been something of a mystery to me. He describes himself as a thoroughgoing progressive in the conventional sense.
The blog PrayTell picked up on this interesting combination and asked him to write up his own biographical sketch as an effort toward reconciling what many people would regard as a odd mix.
I started to wonder: If my progressive ideas are true, and I arrived at them through engagement with the Blessed Sacrament and deep prayer – how much more might that truth spread and be understood if there was greater engagement with the deep spirituality of traditional liturgical forms?
I have come to believe that these texts – the propers, the traditional Latin hymns and prayers – are as important to our communal liturgy and spiritual journey as any portion of the Ordinary (which most of us would hardly think of omitting), and in fact am increasingly baffled by the widespread ignorance of them. As is common practice with the congregational acclamations in the Ordinary, I would like to see contemporary and diversely-styled settings of these chants, hymns, and prayers. I understand the CMAA’s preference for chant-style, but I think calypso propers would be a vast improvement over what happens in many parishes.
And aside from the text, there is something about traditionally sacred musical styles. As a musician, I cannot deny the incredible beauty of well-performed Gregorian chant. I’ve always been curious about it (I bought a Graduale Romanum when I was in high school… didn’t know what to do with it). I am still a little bitter at my various music teachers and training programs for not introducing me properly to the music which forms the foundation of every other style of Western music. As I became more experienced in chant, I started to notice that my musical abilities – even with regards to contemporary and pop styles – improved. And even moderate amounts of polyphony (singing, studying, and directing) has had noticeable impacts on my homophonic choral part-writing. The simple fact is: traditional sacred music makes you a better musician. Once I realized that, I was hungry for more. And, as someone who cares about the future quality of musicianship in the Church, it made me want everyone to be exposed to these genres.
But it’s not just about liturgical music as conservatory for culture, although that is an important side issue. The beauty of chant teaches us something about the beauty of God. The quietness of chant gives us a peace which passes all other forms or styles, a peace which music of the world simply cannot provide.