Monday, July 8, 2013

I like chant for all the wrong reasons

People say we should sing chant because it is more solemn and dignified.
I disagree.
I think chant melodies are wild and ecstatic.

People say that we shouldn't sing chant because it makes it hard for the congregation to sing.
And too many chant-supporters agree with that, but say, "Well- that's okay, they don't need to sing."
I disagree.
While some chants are soloistic in nature (just like some contemporary songs), the chants which are intended for group-singing (hymns, psalm tones, short antiphons, acclamations from the Ordinary) are much easier to sing than any pop or folk song.

People say we should sing chant because it is Traditional.
I disagree.
I think we should sing it because doing so is revolutionary.

People say that we shouldn't sing chant because people need familiar music at Mass.
And too many chant-supporters agree that chant is unfamiliar, but say this is a good thing, that people don't need Mass to be "comfortable."
I disagree.
I think that the constant changing of musical styles to fit the trends is a constant source of unfamiliarity and discomfort, and that a stable repertoire of chants would provide the comfort and familiarity that all people long for.

People say we should sing chant because the texts are orthodox.
I disagree.
I think the scriptural message and the medieval poetry is more radical and liberating than any modernist manifesto.

People say that we shouldn't sing chant because the texts are not understandable (being in Latin) and therefore the people cannot understand the liturgy.
And too many chant-supporters agree that the Latin makes the liturgy impenetrable, but say that this is a good thing, that it acts "like a veil," that the liturgy really is impenetrable, and that lay understanding of the Mass is neither possible nor particularly desirable.
I disagree.
I think that all the faithful should be encouraged to understand the liturgy as fully as possible and that the veil of mystery that separates the elite clerics and the general population should be torn down, as on the first Good Friday, and that only by providing the faithful with the real, actual texts and traditions of the Mass can this be accomplished.

People say we should sing chant because the correct ars celebrandi reinforces the appropriate ecclesiology.
I disagree.
I think that the monastic tradition in which the chant flourished and matured has always stood both in partnership with and also in opposition to the authority of the hierarchy.

People say that we shouldn't sing chant because it is too elitist, too hierarchical, too academic. They say that it does not harmonize with the teachings of Jesus, or with the "Poor Church" of Pope Francis.
And too many chant-supporters essentially agree with this view, but say that this is a good thing, that there is nothing wrong with being elitist, hierarchical, or academic.
I disagree.
I think that chant's simplicity and plainness is one of its essential qualities, and that it stands in contrast to the elitism of music that requires special training, special instruments, and specialist musicians with the time to plan and rehearse it.

People say we should sing chant because it is "Apollonian," appealing to the mind and reason, rather than the baser, "Dionysian" emotionalism.
I disagree.
I am deeply moved by chant generally, and by specific pieces in the repertoire in particular, to excesses of emotionalism that many people would consider completely inappropriate for a solemn liturgical celebration, and in ways that defy all reason or rationality.

People say they can't do chant, because its too hard.
And too many chant-supporters agree that it is hard, but say that it's okay for to be hard or that its difficulty is one of its virtues.
I disagree.
I think that it is hard to pick out four or five meaningful and appropriate pieces of congregational music which also illuminate the texts of the lectionary every week, hard to keep track of trends, hard to please people with divergent tastes in music.

People say we should sing chant because it will help return us to a more pure or more devout faith from our glorious past.
I disagree.
I believe that there really has been no glorious past, only a constant glorious ideal.