The following is a guest post from Richard Skirpan, young choirmaster and organist in Pennsylvania, written in response to Ben Yanke's post here. I think it is wonderful to have a chance to hear how young people are thinking about sacred music.
A few weeks ago in some comments here I was
working out my thoughts on why so many younger people seem to express at
least some preference for liturgy that is received rather than
invented. I'm becoming more and more convinced of my theory as to why that might be so. I'm sure other wiser people have already said most of this, but here it is from my point of view.
My grandparents lived in a world where secular culture more or less
supported Christianity. That's fine, and if that's how the world worked
it sure would make it comfortable to be a Christian. (But I'm not sure
comfortable is where Jesus wanted us to set out sights.) And while many
look at it with nostalgia as a simpler time, it seems to me there were
still plenty of real problems, but mostly they were swept under the rug.
My parents' generation lived through the great cultural revolution. A
lot of those wrongs were righted. I'm sure it seemed like the humanity's
great next step, and the Catholic Church seemed to being coming along
with it. I'm sure it was exciting to live through and hard for many
people of good will to imagine that the gaining momentum would ever
subside, or contemplate why it even should.
But by now, all
those torn-down cultural walls that kept my grandparents "safe" (and
also kept a lot of wrongs unrighted) are gone, and in the West, culture
and Christianity are less entwined than ever before in modern history.
Maybe for some that's great. For others it may be a terrible loss. But
it occurs to me that for a Christian it shouldn't matter much. After
all, Christianity was at its founding countercultural, and perhaps we
can acknowledge that some aspects of it work better that way.
As a result, it seems a lot of my generation don't want to think of
church as a meeting or a convention or going to hear a speaker (even
though all of those are part of it) - we want church to feel like
church. As a Catholic, I want to call it the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass -
maybe not exclusively, but at least more often. It never stopped being
that, even if other aspects gained emphasis.
And a lot of us
don't want church music to always feel like a Disney soundtrack or what
we hear on the radio or the muzak in the mall (even though there are
sacred texts set to all of those) - we want church to sound like church.
As a Catholic, I think it should not be an unreasonable expectation to
hear some chant at every Sunday Mass. When any media outlet does a
package on the Catholic Church, you hear chant in the background. About
the only place you don't hear chant in association with the Catholic
Church... is most Catholic churches.
I find when those of my
grandparents' generation see this movement, they love it, because they
think we're trying to turn back the clock, so to speak. It makes them
*comfortable.* But that couldn't be further from the truth for many of
us. And a lot of things, both good and bad, have happened in between.
Many of my parents' generation are completely confused. They think
we're trying to undo what they worked so hard to accomplish. But one
can't undo time. We're not doing it because of nostalgia, or to promote
any human political idea that traditional elements may happen to
represent. In fact, there are many people who promote tradition for
terrible reasons. But I hope I'm not one of them.
So... that's the problem. Now other than just making my case as lovingly as I can, I don't know what the solution is.