Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Can there be a meeting of the minds?

And please, fraternally correct any of my statements or opinions as you deem necessary.
I engaged members of the loyal opposition at PrayTell during the week. Once we laid to rest any misconceptions and caricatures in our arguments, peace, if not reconciliation was restored between us.

What examples? Do you know of churches that use music from current Broadway plays? Or that double as piano bars? You gave examples of music you consider banal, not of “the appalling banality of much liturgical music.”

 I’ve been in this (quagmire) from 1970, and when one is pressed to walk the tightrope between discretion and implicit versus specific and explicit regarding identifying post V2 religious song, it’s a lose/lose proposition in public. To some extent, “those who don’t know will say, those who know won’t.” In my parishes with 18 weekend Masses for whom I advise, schedule and manage diverse ensembles (mostly) and few cantors, outside of the three Masses in which I personally direct music ministry I have to trust that my colleagues will, as the fictional Dr. Jones said of the Grail, “choose wisely.” That is not always the case as my pastor reminds me occasionally. I will manufactor such scenarios in order to protect the innocent while illustrating such situations. One might encounter a song leader (“cantor”) who, accompanied by a top level organist, chooses “Blest be the Lord (!) as an Introit “chant” rather than a solid strophic hymn known to all. Conversely, a duo of cantors (guitar acc.) will occasionally use a chanted Proper or make a researched decision to use a fourth option allusion song to that which they’re confident the congregation will enjoin. In the former case, not only is the song dated past its credibility for use, but the choice to use an emulative bluegrass tune accompanied by the organ only results in that significant moment of the liturgy sounding like a carnival merry-go-round Wurlizter. In the latter one may quibble if the chant is accompanied by the guitar, but if all sing solidly this surely observes the culture and intent of the rite more accutely. Regarding Broadway/piano bar- my apologies first to a mentor from afar in my career, Fr. Joncas, but the musical construct of, say“Mary’s Song,” is at once beautiful and quite evocative of the post Bernstein and Sondheim late 20th musical idioms. In and of itself, that “critique” doesn’t disqualify its use for liturgy, but one ought to consider the vast body of settings of the Magnificat in many styles that might, just might reflect the humility of the prayer more accutely. If one is insistent upon the modern song, just the range of choices between the Leon Robert’s (RIP) and JM Talbot’s settings is huge. And then, there are the chants and hymns. Regarding the banal and trite, should one choose Landry’s “Abba Father” or Faber’s “Faith of our fathers” (St. Catherine) should the thematic need regarding “fatherhood” be on table for discussion? There are literally hundreds of those choices facing “deciders” who are bound to pulp and even hardbound hymnals. Add to that the reality that a significant percentage of those “deciders” resign their authority in favor of choosing from the “smorgasbord bin” of suggestions proffered by the publishers’ own liturgical “guides,” well, that just doesn’t speak well of the sausage making realities of contemporary RCC music praxis, does it? And hence, you get impatience from some pastors and DM’s for demolishing this “corruption” post haste, and the concomitant reaction of portions of the faithful decrying “They’re NOT playing my song!” These are not circumstances that will happen in a few years. Hopefully and happily, folks like Joncas and B.Hurd wiil continue to evolve their genres and hopefully come to the table with folks like Bartlett and Ostrowski, and in a few decades articulate a solid body of repertoire worthy to subjugate unnecessary self-adornment and thus serve the source and summit that are our rites.
Regarding “a solid body of repertoire worthy to subjugate unnecessary self-adornment,” it’s been my experience this is\ more a factor of the musical leadership, performers if you will, than it is the repertoire or genre. Chant musicians do not escape the pitfalls of ego, and CMAA falls victim to it like any other group of folks... Good music requires good judgment. And excellent music would seem to require more.As for a future meeting, that should be interesting to behold. Best of luck with that.

I want to believe that a future meeting of the minds is not an impossibility. If we ultimately remain siblings in Christ, if NPM and CMAA can pursue their noble objectives to worship Christ in truth, and if we can step away from conflict over “things” like accoutremant of the baroque versus the subjugation of “sacro pop” when we are faced with the martyrdom of Catholics in Africa and elsewhere almost daily, then I won’t relent upon “Et unum sint.”

Does CMAA have anything substantive to offer at this time?

At yesterday’s closing Mass of the colloquium I spent a great amount of time praying and contemplating over the provocative notion of “time….what does it mean to speak of the past, the future and the present moment….within the context of the mystery of our rites, the communion with the Saints/saints, the re-presention of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary, the covenant He made with His disciples and the Church in the Farewell the night before, and that which is real beyond comprehension inwhich we partake and thus become one?” How shall we occupy this “time” when we enact our rites, and serve them with our arts?

As usual I’ll delay a bit further to say that during those two hours I came to another, one of many, moments of peace and communion with all gathered for this OF Mass SUNG in toto, save for the homily. Such Masses aren’t everybody’s cup of tea. But whether a worshipper prays in a steel prefab box, or a sensory overload of artistic, iconic beauty (The Madeleine) or one’s humble parish, s/he should participate in some active anamnesis. As I mentioned earlier, vestry in SLC wasn’t in the slightest fussy or retro, even for EF’s. So, is it a reasonable question to ask: what aspects best serve to elicit that anamnesis? Not speaking for CMAA, I would speculate in good faith that how they answer would be premised highly upon the holistic, inter-related traditions that have been made licit through conventional episcopal legislation endorsed over centuries. Bits like heirarchies, options, and interpretation or enculturation are still inter-related, not stand alone principles. Therefore, forms of musical expression that adhere to chant traditions, and those that emulate and expand its attributes such as polyphony (which I’ll simply define as did one justice about pornography- “I know it when I hear it.”) and subsequent forms that have that same DNA strand obviously and which could only invoke that anamnesis and a profound reverence.
I also mentioned Leon Robert’s “Song of Mary.” I cannot think of any other Magnificat that honors the BVM with such profound reverence in a superior manner. What is implicit in my appreciation of it in comparison to the magnitude of other settings sung over centuries. I likely wouldn’t have an ounce of support were I on the editorial board of CMAA planning the liturgies for next year’s colloquium if I advanced that setting. And by their reasoning they’d be right and consistent; the spiritual-influenced Roberts’, though portraying with powerful text painting the fiat of a poor, virtuous 15 year old girl in Roman occupied Judea, calls attention to itself through a musical medium that is culturally earth-bound. Sure, one could argue that European classic polyphony and chant is also, by its apparent elements, of the earth and humans. But CMAA would counter that the traditions the Church extols do indeed extend to the Hebrew Temple rites, and the chants are, no matter their paleographic pedigrees, purposed for our rites.

In our vineyards we may be just local yokels doing our best not to constrain the free worship of the Faithful at Mass by the imposition of our own personal tastes. So, to finally get to your question- we are having the meeting between us. In the larger church, the issue of commerce, copyright, ecclesiology, and tensions between authorities and organizations have polluted the atmosphere so that meaningful dialogue between bishops in conference is suppressed, pastors are putting out peripheral fires and not giving full attention to liturgy, and NPM/LMA/CMAA/LAREC have their own agendae to complete
Sure, let’s have the meeting now. You and I hereby call David Haas, Helen Hull Hitchcock, Bill Mahrt, Mike Joncas, Ed Schaefer et al to a new Snowbird Statement (apparently the USA could use the cold temps!) We all await everyone’s response.


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