Spotted today…

outside the CMAA programs office in Auburn, Alabama. Crumbs on a mattress (behind the dumpster, no less). Can a church musician expect more?

A bird alighted on the feast just moments after this picture was taken.

Who Can Decide the Language Question?

Assuming that the objective of many readers is transitioning to singing the propers at Mass, can we decide on one approach when it comes to the words we actually sing? Of course there will be a different solution for every parish and every situation. As many solutions as there are pastors, music directors, and congregations, really.

I sometimes wonder if antiquated English, like that found in the Communio Jeffrey posted on yesterday, presents more of an obstacle than meets the eye. If preserving a tradition is the goal, is using older language that is not native to the Gregorian melodies always the best choice?


1. The English in this case is understandable, whereas the Latin might not be.

2. The Gregorian melody is preserved (give or take tiny things)

3. The language is dignified and worthy of use in the liturgy


1. The English is understandable, but far removed from the English we use today. Most parishes are used to modern translations (not making a qualitative judgment about either here – yet). In using an old translation (there is a lot of “ye”, a LOT of “ye,” in the Plainchant Gradual version of the Petite), are we drawing more attention language use itself than we should be? Put another way: the music should illuminate the Word, but are we really getting to the core of things if the translation is so different from what we normally use that we take special note of the language’s pedigree?

2. If we want to preserve the Gregorian chant and are not doing the Latin, shouldn’t we be finding a way to make the Gregorian melodies as accessible as possible? In other words, as few obstacles as possible. Gregorian melodies in combination with antiquated English might be complicating things unnecessarily.

3. Is old English more dignified than modern English? We have associations with it in our culture – the King James, Shakespeare, etc. It signals permanence, quality, and dignity. No one will argue with this. But just because it is older does that make it better? Isn’t part of the beauty of language its flexibility and adaptability? Modern English can be beautiful, too. It’s all in how you put things together. Is one English better than another if neither is native to the musical tradition in question?

Prohibited Music

Below is an abstract of what looks like a very interesting article, sent along to me by CMAAer Patrick Bergin. (I don’t know the DiLasso motet mentioned in the abstract, but of course now I want to go look it up.)

I’m sure the article will provide interesting reading. But makes me wonder even more about just how much of what we hear and sing at Mass is “circumstantial.” I got myself involved a thread on NLM the other day in which I brought up the following point: just how easy is it to throw out music? Of all art forms, isn’t it the most dispensable? A painting sticks around and makes for a lot of smoke in a bonfire if you want to dispose of it. A stained glass window? Pretty hard to get rid of and have no one notice. Music? It’s in the air! It only exists in time – for a time – and then it’s gone. You can hire a hit man to take care of your organist or choir director, burn a few books, and that’s it! It’s like it never existed.

“A Sixteenth-Century Catalog of Prohibited Music”
David Crook
Journal of the American Musicological Society Apr 2009, Vol. 62, No. 1: 1–78

In 1575 the Jesuit general in Rome issued an ordinance governing the use of music in the order’s rapidly expanding network of colleges. Motets, masses, hymns, “and other pious compositions” were to be retained; indecent and “vain” music was to be burned. Sixteen years later the Jesuits’ provincial administrator in Bavaria drew up a set of supplemental instructions, to which was appended a catalog of prohibited music as well as a complementary list of approved compositions (D-Mbs Clm 9237). Verbal texts treating drunkenness and erotic love account for the majority of banned pieces, but in some cases—a setting of the first verse of Psalm 137 by Orlando di Lasso, for example—the sound and style of the music led to its prohibition.

Although intended for all colleges within the Jesuits’ Upper German province, this catalog apparently derives solely from a review of the music collection of Munich’s college on the occasion of its move in 1591 to a magnificent new building financed by the duke of Bavaria. Like the architecture and curriculum of the college, the music catalog reflected Bavaria’s new understanding of its role as principal post-Tridentine defender of the true faith. And, like the formal confessions of faith, catechisms, and service books promulgated by Europe’s Churches during the late sixteenth century, Bavaria’s catalog of prohibited music gave expression to an ideology of difference and exclusion that lies at the very heart of post-Reformation Christianity.

“An Interior Reconciliation in the Heart of the Church”

David Sullivan, associate editor of Sacred Music, offers this thoughtful reflection on the third anniversary of Summorum Pontificum:

The date July 7, 2007 marks an important anniversary of the liturgy of the Roman Rite, the day when Pope Benedict XVI gave to the Church his motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum, the long-awaited document that liberated the traditional form of the Mass of the Roman Rite, as embodied in the Missale Romanum of 1962, promulgated by Blessed John XXIII.

On this anniversary, I encourage both those Catholics who love the traditional Roman Mass and those who cherish the work of the Second Vatican Council to give thanks to the Lord and to Pope Benedict for his bold act that allows a greater freedom for the traditional Mass than had been allowed in practice before, and that also highlights for the continuity between the tradition of the Latin Rite within the reforms called for by the Second Vatican Council. On this day, we can offer the prayers Te Deum laudamus and Oremus pro pontifice nostro Benedicto, and encourage those who read this to do so.

For those who love the traditional Mass, the motu proprio gives a greater freedom for priests to offer the traditional form, and for the laity to assist at it. It reassures us that “this Missal was never juridically abrogated and, consequently, in principle, was always permitted,” and that “what earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too,” as the Holy Father noted in his letter accompanying the motu proprio. What a tremendous change those ideas are from the decades of marginalization we had experienced before!

Likewise, for those who cherish the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, the freedom granted by the motu proprio to the traditional, or “extraordinary,” form of Mass, recalls some norms of the Vatican II constitution Sacrosanctum Consilium that have been observed often in the breach, for example: “there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely requires them” (¶23); “The use of the Latin language, with due respect to particular law, is to be preserved in the Latin rites” (¶36); “The treasury of sacred music is to preserved and cultivated with great care” (¶114); “The Church recognizes Gregorian chant as being specially suited to the Roman liturgy. Therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place (in Latin, principem locum, which can well be translated ‘first place’) in liturgical services.” (¶116); “care must be taken to ensure that the faithful may also be able to say or sing together in Latin those part of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them” (¶54). In the rush to implement certain aspects of the Council’s teachings—such as active participation and use of the vernacular—the teachings noted here have been widely downplayed, if not ignored. In effect, Summorum Pontificum calls the Church to a more balanced implementation of the Second Vatican Council.

In his letter to bishops, Pope Benedict explained his “positive reason” for this motu proprio, “a matter of coming to an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church,” and “to make every effort to enable for all those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity or to attain it anew.” In this spirit, I invite all Catholics to offer a prayer for Pope Benedict, the successor of Peter, and for unity in the Church of Christ.

The Irrelevance of Tradition

A highly respected ethnomusicologist I had the pleasure of speaking to recently feels sad for her nieces and nephews in her native Nigeria. They have little knowledge, much less awareness, of the long musical tradition that is indigenous to their culture. Like most teenagers, they are quick with computers and all things digital, and listen to the same music other teenagers around the world are listening to. They can take cell phones apart and put them together within a matter of minutes.

But what they can’t do, she reports, is beat out even the simplest rhythms on a drum. This is a music that is unique to Nigerian culture and to a Nigerian understanding of the world. They haven’t been taught.

Readers here are sure to understand her point of view. Advances of the 21st century have made ancient sounds and customs obsolete in more spheres than we’d like to acknowledge. In fact, they’ve become downright irrelevant in many cases.

You can order anything you want from Amazon at any time of day, or manage your bank account and speak to a business colleague halfway across the world and across time zones in the comfort and convenience of your own home. You don’t need your ancestors to tell you how.

If you do pay attention to the sound of a drum, it is probably not because you have a vested interest in what the drum means to any particular culture, let alone your own. It’s probably because it provides the kick and pulse for the gazillion popular selections cranked out on Itunes. With downloads ranging from $1 to $3 a piece, it doesn’t take a lot of time, money, training or sage advice to get what you want and fill a void – right now.

I will not deny that disseminating information so quickly and comprehensively to all citizens of the world is quite simply an amazing thing. It is for the betterment and material advancement of all. It’s progress. The future we dreamed about as children is here – we can do what George Jetson did (with the exception of darting about the universe in a hover craft) and much, much more.

But has fantastic and easy access to all things blinded us to something even more essential and amazing? Namely, the unique traditions that make world cultures and traditions what they are: practices and rituals that define cultures and illuminate truths about life on heaven and earth?

Our young man in Nigeria can control his environment and hear what he wants to hear, see what he wants to see, and know what he chooses to know—almost instantly. He can create his own culture. One that is personalized and tailor-made for comfort and survival in an advancing society. He’d be the top-paid engineer at Spacely Sprockets, to be sure.

Yet we suspect that the life he creates for himself will not be tenable unless he is willing to acknowledge the lives, dreams, suffering, and rituals of his ancestors as they tried to understand their place in the universe. He might even be so blasé about the amenities and ease of modern life that he is not sure why he would want to.

Is he so different from American Catholics today? Are Catholic teens texting their friends the minute they leave Mass because it is the best use of their time? Does it bring them more gratification, immediate or real, than the Mass they just attended?

This of course begs larger questions. How many teens in this country have the opportunity to go to Mass and listen to the pulse of a solemnly sung Introit? How many Mass goers of any age have the chance to listen to the words of the Gospel with ears and hearts primed by a melismatic Alleluia?

How many have learned through repetition of ancient ritual — timeless words, melodies, and movements— that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist? Have they been taught?

If our esteem of ritual is not measured by lessons learned from ancient tradition and its organic development, who is to say that our Catholic belief system won’t be dismantled altogether? It might become as obsolete as the beat of Nigerian drums.