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.