An applied physics professor and pillar of my former choir at St. Brigid Church in Lexington, Massachusetts, tipped me off to this New Republic article by Philip Kennicott, Art and Architecture critic of the Washington Post. Kennicott sees a parallel between the decline in American orchestras and the experience of post-Vatican II liturgy:
“For decades, the musical world has been going through its own protracted and painful Vatican II, initially driven by the assumption that the only thing that really ails the form is a superficial matter of liturgy and presentation. Conductors should turn away from the altar and face the congregants, speak in the vernacular, and forego white-tie-and-tails vestments. The service should be consumer-friendly.”
Though failing to offer a solution to the nation-wide orchestra dilemma, Kennicott makes a compelling case that attempts to broaden the market base by disregarding artistic standards has failed. “One can understand how and why adults concoct this sort of thing, why a market has developed for political poster music that offers only a generic sense of sadness at mankind’s sufferings. But why make young people play it? It seems a very ill sign for the future that bad music is so willingly foisted on serious junior musicians who have already made a commitment to the art form.”
I see the result of this “generic” thinking in recent ads for music directors within my own archdiocese. Newly formed collaborative parishes are requiring that applicants must be able to provide music in a “variety of genres.” That’s code meaning the applicant must not have strongly held artistic convictions. Or another way to put it, the aspiring musician must be able to program music with which he or she is uncomfortable. However you define it, it is a recipe for failure.
Randolph Nichols writes as follows: