Thursday, October 25, 2012

Kill the Organ?

Well, The Boston Globe has done it, run a piece by Jennifer Graham calling for an organ drop to destroy them all and end to the noise.

She writes: "I cringe at the Responsorial Psalm, ancient and lovely words bleated in call-and-repeat fashion with all the auditory appeal of an electronic can opener in full swing."

Before lighting the torches and grabbing the pitchforks, consider a few points. Her description is not entirely inaccurate. The mix of bad 1970s sacro-pop and organ doesn't work, and yet that is extremely common. Many organs do in fact sound terrible especially in bad acoustic environments. The voice should be primary in liturgy, not the organ, and yet amateur organists do not often understand this, but neither do guitar players and pianists. I might suggest that the organ is more often played badly with regrettable repertoire, and so too are all the other instruments, so I can follow what she is saying here.

Still, the blame is misplaced. The organ can be amazing, especially as a solo instrument. The real problem with Catholic music in the average parish lies elsewhere. It comes down the fact that most musicians performing in parishes have no real clarity about their liturgical role. They have the impression that they are supposed to knock out four random religious songs, plus a bit of service music, and go home.

This is the core of the problem. So long as the musical structure of the Roman Rite is not understood, all musicians will be implicated in doing damage to the liturgy, and that goes for singers and players of all sorts.